The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 1b-5

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Week 13:  Dec 4, 2011

This week we finished the prologue and got a brief start into the main part of the letter.


1:1b –  what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we observed and touched with our own hands—this is the[1] Word of life!

what we

John continues with the 2nd of the 4 “whats”, and we immediately come to yet another question. Just who are the “we” mentioned here?    One option is that John is using the so called royal we and referring to himself in the plural. While possible, one problem is that elsewhere in the letter John refers to himself saying “I’m writing these things…” 

Another possibility is that “we” refers to the church at large. While this is consistent with some the later usage, (e.g. 1:6) this would seem to negate the importance of the eyewitness aspect of the testimony since by the time the letter was written, most Christians were not eyewitnesses.

With the stress on eyewitnesses, another possibility is that “we” refers to those who like John were eyewitnesses. While this is consistent with the stress on eyewitness, I believe there is better possibility:  The apostles.   This is similar to the previous option but is focused on the authority and consistency of message.  This is not just John, but all the Apostles who heard the message.  He is being sure to point out that he is not special, but that he was an eyewitness, just as other apostles were eyewitnesses.

have heard

The verb here is perfect tense indicating that this was a completed action and not one that was continuing.  The message was complete and was not new was the case with his opponents teaching.  This emphasis on hearing would stress the message more than the person.

what we have seen with our eyes

This is the third “What.” That it was something that that could be seen, shows that this is more than just a message, this a person, but could also include the miracles.  Again, note the emphasis here. This was not just something that was seen; this was something that they saw with their own eyes.

This part conflicts with proto-gnostic teaching.  Gnostics believed that outwardly you would only see Jesus.  The Christ was within and unseen.  Because of this, it is easy to understand why John would choose to emphasizes this point.

what we observed

The 4th and Last of the 4 “whats” is yet a further emphasis on visible nature of the “What.” This verb differs from the previous “have seen”  in that it stresses continuity and attention. It often has the implication that what is being observed is unusual or out of the ordinary. Gnostics saw nothing unusual in Jesus. For them, it was the Christ within him that was special.  

and touched with our own hands

Not a separate “what,” but linked to the previous one.  Not only did they see the “what,” they touched it with their own hands.  Again note the emphasis, this was not just something one could touch, but something they did touch. While a miracle could be seen, touching stresses the physical person of Christ.

this is the Word of life! 

Having gone through the four “Whats” we come to the center of the chiasmus, and the focus of the “whats.”  The Greek phrase could be translated several different ways:

1       this is word of life
2       concerning the word of life   
3       the message concerning life
4       the message which is life
5       the life giving message

It all depends on how the passage is understood in the syntax. Given the Chiastic structure, I support the first view – Both the message and the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself the physical manifestation of the Word of God, a message that is focused on eternal life.

1:2 – This life was revealed to us, and we have seen it and testify about it. We declare to you this eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.

Verse one, with it allusions to John 1:1 and ending with The Word focused readers on the message, the logos.  But unlike John 1:1 it was not just the Word, but the Word of Life.  Here John begins to focuses on the life as he backs out of the chiasmus.  (The ↑ ­ mark is to indicate the corresponding phrase in the beginning of the chiasmus.

was revealed to us ↑ observed and touched with our own hands

and we have seen it ↑ what we have seen with our eyes

and testify about it and declare to you ↑ what we have heard

Again note the emphasis on this point with both Testify and Declare.  This was not some secret (Gnostic) teaching, but one that was to be testified about and proclaimed.

this eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. ↑ What existed from the beginning

At the beginning we have the Person (Word) but with a strong focus on message.  Here at the end we have the result: eternal life. Yet there remains a strong focus on the person of Jesus, i.e. that was with the Father.  This is similar to John 1:2 he was in the beginning with God.

In this passage we have the same teaching as John 14:6,   Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life.  Jesus is the embodiment of eternal life in the same way he is the embodiment of the Word of God.   It is the whole: Jesus as the embodiment of the message and life that is John’s focus.

This is one of the reasons for the complexity found in this verse.  John is tying all of this together with yet another emphasis on the fact that this is not just something that he teaches, but that something to which he and others were eyewitness.

1:3 – What we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you, too, can have fellowship with us. Now this fellowship of ours is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus, the Messiah.2

Having established his main theme, John returns his reader back to where he left off with a short summary before moving on to the main verb in the sentence.

we declare to you so that you, too, can have fellowship with us

The point of all this is not just abstract theology, but our fellowship  (κοινωνίαν).  This is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. (Louw-Nida) There is a unity and oneness to fellowship and this sets it apart from proto-Gnostics who had recent split off, who had broken fellowship.  

Now this fellowship of ours is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus, the Messiah       

This is not just a fellowship of other Christians but a fellowship that includes the Father, and also includes his Son, Jesus Christ.  This again may be stressing a difference with John’s proto-Gnostic opponents. They had separated and thus were not in fellowship with eyewitnesses. More importantly their theological views put a difference between Jesus and the Christ.  Finally, Gnosticism was more individualistic, stressing secret knowledge held by a few, whereas Christian is more communal offering a fellowship to be shared with all true believers.

1:4 – We are writing these things3 so that our4 joy may be full.

Finally John ends the prologue with a statement of purpose.  There is an issue here as to exactly what he is referring to when he writes “these things.”  Does he mean this letter or something more?  A key here is the use of We, which is emphatic. In Greek, pronouns such as ‘we’ are optional as they are already included at the end of the verb itself.   The ending –μεν (-men) means ‘we,’ so the word γράφομεν (graphomen) already means “we write,” since it ends in μεν (men).   Yet John does not write γράφομεν (graphomen),  but γράφομεν ἡμεῖς  (graphomen hemeis) where ἡμεῖς (hemeis) is the Greek word for we.  Thus he is emphasizing that this is “We,”  and not just him.  Given the context, discussed above, i.e., of the eyewitness testimony of the apostles,   I believe “these things” references to the written version of the testimony of the apostles; to the entire New Testament, or at least as much as had been written to that point.   

so that our joy may be full.

This is the second reason clause in the sentence (the first was so we could have fellowship).  The verse recalls Jesus words in John 15:11

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (full).

The “our” here is inclusive.   John’s joy would not be complete unless theirs was complete.  Remaining in the truth, within the apostolic message, and having a fellowship with the Father, the son, and with other Christians is the way to be full of joy.

          I.     Part 1 – Light and Darkness   (1:5 – 3:10)

a.      The Message – Living in the Light (1:5-10)

                                             i.        God Is Light – Establishing Common Ground (1:5)

1:5 – This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness—none at all!

This is the message

John begins the main part of his letter with the phrase “This is the message.”   This basic phase occurs only here and then again in 3:11 which reads, “This is the message that you have heard from the beginning:”   I believe phrases mark off the two major sections of the letter.

we have heard from him and declare to you

This message was not a deduction or a belief; it was a revelation from Jesus.  John is still referring to the testimony of the apostles. The message was one they heard (perfect – complete), and it is one they declare (Present – ongoing).  It remains ongoing even today in the New Testament.

God is light

This is not a statement that is found directly in the rest of the Bible, but some passage come close.  John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and that life brought light to humanity. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.”  Psalm 104:2 says, “you are wrapped in light like a garment, stretching out the sky like a curtain.

More importantly, the Light and Darkness metaphor is common to many religious traditions during the first century. Itcan be found in Zoroastrianism,  Gnosticism, and even the Jews at Qumran,  talked of “sons of light” and “sons of darkness.” So John is starting at a point of common ground upon which all would agree.

and in him there is no darkness—none at all!

John not only makes the point that God is light positively, but for emphasis he makes the same point negatively. Then for yet further emphasis he add, “none at all!”   The metaphor of light includes revelation and salvation, knowledge and morality. So while John is starting with common ground, he is also drawing a clear standard. “God is good and evil can have no place beside him” (Marshall)

Next week we will continue in 1 John 6

If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

See here for references and more background on the class.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission.

Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


1 v1:1 Lit. about the
2 v1:3 Or Christ
3 v1:4 Other mss. read these things to you {B}
4 v1:4 Other mss. read your {A}


Dec 4th, 2011

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