“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 3:24

1 John 3:24

The section 3:11-24 (cf. the previous note on vv. 14-15) concludes with a declaration in verse 23 which is the clearest and most explicit definition on what the author means by the word e)ntolh/ (usually translated “commandment”), and it is quite different from what we typically think of by “commandment”. Consider the final statement in verse 24 (temporarily translating e)ntolh/ as “commandment”), along with the earlier one in v. 22:

“…whatever we might ask (for) we receive from Him, (in) that [i.e. because] we keep His commandments and we do the (thing)s acceptable in His sight.” (v. 22)

“And the (one) keeping His commandments remains in Him and He in him…” (v. 24)

Taking these statements out of context, one might think that the author is referring either to the directives, etc, from the Old Testament Law (Torah), or to teaching of Jesus such as that brought together in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, as I have argued in other notes and articles, a careful study of both the Gospel and the Letters shows that neither of these conventional views is correct. Indeed, here, in the intervening verse 23, we see definitively what the author (and Johannine theology) understands by the word e)ntolh/:

“And this is His e)ntolh/: that
—we should trust in the name of his Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and
—we should love (each) other”

In a technical sense, there is only one “commandment”—a two-fold command—for believers. All religious and ethical behavior stems entirely from these. It is both God the Father’s command, and Jesus’ own command; this is indicated by the structure of the verse:

    • This is His [i.e. God the Father’s] e)ntolh/
      —trust in the name of his Son…
      —love one another
    • even as he [i.e. Jesus] gave (the) en)tolh/ to us

Literally, the word e)ntolh/ refers to something (i.e. a charge/duty/mission) placed on someone to complete. In the case of Jesus himself, the e)ntolh/ he was given by the Father (i.e. the mission/duty to complete) involved his entire ministry on earth, including everything he said and did, culminating in his sacrificial death. This is made clear at a number of points in the Gospel, including his dying word on the cross (Jn 19:30): tete/lestai (“It has been completed”). For believers, the e)ntolh/ similarly involves completing the mission, etc, which Jesus gives, following his own example. This also culminates in an act (or in acts) of sacrificial love—we must be willing to lay down our own life, just as Jesus did. The reciprocal and imitative nature of this mission is indicated by Jesus’ words to his disciples after the resurrection:

“Even as the Father has se(n)t me forth, I also send you.” (20:21)

This charge, or duty, is summarized here in 1 John 3:23: (1) trust in Jesus, and (2) love for one another. The author has already discussed true love in chapters 2-3, and will begin to deal more extensively with the question of true faith/trust in chapter 4, as we shall see. Then, as now, to say that one trusts or believes in Jesus can connote many different things. Johannine theology—or, we might say, Christology—in both the Gospel and Letters begins to define trust in Jesus rather more sharply than we find elsewhere in the New Testament. Many commentators would see this development as the beginnings of early Christian orthodoxy (or proto-orthodoxy).

With this understanding of the word e)ntolh/ in mind, let us return to the closing statement in verse 24:

“And the (one) keeping/guarding His e)ntolai/ remains in Him, and He in him; and in this we know that we remain in Him—out of the Spirit which He gave to us.”

I have capitalized the ‘divine’ pronoun (He/His/Him) to distinguish it from the pronoun referring to the believer. However, there is ambiguity as to whether this pronoun refers to Jesus or God the Father, or both. Almost certainly, the latter is intended, in light of the statement by Jesus in John 14:23-24—Jesus (the Son) and God (the Father) both come to abide in the believer, through the presence of the Spirit (vv. 16-17, etc). It is hard to imagine the author of the Letter holding a different view. That the dwelling of Father and Son is through the Spirit is clear from the final words of 1 John 3:24—”…the Spirit which He gave to us”. The preposition e)k (“out of, from”) is frequently used in the Gospel and Letter to indicate source—i.e., that which comes out of God. The Spirit represents the Divine presence—both Father and Son together—and the Life which we possess as a result of this union in us.

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