From:  Over 50 Interpreters Explain 1 to 3 John                           Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018



List of All Sources Quoted At End of File






CHAPTER 5:1-21




5:1                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God; and every one who loves the Father loves also Him who is the Father's Child.

WEB:              Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him.

Young’s:         Every one who is believing that Jesus is the Christ, of God he hath been begotten, and every one who is loving Him who did beget, doth love also him who is begotten of Him:

Conte (RC):    Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God. And everyone who loves God, who provides that birth, also loves him who has been born of God.


5:1                   Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ.  Is the Messiah; the anointed of God.  Of course, it is meant here that the proposition, that “Jesus is the Christ,” should be believed or received in the true and proper sense, in order to furnish evidence that anyone is born of God.  It cannot be supposed that a mere intellectual acknowledgment of the proposition that Jesus is the Messiah is all that is meant, for that is not the proper meaning of the word “believe” in the Scriptures.  That word, in its just sense, implies that the truth which is believed should make its fair and legitimate impression on the mind, or that we should feel and act as if it were true.  See Mark 16:16.  If, in the proper sense of the phrase, a man does believe that Jesus “is the Christ,” receiving Him as He is revealed as the Anointed of God, and a Savior, it is undoubtedly true that that constitutes him a Christian, for that is what is required of a man in order that he may be saved.  [18]

                        John lays stress in this Epistle on several aspects of our Savior’s Person and Work.  (1)  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (here and 2:22), the Savior of the world (2:2); (2)  He is the Son of God (4:15; 5:5); (3)  He came in the flesh (4:3).  [49]  

is born of God.  This is the third virtual repetition of this truth.  He had said, 4:2, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God;” and again he had said, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God God dwelleth in him, and he in God,” 4:15.  And now, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”  [42]    

and every one that loveth him that begat.  Any and all believers who have this love in their hearts.  [rw]

loveth him also that is begotten of him.  One’s fellow believers.  [rw]

Because he recognizes a brother begotten of the same Father and a member of the same confraternity of love.  [42]



5:2                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     The fact that we love God Himself, and obey His commands, is a proof that we love God's children.

WEB:              By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments.

Young’s:         in this we know that we love the children of God, when we may love God, and His commands may keep;

Conte (RC):    In this way, we know that we love those born of God: when we love God and do his commandments.                                                          


5:2                   By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God.  This the love of God necessarily produces.  [17]

By this we know that we love the children of God.  This is a plain proof.  [35]

when we love God and keep his commandments.  This last [item] includes brotherly love and if we therefore truly love God, we know that we are also loving the brethren, because brotherly love is the necessary result of love to God.  [49] 

If we keep not His commandments we deeply injure the souls of our brethren by setting them a bad example and lowering the standard of religion among them.  [42] 

If we don’t keep His commandments, then our love for God manifests the arrogance that intellectual commitment is a fully acceptable substitute for doing anything with that commitment.  “Words are cheap” and demand nothing; action is far different.  It is a test of whether our words really mean anything.  [rw]



5:3                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Love for God means obedience to His commands; and His commands are not irksome.

WEB:              For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous.          

Young’s:         for this is the love of God, that His commands we may keep, and His commands are not burdensome;

Conte (RC):    For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not heavy.


5:3                   For this is the love of God.  This is its nature, its natural working.  [52] 

The only sure proof of it.  [2] [35]

that we keep his commandments.  A still more explicit identification of love with obedience.  [33]

Love is like faith—without works to prove its existence all we have are idle words if not outright self-delusion.  [rw]

and his commandments are not grievous.  Oppressive and impracticable.  [12]

[This is true] for two reasons:  1. Because He gives us strength to bear them; juvat qui jubet (Philippians 4:13);  2. Because love makes them light.  They are not like the “burdens grievous to be borne” which the legal rigor of the Pharisees laid on men’s consciences.  Here again we have an echo of the Master’s words, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).  [23]

                        John does not say God’s commandments are never grievous to any.  What he does say is that in themselves they are not grievous, as said the Holy One, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:30]; neither are they grievous to any who have continued with their Father, and not been weakened by sinful ways the grace of the new birth—the grace which can, yea has, and does, overcome the world.  [43]



5:4                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     For every child of God overcomes the world; and the victorious principle which has overcome the world is our faith.

WEB:              For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith.

Young’s:         because every one who is begotten of God doth overcome the world, and this is the victory that did overcome the world -- our faith;

Conte (RC):    For all that is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith.                               


5:4                   For whatsoever [everyone, ESV, NIV] is born of God.  Anyone and everyone who falls into this category.  [rw]

                        Or:  Here the word “whatsoever” (πᾶν) is in the neuter gender.  It is not the man, but his birth from God which conquers the world, and his birth from God is his power of believing and will to believe, for “this is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.”  [42]

overcometh the world.  This overcoming “the world” is a key-note to John’s apocalypse:  Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26.  It implies that the hostile world seeks, both by temptations and by persecutions, to seduce or to destroy the sons of God.  It is “faith” in Christ that causes, and even constitutes, the victory of the faithful over all the hostilities of “the world.”  [33]

and this is the victory that overcometh the world.  The source of victorious power.  As faith gains in strength the world loses its power.  [3] 

Faith is both the victory and the victor.  It is that which fights and which from the beginning of the Gospel message has gained the victory over the world.  [49]

even our faith.  The faith which is the evidence of things not seen, and the subsistence, or anticipation, of things hoped for; a full persuasion especially, 1st, That Christ is the Son of God (1 John 5:5) and consequently that all His doctrines, precepts, promises, and threatenings, are indisputably true, and infinitely important; 2d, That there is another life after this awaiting us, wherein we shall be either happy or miserable beyond conception, and for ever; 3d, That Christ has overcome the world for us (John 16:33) and hath obtained grace for us to enable us to overcome it; and that we have an interest by faith in all he hath done, suffered, or procured for us.  [35]

The uniqueness of this reference:  It is of interest to notice that this is the only place where the word “faith” is found, not only in this epistle but in all the writings of John.  The verb “believe” is frequent.  Possibly it may be the purpose of John to call attention to the object of “faith” or to the content of belief, for he at once adds:  “And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”  It does matter what one believes relative to Jesus Christ; yet moral victory is secured not by the acceptance of certain truths about Christ, but by a definite act of faith in which the whole being is committed to him, in obedience and trust and love.  [44]    



5:5                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Who but the man that believes that Jesus is the Son of God overcomes the world?

WEB:              Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Young’s:         who is he who is overcoming the world, if not he who is believing that Jesus is the Son of God?

Conte (RC):    Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God!


5:5                   Who is he that overcometh the world.  Here the present tense is right.  The Apostle appeals to the daily experience of every victorious Christian.  [23]

                        Same truth [of the previous verse] in triumphant and personal form.  [23]

                        He who in union with “the Son of God”—the name that always opposes Him to the world and its prince—partakes His victory:  ‘I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  [34]

but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?  The faith that conquers is no mere vague belief in the existence of God, but a definite belief in the Incarnation.  The one sole Victor, who is such in the highest and unique sense, is Christ.  Compare “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).  Belief in Christ is at once belief in God and in man.  It lays a foundation for love and trust towards our fellow men.  Thus the instinctive distrust and selfishness, which reign supreme in the world, are overcome.  [23]

                        The believer and none other gains the victory over the world.  John appeals to the daily experience of his readers and hearers.  [49]



5:6                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Jesus Christ is He who came with water and blood; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit who gives testimony-- because the Spirit is the Truth.

WEB:              This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

Young’s:         This one is he who did come through water and blood -- Jesus the Christ, not in the water only, but in the water and the blood; and the Spirit it is that is testifying, because the Spirit is the truth,

Conte (RC):    This is the One who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. Not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies that the Christ is the Truth.                               


5:6                   This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ.  This does not mean that when He came into the world he was accompanied in some way by water and blood; but the idea is, that the water and the blood were clearly manifest during His appearing on earth, or that they were remarkable testimonials in some way to his character and work.  [18]

                        There have been many fanciful interpretations of the water and blood; but the best commentators now agree that the “water” was the water of Christ’s baptism, and the “blood” the propitiating “blood” of His crucifixion.  And thus, as Huther well notes, the commencement and the ending of our Lord’s ministry are symbolized by these two elements.  The “came," therefore, refers not to His birth, but to His office and earthly life, which are thus one extended coming.  Yet John uses the past tense “came” to denote that definite historical fact, and not any continuous spiritual coming through ages.  [33]  [For more detailed discussions, see at end of verse.  rw]

not by water only, but by water and blood.  John the Baptist came “by water only;” that is, he came to baptize the people, and to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.  Jesus was distinguished from him in the fact that His ministry was characterized by the shedding of blood, or the shedding of His blood constituted one of the peculiarities of His work.  [18]

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness.  Of Jesus Christ, namely, by Moses and all the prophets, by John the Baptist, by all the apostles, and in all the writings of the New Testament.  And against his testimony there can be no exception, because the Spirit is truth.  [2]  

Here again there are great diversities of interpretation.  Augustine, who makes the water and blood refer to the effusions of Christ’s side, takes “the spirit” to mean the spirit which He committed to His Father at His death (John 19:30; Luke 23:46).  But in what sense could Christ’s human spirit be said to be “the Truth”?  Far more probably it is the Holy Spirit that is meant (1 John 3:24; 4:13; John 1:32-33, 7:39; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, &c.).  Bede takes this view and understands the witness of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism to be meant.  The form of the sentence is exactly parallel to “It is the spirit that giveth life” (John 6:63).  We might render in each case:  “The spirit is the life-giver,” “And the Spirit is the witness-bearer.”  [23]

because the Spirit is truth.  The very God of truth.  [2]

Evidently the Holy Spirit.  [He] is so eminently true that He may be called truth itself, as God is so eminently benevolent that He may be called love itself.  See 1 John 4:8.  [18]   


In depth:  Two Alternative Explanations of “by water and blood” [1].  Water refers to Christ's baptism at the beginning of His Messianic work, through which He declared His purpose to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Blood refers to His bloody death upon the cross for the sin of the world.

                        Other explanations are substituted for this or combined with it.  Some refer the words water and blood to the incident in John 19:34.  To this it is justly objected that these words are evidently chosen to describe something characteristic of Christ's Messianic office, which could not be said of the incident in question.  Nevertheless, as Alford justly remarks, “to deny all such allusion seems against probability.  The apostle could hardly, both here and in that place, lay such evident stress on the water and the blood together, without having in his mind some link connecting this place and that.”  The readers of the Epistle must have been familiar with the incident, from oral or from written teaching.


                        Problems with the crucifixion scenario [18].  This would be the obvious interpretation, and would be entirely clear, if John did not immediately speak of the “water” and the “blood” as “separate” witnesses, each as bearing witness to an important point, as separate as the “Spirit” and the “water,” or the “Spirit” and the “blood;” whereas, if he refers to the mingled water and blood flowing from his side, they both witness only the same fact, to wit, his death.  Here was no “special” significancy in the water, no distinct testifying to anything different from the flowing of the blood; but together they bore witness to the “one” fact that he actually died.  But here he seems to suppose that there is some special significancy in each.   


                        On the other hand, the explanation that linking together the water and the blood at the time of the crucifixion was intended as definitive rebuttal of a Gnostic heresy [44].  John specially emphasizes the crucifixion:  “Not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.”  He was probably seeking to rebuke the heretics of his day, who were attempting to separate between the human Jesus and the heavenly “Christ.”  They held that the divine Being, ‘Christ,” came upon Jesus at the baptism but left Him just before His crucifixion.  John affirms that the Being who was baptized was identical with the Being who was crucified; He was the Son of God, both in His life and in His death.  A similar error needs to be met today:  first, in those who deny the divine person of our Lord, as they attempt to distinguish between “Jesus” and “the Christ;” and, second, in those who deny the atoning work of our Lord, as they praise His power to purify and ennoble life, but refuse to regard His death as a sacrifice for sin.  We need today this message of John [that such dual roles can’t be rightly separated].   


                        “Water” as reference to convert baptism [18]?  Some, by the “water” here, have understood the ordinance of baptism as it is appointed by the Savior to be administered to his people, meaning that the ordinance was instituted by Him.  So Beza, Calvin, Knapp, Lucke, and others understand it.  According to this the meaning would be, that He appointed baptism by water as a symbol of the cleansing of the heart, and shed His blood to effect the ransom of man, and that thus it might be said that He “came by water and blood;” to wit, by these two things as effecting the salvation of people.

But it seems improbable that the apostle should have grouped these things together in this way.  For (a) the “blood” is that which He shed; which pertained to Him personally; which He poured out for the redemption of man; and it is clear that, whatever is meant by the phrase “He came,” His coming by “water” is to be understood in some sense similar to His coming by “blood;” and it seems incredible that the apostle should have joined a mere “ordinance” of religion in this way with the shedding of His blood, and placed them in this manner on an equality.

([b]) If this be understood of baptism, there is no natural connection between that and the “blood” referred to; nothing by which the one would suggest the other; no reason why they should be united.  If he had said that He came by the appointment of two ordinances for the edification of the church, “baptism and the supper,” however singular such a statement might be in some respects, yet there would be a connection, a reason why they should be suggested together.  But why should baptism and the blood shed by the Savior on the cross be grouped together as designating the principal things which characterized his coming into the world?


“Blood” as reference to convert baptism as well [42]?  The words “not by water only, but by water and blood,” seem to indicate baptism as being far more than the application of water.  It is the application of [Christ’s] blood as well.



5:7                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     For there are three that give testimony-- the Spirit, the water, and the blood;

WEB:              For there are three who testify:

Young’s:         because three are who are testifying in the heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these -- the three -- are one;

Conte (RC):    For there are Three who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. And these Three are One.


5:7                   For there are three that bear record [witness, NKJV].  The truth has both the exactness of one testimony and the certainty of more than one.  [46]

                        It is very doubtful whether the Trinity is even remotely symbolized.  Perhaps John wishes to give the full, complement of evidence recognized by law (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 19:15; compare John 8:17).  [23]  

                        The textual issue briefly summed up:  It will be assumed here, without discussion, that the remainder of this verse and the first clause of 1 John 5:8 are spurious. Words which are not contained in a single Greek uncial manuscript, nor in a single Greek cursive earlier than the fourteenth century (the two which contain the passage being evidently translated from the Vulgate), nor are quoted by a single Greek Father during the whole of the Trinitarian controversy, nor are found in any authority until late in the fifth century, cannot be genuine.  [24]

                        in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one [omitted by ESV].  Identifying who the three are.  [rw]

in heaven.  The present “location” of all three.  Although they are working on earth, though human intermediaries, their personal “abode” is heaven itself.  [rw]

the Father.  Who clearly testified of the Son, both at His baptism and at His transfiguration.  [2] 

the Word.  Who testified of Himself on many occasions, while He was on earth; and again, with still greater solemnity, after His ascension into heaven, Revelation 1:5; 19:13.  [2]

and the Holy Ghost.  Whose testimony was added chiefly after His glorification, 1John 2:27; John 15:26; Acts 5:32; Romans 8:16.  [2] 

and these three are one.  They are one in essence, in knowledge, in will, and in their testimony.  [2]

Or:  When he says, These three are one, he refers not to essence, but on the contrary to consent; as though he had said that the Father and his eternal Word and Spirit harmoniously testify the same thing respecting Christ.  [27]        


                        In depth:  Whether interpolation or not, the concept behind the verse is fully scriptural [5].  Any one who should preach on this subject can use his own discretion about the mode of introducing it.  If he be perfectly assured that the words are an interpolation, he can state his views of that matter, and adopt the text, in order to show, that, though the words themselves are not authentic, the truths contained in them are truly scriptural, and important:  or he can take verse 9. for his text.  The unity of God may be deduced even from reason itself:  but it is repeatedly affirmed in Scripture (compare Deuteronomy 6:4 with Mark 12:29)]; nor must a doubt of it ever be suffered to enter into our minds. 

                        Though there is only one God, yet there are three distinct Persons in the Godhead—In reference to this subject, we use the term persons, because there is no other so suitable: but we mean not that these persons are in all respects as distinct from each other as Peter, James, and John; but only that in some respects they are distinguished from each other, though they subsist together in one undivided essence.

                        It is certain that there are three persons mentioned in the Scripture:  for baptism is ordered to be administered, not in the name of God merely, but “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).  These three are represented as distinct from each other; for the Son has told us, that “he will send the Holy Spirit from the Father” (John 15:26).  They are moreover spoken of as performing separate offices in the work of redemption:  the Father elects (Ephesians 1:4); the Son redeems (Ephesians 1:7); the Spirit sanctifies (Romans 15;16); and Peter, comprising in few words the whole mystery of redemption, ascribes to each of these persons His proper office (1 Peter 1:2).  They are also declared to be sources of distinct blessings to the Church:  the Apostle prays, that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, may be with us all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

                        To each of these belong the same names as unto the Father.  Is the Father God?  so is the Word (John 1:1; as Christ is called in the text).  He is “Emmanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23), God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6), God over all, blessed for evermore (Romans 9:5).  To Him is also given the incommunicable name, Jehovah; for we are to call Him, “Jehovah our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). 

                        To the Holy Spirit also these names belong.  Ananias, in lying unto the Holy Ghost, lied unto God (Acts 5:3-4).  And we, in being the temples of the Holy Ghost, are the temples of God (1 Corinthians 3:16).  The words also which were confessedly spoken by Jehovah to the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) are quoted by Paul as spoken by the Holy Ghost (Acts 28:25).

                        To each of these the same attributes also are ascribed as characterize the Father.  Is the Father eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty?  So is the Son (Micah 5:2 and Hebrews 13:8; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28;20; John 2:25; John 21:17; John 1:3 and Matthew 28:18).  --And so is the Holy Ghost (Hebrews 9:14; Psalms 139:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Genesis 1;2 and Job 26;13.

                        What now is the conclusion to be drawn from these premises, but that which is asserted in the text, that “there are Three that bear record in heaven; and that those Three are One”?



5:8                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     and there is complete agreement between these three.

WEB:              the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree as one.

Young’s:         and three are who are testifying in the earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and the three are into the one.

Conte (RC):    And there are three who give testimony on earth: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. And these three are one.                         


5:8                   And there are three that bear witness in earth [omitted by ESV].  These words also are part of the spurious insertion.  The true text of 1 John 5:7-8 runs:  For those who bear witness are three, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one.  [23]

                        As a Trinitarian proof text:  Literally, And three are they who bear witness.  It is remarkable that the words “there” are masculine, implying persons, and one is neuter, implying thing or substance.   It is not without a shadow of reason, therefore, that Augustine found an indication of the Trinity in the words.  Very similar is the Greek in the words “I and my Father are one,” where “one” is neuter.  [33]

the Spirit.  In the word, confirmed by miracles.  [2]

Evidently the Holy Spirit. The assertion here is, that that Spirit bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, (1 John 5:5).  The testimony of the Holy Spirit to this fact is contained in the following things:  (1) He did it at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17).  (2) Christ was eminently endowed with the influences of the Holy Spirit; as it was predicted that the Messiah would be, and as it was appropriate He should be, Isaiah 11:2; 61:1.  Compare Luke 4:18; John 3:34.  (3)  The Holy Spirit bore witness to his Messiahship, after his ascension, by descending, according to his promise, on his apostles, and by accompanying the message which they delivered with saving power to thousands in Jerusalem, John 16:14-16.  The Spirit of God has thus always borne witness to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, and he will continue to do it to the end of time, convincing yet countless millions that He was sent from God to redeem and save lost people.  [18]

and the water.  Of [our] baptism, wherein we are dedicated to the Son, (with the Father and Spirit,) typifying his spotless purity, and the inward purifying of our nature.  [2]

Or:  That is, the baptism of Jesus, and the scenes which occurred when He was baptized, furnished evidence that He was the Messiah.  This was done in these ways:  (1)  It was proper that the Messiah should be baptized when He entered on His work, and perhaps it was expected; and the fact that He was baptized showed that He had in fact entered on His work as Redeemer.  See Matthew 3:15.  (2)  An undoubted attestation was then furnished to the fact that he was “the Son of God,” by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and by the voice that addressed Him from heaven, Matthew 3:16-17.  (3)  His baptism with water was an emblem of the purity of His own character, and of the nature of His religion.   (4)  Perhaps it may be implied here, also, that water used in baptism now bears witness to the same thing, (a) as it is the ordinance appointed by the Savior; (b) as it keeps up His religion in the world; c) as it is a public symbol of the purity of His religion; (d ) and as, in every case where it is administered, it is connected with the public expression of a belief that Jesus is the Son of God.  [18]

and the blood.  Represented in the Lord's Supper, and applied to the consciences of believer.  [2]

Or [18]:  There is undoubted allusion here to the blood shed on the cross; and the meaning is, that that blood bore witness also to the fact that He was the Son of God.  This it did in the following respects:

(1)  The shedding of the blood showed that He was truly dead--that His work was complete--that He died in reality, and not in “appearance” only.  See John 19:34-35.

(2)  The remarkable circumstances that attended the shedding of this blood--the darkened sun, the earthquake, the rending of the veil of the temple--showed in a manner that convinced even the Roman centurion that He was the Son of God.  See Matthew 27:54.

(3)  The fact that an “atonement” was thus made for sin was an important “witness” for the Savior, showing that He had done that which the Son of God only could do, by disclosing a way by which the sinner may be pardoned, and the polluted soul be made pure.

(4)  Perhaps, also, there may be here an allusion to the Lord‘s Supper, as designed to set forth the shedding of this blood; and the apostle may mean to have it implied that the representation of the shedding of the blood in this ordinance is intended to keep up the conviction that Jesus is the Son of God.  If so, then the general sense is, that that blood--however set before the eyes and the hearts of people--on the cross, or by the representation of its shedding in the Lord‘s Supper--is a witness in the world to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and to the nature of His religion.  Compare 1 Corinthians 11:26.  [18]    

and these three agree in one.  Literal Greek, these three are into one.  The three persons converge into a unit. [33]

In bearing the same testimony--that Jesus Christ is the divine, the complete, the only Savior of the world.  [2]

They agree in one thing; they bear on one and the same point, to wit, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.  All are appointed by God as witnesses of this fact; and all harmonize in the testimony which is borne.  The apostle does not say that there are no other witnesses to the same thing; nor does he even say that these are the most important or decisive which have been furnished; but he says that these are important witnesses, and are entirely harmonious in their testimony.  [18] 



5:9                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     If we accept the testimony of men, God's testimony is greater: for God's testimony consists of the things which He has testified about His Son.

WEB:              If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is God's testimony which he has testified concerning his Son.           

Young’s:         If the testimony of men we receive, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that He hath testified concerning His Son.

Conte (RC):    If we accept the testimony of men, then the testimony of God is greater. For this is the testimony of God, which is greater: that he has testified about his Son.


5:9                   If we receive the witness of men.  As we are accustomed to do, and as we must do in courts of justice, and in the ordinary daily transactions of life.  We are constantly acting on the belief that what others say is true; that what the members of our families, and our neighbors say, is true; that what is reported by travelers is true; that what we read in books, and what is sworn to in courts of justice, is true.  We could not get along a single day if we did not act on this belief; nor are we accustomed to call it in question, unless we have reason to suspect that it is false.  The mind is so made that it must credit the testimony borne by others; and if this should cease even for a single day, the affairs of the world would come to a pause.  [18]

                        On the testimony of two or three unimpeached oaths of men we take the life of a fellow-being by the courts:  Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15.  [33]

the witness of God is greater.  Is more worthy of belief; as God is more true, and wise, and good than people.  People may be deceived, and may undesignedly bear witness to that which is not true--God never can be.  Men may, for sinister and base purposes, intend to deceive--God never can.  People may act from partial observation, from rumors unworthy of credence--God never can.  People have deceived--God never has.  [18]

for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.  Hence not mere human testimony, but that of Deity itself.  [rw]



5:10                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in his own heart: he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, in that he has refused to accept the testimony which God has given about His Son.

WEB:              He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who doesn't believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.

Young’s:         He who is believing in the Son of God, hath the testimony in himself; he who is not believing God, a liar hath made Him, because he hath not believed in the testimony that God hath testified concerning His Son;

Conte (RC):    Whoever believes in the Son of God, holds the testimony of God within himself. Whoever does not believe in the Son, makes him a liar, because he does not believe in the testimony which God has testified about his Son.            


5:10                 He that believeth on the Son of God.  For the first time in this Epistle we have the full phrase “to believe on,” of which John is so fond in his Gospel, where it occurs nearly 40 times.  Elsewhere in [the] N.T. it occurs only about 10 times.  It expresses the strongest confidence and trust; faith moves towards and reposes on its object.  Whereas “to believe a person” (πιστεύειν τινί) need mean no more than to believe what he says (1 John 4:1), “to believe on or in a person” (πιστεύειν εἴς τινα) means to have full trust in his character.  [23]

hath the witness in himself.  In short:  The testimony, the “witness,” the “record,” is within us as a divine intuition, possessing the highest conceivable certainty.  [33]

In detail:  The evidence that Jesus is the Son of God.  Compare Romans 8:16.  This cannot refer to any distinct and immediate “revelation” of that fact, that Jesus is the Christ, to the soul of the individual, and is not to be understood as independent of the external evidence of that truth, or as superseding the necessity of that evidence; but the “witness” here referred to is the fruit of all the evidence, external and internal, on the heart, producing this result; that is, there is the deepest conviction of the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.  There is the evidence derived from the fact that the soul has found peace by believing on him; from the fact that the troubles and anxieties of the mind on account of sin have been removed by faith in Christ; from the effect of this in disarming death of its terrors; and from the whole influence of the gospel on the intellect and the affections--on the heart and the life.  These things constitute a mass of evidence for the truth of the Christian religion.  [18]

Some authorities add “of God,” which is right as an interpretation, though not as part of the text.  [23]

he that believeth not God hath made him a liar.  He that has not even enough faith to induce him to believe what God says.  [23]

The witness of the God of the Old Testament is so explicit as to Jesus Christ being His true and only Son—that he who receives not this witness cannot believe in the truth of God at all.  He rejects the evidence of prophecy, miracles, holy character, unique teaching, voices from heaven, the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Ghost, the unexampled [= unprecedented] spread of Christianity, and the lives of the Christians.  [42]  

because he believeth not the record [testimony, NKJV] that God gave of his Son.  Our apostle allows not the unbeliever the chance of saying, “Perhaps it is not God who testifies.”  It is not only a sure testimony, but it is just as sure that the testifier is God.  If, therefore, the truth of the testimony is denied, the divine veracity is impeached.  It is a personal issue between man and God.  [33]  Does any sane person really want to get into an argument about who could be a more reliable source than God Himself?  [rw]



5:11                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And that testimony is to the effect that God has given us the Life of the Ages, and that this Life is in His Son.

WEB:              The testimony is this, that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Young’s:         and this is the testimony, that life age-during did God give to us, and this -- the life -- is in His Son;

Conte (RC):    And this is the testimony which God has given to us: Eternal Life. And this Life is in his Son.


5:11                 And this is the record [testimony, NKJV].  This is what the external witness of God, when it is internally appropriated by the believer, consists in; viz. the Divine gift of eternal life.  [23]

that God hath given to us eternal life.  Has provided, through the Savior, the means of obtaining eternal life. See John 5:24; John 17:2-3.  [18]

“Gave” must not be weakened into “offered,” still less into “promised.”  The believer already possesses eternal life.  [23]  

and this life is in his Son.  Whose doctrine hath revealed it; whose merits have procured it; whose Spirit hath imparted the beginning of it; and whose example will conduct us to the complete possession of it.  In other words, by whom it is purchased, and in whom it is treasured up; so that He has all the springs, and the fullness of it, in Himself, to communicate to His body, the church, first in grace and then in glory.  “Though the apostle, in what goes before, has spoken particularly of the three in heaven, and of the three on earth, who bear witness continually, he deferred mentioning, till now, what it is they are witnessing; that by introducing it last of all, and after so much preparation, it might make the stronger impression on the minds of his readers.”  [35]

                        “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  “As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.  “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  “When Christ who is our Life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.  [42]



5:12                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     He who has the Son has the Life: he who has not the Son of God has not the Life.

WEB:              He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn't have God's Son doesn't have the life.

Young’s:         he who is having the Son, hath the life; he who is not having the Son of God -- the life he hath not.

Conte (RC):    Whoever has the Son, has Life. Whoever does not have the Son, does not have Life.      


5:12                 He that hath the Son hath life.  A deduction from the preceding clause.  If the Son has the life in Himself, then whoever has the Son has the life, and no man can have the one without the other.  “To have the Son” must be compared with “to have the Father” in 1 John 2:23.  In both cases “have” signifies possession in living union through faith.  [23]

and he that hath not the Son of God.  Regardless of the reason or excuse, this is always the situation.  This is the inescapable conclusion if the initial assertion is true.  [rw]

hath not life.  He that does not believe on Him will not attain to eternal life.  See John 3:36.  [18]

“Hath not the life.”  And yet he has natural life, proving wholly another sort of life to be meant by John.  It is only as we touch Christ that we live. Our regeneration is in connection with Christ (Ephesians 2:10).  To live is Christ (Galatians 2: 20; Philippians 1:21); and Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4); and we have life more abundantly as we have more of Christ.  He who rejects Christ, of necessity cuts himself off from the true life.  [52]



5:13                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     I write all this to you in order that you who believe in the Son of God may know for certain that you already have the Life of the Ages.

WEB:              These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Young’s:         These things I did write to you who are believing in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that life ye have age-during, and that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God.

Conte (RC):    I am writing this to you, so that you may know that you have Eternal Life: you who believe in the name of the Son of God.


5:13                 These things have I written.  “These things” will cover the whole Epistle, and such is probably the meaning, as in 1 John 1:4, where John states the purpose of his Epistle in words which are explained by what he says here:  there is nothing there or here, as there is in 1 John 2:26, to limit “these things” to what immediately precedes.  [23]

                        Literally, “I wrote.”  Aorist.  Imagine a pause, or interruption, between the preceding section and the present one, and the tense becomes natural.  [52]

                        unto you.  The Christian circle for which John wrote.  [52] 

that believe on the name of the Son of God.  To believe on His name, is to believe on himself--the word “name” often being used to denote the person.  See Matthew 28:19.  [18]

that ye may know that ye have eternal life.  That you may see the evidence that eternal life has been provided, and that you may be able, by self-examination, to determine whether you possess it.  [18]

This is the special aim of this epistle.  He aims to bring about a living consciousness of eternal life that our joy may be complete (1:4).  [49]

and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.  That you may continue to believe, or may persevere in believing.  He was assured that they actually did believe on Him then; but he was desirous of so setting before them the nature of religion, that they would continue to exercise faith in Him.  It is often one of the most important duties of ministers of the gospel, to present to real Christians such views of the nature, the claims, the evidences, and the hopes of religion, as shall be adapted to secure their perseverance in the faith.  [18]


                        In depth:  Speculation that verses 13-21 are not part of the original letter of John [23].  Some modern writers consider that 1 John 5:13 constitutes the conclusion of the Epistle, the remainder (14–21) being a postscript or appendix, analogous to chap. 21 of the Gospel, and possibly by another hand.  Some go so far as to conjecture that the same person added chap. 21 to the Gospel and the last nine verses to the Epistle after the Apostle’s death.

                        Not much can be urged in favor of these views.  No MS or version seems to exist in which these concluding verses are wanting.  Tertullian quotes 1 John 5:16-18 (De Pudicitia xix.) and 1 John 5:21 (De Corona x.):  Clement of Alexandria quotes 1 John 5:16-17 (Strom, II. xv.); and both these writers in quoting mention John by name.  This shows that at the end of the second century these verses were an integral part of the Epistle.

Against such evidence as this, arbitrary statements that the division of sins into sins unto death and sins not unto death, the sternness of 1 John 5:19, and the warning against idolatry, are unlike John, will not have much weight.  The diction is John’s throughout, and some of the fundamental ideas of the Epistle reappear in these concluding verses.  Moreover, the connection with the first half of the chapter is so close, that there is no reason for supposing that, while unquestionably by John himself, it is a subsequent addition to the original work.  Indeed so close is the connection with what precedes that some commentators consider only the last four verses, or even only the last verse, to be the proper Conclusion of the Epistle.  [23]



5:14                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And we have an assured confidence that whenever we ask anything in accordance with His will, He listens to us.

WEB:              This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us.

Young’s:         And this is the boldness that we have toward Him, that if anything we may ask according to his will, He doth hear us,

Conte (RC):    And this is the confidence which we have toward God: that no matter what we shall request, in accord with his will, he hears us.                      


5:14                 And this is the confidence that we have in him.  Springing from the sense of union with Christ and from the certain knowledge that we have eternal life.  This boldness, or “confidence,” is the same in nature with the boldness spoken of in 2:28; 3:21; 4:17.  [52] 

                        This is the boldness or confidence of 3:21, which arises from a heart which does not condemn, and it issues in confidence on one point in particular, that God hears us when we ask according to His will.  [42]

that, if we ask any thing.  Temporal or spiritual, for ourselves or for others.  [52]   

according to his will.  His revealed will--for his word shows us what things we may lawfully ask.  [35]

This is the proper and the necessary limitation in all prayer.  God has not promised to grant anything that shall be contrary to His will, and it could not be right that He should do it.  We ought not to wish to receive anything that should be contrary to what He judges to be best.  No man could hope for good who should esteem his own wishes to be a better guide than the will of God.  [18]

he heareth us.  Heareth” of course means that He hears and grants what we ask (John 9:31; 11:41-42).  Compare “the desire of the righteous shall be granted” (Proverbs 10:24).  [24]

Not only observes and takes notice of our petitions, but favorably regards them, and will assuredly grant them if He sees, and as far as He sees, that it will be for our present and eternal good to have them granted:  see 1 John 5:15.  Archbishop Tillotson supposes that this refers particularly to the apostles.  “But so few of the apostles could be concerned in this advice of John, and there are so many promises of the answer of prayer scattered up and down in the Old and New Testaments, that I,” says Dr. Doddridge, “would by no means thus confine the interpretation.”  [35]


                        In depth:  The limits of what God will grant in response to our prayers [18].  The limitation here, “according to his will,” probably implies the following things:

                        (1)  In accordance with what He has “declared” that He is willing to grant.  Here the range is large, for there are many things which we know to be in accordance with His will, if they are sought in a proper manner--as the forgiveness of sins, the sanctification of the soul (1 Thessalonians 4:3), comfort in trial, the needful supply of our wants, grace that we may do our duty, wisdom to direct and guide us (James 1:5),  deliverance from the evils which beset us, and our final salvation.  Here is a range of subjects of petition that may gratify the largest wishes of prayer.

                        (2)  The expression, “according to his will,” must limit the answer to prayer to what He sees to be best for us.  Of that we are not always good judges.  We never perceive it as clearly as our Maker does, and in many things we might be wholly mistaken.  Certainly we ought not to desire to be permitted to ask anything which God would judge not to be for our good.

                        (3)  The expression must limit the petition to what it will be consistent for God to bestow upon us.  We cannot expect that he will work a miracle in answer to our prayers; we cannot ask him to bestow blessings in violation of any of the laws which He has ordained, or in any other way than that which He has appointed.  It is better that the particular blessing should be withheld from us, than that the laws which He has appointed should be disregarded.  It is better that an idle man should not have a harvest, though he should pray for it, than that God should violate the laws by which he has determined to bestow such favors as a reward of industry, and work a special miracle in answer to a lazy man‘s prayers.

                        (4)  The expression, “according to his will,” must limit the promise to what will be for the good of the whole.  God presides over the universe:  and though in him there is an infinite fullness, and he regards the wants of every individual throughout his immense empire, yet the interests of the whole, as well as of the individual, are to be consulted and regarded.  In a family, it is conceivable that a child might ask for some favor whose bestowment would interfere materially with the rights of others, or be inconsistent with the good of the whole, and in such a case a just father would of course withhold it.  With these necessary limitations the range of the promise in prayer is ample; and, with these limitations, it is true beyond a question that He does hear and answer prayer.



5:15                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And since we know that He listens to us, then whatever we ask, we know that we have the things which we have asked from Him.

WEB:              And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.

Young’s:         and if we have known that He doth hear us, whatever we may ask, we have known that we have the requests that we have requested from Him.

Conte (RC):    And we know that he hears us, no matter what we request; so we know that we can obtain the things that we request of him.


5:15                 And if we know that He hears us.  That is, if we are assured of this as a true doctrine, then, even though we may not see immediately that the prayer is answered, we may have the utmost confidence that it is not disregarded, and that it will be answered in the way best adapted to promote our good.  The specific thing that we asked may not indeed be granted (compare Luke 22:42; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9), but the prayer will not be disregarded, and the thing which is most for our good will be bestowed upon us.  The “argument” here is derived from the faithfulness of God; from the assurance which we feel that when He has promised to hear us, there will be, sooner or later, a real answer to the prayer.  [18]

whatsoever we ask.  Either in the things themselves or some blessed equivalents.  [33]

we know that we have the petitions that we desired [have asked, NKJV] of him.  We have the assurance (= “know”) that He will give the best possible answer to our prayer.  We know it now even though the actual fulfillment may lie in the future.  [rw]   

Not merely that we shall have:  our prayers are already granted, although no results may be perceptible.  If we know that he hear us … we know that we have.  The one certitude depends upon the other:  if we trust God’s goodness, we are perfectly certain that our trust is not misplaced.  Compare “All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24).  [24]

            The prophetic word of Isaiah 65:24 is fulfilled [“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear”].  [52] 



5:16                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     If any one sees a brother man committing a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask and God shall give him life--for those who do not sin unto death. There is such a thing as sin unto death; for that I do not bid him make request.

WEB:              If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death. I don't say that he should make a request concerning this.

Young’s:         If any one may see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give to him life to those sinning not unto death; there is sin to death, not concerning it do I speak that he may beseech;

Conte (RC):    Anyone who realizes that his brother has sinned, with a sin that is not unto death, let him pray, and life shall be given to him who has sinned not unto death. There is a sin which is unto death. I am not saying that anyone should ask on behalf of that sin.                                                        


5:16                 If any man see his brother sin.  Here it is obvious that “brother” must mean “fellow-Christian,” not any one whether Christian or not.  [23]

                        see.  The supposed case is one in which the sinner is seen in the very act.  [23]

a sin which is not unto death.  A sin you still have the opportunity and strength to escape from rather than it becoming habitual and a lifestyle.  [rw]

Or:  Rather, there is sin:  not a sin.  Not a particular sin, but a sinful state.  There is no article in the original.  [46]

he shall [will, NKJV] ask.  Future for imperative; or, he will ask, i.e. a Christian in such a case is sure to pray for his erring brother.  The latter seems preferable.  [23]

and he shall [will, NKJV] give him life for them that sin not unto death.  Conditional upon repentance:  The prayer of one human being can never cancel another's free-will.  If God's will does not override man's will, neither can a fellow-man's prayer.  When a human will has been firmly and persistently set in opposition to the Divine will, our intercession will be of no avail.  And this seems to be the meaning of "sin unto death; "willful and obstinate rejection of God's grace and persistence in unrepented sin.  [24]

“He” taken as the person intervening via prayer: The Greek is ambiguous.  “He” may mean either God or the intercessor, and “him” may mean either the intercessor or the sinner for whom he intercedes.  If the latter alternatives be taken, we may compare “he shall save a soul from death” (James 5:20).  Commentators are much divided.  On the one hand it is urged that throughout Scripture asking is man’s part and giving God’s:  but, on the other hand, when two verbs are connected so closely as these, “will ask and will give” (αἰτήσει καὶ δώσει), it seems rather violent to give them different nominatives; “he will ask and God will give.”  It seems better to translate he will ask and will give him life,—them that sin not unto death. “Them” is in apposition to “him,” the clause being an explanation.  If “God” be inserted, “them” is the dativus commodi:  “God will grant the intercessor life for those who sin.”  The change to the plural makes the statement more general:  “sinning not unto death” is not likely to be an isolated case.  [23]

There is a sin unto death.  Not any special sin which can be recognized as “unto death.”  Sin cannot be divided into “mortal” and “venial” on the authority of this passage.  Sin may be of such a character as to lead to total separation from Christ, which is spiritual death.  “Sin unto death” is not any act of sin, however heinous, but a state or habit of sin willfully chosen and persisted in:  it is constant and consummate opposition to God (Plummer).  [7] 

A sin which is of such a character that it throws the offender beyond the reach of mercy, and which is not to be pardoned.  The apostle does not here say what that sin is; nor how they might know what it is; nor even that in any case they could determine that it had been committed.  He merely says that there is such a sin, and that he does not design that his remark about the efficacy of prayer should be understood as extending to that.  [18]

I do not say that he shall pray for it.  Huther correctly says that “I do not say” is no absolute prohibition.  It is only a declining to advise prayer if the deadly nature were known.  Let him leave that to God, pray in hope, but be not disappointed, or discontented with God, if it prove the unpardonable sin.  [23]

Not applicable in actual practice?  There were instances in the times of the prophets in which the sin of the people became so universal and so aggravated, that they were forbidden to pray for them.  Isaiah 14:11:  “then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good;” Isaiah 15:1:  “Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people; cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth.”  But these were cases in which the prophets were directly instructed by God not to pray for a people.  We have no such instruction; and it may be said now with truth, that as we can never be certain respecting anyone that he has committed the unpardonable sin,   There may be those who are so far gone in sin that there may seem to be little, or almost no ground of hope.  They may have cast off all the restraints of religion, of morality, of decency but still, while there is life it is our duty to pray for them, “if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,” 2 Timothy 2:25. [18]

                        John is making prayer optional in such cases rather than obligatory?  (1) Note carefully that John, even in this extreme case, does not forbid intercession:  all he says is that he does not command it.  For one who sins an ordinary sin we may intercede in faith with certainty that a prayer so fully in harmony with God’s will is heard.  The sinner will receive grace to repent.  But where the sinner has made repentance morally impossible John does not encourage us to intercede.  Compare Jeremiah 7:16 [“Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me:  for I will not hear thee”]; Jeremiah 14:11 [“Then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good”].

                        (2) Note also that, while distinguishing between deadly and not deadly sin, he gives us no criterion by which we may distinguish the one from the other.  He thus condemns rather than sanctions those attempts which casuists have made to tabulate sins under the heads of “mortal” and “venial.”  Sins differ indefinitely in their intensity and effect on the soul, ending at one end of the scale in “sin unto death;” and the gradations depend not merely or chiefly on the sinful act, but on the motive which prompted it, and the feeling (whether of sorrow or delight) which the recollection of it evokes.  Further than this it is not safe to define or dogmatize.  This seems to be intimated by what is told us in the next verse. Two facts are to be borne in mind, and beyond them we need not pry.  [23]


                        In depth:  Weakness of the scenario that the “sin unto death” is the sin leading to physical rather than spiritual death [33].  The much mooted question here encounters us, What is this “sin unto death?”  The phrase was familiar to the Jews.  Upon Numbers 18:22 the rabbis based a distinction of sins unto death and not unto death.  But when the phrase is transferred to the New Testament it does not necessarily retain precisely the same import.  Whitby assumes that the case supposed is that of a sick “brother” smitten with a penal disease.  The prayer of the faithful can raise him, unless the sin has been an irrevocably mortal one.  To this Huther objects that the “death” must be the antithesis to the “eternal life” of this entire chapter, and therefore cannot be a bodily but an eternal “death.”  To this objection it seems a fair reply to say, that “death” by divine penalty is truly a part of, and truly is, “eternal death.”  The true refutation of Whitby, we think, is:  1. That the “brother” is not seen suffering the penalty of the “sin,” but actually committing it, or sinning a sin, as the Greek literally [has it].  2. We can hardly imagine that so important a part of the condition of the “brother” as sickness would be left unmentioned.  [33]


                        In depth:  “Sin unto death” interpreted as the kind of persistent sin that so hardens the heart that one has destroyed one’s own ability to repent and change for the better [23].  Or, There is sin unto death; we have no τις or μία in the Greek, a fact which is against the supposition that any act of sin is intended.  In that case would not John have named it, that the faithful might avoid it, and also know when it had been committed?

The following explanations of “sin unto death” may be safely rejected:

1.  Sin punished by the law with death.

2.  Sin punished by Divine visitation with death or sickness.

3.  Sin punished by the Church with excommunication.

As a help to a right explanation we may get rid of the idea which some commentators assume, that “sin unto death” is a sin which can be recognized by those among whom the one who commits it lives.  John’s very guarded language points the other way.  He implies that some sins may be known to be “not unto death:  he neither says nor implies that all “sin unto death” can be known as such.

As a further help we may remember that no sin, if repented of, can be too great for God’s mercy.

Hence John does not speak even of this sin as “fatal” or “mortal,” but as “unto death” (πρὸς θάνατον).  Death is its natural, but not its absolutely inevitable consequence.  It is possible to close the heart against the influences of God’s Spirit so obstinately and persistently that repentance becomes a moral impossibility.  Just as the body may starve itself to such an extent as to make the digestion, or even the reception, of food impossible; so the soul may go on refusing offers of grace until the very power to receive grace perishes.

Such a condition is necessarily sin, and “sin unto death.”  No passing over out of death into life (1 John 3:14) is any longer (without a miracle of grace) possible.  “Sin unto death,” therefore, is not any act of sin, however heinous, but a state or habit of sin willfully chosen and persisted in:  it is constant and consummate opposition to God.  In the phraseology of this Epistle we might say that it is the deliberate preference of darkness to light, of falsehood to truth, of sin to righteousness, of the world to the Father, of spiritual death to eternal life.


                        In depth:  “Sin unto death” interpreted as Gnostic-specific (i.e., denying that Jesus both lived and died as Christ) [50].  Intercession for brethren, i.e., for the members of the community which we are here concerned, is not to be offered in all cases.  It must not be made in case of mortal sin.  Commentators have been severely exercised about this sin.  The meaning is remarkably simple [in light of what John has discussed].  The whole Epistle is a warning against anti-Christianity, the denial of the Father and of the Son (4:1-4; 2:18 sqq., esp. 22, 23).  This, and nothing else, is to the writer a sin unto death, inasmuch as it breaks off the connection with the fountain of life.  Every kind of communion must be cut off if its deepest expression in intercession for a fallen brother is strictly forbidden, and the intercession itself, otherwise universally effective, is declared fruitless.   



5:17                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Any kind of wrongdoing is sin; but there is sin which is not unto death.

WEB:              All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

Young’s:         all unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not unto death.

Conte (RC):    All that is iniquity is sin. But there is a sin unto death.


5:17                 All unrighteousness is sin.  A warning against carelessness about breaches of duty, whether in ourselves or in others. All such things are sin and need the cleansing blood of Christ (1 John 1:9; 2:2).  Here, therefore, is a wide enough field for brotherly intercession.  The statement serves also as a farewell declaration against the Gnostic doctrine that to the enlightened Christian declensions [= departures] from righteousness involve no sin.  [23]

and there is a sin not unto death.  A warning against despair, whether about ourselves or about others.  [23]

This is added for the relief of weak believers, who hearing of a sin unto death, not to be prayed for, might fear that theirs were of that kind, whereas none of them are; for though they are guilty of many unrighteousnesses, yet God is merciful to them and forgives, Hebrews 8:12, and so they are not unto death.  [16]  



5:18                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     We know that no one who is a child of God lives in sin, but He who is God's Child keeps him, and the Evil one cannot touch him.

WEB:              We know that whoever is born of God doesn't sin, but he who was born of God keeps himself, and the evil one doesn't touch him.

Young’s:         We have known that every one who hath been begotten of God doth not sin, but he who was begotten of God doth keep himself, and the evil one doth not touch him;

Conte (RC):    We know that everyone who is born of God does not sin. Instead, rebirth in God preserves him, and the evil one cannot touch him.           


5:18                 We know.  This confident expression of the certitude of Christian faith stands at the beginning of each of these three verses [verses 18, 19, 20] and is the link which binds them together.  We have had it twice before (1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:14; compare 1 John 2:20-21; 1 John 3:5, 15):  and perhaps in all cases it is meant to mark the contrast between the real knowledge of the believer, which is based upon Divine revelation in Christ, and the spurious knowledge of the Gnostic, which is based upon human intelligence.  The triple “we know” at the close of the Epistle confirms the view that John 21:24 is by the Apostle’s own hand, and not added by the Ephesian elders.  [23]

that whosoever is born of God.  That is, a convert who is persistently attempting to live as he or she should.  [rw]

sinneth not.  Is not habitually and characteristically a sinner.  [18]

Once more the Apostle is not afraid of an apparent contradiction.  He has just been saying that if a Christian sins his brother will intercede for him; and now he says that the child of God does not sin.  The one statement refers to possible but exceptional facts; the other to the habitual state.  A child of God may sin; but his normal condition is one of resistance to sin.  [23]

but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself.  Watches and guards himself.  [33]

It is not said that he does it by his own strength [alone], but he will put forth his best efforts to keep himself from sin, and by divine assistance he will be able to accomplish it.  Compare 1 John 3:3; Jude, verse 21.  [18]

and that wicked one.  This refers to Satan, the evil one preeminently who seduced Adam (Genesis 3:6); who tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:1); who filled the heart of Judas (John 13:2); who beguiled Peter for a time (Luke 22:31).  [51]

toucheth him not.  The great enemy of all good is repelled in his assaults, and he is kept from falling into his snares.  The word “toucheth” (ἅπτεται) is used here in the sense of harm or injure.  [18]

Examples:  The man spoken of in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ; Hymenteus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17) and Demas (2 Timothy 4:10) were hurt by Satan.  There will remain for the believer, as long as life lasts, the assaults of Satan, which are to be successfully resisted (l Peter 5:9); Satan himself will, in time, be put under the believer's feet (Romans 16:20).  Jesus could say, “He hath nothing in me” [John 14:30].  The believer begotten into the same mold as Christ may overcome Satan, and in time will be developed a nature in which will be nothing to which Satan can appeal.  [51]



5:19                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the Evil one.

WEB:              We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Young’s:         we have known that of God we are, and the whole world in the evil doth lie;

Conte (RC):    We know that we are of God, and that the entire world is established in wickedness.


5:19                 And we know that we are of God.  We who are Christians.  The apostle supposed that true Christians might have so clear evidence on that subject as to leave no doubt in their own minds that they were the children of God.  Compare 1 John 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:12.  [18] 

and the whole world.  The term “world” here evidently means not the material world, but the people who dwell on the earth, including all idolaters, and all sinners of every grade and kind.  [18]

lieth in wickedness [lies under the sway of the wicked one, NKJV].  It remains in his power.  It has not passed over, as they have done, out of death into life; but it abides in the evil one, who is its ruler (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), as the Christian abides in Christ.  It is clear therefore that the severance between the Church and the world ought to be, and tends to be, as total as that between God and the evil one.  The evil one doth not obtain hold of the child of God:  he not only obtains hold over the world, but has it wholly within his embrace.  [23]

The figure may suggest several different ideas.  A stranded vessel lying embedded in the sand; a lost sheep lying engulphed in the treacherous swamp; a sow contented to lie wallowing in the mire; a Samson, lying bewitched in Delilah's lap—these are the images called forth; and they are all but too appropriate.  [37]



5:20                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we know the true One, and are in union with the true One--that is, we are in union with His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and the Life of the Ages.

WEB:              We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

Young’s:         and we have known that the Son of God is come, and hath given us a mind, that we may know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ; this one is the true God and the life age-during!

Conte (RC):    And we know that the Son of God has arrived, and that he has given us understanding, so that we may know the true God, and so that we may remain in his true Son. This is the true God, and this is Eternal Life.                                              


5:20                 And we know that the Son of God is come.  We know this by the evidence that John had referred to in this Epistle, 1 John 1:1-4; 1 John 5:6-8.  [18]

and hath given us an understanding.  Not an “understanding” considered as a faculty of the mind, for religion gives us no new faculties; but He has so instructed us that we do understand the great truths referred to.  Compare Luke 24:45.  [18]

that we may know.  Literally, “that we may continue to recognize, as we do now” (ἵνα with the indicative).  [23]

him that is true.  That is, the true God.  See John 17:3.  [18]

“True” does not mean “that cannot lie’ (Titus 1:2), but “genuine, real, very,” as opposed to the false gods of 1 John 5:21.  [23]

and we are in him that is true.  That is, we are united to Him; we belong to Him; we are His friends.  This idea is often expressed in the Scriptures by being “in him.”  It denotes a most intimate union, as if we were one with Him--or were a part of Him--as the branch is in the vine, John 15:4, 6.  [18]

even in his Son Jesus Christ.  The singular “Son” expresses the unique sonship relationship that no one else can ever share.  [rw]

This is the true God.  Does “this” refer to God or to Christ?  We must be content to leave the question open; both interpretations make excellent sense, and none of the arguments in favor of either are decisive.  The question is not important.  “That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” who was with the Father from all eternity, is the very foundation of John's teaching in Gospel and Epistles; and it is not of much moment whether this particular text contains the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ or not.  But if, with St. Athanasius, we interpret “this” of Christ, the conclusion of the letter is brought into striking harmony with the opening of it, in which (1 John 1:2) Christ is spoken of as “the Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us.”  Moreover, we obtain a striking contrast with what follows.  “This Man, Jesus Christ, is the true God: it is no idolatry to worship him.  Whosoever says that He is not God makes us idolaters.  But idolatry is to us an abomination.”  [24]

and eternal life.  God is the Source and Giver of life that continues immeasurably far beyond that of our mortal, earthly one.  [rw]


                        In depth:  Does “the true God” in this verse refer to the Father or to the Son [23]?  The evidence for both sides.  It is impossible to determine with certainty whether “This” (οὗτος) refers to the Father, the principal substantive of the previous sentence, or to Jesus Christ, the nearest substantive.  That John teaches the Divinity of Jesus Christ both in Epistle and Gospel is so manifest, that a text more or less in favor of the doctrine need not be the subject of heated controversy.

The following considerations are in favor of referring “This” to Christ. 

1.  Jesus Christ is the subject last mentioned.

2.  The Father having been twice called “the true One” in the previous verse, to proceed to say of Him “This is the true God” is somewhat tautological.

3.  It is Christ who both in this Epistle (1 John 1:2; 5:12) and also in the Gospel (John 11:25; 14:6) is called the Life.

4.  S. Athanasius three times in his Orations against the Arians interprets the passage in this way, as if there was no doubt about it (III. xxiv. 4, xxv. 16; IV. ix. 1).

The following are in favor of referring “This” to the Father.

1.  The Father is the leading subject of all that follows “understanding.”

2.  To repeat what has been already stated and add to it is exactly John’s style.  He has spoken of “Him that is true:” and he now goes on “This (true One) is the true God and eternal life.”

3.  It is the Father who is the source of that life which the Son has and is (John 5:26).

4.  John 17:3 supports this view [“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”].

5.   The Divinity of Christ has less special point in reference to the warning against idols:  the truth that God is the true God is the basis of the warning against false gods:  compare 1 Thessalonians 1:9 [“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”].    



5:21                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Dear children, guard yourselves from idols.

WEB:              Little children, keep yourselves from idols.        

Young’s:         Little children, guard yourselves from the idols! Amen.

Conte (RC):    Little sons, keep yourselves from false worship. Amen.


5:21                 Little children.  As usual (1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4), this refers to all his readers.  [23]

                        A title that reminded them of their relation at once to God and to him, inspired them with Christian confidence, and laid the basis for strong admonition and appeal.  [52]

keep yourselves.  Here the verb is in the aorist imperative; “once for all be on your guard and have nothing to do with.”  The use of the reflexive pronoun instead of the middle voice intensifies the command to personal care and exertion (φυλάξατε ἑαυτά).  [23]

from idols.  Flee from idolatry, the besetting sin of that age.  So too we need to flee from the idols of our age.  Whatever takes our worship from God is an idol.  [3] 

An idol is anything which usurps in our hearts that supreme place which belongs to God alone.  If we live in the reality and power of verse twenty, we shall certainly say like Ephraim, “What have I to do any more with idols?” (Hosea 14:8).  [8] 

Amen.  Here, as at the end of the Gospel and the Second Epistle, “Amen” is the addition of a copyist.  אAB and most Versions omit it.  Perhaps that in Galatians 6:18 is the only final “Amen” that is genuine; but that in 2 Peter 3:8 is well supported.  [23]


                        In depth:  Whatever applications of the principle that idols are inherently wrong that we might reasonably make, the text itself does not have those directly in mind [23].             There is no need to seek far-fetched figurative explanations of “the idols” when the literal meaning lies close at hand, is suggested by the context, and is in harmony with the known circumstances of the time.  Is it reasonable to suppose that John was warning his readers against “systematizing inferences of scholastic theology; theories of self-vaunting orthodoxy . . . tyrannous shibboleths of aggressive systems,” or against superstitious honor paid to the “Madonna, or saints, or pope, or priesthood,” when every street through which his readers walked, and every heathen house they visited, swarmed with idols in the literal sense; above all when it was its magnificent temples and groves and seductive idolatrous rites which constituted some of the chief attractions at Ephesus?  Elsewhere in N. T. the word is invariably used literally.  Moreover, if we interpret this warning literally, we have another point of contact between the Epistle and the Apocalypse (Revelation 9:20; 21:8). 









All commentaries are in the public domain; the copyright having expired or never been on them. 



1          Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.  Word Studies in the New Testament.  1886.  Internet edition. 


2          John Wesley.  Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible.  1754-1765.  Internet edition.


3          Barton Johnson.  People’s New Testament.  1891.  Internet edition.


4          Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown.  Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.  Unabridged edition.  Internet edition.


5          Charles Simeon.  Horae Homileticae.  1832.  Internet edition.


6          James Gray.  Concise Bible Commentary.  1897-1910.  Internet edition.


7          John Dummelow, editor.  Dummelow’s Commentary on the Bible.  1909.  Internet edition. 


8          Frank B. Hole.  Old and New Testament Commentary.  Internet edition.            


9          E. M. Zerr.  Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament.  Internet edition.


10        Arthur Peake.  Commentary on the Bible.  1919.  Internet edition.


11        John A. Bengel.  Gnomon of the New Testament.  1897.  Internet edition.          


12        John S. C. Abbott.  Illustrated New Testament.  1878.  Internet edition. 


13        Joseph Sutcliffe.  Commentary on the Old and New Testaments.  1835.  Internet edition. 


14        Matthew Poole.  English Annotations on the Bible.  1685.  Internet edition.        


15        Paul E. Kretzmann.  Popular Commentary.  1921-1922.  Internet edition.            


16        John Gill.  Exposition of the Entire Bible.  1746-1763.  Internet edition. 


17        Adam Clarke.  Commentary.  1832.  Internet edition.        


18        Albert Barnes.  Notes on the New Testament.  1870.  Internet edition.   


19        Heinrich Meyer.  Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  1832.  Internet edition.             


20        Johann P. Lange.  Commentary on the Holy Scriptures:  Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical.  1857-1884.  Internet edition.        


21        William R. Nicoll, editor.  Expositor’s Greek Testament.  1897-1910.  Internet edition. 


22        Henry Alford.  Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary.  1863-1878.  Internet edition.        


23        Alfred Plummer.  Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.  1889.  Internet edition.  Basically a “simplified” version of the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges.       


24        The Pulpit Commentary.  1897.  Internet edition.  


25        John Trapp.  Complete Commentary.  Lived 1601-1669.  1865-1868 reprinting.  Internet edition.  


26        William Godbey.  Commentary on the New Testament.  Internet edition.  


27        John Calvin.  Commentary on the Bible.  Internet edition.            


28        Joseph C. Philpot (1802-1869).  Commentary on Select Texts.  Internet edition.            


29        George Haydock (1774-1849).  Catholic Bible Commentary.  Internet edition.  

30        H. A. Ironside.  Ironside’s Notes on Selected Books.  1914.  Internet edition     


31        Lost source; rather than delete the material, I felt it better to simply list the unidentifiable volume and admit my error.          


32        Charles J. Ellicott, editor. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers.  Internet edition.          


33        Daniel D. Whedon.  Commentary on the Bible.  Internet edition. 


34        Philip Schaff, editor.  Schaff’s Popular Commentary on the New Testament.  Internet edition.  


35        Joseph Benson (born 1748).  Commentary of the Old and New Testaments.  Internet edition.  


36        Thomas Coke (published 1801-1803).  Commentary on the Holy Bible.  Internet edition.          


37        Robert S. Candlish.  The First Epistle of John Expounded In A Series of Lectures.  1877 edition.  Internet edition.           


38        Arno C. Gaebelein.  The Annotated Bible.  Internet edition.         


39        Joseph Parker.  The People's Bible.  Internet edition.       


40        Thomas Scott.  Commentary on the Bible.  Volume Six.  Fifth Edition.  London:  L. B. Seeley et al, 1822.           


41        Bernhard Weiss.  Commentary on the New Testament.  Volume Four.    New York:  Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906.        


42        M. F. Sadler.  The General Epistles of SS James, Peter, John and Jude.  London:  George Bell and Sons, 1895. 


43        [Robert S. Hunt?]  The Cottage Commentary:  The Epistle to the Hebrews and the General Epistles.  London:  Joseph Masters, 1865.     

44        Charles Erdman.  The General Epistles:  An Exposition.  Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1918.      


45        W. H. Bennett.  The Century Bible:  The General Epistles—James, Peter, John, and Jude.  Edinburgh:  T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1901.     


46        John B. Sumner.  A Practical Exposition of the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude.  London:  J. Hatchard and Son, 1840.           


47        James C. Gray.  Biblical Museum:  Hebrews to the End of the New Testament.  London:  Elliot Stock, 1877. 


48        William G. Humphry.  A Commentary on the Revised Version of the New Testament.  London:  Cassel, Petter, Galpin & Company, 1882.    


49        Revere F. Weidner.  The Lutheran Commentary:  Annotations on the General Epistles of James, Peter, Peter, John, and Jude.  New York:  Christian Literature Company, 1897.           


50        A Short Protestant Commentary on the New Testament.  Volume 3.  Translated from the Third German Edition.  London:  Williams and Norgate, 1884. 


51        O. P. Eaches.  Clark’s Peoples Commentary:  I, II, and III John, Jude, and Revelation.  Boston:  American Baptist Publication Society, 1910.           


52        Henry A. Sawtelle.  Commentary on the Epistles of John.  Philadelphia:   American Baptist Publication Society, 1888.