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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1888, by the
AMERICAN BAPTIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY,
in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.
For the sake of giving as much space as possible for the commentary which follows, the Introduction will be made brief. And this is the less to be regretted because there is no part of the New Testament whose authorship, purpose, and destination, are better settled among Christian students. If there is more question as to the other two Epistles, the whole matter of debate lies within a very small compass. Besides, some of the questions, which might under other circumstances be treated here, are sufficiently answered in the Introduction to the Gospel of John.
I. ITS AUTHOR.
The reasons for supposing John the apostle to have been the author of the First Epistle are abundant and conclusive. Although the name of the author does not occur in the writing itself, yet it is found attached to the early manuscript copies, which is an external testimony of no small value. Besides, Polycarp, an immediate disciple of John, quotes language from the Epistle, which naturally suggests not only its genuineness, but its Johannean authorship. Eusebius says that Papias, also a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, made use of it. Irenæus cites the Epistle as the work of John. Clement of Alexandria repeatedly does the same. This authorship is likewise indorsed by Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, Athanasius, and Eusebius. There is besides the witness of Muratori's fragment and of the Peschito. "After the time of Eusebius," says Alford, "general consent pronounced the same verdict. We must join with Lücke in saying that incontestably our Epistle must be numbered among those canonical books which are most strongly upheld by ecclesiastical tradition."
The internal evidence of this Epistle being the writing of John is also important. It has that deeply contemplative manner, that type of spiritual intuitiveness, that refulgence of the love principle, that combination of tenderness and severity, which one would sooner refer to John than to any other of the primitive Christian men whose personal character is brought to our knowledge in the gospels or in tradition. One cannot surrender himself to the deeper thought and spirit of the Epistle, or dwell meditatively upon the words and style, without a conviction coming like an inspiration that the author was one who had a wonderfully receptive and absorbing nature, and who had stood in a relation of some peculiar personal intimacy with Christ, so as to speak and think more exactly as he did than any other of his witnesses. And who of all the twelve fits into these conditions like John, the beloved disciple? Then there is the obvious and very marked similarity between the style of this Epistle and that of the gospel bearing the name of John, which we do not need to illustrate. If John was the author of the Fourth Gospel he was, beyond all doubt, the author of the Epistle.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN.
Assuming that this writing is an epistle, or letter, and not a mere treatise, as its pronouns of the second person, its familiar epistolary style, and its elasticity of manner, sufficiently prove, we ask, "For whom was it prepared?" The immediate readers for whom it was intended must have been, in part at least, converts from heathenism, and persons with whose Christian history the writer had personal acquaintance: They must have been persons having already an advanced knowledge of doctrinal truth and a long experience in church life-persons situated where the gospel had been planted long enough to allow of a considerable development of positive heresies. There is evidently a philosophizing or Greek spirit in the society where the letter goes, if not on the part of the readers themselves. The letter seems designed, too, to reach not a single church, but the larger Christian constituency embraced in a circle of churches. These considerations, and others, lead us to think of the great body of Christians in the churches of Asia Minor, and to a certain extent those on the other side of the Egean Sea, as the readers especially addressed. The letter was an encyclical epistle for the great circle of Christians, upon whom the writer looked out with personal interest and knowledge. All this agrees with the Ephesian residence of the Apostle John in the latter portion of his life. Augustine's idea that the letter was addressed particularly to the Parthians must have been a misapprehension, or others may have misunderstood him. The presence of the term in the writings of this Father is satisfactorily explained in several ways, without understanding it to limit the destination of the Epistle to a single church or locality. No other preceding or contemporary writer lends the slightest encouragement to such a view.
When we have reached a conclusion as to the author and destination of the Epistle, it is easy to form a somewhat satisfactory opinion as to the time when it was composed. That it was written after the Gospel of John is generally conceded. Again and again it assumes, on the part of its readers, an acquaintance with the facts of the gospel narrative. In several instances it utters, in a condensed way, things already stated in fuller language in the Gospel. And as a rule, as Lücke says, the shorter and more concentrated expression of one and the same writer is the later. The Epistle was undoubtedly written in the last decade of the apostle's life, not earlier than A. D. 90. The assumed mature experience of the readers, the well-defined antichristian error already developed, the long-established personal relations between writer and readers, the indescribable tenderness that breathes in the letter, as of one far on in the school of Christ, together with the child-relation to the writer in which all the readers are placed, point almost certainly to the late period to which we have assigned the composition.
We leave questions of style, objects, contents, and deep inward connection, to be answered by the commentary itself.
Ch. 1:1-4. THE INCARNATION AND LIFE OF CHRIST AS A MEANS OF FELLOWSHIP AND JOY.
That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled
est warrant for our interpretation. [See Note on John 1: 1.-A. H.] The word rendered 'beginning' (apxý) may mean the condition, or foundation, which lies back of all historical creation and existence (Rev. 3: 14), and from which they take their start. Prior to the existence of any created being or thing Christ was-was,' not was becoming. With what holy reverence did John contemplate such a Being, who did not belong to the common category of ten, however truly he became a man. Which we have heard. The writer speaks for himself and his fellow-apostles, the prime witnesses of the gospel. The statement brings forward the eternal Word to a point in time, when, clothed with humanity, or, rather, made flesh (John 1: 14), he uttered human speech which ordinary human ears could hear. A testimony to the reality of the
The language is somewhat involved, but this is very nearly its tenor. The apostle has so much to crowd into his opening sentence that he seems scarcely to know how to begin. He wants to utter the cardinal facts in regard to the person of Christ, his own sensible acquaintance with these facts, and their effective relation to the higher life of believers all in one beat, as it were. It is the effort of a full vessel to empty itself by an insufficient outlet. No expression that Christ made was so involved, or could be. Not even inspired men could speak like him. In the verses before us, we see a deep and vivid experience attempting to put itself in sentences. The life in Christ has become life in John, and he wants to make such a declaration, such a tes-incarnation. Which we have seen with timony, of it as will lift up all his readers to the same plane of divine experience. He knows that in order to be successful in this object, he must at the same time guard his readers against any erroneous views of the person of Christ. Hence his emphasis and amplification of certain peculiar facts in Christ's original life and manifestation to the world.
1. That which. The thing, or substance, which he will declare. It is not merely a person, but a person as a life, fact, principle; a new power emerging in human history. Hence the writer begins with a neuter, instead of a masculine, pronoun, meaning that wonderful existence which includes so much, that source of life. Which was from the beginning. We understand this to mean, from eternity. The words, was with the Father,' in the following verse, compared with John 1: 2, confirms this conclusion; so also, indirectly, do other passages (as Micah 5: 2; John 8: 58; 17: 5; Col. 1: 17), which declare the pre-existence, or eternity, of the Son of God. Of course, John 1: 1 is the strong
our eyes. The added words, 'with our eyes,' intensify the seeing, while they show that it was not merely mental, but physical, with the natural eyesight. It was necessary for an apostle, as an original witness, to have seen Christ thus. (1 Cor. 9: 1.) A blind man could not be an apostle. Which we have looked upon. This is something more than to perceive with the eyes. It states that while the apostles saw Christ, they likewise gazed upon him. They examined him, contemplated him. Their eyes dwelt upon him. There was that in him which awakened rapt and admiring attention. The verb here used implies something remarkable in his person, and is expressly used with such a reference in John 1: 14, "And we beheld his glory." And our hands have handled. They had handled him, and thereby knew that he was not a mere vision or spirit, but had a real physical body, and therefore was a man. It is the strongest kind of testimony to the humanity of Jesus. No doubt John here refers particularly to his handling of the real body of our Lord after the resurrection from Joseph's
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life,
2 concerning the 1 Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bare witness, and de
1 Or. word.
pend on such understood words as, I speak, or I write. Ebrard says it is appositional, and paraphrases thus: "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, etc., we declare unto you; and thereby we declare unto you what concerns the Word of life."
tomb. The humanity which he possessed be- | speaking. All the preceding statements, he fore, he still had when raised from the says, pertain to him who, before he was heard, dead. Jesus, in fact, invited this kind of seen, gazed upon, or handled by men, existed testing of his bodily state. For when risen, under the name of the Word, and contained and standing in a room with his apostles, he in himself absolute life. He was called the said to them, as they wondered and seemed Word, because he was the expression, the to doubt: Behold my hands and my feet, utterance of God, "the brightness of his glory that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a and the express image of his person." (Heb. 1: 3.) spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me And, as such, he was the original fountain of have." (Luke 24: 39.) And he requested the life-not merely of existence, but of divine, doubting Thomas to thrust his hand into the spiritual life. Before the world was, the wound of his side, made by the soldier's Word had in himself that same Holy Spirit spear, to satisfy him of the reality of his body, which was subsequently imparted to his hu[Notice that the last two verbs of the original manity, not by measure (John 3: 34), to be comare in the aorist tense, and the first two in the municated thence to all his people. The adperfect tense. This may perhaps be due to junct, ‘of life,' literally, of the (true) life, is a the circumstance that the last two refer to a genitive of nature, or characteristic. The single act, and the first two to an oft-repeated idea expressed has its counterpart in John 1: experience.-A. H.] And will not the same 4. The whole expression is definitive of the evidences present themselves when we shall opening words, that which' (5), or may desee him as he is in his heavenly glory? Will not the hands and feet still bear the marks and scars of the crucifixion? (Rev. 5: 6.) Will not the body still be one that can be handled -real man as well as very God? This intense statement of our Lord's humanity was intended, as nearly all allow, to correct a suspicion, rising in some Christian hearts, that Jesus was not truly human, but only seemed to be so-an error which subsequently took more definite shape in the sect known as the Docetae. But take away the humanity of Jesus, make of the incarnation a mere seeming, and the whole scheme of redemption for sinners is undermined; there is no atonement, no coming of Christ into conjunction with our natures, no mediatorship, no sympathizing priesthood. The incarnation is one of the foundations of the gospel. And "if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps. 11: 3.) Nay, what can anxious sinners do? How important the fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! Of the Word of life. Respecting or pertain- ' ing to (repì) 'the word of life'-that is, the higher eternal nature of Christ, similarly conceived of and named in the opening of John's gospel. The expression is thrown in to make his readers certain of whom he is
2. For the life was manifested-literally, And the life, etc., the free Hebraic connective so common in the writings of John. The mention of the life of the Word in the preceding clause suggests to the author a fact about it in connection with the incarnationa fact confirmatory and explanatory of what he had already said, and in truth belonging to the very matter of his message-and so it must go in at once, parenthetically, before it is forgotten. The life, belonging to the eternal Word, was manifested in a human body (John 1: 14), making possible the action and testimony of the senses before mentioned. The incarnation, bringing Christ's life within the reach of men, before implied, is now more explicitly stated, together with an important fact in the process. And we have seen [it]. The word supplied in brackets is not needed, as the object is expressed after the two following verbs-namely, that eternal life. So Lange, Lücke, Ebrard, and the Bible Union.