A Key to the Understanding of First John -- By: Everett F. Harrison

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 111:441 (Jan 1954)
Article: A Key to the Understanding of First John
Author: Everett F. Harrison

A Key to the Understanding of First John

Everett F. Harrison

Like other epistles of the New Testament, this writing has for its purpose the building up of believers in the faith. Unlike any others, it builds squarely upon one of the gospels. A glance at the opening lines of the text discloses several words and phrases which are identical with those found in the forefront of the Fourth Gospel—”beginning,” “Word,” “with the Father,” “life.”

The Union of Christ and the Believer

This identity of terminology creates a presumption in favor of identity of authorship which is sustained by other features which link the Epistle to the Gospel. But is this all? The time reference at the beginning of the Epistle belongs to the past. But it soon moves into the present and largely remains there to the end of the book. John seems to be saying that the Life which once was manifested among men and then was withdrawn from the world was not withdrawn in any but a physical sense. The Life continues to have an immediate and dynamic influence upon those who continue to be in fellowship with Him, even though their lot is cast in the world and He has been taken out of it.

Perhaps at no point in the Epistle does this thought come to sharper expression than in 4:17. It is a difficult verse, which has been the despair of many a commentator. With most of its problems we are not here concerned, nor with the exact train of thought in the immediate context. We prefer to let a few words stand out to challenge our attention—”As he is, so are we in this world.” There would be little to excite curiosity here if John had written, “As he

was, so are we in this world,” although even this would be a tremendous revelation, for it would suggest the carrying on of Christ’s name and work and influence in the life and character of those who belong to Him. But it would not suggest any organic relationship between the historic Christ and those who now represent Him.

Moffatt translates the words in question, “In this world we are living as He lives,” that is to say, the life of believers bears the closest possible relation to the life which Christ now lives. Nothing is said here to define the precise nature of that relation, but we are encouraged to look for it elsewhere. Some eight times in the Epistle the believer is designated as “the one who has been born of God.” Just once this same verb is used of Christ, who is also said to have been born of God, but the aorist passive tense is used instead of the perfect to indicate a distinction from all others who have been born of God (

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