Love for God is determined by love for one another: Throughout 1 John the author repeatedly says that love for God's people is the proof that a person truly loves God. If you truly love God you will love one another. If you do not love one another, you do not love God. Plain and simple. If you want to know if a person loves and knows God, just look at their life and determine whether they love the brethren. They could apply this criteria to themselves and discover that they truly did know and love God, and they could apply the criteria to the opponents and see that they did not actually know or love God.

"His commandments" simply refers to the commandment to love one another: Throughout 1 John the author also consistently interprets the generic term "His commandments" as the singular commandment to "love one another." If you love God you keep His commandments, and His commandment is that you love one another.

What is 5:2 talking about? This all makes sense until you get to 5:2, where John appears to shift his logic our of nowhere and say the opposite of what he has been repeating throughout the letter.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. --5:2, NASB

In light of everything John has said so far we would think that "loving God" looks like loving one another, and that "His commandments" are that we love one another... but here he says "you can tell that you are loving one another by whether you love God and keep His commandments." So at first glance the reader is thinking "OK, so I know I love His people if I ...love His people?" Any other interpretation would seem to require that we first redefine "loving God" and "His commandments" to mean something different than the meaning John has established in the minds of his readers thusfar.

It is easy to simply say "it sounds circular because it's all related", but it really seems to break the logic John has been building in the minds of his readers throughout the entire letter. So, before I go with the easy "solution" of just accepting that he is now saying the opposite and trying to mesh it with the rest of what he says, I want to know if this is really the best way to interpret the text.

Are there other interpretive options? I am already aware of the common solution of saying it's "circular" and "interrelated" and that "His commandments" does not refer to loving one another in this case. What I am wondering is if there are any other interpretive options that may provide a better explanation for the meaning of this verse. (I have an idea, but I want to get external input before I go too far with it.)

  • 2
    It continually amazes me that, although 1 John must be just about the easiest book in the GNT for the beginning Greek student to get through, it's actually so difficult!
    – Susan
    Nov 10, 2014 at 1:48
  • @Susan You seem very interested in 1 John. Are you writing a translation or commentary on the book, or teaching through it? Or are your questions just for personal enrichment?
    – Jas 3.1
    Nov 10, 2014 at 1:58
  • You seem very interested in 1 John yourself. :-) No, I don't have any substantial knowledge here, just lots of questions. Thanks for your help.
    – Susan
    Nov 10, 2014 at 2:02
  • You say, "Throughout 1 John the author also consistently interprets the generic term "His commandments" as the singular commandment to "love one another." If you love God you keep His commandments, and His commandment is that you love one another.", so the author can't here be referring to all the commandments. However, didn't Jesus say that all the Law and the Prophets hang upon only two commandments, love God and love your neighbour? I think it makes sense that the author is expressing the same idea, here. If you acknowledge this, then your dilemma disappears.
    – enegue
    May 22, 2017 at 6:18
  • "the opposite of what he has been repeating throughout the letter" when in the letter does he say not to keep the commandments? Have you read 2:4? Jesus nor any NT writer reduces the commandments to just two: He says that in truth if we keep them, we will have been keeping the others, necessarily. He directs them to the underlying issue of loving God which translates to love of neighbour. You can't love your neighbour if you commit adultery, lie, etc. Dec 24, 2017 at 15:43

6 Answers 6


1. Question Restatement

Are there other interpretive options for 1 John 5:2?
Any other interpretation would seem to require that we first redefine "loving God" and "His commandments" to mean something different than the meaning John has established in the minds of his readers thusfar.

Note: I do not see the merit in the arguments that the authors of the Gospel of John and 1 John are different. Regardless, the styles and suppositions of both writers are pretty much identical so comparative analysis can be reasonably made.

In the Gospel of John, the author explicitly, and repeatedly, redefines what the true commandments of God actually are, and what the true love of God actually is, (as all of the other New Testament writers do).

It would be a contradiction of the entire Gospel if it were to be supposed that the demonstration of love towards God is independent of the command to love unconditionally which is how Jesus loved.

So no: there probably isn't any other validly consistent interpretation of this text other than that the true demonstration of love towards God is indistinguishable from unconditional love towards others.

2. Clarifications

It is a huge misconception in Christianity that Jesus' commands were simply to love God and love others. The writer of 1 John is speaking of Jesus' commands - not tradition. Certainly, "loving God" and "loving others" are truly the greatest commandments OF THE LAW [of Moses], (Matthew 22-36-37), though not necessarily the greatest commandments OF ALL. Recall, Jesus was in debate with lawyers who were quite literally playing legal mind-games with him. And so, Jesus answered the specific question he was asked.

However, Jesus gave many, many, more commands emphasizing the necessity for "love in action", and not simply commanding people to "feel love". Even the expression "with all your heart" must be understood as "all your thoughts" - throughout all Scripture. Even those who don't personally feel love are nevertheless instructed to demonstrate God's own love towards the world.

1 John 3:23, NKJV - This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as [in the manner] He commanded us.
Note: This is not in the sense of, "and love one another according to what he commanded us". But rather, the writer is reminding to love in the manner that was described in great detail in the Passion narrative. Jesus' advocacy for the world, from a cross, was a demonstration his unconditional love.

But here is the "gotcha" - in John 13, Jesus issued a commandment even greater than Moses' version. Jesus issued a new commandment not given before which takes precedence over Moses' own, and therefore greater:

John 13:34, NKJV - A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Christians were commanded to not merely love with all of their hearts, minds, souls, and strengths (which are woefully insufficient) - but to love instead with Jesus' heart, mind, soul, and strength. The love Jesus demonstrated for Christians to imitate was an unconditional love - where he advocated for everyone, unconditionally, even while be tortured to death by those same people.

NKJV, Luke 23:34 - Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.

The Wisdom of God is not always "Just" because Wisdom never returns evil for evil but rather injects life wherever there is death. This is the unconditional love of Christ that Jesus commanded Christians to imitate. This is the heavenly precept, and temple, that Israel rejected at Sinai only to be replaced by a tabernacle and then with three temples that were made with mens' hands, while the blood of bulls and goats analogously fulfilled the obligation for the "unconditional" component of God's commandment.

It is the greatest misconception that it was Jesus' death that brought anyone life - for God never desired blood. But rather, it was Jesus' death that proved his unconditional love and advocacy - for life - that brought life.

3. Answer

NASB, John 14:15 - “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

Following Jesus' reasoning, there is therefore no distinction between unconditionally loving others as Jesus did and the demonstration of love towards the Father. Moreover, the demonstration of love towards the Father cannot at all be fulfilled by the Law's command to love as we love ourselves and with our own qualities.

Unconditional Love brings unity with others and the Father:

NASB, Colossians 3:14 - Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

NASB, John 17:20 - “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us ...

Jesus affirmed how difficult it was to accept his commandments:

NASB, John 8:37-38 - 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”

And again:

NASB, John 16:12 - “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

But there isn't a more clearer clarification what "unconditional" means than:

Matthew 10:38 - And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.


It is impossible to claim to have been discipled, let alone claim to be discipling others if one does not know the commandments of Jesus. Christians who make the claim to distinguish the true Love of God from unconditional love towards others are also guilty of the accusation that Jesus made towards the Jews' hypocrisy: "white-washed tombs full of dead mens' bones", (Matthew 23:27),

The Wisdom of God is often Exchanged for the Wisdom of Men:

NKJV, Matthew 28:19-20 - Go therefore and make disciples ... 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you ...

NASB, John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

NASB, Matthew 5:42 - Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

But, how many times have we heard Christians justifying disobedience to these commandments of Jesus by appealing to their own wisdom - presuming that theirs is greater than Jesus'? "If I forgive and accept this person, they will think that I approve of their actions." And, "If I give this person the money they ask for, they will waste it on drugs and alcohol." Perhaps they are wise in the eyes of the world. Or perhaps they are foolish to pass up an invitation for the presence of God and an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to bring deliverance.

It is entirely consistent, within all of Scripture, that the command to love and bring life - unconditionally - is indistinguishable from embracing the presence of God:

Ezekiel 37:9, NKJV - Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath [the Holy Spirit], ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” ’

Disclaimer: Although this commandment is clearly the greatest, it is however the most difficult. I will not pretend that this is remotely possible to observe - alone.


There are two commandments: the old commandment and the new commandment (1 Jn 2:7-8), which appear together as follows:

1 John 3:23 (NASB)
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (emphasis added)

The new commandment is related to the old commandment; that is, the old commandment and new commandment are inseparable.

1 John 2:7-8 (NASB)
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.

What is "new" is a reminder, and therefore is not new in the logical sense, but in the temporal sense. As already evident in the Epistle by James (noted below), this reminder is to love one another, since "faith alone" and "loving one another" are inseparable commandments. As is apparent in 1 John 3:23, above, the phrase "His commandment" is singular, but the predicate clause contains both believing in the name of His Son... and love one another.

For reference, here are the "new" reminders from James and John.

James 1:22 (NASB)
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

1 John 3:18 (NASB)
18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

The idea is that "faith alone" and "loving one another" are inseparable commandments.

Finally, the literal rendering of 1 John 5:2 is not to observe His commandments, but to do them. The Greek verb here is therefore is not τηρέω, which means to observe, but ποιέω, which means to do. Both verbs do occur together as appositives in Matt 23:3, but the emphasis in the Greek in this passage is not the observing (nominal sense) but the actual doing (intensive sense).

  • Thank you for the time you put into this, but I don't think you answered my question. I am wondering if there are other interpretive options. The conflict I am seeing is that John very intentionally presents "love for one another" as the external evidence of love for God, but now he almost seems to reverse that, creating a circular argument that leaves the reader wondering what evidence they can actually look at to be sure of where they are at. Hopefully that helps clarify...?
    – Jas 3.1
    Nov 10, 2014 at 2:58
  • I am not sure that I follow you - irrespective, I do not see the discussion in the narrative in John as appearing tautological. The subjective aspect ("I believe that I know God, and God knows me") must have the corresponding objective aspect (that is, others see my love for them). It is almost as if to say that you cannot have a faith that solely exists in your own mind.
    – Joseph
    Nov 10, 2014 at 14:52
  • Right, but my question is why 5:2 seems to say the opposite of that. Elsewhere he says that love for God is evidenced by love for one another, as you are explaining here, but in 5:2 he says the opposite; that we know that we love one another when we love God and keep His commandments (which he defines elsewhere as loving one another). Anyway, my question is not "can you make this fit", but "are there other interpretive options".
    – Jas 3.1
    Nov 10, 2014 at 17:25

1 John 4:20 through 5:2 taken together explain the synergy of loving one's brother (or sister) with loving God.

4:20 speaks first of the importance of loving one's brother:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

4:20-5:1 then speaks of how one must love God:

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

5:2 essentially explains why it is so important to love one's brother - called here a child of God.

Orthodox theologian Justin Popovich explained the verse as follows*:

They need to be loved because they are the children of God, i.e. because they are God-like, divine beings, bearers of divinely sacred things and values, and because they are born of God and resemble God. In loving Christ God, we love, through Him and for Him, everything in man that is divine, immortal, in the image of Christ, eternal and theanthropic. We cannot love man with true love if we do not love him for these reasons. Every other love is a pseudo-love, a so-called love, which easily changes into un-love, and into hatred towards man. True love of man develops from the love of God. The love of God develops by keeping the commandments of God. Only God gives divine powers and endurance to man to be capable of loving men, even in their sins - to love them without any sort of contempt and loathing.

* Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John the Theologian (tr. from Serbian; Sebastian Press, 2009), p.69-70


No contradiction

There are two ways that John uses the phrase "by this". Both make reference to a declarative statement that is able stand alone. (Note: All the bold and italic highlights in the quotes below are mine)

The first way is in reference to what follows the phrase, shown in the text by a colon:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:2-3

The second way is in reference to what precedes the phrase:

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:6

In this next example the sentence continues after a comma (not a colon), so the phrase 'by this' refers not to the rest of the sentence that follows, but to the preceding declarative statement:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 1 John 4:16-17

The rest of the sentence is not a declarative statement, nor does it stand alone, and so it can have no connection to the phrase 'by this'. It is a continuation of the idea, in a compound sentence joined by a comma instead of a colon.

We can write this as in the first way if we swap the connecting phrases and apply the colon, removing the extraneous phrases:

By this is love perfected with us: God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

We can then separate out the extraneous phrases in a separate sentence:

Love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world.


Therefore, the phrase 'by this' is used in 5:2 in the second way, not the first (note the lack of a colon). The phrase 'when we love God and obey his commandments' is not a declarative statement, and so has no connection to the phrase 'by this'.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 1 John 5:1-2

In this example also we can remove the extraneous phrase, then swap the connecting phrases and apply the colon so that it reads as in the first way:

By this we know that we love the children of God: everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

'When we love God and obey his commandments' describes the circumstances in which we apply this knowledge in recognising that it is the children of God that we love. It ensures that we 'do not love the world or anything of the world' (1 John 2:15). While I can't say I agree with this as consistent with Jesus' teachings, it is at least consistent with the rest of 1 John.


A significant theme of 1 John seems to be akin to that of James's epistle, that faith without works is dead. He would say that "love is what you DO" and "being righteous is what you DO" and, in the current verse we are considering, "loving the brethren is what you DO".

This may be partly why the intro refers to "that which we have seen" in the life of Christ. If you say you love God, are righteous before God or love the brethren (and cistern :o) ) but your life is not characterized by a life free from sin and demonstrably obedient to God's commands then you are only fooling yourself.

In short, John was not a Pauline. Paul's gospel is a finished work accomplished by Jesus and independent of the actions of the believer. Justification is the result of the obedience of one man, not of both Christ and the believer.

Not so the Hebrew apostles, Peter, James, John, Jude, etc.

"Rightly dividing"

The writings of Paul are different because he is uniquely the apostle for the current dispensation. The Hebrew letters are relevant to the end of the Israel-Kingdom-centric soteriology and should always be understood as speaking to a different audience from a different age.

So for Paul, and for us, faith without out works is not dead, but rather faith, alone, is life.


The verse you quote is only part of what he said; he aslo said this:-

1 John 5:3 NWT "For this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome, .."

The greatest act of lack of Love buy humans was when Adam & Eve disobyed God plunging manking into sin and death.

So the reverse of this, the greatest act of Love by humans is to obey God which will remove sin and death.

Jesus sumed this up at Mark 12:28-31! In loving God one will love others also as we cannot have one without the other!

This would undo the wickedness of Adam and Eve who rejected God and became The Devil's Children and put thier offspring in the same postion which john in 1 John shows who to put that right!

This would make a human being one of Gods children as it would bring one out of Satan's family of humans back into God's family under the lead of Jesus God's obediant Son, unlike Adam and disobediant Son.

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