1 John 2:7-27

The old commandment. Definition of love.

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The Bible contains a wide range of information. A portion of it contains historical information to provide context, another portion contains teachings intended to encourage good behavior and warn against bad behavior, and the final portion, in my opinion, contains the most valuable information, which I refer to as foundational truths that form the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and define salvation. Most people believe that what John wrote falls into the second category of exhortations. I respectfully disagree. I believe that most, if not all, of what he wrote appears to be moral teachings but is actually definitions of salvation that contradict the gospel.


7Dear friends, 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 that you have already heard.” (1 John 2:7)

Subsequently, John let us know what the commandment is in verse 9:

9The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. 10The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11)

I’m assuming this is what John remembered Jesus say when he was still on earth:

“ ‘37Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The difference between Jesus’ and John’s love commandments was that Jesus’ were meant for the world that was still under the rule of the Old Covenant, whereas John’s were meant for Christians. They were not only aimed at different audiences, but they were also to serve different purposes.

The purpose of Jesus’ love commandment was to drive sinners to the cross. It was meant to inform them that they would not be able to love the way God expects them to.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24—KJV)

John’s love commandment aims at Christians asking them to do the very thing Jesus knew they couldn’t.


The Greek word agapao is translated as “love” in both Jesus’ and John’s love commandments. The word agapaō is used to describe the highest form of love, and it was this term that Jesus used twice to question the apostle Peter: “Peter, do you love - agapaō - me?”, Both times, Peter’s response was that he could only philéo Jesus, a type of friendship love that is not of the same quality as agapaō.

Based on their interaction, we can conclude that the distinction between agapaō and philéo must be significant. If not, why was Peter so hesitant to say that he could agapaō Jesus? Can any of us say that we can do better than Peter, that we can agapaō him?

How can John expect believers to do what Peter refused to do because he knew it was impossible? My response to John’s “old commandment” should be obvious. It is worth noting that the verb in John’s old commandment is agapaō, which is also the verb in Jesus’ original love commandment. It is intended to disprove any notion that fallen man can achieve God’s perfection.


The remainder of chapter 2 just contains general teaching on Christian living, so I’ll leave it to the individuals to study on their own. Each person can rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to live in accordance with their unique circumstances and experiences.

We must continue to emphasize that we cannot please God or maintain our relationship with him by relying on the law in any form. This is the most fundamental and important feature of the NEW COVENANT. We must recognize how easily we are tempted to return to the law. As shown in Romans 7:8-10, if obeying the law does not bring us salvation, it will not help us live out our Christian lives. Instead of looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, law-based teaching encourages us to look to ourselves to accomplish what Jesus had to die on the cross to accomplish for us.

I’m afraid John, who I assumed wrote this letter, didn’t fully comprehend the significance of the New Covenant gospel.

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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