Borrowing Brains: Commentaries on I John

I’m wrapping up a long series on the Gospel of Matthew, and I’m preparing to start on I John in our Sunday morning service.  The new series will commence in about a month or so.  I have Hiebert and a few light commentaries (besides entire-Bible sets), but I’d like to get some more helpful resources.  What have you found to be most helpful in your study of I John?


18 Responses

  1. Very helpful is The Tests of Life by Robert Law. Not a verse by verse commentary but a topical commentary. I think he is the one who proposes a ‘spiral’ outline for 1 John. Stott has one in the Intervarsity series that is pretty good also (written when Stott was younger and more orthodox). Also Lloyd-Jones has a five volume set that is worth having.

    I also have found Zane Hodges in the Bible Knowledge Commentary and Tom Constable in Constable’s Expository Notes (available at Galaxie Software) to be quite helpful. Hodges would disagree with the prevailing notion that 1 John is about assurance of salvation – answering the question “is this man a Christian” (Law’s theory, among others) as opposed to fellowship with God – answering the question “is this man in fellowship”. A sample quote from his comment on 1 Jn 2.5-6:

    “It would be a mistake to equate the concept of being ‘in Him’ as John uses it here with the Pauline concept of being ‘in Christ.’ For Paul, the words ‘in Christ’ describe a Christian’s permanent position in God’s Son with all its attendant privileges. With John, the kind of relationship pictured in the vine-branch imagery describes an experience that can be ruptured (John 15:6) with a resultant loss of fellowship and fruitfulness. Thus here in 1 John, the proof that a person is enjoying this kind of experience is to be found in a life modeled after that of Jesus in obedience to His Word. In short, 2:5-6 continues to talk about the believer’s fellowship with God.”

    1 John is one of my best beloved books, harking back to my days in learning elementary Greek and in pulpit speech. Minnick had us doing expository outlines of sections of 1 Jn for his class. That was no easy task, especially due to the nature of the ‘spiral’ in 1 Jn. I think he or Schnaiter put me on to Robert Law’s book.

    hope that helps.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Martin Lloyd-Jones has published a small, 4 volume series of messages on 1 John that were beneficial to me when I preached through 1 John. They are titled:
    Fellowship with God (Chapter 1, 153 pages),
    Walking with God (Chapter 2, 140 pages),
    Children of God (Chapter 3, 143 pages) and
    The love Of God (Chapter 4, 205 pages).

  3. There is a fifth volume, Life in God, 203 pp., on chapter 5. But I am not sure I would call over 700 pages ‘small’.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Thanks, guys. DMLJ was easy to find, and should arrive soon. Law’s book is out of print, though. I’m working on it.

    What’s your take on Hodges’ position, Don? I know you get riled up when you think a Calvinist’s theology is driving his exegesis. Do you think that’s what’s happening to Hodges here? Sure seems that way from here, but I haven’t read his book.

  5. Interesting. I assumed there must be a fifth MLJ volume, but I could never find it. Hiebert and I had to muddle through on our own.

  6. Yeah, I’d say that Hodges viewpoint is very much swayed by his presuppositions. He takes aim at Lordship Salvation a good deal throughout. However, I think his theory is worth considering and at least tempering some of the “Tests of Life” theory. In some ways, if I remember, it seems that Hodges viewpoint on chapter 3 “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not” is easier to take. I am not saying it is right, but it is a view worth considering. Anyway, I am assuming you have BKC, so you should be able to see what I mean. And don’t forget the Constable notes. He is a Dallas guy also, but he doesn’t take the same view as Hodges.

    If you can find Law, however, it is well worth it. As I said, it isn’t verse by verse. There is a good scripture index in the back though. It is full of good stuff.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Hi Chris

    Just browsing around [on my deck on a lovely sunny afternoon!!] and thought I’d search ABE Books for Law. Well… pretty pricey! It appears that there are some hardcovers in here for only a little more than the softcovers. You might go for those if you decide to spend that much on one book… I think I got mine [softcover] in the BJU bookstore a long time ago for about $11.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. With the above suggestions you may have plent of reading material, but let me mention one more resource. Schreiner’s book listed below, while not a commentary on 1 John, might be of some help in your preparation. I’ve not read it yet, but I understand it is thought-provoking. (This also means I can’t be held responsible if it’s bad, got it?) It sounds as though Schreiner tackles the warning passages in a more direct way than most interpreters do.

    The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance

  9. I want to second Michael’s recommendation of Schreiner’s book. I have read it and it is excellent. Now, I don’t remember off-hand how much it deals with 1 John. I used it primarily in conjunction with my recent SS series on the book of Hebrews.

    BTW, you can find Law’s text online ( but I had to use the waybackmachine ( to read it.

    In addition to the other recommendations, I would get Kruse (PNTC) and Marshall (NICNT).

  10. I was able to order a number of these (including Robert Law) today, along with the commentaries by MacArthur and Stott. Thanks for the tips. I’ll try to give an update as I get into them.

    I’m very much looking forward to the study after many years in Matthew. Frankly, after all the time I’ve spent in Matthew and I-II Samuel, I’m more comfortable preaching narrative literature than the epistles. Weird, I know.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  11. Chris, your comment on narratives is interesting. My recent preaching was 5 years in John and then my last two years in the Thru the Bible series, mostly a narrative, even in the approach to the prophets/epistles. I have noticed the same thing in a way. In epistles, we probably forget the introductory material (the narrative) too much, especially when we get down to the nitty gritty of word by word exposition.

    One comment that I was reminded of in looking at my notes on 1 John [prompted by your question] was the notion that 1 John doesn’t read like a typical epistle. One commentator suggests that it is more like a sermon. With that thought in mind, I speculated that it may well have been a sermon that was particularly needful for a local church represented by the individuals in 2 Jn and 3 Jn. The shorter two epistles may have been cover letters for the longer epistle, 2 Jn being especially for the local church itself, 3 Jn for the pastor of that church.

    When you think of the whole material that way, it seems to me that it enlightens the content a bit. (Of course that could be just me…)

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  12. Hey, Chris, coming back to 1 Jn, I thought I would mention that I discovered I have an extra copy of Stott. I found it on my recent trip back home. If you are interested, I’d be happy to send it to you. If you already have it, I’ll send it to whoever else might like it, first come, first served.

    e-mail me at dcsj AT telus DOT net

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  13. Just arrived today, John. Thanks for the generous offer, though. Any takers?

  14. Just to let you know, the first one to write was Ellis Murphree, so the book is on the way to him today. I warned him that Canada Post has a unique storage system, so it will get there when it gets there.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. Ellis Murphee: Just one more contented MTC customer!

    Join us next Friday, as Don Johnson will once again be giving away a free book to a loyal reader!

  16. BTW, I did rediscover my collection of comic books at my parent’s house during my recent visit… is that what you had in mind, Chris?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  17. Wow. The number of readers here would absolutely explode. No kidding!

    On the other hand, the discussion would probably explode right along with it. (BAM! BIFF! WHACK!)

    Let me get back to you.

  18. You’ve got comics, and all your sending me is some dusty old commentary???!!! Oh, well.

    We were pulling something out of one of the crawl spaces at our church the other week and found a June 1969 Stan Lee comic book…not exactly a super hero, though. The name was “The New MMMMillie the Model”. It’s one of the finest books I’ve read this summer – be looking for me to post my review soon…..

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