1 John 2:25
In the previous note on 1 John 1:1-2, we examined the use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from the beginning”) in the opening words, noting the parallels with the Prologue to the Gospel (John 1:1ff). I pointed out that the “word” (lo/go$) in the first verse of the Letter (the expression “the Word of Life” [o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$]) is to be understood and carrying a dual meaning:
- the Living Word of God (identified with Jesus), and
- the word/account of Jesus (i.e. the Gospel message).
It so happens that there is a similar double-meaning to the expression “from the beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$]”, which occurs seven more times in the letter (2:7, 13-14, 24 [twice]; 3:8, 11), and twice more in 2 John 5-6. The word a)rxh/ (“beginning, first, leading”) does not appear in the Johannine letters apart from this expression.
In 2:7, which begins a section of exhortation and instruction (vv. 7-17), the author says:
“Loved (one)s, (it is) not (about something) new laid on (you) to complete (that) I write to you, but (about something) old laid on (you) to complete, which you hold from the beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$]—th(is) ‘old’ (charge) laid on (you) to complete is the word [lo/go$] which you heard.”
He goes on to write:
“(But) again, I (do) write to you (about) a new (charge) laid on (you) to complete—which is true in him and in you—(in) that the darkness is leading [i.e. passing] along and the true Light already shines.” (v. 8)
I have translated the word e)ntolh/ here in an excessively literal manner, according to its fundamental meaning, rather than with the customary “command(ment)”, which can be quite misleading in the context of the Johannine writings. We are not dealing with a specific set of religious or ethical “commands”—certainly not of the Old Testament Law (Torah), nor even a collection of Jesus’ teaching such as we find in the Sermon on the Mount. A careful reading of both the Gospel and the Letters makes clear that there are really only two commands as such: (1) trust in Jesus as the Anointed One and divine Son sent by God, and (2) love for one another, following Jesus’ example. The author states this specifically in 3:23-24.
Moreover, it is clear from vv. 9ff, that the new ‘command’ in 2:8 is the command to love one another, which Jesus gave to his disciples in Jn 13:34-35. What, then, is the old ‘command’? As the author identifies this in v. 7 with “that which you hold/held from the beginning”, we must conclude that it is essentially equivalent to the first ‘command’ in 3:23—namely, trust in Jesus Christ as God’s Son. Both of these ‘commands’—trust in Jesus and love for fellow believers—are the tests by which the author (and, we must assume, the communities/churches he represents) defines one’s identity as a true Christian. The emphasis in 2:7ff suggests that there may have been Christians in the Johannine churches, or known to them, who demonstrated a true faith in Christ but were perhaps not exhibiting true love. At any rate, this is the thrust of the exhortation (and warning) in 2:9-11.
We see, then, that in 2:7ff, the expression “from the beginning” refers not to eternity and the beginning of Creation (as in John 1:1), but rather to the beginning of believers’ trust in Jesus, and subsequent new/spiritual “birth” as children of God. In particular, the context is of the word (lo/go$) heard from the beginning, which I take to mean primarily the Gospel message (i.e. truth about Jesus), but also the presence and work of the Spirit which teaches believers the truth, and continues Jesus’ own work. In 2:13-14, this is defined in terms of knowledge of God the Father (and Jesus the Son):
“…you have known the (one) from the beginning…
This is probably best understood as “the (one who is) from the beginning”, returning to the context of John 1:1ff and 1 John 1:1-2. It is also likely that there is some wordplay involved; at least the syntax here is slightly ambiguous. What is clear, however, from the remainder of the letter, is that true knowledge is more or less synonymous with proper/correct belief in Jesus (cf. John 17:3, etc)—i.e. just what is meant in saying that he is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.
When we turn to 2:24-25, we find the author once again reflecting the language and thought of the discourses of Jesus from the Gospel (note esp. the use of the verb me/nw, “remain, abide”):
“(That) which you heard from the beginning, you must (let/have) it remain [mene/tw] in you. If (that) which you heard from the beginning should remain [mei/nh|] in you, (then) you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.” (v. 24)
The exact reference of “that which you heard from the beginning” is again somewhat ambiguous. Primarily, it refers to the Gospel message (i.e. the truth) about Jesus; yet, the use of me/nw indicates something deeper as well—the abiding presence of Jesus (the Living Word), both through the Spirit and also the love which fills and works in the believer. The association with the Spirit (as the abiding presence of Christ) is confirmed by what follows in vv. 26-27, referring to the “anointing” (xri/sma) which remains/abides in the true believer.
The author concludes the thought from v. 24 in verse 25:
“And this is the message which he presented as a message [i.e. announced] to us: the Life of the Age.”
The noun e)paggeli/a is rather difficult to translate literally in English. The fundamental meaning of the verb a)gge/llw is “give a message, report, declare”. The prefixed preposition e)pi/ is an intensive, emphasizing a message/report about something or upon a subject, etc. Used in the sense of a declaration, it can refer specifically to something one offers or promises to do. The latter connotation typically applies to the noun e)paggeli/a in the New Testament, and is often translated as “promise”. Again, it is wise to translate as literally as possible, preserving the fundamental meaning, recognizing that it can be understood here on two levels: (1) the message of the Gospel (about Jesus) given to us, and (2) what God has declared or promised to us. With regard to the latter, it is important to note that the noun e)paggeli/a (with the verb e)page/llw) is specifically associated with the Spirit in a number of passages, including Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33ff; Gal 3:14ff; Eph 1:13; cf. also Rom 9:8; Gal 4:23ff.
On the one hand, according to the traditional background of the expression “Life of the Age”, verse 25 simply asserts the (eschatological) promise of eternal life for the believer. However, as we have seen in the earlier notes in this series, the discourses of Jesus (and the Gospel as a whole), reflect a “realized” eschatology—believers experience the reality of the divine/eternal Life already in the present, through trust in Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. The author of the Letter certainly shares this basic outlook, and expresses it in his use of “Life” and “Life of the Age” elsewhere in the letter, such as in 3:14-15, the passage we will examine in the next note.