The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 2:9-2:12

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Week 19:  Feb 5, 2012

Last time we saw how John was expanding on the commandments, in particular that we are to love one another. John now demonstrates his point with another claim from his opponents.  This is not really a new claim; it is similar to those he has already dealt (see 1:6-10), but here he focuses the claim a bit more, in light of the commandment to love one other and he uses it to sum up his argument so far.  


i.      To be in the light is to love (2:9-11)

1.       Claim (2:9)

           a.        Counter-Claim (2:10)

2.       Restatement (2:11)

9 – The person who says that he is in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.

      The person who says that he is in the light

–          John returns to Claim/Refutation/Counter teaching pattern.  Here the claim to be in the light was a key claim made by his opponents.

      but hates his brother

–          While they claim to be in the light, their actions tell a far different story. But just what does John mean by Hate?  At first this might lead some people into a false sense of complacency.  After all, they may claim, I don’t hate anyone.  But this would miss John’s point.  It must be remembered that John normally writes in stark terms with no middle ground.  Thus he speaks of Light/darkness, Life/Death, Truth/Lie, and here Love/Hate.  For John there is a sense that there is no middle ground.  Yet this is more than mere black and white thinking. If we will help someone we love, but not others, then there is no real difference with being neutral and hating.  Either way we don’t help. Given the importance of the commandment to love one another (2:7-8) one cannot ignore the commandment and still walk in the light.

10 – The person who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no reason for him to stumble.

–          The Counter teaching

–          To love one another is to live (μένει:  to remain ) in the light. 

and there is no reason for him to stumble.

–          John expanses on the light/dark metaphor.  If you are walking darkness, you are in danger of stumbling.  The Greek here is somewhat ambiguous and could refer to having nothing that would cause brother to stumble.  But since the context is focused on the person and not brother I think the translation, for him to stumble is best. The best way to avoid sin, is to remain in the light.

11 – But the person who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks[1] in the darkness. He does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

–          Having laid out the true teaching John now recaps and expanse on the position of his opponents.   There is a sense of conclusion here as he ties the various themes together as he continues the metaphor to emphasize the danger. It is one thing to be in the dark, it is another to try and walk in the darkness.   It is hard in this not to see John asking “Why would you follow these people?”

because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

–           This is a key point.  Sin not only separates us from God, it blinds us to the truth. While his opponents may claim to have the truth, they are in darkness.

d.      Our Position (2:12-17)

            i.            Our position in Christ (2:12-14)

–          This section marks a stark change, not only in content but in style.  This section is divided up into two sets of three statement with the following characteristics:

  • o   The first 3 statements start with “I write to you… because”  (γράφω ὑμῖν,…, ὅτι  – present active indicative
  • o   The second 3 statements start with “I wrote to you… because”  (ἔγραψα ὑμῖν…, ὅτι – aorist active indicative)
  • o   Each section has a line written to Children (τεκνία/παιδία), to Fathers (πατέρες) and to young men (νεανίσκοι) in that order.

–          This raises the following questions about this section:

  • Why is this section here?
    • There are some clear links to what has been discussed so far.  Thus for example, verse 2:12 – because your sins have been forgiven is very close to verse 1:9 – he forgives us for those sins. But there is also some new material (verse 13b – you have overcome the evil one) as well, which foreshadows themes that will be taken up later in the epistle.
    • There are no immediate grammatical links to what has just been discussed, except possibly that John often begins transition with “Little Children” or similar phrases.
    • Each of these statements can be seen as contrasting with John’s opponents.  Each statement could be read equally as well by inserting “unlike them” just after the word because.    e.g., V 12 – because [unlike them] your sins have been forgiven
    • Thus I believe that since John has written about his opponents so far in stark black and white terms he is doing two things here. First he is marking a transition from a focus on his opponents to a focus on believers, while at the same time he is making it clear that he does not see his critical statements until this point as referring to his readers.
  • Why are the two sections here so similar? / Why the change from “I write” in section 1 to “I wrote” in section 2?
    • Option 1 – Since Greek often uses repetition for emphasis, this could just be for emphasis.  If this is the case, then there is no real significant change in meaning from “I write” to “I wrote.”  In defense of this, both phrases are found in Greek letters referring to the letter in which they appear.  So this could just be stylistic change to avoid repetition.
    • Option 2 – Some argue that this refers to different parts of the current letter.  “I write” refers to the letter from that point forward, whereas “I wrote” refers to the earlier part of the letter.  The main problem with this theory is that the content of these sections do not match this division of the letter. 
    •   Option 3 – Others argue that these sections refer to different letters.  “I write” refers to this letter.  “I wrote” would then refer to an earlier letter, possibly 2 John or the Gospel of John.   One problem here is that 2 John and Gospel don’t seem to fit the statements. This is not fatal to this theory, as it could refer to a letter that has been lost.  This is not impossible.  1 Cor 5:9, 11 seems to refer to an earlier letter and 2 Cor 2:4’s reference to “The sorrowful letter” most likely is not referring to 1 Corinthians.   So it is possible that “I wrote” refers to a letter that we no longer have.  However, more problematic for this theory is that much of the material in the section “I wrote” is also in this letter.
    • Option 4 – The finally possibility we will consider is that the first section was a common statement or liturgical saying that his readers knew, while the second was his re-statement of it, modified to emphasize that this this was his view.  Like possibility 3, the main problem here is that we do not know of any such statement.  There is also the problem of why such a common statement would start with “I write…”  One possibility is that the actual statement may have said something like “the apostles write…”
    • I think that the answer is most likely either 1 or 4.  I would I lean a little towards 4, since the repetition strikes me as modifying something that they already knew, but the problems with this view do trouble me.  This would not have been an issue for the original recipients, but is not lost with the passage of time.  However, since with both 1 and 4 the overall purpose is for emphasis, the actual answer is not all that important to understanding the intent of the passage.  
  • What is the significance of the Children, Fathers, and Young men?�
    •  The first question we need to answer is whether this refers to just three distinct groups or one overall group with two subgroups.  Three distinct groups would at first seem the most-straight forward.  In this view the three groups are either age groups, or they are metaphorical groups.  If age groups they could refer to physical age, or spiritual age, i.e., how long they have been in the faith.   Others however think they may be metaphorical in that they refer to the qualities of the stages of life that all Christians should have. The main problem with all of these views is that children, fathers, young men, is a very unusual; one would expect either fathers, young men, children; or children, young men fathers. 
    • Because of the unusual order, some have suggested that this is really one overall group with two subgroups.   The overall group is children, and thus refers to all believers.  Within this group there are two subgroups:  Fathers and Young men.  As with 3 distinct age groups, the two subgroups could be either actual or spiritual age. The advantage is that this would address the problem of order.  Other suggest that, rather than age groups,  this is a reference to leadership where Father = elders and Young men = deacons. Still other suggest that Fathers = Leaders while young men = rest of the church. 
    • I believe that children refers to all Christians, while Fathers = Leaders and young men = rest of the church.                

12 – I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins have been forgiven
on account of his name.

–          Clause 1.1

little children – τεκνία

–          This is John’s normal way of referring to believers.  For example, in his gospel  1:12 says,   He gave them authority to become God’s children.   In his letters he writes     …hear that my children are living according to the truth (3 John 1:4); (2 John 1:1) The chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth;  (1 John 2:1)  My little children, I’m writing these things to …

your sins have been forgiven

–          This is similar to 1:9   If we make it our habit to confess our sins, in his faithful righteousness he forgives us for those sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  But there is a key differences.  forgives in 1:9  was presented as hypothetical because of the if/then construction of the statement.  Here, however, there is nothing hypothetical about it.  The word translated have been forgiven (ἀφέωνται) is in the perfect tense.  It refers to a completed action with ongoing results.

on account of his name  (διὰ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ)

–          It is through the name of Jesus that we are saved. This is one of those phrases that Christians say but often do not think very much about.  In the ancient world, the concept of Name equaled power and authority.   For example, look at how name is used in Acts 4:7  They made Peter and John stand in front of them and began asking, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”  We can know we have been forgiven because it rest on the power and authority of God.  

To further expand on the concept of name and how we often skip over well known verses, consider  Matt 28:19-20, which  says, Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.  This is often seen as just a verse on missions, but in reality the command here is not to go, but to make disciples.     Another issue here is the word Baptizing, which is a transliteration of the word βαπτίζοντες: to wash, purify, or immerse.  Since it transliterated, most see this as the ritual of baptism.  But is that what is intended here?  Consider the verse if we translated it using the meaning of immersion:

Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, immersing them in the power and authority of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.


What could be a better description of making disciples than to immerse them in the power and authority of God while teaching them to obey his commandments? 

Questions and Discussion.

The discussion this week centered on the question of loving and hating our brother. What does this really ask us to do?  One interesting question was what about helping a brother or sister, when you really do not want to or when you still hold a grudge against them? While of course it would be better to always act with a pure heart, I think the question really comes down to why, in the end, did you act?  Acting out of obedience to God, even a reluctant obedience, is still obedience.  I think it is safe to say that obedience is always better than disobedience.   

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] ISV : lives 


Feb 15th, 2012

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