Exegetical Comments on 1 John 2:3-11

Exegetical Comments on 1 John 2:3-11

During Jesus’ ministry, his adversaries were very concerned about keeping God’s commands in the Torah. So Jesus reduced the 613 laws of the Torah to two – love God completely and love others as you love yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). The passage at hand speaks to the commandments of God and is part of 1 John’s encouragement of the audience.

John starts with the observation that those who know him (Jesus) keeps his commands (vs. 3). Next, John presents the antithesis of this truth by stating that those who say they know Jesus, but do not follow his commandments, are liars (vs. 4). Love of God is not just a theory but is practical application and experience.[1] John then reiterates that those who keep Jesus’ commandments are made complete in God’s love (vs. 5) and they “walk as he walked” (vs. 6 CSB). This last verse harkens to Jesus’ death and sacrificial love.[2] Mystical visions and experiences do not count for anything if the believer is not walking in the commandments of Jesus.[3]

But the above section begs the question, what is this set of commandments? John mentions that it is not a new command, but an old one (vs. 7), but yet is a new command (vs. 8). It is old that the readers knew it from the Torah, and they have learned it as a part of their religious upbringing. However, it is a new command in that it has now become the overriding moral and social ethic of the Messianic Community.[4] Vs. 8 also brings in the dualistic metaphors of light and dark. In John’s writings, light pertains to truth/goodness, and dark pertains to falseness/evil.[5] This dualism is further explained in that the one who hates another but states they are a believer (“in the light” vs. 9 CSB) are still in the darkness. In contrast, the one who loves others is in a right relationship with God (vs. 10). Vs. 11 comes back to the point that hating others puts one in a mode of darkness – further developing the metaphor of blindness and stumbling (vs. 11). This phrasing may seem repetitive, especially when compared to Paul’s letters. However, John is not moving in strict order of thought (A then B, then C) but moves forward by revealing his newer points considering previous points.[6] The rest of the letter will go on to detail what this new commandment of love looks like.

[1] Glenn W. Barker, “1 John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 315.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Jn 2:6.

[3] Barker, 316.

[4] John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 97.

[5] Keener, 2:7-8.

[6] Tom Wright, Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah, For Everyone Bible Study Guides (London; Louisville, KY: SPCK; Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 140.

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