1 John 1:1-4: We See Because He First Showed Himself

In John’s first letter, he introduces his audience to the Christ who he and the disciples had heard, seen, and touched. While it is apparent John’s tactile verbs—‘we have heard’ and ‘we have seen’—are meant to stress the flesh and blood reality of Jesus Christ, a closer look at the structure of 1 John 1:1-4, shows John stressing the antecedent work of God to manifest himself in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

You can see this is in the complex chiasmus which organizes 1 John 1:1-4. Credit to S. M. Baugh for this arrangement (A First John Reader2).

a. ἀκηκόαμεν (‘we have heard’) (1:1)

b. ἑωράκαμεν (‘we have seen’)

c. ἐφανερώθη (‘it has been manifested/revealed’) (1:2)

b. ἑωράκαμεν (‘we have seen’)

c. ἐφανερώθη (‘it has been manifested/revealed’)

b. ἑωράκαμεν (‘we have seen’) (1:3)

a. ἀκηκόαμεν (‘we have heard’)

The theological significance of this emphasis on revelation seems to be this fact: Hearing and seeing are the actions of men; manifesting is the action of God. The latter necessarily precedes the former. The disciples are eye-witnesses of Jesus Christ, because God in his great love first revealed his Son to them. To borrow the logic of 1 John 4:19, “They heard and saw because he first spoke and stooped.” So too, we too see and hear because God first shows himself to us (cf. 2 Cor 4:6).

John’s emphasis stresses man’s total dependence on God to reach us when in our sinful humanity we are deaf, blind, and leprous (unable to feel our way to God). Apart from His loving condescension, men would have no means of reaching him. This is the beauty of the Incarnation and when Jesus’ beloved disciple took time to write his first letter, he focused his attention on God’s revelation which led to his personal encounter with God.

May we too gaze at the beauty of the Lord, confessing the whole time that apart from his manifestation we would remain in darkness and death.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

2 thoughts on “1 John 1:1-4: We See Because He First Showed Himself

  1. I had never seen that chiasm before – thanks for posting this. I just read Matthew Jensen’s monograph on first john, and his argument is that the ‘manifesting’ spoken of here is the appearing of the risen Christ. I was skeptical of the argument from the get-go but actually found it quite compelling in the end.

  2. Pingback: Answering the Call: Toward a Biblical View of Vocation (1 Corinthians 7:17–24) | Via Emmaus

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