Who Is the One Born of God in 1 John 5:18, and Why Does It Matter?

2017.02.02 question mark with book1 John 5:18 (ESV) states, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

At first glance, the meaning of “everyone who has been born of God” seems to spill into “he who was born of God,” which would indicate that a believer “protects him,” that is, himself. Having done so, the believer’s protection of himself keeps the evil one from touching him.

The idea of protecting or guarding one’s self is not necessarily wrong. Jude commands his readers to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). At the same time, God is not absent in the matter. One keeps in the love of God by the power of God “who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24). It seems that a closer look at 1 John 5:18 gives us this same idea―that it is actually divine protection and not one’s own protection from the evil one that is in view.

Were one, however, to understand “he who was born of God” to be the believer who protects himself, it would be for the following reasons:

  • In the preceding clause in 5:18, those “born of God” are believers. Naturally, “he who was born of God” is just one of “everyone who has been born of God.”
  • The designation “he who was born of God” is not used elsewhere to describe Jesus Christ, which would be the other understanding of this phrase (see below).1

While context and comparing Scripture to Scripture seem to side with identifying “he who was born of God” as a believer, a better understanding is that this one so-born is actually Jesus Christ for the following reasons:

  • “Born” describes believers in the perfect tense, an event with ongoing results, but “born” then describes Christ in the aorist tense, a one-time event (i.e., His birth).2 Despite this difference, however, the similarity in language brings out the solidarity among Jesus and us (cf. 1 John 4:17).3 In context, even when a believer temporarily engages in sin, he does not lose the Son and will eventually imitate Him again.4
  • As would be otherwise expected, a reflexive pronoun is not used it indicate that the one born is protecting.5
  • Scripture elsewhere supports the concept that Christ protects the believer (cf. John 17:12–15; 1 Pet 1:5; Jude 24; Rev 3:10). While the phrase to identify Christ is certainly unique in the NT, the notion of Christ’s protection is not.6
  • “He who was born of God” contrasts fittingly with “the evil one,” that is, Jesus Christ protects the believer, and Satan does not touch the believer. These statements are two sides to one theological coin.7

Having concluded as we do above, we could paraphrase 1 John 5:18 like this: “We know that everyone who is a believer who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God, that is, the One uniquely born, Jesus Christ, protects him, and the evil one does not touch him, the believer.”

  1. Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Backer, 1986), 365–366; Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John (Dallas, TX: Word, 1989), 302–303. []
  2. Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 212; Kistemaker, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John, 365–366; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303. By speaking of Jesus’ birth in this way, perhaps John subtly emphasizes again the Christ was human from His birth and continues to be thereafter. []
  3. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303. []
  4. Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 238. []
  5. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 212; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303. []
  6. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 212; Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 195; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303. []
  7. Kistemaker, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John, 365–366. []

The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 11:1–2)

Passage Summary

John was given a rod to measure the temple of God (an earthly temple built by the Jews; cf. Dan 9:27; Matt 24:15; 2 Thess 2:3–4), the altar, and the worshippers therein (11:1). He was to exclude the outer court, however, so that the Gentiles could trample it and the surrounding city (Jerusalem; cf. 11:8) for forty-two months (11:2), the final three and one-half years of this age in which Jerusalem has been trampled time and again (cf. Luke 21:24). Dan 9:27 prophesies that the Jews would worship in peace for three and one-half years, only to be followed by three and one-half years of intense persecution, as described in part in Rev 11:2. The measuring of one area not to be trampled and the lack of measuring of one that will be trampled may indicate that what or who is measured (temple, altar, and worshippers) is to be protected by God (i.e., Israel) while what is not measured is not (i.e., the nations).

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
11:1 Ezek 40:3–4 Both John and Ezekiel are equipped and told by a heavenly figure to measure a temple. Cf. Zech 2:1–2.
11:2 Ezek 40:17–20 Whereas Ezekiel measured an outer court, John did not.
11:2 Dan 8:13; 12:7 Both Daniel and John see a trampling to take place by the Gentiles for the duration of three and one-half years. Cf. Isa 63:18.

 A Parting Thought

 If our understanding of why John measures something but not another is correct, we see an example of how God protects those who have not yet come to Him, knowing that they will be saved in time (cf. Rom 11:2). In this, we see a unique example of how God works all things together for those who love Him, or, in this case, those who will come to love Him in time.


Does Your Schedule Show a Commitment to God’s People?

2017.02.01 - Clock_of_Munttower_Amsterdam_00111“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12).

How do you use your time each week? If Christ examined your schedule today, would your claimed commitment to Him and His church be reflected in how you spend your time with His people each week?

As Christians, we are to be “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16). We do so not by living according to our former sins but rather by the Spirit in every avenue of life (cf. Eph 5:15–18). We do not seek our own interests, but the interests of Christ as the Spirit leads us to do so. The interests of Christ are typically serving His people or being with His people in some way (cf. Phil 2:20–21).

For those who claim to be committed to their local church, one would hope their claim would be more than words and thus matched by at least being a part of their church’s weekly schedule as much as they are able, as well as the occasional events that the church uses to advance its mission. All things considered, this really is not as much time as one might think.

Everyone on earth has 168 hours a week to use or not for the glory of God. If you sleep 8 hours a night, use 9 hours a day to commute and work, and use 3 hours a day for meals, a shower, et cetera, you still have over 40 hours a week to yourself. Perhaps a couple hours a day to tend to children, groceries, and the tasks of life could put your time left over to 20–30 hours a week. Committing yourself to a service, a couple of Bible studies, and a Wednesday prayer meeting hardly seems too much to ask, especially when the example of the early church was that they devoted their schedules to these kinds of activities (Acts 2:42).

Sometimes we run to excuses that we might never use if really saw how meager they were. Skipping church on Sundays or Wednesdays because we are merely tired, ducking out early or coming late on a Sunday and missing its education hour so we can get to lunch earlier, foregoing the Sunday night Bible study so we can watch our favorite sports team—do we really expect that Christ’s eyes of fire upon His churches will look the other way (cf. Rev 1:14)? Or maybe the problem is a lack of self-control. How much time do you spend watching TV, checking social media, or giving your life to frivolous pursuits? Sometimes we find little time for God and His people because we love lesser matters more.

A church is only as strong as the commitment of its people to the gospel and one another, and the commitment of one may practically look very different from that of another. As much as you are able, devote yourself and your time to the people of God when they have covenanted to meet with each other.

What Is the Sin That Leads to Death and the One That Does Not?

2017.02.02 question mark with book1 John 5:16 (ESV) states, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”

Can we commit sin that leads to death today? And what is a sin not leading to death? And is it unloving not to pray for a situation in which sin leads to death?

Answering these questions requires us to identify the meanings of “brother” and “life” and “death.” If we follow John’s consistent use of these terms in 1 John, a brother is a fellow believer (cf. 1 John 2:9, 10, 11; 3:10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17; 4:20, 21), life is eternal life (cf. 1 John 1:1, 2; 2:25; 3:14, 15; 5:11, 12, 13, 20), and death is eternal death (cf. 1 John 3:14; 5:17). The difficulty with keeping these definitions 1 John 5:16 is figuring out how to understand the statement that God gives life to a brother who already possesses eternal life. In other words, how does God give eternal life to someone who already has eternal life?

Some solve this dilemma by redefining the terms. The brother is a so-called professing brother but doesn’t really have eternal life and thus receives it when God gives it to him. Or, because salvation allegedly does not include one’s surrender, the sinning brother adds to his eternal life the bliss of victorious and abundant life, something apparently missing when he was initially saved or something lost because of his sin. Or, the life and death are physical, meaning that the brother sins and, if persistently unrepentant, loses his physical life at the hand of God as do those in 1 Cor 11:30, thankfully to be then brought into heaven to enjoy the eternal life he could never lose.

Realizing that good men disagree over interpreting what is admittedly a very difficult passage, I will attempt to identify “a sin not leading to death” a “sin that leads to death” by sticking as close as possible to the meaning of John’s other uses of the terms “brother,” “life,” and “death.”

A Sin Not Leading to Death

For this sin, notice that it is something observable, something “anyone sees.” At the same time, it is unspecified, leaving us to wonder what it could be. It is something ongoing, something someone is “committing” and has not committed only once. It is committed by a believer, “his brother,” that is, the brother of the one to pray for him. It is something that will end because the prayer will be answered by God’s giving of life to the sinning brother, assuming, it seems, that his repentance takes place as well.

As noted above, the rub comes when attempting to understand how eternal life is given to the brother who already possesses eternal life. The best solution I can offer to this dilemma is that, while eternal life is something experienced and present, it is also something future and promised, as said by John himself (cf. 1 John 2:25). This being said, John states that life is something God “will give” (future tense) to the sinning brother. Thus, the believer is praying that God will do what will take place, that He will give the sinning brother what is coming to him, eternal life in time to come. Assumedly, the sinning brother repents and is thereby assured that this life will indeed be his to enjoy.1

Sin That Leads to Death

For this sin, it, too, is observable. By observing it, the believer knows he is not obligated to include the matter in his prayers (though he can if desired). We can assume that it is committed by an unbeliever. John does not mention a person in the statement “There is sin that leads to death.” So, if the implied sinner in this statement commits this sin leading to death, and if the death is eternal, then it cannot be committed by a believer, because believers cannot lose their eternal life (cf. John 10:28–29).

Finally, like the sin not leading to death, this sin is unspecified. While many attempt to identify this sin as high-handed sin in the OT, mortal sin, blasphemy against the Spirit, or apostasy, it nonetheless remains that John himself left it unspecified. Since 1 John is the most immediate context to search for clues, we could surmise from the passage preceding 1 John 5:16 and the letter as a whole that a sin that leads to death is the sin of rejecting Jesus as the Christ who came in the flesh to die for our sins (1 John 5:12–13; cf. 2:1–2; 4:1–6; 5:6–11). Such a sin was easy to observe because the one committing this sin eventually left the church (cf. 1 John 2:19).

So, to end on a pastoral note, when you see your brother habitually sinning in a way that is not a verbal denial of who Jesus is and it seems his faith is otherwise sincere, pray for him, and God will indeed give him all that is coming to him in his eternal life.

For the situation in which one refuses to believe Jesus is who God says He is (which obviously cannot be a brother), John does not say that you should pray for that, but it seems you are certainly welcome to do so.

  1. For this view, see Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 234, and Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,, 2000), 191. []

The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 10:8–11)

Passage Summary

John again hears the heavenly voice (cf. 10:4), now commanding him take the scroll from the mighty messenger (10:8). He asked for the scroll and was then told to eat it, to expect its taste to be sweet, and its digestion to be bitter, which indeed took place (10:9–10). The symbolism of the sweetness and bitterness is made clear in the command that he must prophesy concerning the people of the world (10:11), that is, that though his words were those of God and thus sweet to the mouth, they involved a prophecy of judgment, producing tension for the body.

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
10:9 Ezek 2:8–3:3 Both Ezekiel and John ate scrolls that tasted like honey but also involved the idea of judgment (John, bitter; Ezekiel, woe). Cf. Jer 15:16; Ps 19:10.

 A Parting Thought 

John’s experience is not completely foreign to us today. Though Christians believe the gospel and see it as sweet, we are pained inside to know that some will reject it and experience the judgment to come, especially when we are the ones to herald this message.


Why the Shorter Translation of 1 John 5:7–8 Is Best

2017.02.01 - UncialAs you read the biblical texts below, notice the difference from one to the next (marked in italics).

1 John 5:7–8 (AV)

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.

1 John 5:7–8 (ESV)

7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

Why is the text of the KJV longer in these two verses? The KJV adds what is known as the “Johannine Comma” in 1 John 5:7–8. The words in this insertion were not found first in Scripture but in Liber apologeticus, a Latin Text from the fourth century. Manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate eventually inserted the Johannine Comma in a marginal note next to the biblical text around A.D. 800, and the marginal note eventually became inserted into the text itself. (The Latin Vulgate was more or less the standard translation of the Bible for Western Christendom for roughly a millennium.)

When the scholar Erasmus published a Greek Text of the NT in 1515, he naturally excluded the Johannine Comma because it was not found in any Greek manuscripts. In going against the norm of the Latin Vulgate, he was criticized for this omission, and in response to this criticism, he promised to include the comma if it could be shown to be present in a single Greek manuscript. One such manuscript was produced, but it was likely translated back from the Latin into Greek in 1520 for the very reason of forcing Erasmus to include it in future printings of his Greek NT. He did so, but only with a marginal note that explained its suspected origin. His text was behind what became known as the Textus Receptus (“the received text”), the form of the Greek text that was used for the King James Version in 1611.

As scholars have continued to produce accurate translations that better reflect their modern tongue (such as the ESV today), careful analysis of the original Greek text has led the majority of translators to omit the Johannine Comma. While this omission may lead to one less proof-text for the Trinity, we have other texts in Scripture for this doctrine (Matt 28:18–20; 1 Cor 12:4–6; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 1:3–14; 4:4–6). We are also faithful to make sure we add nothing to Scripture, truthful though it may be (cf. Deut 4:2; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18).1

  1. For all of the above, see Daniel Akin (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 198–200; Donald Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 371–72); and Karen Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 223. []

The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 10:1–7)

Passage Summary

A mighty, heaven-sent, cloud-wrapped, rainbow-cloaked, sun-faced, fire-legged angel held a little open scroll and stood with his feet on the land and sea (10:1–2).  He gave a lion-like call, bringing about seven thunders, revealing things that John was not allowed to write (10:3–4). It may be that these divine descriptions indicate that this angel (angelos) is Christ Himself, the great Messenger (also angelos) of God (cf. Rev 1:15, 16; 4:3; 5:5; OT verses below). The angel then raised his right hand, swore by God, and promised that the seventh trumpet’s sound would bring about the fulfillment of the mystery of God (10:5–7), meaning that the end of this age would be initiated by the blowing of the seventh trumpet.

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
10:1 Exod 19:9; Ezek 1:26–28 God presents Himself in the cloud and rainbow.
10:3 Gen 49:9; Amos 3:8; Ps 29:3 The voice of God is like the lion and thunder.
10:4 Dan 8:26; 12:4, 9 Some prophecies are sealed to remain unknown for a time.
10:5–7 Deut 32:40; Dan 12:7 Lifted hands and swearing precede judgment. In Daniel and Revelation, the context is the final three and one-half years of this age.
10:6 Gen 1:1 God created all things.
10:7 Amos 3:7 God has announced the end to the prophets.

 A Parting Thought 

For all the mystery of this angel and what is left unwritten from the seven thunders, it should be impressed upon the one who reads that further and more severe judgment is yet to come. And when it does, it means that Christ is claiming His kingdom on earth back to Himself in full (cf. Rev 11:15)!


The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 9:13–21)

Passage Summary

The sixth angel blew his trumpet, after which a voice commanded the release of four bound angels (cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; Rev 20:1) who were to lead an army of 200,000,000 to kill a third of mankind (9:13–16). The army consisted of riders and horses that are the colors of fire and smoke and had lion-like heads that killed by spewing forth fire, smoke, and sulfur (9:17–18). Grammatically, the riders or horses or both could be wearing breastplates. The horses also wounded mankind with their serpent-like tails (9:19; cf. 9:10). The rest of mankind, one-half of the population that began to suffer the judgments up to this point (cf. 6:8), refused to repent of their demonic idolatry, murder, sorceries, immorality, or theft (9:20–21).

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
9:14 Gen 15:18; Deut 1:7;
Josh 1:4
The land where judgment originates is the same promised to Abraham’s descendants.

 A Parting Thought 

God will be God and exact justice from man in this time of pouring out His accumulated wrath. And man will be man by defying God in spite of the presence of overwhelming judgment. Let us examine ourselves to make sure that the sins left unconfessed in 9:20–21 are in no way our own!


The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 9:1–12)

Passage Summary 

After the fifth angel sounded his trumpet, a star (angel) came down to earth to open the abyss, releasing smoke that created much darkness (9:1–2). Supernatural creatures (perhaps demonic; cf. Luke 8:31; Jude 6; 2 Pet 2:4) were also released to torment unbelievers for five months, leaving them wishing for death instead (9:3–6). Designated as locusts, their armor, crowns, face, hair, teeth, and wings show them to be altogether unique (9:7–10). Their feature of note is their tail whereby they sting and torment unbelievers (9:10). Their king is the Destroyer, an angel from heaven (9:11; cf. 9:1). This judgment is the first of three woes, which are the final three of seven trumpet judgments (9:12).

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
9:1 Isa 14:12–14 A star is said to fall from heaven to earth.
9:2 Gen 19:28; Exod 19:18 Great activities of God are accompanied by smoke.
9:3 Exod 10:12–15 Locusts are an instrument of judgment by God.
9:4 Ezek 9:4 God’s seal protects His own in the midst of judgment against unbelievers.
9:6 Job 3:21 People long for death in the midst of difficult circumstances (but do not act to bring it about).
9:8 Joel 1:6 The one metaphorically described with lion’s teeth or actually possessing them is one who has great power over the enemy.
9:9 Joel 2:5 The noise of a great army is overwhelming.
9:11 Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Ps 88:11; Prov 15:11 Abbadon/Apollyon is parallel with the grave and has the idea of destruction.

A Parting Thought

If God will protect His own in the midst of the world culminating judgment, surely He has the power to watch over us today.


The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 8:6–13)

Passage Summary

The seven angels prepared to blow their trumpets (8:6). The first trumpet signaled the burning of a third of the earth, trees, and grass with hail, fire, and blood (8:7). The second trumpet signaled a third of the sea becoming blood, destroying a third of its animal life and ships along the way (8:8–9). The third trumpet signaled the falling of Wormwood (perhaps an angel named for the associated judgment) who poisoned the water, bringing death to many who drank it (8:10–11). The fourth trumpet signaled the partial darkening of the sun, moon, and stars during the day and night (8:12). An eagle then cried a threefold woe to the earth-dwellers in light of the three judgments to follow (8:13; cf. 9:12; 11:14; 12:12).

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
8:7 Exod 9:23–25 Both judgments include hail and fire, elements that contributing to destroying the land.
8:8–9 Exod 7:17–19 Both judgments include water turning into blood, resulting in the death of aquatic life.
8:10 Isa 14:12 Both texts refer to a star that falls from heaven. It is debated whether the star in Revelation is an angel and whether or not the star in Isaiah is the fallen angel Satan.
8:11 Jer 9:15; 23:15 These judgments include poisoned water which results in the death of those who drink it.
8:13 Hos 8:1 Both texts involve judgment, eagles/vultures, and trumpets.

A Parting Thought

The land, the sea, the waters, and the luminaries—what a day of judgment this will be! And yet more woe to come. May we praise God that this day is not for us, and may we live wisely and soberly so that we can be assured that this wrath is not for us.