27 December 2010

1 John 1:1-10

"We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the word of life." (v. 1)


Today is the day when Christians remember St John the Evangelist, according to Christian tradition the author of John's Gospel and the three letters which bear his name.

Today's passage comes from the first of these letters, one of a series written to Christian communities which have been shaped by John's Gospel and seek to follow in that tradition. However, it addresses a situation in which division has now arisen within the community.

From later references in the letter, it appears that this is because there are some who deny that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2). This may be an early reference to Docetism, a heresy which emerged in the second century and which sought to downplay the full humanity of Jesus.

Accordingly, this letter begins with a testimony which emphasises the truth of the Incarnation in words which resonate with the Prologue to John's Gospel (John 1:1-18). It also serves to affirm the physical humanity of Jesus, in terms of a witness to what we have "heard", "seen", "looked at" and "touched with our hands" (verse 1). Moreover, this testimony is shared so that "you also may have fellowship with us" (verse 3) and share in that fellowship with the Father and Son. 

The passage continues with a theme which again picks up on the language of the Prologue, that "God is light and in him there is no darkness at all" (verse 5). It explores the nature of that fellowship, in terms of what it means to "walk in the light" (verse 7). It also recognises both the prevalence of sin in everyone (verse 8) and the willingness of God to "forgive us our sins and cleanse us form all unrighteousness" (verse 9). 

To Ponder

How important is the full humanity of Christ to our faith?

How far do we recognise one another's humanity in our common life together?

To what extent is it right to value truth of doctrine over unity in fellowship as 1 John appears to do?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.