4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, 1 but test 2 the spirits 3 to determine 4 if they are from God, because many false prophets 5 have gone out into the world. 4:2 By this 6 you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses 7 Jesus as the Christ 8 who has come in the flesh is from God, 4:3 but 9 every spirit that does not confess 10 Jesus 11 is not from God, and this is the spirit 12 of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.
4:4 You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, 13 because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them. 4:6 We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but 14 whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this 15 we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit. 16
4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because 17 love is from God, and everyone who loves 18 has been fathered 19 by God and knows God. 4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 20 4:9 By this 21 the love of God 22 is revealed in us: 23 that God has sent his one and only 24 Son into the world so that we may live through him. 4:10 In this 25 is love: not that 26 we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice 27 for our sins.
4:11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then 28 we also ought to love one another. 29 4:12 No one has seen God at any time. 30 If we love one another, God resides 31 in us, and his love is perfected in us. 32 4:13 By this 33 we know that we reside in God 34 and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit. 35 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior 36 of the world.
4:15 If anyone 37 confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides 38 in him and he in God. 4:16 And we have come to know and to believe 39 the love that God has in us. 40 God is love, and the one who resides 41 in love resides in God, and God resides in him. 4:17 By this 42 love is perfected with 43 us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus 44 is, so also are we in this world. 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. 45 The 46 one who fears punishment 47 has not been perfected in love. 4:19 We love 48 because he loved us first.
4:20 If anyone says 49 “I love God” and yet 50 hates his fellow Christian, 51 he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian 52 whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 53 4:21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that 54 the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian 55 too.
[4:1] 1 sn 1 John 4:1-6. These verses form one of three units within 1 John that almost all interpreters consider a single unit and do not divide up (the other two are 2:12-14 and 15-17). The subject matter is so clearly different from the surrounding context that these clearly constitute separate units of thought. Since the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit active in the world, the author needs to qualify for the recipients how to tell if a spirit comes from God. The “test” is the confession in 4:2.
[4:1] 3 sn Test the spirits. Since in the second half of the present verse the author mentions “false prophets” who have “gone out into the world,” it appears highly probable that his concept of testing the spirits is drawn from the OT concept of testing a prophet to see whether he is a false prophet or a true one. The procedure for testing a prophet is found in Deut 13:2-6 and 18:15-22. An OT prophet was to be tested on the basis of (a) whether or not his predictive prophecies came true (Deut 18:22) and (b) whether or not he advocated idolatry (Deut 13:1-3). In the latter case the people of Israel are warned that even if the prophet should perform an authenticating sign or wonder, his truth or falsity is still to be judged on the basis of his claims, that is, whether or not he advocates idolatry. Here in 1 John the idea of “testing the spirits” comes closer to the second OT example of “testing the prophets” mentioned above. According to 1 John 4:2-3, the spirits are to be tested on the basis of their christological confession: The person motivated by the Spirit of God will confess Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh, while the person motivated by the spirit of deceit will not confess Jesus and is therefore not from God. This comes close to the idea expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 12:3 where the person speaking charismatic utterances is also to be judged on the basis of his christological confession: “So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
[4:2] 6 tn There is no subordinating conjunction following the ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) here in 4:2, so the phrase could refer either (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. Contextually the phrase refers to what follows, because the following clause in 4:2b-3a (πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ ᾿Ιησοῦν Χριστὸν…ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν ᾿Ιησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν), while not introduced by a subordinating conjunction, does explain the preceding clause beginning with ἐν τούτῳ. In other words, the following clause in 4:2b-3a is analogous to a subordinate clause introduced by an epexegetical ἵνα (Jina) or ὅτι (Joti), and the relationship can be represented in the English translation by a colon, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every Spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every Spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
[4:2] 8 tn This forms part of the author’s christological confession which serves as a test of the spirits. Many interpreters have speculated that the author of 1 John is here correcting or adapting a slogan of the secessionist opponents, but there is no concrete evidence for this in the text. Such a possibility is mere conjecture (see R. E. Brown, Epistles of John [AB], 492). The phrase may be understood in a number of different ways, however: (1) the entire phrase “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” may be considered the single object of the verb ὁμολογεῖ (Jomologei; so B. F. Westcott, A. Brooke, J. Bonsirven, R. E. Brown, S. Smalley, and others); (2) the verb ὁμολογεῖ may be followed by a double accusative, so that both “Jesus Christ” and “come in the flesh” are objects of the verb; the meaning would be “confess Jesus Christ as come in the flesh” (so B. Weiss, J. Chaine, and others). (3) Another possibility is to see the verb as followed by a double accusative as in (2), but in this case the first object is “Jesus” and the second is “the Christ come in the flesh,” so that what is being confessed is “Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh” (so N. Alexander, J. Stott, J. Houlden, and others). All three options are grammatically possible, although not equally probable. Option (1) has a number of points in its favor: (a) the parallel in 2 John 7 suggests to some that the phrase should be understood as a single object; (b) option (2) makes “Jesus Christ” the name of the preincarnate second Person of the Trinity, and this would be the only place in the Johannine literature where such a designation for the preincarnate Λόγος (Logos) occurs; and (c) option (3) would have been much clearer if Χριστόν (Criston) were accompanied by the article (ὁμολογεῖ ᾿Ιησοῦν τὸν Χριστόν, Jomologei Ihsoun ton Criston). Nevertheless option (3) is preferred on the basis of the overall context involving the secessionist opponents: Their christological views would allow the confession of the Christ come in the flesh (perhaps in the sense of the Spirit indwelling believers, although this is hard to prove), but they would have trouble confessing that Jesus was (exclusively) the Christ incarnate. The author’s failure to repeat the qualifying phrases (Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, Criston en sarki elhluqota) in the negative repetition in 4:3a actually suggests that the stress is on Jesus as the confession the opponents could not or would not make. It is difficult to see how the parallel in 2 John 7 favors option (1), although R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 492) thinks it does. The related or parallel construction in John 9:22 (ἐάν τις αὐτὸν ὁμολογήσῃ Χριστόν, ean ti" auton Jomologhsh Criston) provides further support for option (3). This is discounted by R. E. Brown because the verb in John 9:22 occurs between the two accusative objects rather than preceding both as here (Epistles of John [AB], 493 – although Brown does mention Rom 10:9 as another parallel closer in grammatical structure to 1 John 4:2). Brown does not mention the textual variants in John 9:22, however: Both Ì66 and Ì75 (along with K, Ë13 and others) read ὁμολογήσῃ αὐτὸν Χριστόν (Jomologhsh auton Criston). This structure exactly parallels 1 John 4:2, and a case can be made that this is actually the preferred reading in John 9:22; furthermore, it is clear from the context in John 9:22 that Χριστόν is the complement (what is predicated of the first accusative) since the object (the first accusative) is αὐτόν rather than the proper name ᾿Ιησοῦν. The parallel in John 9:22 thus appears to be clearer than either 1 John 4:2 or 2 John 7, and thus to prove useful in understanding both the latter constructions.
[4:3] 9 tn The καί (kai) which begins 4:3 introduces the “negative side” of the test by which the spirits might be known in 4:2-3. Thus it is adversative in force: “every spirit that confesses Jesus as Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every Spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
[4:3] 11 tc A number of variants are generated from the simple τὸν ᾿Ιησοῦν (ton Ihsoun), some of which turn the expression into an explicit object-complement construction. ᾿Ιησοῦν κύριον (Ihsoun kurion, “Jesus as Lord”) is found in א, τὸν ᾿Ιησοῦν Χριστόν (ton Ihsoun Criston, “Jesus as Christ”) is read by the Byzantine minuscules, τὸν Χριστόν (“the Christ”) is the reading of 1846, and ᾿Ιησοῦν without the article is found in 1881 2464. But τὸν ᾿Ιησοῦν is well supported by A B Ψ 33 81 1739 al, and internally best explains the rise of the others. It is thus preferred on both external and internal grounds.
[4:6] 15 tn The phrase ἐκ τούτου (ek toutou) in 4:6, which bears obvious similarity to the much more common phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw), must refer to what precedes, since there is nothing in the following context for it to relate to, and 4:1-6 is recognized by almost everyone as a discrete unit. There is still a question, however, of what in the preceding context the phrase refers to. Interpreters have suggested a reference (1) only to 4:6; (2) to 4:4-6; or (3) to all of 4:1-6. The last is most likely, because the present phrase forms an inclusion with the phrase ἐν τούτῳ in 3:24 which introduces the present section. Thus “by this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” refers to all of 4:1-6 with its “test” of the spirits by the christological confession made by their adherents in 4:1-3 and with its emphasis on the authoritative (apostolic) eyewitness testimony to the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in 4:4-6.
[4:6] 16 sn Who or what is the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit in 1 John 4:6? (1) Some interpreters regard the “spirits” in 4:6 as human spirits. Although 4:1a is ambiguous and might refer either to human spirits or spiritual beings who influence people, it is clear in the context that (2) the author sees behind the secessionist opponents with their false Christology the spirit of the Antichrist, that is, Satan (4:3b), and behind the true believers of the community to which he is writing, the Spirit of God (4:2). This is made clear in 4:4 by the reference to the respective spirits as the One who is in you and the one who is in the world.
[4:7] 17 tn This ὅτι (Joti) is causal, giving the reason why the readers, as believers, ought to love one another: because love comes from God. The next clause, introduced by καί (kai), does not give a second reason (i.e., is not related to the ὅτι clause), but introduces a second and additional thought: Everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.
[4:7] sn From the author’s “either/or” perspective (which tends to see things in terms of polar opposites) the use of a generalization like everyone who presents a way of categorizing the opponents on the one hand and the recipients, whom the author regards as genuine Christians, on the other. Thus everyone who loves refers to all true Christians, who give evidence by their love for one another that they have indeed been begotten by God and are thus God’s children. The opposite situation is described in the following verse, 4:8, where (although everyone [πᾶς, pas] is omitted) it is clear that a contrast is intended.
[4:7] 19 tn The verb γεννάω (gennaw) in this context means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The imagery in 1 John is that of the male parent who fathers children (see especially 3:9 and 5:1).
[4:8] 20 tn The author proclaims in 4:8 ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (Jo qeo" agaph estin), but from a grammatical standpoint this is not a proposition in which subject and predicate nominative are interchangeable (“God is love” does not equal “love is God”). The predicate noun is anarthrous, as it is in two other Johannine formulas describing God, “God is light” in 1 John 1:5 and “God is Spirit” in John 4:24. The anarthrous predicate suggests a qualitative force, not a mere abstraction, so that a quality of God’s character is what is described here.
[4:9] 21 tn Once again there is the problem of determining whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. This is the first of 5 uses of the phrase in the present section (4:9, 10, 13, 17; 5:2). In this case (as also in the next two instances) there is a ὅτι (Joti) clause following which is related and which explains (i.e., which is epexegetical to) the phrase ἐν τούτῳ. Thus the meaning here is, “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his only Son into the world in order that we might live through him.”
[4:9] 22 tn In terms of syntax the force of the genitive τοῦ θεοῦ (tou qeou) may be (1) objective, (2) subjective, or (3) both. The phrase occurs for the first time in the letter in 2:5. Here in 4:9 the epexegetical ὅτι (Joti) clause which follows makes it clear that this is a subjective genitive, emphasizing God’s love for us rather than our love for God, because it describes God’s action in sending his Son into the world.
[4:9] 23 tn This phrase is best understood as the equivalent of a dative of sphere, but this description does not specify where the love of God is revealed with regard to believers: “in our midst” (i.e., among us) or “within us” (i.e., internally within believers). The latter is probable, because in the context the concept of God’s indwelling of the believer is mentioned in 4:12: “God resides (μένει, menei) in us.”
[4:9] 24 sn Although the word translated one and only (μονογενής, monogenhs) is often rendered “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological bird called the Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant. 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus alone in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, tekna qeou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).
[4:10] 25 tn Once again there is the (by now familiar) problem of determining whether the referent of this phrase (1) precedes or (2) follows. Here there are two ὅτι (Joti) clauses which follow, both of which are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) and explain what the love of God consists of: first, stated negatively, “not that we have loved God,” and then positively, “but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
[4:10] sn What is important (as far as the author is concerned) is not whether we love God (or say that we love God – a claim of the opponents is probably behind this), but that God has loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice which removes believers’ sins. This latter point is similar to the point made in 2:2 and is at the heart of the author’s dispute with the opponents, because they were denying any salvific value to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross.
[4:10] 27 sn As explained at 2:2, inherent in the meaning of the word translated atoning sacrifice (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) is the idea of turning away the divine wrath, so that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. God’s love for us is expressed in his sending his Son to be the propitiation (the propitiatory sacrifice) for our sins on the cross. This is an indirect way for the author to allude to one of the main points of his controversy with the opponents: the significance for believers’ salvation of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including especially his sacrificial death on the cross. The contemporary English “atoning sacrifice” communicates this idea more effectively.
[4:11] sn The author here assumes the reality of the protasis (the “if” clause), which his recipients, as believers, would also be expected to agree with: Assuming that God has loved us in this way, then it follows that we also ought to love one another. God’s act of love in sending his Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (v. 10) ought to motivate us as believers to love one another in a similar sacrificial fashion. The author made the same point already in 1 John 3:16. But this failure to show love for fellow believers is just what the opponents are doing: In 1 John 3:17 the author charged them with refusing to love their brothers by withholding needed material assistance. By their failure to love the brothers sacrificially according to the example Jesus set for believers, the opponents have demonstrated again the falsity of their claims to love God and know God (see 1 John 2:9).
[4:12] 31 tn The phrase “God resides in us” (ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν μένει, Jo qeo" en Jhmin menei) in 4:12 is a reference to the permanent relationship which God has with the believer. Here it refers specifically to God’s indwelling of the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, as indicated by 4:13b. Since it refers to state and not to change of status it is here translated “resides” (see 2:6).
[4:12] 32 tn The phrase “his [God’s] love is perfected (τετελειωμένη ἐστίν, teteleiwmenh estin) in us” in 4:12 is difficult. First it is necessary to decide whether αὐτοῦ (autou), which refers to God, is (1) subjective (God’s love for us) or (2) objective (our love for God). It is clear that a subjective genitive, stressing God’s love for us, is in view here, because the immediate context, 4:11a, has believers as the objects of God’s love (ὁ θεὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, Jo qeo" hgaphsen Jhma"). The entire phrase ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν τετελειωμένη ἐστίν (Jh agaph autou en Jhmin teteleiwmenh estin) then refers to what happens when believers love one another (note the protasis of the conditional sentence in 4:12, ἐάν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους [ean agapwmen allhlou"]). The love that comes from God, the love that he has for us, reaches perfection in our love for others, which is what God wants and what believers are commanded to do (see 3:23b).
[4:13] 33 tn Again whether the referent of the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) (1) precedes or (2) follows is a problem. This time there are two ὅτι (Joti) clauses which follow. The first is an indirect discourse clause related to γινώσκομεν (ginwskomen) and giving the content of what believers know: “that we reside in him and he in us.” The second ὅτι clause is epexegetical (or explanatory) to the ἐν τούτῳ phrase, explaining how believers know that they reside in God and God remains in them: “in that he has given us of his Spirit.”
[4:13] sn By this we know. According to the author of 1 John, the Father’s giving of the indwelling Holy Spirit to the believer is one means of providing assurance to the believer of his relationship to God. This is what was also stated in 1 John 3:24b in essentially identical terms.
[4:13] 35 sn The genitive of his Spirit here, like the phrase in 3:24, probably reflects a partitive nuance, so that the author portrays God as ‘apportioning’ his Spirit to individual believers. This leads to the important observation that the author is not particularly interested in emphasizing (1) the ongoing interior witness of the Holy Spirit (which is what the passage is often understood to mean) but is emphasizing (2) the fact that God has given the Spirit to believers, and it is this fact that gives believers assurance of their relationship to God. In other words, it is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been given to believers, rather than the ongoing interior testimony of the Holy Spirit within the believer, which is the primary source of the believer’s assurance.
[4:14] 36 tn Because σωτῆρα (swthra) is the object complement of υἱόν (Juion) in a double accusative construction in 4:14, there is an understood equative verb joining the two, with the resultant meaning “the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”
[4:15] 38 tn Here μένει (menei, from μένω [menw]) has been translated as “resides” because the confession is constitutive of the relationship, and the resulting state (“God resides in him”) is in view.
[4:16] 39 tn Both ἐγνώκαμεν (egnwkamen) and πεπιστεύκαμεν (pepisteukamen) in 4:16 are perfect tenses, implying past actions with existing results. In this case the past action is specified as the recognition of (ἐγνώκαμεν) and belief in (πεπιστεύκαμεν) “the love which God has in us.” But what is the relationship between the two verbs γινώσκω (ginwskw) and πιστεύω (pisteuw)? (1) Some interpreters would see a different nuance in each. (2) But in the Gospel of John the two verbs frequently occur together in the same context, often in the same tense; examples may be found in John 6:69, 8:31-32, 10:38, 14:7-10, and 17:8. They also occur together in one other context in 1 John, 4:1-2. Of these John 6:69, Peter’s confession, is the closest parallel to the usage here: “We have come to believe [πεπιστεύκαμεν] and to know [ἐγνώκαμεν] that you are the holy One of God.” Here the order between “knowing” and “believing” is reversed from 1 John 4:16, but an examination of the other examples from the Gospel of John should make it clear that there is no difference in meaning when the order of the terms is reversed. It appears that the author considered both terms to describe a single composite action. Thus they represent a hendiadys which describes an act of faith/belief/trust on the part of the individual; knowledge (true knowledge) is an inseparable part of this act of faith.
[4:16] 40 tn The force of the preposition ἐν (en) in the phrase ἐν ἡμῖν (en Jhmin) in 4:16a is disputed: Although (1) “for” (in the sense of “on behalf of”) is possible and is a common English translation, the other uses of the same phrase in 4:9 (where it refers to God’s love for us) and 4:12 (where it refers to God’s indwelling of the believer) suggest that (2) the author intends to emphasize interiority here – a reference to God’s love expressed in believers. This is confirmed by the only other uses in 1 John of the verb ἔχω (ecw) with the preposition ἐν (3:15 and 5:10) both of which literally mean something in someone.
[4:16] 41 tn Once again μένω (menw) in its three occurrences in 4:16 looks at the mutual state of believers and God. No change of status or position is in view in the context, so the participle and both finite verbs are translated as “resides.”
[4:17] 42 tn The referent of ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both ἵνα (Jina) and ὅτι (Joti) 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.
[4:17] 43 tn The preposition μετά (meta) means “with” and modifies the verb τετελείωται (teteleiwtai). 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 (Jh agaph Jh meq’ Jhmwn).
[4:17] sn To say love is perfected with us means “with regard to our actions in loving our brothers.”
[4:17] 44 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.
[4:18] 45 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.
[4:19] 48 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.
[4:20] 53 sn In 4:20 the author again describes the opponents, who claim to love God. Their failure to show love for their fellow Christians proves their claim to know God to be false: The one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
[4:21] 54 tn The ἵνα (Jina) clause in 4:21 could be giving (1) the purpose or (2) the result of the commandment mentioned in the first half of the verse, but if it does, the author nowhere specifies what the commandment consists of. It makes better sense to understand this ἵνα clause as (3) epexegetical to the pronoun ταύτην (tauthn) at the beginning of 4:21 and thus explaining what the commandment consists of: “that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”