Questions From Readers
● What are the “old commandment” and the “new commandment” mentioned at 1 John 2:7, 8?—U.S.A.
The 1 Joh 2 verses 7, 8 in question read: “Beloved ones, I am writing you, not a new commandment, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. This old commandment is the word which you heard. Again, I am writing you a new commandment, a fact that is true in his case and in yours, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”—1 John 2:7, 8.
Was the apostle John referring to the Mosaic law by the words “old commandment”? That could hardly be, for he was writing to Christians who were not under the Law. (Rom. 6:14) Rather, since the theme of John’s letter is love, it appears that he had reference to Jesus’ statement: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) When John wrote his first letter (c. 98 C.E.) more than sixty years had passed since Jesus, at the beginning of Christianity, gave that commandment to love. So John could appropriately say that it was an “old commandment.”
What then is the “new commandment” that John mentioned in 1 Joh 2 verse eight? It seems to be the same as that which he had just called the “old commandment.” We cannot imagine John giving Christ’s followers a truly “new” commandment, different from that which Jesus had taught. But in what sense could John call it “new”?
He could call it new just as Jesus had done. It involved being willing to surrender one’s soul in behalf of one’s brother, something the Mosaic law did not require. (John 15:12) Furthermore, it was new in the sense that fresh application of it had to be made, and with new urgency, in view of changing conditions and situations. Near the end of the first century C.E., with the apostles dying off and the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ already at work among the congregations, the Christians to whom John wrote could see the changes and could appreciate the new applications of love needed. (2 Thess. 2:6-8) Yet John was able to write them that the “new commandment” was ‘true in both Christ’s case and in yours’ because they were carrying it out in their lives, even as Jesus carried it out. In the context John showed that a Christian who does not love his brother is in darkness. It therefore appears that because of the increasing love among many of Christ’s followers John could write that ‘the darkness is passing away and the true light is shining.’
In view of the difficulty that 1 John 2:7, 8 presents, a number of modern Bible translators have freely translated the verses in line with the foregoing explanation. For example, The New English Bible reads: “Dear friends, I give you no new command. It is the old command which you always had before you; the old command is the message which you heard at the beginning. And yet again it is a new command that I am giving you—new in the sense that the darkness is passing and the real light already shines. Christ has made this true, and it is true in your own experience.” See also The Jerusalem Bible and the translations by C. B. Williams and J. Phillips.
Consequently, both the expressions, the “old commandment” and the “new commandment,” evidently refer to Jesus’ command that his followers love one another just as he loved them.