Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


1 John 5:20

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

We know that the Son of God is come - In the flesh, and has made his soul an offering for sin; and hath given us an understanding - a more eminent degree of light than we ever enjoyed before; for as he lay in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him unto us; and he hath besides given us a spiritual understanding, that we may know him who is true, even the True God, and get eternal life from him through his Son, In whom we are by faith, as the branches in the vine, deriving all our knowledge, light, life, love, and fruitfulness from him. And it is through this revelation of Jesus that we know the ever blessed and glorious Trinity; and the Trinity, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, in the eternal, undivided unity of the ineffable Godhead.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And we know that the Son of God is come - We know this by the evidence that John had referred to in this Epistle, 1 John 1:1-4; 1 John 5:6-8.

And hath given us an understanding - Not an “understanding” considered as a faculty of the mind, for religion gives us no new faculties; but he has so instructed us that we do understand the great truths referred to. Compare the notes at Luke 24:45. All the correct knowledge which we have of God and his government, is to be traced directly or indirectly to the great Prophet whom God has sent into the world, John 1:4, John 1:18; John 8:12; John 9:5; Hebrews 1:1-3; Matthew 11:27.

That we may know him that is true - That is, the true God. See the notes at John 17:3.

And we are in him that is true - That is, we are united to him; we belong to him; we are his friends. This idea is often expressed in the Scriptures by being “in him.” It denotes a most intimate union, as if we were one with him - or were a part of him - as the branch is in the vine, John 15:4, John 15:6. The Greek construction is the same as that applied to “the wicked one,” 1 John 5:19, ( ἐν τῷ ἀληθινᾧ en tō alēthinōThis is the true God - oThere has been much difference of opinion in regard to this important passage; whether it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, the immediate antecedent, or to a more remote antecedent - referring to God, as such. The question is of importance in its bearing on the doctrine of the divinity of the Saviour; for if it refers to him, it furnishes an unequivocal declaration that he is divine. The question is, whether John “meant” that it should be referred to him? Without going into an extended examination of the passage, the following considerations seem to me to make it morally certain that by the phrase “this is the true God,” etc., he did refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1) the grammatical construction favors it. Christ is the immediate antecedent of the pronoun “this” - οὗτος houtosThis would be regarded as the obvious and certain construction so far as the grammar is concerned, unless there were something in the thing affirmed which led us to seek some more remote and less obvious antecedent. No doubt would have been ever entertained on this point, if it had not been for the reluctance to admit that the Lord Jesus is the true God. If the assertion had been that “this is the true Messiah;” or that “this is the Son of God;” or that “this is he who was born of the Virgin Mary,” there would have been no difficulty in the construction. I admit that his argument is not absolutely decisive; for cases do occur where a pronoun refers, not to the immediate antecedent, but to one more remote; but cases of that kind depend on the ground of necessity, and can be applied only when it would be a clear violation of the sense of the author to refer it to the immediate antecedent.

(2) this construction seems to be demanded by the adjunct which John has assigned to the phrase “the true God” - “eternal life.” This is an expression which John would be likely to apply to the Lord Jesus, considered as “life,” and the “source of life,” and not to God as such. “How familiar is this language with John, as applied to Christ! “In him (i. e. Christ) was life, and the life was the light of people - giving life to the world - the bread of life - my words are spirit and life - I am the way, and the truth, and the life. This life (Christ) was manifested, and we have “seen it,” and do testify to you, and declare the eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us,” 1 John 1:2.” - Prof. Stuart‘s Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 83. There is no instance in the writings of John, in which the appellation life, and “eternal” life is bestowed upon the Father, to designate him as the author of spiritual and eternal life; and as this occurs so frequently in John‘s writings as applied to Christ, the laws of exegesis require that both the phrase “the true God,” and “eternal life,” should be applied to him.

(3) if it refers to God as such, or to the word “true” - τὸν ἀληθινόν ( Θεὸν ) ton alēthinon (Theon) it would be mere tautology, or a mere truism. The rendering would then be, “That we may know the true God, and we are in the true God: this is the true God, and eternal life.” Can we believe that an inspired man would affirm gravely, and with so much solemnity, and as if it were a truth of so much magnitude, that the true God is the true God?

(4) this interpretation accords with what we are sure John would affirm respecting the Lord Jesus Christ. Can there be any doubt that he who said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” that he who said, “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made;” that he who recorded the declaration of the Saviour, “I and my Father are one,” and the declaration of Thomas, “my Lord and my God,” would apply to him the appellation “the true God!”

(5) if John did not mean to affirm this, he has made use of an expression which was liable to be misunderstood, and which, as facts have shown, would be misconstrued by the great portion of those who might read what he had written; and, moreover, an expression that would lead to the very sin against which he endeavors to guard in the next verse - the sin of substituting a creature in the place of God, and rendering to another the honor due to him. The language which he uses is just such as, according to its natural interpretation, would lead people to worship one as the true God who is not the true God, unless the Lord Jesus be divine. For these reasons, it seems to me that the fair interpretation of this passage demands that it should be understood as referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, it is a direct assertion of his divinity, for there could be no higher proof of it than to affirm that he is the true God.

And eternal life - Having “life in himself,” John 5:26, and the source and fountain of life to the soul. No more frequent appellation, perhaps, is given to the Saviour by John, than that he is life, and the source of life. Compare John 1:4; John 5:26, John 5:40; John 10:10; John 6:33, John 6:35, John 6:48, John 6:51, John 6:53, John 6:63; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 20:31; 1 John 1:1-2; 1 John 5:12.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
All mankind are divided into two parties or dominions; that which belongs to God, and that which belongs to the wicked one. True believers belong to God: they are of God, and from him, and to him, and for him; while the rest, by far the greater number, are in the power of the wicked one; they do his works, and support his cause. This general declaration includes all unbelievers, whatever their profession, station, or situation, or by whatever name they may be called. The Son leads believers to the Father, and they are in the love and favour of both; in union with both, by the indwelling and working of the Holy Spirit. Happy are those to whom it is given to know that the Son of God is come, and to have a heart to trust in and rely on him that is true! May this be our privilege; we shall thus be kept from all idols and false doctrines, and from the idolatrous love of worldly objects, and be kept by the power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation. To this living and true God, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Ellen G. White
Faith and Works, 25.2

There is danger in regarding justification by faith as placing merit on faith. When you take the righteousness of Christ as a free gift you are justified freely through the redemption of Christ. What is faith? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is an assent of the understanding to God's words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, Who gave the understanding, Who moved on the heart, Who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary. Faith is rendering to God the intellectual powers, abandonment of the mind and will to God, and making Christ the only door to enter into the kingdom of heaven. FW 25.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 199

Those who are the chosen of God are required to multiply churches wherever they may be successful in bringing souls to the knowledge of the truth. But the people of God are never to collect together into a large community as they have done in Battle Creek. Those who know what it is to have travail of soul will never do this, for they will feel the burden that Christ carried for the salvation of men. TM 199.1

Everyone who is chosen of God should improve his intellectual powers. Jesus came to represent the character of the Father, and He sent His disciples into the world to represent the character of Christ. He has given us His word to point out the way of life, and He has not left us simply to carry that word, but has also promised to give it efficiency by the power of the Holy Spirit. Is there need, then, that any should walk in uncertainty, grieving that they do not know and experience the movings of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts? Are you hungering and thirsting for instruction in righteousness? Then you have the sure promise that you shall be filled. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may 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.” TM 199.2

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Ellen G. White
That I May Know Him, 50.1

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may 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. 1 John 5:20. TMK 50.1

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Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 345.3

The Lord will give understanding to everyone who will fully connect with His work. We are not left to trust in human wisdom. In the Lord is wisdom, and it is our privilege to look to Him for counsel.... TDG 345.3

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