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with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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1 John 5

Brotherly love is the effect of the new birth, which makes obedience to all God’s commandments pleasant. (1-5) Reference to witnesses agreeing to prove that Jesus, the Son of God, is the true Messiah. (6-8) The satisfaction the believer has about Christ, and eternal life through him. (9-12) The assurance of God’s hearing and answering prayer. (13-17) The happy condition of true believers, and a charge to renounce all idolatry. (18-21)

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Brotherly love is the effect of the new birth, which makes obedience to all God’s commandments pleasant

1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

Reference to witnesses agreeing to prove that Jesus, the Son of God, is the true Messiah

6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

The satisfaction the believer has about Christ, and eternal life through him

9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

The assurance of God’s hearing and answering prayer

13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.

17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

The happy condition of true believers, and a charge to renounce all idolatry

18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.

20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. That Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messias, the Redeemer of the world, is born of God, is made his adoptive son by his grace in baptism. Wi. — Is born of God; that is, is justified, and become a child of God by baptism; which is also to be understood, provided the belief of this fundamental article of the Christian faith be accompanied with all the other conditions, which, by the word of God and his appointment, are also required for justification; such as a general belief of all that God has revealed and promised; hope, love, repentance, and a sincere disposition to keep God’s holy law and commandments. Ch. — Loveth him[1] that begot; i.e. the eternal Father. — Loveth him also who was born of him; i.e. loveth him who is his only begotten and eternal Son. Wi.

Ver. 2. In this we know that we love the children of God, (that is, all men, and especially the faithful, who are made his adoptive children) when we love God, and keep his commandments, for these two branches of charity, the love of God and of our neighbour, are inseparable: the one is known and proved by the other. Wi.

Ver. 3. And his commandments are not heavy; not burdensome. Not but that they comprehend what seems hard to human frailty, and especially to men carried away with the love of vanities in this world, who think it hard to comply with Christ’s doctrine of self-denials, of renouncing their inclinations, of suffering death, sooner than to sin against God, or to renounce their faith: but the love of God, and the promises of an eternal happiness in the next life, with the assistances which God gives them, make the yoke of Christ sweet, and his burden light. See Mat. xi. 30. How different is this doctrine from that of those late heretics, who pretend that God’s commandments are impossible, even to just men, when they employ all their endeavours. See the first proposition of Jansenius, and this heresy of Calvin condemned by the council of Trent, sess. 6, cap. xi. can. 18. Wi.

Ver. 4. This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith. That is, a lively faith, working by charity, makes a man victorious over the greatest temptations, and over all the adversaries of his salvation. Wi. — Our faith; Not a bare speculative or dead faith, but a faith working by charity. Gal. v. 6. Ch.

Ver. 6. Came by water and blood. The sense seems to be, by water, with which he ordered every one to be baptized and made Christians; 2ndly, by his blood shed on the cross for our redemption. Wi. — Blood: not only to wash away our sins by the water of baptism, but by his own blood. Ch. — And it is the Spirit that testifieth that Christ[2] is the truth. By the Spirit, which is not here called the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, as in the next verse, is either meant the Spirit or soul of Christ, which dying he recommended into the hands of his Father, and which shewed that he was truly man, against Cerinthus, and some heretics of those times; or else it may signify the spirit of grace, given in this world to the faithful, in the same sense as S. Paul says, (Rom. viii. 16.) that the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our Spirit, that we are the sons of God: and of which may be understood what is said here, (v. 10.) He that believeth in the Son of God, hath the testimony of God in himself. Wi.

Ver. 7. There are three that give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one: i.e. one in nature, in substance, and in all perfections, in the same sense as when Christ himself said, (Jo. x. 30.) I and the Father are one, or one thing. The Socinians object that this verse is wanting in many Greek manuscripts; and even Erasmus in one edition, and Mr. Simon in his Critics, have questioned it, or rejected it, as a false reading, but without any sufficient proofs and grounds, as hath been shewn by many learned Catholics, and also by Protestant writers, who receive in their translations this verse as canonical. It is easy to account for the omission of this verse; for as both the seventh and eighth verse begin and end with the same words, this gave occasion to the oversight and omission of the transcribers, whereas it is not credible that such a whole verse could be added. And that it was only by the mistake and oversight of transcribers may further appear, because we find part of the seventh verse, to wit, and these three are one, cited by Tertul. l. cont. Praxeam. c. xxiii. p. 515. Ed. Rig. and twice by Cyprian, Epist. 73. ad Jubaianum. p. 125. Ed. Rig. in the Oxford Edition, p. 310. and in his Treatise de Unit. Ecclesiæ, p. 181. Ed. Rigal. and in the Oxford Ed. p. 79, where also Dr. Fell defends this verse of S. John to be genuine. Tertul. and Cyp. wrote long before the dispute with the Arians. The Socinians also object that this passage is not brought by S. Athanasius and some other fathers against the Arians, which they could scarce have omitted had they read this verse, but this only proves that this omission had happened in some MSS. in their time, or, as some conjecture, that the Arians had corrupted some copies. S. Fulgentius made use of it against the Arians, and also others about that time. See the Benedictines of S. Maur against Mr. Simon, in the first tome of S. Jerom, p. 1670. Both Catholics and Protestants, after a diligent examination, have received this verse, which is found in the best MSS. See Greek Test. at Amsterdam, an. 1711. The three divine Persons, who are present everywhere, though said to be in heaven, gave testimony concerning Christ. The Father by a voice from heaven, both at his baptism (Mat. iii. 17.) and at his transfiguration, (Mat. xvii. 5.) saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him:” and also by all the miracles wrought by the same power of all the three divine Persons. 2. The Son testified to the Jews on many occasions, that he was sent from God, that he was the only Son of God, that he and his Father were one, &c. as in the annot. on John iii. The Holy Ghost confirmed the same, particularly by coming down upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and inspiring them to teach the same doctrine concerning Jesus Christ. Wi. — An express proof of the three distinct persons and unity of nature and essence in the blessed Trinity.

Ver. 8. And there are three that give testimony on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.[3] This is a repetition of what was before said, v. 6, to be expounded in the same manner. But when it is added, these three are one, the sense is, that they witness one and the same truth. Wi. — As the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, all bear witness to Christ’s divinity; so the spirit, which he yielded up, crying out with a loud voice upon the cross, and the water and blood that issued from his side, bear witness to his humanity, and are one; that is, all agree in one testimony. Ch.

Ver. 10. He that believeth not the Son, maketh him (God) a liar, by refusing to believe the testimonies given by the three divine Persons, that Jesus was the Messias and the true Son of God, by whom eternal life is obtained and promised to all that comply with his doctrine. In him we have also this lively confidence, that we shall obtain whatever we ask, according to his will, when we ask what is for our good with perseverance and in the manner we ought. And this we know and have experience of, by having obtained the petitions that we have made. Wi.

Ver. 16. A sin which is not unto death . . . . and life shall be given to him. It is hard to determine what S. John here calls a sin which is not unto death, and a sin which is unto death. The difference cannot be the same as betwixt sins that are called venial and mortal; for he says, that if a man pray for his brother who commits a sin that is not unto death, life shall be given to him: therefore such a one had before lost the life of grace, and been guilty of what is commonly called a mortal sin. And when he speaks of a sin that is unto death, and adds these words, I do not say that any one should ask for that sin, it cannot be supposed that S. John would say this of every mortal sin, but only of some heinous sins which are very seldom remitted, because such sinners very seldom repent. By a sin therefore which is not unto death, interpreters commonly understand a wilful apostacy from the faith, and from the known truth, when a sinner hardened by his own ingratitude becomes deaf to all admonitions, will do nothing for himself, but runs on to final impenitence. Nor yet does S. John say that such a sin is never remitted, or cannot be remitted, but only has these words, I do not say that any one should ask for the remission of that sin; that is, though we must pray for all sinners whatsoever, yet man cannot pray for such sinners with such a confidence of obtaining always their petitions, as S. John said before, v. 14. Whatever exposition we follow on this verse, our faith teaches us from the holy Scriptures, that God desires not the death of any sinner, but that he be converted and live. See Ezech. xxxiii. 11. Though men’s “sins be as the scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow.” Isaias i. 18. It is the will of God that every one come to the knowledge of truth and be saved. See John vi. 40. There is no sin so great but which God is willing to forgive, and has left power in his Church to remit the most enormous sins; so that no sinner need despair of pardon, nor will any sinner perish but by his own fault. Wi. — A sin unto death. Some understand this of final impenitence, or of dying in mortal sin, which is the only sin that never can be remitted; but, it is probable, he may also comprise under this name the sin of apostacy from the faith, and some other such henious sins as are seldom and hardly remitted: and therefore he gives little encouragement to such as pray for these sinners, to expect what they ask. Ch.

Ver. 17. All iniquity[4] is sin. The sense here is, that sin is always an injury or an injustice done to God; but though every sin implies such an injury and an offence against God, yet there are different degrees in such injuries, which are not always such an injustice as S. John calls the sin unto death. Wi.

Ver. 18. Sinneth not. See the annotation on chap. iii. 6. &c. Ch. — The generation[5] of God preserveth him, (i.e. the grace of adoption, as long as it remains in the soul; see C. iii. 9.) and the wicked one (i.e. the devil) toucheth him not. Wi.

Ver. 19. And the whole world is seated in wickedness;[6] i.e. a great part of the world. It may also signify, is under the wicked one; meaning the devil, who is elsewhere called the prince of this world, that is, of all the wicked. Jo. xii. 31. Wi.

Ver. 20. And may be in his true Son.[7] This is the true God, and eternal life. Which words are a clear proof of Christ’s divinity, and as such made use of by the ancient Fathers.

Ver. 21. Keep yourselves from idols. An admonition to the new converted Christians, lest, conversing with heathens and idolaters, they might fall back into the sin of idolatry, which may be the sin unto death here mentioned by S. John. Wi.

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[1] V. 1. Eum qui genuit, ton gennesanta, generantem; which, in English, may be translated, the Father.

[2] V. 6. Quoniam Christus est veritas; in most Greek copies is now read, oti to pneuma esti e aletheia, quoniam Spiritus est veritas.

[3] V. 8. Hi tres unum sunt. Divers Greek copies, eis en eisin, in unum sunt: and so the Prot. translation hath, and these three agree in one; though in the seventh verse they follow the MSS. which there have, are one, kai oi treis en eisi.

[4] V. 17. Omnis iniquitas, pasa adikia, properly injustitia. It is not here anomia, as C. iii. 4.

[5] V. 18. Sed generatio Dei: Some MSS. genesis; others, o gennetheis ek tou Theou. qui genitus est ex Deo.

[6] V. 19. In maligno positus est, en to ponero keitai.

[7] V. 20. In vero Filio ejus, hic est verus Deus, en to alethino uio autou, outos estin o alethinos Theos, with the Greek article. S. Athan. S. Amb. S. Hilar. S. Aug. S. Cyr. by this sentence prove Christ truly God. See Petavius, l. 2. de Trin. c. ix. num. 8.