1 John 4:17-19
New English Translation
17 By this[a] love is perfected with[b] us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus[c] is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.[d] The[e] one who fears punishment[f] has not been perfected in love. 19 We love[g] because he loved us first.Read full chapter
- 1 John 4:17 tn The referent of ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both ἵνα (hina) and ὅτι (hoti) clauses following, it is not clear whether or not they are related to the ἐν τούτῳ. There are actually three possibilities for the referent of ἐν τούτῳ in 4:17: (1) it may refer to the ἵνα clause which immediately follows, so that the love of believers is brought to perfection in that they have confidence in the day of judgment. The main problem with this interpretation is that since the day of judgment is still future, it necessitates understanding the second use of the preposition “in” (second ἐν [en]) to mean “about” or “concerning” with reference to the day of judgment in order to make logical sense. (2) The ἐν τούτῳ may refer to the ὅτι clause in 4:17b, meaning “love is perfected with us…in that just as he [Christ] is, so also are we in this world.” This makes logical sense, and there are numerous cases where ἐν τούτῳ is explained by a ὅτι clause that follows. However, according to this understanding the intervening ἵνα clause is awkward, and there is no other instance of the phrase ἐν τούτῳ explained by a following ὅτι clause where a ἵνα clause intervenes between the two in this way. (3) Thus, the third possibility is that ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes in 4:16b, and this also would make logical sense: “By this—by our residing in love so that we reside in God and he resides in us—is love brought to perfection with us.” This has the additional advantage of agreeing precisely with what the author has already said in 4:12: “If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Thus option (3) is best, with the phrase ἐν τούτῳ referring to what precedes in 4:16b, and the ἵνα clause which follows indicates the result of this perfection of love in believers: In the future day of judgment they will have confidence. The ὅτι clause would then give the reason for such confidence in the day of judgment: because just as Jesus is, so also are believers in this world—they are already currently in relationship with God just as Jesus is.
- 1 John 4:17 tn The preposition μετά (meta) means “with” and modifies the verb τετελείωται (teteleiōtai). If the prepositional phrase modified the noun ἡ ἀγάπη which immediately precedes it, it would almost certainly have the Greek article, thus: ἡ ἀγάπη ἡ μεθ᾿ ἡμῶν (hē agapē hē meth’ hēmōn).sn To say love is perfected with us means “with regard to our actions in loving our brothers.”
- 1 John 4:17 tn Grk “that one” (a reference to Jesus is indicated in the context). Once more the author uses the pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) to refer to Jesus Christ, as he did in 2:6; 3:3, 5, 7, and 16. A reference to Christ is confirmed in this context because the author says that “just as he is, so also are we [believers] in this world” and since 3:2 indicated that believers are to be like God in the future (but are not yet), the only one believers can be like already in the present age is Jesus Christ.
- 1 John 4:18 sn The entire phrase fear has to do with punishment may be understood in two slightly different ways: (1) “fear has its own punishment” or (2) “fear has to do with [includes] punishment.” These are not far apart, however, and the real key to understanding the expression lies in the meaning of the word “punishment” (κόλασις, kolasis). While it may refer to torture or torment (BDAG 555 s.v. 1) there are numerous Koine references involving eternal punishment (2 Macc 4:38; T. Reu. 5:5; T. Gad 7:5) and this is also the use in the only other NT reference, Matt 25:46. In the present context, where the author has mentioned having confidence in the day of judgment (4:17), it seems virtually certain that eternal punishment (or fear of it) is what is meant here. The (only) alternative to perfected love, which results in confidence at the day of judgment, is fear, which has to do with the punishment one is afraid of receiving at the judgment. As 4:18b states, “the one who fears [punishment] has not been perfected in love.” It is often assumed by interpreters that the opposite to perfected love (which casts out fear) is imperfect love (which still has fear and therefore no assurance). This is possible, but it is not likely, because the author nowhere mentions ‘imperfect’ love, and for him the opposite of ‘perfected’ love appears to be not imperfect love but hate (cf. 4:20). In other words, in the antithetical (‘either/or’) categories in which the author presents his arguments, one is either a genuine believer, who becomes ‘perfected’ in love as he resides in love and in a mutually indwelling relationship with God (cf. 4:16b), or one is not a genuine believer at all, but one who (like the opponents) hates his brother, is a liar, and does not know God at all. This individual should well fear judgment and eternal punishment because in the author’s view that is precisely where such a person is headed.
- 1 John 4:18 tn Grk “punishment, and the person who fears.”
- 1 John 4:18 tn “Punishment” is not repeated in the Greek text at this point but is implied.
- 1 John 4:19 sn No object is supplied for the verb love (the author with his propensity for obscurity has left it to the readers to supply the object). The obvious objects that could be supplied from the context are either God himself or other believers (the brethren). It may well be that the author has both in mind at this point; the statement is general enough to cover both alternatives, although the following verse puts more emphasis on love for the brethren.