1 John 4:7–21
4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because17 love is from God, and everyone who loves18 has been fathered19 by God and knows God. 4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.20 4:9 By this21 the love of God22 is revealed in us:23 that God has sent his one and only24 Son into the world so that we may live through him. 4:10 In this25 is love: not that26 we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice27 for our sins.
4:11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then28 we also ought to love one another.29 4:12 No one has seen God at any time.30 If we love one another, God resides31 in us, and his love is perfected in us.32 4:13 By this33 we know that we reside in God34 and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.35 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior36 of the world.
4:15 If anyone37 confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides38 in him and he in God. 4:16 And we have come to know and to believe39 the love that God has in us.40 God is love, and the one who resides41 in love resides in God, and God resides in him. 4:17 By this42 love is perfected with43 us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus44 is, so also are we in this world. 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.45 The46 one who fears punishment47 has not been perfected in love. 4:19 We love48 because he loved us first.
4:20 If anyone says49 “I love God” and yet50 hates his fellow Christian,51 he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian52 whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.53 4:21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that54 the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian55 too.
tn This ὅτι (hoti) is causal, giving the reason why the readers, as believers, ought to love one another: because love comes from God. The next clause, introduced by καί (kai), does not give a second reason (i.e., is not related to the ὅτι clause), but introduces a second and additional thought: Everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.
sn From the author’s “either/or” perspective (which tends to see things in terms of polar opposites) the use of a generalization like everyone who presents a way of categorizing the opponents on the one hand and the recipients, whom the author regards as genuine Christians, on the other. Thus everyone who loves refers to all true Christians, who give evidence by their love for one another that they have indeed been begotten by God and are thus God’s children. The opposite situation is described in the following verse, 4:8, where (although everyone [πᾶς, pas] is omitted) it is clear that a contrast is intended.
tn The author proclaims in 4:8 ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (ho theos agapē estin), but from a grammatical standpoint this is not a proposition in which subject and predicate nominative are interchangeable (“God is love” does not equal “love is God”). The predicate noun is anarthrous, as it is in two other Johannine formulas describing God, “God is light” in 1 John 1:5 and “God is Spirit” in John 4:24. The anarthrous predicate suggests a qualitative force, not a mere abstraction, so that a quality of God’s character is what is described here.
tn Once again there is the problem of determining whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. This is the first of 5 uses of the phrase in the present section (4:9, 10, 13, 17; 5:2). In this case (as also in the next two instances) there is a ὅτι (hoti) clause following which is related and which explains (i.e., which is epexegetical to) the phrase ἐν τούτῳ. Thus the meaning here is, “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his only Son into the world in order that we might live through him.”
tn In terms of syntax the force of the genitive τοῦ θεοῦ (tou theou) may be (1) objective, (2) subjective, or (3) both. The phrase occurs for the first time in the letter in 2:5. Here in 4:9 the epexegetical ὅτι (hoti) clause which follows makes it clear that this is a subjective genitive, emphasizing God’s love for us rather than our love for God, because it describes God’s action in sending his Son into the world.
tn This phrase is best understood as the equivalent of a dative of sphere, but this description does not specify where the love of God is revealed with regard to believers: “in our midst” (i.e., among us) or “within us” (i.e., internally within believers). The latter is probable, because in the context the concept of God’s indwelling of the believer is mentioned in 4:12: “God resides (μένει, menei) in us.”
sn Although the word translated one and only (μονογενής, monogenēs) is often rendered “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological bird called the Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant. 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus alone in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, tekna theou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).
tn Once again there is the (by now familiar) problem of determining whether the referent of this phrase (1) precedes or (2) follows. Here there are two ὅτι (hoti) clauses which follow, both of which are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) and explain what the love of God consists of: first, stated negatively, “not that we have loved God,” and then positively, “but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
tn The two ὅτι (hoti) clauses are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) which begins the verse.
sn What is important (as far as the author is concerned) is not whether we love God (or say that we love God—a claim of the opponents is probably behind this), but that God has loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice which removes believers’ sins. This latter point is similar to the point made in 2:2 and is at the heart of the author’s dispute with the opponents, because they were denying any salvific value to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross.
sn As explained at 2:2, inherent in the meaning of the word translated atoning sacrifice (ἱλασμός, hilasmos) is the idea of turning away the divine wrath, so that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. God’s love for us is expressed in his sending his Son to be the propitiation (the propitiatory sacrifice) for our sins on the cross. This is an indirect way for the author to allude to one of the main points of his controversy with the opponents: the significance for believers’ salvation of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including especially his sacrificial death on the cross. The contemporary English “atoning sacrifice” communicates this idea more effectively.
tn Grk “and.” The Greek conjunction καί (kai) introduces the apodosis of the conditional sentence.
tn This is a first-class conditional sentence with εἰ (ei) + aorist indicative in the protasis. Reality is assumed for the sake of argument with a first-class condition.
sn The author here assumes the reality of the protasis (the “if” clause), which his recipients, as believers, would also be expected to agree with: Assuming that God has loved us in this way, then it follows that we also ought to love one another. God’s act of love in sending his Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (v. 10) ought to motivate us as believers to love one another in a similar sacrificial fashion. The author made the same point already in 1 John 3:16. But this failure to show love for fellow believers is just what the opponents are doing: In 1 John 3:17 the author charged them with refusing to love their brothers by withholding needed material assistance. By their failure to love the brothers sacrificially according to the example Jesus set for believers, the opponents have demonstrated again the falsity of their claims to love God and know God (see 1 John 2:9).
tn The phrase “God resides in us” (ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν μένει, ho theos en hēmin menei) in 4:12 is a reference to the permanent relationship which God has with the believer. Here it refers specifically to God’s indwelling of the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, as indicated by 4:13b. Since it refers to state and not to change of status it is here translated “resides” (see 2:6).
tn The phrase “his [God’s] love is perfected (τετελειωμένη ἐστίν, teteleiōmenē estin) in us” in 4:12 is difficult. First it is necessary to decide whether αὐτοῦ (autou), which refers to God, is (1) subjective (God’s love for us) or (2) objective (our love for God). It is clear that a subjective genitive, stressing God’s love for us, is in view here, because the immediate context, 4:11a, has believers as the objects of God’s love (ὁ θεὸς ἡγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, ho theos ēgapēsen hēmas). The entire phrase ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν τετελειωμένη ἐστίν (hē agapē autou en hēmin teteleiōmenē estin) then refers to what happens when believers love one another (note the protasis of the conditional sentence in 4:12, ἐάν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους [ean agapōmen allēlous]). The love that comes from God, the love that he has for us, reaches perfection in our love for others, which is what God wants and what believers are commanded to do (see 3:23b).
tn Again whether the referent of the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) (1) precedes or (2) follows is a problem. This time there are two ὅτι (hoti) clauses which follow. The first is an indirect discourse clause related to γινώσκομεν (ginōskomen) and giving the content of what believers know: “that we reside in him and he in us.” The second ὅτι clause is epexegetical (or explanatory) to the ἐν τούτῳ phrase, explaining how believers know that they reside in God and God remains in them: “in that he has given us of his Spirit.”
sn By this we know. According to the author of 1 John, the Father’s giving of the indwelling Holy Spirit to the believer is one means of providing assurance to the believer of his relationship to God. This is what was also stated in 1 John 3:24b in essentially identical terms.
sn The genitive of his Spirit here, like the phrase in 3:24, probably reflects a partitive nuance, so that the author portrays God as ‘apportioning’ his Spirit to individual believers. This leads to the important observation that the author is not particularly interested in emphasizing (1) the ongoing interior witness of the Holy Spirit (which is what the passage is often understood to mean) but is emphasizing (2) the fact that God has given the Spirit to believers, and it is this fact that gives believers assurance of their relationship to God. In other words, it is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been given to believers, rather than the ongoing interior testimony of the Holy Spirit within the believer, which is the primary source of the believer’s assurance.
tn Grk “Whoever.”
tn Here μένει (menei, from μένω [menō]) has been translated as “resides” because the confession is constitutive of the relationship, and the resulting state (“God resides in him”) is in view.
tn Both ἐγνώκαμεν (egnōkamen) and πεπιστεύκαμεν (pepisteukamen) in 4:16 are perfect tenses, implying past actions with existing results. In this case the past action is specified as the recognition of (ἐγνώκαμεν) and belief in (πεπιστεύκαμεν) “the love which God has in us.” But what is the relationship between the two verbs γινώσκω (ginōskō) and πιστεύω (pisteuō)? (1) Some interpreters would see a different nuance in each. (2) But in the Gospel of John the two verbs frequently occur together in the same context, often in the same tense; examples may be found in John 6:69, 8:31–32, 10:38, 14:7–10, and 17:8. They also occur together in one other context in 1 John, 4:1–2. Of these John 6:69, Peter’s confession, is the closest parallel to the usage here: “We have come to believe [πεπιστεύκαμεν] and to know [ἐγνώκαμεν] that you are the holy One of God.” Here the order between “knowing” and “believing” is reversed from 1 John 4:16, but an examination of the other examples from the Gospel of John should make it clear that there is no difference in meaning when the order of the terms is reversed. It appears that the author considered both terms to describe a single composite action. Thus they represent a hendiadys which describes an act of faith/belief/trust on the part of the individual; knowledge (true knowledge) is an inseparable part of this act of faith.
tn The force of the preposition ἐν (en) in the phrase ἐν ἡμῖν (en hēmin) in 4:16a is disputed: Although (1) “for” (in the sense of “on behalf of”) is possible and is a common English translation, the other uses of the same phrase in 4:9 (where it refers to God’s love for us) and 4:12 (where it refers to God’s indwelling of the believer) suggest that (2) the author intends to emphasize interiority here—a reference to God’s love expressed in believers. This is confirmed by the only other uses in 1 John of the verb ἔχω (echō) with the preposition ἐν (3:15 and 5:10) both of which literally mean something in someone.
tn The referent of ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both ἵνα (hina) and ὅτι (hoti) clauses following, it is not clear whether or not they are related to the ἐν τούτῳ. There are actually three possibilities for the referent of ἐν τούτῳ in 4:17: (1) it may refer to the ἵνα clause which immediately follows, so that the love of believers is brought to perfection in that they have confidence in the day of judgment. The main problem with this interpretation is that since the day of judgment is still future, it necessitates understanding the second use of the preposition “in” (second ἐν [en]) to mean “about” or “concerning” with reference to the day of judgment in order to make logical sense. (2) The ἐν τούτῳ may refer to the ὅτι clause in 4:17b, meaning “love is perfected with us … in that just as he [Christ] is, so also are we in this world.” This makes logical sense, and there are numerous cases where ἐν τούτῳ is explained by a ὅτι clause that follows. However, according to this understanding the intervening ἵνα clause is awkward, and there is no other instance of the phrase ἐν τούτῳ explained by a following ὅτι clause where a ἵνα clause intervenes between the two in this way. (3) Thus, the third possibility is that ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes in 4:16b, and this also would make logical sense: “By this—by our residing in love so that we reside in God and he resides in us—is love brought to perfection with us.” This has the additional advantage of agreeing precisely with what the author has already said in 4:12: “If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Thus option (3) is best, with the phrase ἐν τούτῳ referring to what precedes in 4:16b, and the ἵνα clause which follows indicates the result of this perfection of love in believers: In the future day of judgment they will have confidence. The ὅτι clause would then give the reason for such confidence in the day of judgment: because just as Jesus is, so also are believers in this world—they are already currently in relationship with God just as Jesus is.
tn The preposition μετά (meta) means “with” and modifies the verb τετελείωται (teteleiōtai). If the prepositional phrase modified the noun ἡ ἀγάπη which immediately precedes it, it would almost certainly have the Greek article, thus: ἡ ἀγάπη ἡ μεθʼ ἡμῶν (hē agapē hē meth’ hēmōn).
sn To say love is perfected with us means “with regard to our actions in loving our brothers.”
tn Grk “that one” (a reference to Jesus is indicated in the context). Once more the author uses the pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) to refer to Jesus Christ, as he did in 2:6; 3:3, 5, 7, and 16. A reference to Christ is confirmed in this context because the author says that “just as he is, so also are we [believers] in this world” and since 3:2 indicated that believers are to be like God in the future (but are not yet), the only one believers can be like already in the present age is Jesus Christ.
sn The entire phrase fear has to do with punishment may be understood in two slightly different ways: (1) “fear has its own punishment” or (2) “fear has to do with [includes] punishment.” These are not far apart, however, and the real key to understanding the expression lies in the meaning of the word “punishment” (κόλασις, kolasis). While it may refer to torture or torment (BDAG 555 s.v. 1) there are numerous Koine references involving eternal punishment (2 Macc 4:38; T. Reu. 5:5; T. Gad 7:5) and this is also the use in the only other NT reference, Matt 25:46. In the present context, where the author has mentioned having confidence in the day of judgment (4:17), it seems virtually certain that eternal punishment (or fear of it) is what is meant here. The (only) alternative to perfected love, which results in confidence at the day of judgment, is fear, which has to do with the punishment one is afraid of receiving at the judgment. As 4:18b states, “the one who fears [punishment] has not been perfected in love.” It is often assumed by interpreters that the opposite to perfected love (which casts out fear) is imperfect love (which still has fear and therefore no assurance). This is possible, but it is not likely, because the author nowhere mentions ‘imperfect’ love, and for him the opposite of ‘perfected’ love appears to be not imperfect love but hate (cf. 4:20). In other words, in the antithetical (‘either/or’) categories in which the author presents his arguments, one is either a genuine believer, who becomes ‘perfected’ in love as he resides in love and in a mutually indwelling relationship with God (cf. 4:16b), or one is not a genuine believer at all, but one who (like the opponents) hates his brother, is a liar, and does not know God at all. This individual should well fear judgment and eternal punishment because in the author’s view that is precisely where such a person is headed.
tn Grk “punishment, and the person who fears.”
tn “Punishment” is not repeated in the Greek text at this point but is implied.
sn No object is supplied for the verb love (the author with his propensity for obscurity has left it to the readers to supply the object). The obvious objects that could be supplied from the context are either God himself or other believers (the brethren). It may well be that the author has both in mind at this point; the statement is general enough to cover both alternatives, although the following verse puts more emphasis on love for the brethren.
tn Grk “if anyone should say …”
tn “Yet” is supplied to bring out the contrast.
tn The ἵνα (hina) clause in 4:21 could be giving (1) the purpose or (2) the result of the commandment mentioned in the first half of the verse, but if it does, the author nowhere specifies what the commandment consists of. It makes better sense to understand this ἵνα clause as (3) epexegetical to the pronoun ταύτην (tautēn) at the beginning of 4:21 and thus explaining what the commandment consists of: “that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”