1 John 3

(See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that
The ἵνα (hina) clause is best understood (1) as epexegetical (or explanatory), clarifying the love (ἀγάπην, agapēn) that the Father has given to believers. Although it is possible (2) to regard the ἵνα as indicating result, the use of ποταπήν (potapēn, “what sort of”) to modify ἀγάπην suggests that the idea of “love” will be qualified further in the following context, and this qualification is provided by the epexegetical ἵνα clause.
we should be called God’s children – and indeed
“Indeed” is not in the Greek text but is supplied to indicate emphasis.
we are!
The phrase καὶ ἐσμεν (kai esmen, “and we are”) is omitted in 049 69 Maj.. There seems to be no theological reason to omit the words. This has all the earmarks of a classic case of homoioteleuton, for the preceding word (κληθῶμεν, klēthōmen, “we should be called”) ends in -μεν (-men).
The indicative mood indicates that the verb ἐσμέν (esmen) at the end of 3:1a is not governed by the ἵνα (hina) and does not belong with the ἵνα clause, since this would have required a subjunctive. If the verb ἐσμέν were subjunctive, the force of the clause would be “that we should be called children of God, and be (children of God).” With ἐσμέν as indicative, the clause reads “that we should be called children of God, and indeed we are (children of God).”
For this reason
Lexically it is clear that this phrase indicates reason, but what is not clear is whether (1) τοῦτο (touto) refers to what follows, (2) to what precedes, or (3) to both (as with the ἐν τοῦτο [en touto] phrases throughout 1 John). Διὰ τοῦτο (dia touto) occurs 15 times in the Gospel of John, and a pattern emerges which is so consistent that it appears to be the key to the usage here. Six times in the Gospel of John (5:16, 18; 8:47; 10:17; 12:18, 39) the phrase refers to what follows, and in each of these instances an epexegetical ὅτι (hoti) clause follows. Nine times in John (1:31, 6:65, 7:21–22, 9:23, 12:27, 13:11, 15:19, 16:15, 19:11) the phrase refers to what precedes, and in none of these instances is it followed by a ὅτι clause. The phrase διὰ τοῦτο is used three times in the Johannine Epistles. In two of these (1 John 4:5, 3 John 10) there is no ὅτι clause following, and so the διὰ τοῦτο should refer to preceding material. Here in 3:1 there is an epexegetical ὅτι clause following, so the διὰ τοῦτο should (unless it is the only exception in the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles) refer to what follows, that is, to the ὅτι clause itself. This is indicated by the colon in the translation.
the world does not know us: because it did not know him.
The pronoun him is a clear reference to Jesus Christ (compare John 1:10).
Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be
The subject of the third person singular passive verb ἐφανερώθη (efanerōqē) in 3:2 is the following clause τί ἐσόμεθα (ti esomeqa): “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”
What we will be. The opponents have been revealed as antichrists now (2:19). What believers will be is to be revealed later. In light of the mention of the parousia in 2:28, it seems likely that an eschatological revelation of the true character of believers is in view here.
has not yet been revealed. We
The Byzantine text, the Syriac Peshitta, the Bohairic Coptic, and one ms of the Sahidic Coptic supply δέ (de) after οἴδαμεν (oidamen) in 3:2b. Additions of coordinating conjunctions such as δέ are predictable variants; this coupled with the poor external credentials suggests that this addition is not likely to be original.
The relationship of 3:2b to 3:2a is difficult. It seems best to regard this as a case of asyndeton, although the Byzantine text, the Syriac Peshitta, the Bohairic Coptic, and some mss of the Sahidic Coptic supply δέ (de) after οἴδαμεν (oidamen) in 3:2b. This addition is not likely to be original, but it does reflect a tendency among scribes to see an adversative (contrastive) relationship between 3:2a and 3:2b. This seems to be an accurate understanding of the relationship between the clauses from a logical standpoint: “and what we shall be has not yet been revealed; but we know that whenever he should be revealed, we shall be like him.”
know that
The first ὅτι (hoti) in 3:2 follows οἴδαμεν (oidamen), a verb of perception, and introduces an indirect discourse clause which specifies the content of what believers know: “that whenever it should be revealed, we shall be like him.”
whenever
In this context ἐάν (ean) does not indicate (1) uncertainty about whether or not what believers will be shall be revealed, but rather (2) uncertainty about the exact time the event will take place. In the Koine period ἐάν can mean “when” or “whenever” and is virtually the equivalent of ὅταν (hotan; see BDAG 268 s.v. ἐάν 2). It has this meaning in John 12:32 and 14:3. Thus the phrase here should be translated, “we know that whenever it is revealed.”
it
Many take the understood subject (“he”) of φανερωθῇ (fanerōqē) as a reference to Jesus Christ, because the same verb was used in 2:28 in reference to the parousia (second advent). In the immediate context, however, a better analogy is ἐφανερώθη τί ἐσόμεθα (efanerōqē ti esomeqa) in 3:2a. There the clause τί ἐσόμεθα is the subject of the passive verb: “what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” From a grammatical standpoint it makes better sense to see the understood subject of φανερωθῇ as “it” rather than “he” and as referring back to the clause τί ἐσόμεθα in 3:2a. In the context this makes good sense: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it shall be revealed, we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is.” This emphasizes the contrast in the verse between the present state (“not yet been revealed”) and the future state (“shall be revealed”) of believers, and this will of course take place at the parousia.
is revealed
Is revealed. It may well be that the use of the same passive verb here (from φανερόω, faneroō) is intended to suggest to the reader the mention of the parousia (Christ’s second coming) in 2:28.
we will be like him, because
The second ὅτι (hoti) in 3:2 is best understood as causal, giving the reason why believers will be like God: “we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is.”
we will see him just as he is.
The phrase we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is has been explained two ways: (1) believers will really become more like God than they now are, and will do this through seeing God as he really is; or (2) believers will realize that they are already like God, but did not realize it until they see him as he is. One who sees a strong emphasis on realized eschatology in the Gospel of John and the Epistles might opt for the second view, since it downplays the difference between what believers already are in the present age and what they will become in the next. It seems better, though, in light of the statement in 3:2a that “what we will be has not yet been revealed” and because of the reference to Christ’s parousia in 2:28, that the author intends to distinguish between the present state of believers and what they will be like in the future. Thus the first view is better, that believers really will become more like God than they are now, as a result of seeing him as he really is.
And everyone who has this hope focused
“Focused” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied for clarity.
on him purifies
The verb translated purifies (ἁγνίζω, hagnizō) is somewhat unusual here, since it is not common in the NT, and occurs only once in the Gospel of John (11:55). One might wonder why the author did not use the more common verb ἁγιάζω (hagiazō), as in John 17:19, where Jesus prays, “On their behalf I consecrate myself, so that they may also be consecrated in the truth.” It is possible that there is some overlap between the two verbs and thus this is another example of Johannine stylistic variation, but the verb ἁγνίζω is used in the context of John 11:55, which describes ritual purification for the Passover, a usage also found in the LXX (Exod 19:10–11, Num 8:21). In this context the use of ἁγνίζω would remind the readers that, if they have the future hope of entering the Father’s presence (“seeing him as he is” in 3:2), they need to prepare themselves by living a purified lifestyle now, just as Jesus lived during his earthly life and ministry (cf. 2:6 again). This serves to rebut the opponents’ claims to moral indifference, that what the Christian does in the present life is of no consequence.
himself, just as Jesus
Grk “that one.” Context indicates a reference to Jesus here. The switch from αὐτός (autos) to ἐκείνος (ekeinos) parallels 1 John 2:6 (see note there). Since purity of life is mentioned in the context, this almost certainly refers to Jesus in his earthly life and ministry as the example believers should imitate (a major theme of the author throughout 1 John).
is pure).
1 John 3:1–3. All of 3:1–3 is a parenthesis within the present section in which the author reflects on what it means to be fathered by God, a subject he has mentioned at the end of 2:29. The sequence of the argument is then resumed by 3:4, which is in opposition to 2:29.


Everyone who practices sin
Everyone who practices sin. In contrast to the πᾶς ὁ (pas ho) + participle construction in 3:3 (everyone who has, πᾶς ὁ ἔχων [pas ho ecōn]) which referred to believers, the use of everyone who practices sin (πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν [pas ho poiōn tēn hamartian]) here refers to the author’s opponents. A similar use, referring to the opponents’ denial of the Son, is found in 2:23.
also practices lawlessness;
The Greek word ἀνομία (anomia) is often translated “iniquity” or “lawlessness” and in the LXX refers particularly to transgression of the law of Moses. In Jewish thought the ideas of sin (ἁμαρτία, hamartia) and lawlessness or iniquity (ἀνομία) were often equated because sin involved a violation of the Mosaic law and hence lawlessness. For example, Ps 51:5 LXX sets the two in parallel, and Paul in Rom 4:7 (quoting Ps 32:1) does the same. For the author, it is not violation of the Mosaic law that results in lawlessness, since he is writing to Christians. The ‘law’ for the author is the law of love, as given by Jesus in the new commandment of John 13:34–35. This is the command to love one’s brother, a major theme of 1 John and the one specific sin in the entire letter which the opponents are charged with (3:17). Since the author has already labeled the opponents “antichrists” in 2:18, it may well be that he sees in their iniquitous behavior of withdrawing from the community and refusing to love the brethren a foreshadowing of the apocalyptic iniquity of the end times (cf. 2 Thess 2:3–8). In Matt 24:11–12 Jesus foretold that false prophets would arise in the end times (cf. 1 John 4:1), that lawlessness (anomia) would increase, and that “the love of many will grow cold” (which would certainly fit the author’s portrait of the opponents here).
indeed,
Grk “and.”
sin is lawlessness.
And you know that Jesus
Grk “that one.” The context makes it clear that this is a reference to Jesus, because the reader is told “he was revealed in order that he might take away sins.” The connection with Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in John 1:29 provides additional confirmation that the previous use of ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) in 3:3b should also be understood as a reference to Jesus, as 2:6 was.
In Johannine thought it is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
was revealed to take away
The ἵνα (hina) clause gives the purpose of Jesus’ self-revelation as he manifested himself to the disciples and to the world during his earthly life and ministry: It was “to take away sins.”
sins, and in him there is no sin.
Everyone who resides
Here the verb μένω (menō) refers to the permanence of relationship between Jesus and the believer, as in 2:27 and 2:28. It is clear that Jesus is the referent of the phrase ἐν αὐτῷ (en autō) because he is the subject of the discussion in v. 5.
in him does not sin;
The interpretive problem raised by the use of the present tense ἁμαρτάνει (hamartanei) in this verse (and ποιεῖ [poiei] in 3:9 as well) is that (a) it appears to teach a sinless state of perfection for the true Christian, and (b) it appears to contradict the author’s own statements in 2:1–2 where he acknowledged that Christians do indeed sin. (1) One widely used method of reconciling the acknowledgment in 2:1–2 that Christians do sin with the statements in 3:6 and 3:9 that they do not is expressed by M. Zerwick ("Biblical Greeks #251). He understands the aorist to mean “commit sin in the concrete, commit some sin or other” while the present means “be a sinner, as a characteristic 'state'.” N. Turner (Grammatical Insights, 151) argues essentially the same as Zerwick, stating that the present tense ἁμαρτάνει is stative (be a sinner) while the aorist is ingressive (begin to be a sinner, as the initial step of committing this or that sin). Similar interpretations can be found in a number of grammatical works and commentaries. (2) Others, however, have questioned the view that the distinction in tenses alone can convey a “habitual” meaning without further contextual clarification, including C. H. Dodd (The Johannine Epistles [MNTC], 79) and Z. C. Hodges (“1 John,” BKCNT, 894). B. Fanning (Verbal Aspect [OTM], 215–17) has concluded that the habitual meaning for the present tense cannot be ruled out, because there are clear instances of habitual presents in the NT where other clarifying words are not present and the habitual sense is derived from the context alone. This means that from a grammatical standpoint alone, the habitual present cannot be ruled out in 1 John 3:6 and 9. It is still true, however, that it would have been much clearer if the author had reinforced the habitual sense with clarifying words or phrases in 1 John 3:6 and 9 if that is what he had intended. Dodd’s point, that reliance on the distinction in tenses alone is quite a subtle way of communicating such a vital point in the author’s argument, is still valid. It may also be added that the author of 1 John has demonstrated a propensity for alternating between present and aorist tenses for purely stylistic reasons (see 2:12).
Does not sin. It is best to view the distinction between “everyone who practices sin” in 3:4 and “everyone who resides in him” in 3:6 as absolute and sharply in contrast. The author is here making a clear distinction between the opponents, who as moral indifferentists downplay the significance of sin in the life of the Christian, and the readers, who as true Christians recognize the significance of sin because Jesus came to take it away (3:5) and to destroy it as a work of the devil (3:8). This argument is developed more fully by S. Kubo (”I John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” AUSS 7 [1969]: 47-56), who takes the opponents as Gnostics who define sin as ignorance. The opponents were probably not adherents of fully developed gnosticism, but Kubo is right that the distinction between their position and that of the true Christian is intentionally portrayed by the author here as a sharp antithesis. This explanation still has to deal with the contradiction between 2:1–2 and 3:6–9, but this does not present an insuperable difficulty. The author of 1 John has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to present his ideas antithetically, in “either/or” terms, in order to bring out for the readers the drastic contrast between themselves as true believers and the opponents as false believers. In 2:1–2 the author can acknowledge the possibility that a true Christian might on occasion sin, because in this context he wishes to reassure his readers that the statements he has made about the opponents in the preceding context do not apply to them. But in 3:4–10, his concern is to bring out the absolute difference between the opponents and his readers, so he speaks in theoretical rather than practical terms which do not discuss the possible occasional exception, because to do so would weaken his argument.
everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness
The one who practices righteousness. The participle (ὁ ποιῶν, ho poiōn) + noun constructions in 3:7 and in 3:8a, the first positive and the second negative, serve to emphasize the contrast between the true Christians (“the one who practices righteousness”) and the opponents (“the one who practices sin,” 3:8a).
is righteous, just as Jesus
Grk “that one.” Context indicates a reference to Jesus here. As with the previous uses of ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) by the author of 1 John (2:6; 3:3, 5), this one refers to Jesus, as the reference to “the Son of God” in the following verse (3:8) makes clear.
is righteous.
The one who practices sin is of the devil,
The person who practices sin is of the devil. 1 John 3:10 and John 8:44 might be cited as parallels, because these speak of opponents as the devil’s “children.” However, it is significant that the author of 1 John never speaks of the opponents as “fathered by the devil” in the same sense as Christians are “fathered by God” (3:9). A concept of evildoers as “fathered” by the devil in the same sense as Christians are fathered by God would imply a much more fully developed Gnosticism with its dualistic approach to humanity. The author of 1 John carefully avoids saying that the opponents are “fathered by the devil,” because in Johannine theology not to be fathered by God is to be fathered only by the flesh (John 1:13). This is a significant piece of evidence that 1 John predates the more fully developed Gnosticism of the 2nd century. What the author does say is that the opponents (“the one who practices sin”) are from the devil, in the sense that they belong to him and have given him their allegiance.
because the devil has been sinning
The present tense verb has been translated as an extending-from-past present (a present of past action still in progress). See ExSyn 520.
from the beginning. For this purpose
Here εἰς τοῦτο (eis touto) states the purpose for the revelation of God’s Son. However, the phrase offers the same difficulty as all the ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) phrases in 1 John: Does it refer to what precedes or to what follows? By analogy with the ἐν τούτῳ construction it is probable that the phrase εἰς τοῦτο here refers to what follows: There is a ἵνα (hina) clause following which appears to be related to the εἰς τοῦτο, and in fact is resumptive (that is, it restates the idea of “purpose” already expressed by the εἰς τοῦτο). Thus the meaning is: “For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.”
the Son of God was revealed: to destroy
In the Gospel of John λύσῃ (lusē) is used both literally and figuratively. In John 1:27 it refers to a literal loosing of one’s sandal-thong, and in John 2:19 to a destruction of Jesus’ physical body which was understood by the hearers to refer to physical destruction of the Jerusalem temple. In John 5:18 it refers to the breaking of the Sabbath, in John 7:23 to the breaking of the law of Moses, and in John 10:35 to the breaking of the scriptures. The verb is again used literally in John 11:44 at the resurrection of Lazarus when Jesus commands that he be released from the graveclothes with which he was bound. Here in 1 John 3:8 the verb means, with reference to “the works of the devil,” to “destroy, bring to an end, abolish.” See BDAG 607 s.v. λύω 4 and F. Büchsel, TDNT 4:336.
the works of the devil.
Everyone who has been fathered
The imagery expressed here (σπέρμα αὐτοῦ, sperma autou, “his seed”) clearly refers to the action of the male parent in procreation, and so “fathered” is the best choice for translating γεννάω (gennaō; see 2:29).
by God does not practice sin,
The problem of the present tense of ποιεῖ (poiei) here is exactly that of the present tense of ἁμαρτάνει (hamartanei) in 3:6. Here in 3:9 the distinction is sharply drawn between “the one who practices sin” in 3:8, who is of the devil, and “the one who is fathered by God” in 3:9, who “does not practice sin.” See S. Kubo (”I John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” AUSS 7 [1969]: 47-56) for a fuller discussion of the author’s argument as based on a sharp antithesis between the recipients (true Christians) and the opponents (heretics).
Does not practice sin. Again, as in 3:6, the author is making a clear distinction between the opponents, who as moral indifferentists downplay the significance of sin in the life of the Christian, and the recipients, who as true Christians recognize the significance of sin because Jesus came to take it away (3:5) and to destroy it as a work of the devil (3:8). This explanation still has to deal with the apparent contradiction between the author’s statements in 2:1–2 and those here in 3:9, but this is best explained in terms of the author’s tendency to present issues in “either/or” terms to bring out the drastic contrast between his readers, whom he regards as true believers, and the opponents, whom he regards as false. In 2:1–2 the author can acknowledge the possibility that a true Christian might on occasion sin, because in this context he wishes to reassure his readers that the statements he has made about the opponents in the preceding context do not apply to them. But in 3:4–10, his concern is to bring out the absolute difference between the opponents and his readers, so he speaks in theoretical terms which do not discuss the possible occasional exception, because to do so would weaken his argument.
because
Both the first and second ὅτι (hoti) in 3:9 are causal. The first gives the reason why the person who is begotten by God does not practice sin (“because his seed resides in him).” The second gives the reason why the person who is begotten by God is not able to sin (“because he has been begotten by God).”
God’s
Grk “his”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
seed
The closest meaning for σπέρμα (sperma) in this context is “male generating seed” (cf. BDAG 937 s.v. 1.b), although this is a figurative rather than a literal sense. Such imagery is bold and has seemed crudely anthropomorphic to some interpreters, but it poses no more difficulty than the image of God as a male parent fathering Christians that appears in John 1:13 and is behind the use of γεννάω (gennaō) with reference to Christians in 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, and 18.
resides in him, and thus
“Thus” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied to bring out the resultative force of the clause in English.
he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.
10 By this
Once again there is the problem (by now familiar to the interpreter of 1 John) of determining whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) in 3:10 refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. If it refers to what precedes, it serves to conclude the unit which began with 2:28. The remainder of 3:10 would then form a transition to the following material (another “hinge” passage). On the other hand, if the phrase ἐν τούτῳ refers to what follows, then the entirety of 3:10 is a summary statement at the end of 2:28–3:10 which recapitulates the section’s major theme (conduct is the clue to paternity), and provides at the same time a transition to the theme of loving one’s brother which will dominate the following section (3:11–24). Although R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 416) prefers to see the phrase as referring to the preceding material, it makes better sense to refer it to the remainder of 3:10 that follows, and see the entirety of 3:10 as both a summary of the theme of the preceding section 2:28–3:10 and a transition to the following section 3:11–24.
the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness – the one who does not love his fellow Christian
See note on the term “fellow Christian” in 2:9.
Does not love his fellow Christian. The theme of loving one’s fellow Christian appears in the final clause of 3:10 because it provides the transition to the second major section of 1 John, 3:11–5:12, and specifically to the following section 3:11–24. The theme of love will dominate the second major section of the letter (see 1 John 4:8).
– is not of God.

God Is Love, So We Must Love One Another

11  For
It could be argued (1) that the ὅτι (hoti) at the beginning of 3:11 is grammatically subordinate to the preceding statement at the end of 3:10. As BDF #456.1 points out, however, “Subordination with ὅτι and διότι is often very loose…and must be translated ‘for.’” Thus (2) ὅτι assumes an inferential sense, standing at the beginning of a new sentence and drawing an inference based upon all that has preceded. This is confirmed by the structural parallel between the present verse and 1:5.
this is the gospel
The word “gospel” is not in the Greek text but is supplied to clarify the meaning. See the notes on the words “gospel” and “message” in 1 John 1:5.
message
See the note on the word “message” in 1 John 1:5, where this same phrase occurs.
that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another,
For this is the gospel message…that we should love one another. The structure of this verse is parallel to 1:5, indicating the beginning of a second major section of the letter.
12 not like Cain
Since the author states that Cainwas of the evil one (ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ, ek tou ponērou), in the immediate context this imagery serves as an illustration of 3:8a: The person who practices sin is of the devil (ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου, ek tou diabolou). This is similar to John 8:44, where Jesus told his opponents “you people are from your father the devil…[who] was a murderer from the beginning.” In both Jewish and early Christian writings Cain is a model for those who deliberately disbelieve; Testament of Benjamin 7:5 looks forward to the punishment of those who “are like Cain in the envy and hatred of brothers.” It is not difficult to see why the author of 1 John used Cain here as a model for the opponents in light of their failure to “love the brothers” (see 1 John 3:17).
who was of the evil one and brutally
For the Greek verb σφάζω (sfazō) L&N 20.72 states, “to slaughter, either animals or persons; in contexts referring to persons, the implication is of violence and mercilessness - ‘to slaughter, to kill.’” As a reflection of this nuance, the translation “brutally murdered” has been used.
murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous.

13  Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters,
Grk “brothers,” but the Greek word may be used for “brothers and sisters” or “fellow Christians” as here (cf. BDAG 18 s.v. ἀδελφός 1, where considerable nonbiblical evidence for the plural ἀδελφοί [adelfoi] meaning “brothers and sisters” is cited). Since the author is addressing his readers directly at this point, “brothers and sisters” (suggesting a degree of familial endearment) has been employed in the translation at this point, while elsewhere the less direct “fellow Christians” has been used (cf. v. 14).
if the world hates you.
Cf. John 15:18, where this phrase also occurs.
14 We know that
The first ὅτι (hoti) clause, following a verb of perception, introduces an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what the readers are assumed to know: that they have passed over from death to life, that is, that they possess eternal life. The author gives a similar reassurance to his readers in 5:13. Alternation between the verbs οἶδα (oida) and γινώσκω (ginōskō) in 1 John is probably a matter of stylistic variation (of which the writer is extremely fond) rather than indicative of a subtle difference in meaning.
we have crossed over
This verb essentially means “to transfer from one place to another, go/pass over,” according to BDAG 638 s.v. μεταβαίνω 1.
In John 13:1 the same Greek verb translated crossed over here is used to refer to Jesus’ departure from this world as he returns to the Father. Here it is used figuratively to refer to the believer’s transfer from the state of (spiritual) death to the state of (spiritual) life. This use is paralleled in John 5:24, where Jesus states, “the person who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over (same verb) from death to life.”
from death to life
Cf. John 5:24, where this phrase also occurs.
because
The second ὅτι (hoti) clause in 3:14 is also related to οἴδαμεν (oidamen), but in this case the ὅτι is causal, giving the reason why the readers know that they have passed from death to life: because they love the brothers.
we love our fellow Christians.
See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.
Because we love our fellow Christians. This echoes Jesus’ words in John 13:35, where he states, “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” As in 1 John 2:3 and 5, obedience becomes the basis for assurance. But the relationship between loving one’s fellow Christian (Grk “brother”) and possessing eternal life goes beyond a proof or external test. Our love for our fellow Christians is in fact a form of God’s love for us because as far as the author of 1 John is concerned, all love comes from God (cf. 4:7–11). Therefore he can add the next line of 3:14, “the one who does not love remains in death.” Why? Because such a person does not have God’s love residing in them at all. Rather, this person can be described as a “murderer” - as the following verse goes on to do. Note also that the author’s description here of the person who does not love as remaining in death is another way of describing a person who remains in darkness, which is a description of unbelievers in John 12:46. This provides further confirmation of the spiritual state of the author’s opponents in 2:9–11.
The one who does not love remains in death.
The one who does not love remains in death. Again, the author has the secessionist opponents in view. Their refusal to show love for the brothers demonstrates that they have not made the transition from (spiritual) death to (spiritual) life, but instead have remained in a state of (spiritual) death.
15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian
See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.
is a murderer,
Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer. On one level it is easy to see how the author could say this; the person who hates his brother is one and the same with the person who murders his brother. Behind the usage here, however, is John 8:44, the only other occurrence of the Greek word translated murderer (ἀνθρωποκτόνος, anthrōpoktonos) in the NT, where the devil is described as a “murderer from the beginning.” John 8:44 refers to the devil’s role in bringing death to Adam and Eve, but even more to his involvement (not directly mentioned in the Genesis account, but elaborated in the intertestamental literature, especially the writings of Philo) in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. This was the first incident of murder in human history and also the first outward demonstration of the full implications of sin’s entry into the world. Ultimately, then, the devil is behind murder, just as he was behind Cain’s murder of Abel. When the hater kills, he shows himself to be a child of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:10). Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity.
and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing
The verb μένω (menō) in 3:15 refers to a spiritual reality (eternal life) which in this case does not reside in the person in question. To speak in terms of eternal life not “residing” in such an individual is not to imply that at some time in the past this person did possess eternal life and subsequently lost it, however. The previous verse (3:14) makes it clear that the individual under discussion here has “remained” in death (the realm of spiritual death) and so has never possessed eternal life to begin with, no matter what he may have claimed. Taken together with the use of μένω in 3:14, the use here implies that the opponents have “remained” in death all along, and have not ever been genuine believers. Thus “residing” rather than “remaining” is used as the translation for μένουσαν (menousan) here.
in him.
16 We have come to know love by this:
Here the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) is followed by a ὅτι (hoti) clause which is epexegetical (or explanatory), and thus ἐν τούτῳ refers to what follows.
that Jesus
Grk “that one.” Context indicates a reference to Jesus. The mention of the sacrificial death in 3:16 (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκεν, huper ēmōn tēn yuchēn autou ethēken) points to Jesus as the referent here. (This provides further confirmation that ἐκεῖνος [ekeinos] in 2:6; 3:3, 5, and 7 refers to Jesus.)
laid down
References to the fact that Jesus laid down his life using the verb τίθημι (tiqēmi) are unique to the Gospel of John (10:11, 15, 17, 18; 13:37, 38; 15:13) and 1 John (only here). From John’s perspective Jesus’ act in giving up his life sacrificially was a voluntary one; Jesus was always completely in control of the situation surrounding his arrest, trials, and crucifixion (see John 10:18). There is a parallel with 1 John 2:6 - there, as here, the life of Jesus (during his earthly ministry) becomes the example for believers to follow. This in turn underscores the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (especially his sacrificial death on the cross), a point of contention between the author and his opponents in 1 John. See 1 John 4:10 for a further parallel.
his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.
17 But whoever has the world’s possessions
Here βίος (bios) refers to one’s means of subsistence - material goods or property (BDAG 177 s.v. 2).
Note the vivid contrast with Jesus’ example in the preceding verse: He was willing to lay down his very life, but the person in view in 3:17 is not even willing to lay down part of his material possessions for the sake of his brother.
and sees his fellow Christian
See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.
in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God
Here a subjective genitive, indicating God’s love for us - the love which comes from God - appears more likely because of the parallelism with “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον, zōēn aiōnion) in 3:15, which also comes from God.
The love of God. The author is not saying that the person who does not love his brother cannot love God either (although this may be true enough), but rather that the person who does not love his brother shows by this failure to love that he does not have any of the love which comes from God ‘residing’ in him (the Greek verb used is μένω [menō]). Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity.
reside
Once again the verb μένω (menō) is used of a spiritual reality (in this case the love of God) which does or does not reside in a person. Although the author uses the indefinite relative whoever (Grk ὃς δ᾿ ἄν, hos d an), it is clear that he has the opponents in view here. This is the only specific moral fault he ever charges the opponents with in the entire letter. It is also clear that the author sees it as impossible that such a person, who refuses to offer help in his brother’s time of need (and thus ‘hates’ his brother rather than ‘loving’ him, cf. 3:15) can have any of the love which comes from God residing in him. This person, from the author’s dualistic ‘either/or’ perspective, cannot be a believer. The semantic force of the deliberative rhetorical question, “How can the love of God reside in such a person?“, is therefore a declarative statement about the spiritual condition of the opponents: “The love of God cannot possibly reside in such a person.”
in such a person?
How can the love of God reside in such a person? is a rhetorical question which clearly anticipates a negative answer: The love of God cannot reside in such a person.


18  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.
The noun truth here has been interpreted in various ways: (1) There are a number of interpreters who understand the final noun in this series, truth (ἀληθείᾳ, alētheia) in an adverbial sense (“truly” or “in sincerity”), describing the way in which believers are to love. If the two pairs of nouns are compared, however, it is hard to see how the second noun with tongue (γλώσσῃ, glōssē) in the first pair can have an adverbial sense. (2) It seems better to understand the first noun in each pair as produced by the second noun: Words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are to love one another are produced by the truth.
19 And by this
Once again there is the problem of deciding whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. When an explanatory or epexegetical ὅτι (hoti) clause follows, and the ὅτι clause is not grammatically unrelated to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ, then the ἐν τούτῳ is best understood as referring to what follows. Here in 3:19–20 there are no less than three ὅτι clauses that follow, one in 3:19 and two in 3:20, and thus there is the difficulty of trying to determine whether any one of them is related to the ἐν τούτῳ phrase in 3:19. It is relatively easy to eliminate the first ὅτι clause (in 3:19) from consideration, because it is related not to ἐν τούτῳ but to the verb γνωσόμεθα (gnōsomeqa) as an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what believers know (“that we are of the truth”). As far as the two ὅτι clauses in 3:20 are concerned, it is difficult to see how believers could know that they belong to the truth (19a) by means of either, since the first speaks of a situation where they are under self-condemnation (“if our heart condemns us…”) and the second ὅτι clause seems to give a further explanation related to the first (“that God is greater than our heart…”). Therefore it seems better to understand the phrase ἐν τούτῳ in 3:19 as referring to the preceding context, and this makes perfectly good sense, because 3:18 concludes with a reference to the righteous deeds with which believers are to love one another, which are produced by the truth.
By this refers to the righteous deeds mentioned at the end of 3:18, the expressions of love. It is by doing these deeds that believers assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of their relationship with God. Put another way, ‘conduct is the clue to paternity.’
we will know that we are of the truth and will convince
The verb πείθω (peiqō) in the active voice (with the exception of the second perfect and pluperfect) means (a) “to convince”; (b) “to persuade, appeal to”; (c) “to win over, strive to please”; or (d) “to conciliate, pacify, set at ease or rest” (see BDAG 791 s.v. πείθω). Interpreters are generally divided between meaning (a) and meaning (d) for the verb in the present context, with BDAG opting for the latter (although it is pointed out that “the text is not in good order”). In any case the object of the verb πείθω in this context is καρδία (kardia), and this leads to further problems because the meaning of καρδία will affect one’s understanding of πείσομεν (peisomen) here.
our conscience
Further difficulties are created by the meaning of καρδία (kardia) in 3:19. Although it may be agreed that the term generally refers to the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition” (BDAG 508 s.v. l.b), this may be further subdivided into references to (a) “the faculty of thought…as the organ of natural and spiritual enlightenment,” that is, the mind; (b) “the will and its decisions”; (c) “the emotions, wishes, desires,” i.e., the emotions or feelings; or (d) “moral decisions, the moral life,” that is, the part of the individual where moral decisions are made, which is commonly called the conscience. Thus καρδία in 3:19 could refer to either the mind, the will, the emotions, or the conscience, and it is not transparently clear which concept the author has primarily in view. In light of the overall context, which seems to discuss the believer’s assurance of his or her standing before God (ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ [emprosqen autou] in 3:19 and the mention of παρρησία [parrēsia, “boldness” or “confidence“] in 3:21) it seems probable that the conscience, that aspect of one’s καρδία which involves moral choices and the guilt or approval for having made them, is primarily in view here. Thus the meaning “convince” is preferred for the verb πείθω (peiqō), since the overall subject seems to be the believer’s assurance of his or her standing before God, especially in the case when (v. 20) the believer’s conscience attempts to condemn him on account of sin.
in his presence,
Both ἔμπροσθεν (emprosqen) in 3:19 and ἐνώπιον (enōpion) in 3:22 are improper prepositions and both express the meaning “before” in the sense of “in the presence of.” (1) Some interpreters have tried to see a subtle distinction in meaning between the two in 3:19 and 22, but (2) as BDF #214.6 points out, ἔμπροσθεν and ἐνώπιον, along with a third classical expression ἐναντίον (enantion), all refer to being in someone’s presence and are essentially interchangeable. There can be little doubt that once more the author’s fondness for stylistic variation in terminology is at work here.
20 that
The first ὅτι (hoti) in 3:20 may be understood either (1) as causal, “because if our heart condemns us,” or (2) as epexegetical (explanatory), “that if our heart condemns us.” There are two other instances of the combination ὅτι ἐάν (hoti ean) in 1 John, 3:2 and 5:14. In 3:14 the ὅτι clearly introduces an indirect discourse (content) clause following οἴδαμεν (oidamen). In 5:14 the ὅτι is epexegetical to a preceding statement (“and this is the confidence [ἡ παρρησία, hē parrēsia] which we have before him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”). This is analogous to the present situation, and the subject under discussion (the believer’s confidence before God) is also similar (cf. 3:21–22). It is thus more likely, by analogy, that the first ὅτι clause in 3:20, ὅτι ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία ({oti ean kataginōskē hēmōn hē kardia), should also be understood as epexegetical to the preceding clause, ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πείσομεν τὴν καρδίαν (emprosqen autou peisomen tēn kardian, “and we convince our heart before him”).
if our conscience condemns
In Deut 25:1 LXX καταγινώσκω (kataginōskō) means “to condemn” in a context where it is in opposition to δικαιοῦν (dikaioun, “to acquit”). In Job 42:6 LXX (Symmachus) and Ezek 16:61 LXX (Symmachus) it is used of self-judgment or self-condemnation, and this usage is also found in the intertestamental literature (Sir 14:2). Testament of Gad 5:3 describes a person οὐχ ὑπ᾿ ἄλλου καταγινωσκόμενος ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας καρδίας (ouc hup’ a[llou kataginōskomenos all’ hupo tēs idias kardias, “condemned not by another but by his own heart”). Thus the word has legal or forensic connotations, and in this context refers to the believer’s self-condemnation resulting from a guilty conscience concerning sin.
us, that
The use of two ὅτι (hoti) clauses in close succession is somewhat awkward, but this is nothing new for the author; and indeed he has twice previously used two ὅτι clauses in close proximity in 3:2 and 14. In both those instances the second ὅτι was understood as causal, and (1) some interpreters would do the same here. Unless one understands both of the ὅτι clauses in 3:20 as causal, however (an option rejected based on the analogy with 5:14, see the discussion in the note on “that” at the beginning of the present verse), the first ὅτι clause must be understood as parenthetical in order for the second to be causal. This results in an even more awkward construction. It seems most probable that (2) the second ὅτι clause in 3:20 should also be understood as epexegetical (explanatory), and resumptive to the first. The resultant meaning is as follows: “and we convince our heart before him, that if our heart condemns us, that God is greater than our heart and knows all things.”
God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.
21 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, 22 and
The conjunction καί (kai) which begins 3:22 is epexegetical (explanatory), relating a further implication of the “confidence” (παρρησίαν, parrēsian) which believers have before God when their heart (conscience) does not condemn them. They can ask things of God with the expectation of receiving their requests.
whatever we ask we receive from him, because
The ὅτι (hoti) is clearly causal, giving the reason why believers receive what they ask.
we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.
23 Now
The καί (kai) is epexegetical/explanatory (or perhaps resumptive) of the commandment(s) mentioned in the preceding verse.
this is his commandment:
This verse begins with the phrase καὶ αὕτη ἐστίν (kai {autē estin; cf. the similar phrase in 3:11 and 1:5), which is explained by the following ἵνα (hina) clause, “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” The ἵνα thus introduces a clause which is (1) epexegetical (explanatory) or (2) appositional. By analogy the similar phrase in 3:11 is also followed by an epexegetical ἵνα clause and the phrase in 1:5 by an epexegetical ὅτι (hoti) clause.
His commandment refers to what follows - the commandment from God is to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another.
that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave
The author of 1 John repeatedly attributes the commandments given to believers as given by God the Father, even though in John 13:34–35 it was Jesus who gave the commandment to love one another. 2 John 4–5 also attributes the commandment to love one another directly to the Father. Thus it is clear that God the Father is the subject of the verb gave here in 3:23.
us the commandment.
24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides
The verb μένω (menō) has been translated “resides” here because this verse refers to the mutual and reciprocal relationship between God and the believer.
The verb resides (μένω, menō) here and again in the second clause of 3:24 refers to the permanence of relationship between God and the believer, as also in 2:6; 4:12, 13, 15, and 16 (3x).
in God,
Grk “in him.” In context this is almost certainly a reference to God (note the phrase “his Son Jesus Christ” in 3:23).
and God
Grk “he.” In context this is almost certainly a reference to God (note the phrase “his Son Jesus Christ” in 3:23).
in him. Now by this
Once again there is the (by now familiar) question of whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) refers to what precedes or to what follows. In this case, the following phrase ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος (ek tou pneumatos) explains the ἐν τούτῳ phrase, and so it refers to what follows.
we know that God
Grk “he.” In context this is almost certainly a reference to God (note the phrase “his Son Jesus Christ” in 3:23).
resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.

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