1 John 4:7-21 – “No one has seen God at any time”

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POSTED 28 JANUARY, 2018

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume II

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Yeshua is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”

Any basic survey of the Epistle of 1 John will reveal how love for God and neighbor is a significant theme—especially as love demonstrated toward one’s brothers and sisters in the faith is reflective of the love that one has for the Creator. Love demonstrated toward one’s brothers and sisters is to serve as a definite indicator that one is born of God or born again (1 John 4:7); those who do not love consequently do not know God (1 John 4:8). The ultimate love of God toward humanity has been demonstrated via the sacrificial work of His Son, Yeshua (1 John 4:9-10), and it is incumbent upon those who are redeemed in Him to love one another (1 John 4:11).

What is intended by the statement of 1 John 4:12, rendered by the RSV as, “No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us”? The major thrust is to highlight the importance of the love and presence of God abiding within Believers, and the perfecting of their character to be more like His. However, it is hardly surprising that advocates of a low Christology, who think that Yeshua the Messiah is a supernatural yet created being, might take “No one has ever seen God” (NIV) as implying that Yeshua of Nazareth—who very clearly lived a human life on Earth—cannot be God.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Torah does indicate that various persons did “see” God to various degrees (i.e., Genesis 18:2-3; Exodus 33:23; Deuteronomy 34:10), there are translation issues present over Theon oudeis pōpote tetheatai, “God no one ever has beheld” (Brown and Comfort).[1] The verb theaomai can indeed involve “to perceive someth. above and beyond what is merely seen with the eye, see, behold, perceive” (BDAG).[2] Given what immediately follows, the “seeing” God in view mainly involves not the debate over whether or not God can manifest Himself in human form, but instead the relationship of God and His love toward others:

“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:13-19, RSV).

The statement of 1 John 4:12, “No one has seen God at any time” (NASU), is not to be an ontological assertion about the nature of God, but instead mainly be a claim about how most people have not been able to fully perceive or behold all of the significant dynamics of the love of God—which have reached their pinnacle in the arrival of His Son, Yeshua. For the purposes of John’s argument, where his audience was to be abiding in God and in His love, he made the critical point that it is insufficient for a brother or sister to say that he or she loves God, and then hates other people. What good is it, for one to claim to love a God who has not been directly seen, who exists in another dimension in Heaven—while hating one’s fellow humans, who can be encountered every day on Planet Earth?

“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen [ouch heōraken ou dunatai agapan][3]. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21, NRSV).


NOTES

[1] Brown and Comfort, 838.

[2] BDAG, 445.

[3] This clause employs the verb horaō, mainly “to see or look” (LS, 565).