WE KNOW that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not.
WE KNOW that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one.
And WE KNOW that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God, and eternal life. My little children, guard yourselves from idols.1 John 5:18-21 ASV
Keepeth himself … The ASV marginal note on this is: “Some ancient authorities read him instead of himself.” This change from the KJV was adopted in RSV, Phillips, New English Bible (1961), Weymouth, and Goodspeed.
The New English Bible, although not a translation in the strict sense, nevertheless appears to give the meaning thus:
We know that no child of God is a sinner; it is the Son of God who keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot touch him.
Sinneth not … This may not, in any absolute sense, be said of any Christian; and yet John affirmed it here.
How then is it the truth?
Simply because, in the broad outlines of the Christ-centered life it is profoundly true in the relative, if not in the absolute sense.
He that was begotten of God … The importance of this change from “himself” to “him” as noted above is seen here.
If “him” is the right reading, then this clause is a reference to the Son of God; but if “himself’ is correct, this clause refers to Christians.
The meaning given by the change is far better, because it is only in a very limited way that any man can “keep himself.”
It is the Son of God who keeps him safe … This rendition (New English Bible) stresses that the Christian’s safety is not of himself but of the Lord.
Jesus promised that he would be with his followers “even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), and a glimpse of that providence is in this.
Current theology which does not take this into account is hopelessly crippled. In the modern departure from New Testament teaching on this subject lies much of the incompetence which has fallen upon so-called “Christianity” today.
We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one.
WE KNOW … This is the second of three great certainties stressed by the apostle in 1 John 5:18-20:
(1) We know that we are guarded from the evil one by Jesus Christ our Lord.
(2) We know that we belong to God in a hostile, Satan dominated world.
(3) We know the great basic of divine revelation, especially the Incarnation of God in Christ.
That we are of God … To what other source, indeed, could the joyful life in Jesus Christ be attributed?
The whole world … Here the word “world” does not apply to the natural creation at all, but to the evil inhabitants of the world who continue under the dominion of the evil one.
These are defined these as, the idolaters, infidels and wicked men, who having made themselves the subjects of the devil … they lie under the wicked one, and are under his dominion.
Lieth in the evil one … By saying that it lieth in the evil one, he represented it as being under the dominion of Satan.
Of particular interest is the word “lieth” as used here.
Paul’s references to being dead in trespasses and sins, etc., are also fully in harmony with this conception.
The following New Testament references regarding Satan are examples of the extensive Biblical teaching regarding the devil:
The prince of the power of the air, the spirit which now inwardly worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
The god of this world (who) blinds the eyes of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Our adversary going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
(Wicked men) are held in the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26).
We are not ignorant of (the devil’s) wicked devices (Ephesians 6:11).
Through his subtlety (Satan) seduced the mother of all living (Eve) (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Christians are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Colossians 1:13).
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
This is the third of the three great certainties with which John concluded his epistle; and it is rather an extensive certainty.
WE KNOW that the Son of God is come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
He hath given us an understanding (of all things that pertain to life and godliness).
WE KNOW Christ who is the true one.
This is the true God (an unqualified designation of Jesus Christ as God).
As a result of Christ’s redemptive work, we enjoy eternal life (presently, in the joys of Christian service, and ultimately, throughout all eternity).
The dispute among scholars as to whether the last sentence of this verse is an affirmation of Christ’s deity or not may be resolved quite easily:
(1) Grammatically, there can hardly be any doubt the “true God” is a reference to Christ.
(2) Theologically, it is absolutely in keeping with all that John wrote, both here and in the Gospel, to read it as a reference to Christ; and that is exactly the meaning this writer has always understood as being in the verse.
It is of not much moment whether this particular text contains the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ or not, and, of course, this is surely true in a sense.
However, the very prevalence of the doctrine so frequently in view throughout the rest of the New Testament should also enter into one’s willingness to see it here.
It is exactly what one should have expected from the apostle John.
The very discerning scholar, J. W. Roberts, pointed out the use of “eternal life” in this whole paragraph. Indeed, throughout the epistle, the fact of Jesus himself being “eternal life” is reiterated. “Jesus is eternal life.”
My little children, guard yourselves from idols.
The simple and obvious meaning of this is: Keep yourselves from the pollutions of heathen worship!
Some of John’s readers probably lived in Ephesus (where John himself labored); and all of the great pagan cities of that period (including Ephesus) were strongholds of paganism.
Where the literal interpretation makes good sense, the literal interpretation is probably right.
And, taking Ephesus as an example of all the great cities of that era, such an exhortation certainly makes good sense.
The temple institution was a force of incredible power in pagan civilization.
The right of sanctuary for criminals of all classes had crowded it with the vilest men on earth.
It was the financial center of the pagan culture, occupying about the same status in that ancient culture that the Bank of England enjoyed during the 19th century.
To have anything to do with the Temple of Diana was to be associated with the very dregs of society … and to be brought into contact with commercialized superstition and the black arts.
Beyond the literal and immediate application of this final apostolic edict, however, the spiritual overtones of such an admonition are universal and timeless.
The gods of the ancients lie buried under the debris of millenniums; but people still worship sex, gold, wealth, power, fame, “success,” youth, humanity, self, pleasure, wine, or even their families, instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The citadel of the heart belongs to the Son of God who died for us and loosed us from our sins in his blood.
The final word of this epistle is directed to the guardianship of that citadel.