Notes on 1 John 5:1-12
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
1 John 5:1, KJV 1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
This verse might be broken down into two clauses: John first confirms that whoever believes (present tense, continues to believe) that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is born of God. Unbelieving Jews would never confess this; John’s gospel has several encounters between Jesus, those who did believe in Him and those who did not.
The last clause, as written in the KJV, seems a bit difficult to understand. The reader is encouraged to review other translations and reliable commentaries. John lists several personalities in this last clause: the ones who love “him that begat”, two persons; and “him also that is begotten of him”, making three.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
John reminds the readers again about loving God’s children. He says we know we love them when we love God (first!) and then by keeping His commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
This echoes the words of Jesus when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15). Jesus also mentioned keeping His commandments in John 14:21 and 15:10.
John also adds a word about the Lord’s commandments. They are not grievous. John and the other apostles were all Jews and no doubt had a familiarity with the Law of Moses, plus the various other additions and traditions. Some of the commandments in the Law were very strict indeed but the whole Law and the Prophets consisted in two commandments: love God and your fellow man (Mark 12:28-30).
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, (even) our faith.
Jesus had told the disciples, in the Upper Room, that He had (already) overcome the world (John 16:33), some of the last words He spoke before He went to Gethsemane and then Calvary. Later, John would quote Jesus Himself in the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation; each church had a promise to the one who overcame. “Whatsoever” may be better translated “whosoever”, meaning, perhaps, any believer. Knowing that believers have faith, and receive faith, his or her faith is true victory!
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
Again, this is not just an intellectual agreement or something one “believes” in the mind. One preacher gave the illustration that he believed a certain country singer lived in Nashville, Tennessee, but that didn’t change his life in any way. John is using the word “believe” in the same sense that the man born blind “believed” in Jesus, enough to worship Him! (John 9:38).
Another example is the Ethiopian eunuch who stated he believed Jesus is the Son of God, following that statement of faith with believer’s baptism. Would Philip baptize a non-believer (see Acts 8:36-40)?
6 This is he that came by water and blood, (even) Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
John had seen both “blood and water” when a soldier pierced the body of Jesus after He had died (see John 19:34). But he seems to be referring to the actual birth of Jesus, again stating he believed in the actual, physical body of Jesus. Gnostics and Docetics, two of the worst heresies, denied that Jesus had a physical body.
7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
Here in this verse John states that there are three Witnesses in Heaven: the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost (Spirit). Jesus always spoke of the Father as being in Heaven (witness the Lord’s or model prayer in Matthew 6: “Our Father . . .in Heaven. . ., Matt. 6:9)” and the two times people on earth heard the Father speak, His voice came from Heaven (the baptism of Jesus, Matthew 4; and when certain Greeks came to see Jesus in John 12).
The Holy Spirit had come upon certain individuals, in the Old Testament era (Othniel, Gideon, and Samuel, to name three) but seldom “filled” anyone. The only examples of those who were filled with the Spirit in the Old Testament include Bezaleel (Ex. 31), and John the Baptist (Luke 2:40).
John may have two different concepts when he speaks of the “Word”, however. He may be speaking of the Living Word (Jesus Himself, John 1:14) or the written Word. If he is speaking of the written Word, then the Father and Spirit are One because they do not and did not contradict the Records found in the Old Testament and any other canonical writings. If he is speaking of the Living Word, certainly Jesus declared the Father and His Words to the people. He also promised the Holy Spirit would come and minister to saints and sinners alike (John 16:7-15).
8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
John may be saying, in this verse, that the Spirit gave witness (to Jesus), most likely when He descended from Heaven in the form of a dove when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 4, Luke 4). Water and blood may well be symbols for the physical birth and physical death of Christ.
9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
Jesus Himself spoke of several witnesses in John 5:31-40. The witness of God the Father Himself was one of these.
10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
This may refer to 1 John 5:7-8, comparing the witnesses cited by John. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, would abide with believers forever (John 14:16, 26).
As written here, the second part of this verse may be misunderstood. One idea might be that the text seems to indicate that if anyone does not believe (the witness?), God has made that person a liar. The reason for this accusation would be because that person, the non-believer, has not believed the record “God gave of His Son”.
The reader is encouraged to study other Bible versions and the conservative commentaries or other works to find additional light or information on this verse.
11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Note that eternal life is a gift from God. See John 3:16, 3:36; Romans 6:23 and other Scriptures.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; (and) he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
As life is in the Son of God, anyone who has the Son has (present tense, has it right now!). Logically it follows, as John indicates, anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have eternal life. Numerous Scriptures such as John 3:18 and 3:36, plus Romans 3:23 verify this.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible.