Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 JOHN - Chapter 4

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1 John 4

Supplemental Commentary:

II.  GOD IS JUSTICE  2, 28 -- 4, 6 (continued)

4, 1-6:  True and False Spirits.    1.  The Spirits: i.e., the teachers, many of whom were false, the antichrists referred to in 2, 18-28.  False prophets: here one who speaks falsely in the name of the true God.  The spirit of evil and darkness inspires these false prophets.    2 f.  The criterion which the Apostle here offers his readers is very simple: the confession of the doctrine of the Incarnation.  This remains the sense even with the reading of the Greek.  Cf. note to text.  Now is already in the world: the heresies rampant at the time were especially christological and soteriological.

4.  Greater is he, etc.: God's superiority over Satan is obvious; John rather insists that the source of victory is God, and not themselves.    5 f.  This emphasizes the antithesis between the world and Christ, between those who are of the world and those who are of God.  This distinction between acceptance and rejection of the teaching authority of the Apostles is always a criterion of true and false teachers.

III.  GOD IS LOVE  4, 7 -- 5, 17

Again the Apostle returns to the theme of love as the basis of our knowledge of and communion with God.  Again he insists, more emphatically, on the inseparability of love of God and love of neighbor, and on the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ.  Without this faith there can be no real motive for fraternal charity.  We are asked to love simply because God is love, and this love of God is shown in the Incarnation.  Hence if we have no faith in the Incarnation, we have no real motive for love of our brother.

4, 7-21:  Love Unites Us with God.  The Apostle here continues the thought developed in 3, 11-24.    8.  For God is love: a definition of God by one of His attributes---by one that sums up, it seems, the very essence of the Godhead.  It is the basis of fraternal charity, as it is the test of our knowledge of God.    10.  The love that unites us to God does not spring from ourselves; it began in God, even before we knew Him, in the plan of the Incarnation and the Redemption.  Christ is the propitiation (cf. 2, 2).

12 f.  No one has ever seen God: i.e., with the eyes of the body (John 1, 1; 1, 18); nor has anyone with his merely natural powers ever seen God as He is in Himself.  We have, however, practical assurance of communion with Him if we love one another, for then God abides in us.  Fraternal charity thus attests the fact of the divine indwelling, but does not produce it.  He has given us of his Spirit: further confirmation of our communion with God.  The Holy Spirit is by appropriation spoken of as the author of this divine indwelling.

14-16.  God's love in sending His Son is an historical fact that has its witnesses, among them John himself.  The Apostle makes his own profession of faith in this fundamental truth.  To know: used with reference to the truths which the light of faith brings; to believe: used with reference to an act of adherence to the person of Jesus.

17 f.  The fruits of love.  Cf. 5, 14-17.  He obviously refers to Jesus.  In this world: best understood as a parenthetical statement.  The comparison, therefore, is simply between Christ and ourselves.  Our condition is like that of Christ, if we have faith and charity; hence there is no need to fear Christ as our judge.  Fear: i.e., servile fear.  Love does not banish that fear which springs from love, or filial fear.    19 f.  A recapitulation in forceful language of the great commandment of love.    21.  The unity of the commandment of love is based not only on the very nature of things, but also on a positive command of God, revealed through Jesus Christ (Matt. 22, 37-40; Luke 10, 27; John 13, 34).

Confraternity Bible:

True and False Spirits  1* Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.  2 By this is the spirit of God known: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is of God.  3 And every spirit that severs Jesus, is not of God, but is of Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he is coming, and now is already in the world.

4 You are of God, dear children, and have overcome him, because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.  They are of the world; 5 therefore of the world they speak and the world listens to them.  6 We are of God.  He who knows God listens to us; he who is not of God does not listen to us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Love Unites Us with God  7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.  And everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God.  8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.  9 In this has the love of God been shown in our case, that God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through him.  10 In this is the love, not that we have loved God, but that he has first loved us, and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins.  11 Beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12 No one has ever seen God.  If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  13 In this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  14 And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father has sent his Son to be Savior of the world.  15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.  16 And we have come to know, and have believed, the love that God has in our behalf.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

17 In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we also in this world.  18* There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear brings punishment.  And he who fears is not perfected in love.  19 Let us therefore love, because God first loved us.  20 If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.  For how can he who does not love his brother, whom he sees, love God, whom he does not see?  21 And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.


1: Test the spirits: the expression probably refers to those Christians who claimed extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These spirits should be examined to see whether their teaching is in agreement with Catholic faith and the doctrine of Christ and His Church.

18: There is no fear in love: perfect love banishes human, doubtful and servile, fear.  It does not, however, exclude the wholesome fear of God's judgments, nor the fear and trembling with which man must work out his salvation (Phil. 2, 12).