1 John 1

Historical Background

"John was the surviving member of the early Church's presidency. Reading the close of his Gospel and its modern clarification (see D&C 7), we know that John's special ministry continued without death, though he was known as an aged Apostle at the end of the first century. As the final witness of Christ among the Old World Apostles, he penned his firsthand knowledge of Jesus in plain phrases: 'Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled.' (1 Jn. 1:1.)
"History sketches John's last mortal decade but is silent about his middle years. Earlier there was the intense period of testifying with Peter in the temple. During this period he also sat in many Church councils on the expanding work. Like Peter after the Jerusalem Conference, John disappeared from our view. Unlike Peter, however, there was no hint of John's whereabouts until almost half a century later.
"John's life during these years was sketched by Irenaeus, a bishop writing in the last quarter of the second century... Irenaeus related that John wrote the Revelation in exile 'towards the end of Domitian's reign,' which is A.D. 96. 14 John then wrote his Gospel 'during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.' Some modern scholars speak of an Ephesian ministry before Patmos, but Irenaeus gives no hint of this. Irenaeus speaks of John as known until 'the times of Trajan,' a reign that began in A.D. 98. That approximate date for John's Gospel is supported by Irenaeus's story that the Apostle John would not be in the same building with the heretical Cerinthus, who flourished in the early second century.
"So a study of Irenaeus suggests about A.D. 96 for Revelation, about A.D. 98 for the Gospel, and about A.D. 100 for the letters. Since the letters constantly refer to what Christ taught, they presuppose that the Apostle had already circulated his Gospel. Some modern Christians mistakenly argue that no prophecy could come after the end of Revelation, but the Apostle continued to speak and write by inspiration after warning copyists not to change 'the book of this prophecy,' clearly referring to the book of Revelation only. (See Rev. 1:3; Rev. 22:19.)
"According to modern revelation, Apostles are 'special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world' (D&C 107:23), and no one filled this assignment more faithfully than John. A trademark of his writings is the emphasis on 'witness,' 'testimony,' and 'bear record.' John testified firsthand because he outlived all others who could speak of Jesus from personal knowledge. But his words also show reliance on the Holy Ghost as the deeper source of knowledge of Christ. (See 1 Jn. 5:9.)...
"The patterns in 1 John are striking. He continually reminds his readers of what Jesus taught 'from the beginning.' His topics are those of the Last Supper discourse, showing us that more than half a century later he still remembers the final mortal teachings of the Lord...love. What are the springs of life-giving love? John, the Apostle of love, answers from his strength in the Lord: 'We love him because he first loved us.' (1 Jn. 4:19.)" (Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The First Presidency of the Early Church: Their Lives and Epistles," Ensign, Aug. 1988, 21)

1 John 1:1-3 we have seen with our eyes... our hands have handled... the Word of life

"John had not only heard Jesus' personal teachings of eternity, but he had glimpsed eternity in the transfiguration and ascension. He had not only felt the wounds of the resurrected Lord, but on the Isle of Patmos he had seen the Lord and heard his voice. (Rev. 1:15.)" (Richard Lloyd Anderson, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Jan. 1984, 51)
Hugh Nibley
There is nothing paradoxical about the resurrection... [But many have to see it to believe it]. When falls of meteorites were reported in the eighteenth century, the learned members of the French Academy argued with perfect and unanswerable logic that such a thing simply could not be. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said regarding a meteorite that fell in Connecticut in 1807, "I could more easily believe that two Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from heaven." ... They were convinced that what their science had not officially noted simply did not exist, and that what could not be scientifically explained-by them-was necessarily impossible...
Once the fall of meteorites was proved by witnesses in 1803, the Academy promptly shifted from complete denial to complete acceptance, and all acted as if they had never questioned such a thing for a moment. So it was with the resurrection. In a moment, Thomas changed from doubt to assurance so perfect that he was astonished and humiliated at ever having doubted anything so obvious. No matter how wildly improbable or paradoxical or utterly impossible a thing may seem to the cleverest people on earth, only by witness and not by reason, theory, or speculation may its truth be ultimately established, whether the truth be scientific or religious. "This is the testimony . . . which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him . . . and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father" (D&C 76:22-23). Compare this testimony of modern prophets with that of the ancients: "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, of the Word of life; . . . That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." (1 John 1:1, 3) After all, it is the testimony of the prophets that gives us the real Easter. (The World and the Prophets, 3rd ed. [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987], 162.)

1 John 1:3 our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ

The definition of fellowship is "companionship of persons on equal and friendly terms, familiar intercourse... Any union or association... of equals or friends." (Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd ed., Springfield, Mass., 1945) Are we to believe that John had such an intimate relationship with the Father and Son that he could use this term? How can he invite us to the same relationship? Can we ever be on equal terms with God? A man might love his pet chimpanzee enough to treat him as an equal, but it is only by the love and mercy of the master that such a relationship could ever exist. What does the chimpanzee bring to the relationship? He is messy and leaves banana peels around the house. We are no more equal with God than a man is with his chimpanzee.
Yet, in spite of this fact, God is willing to treat us as equals if we will forsake sin and keep his commandments. He promises to tolerate our messes and love us regardless of our shortcomings. The Savior refers to his apostles as "friends" even though He is definitely their superior (D&C 84:63). Remarkably, we may enjoy this divine association and are free to enjoy all that the Father has as "joint-heirs with Christ" (D&C 84:38; Romans 8:17). John invites us to partake of this great blessing that our "joy may be full" (v. 4).
"The primary purpose of 1 John is to state the terms and effects of our fellowship with God or our failure to develop such a relationship. In Greek, the word for fellowship is koinonia, a noun from the adjective meaning common or shared. The corresponding verb, koinoneo, means to share, to have a share, to participate, and so the agent or person who does such an action is a companion, partner, or sharer (koinonos)." (Thomas W. Mackay, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation, ed. by Robert L. Millet, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 239.)
John Taylor
It is our privilege now, through obedience to the principles of the Gospel, to be full of light and life and intelligence, and the power of God, to comprehend correct principles, to walk in the light as he is in the light, and to have fellowship with God the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, realizing and knowing that the atoning blood of Christ cleanses from sin, and that we are his sons and daughters, and have a right to the eternal glories that God has prepared for those who love him and keep his commandments. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 18: 333.)
Joseph F. Smith
I propose to live so that I shall be immune from the perils of the world, if it be possible for me to so live, by obedience to the commandments of God and to his laws revealed for my guidance. No matter what may come to me, if I am only in the line of my duty, if I am in fellowship with God, if I am worthy of the fellowship of my brethren, if I can stand spotless before the world, without blemish, without transgression of the laws of God, what does it matter to me what may happen to me? I am always ready. (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 5: 75.)

1 John 1:4 these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full

Often commentators take the long held stance that apostolic epistles were written to correct some doctrinal error, to counter the early forces of apostasy. Some have said this about John's epistles, but John openly gives us his own reasons for writing this epistle. He wants the saints to receive a fullness of joy, to partake of the fruit of the tree of life and join him as a joint heir with Christ, receiving eternal life.
John's reasons for writing 1 John, "these things we write unto you":
  • That your joy may be full (1 John 1:4)
  • That ye sin not (1 John 2:1)
  • To remind you of the commandment to love your brother (1 John 2:7-11)
  • Because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake (1 John 2:12)
  • Because you know the truth (1 John 2:21)
  • That ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13)

1 John 1:5 This then is the message... that God is light

Bruce R. McConkie
Light comes from God (2 Ne. 31:3), and the cry of righteous men has always been, "O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me." (Ps. 43:3.) The Lord's word is a light to the path of the faithful (Ps. 119:105), and men are commanded to "walk in the light of the Lord." (Isa. 2:5; John 11:9-10; 12:35.) Parents are commanded to bring up their children "in light and truth." (D. & C. 93:40-42.) Light is a protection against evil of every sort, and the saints should "put on the armour of light." (Rom. 13:12.)
There are two great scriptural tests which show whether men have the light and are walking therein, one pertaining to beliefs, the other to conduct. Isaiah challenged false teachers with this test: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isa. 8:20.) And John, speaking particularly to members of the Church, those upon whom "the true light now shineth," said: "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:8-11.)
Light leads to salvation; it edifies and uplifts. "And that which doth not edify is not of God and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D. & C. 50:23-24.) "And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things." (D. & C. 88:67.) "In me shall all mankind have light, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name." (Ether 3:14.) "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7.) The saved shall walk in the light forever (Rev. 21:24) and rejoice in the light of the countenance of their God. (Ps. 4:6; D. & C. 88:56, 58; 3 Ne. 19:25.) (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 445-446.)
Delbert L. Stapley
The gospel of Christ is a lamp in our hands to guide us in righteous paths. Light can always dissipate darkness, but darkness can never replace light. It is only when the light of the Spirit within us is dimmed or goes out that the darkness of temptation and sin enters in, and Satan takes over. (Conference Report, April 1968, Afternoon Meeting 28.)

1 John 1:7 if we walk in the light

Bernard P. Brockbank
Sometimes we like to create a little darkness to hide in, but in God there is no darkness at all. (Conference Report, October 1962, Afternoon Meeting 105 - 106.)
Bruce R. McConkie
Where the true gospel of Christ is, there is light; and where that gospel is not found, darkness reigns. "The whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin, . . . because they come not unto me," the Lord said. (D. & C. 84:49-54.) "Darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people," (D. & C. 112:23.) The kingdom of the devil is "full of darkness," (Rev. 16: 10.) And men "love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." (D. & C. 10:21; John 3:19.) But when men repent and heed the call of Christ, they thereby come "out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Pet. 2:9; 1 Thess. 5:4; 1 John 2:9.) (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 179.)
Joseph B. Wirthlin
To be a light for others, we ourselves must live in the light. To do this, we must make correct choices, walking in the ways of the Lord.
There are places where our lights shine the brightest Elder Theodore M. Burton of the Seventy shared this experience with us:
When I was a young boy, I went with my father to inspect a mine in Nevada. We each had flashlights, but took no extra batteries with us, for we did not expect to be in the mine very long. But the tunnel was longer, colder, and deeper than we anticipated. Before we got to the end of the mine, where the mineral was, father told me to turn off my flashlight to save my batteries. By the time father had finished inspecting the mine, his flashlight began to dim, and he suggested we had better turn back. Before long his flashlight gave out completely, and I can still remember-until I again turned on my light-the panic I felt to be in such cold and utter blackness. Although my own batteries gave out before we reached the mine entrance, we were by then guided by the dim light coming from the mouth of the tunnel. How good it felt to see the light increase coming from the mouth of the tunnel. How good it felt to see the light increase as we made our way back to the entrance and found ourselves in warm, brilliant sunlight.
I have since wondered how anyone could knowingly prefer to live where it is dark and cold. How could anybody willingly prefer darkness and misery over light and warmth? Yet darkness, cold, and misery will be the lot of those who willingly and knowingly reject the Lord. John wrote, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5.)
I remember passing a dark and dirty pool hall in years past. When it changed ownership, the new owner spared no expense to clean up the place. He put bright lights where dim ones had been. He painted with clean new colors over dark and dingy walls. He replaced painted windows with clear glass that invited in the sunshine. The "new place" smelled clean and fresh and was bright, shining, and inviting. But what happened next was an interesting phenomenon. Most of the old customers stayed away; they chose darkness rather than light. A decrease in business was followed by a period of planned neglect. Clear windows become smoke-filmed and fly-specked. Bright lights were turned out. Walls became dirty. Eventually the old customers returned to their comfort zone in the darkness.
Familiarity with darkness can eventually erode our sensitivity until we choose darkness rather than light. Let us seek the light and keep our own lights shining, thus inviting the Spirit of the Lord into our lives, our homes, and the lives of our children and neighbors. (Finding Peace in Our Lives [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 83-84.)

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves

Except for the most self-righteous members, it is difficult to find somebody who really feels sinless. However, outside the context of Christian culture, the story is quite different. Have you ever tried to explain the Fall of Man and its consequences to an atheist? They think the Adam and Eve story is hokey. They don't understand the need for a redeemer. When you relate how terrible you feel because of your sins and inadequacies, they are incredulous-feeling no debt to either God or justice. Without a concept of the Fall, they deny the concept of sin. They deny their own need for mercy. They deny a need for a Redeemer. In effect, they say, "I have no sin. Therefore, I need neither God nor a redeemer. I need neither mercy nor grace." Convenient contortions such as these are terribly dangerous and obviously a product of self-deceit.
For members of the church, such a belief is untenable. The problem for us isn't an inability to see our own sins. Rather, it is an inability to see our own sins as well as we see our neighbor's.
Spencer W. Kimball
When we hear sermons decrying transgression and urging the need for repentance, most of us are peculiarly apt at applying the point exclusively to others. Someone said that we spend too much time confessing other people's sins. Apparently it is much easier to see those sins than our own, and to walk complacently through life without acknowledging our own need to mend our ways.
Yet everyone sins in some degree, and hence no one may properly call others to repentance without including himself. Thus we read in John's writings:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1:8, 10.)...
Other scriptures have a similar emphasis:
For there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (Eccles. 7:20.)
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin? (Prov. 20:9.)
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Rom. 5:12.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith in his prayer of dedication of the Kirtland Temple implored: "O Jehovah, have mercy upon this people, and as all men sin forgive the transgressions of thy people, and let them be blotted out forever." (D&C 109:34.)
It was because of the universality of sin, the seriousness of sin, and the nearness of the end of the world, that the Lord revealed to his latter-day Prophet, Joseph Smith, the instruction, "Say nothing but repentance unto this generation." (D&C 6:9.)
One of the oft-told stories about the late President J. Golden Kimball concerns his witticism to the effect that "the Brethren cannot cut me off the Church I repent too often." Here is a great lesson, if it is correctly interpreted. There is never a day in any man's life when repentance is not essential to his well-being and eternal progress.
But when most of us think of repentance we tend to narrow our vision and view it as good only for our husbands, our wives, our parents, our children, our neighbors, our friends, the world anyone and everyone except ourselves. Similarly there is a prevalent, perhaps subconscious, feeling that the Lord designed repentance only for those who commit murder or adultery or theft or other heinous crimes. This is of course not so. If we are humble and desirous of living the gospel we will come to think of repentance as applying to everything we do in life, whether it be spiritual or temporal in nature. Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection. (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], Chapter 3)

1 John 1:9 if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us

Spencer W. Kimball
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

In a statement to the Roman saints Paul underlines that the heart should be totally involved in the vocal confession from the lips: "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Rom. 10:10. Italics added.) Thus one must not compromise or equivocate he must make a clean, full confession. When the apples in a barrel rot, it is not enough to throw away half of the spoiled apples from the barrel and replace them with fresh apples on top. This would result in all the apples rotting. Instead it would be necessary to empty the barrel and completely clean and scrub-perhaps disinfect the entire inside. Then the barrel could be safely filled again with apples. Likewise in clearing up problems in our lives it is well also to go to the bottom and confess all the transgressions so that repentance begins with no half-truths, no pretense, no unclean residue. (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], Chapter 13)