The Expository Files

The Prologue Of The First Epistle Of John 

1 John 1:1-4

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." (1 Jno. 1:1-4).

Before going any further into this passage, begin with this simple fact: This is about Jesus Christ. Whatever the reader may consider to be difficult in the grammatical format or wording, it is clear the text is about Jesus Christ. When you focus on verses 1-4 as a unit, there can be no doubt this is about Him. John and the other apostles witnessed Him in the most direct manner. They proclaimed this truth to put people in position to believe and  obey the gospel to have fellowship with the Father. It was a source of joy for John to preach and write this message. It should be a source of joy for us to read this message, to begin and maintain the activity of faith and know the satisfaction of fellowship with God.

The first two words of First John may seem awkward when judged by modern English conventions: "That which" (KJV, NKJ, NIV; "what was" in the updated NASB). The subject of this paragraph is not just the individual, Jesus Christ, but "that which" concerns Him. This includes His eternal existence, His manifestation to witnesses (incarnation), and the proclamation of that message. These propositions form the opening statement or  "prologue."

Christ's eternal existence is affirmed by John, in the expression "was from the beginning." In harmony with this, Jesus Christ is "that eternal life which was with the Father." Jesus had an existence as deity before creation, during creation, from creation and currently! He is divine, eternal and uncreated. And this is exactly what the same writer affirmed in the earlier New Testament document: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made," (Jno. 1:1-3). {It is this writer's present understanding that "from the beginning" points to the eternal existence of Christ. For further study and in  the interests of fairness, the other view of this that is not altogether inconsistent with the context is, "from the beginning" refers to the beginning of the gospel (as in 2:7,24). This view is taught by F.F. Bruce in his words that follow. "The phrase 'from the beginning' in 1 Jno. 1:1 is best understood in the sense which it occasionally bears later in the epistle: for example, in 1 John 2:7, where John reminds his readers of the 'old commandment which you had from the beginning,' and in 1 John 2:24, where he urges them to adhere to 'what you heard from the beginning'." Guy N. Woods, on the other hand, says: "In our text 'from the beginning' points to that period before creation, and therefore into the eternity which precedes it. It is an affirmation of the eternal characteristics of the Lord and the attributes which He possesses." The gospel & Epistles of John, F.F. Bruce, p#35. Commentary on First John, Gospel Advocate Series, p#210. While I believe Woods to be correct, I cannot label the former view as altogether false. It is true that from the beginning of the preaching of the gospel, the true nature of Christ was consistently proclaimed by the apostles.}

His manifestation on earth is the next part of John's lead statement: "the life was manifested." This is commonly called the "incarnation." Deity became flesh and His presence on earth was directly witnessed by men like John who heard Him, saw Him and touched Him. He was not some sort of mystifying, shadowy apparition or phantom (as some Gnostics probably claimed). He had a real human existence here on the earth, a real death, actual burial but was raised from the dead by God. It was vital for John to show that Jesus had an actual existence, that He came "in the flesh," (4:2, and see Jno. 1:14).

This truth about the "Word of life" when acted upon (see 1 Jno. 2:5) brings fellowship with Deity to the respondent (the obedient believer). John reminds his readers: "that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ." Jesus (the Word of life) was preached by the apostolic witnesses and recorded in written form. The purpose was, to bring people into fellowship "with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ." When alien sinners (individuals alienated from God by their sin, see 1 Jno. 3:4), hear the message about Christ's incarnation, life, death, burial and resurrection they are put in position to have their sin forgiven and enter into a relationship with deity. Initially and throughout life, this means the obedience of faith. "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments," (1 Jno. 2:3). Through your personal acceptance of the Word of life, you enter into a unity of faith and practice with children of God like the apostles of Christ. The basis of this is fellowship with God: "and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." The apostolic witnesses and preachers like John did not declare the gospel message just as a matter of information, or just as reformation, but chiefly restoration bringing sinners back into fellowship with God (see also 1 Pet. 3:18).

The noblest and highest relationship you can have is fellowship with God. In order to have a right relationship with God, it is necessary to learn of Christ, the Word of life, and respond to Him who is righteous. "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him," (1 Jno. 2:29).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 9.12; December 2002