1 John, part 1

Recently I worked through translating the first letter of John from the Greek. I did several versions based on my study of the original, a fairly literal translation, a looser translation, and then a third one that included some explanatory comments. It is this third one that I am giving here in a few posts.

What I have tried to do is to a) render the text in fairly easy to read and understand language and layout, and 2) insert a minimal number of additions that explain how I believe the text should be interpreted. There are no chapter and verse divisions because they do not exist in the original and, in my opinion, they detract from reading the work as a whole and, in a few bad cases, can divide thoughts that should run together. I have tried to keep such comments to a minimum so as to allow the text to speak for itself wherever possible. I could have just added a lot of footnotes, but I wanted to avoid that as much as possible. However, with each post I will include a few footnotes that explain why I have adopted a particular interpretation.

Please do use the comments to let me know how you think I have done, whether it makes sense, and whether there are things in it that I don’t explain but you find odd or difficult.


John (Glasgow Cathedral)

John (Glasgow Cathedral)

This is the message of life that has existed from the very beginning, we have heard it and our eyes have seen it, we studied it and our hands handled it. (The life was revealed and we have, indeed, seen it and now we are setting it forth and announcing it to you: Eternal life! Once it was only with the Father but now it has been revealed to us.) We are passing on what we have seen and heard to you so that you will join us in fellowship, for our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing so that our joy may be made complete.

So then, this is the message we have heard and are passing on to you: God is light and there is no darkness whatsoever in Him.

If we say “We have fellowship with God” and yet we are walking in darkness, then we are lying and not doing what is true. If, on the other hand, we are walking in the light like Jesus walks in the light, then we really do have fellowship with one another and the blood of God’s Son, Jesus, is cleansing us from all sin.

If we come to God saying “We have no sin” (that is to say, sin doesn’t exist, it isn’t real) then we are simply deluding ourselves and don’t see the truth. But if, on the other hand, we come confessing that we are sinners then God, who is faithful and right, will forgive us and make us clean.

If we come to God saying “We have never done anything bad enough to be called ‘sin’, we are decent people” then we are making God a liar and have missed His message.

My children, I am writing to you to keep you from sinning! Of course, if someone should happen to sin we still have an advocate before the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one—and He is the one who will make things right with regard to our sins, and not only ours but those of the whole world!

It is because we are keeping His commands that we are assured that we really know Him. Someone who says “I know Him” yet doesn’t keep His commands is just a liar; there is no truth in him. On the other hand, whoever does keep His word has God’s love in him in all its fullness and that assures us that we really are in Him. Anyone who says “I live in Him” is obligated to live just like Jesus lived.

Beloved, this is no new command that I am writing to you, it is the same old one you learned at the very start, the message that you heard. Then again, it is like a new command because the darkness is passing away and the light is beginning to shine: This is true in Jesus and also in you. Anyone who says “I am in the light” while hating his brother is really still in the dark. Whoever loves his brother is in the light and there is nothing offensive in him. But anyone who hates his brother is still in the dark, walking about is the darkness and not knowing where he is going because the darkness is blinding him.

I am writing to you children because your sins have been forgiven in His name.

I am writing to you fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I am writing to you young people because you have conquered the evil one.

I wrote to you little ones because you have come to know the Father.

I wrote to you fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I wrote to you young people because you are strong, God’s message is in you, and you have conquered the evil one.

You must not love the world nor anything in the world! If anyone loves the world then the Father’s love is not in him because none of the things in this world—the things that attract the body, the things that attract the eyes, and the showy things of this life—are from the Father but from the world and the world is passing away along with all of its attractions. However, the person who does God’s will will remain forever.

Little ones, this is the final hour and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared: This is how we know that it is, in fact, the last hour. Even though they were once amongst us they were never really a part of us or else they would have stayed with us. But it had to be made very clear that they were not a part of us. However, you have an anointing from the Holy One and so you understand all this; I did not write to you because you don’t understand but because you do and you know that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar if not the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies both the Father and the Son. No-one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son also has the Father. You must allow the message you heard originally to remain in you; If it does then you will stay in the Son and in the Father. This is what He promised us, it is Eternal Life!

I wrote this about those who would deceive you, but you have the anointing you received from Him, and it is still in you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you (if, that is, you stay obedient to what it has taught you, for it is true and no lie, and it will teach you all you need to know).



1) The bit near the beginning about “saying we have no sin”: I do not believe that John is saying here that we, as Christians, should not be making these claims, but that people cannot come to God initially and do so. That  is, it is the denial of the problem of sin (and hence the need for atonement) that is the problem. John does not mean to imply that after we have found God we are still sinners. That would go against his own teaching in the rest of this letter, and indeed against the teaching of the rest of the NT. I see a distinction here also in the two ways it is phrased that often seems to get lost.

2) The above does not mean, however, that we cannot sin as Christians, as the next bit shows. The problem here is that so many Christians read “Of course, if someone should happen to sin…” as “Of course, when someone sins…”, which is not what it says. John allows the possibility but denies the inevitability.



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2 Responses to “1 John, part 1”

  1. 1 John, part 2 « thoughtfulspirituality Says:

    […] Explorations of Christian Spirituality « 1 John, part 1 […]

  2. 1 John, part 3 « thoughtfulspirituality Says:

    […] is the final part of my “interpretive translation” of First John. You can read the first and second parts if you missed them. As usual, a couple of notes at the […]

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