Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 JOHN - Chapter 5

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1 John 5

Supplemental Commentary:

III.  GOD IS LOVE  4, 7 -- 5, 17 (continued)

5, 1-5:  The Basis of Love.    1.  The Christ: i.e., the promised Messias, the legate of God.  Cf. 2, 22; 5, 5.  Him who begot: i.e., God.  The one begotten: primarily Jesus, and then all those who are born of God to a supernatural life through grace, and by extension all men.    2.  This is the converse of 4, 20 f.  It confirms the unity and the inseparability of the two great loves.    3.  Cf. 2, 5; 2 John 6; John 14, 15; 15, 10.  The observance of the commandments is not difficult for the children of God.  It is grace that makes them easy of fulfillment.  Cf. Rom. 7, 14 ff.    4 f.  The victory comes ultimately from our faith, which is the root and foundation of love (3, 9; Rom. 7, 25).  This faith centers in the belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

5, 6-13:  Witnesses to Christ.    6.  This is he: i.e., Jesus.  Who came: into the world in the Incarnation.  In water and in blood: both prepositions here indicate instrumentality.  It is the Spirit, etc.: a more probable reading has, "It is the Spirit that bears witness because the Spirit is the truth."

Tertullian, and those who follow him, interpret this verse as a polemic against Cerinthus who denied the divinity of Christ.  St. Augustine, and his followers, refer it rather to the water and blood issuing from the side of Christ when pierced with the lance.  The former interpretation takes the water as that of Christ's baptism, and the blood as the symbol of His death.  Thus the divinity of Christ was manifested both at the beginning and at the end of His ministry.  Cf. Matt. 3, 13 ff; John 1, 32-42; Matt. 27, 54.  Hence the error of the teaching that the Son descended upon the man Jesus at His baptism, but deserted Him before His death.  The other opinion holds that John is rather answering the Docetae, who maintained that Christ suffered only apparently.  The water and blood issuing from Christ's side prove His death to have been real.  By His real death on the cross He brought about the remission of sins.  The Spirit is witness of these facts especially at the baptism of Christ, and on Pentecost.  He now bears witness through the infallible teachings of the Church.  He is indeed the Spirit of truth (John 14, 17; 15, 26; 16, 13).

7.  Cf. note to text.  According to the reading of the Vulgate, there are three heavenly witnesses corresponding to the three witnesses on earth, the three divine Persons.  Their witness is indicated in the Scriptures.  These three are one: i.e., in nature.    9.  The testimony of men: this seems to refer to the witness of the water, blood and Spirit, either as visible witness in the order of creation, or as fulfilling the conditions of reliable human witness.    10.  Refusal to believe means the rejection of this reliable witness; hence it amounts to blasphemy.  Cf. John 8, 39-44.  To accept the testimony through faith requires the grace of God which is offered to all.

12.  He who has the Son: i.e., through faith and love.  He already possesses eternal life because grace is the seed of glory.

5, 14-17:  Confidence in Prayer.    14.  Towards him: i.e,. toward Christ.  The main quality our prayers must have is to be according to his will.  Such prayer is answered.  Cf. John 14, 13; 15, 7.16; 16, 26 f.    15.  Cf. John 11, 41 f; 16, 26 f.

16.  Cf. note to text.    17.  The Greek probably reads, "All lawlessness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death."  The Apostle wishes to keep his readers from sin, and yet would not have them become discouraged should they fall into a sin not unto death.  Cf. 3, 4.

Conclusion  5, 18-21

These verses are a summary of the chief thoughts of the Epistle.    18.  Cf. 3, 6-10.  Preserves him: i.e., as long as he co-operates with grace.  The evil one, etc.: although the devil will tempt him, he will be preserved.  Cf. John 10, 28; 14, 30; 17, 11.12.16; Eph. 6, 11 ff.    19.  This again emphasizes the division of men into two general categories: the children of God and the children of the world.  Cf. 3, 1-10.    20.  We know, etc.: with a knowledge clarified by faith.  This knowledge unites us most intimately with the true Son of God.  He is the true God: an explicit declaration of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The Son is called life eternal also in 1, 2; 5, 11 f; John 1, 4; 3, 36; 5, 26; etc.    21.  Idolatry in the strict sense was prevalent in many forms in those days.

Confraternity Bible:

The Basis of Love  1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.  And everyone who loves him who begot, loves also the one begotten of him.  2 In this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments.  3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not burdensome.  4 Because all that is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.  5 Who is there that overcomes the world if not he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Witnesses to Christ  6* This is he who came in water and in blood, Jesus Christ; not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood.  And it is the Spirit that bears witness that Christ is the truth.  7* For there are three that bear witness [in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.  8* And there are three that bear witness on earth]: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are one.  9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God which is greater, that he has borne witness concerning his Son.  10 He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony of God in himself.  He who does not believe the Son, makes him a liar; because he does not believe the witness that God has borne concerning his son.

11 And this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life; and this life is in his Son.  12 He who has the Son has the life.  He who as not the Son has not the life.

13 These things I am writing to you that you may know that you have eternal life---you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

Confidence in Prayer  14 And the confidence that we have towards him is this, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  15 And we know that he hears us whatever we ask; we know that the requests we make of him are granted.

16* He who knows his brother is committing a sin that is not unto death, shall ask, and shall give life to him who does not commit a sin unto death.  There is sin unto death; I do not mean that anyone should ask as to that.  17* All lawlessness is sin, and there is a sin unto death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God commits sin; but the Begotten of God preserves him and the evil one does not touch him.  19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one.  20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, that we may know the true God and may be in his true Son.  He is the true God and eternal life.

21 Dear children, guard yourselves from the idols.  Amen.


6: The water . . . the blood: probably refer to the baptism and death of Christ.

7-8: According to the evidence of many manuscripts, and the majority of commentators, these verses should read: "And there are three who give testimony, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are one."  The Holy See reserves to itself the right to pass finally on the origin of the present reading.

16-17: It is difficult to determine just what St. John means by sin . . . not unto death and sin unto death.  The former is probably a grievous or mortal sin, because life shall be given; the latter is probably a willful apostasy and the sin of final unrepentance.  St. John does not forbid us to pray for such sinners, because God alone can determine whether one is finally impenitent or not.  Our faith teaches us that God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. (Ezech. 33, 11).