*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.
That which was from the beginning As the passage is abrupt and involved, that the sense may be made clearer, the words may be thus arranged; "We announce to you the word of life, which was from the beginning and really testified to us in all manner of ways, that life has been manifested in him;" or, if you prefer, the meaning may be thus given, "What we announce to you respecting the word of life, has been from the beginning, and has been openly shewed to us, that life was manifested in him." But the words, That which was from the beginning, refer doubtless to the divinity of Christ, for God manifested in the flesh was not from the beginning; but he who always was life and the eternal Word of God, appeared in the fullness of time as man. Again, what follows as to the looking on and the handling of the hands, refers to his human nature. But as the two natures constitute but one person, and Christ is one, because he came forth from the Father that he might put on our flesh, the Apostle rightly declares that he is the same, and had been invisible, and afterwards became visible.  Hereby the senseless cavil of Servetus is disproved, that the nature and essence of Deity became one with the flesh, and that thus the Word was transformed into flesh, because the life-giving Word was seen in the flesh. Let us then bear in mind, that this doctrine of the Gospel is here declared, that he who in the flesh really proved himself to be the Son of God, and was acknowledged to be the Son of God, was always God's invisible Word, for he does not refer here to the beginning of the world, but ascends much higher. Which we have heard, which we have seen. It was not the hearing of a report, to which little credit is usually given, but John means, that he had faithfully learnt from his Master those things which he taught, so that he alleged nothing thoughtlessly and rashly. And, doubtless, no one is a fit teacher in the Church, who has not been the disciple of the Son of God, and rightly instructed in his school, since his authority alone ought to prevail. When he says, we have seen with our eyes, it is no redundancy, but a fuller expression for the sake of amplifying; nay, he was not satisfied with seeing only, but added, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled By these words he shews that he taught nothing but what had been really made known to him. It may seem, however, that the evidence of the senses little availed on the present subject, for the power of Christ could not be perceived by the eyes nor felt by the hands. To this I answer, that the same thing is said here as in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, "We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father;" for he was not known as the Son of God by the external form of his body, but because he gave illustrious proofs of his Divine power, so that in him shone forth the majesty of the Father, as in a living and distinct image. As the words are in the plural number, and the subject equally applies to all the apostles, I am disposed to include them, especially as the authority of testimony is what is treated of. But no less frivolous (as I have before said) than impudent is the wickedness of Servetus, who urges these words to prove that the Word of God became visible and capable of being handled; he either impiously destroys or mingles together the twofold nature of Christ. It is, therefore, a pure figment. Thus deifying the humanity of Christ, he wholly takes away the reality of his human nature, at the same time denying that Christ is for any other reason called the Son of God, except that he was conceived of his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, and taking away his own subsistence in God. It hence follows that he was neither God nor man, though he seems to form a confused mass from both. But as the meaning of the Apostle is evident to us, let us pass by that unprincipled man. Of the Word of life The genitive here is used for an adjective, vivifying, or life-giving; for in him, as it is said in the first chapter of John's Gospel, was life. At the same time, this distinction belongs to the Son of God on two accounts, because he has infused life into all creatures, and because he now restores life to us, which had perished, having been extinguished by the sin of Adam. Moreover, the term Word may be explained in two ways, either of Christ, or of the doctrine of the Gospel, for even by this is salvation brought to us. But as its substance is Christ, and as it contains no other thing than that he, who had been always with the Father, was at length manifested to men, the first view appears to me the more simple and genuine. Moreover, it appears more fully from the Gospel that the wisdom which dwells in God is called the Word.
1 - It is more consistent with the passage to take "from the beginning" here as from the beginning of the Gospel, from the beginning of the ministry of our Savior, because what had been from the beginning was what the apostles had heard and seen. That another view has been taken of these words has been owing to an over-anxiety on the part of many, especially of the Fathers, to establish the divinity of our Savior; but this is what is sufficiently evident from the second verse. See ch. 2:7, 24. -- Ed.
That which was from the beginning - There can be no doubt that the reference here is to the Lord Jesus Christ, or the "Word" that was made flesh. See the notes at John 1:1. This is such language as John would use respecting him, and indeed the phrase "the beginning," as applicable to the Lord Jesus, is unique to John in the writings of the New Testament: and the language here may be regarded as one proof that this Epistle was written by him, for it is just such an expression as "he" would use, but not such as one would be likely to adopt who should attempt to palm off his own writings as those of John. One who should have attempted that would have been likely to introduce the name "John" in the beginning of the Epistle, or in some way to have claimed his authority. The apostle, in speaking of "that which was from the beginning," uses a word in the neuter gender instead of the masculine, (ὅ ho.) It is not to be supposed, I think, that he meant to apply this term "directly" to the Son of God, for if he had he would have used the masculine pronoun; but though he had the Son of God in view, and meant to make a strong affirmation respecting him, yet the particular thing here referred to was "whatever" there was respecting that incarnate Saviour that furnished testimony to any of the senses, or that pertained to his character and doctrine, he had borne witness to.
He was looking rather at the evidence that he was incarnate; the proofs that he was manifested; and he says that those proofs had been subjected to the trial of the senses, and he had borne witness to them, and now did it again. This is what is referred to, it seems to me, by the phrase "that which," (ὅ ho.) The sense may be this: "Whatever there was respecting the Word of life, or him who is the living Word, the incarnate Son of God, from the very beginning, from the time when he was first manifested in the flesh; whatever there was respecting his exalted nature, his dignity, his character, that could be subjected to the testimony of the senses, to be the object of sight, or hearing, or touch, that I was permitted to see, and that I declare to you respecting him." John claims to be a competent witness in reference to everything which occurred as a manifestation of what the Son of God was.
If this be the correct interpretation, then the phrase "from the beginning" (ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς ap' archēs does not here refer to his eternity, or his being in the beginning of all things, as the phrase "in the beginning" (ἐν ἀρχῇ en archē) does in John 1:1; but rather means from the very commencement of his manifestation as the Son of God, the very first indications on earth of what he was as the Messiah. When the writer says 1-John 1:3 that he "declares" this to them, it seems to me that he has not reference merely to what he would say in this Epistle, for he does not go extensively into it here, but that he supposes that they had his Gospel in their possession, and that he also means to refer to that, or presumes that they were familiar with the testimony which he had borne in that Gospel respecting the evidence that the "Word became flesh." Many have indeed supposed that this Epistle accompanied the Gospel when it was published, and was either a part of it that became subsequently detached from it, or was a letter that accompanied it. See Hug, Introduction P. II. Section 68. There is, it seems to me, no certain evidence of that; but no one can doubt that he supposed that those to whom he wrote had access to that Gospel, and that he refers here to the testimony which he had borne in that respecting the incarnate Word.
Which we have heard - John was with the Saviour through the whole of his ministry, and he has recorded more that the Saviour said than either of the other evangelists. It is on what he said of himself that he grounds much of the evidence that he was the Son of God.
Which we have seen with our eyes - That is, pertaining to his person, and to what he did. "I have seen him; seen what he was as a man; how he appeared on earth; and I have seen whatever there was in his works to indicate his character and origin." John professes here to have seen enough in this respect to furnish evidence that he was the Son of God. It is not hearsay on which he relies, but he had the testimony of his own eyes in the case. Compare the notes at 2-Peter 1:16.
Which we have looked upon - The word used here seems designed to be more emphatic or intensive than the one occurring before. He had just said that he had "seen him with his eyes," but he evidently designs to include an idea in this word which would imply something more than mere beholding or seeing. The additional idea which is couched in this word seems to be that of desire or pleasure; that is, that he had looked on him with desire, or satisfaction, or with the pleasure with which one beholds a beloved object. Compare Matthew 11:7; Luke 7:24; John 1:14; John 11:45. See Robinson, Lexicon. There was an intense and earnest gaze, as when we behold one whom we have desired to see, or when one goes out purposely to look on an object. The evidences of the incarnation of the Son of God had been subjected to such an intense and earnest gaze.
And our hands have handled - That is, the evidence that he was a man was subjected to the sense of touch. It was not merely that he had been seen by the eye, for then it might be pretended that this was a mere appearance assumed without reality; or that what occurred might have been a mere optical illusion; but the evidence that he appeared in the flesh was subjected to more senses than one; to the fact that his voice was heard; that he was seen with the eyes; that the most intense scrutiny had been employed; and, lastly, that he had been actually touched and handled, showing that it could not have been a mere appearance, an assumed form, but that it was a reality. This kind of proof that the Son of God had appeared in the flesh, or that he was truly and properly a man, is repeatedly referred to in the New Testament. Luke 24:39; "behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have." Compare John 20:25-27. There is evident allusion here to the opinion which early prevailed, which was held by the Docetes, that the Son of God did not truly and really become a man, but that there was only an appearance assumed, or that he seemed to be a man. See the Introduction, Section 3. It was evidently with reference to this opinion, which began early to prevail, that the apostle dwells on this point, and repeats the idea so much, and shows by a reference to all the senses which could take any cognizance in the case, that he was truly and properly a man. The amount of it is, that we have the same evidence that he was properly a man which we can have in the case of any other human being; the evidence on which we constantly act, and in which we cannot believe that our senses deceive us.
Of the Word of life - Respecting, or pertaining to, the Word of life. "That is, whatever there was pertaining to the Word of life, which was manifested from the beginning in his speech and actions, of which the senses could take cognizance, and which would furnish the evidence that he was truly incarnate, that we have declared unto you.' The phrase "the Word of life," means the Word in which life resided, or which was the source and fountain of life. See the notes at John 1:1, John 1:3. The reference is undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
That which was from the beginning - That glorious personage, Jesus Christ the Lord, Who was from eternity; him, being manifested in the flesh, we have heard proclaim the doctrine of eternal life; with our own eyes have we seen him, not transiently, for we have looked upon him frequently; and our hands have handled - frequently touched, his person; and we have had every proof of the identity and reality of this glorious being that our senses of hearing, ὁ ακηκοαμεν, seeing, ὁ ἑωρακαμεν τοις οφθαλμοις ἡμων, and feeling, και αἱ χειρες ἡμων εψηλαφησαν could possibly require.
That (1) which was from the beginning, which we have (a) heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the (b) Word of life;
(1) He begins with the description of the person of Christ who he makes one and not two: and him both God from everlasting (for he was with the Father from the beginning, and is that eternal life) and also made true man, whom John himself and his companions both heard, beheld, and handled.
(a) I heard him speak, I saw him myself with my eyes, I handled with my hands him that is true God, being made true man, and not I alone, but others also that were with me.
(b) That same everlasting Word by whom all things are made, and in whom only is there life.
That which was from the beginning,.... By which is meant not the Gospel, as if the apostle's design was to assert the antiquity of that, and clear it from the charge of novelty; for though that is called the word, and the word of life, and is the Spirit which gives life, and is the means of quickening dead sinners, and brings the report of eternal life and salvation by Christ, yet the seeing of it with bodily eyes, and handling it with corporeal hands, do not agree with that; but Jesus Christ is here intended, who in his divine nature was, really existed as a divine person, as the everlasting Jehovah, the eternal I AM, which is, and was, and is to come, and existed "from the beginning"; not from the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel by John only, for he was before the Gospel was preached, being the first preacher of it himself, and before John was; yea, before the prophets, before Abraham, and before Adam, and before all creatures, from the beginning of time, and of the creation of the world, being the Maker of all things, even from everlasting; for otherwise he could not have been set up in an office capacity so early, or God's elect be chosen in him before the foundation of the world, and they have grace and blessings given them in him before the world began, or an everlasting covenant be made with him; see John 1:1;
which we have heard; this, with what follows, proves him to be truly and really man; for when the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among men, the apostles heard, and saw, and handled him; they not only heard a voice from heaven, declaring him to be the Son of God, but they often heard him speak himself, both in private conversation with them, and in his public ministry; they heard his many excellent discourses on the mount, and elsewhere, and those that were particularly delivered to them a little before his death; and blessed were they on this account, Matthew 13:16;
which we have seen with our eyes: with the eyes of the body, with their own, and not another's; and they saw him in human nature, and the common actions of life he did, as eating, drinking, walking, &c. and his many miracles; they saw him raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, restore sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, the dumb to speak, and the deaf to hear; and they saw him transfigured on the mount. John was one that was present at that time, and saw his glory, as he also was when he hung upon the cross, and saw him bleeding, gasping, and dying there; they saw him after his resurrection from the dead, he showed himself to them alive, and was seen of them forty days; they saw him go up to heaven, and a cloud receiving him out of their sight:
which we have looked upon; wistly and intently, once and again, and a thousand times, and with the utmost pleasure and delight; and knew him perfectly well, and were able to describe exactly his person, stature, features, and the lineaments of his body:
and our hands have handled of the Word of life; as Peter did when Jesus caught him by the hand on the water, when he was just ready to sink; and as this apostle did, when he leaned on his bosom; and as Thomas did, even after his resurrection, when he thrust his hand into his side; and as all the apostles were called upon to see and handle him, that it was he himself, and not a spirit, which has not flesh and bones as he had. Now as this is said of Christ, the Word of life, who is so called, because he has life in himself, as God, as the Mediator, and as man, and is the author of life, natural, spiritual, and eternal, it must be understood as he, the Word, is made manifest in the flesh; for he, as the Word, or as a divine person, or as considered in his divine nature, is not to be seen nor handled: this therefore is spoken of the Word, or of the person of Christ, God-man, with respect to his human nature, as united to the Logos, or Word of God; and so is a proof of the truth and reality of his human nature, by several of the senses.
That essential Good, that uncreated Excellence, which had been from the beginning, from eternity, as equal with the Father, and which at length appeared in human nature for the salvation of sinners, was the great subject concerning which the apostle wrote to his brethren. The apostles had seen Him while they witnessed his wisdom and holiness, his miracles, and love and mercy, during some years, till they saw him crucified for sinners, and afterwards risen from the dead. They touched him, so as to have full proof of his resurrection. This Divine Person, the Word of life, the Word of God, appeared in human nature, that he might be the Author and Giver of eternal life to mankind, through the redemption of his blood, and the influence of his new-creating Spirit. The apostles declared what they had seen and heard, that believers might share their comforts and everlasting advantages. They had free access to God the Father. They had a happy experience of the truth in their souls, and showed its excellence in their lives. This communion of believers with the Father and the Son, is begun and kept up by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The benefits Christ bestows, are not like the scanty possessions of the world, causing jealousies in others; but the joy and happiness of communion with God is all-sufficient, so that any number may partake of it; and all who are warranted to say, that truly their fellowship is with the Father, will desire to lead others to partake of the same blessedness.
THE WRITER'S AUTHORITY AS AN EYEWITNESS TO THE GOSPEL FACTS, HAVING SEEN, HEARD, AND HANDLED HIM WHO WAS FROM THE BEGINNING: HIS OBJECT IN WRITING: HIS MESSAGE. IF WE WOULD HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM, WE MUST WALK IN LIGHT, AS HE IS LIGHT. (1-John 1:1-10)
Instead of a formal, John adopts a virtual address (compare 1-John 1:4). To wish joy to the reader was the ancient customary address. The sentence begun in 1-John 1:1 is broken off by the parenthetic 1-John 1:2, and is resumed at 1-John 1:3 with the repetition of some words from 1-John 1:1.
That which was--not "began to be," but was essentially (Greek, "een," not "egeneto") before He was manifested (1-John 1:2); answering to "Him that is from the beginning" (1-John 2:13); so John's Gospel, John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word." Proverbs 8:23, "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was."
heard . . . seen . . . looked upon . . . handled--a series rising in gradation. Seeing is a more convincing proof than hearing of; handling, than even seeing. "Have heard . . . have seen" (perfect tenses), as a possession still abiding with us; but in Greek (not as English Version "have," but simply) "looked upon" (not perfect tense, as of a continuing thing, but aorist, past time) while Christ the incarnate Word was still with us. "Seen," namely, His glory, as revealed in the Transfiguration and in His miracles; and His passion and death in a real body of flesh and blood. "Looked upon" as a wondrous spectacle steadfastly, deeply, contemplatively; so the Greek. Appropriate to John's contemplative character.
hands . . . handled--Thomas and the other disciples on distinct occasions after the resurrection. John himself had leaned on Jesus' breast at the last supper. Contrast the wisest of the heathen feeling after (the same Greek as here; groping after WITH THE HANDS") if haply they might find God (see Acts 17:27). This proves against Socinians he is here speaking of the personal incarnate Word, not of Christ's teaching from the beginning of His official life.
of--"concerning"; following "heard." "Heard" is the verb most applying to the purpose of the Epistle, namely the truth which John had heard concerning the Word of life, that is, (Christ) the Word who is the life. "Heard," namely, from Christ Himself, including all Christ's teachings about Himself. Therefore he puts "of," or "concerning," before "the word of life," which is inapplicable to any of the verbs except "heard"; also "heard" is the only one of the verbs which he resumes at 1-John 1:5.
That which was from the beginning. Compare John 1:1; see notes there. Compare also Genesis 1:1. John 1:1 shows that the Word, manifested as Christ, was from the beginning.
Which we have heard, . . . looked upon, . . . handled. In its incarnate form in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Word of life. Christ, the revealed Word, when it became flesh and dwelt among men; "in whom also was life" (John 1:4).
The life was manifested. They had seen the Life manifested in the person of Christ.
And bear witness. The office of the apostle, having seen and known the Eternal Life as he lived on earth, was to bear witness of him to the world.
That ye also may have fellowship. To declare what they had seen and heard was simply to preach the gospel. This knowledge communicated to others brought those who accepted it into a fellowship of knowledge and hope. Those are in fellowship who are partakers of the same faith, hopes, and privileges.
With us. All the saints entered into fellowship with the apostles, but the apostles were in fellowship with the Father. This grand fellowship, that of the saints with the Father and the Son, is simply a guarantee that no good thing will be withheld from us; that "all things are ours." There is a fellowship of peace, of concord, of eternal life and glory.
These things write we. This assurance of the divine fellowship is given in order that they may rejoice with the fullness of joy in the glorious hope.
That which was - Here means, He which was the Word himself; afterwards it means, that which they had heard from him. Which was - Namely, with the Father, 1-John 1:2, before he was manifested. From the beginning - This phrase is sometimes used in a limited sense; but here it properly means from eternity, being equivalent with, "in the beginning," John 1:1. That which we - The apostles. Have not only heard, but seen with our eyes, which we have beheld - Attentively considered on various occasions. Of the Word of life - He is termed the Word, John 1:1; the Life, John 1:4; as he is the living Word of God, who, with the Father and the Spirit, is the fountain of life to all creatures, particularly of spiritual and eternal life.
*More commentary available at chapter level.