May 30: 1 John 2:15-17

1 John 2:15-17

In the final portion of 1:5-2:17, the author gives a somewhat more traditional ethical application to his contrastive light-darkness theme. The darkness (skoti/a) represents the world (o( ko/smo$)—that is, the current world-order, dominated by sin and darkness, and fundamentally opposed to God. The author will develop this motif of opposition in the “antichrist” sections, describing certain persons whom (as a group) he treats as opponents, false believers who belong to the darkness rather than the light.

There are two parts to this final ethical section in 2:12-17. First, in vv. 12-14, the author addresses his readers as a group, treating them as if they are true believers. These believers (tekni/a) collectively are divided into two groups—older men (“fathers,” pate/re$) and younger ones (“young [men],” neani/skoi). Formally, the author uses a three-fold address, given twice:

    • “I write to you, little children [tekni/a]
      (in) that [o%ti] the sins have been taken away for you through his name” (v. 12)

      • “I write to you, fathers [pate/re$]
        (in) that [o%ti] you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (v. 13a)

        • “I write to you, young men [neani/skoi]
          (in) that [o%ti] you have been victorious (over) the evil (one)” (v. 13b)
    • “I wrote to you, (dear) little children [paidi/a]
      (in) that [o%ti] you have known the Father” (v. 13c)

      • “I wrote to you, fathers [pate/re$]
        (in) that [o%ti] you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (v. 14a)

        • “I wrote to you, young men [neani/skoi]
          (in) that [o%ti] you are strong, and the word [lo/go$] of God remains in you, and you have been victorious (over) the evil (one)” (v. 14b)

This semi-repetitive wording is a bit peculiar, but altogether typical of Johannine style. The author addresses all the believers, collectively, as tekni/a, a diminutive form of te/kna (“offspring, children”), a distinctly Johannine way of referring to believers as the offspring/children of God; in v. 13c the plural paidi/a (“little children”) is used, with identical meaning. Two characteristics of believers (i.e., all true believers) are given:

    • their sins have been removed through Jesus’ name
    • they have known the Father

Within these basic parameters, there are the following characteristics, broken down according to the older-younger division, but which essentially still apply to all believers:

    • they have known the (one who is) from the beginning (a)p’ a)rxh=$)
    • they have been victorious [vb nika/w] over the evil (one)

The two attributes are closely related, with the second following as a natural consequence of the first. In the Johannine theological idiom, knowing the one who is “from the beginning” means having genuine trust in Jesus, recognizing him as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. This trust leads to victory over the evil and darkness of the world (“the evil”) and its Chief, the Devil (“the evil one”); there is an obvious echo of Jesus’ climactic declaration in the Last Discourse (16:33; cf. also 12:31; 16:11). Like Jesus, believers also are victorious over the world, through their/our trust in him (1 Jn 5:4-5). The additional information given in v. 14b helps to explain how this victory is realized and achieved:

    • “you are strong
      and the word [lo/go$] of God remains in you”

The use of the noun lo/go$ along with the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) alludes to the prologue (1:1), and the special Christological significance of this language. As I have discussed, there is an indirect allusion to the Spirit in the prologue, one that is more explicit and clearly  expressed here. The living Word (lo/go$) of God that “remains” in the believer refers to the spiritual presence of the Son (Jesus), being present through the Spirit. This is the idea expressed in 4:4, indicating that the Spirit—and the Son’s presence through the Spirit—is the source of believers’ victory over the world.

After affirming the identity of his readers as true believers, the author gives a warning to them regarding the darkness of “the world” (o( ko/smo$). If they heed this warning, then his readers will demonstrate that, indeed, they are true believers; if they fail the test, then they will make clear that the are “walking about” in the darkness, and are false believers, not true. The warning is simple enough:

“You must not love the world, nor the (thing)s in the world.” (v. 15a)

Here, the word ko/smo$ (“world-order”) carries the strong negative meaning that we see throughout the Johannine writings; cp. this with the more general, neutral sense in, e.g., Jn 3:16, where the idiom of ‘loving the world’ means something quite different in context.

Here in vv. 15ff it is possible to understanding love for the world in two related ways:

    • In the neutral-negative sense of the ordinary components of human daily life (bi/o$, cf. below) and society; when these are loved over and against love of God, such love is evil and to be condemned. The statement by the Gospel writer in 12:43 is a good example of this aspect.
    • In the evil-negative sense of that which is actively opposed and hostile to God. Jesus touches upon this stronger, dualistic aspect in Jn 3:19, where the same light-darkness contrast is employed: “men loved the darkness more than the light”. Cf. also 5:42; 8:42.

In both instances, the negative meaning of ko/smo$—the current world-order and its darkness—is related to a failure (and/or unwillingness) of people to trust in Jesus. The wording of v. 15b, and the thought it expresses, is close to Jesus’ statement in 5:42:

    • “But I have known you, that you do not hold the love of God in yourselves” (Jn 5:42)
    • “If anyone should love the world, (then) the love of the Father is not in him” (v. 15b)

The love of God, abiding within a person, refers principally to one’s trust in Jesus, and the abiding presence of Father and Son (through the Spirit) that results. As I have discussed, in the Johannine theological idiom, sin is understood primarily in terms of failure/unwillingness to trust in Jesus; however, this does not mean that the author denies or disregards the more conventional ethical-religious aspect(s) of sin (cf. 1:7-2:2). Indeed, here in verse 16, the author frames the negative aspect of ‘love for the world’ in traditional ethical terms:

“(for it is) that every(thing) th(at is) in the world—the impulse of the flesh for (things), the impulse of the eyes for (them), the boasting of (one’s) life [bi/o$] (in the world)—(does not come) out of the Father, but out of the world (itself).”

The noun e)piqumi/a means, literally, “(the) impulse [qumo/$] upon [e)pi] (something)”; in English, the idiom would be “set one’s heart (or mind) upon (something)”. In a negative, ethical sense, e)piqumi/a connotes an impulse toward something that is unlawful or sinful. Paul uses the word frequently in his letters (19 times [including 6 in the Pastorals], half of all NT occurrences); it is also relatively common in the Petrine letters (8 times), and cf. also James 1:14-15; Jude 16, 18. It is extremely rare in the Gospels, and is used, in this ethical sense, only in Mark 4:19. The expression “e)piqumi/a of the flesh” more or less corresponds to Paul’s concept of the “flesh” (sa/rc) as the aspect of the human being, which, even after coming to trust in Jesus, is still subject to the impulse toward sin. Even believers experience such impulses, which can lead to sin—where sin is defined in the conventional sense of occasional moral or religious failures. Sometimes what a person sees, in the world, will prompt a worldly/sinful impulse—thus the added expression “e)piqumi/a of the eyes”.

In the Johannine writings, the noun zwh/ (“life”) always is used in the theological sense of Divine/Eternal Life. Here, the world bi/o$ refers to “life” in the sense of a human life (of a certain length and circumstances) lived in the world. The “boasting” of such a life suggests that a person takes delight in worldly riches and honor; in such a way, ‘loving the world’ reflects a mindset that is opposed to God, and will lead one to reject Jesus, even as the Gospel writer describes in 12:43.

Finally, the author reminds his readers that the current world-order (ko/smo$) is only temporary, and will soon pass away (vb para/gw). This is a common thought expressed by early Christians, and is very much tied to the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers. Paul says something quite comparable in 1 Corinthians 7:31. By concluding 1:5-2:17 on this note, the author anticipates the eschatological emphasis of the “antichrist” section that follows in vv. 18-27.

Notes on Prayer: Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:28, 35

After a short hiatus this Spring, the Monday Notes on Prayer feature returns. This week I offer a short discussion on prayer for one’s enemies, in light of the past Sunday Psalm Study on Psalm 72. In that particular Psalm, the poet presents a prayer to God on behalf of the king. In the opening verse, YHWH is asked to give sound judgment and right decision-making to the Israelite king, so that the king’s reign will be peaceful and prosperous, characterized by justice and righteousness, especially on behalf of the poor and oppressed in society.

I have to wonder how many Christians today actually pray for the nation’s leaders and governing officials, in a similar way, asking that God might grant to them wisdom and sound judgment. In the vicious partisan climate of modern politics—which characterizes the darkness of the world, and not the light of God—it is much easier to speak ill of people in positions of government, mocking and berating them. The tendency (and temptation) to respond in such a way is all the greater when the governing officials hold views and positions that are opposite to those which we, as Christians, might hold. In that regard, the nation’s leaders could be considered opponents, or enemies, and one might well be inclined to speak ill or evil of them. But this is not the way of Christ, who taught his disciples to pray, even for their enemies—on behalf of all those who might be hostile to them.

Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28, 35

Jesus’ clearest sayings in this regard are found in the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’, and the parallel Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ —that is, part of the so-called “Q” material. In the Sermon on the Mount, the sayings occur within the “Antitheses” of 5:21-47, so-called because of the way that Jesus contrasts a customary/traditional saying with his own teaching—e)gw\ de\ le/gw u(mi=n (“but I say to you…”). Jesus’ argument differs in each Antithesis; the customary saying may reflect a distortion of the original meaning and intent of the Law, or he may argue that simply following the letter of the Law is insufficient. The six Antitheses may be divided as follows:

    1. On murder/anger (vv. 21-26)
    2. On adultery/lust (vv. 27-30)
    3. On divorce (vv. 31-32)
    4. On swearing (an oath) (vv. 33-37)
    5. On revenge/retaliation (vv. 38-42)
    6. On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

The sayings in question are part of the six and final Antithesis, on showing love toward one’s enemies.

On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

    • Customary saying:
      “you shall love your neighbor [lit. the one near] and (you shall) hate your enemy [lit. the one hostile]” (v. 43)

    • Jesus’ saying:
      “love your enemies and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the ones pursuing [i.e. persecuting] you” (v. 44)

Relation to the Law:

The saying is extracted from Leviticus 19:18 [LXX], a verse frequently cited in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:9, cf. below); however here the phrase “as yourself” (w($ seauto/n) is not included as part of the citation, presumably to better fit the second part of the saying. The second half of the saying does not come from the Old Testament Scripture at all, but should be regarded as a customary and natural (logical) extension—if one should love one’s friends and neighbors, the opposite would seem to follow: that we should hate our enemies. For the principle expressed in ethical-philosophical terms, see e.g., the Delphic aphorism (“to friends be of good mind [i.e. be kind], with enemies keep [them] away [i.e. defend against, ward off]”) and the famous maxim in Xenophon Mem. 2.6.35 etc. (“a man is virtuous [on the one hand] in prevailing [over] friends in doing good, and [on the other] [over] enemies in [doing] ill”).

Jesus’ Exposition:

Jesus flatly contradicts the conventional wisdom, commanding his disciples instead to love one’s enemies and to pray to God on their behalf. This relates both to personal enemies and to those who persecute [lit. pursue] Jesus’ followers (cf. in the Beatitudes, vv. 10-12). Of all Jesus’ statements in the Antitheses, this represents the most distinctive Christian teaching, and the one which is perhaps most difficult to follow. As in most of the other Antitheses (see above), Jesus extends the Torah command and gives it a deeper meaning—in addition to loving one’s friends and relatives, one must also love one’s enemies.


As the basis for this command, Jesus cites as an example (verse 45) God the Father himself who:

    • makes the sun to rise upon the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people alike
    • sends the rain upon the ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ people alike

In some ways this is a curious example, drawing from simple observance of natural phenomena, apart from any ethical or religious considerations—for certainly, we see many instances in Scripture where God brings evil and judgment against wicked/unjust people. However, the emphasis here is on the more fundamental nature of God as Creator—giver and preserver of life.

Verses 46-47 provide a clearer application of Jesus’ teaching, and is parallel to the statement in verse 20. The so-called “love command”, with its extension even to one’s enemies, proved to have immense influence in subsequent Christian teaching, even if the force of it was sometimes softened—cf. Rom 12:19-21 (citing Prov 25:21-22). In Galatians 5:14 Paul refers to the love-command (as represented by Lev 19:18) as “all the Law fulfilled in one word”. There are various forms of Jesus’ saying in verse 44 preserved elsewhere in early Christian writings, which may reflect independent transmission: Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14; Didache 1:3; 2 Clement 13:4; Justin Martyr First Apology 15.9; Athenagoras’ Plea for Christians 11.1; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus 3:14; cf. also 1 Corinthians 4:12; Justin Dialogue 35:8; 85:7; 96:3; Clementine Homilies 12:32.

Ultimately the purpose (and result) of following Jesus’ teaching is stated in verse 45a:

“how that [i.e. so that] you may come to be sons [i.e. children] of your Father in the heavens”

This demonstrates a clear connection with the language and imagery of the Beatitudes (esp. v. 9); by following God’s own example (in Christ), we come to be like him—the same idea which concludes the Antitheses in verse 48.

The Lukan Version

In the Lukan version of this material, the contiguous sayings of Matt 5:44-45 are shown to be two separate and distinct sayings. That corresponding to v. 44 is found at Lk 6:27-28:

“But I say to the (one)s hearing (me): ‘Love your enemies, do good [kalw=$ poiei=te] to the (one)s hating you, give good account of [i.e. speak well of, bless] the (one)s bringing down a curse on you, (and) speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the (one)s (hurl)ing insults upon you‘.”

The portions in bold match the shorter Matthean saying, the only difference being that, instead of praying for those who persecute (lit. pursue [after]) them, Jesus’ disciples are to pray for those who “hurl insults upon (them)” (vb e)phrea/zw). However, since e)phrea/zw can also connote putting forth threats against a person, the two versions of the saying may not really differ all that much.

However, the Lukan saying is more extensive, citing four kinds of hostile acts (instead of two in Matthew), thus placing even greater emphasis on the disciples responding with love, and the challenge that is involved in doing so. No matter how such people mistreat us or act as our enemies, we, as believers in Christ, must not respond in a like manner, but instead do good to them and pray for them.

The saying corresponding to Matt 5:45 occurs at Lk 6:35, which includes a separate (second) command to love one’s enemies:

“(But) all the more you must love your enemies, and do good [a)gaqopoiei=te], and lend (to them) without expecting (anything) back from (them)—and (then) your wage [i.e. reward] will be much, and you will be sons of (the) Highest…”

May 29: 1 John 2:8-11

 1 John 2:8-11

The contrastive light-darkness theme in 1:5-2:2 is further developed in the next subsection (2:3-11). Again, the principal point of the contrast is to demonstrate the difference between true and false believers. Two points are made about the false believers in 1:5-2:2:

    • They claim to have union (lit. common-bond, koinwni/a) with God, and yet “walk about” in the darkness (of the world), rather than the light of God (1:6-7)
    • They claim to be without sin, failing to acknowledge the existence/reality of their sin, without which it cannot be removed/cleansed by the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”) (1:8-2:2)

In all probability, the author is aiming these comments specifically at the opponents he mentions in the “antichrist” passages of 2:18-27; 4:1-6. As discussed in the previous note, the ethical-religious orientation of the idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) refers primarily to the great dual-commandment in 3:23-24. That is to say, whether one “walks about” in light or in darkness depends on whether one is obedient to the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is placed upon believers. Here in 2:3-11 it becomes clear that this, indeed, is the author’s focus and point of reference.

As he states in verse 3, the true believer is one who keeps the e)ntolai/:

“And in this we know that we have known Him: if we keep/guard [vb thre/w] His e)ntolai.”

The noun e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, but more properly refers to a duty that is placed upon a person to complete. In the Johannine Gospel it refers specifically to the duty/mission which God the Father gave the Son (Jesus) to complete on earth (10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; cf. 19:30). However, in the Last Discourse, the focus shifts to the duty which falls upon the disciples (believers), according to the instruction which the Son, in turn, gives to them (13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10-12, 14, 17); principally, this refers to the duty to love one another, following the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love.

This Johannine usage informs completely the use of e)ntolh/ in 1 John, the only real difference being that there is an expanded emphasis that encompasses both components of the great dual-e)ntolh/ (as defined in 3:23-24): (a) trust in Jesus as the Son of God (according to the truth), and (b) love for one another, according to Jesus’ own example. In the Johannine writings, the noun can be used in the singular (e)ntolh/) or plural (e)ntolai/), interchangeably, with no apparent difference in meaning. This is, perhaps, best explained by the fact that the great two-fold duty (of trust and love) can be viewed as either one command or as two.

The similarity of expression between verse 4 and the earlier declarations in 1:6 and 8 would seem to make clear that, for the author of 1 John, sin (= “walking in darkness”) is defined principally in terms of violating the great dual-e)ntolh/:

“The (one) saying that ‘I have known Him,’ and (yet) not keeping His e)ntolai/, is a liar [yeu/sth$], and the truth is not in him”

In other words, the one who does not fulfill the great two-fold duty (3:23-24), required of every believer, is not a true believer. Such a person, indeed, sins most egregiously, even if they would think themselves otherwise to be without sin (1:8-2:2). This is an understanding of sin (a(marti/a [vb a(marta/nw]) that is quite different from how the world typically understands it (cf. the earlier note on Jn 16:9).

True believers complete the duty (to love), demonstrating that they are truly united with God, and so God’s own love is completed [tetelei/wtai] in them (v. 5). And, in so doing, the believer is following (“walking about” according to) Jesus’ own example (v. 6; Jn 13:34; 15:12ff). The author makes clear that this duty is nothing new, but corresponds to what believers have held (as their duty) from the beginning (v. 7).

The use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), along with the noun lo/go$ (“word”), is a direct echo of the prologue (1:1). As I have previously discussed, there is a dual meaning to this wording. Primarily it is Christological, referring to Jesus as Son who was with God “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1ff); secondarily, it is evangelistic, referring to the message about Jesus, going back to the “beginning” —the time of first disciples and the earthly ministry of Jesus.

To say that true believers hold (vb e&xw) this lo/go$ “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$) has a similar two-fold meaning: (1) they have the living Word abiding in them (through the Spirit), and (2) they receive and accept the historical Gospel Tradition about the Word, preserved and transmitted from the first disciples.

The only way that one can speak of this duty for believers as being “new” is in the eschatological context of the light-darkness contrast (v. 8). The mission of Jesus (the Son), culminating in his exaltation and return to the Father, marks the beginning of a New Age. This is a view held by virtually all first-century Christians. The coming of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the eschatological expectation, implementing a “new covenant” for God’s people (believers). The Johannine writings evince a particularly strong sense of ‘realized’ eschatology—meaning that, for believers, the future events of the end-time are realized in the present, through the Spirit. This sense is expressed here in verse 8:

“…the darkness has led (itself) along [i.e. has passed along], and the true light already shines”

Though the world remains under the dominion of darkness and evil, this is not so for believers, who already experience the reality of Jesus’ victory over the world (Jn 16:33).

The general ethical language of 1:6-7 is now made more precise, with the idiom of “walking about” in the darkness defined specifically in terms of a false believer who hates (vb mise/w) his “brother” (i.e., another believer):

“The (one) counting (himself) to be in the light, and (yet) hating his brother, is (actually) in the darkness until now.” (v. 9)

This clearly refers to a false believer (cf. the use of yeu/sth$ in v. 4), who considers him/herself to be “in the light” and yet is actually “in the darkness” (and has been so all this time “until now”). The author further explains that “hate” really means a lack of love, a failure to show love; this is the opposite of what characterizes the true believer:

“The (one) loving his brother remains [me/nei] in the light, and there is not (any thing) in him tripping (him up);” (v. 10)

As throughout the Johannine writings, the verb me/nw (“remain”) has special theological (and Christological) significance. It refers to the abiding presence of God the Father (and the Son) in the believer, and of the believer in the Father (and Son); this abiding union is spiritual, being realized through the presence of the Spirit. In contrast, there is no such abiding for the false believer; rather, he/she is simply lost in the darkness, wandering about blindly:

“but the (one) hating his brother is in the darkness, and walks about [peripatei=] in the darkness, and has not seen where he leads (himself), (in) that the darkness (has) blinded his eyes.” (v. 11)

The language and imagery in this verse echoes the words of Jesus in Jn 12:35 (cf. the discussion in the prior note). The motif of blindness is a natural extension of the Johannine sight/seeing theme, and also features prominently in the Gospel (chap. 9), drawing upon historical tradition(s) regarding Jesus’ healing miracles (cf. Mk 8:22-23; 10:46ff pars; Matt 11:5 par; 12:22; 15:30-31; Lk 4:18).

The false believer is thus one who fails to show proper love to other believers; in this way, he/she may be said to “hate” them. This way of framing the matter is crucial to the author’s rhetorical purpose and strategy, especially when he comes to deal with the ‘opponents,’ and the crisis (within the Community) which he feels compelled to address. However, it is noteworthy that, here in the opening section (1:5-2:17), he couches his introduction to the crisis within a more general ethical-religious instruction. In the next daily note, I will explore this aspect a bit further, looking at his instruction to believers, regarding the world (o( ko/smo$), vv. 15-17.


Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 72 (Part 1)

Psalm 72

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is a prayer for YHWH’s blessing on the king. Many of the Psalms evince a royal background, but this is one of the few that is clearly focused on the Israelite/Judean king. Needless to say, in its original form it must be pre-exilic in date, having been composed during the Kingdom-period. The heading reads hm)l)v=l!, similar to the designation dw]d*l=, etc. In the Davidic references, the prefixed –l preposition presumably indicates authorship (i.e., “[belonging] to David”); however, the context here suggests that the word-phrase should be rendered “for Solomon”, or “(relating) to Solomon”. If the Psalm was composed within Solomon’s royal court, then the prayer-wish of the composition may indeed have been intended for (i.e. on behalf of) Solomon. If it was written somewhat later in the Kingdom-period, then the prosperous and relatively peaceful reign of Solomon would be serving as the ideal for future kings. The Israelite Kingdom reached its pinnacle during Solomon’s reign, and a natural prayer for every subsequent royal court would be that those glory days might return again.

The Psalm may be divided into two parts. In the first part (vv. 1-11), the Psalmist calls on YHWH (unconditionally) to establish a peaceful and prosperous reign for the king; the cosmic dimensions of this idealized vision alludes to the Israelite kingdom at its peak (under Solomon). It is natural that, with the exile and the end of the Judean kingdom, this vision would be given a Messianic and eschatological orientation.

In the second part (vv. 12-19), the prayer is framed in conditional terms. If the king rules with justice, then YHWH will give him a long and prosperous reign, establishing a royal dynasty of rulers among his descendants.

The meter of Psalm 72 is irregular, but tends to be more consistent within the smaller poetic units (cf. below)


The first part of the Psalm can be divided into three smaller units—vv. 1-4, 5-7, and 8-11.

Verse 1

“O Mightiest, give your just (ruling)s to (the) king,
and your right (decision)s to (the) son of (the) king.”

In this opening couplet, the prayer is that YHWH (referred to by the <yh!l)a$ of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms) will give to the king a divinely inspired (or endowed) ability to judge, acting with justice and making decisions with sound judgment. The second person suffix (;-, “your”) on the plural nouns <yf!P*v=m! and toqd=x! shows that the Psalmist is describing Divine attributes, characteristics of YHWH Himself (as King and Judge), which would be given to the Israelite king so that he might rule in a manner that reflects God’s own justice and righteousness. The plural noun forms are a bit difficult to translate. The noun fP*v=m!, “judgment”, refers to a just decision made as part of the governmental (and/or judicial) process. The feminine noun hq*d*x=, usually translated “righteousness”, has a similar meaning; the related noun qd#x# refers to “right(eous)ness” in a more general sense. The plural, unless it is meant comprehensively, should be understood in terms of “right decisions” or “right rulings”.

The prayer extends to the king’s son—that is, to the prince and future ruler. This anticipates the conditional prayer-wish for a royal dynastic line, in the second part of the Psalm (v. 17).

Verse 2

“He shall judge your people with rightness,
and your oppressed (one)s with justice.”

Again, the roots qdx and fpv are paired in this couplet, referring to the action of the king in ruling. The prayer is that he will faithfully exercise the gift (of right/sound judgment) given to him by YHWH (v. 1). Here, the act of judging is expressed by the verb /yD! which is quite close in meaning to fp^v*. I have translated the noun qd#x# in its basic meaning as “rightness”, and fP*v=m! correspondingly as “justice”. The imperfect verb form here (and throughout the first part of the Psalm), could perhaps be translated as jussives, i.e., “may he judge…”; this certainly would reflect the precative prayer-wish tone of the Psalm.

As often in the Psalms, the righteous ones of God’s people are characterized as poor and oppressed, often using the yn]u*. However, here the emphasis is better understood as being on the aspect of social-justice—i.e., that the king would judge/rule rightly, especially (and all the more so) on behalf of the poor and oppressed.

The concision of this couplet (3+2) reflects the directness of the justice by which the king should rule, simply and fairly.

Verse 3

“May (the) mountains lift (up) wholeness to the people,
and (the) hills (rise) with rightness.”

There is a certain parallelism—formal and thematic—between verse 3 and verse 1 (cf. above). It has essentially the same irregular (4+2) meter, which could be parsed as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, except that doing so would disrupt the poetic syntax. It also expresses the idea of the Divine source of justice/right(eous)ness. The mountains/hills, in their majesty and exaltation, are traditional symbols of deity; more specifically, in the Canaanite religious/mythic tradition, shared by ancient Israel, the High Creator God (El-YHWH) dwelt upon a great cosmic mountain. This cosmic mountain could be identified, symbolically and ritually, with any number of local mountains or hills.

In order to match the imperative (“give…!”) in verse 1, I have translated the imperfect verb form here as a jussive (cf. above). The Psalmist’s prayer is that the entire land would be filled with justice and righteousness. The mountains are called upon, as servants of YHWH, to “lift up” <olv* to the people. The noun <olv* is typically translated “peace”, and that would certainly not be inappropriate here. However, the word more properly means “completion, fulfillment,” often in the basic sense of welfare or well-being. I have translated it above as “wholeness”.

Just as the mountains “lift up” peace and well-being, so also the hills ‘rise’ with righteousness (hqd*x=). Assuming that the prefixed –B= on hq*d*x= is correct, i.e., “in/with right(eous)ness,” one should perhaps understand an implicit verb in the second line; I have opted for the idea of the hills rising, which would match the concept of the mountains “lifting up”.

Verse 4

“He shall judge (for the) oppressed of (the) people,
he shall bring safety to (the) sons of (the) needy,
and shall crush (the one) pressing (them).”

Just as verse 3 is parallel to verse 1 (cf. above), so verse 4 is parallel to verse 2; and it allows us to view vv. 1-4 as a poetic unit within the first part of the Psalm. The meter is similar—a 3+2 couplet in v. 2, and a 3+3+2 tricolon in v. 4. Thematically, the verses also express comparable ideas, similar prayer-wishes by the Psalmist. The reference is to the act of judging by the king; here the verb is fp^v*, parallel to /yD! in v. 2. He will provide justice on behalf of the oppressed (adj. yn]u*, as in v. 2).

Frequently, in the Psalms, the adjective yn]u* is paired with /oyb=a# (“needy”), as it is here; cf. 9:19; 12:6; 35:10; 37:14; 40:18; 70:6, etc. The righteous are typically characterized as oppressed and needy, experiencing oppression from the wicked. If the righteous are oppressed, being pressed down (yn]u*), the one doing the pressing is referred to here by the participle qv@ou (vb qv^u*). In establishing justice for the poor and oppressed, the king will “crush” (vb ak*D*) their oppressor.

Verse 5

“May he (live) <long> with (the) sun,
and by (the) turning of (the) moon,
(each) cycle, (for) cycles (to come).”

The rhythmic shift, to a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, indicates that v. 5 marks a new poetic unit in this part of the Psalm. Thematically, also there is a shift to an emphasis on the length of the king’s reign. The first word in the MT is ;War*yy], “they shall fear you” (or “may they fear you”); however, the context strongly favors the reading of the LXX (sumparamenei=, “he shall remain along with”), which would seem to require emending the Hebrew to read ;yr!a&y~w+, “and he shall make long (his days)” (i.e., live long), or perhaps, alternately, Wkyr!a&y~w+, “they [i.e. his days] shall be long”. Many commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 75; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 203) support such an emendation, and it seems to be both warranted and well-founded. The king’s long life (and reign) will follow the sun and the moon (in its turnings), for many cycles (<yr!oD)—that is, for many months and years.

Verse 6

“He shall come down as rain upon (the) cut grass,
as abundant (shower)s dropping (on the) earth.”

The nature-imagery of v. 5 continues here in v. 6. From the length of the king’s reign, the focus shifts to its prosperity. The king shall bring prosperity to the land, just like the rain coming down on the grass, and the many drops of rain falling upon the ground. The noun zG@ refers to grass that is cut, which would indicate land that has been cultivated.

The meaning of [yz]r=z~ in the second line remains rather uncertain. It is usually understood as a verbal noun from the root [rz, which occurs only here in the Old Testament. Comparison with Aramaic and Arabic suggests a meaning of “drip, drop”, and this would seem to be confirmed by the LXX (sta/zousai, “dripping”). However, it is also possible that [rz is a variant form of brz, occurring in Job 6:17, where it refers to the ground drying up in the heat. If that is the sense here, then the second line would describe an abundance of rain upon the hot/dry ground. Cf. Dahood, II, p. 181.

Verse 7

“Righteous(ness) shall sprout forth in his days,
and abundance of wholeness,
until (the) failing of (the) moon.”

The just rule of the king will cause righteousness to sprout (vb jr^P*) from the watered ground (v. 6). The adjective qyd!x* in the Psalms typically characterizes the righteous person; however, the overall context here, as well as the parallel with <olv* in the second line, suggests the more general meaning of righteousness (i.e., that which is right). As in verse 3 (cf. above), qdx is paired with the root <lv; in both instances, I translate the noun <olv* as “wholeness”, in the basic sense of welfare and well-being for the people; the typical translation is “peace,” and that idea is certainly to be included as well.

The prosperity and justice/righteousness of the king’s reign shall last as long as the moon continues to give its light, reprising the imagery from v. 5. Indeed, we should regard vv. 5-7 as a distinct poetic unit within vv. 1-11.

Verse 8

“And may he rule (powerfully) from sea unto sea,
and from the River unto (the) ends of (the) earth.”

In verses 8-11, the third poetic unit of the first part of the Psalm, the emphasis is on the extent of the king’s rule. Whether or not the Psalm refers specifically to Solomon, the geographical extent of Solomon’s reign is certainly in view. However, as would be appropriate in a royal Psalm or hymn, the king’s reign is here extolled in even grander, cosmic terms—with the expressions “from sea to sea” and “unto the ends of the earth”. The active rule of the king is expressed by the verb hd*r*, which can carry the specific idea of stepping/treading upon a territory, so as to claim dominion over it as one’s own.

Again, there is a rhythmic shift at verse 8, to the more common Psalm-format of the 3-beat (3+3) couplet.

Verse 9

“Before his face shall bow (the) desert-dwellers,
and (those) hostile to him shall lick the dust.”

All people shall pay homage to the king, bowing (vb ur^K*) before him. This includes rough foreigners from the desert regions. Beyond this, all those who would be hostile to him, enemies of the king, will be forced to abase themselves, licking the dust in acknowledgement of his rule.

Verse 10

“(The) kings of Taršîš and (the) islands
shall return gift(s to him),
(the) kings of Šeba’ and Seba’
shall bring near fine gift(s).”

After the two 3-beat couplets of vv. 8-9, verse 10 consists of a pair of (parallel) 3+2 couplets. The gifts presented to the king are tributary in nature (specialized meanings of both hj*n+m! and rK*v=a#), recognizing the sovereignty (and superior position) of the Israelite kingdom. This certainly would have been the case, in many instances, during the reign of Solomon, where surrounding territories and kingdoms would have had vassal-status in relation to Israel.

Tarshish refers to the commercial/trading power of Phoenicia and the city-state of Tyre, with whom Israel (especially in the reign of Solomon) had strong ties. Similarly, the “islands” represents the commerce and trade that took place throughout the Mediterranean. The names Sheba’ and Saba’ refer to peoples and kingdoms to the (south)east, in Arabia.

Verse 11

“Indeed, all kings shall bow in homage to him,
(and) all nations shall give service to him!”

The grandiose vision of the Israelite king’s prestige, and the superior position of his kingdom, is expressed bluntly in this final couplet.

Again, it should be mentioned that virtually all of the imperfect verb forms in vv. 1-11 can be treated (and translated) as jussives—i.e., “may he…,” “let him…”. I have so translated the first such instance in each unit.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

Saturday Series: Acts 1:1-2ff

After a brief hiatus this Spring, the Saturday Series returns. Beginning here with the weekend of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of studies dealing with some important critical issues in the Book of Acts, focusing especially on passages dealing with the Holy Spirit.

One cannot conduct a critical analysis of the Book of Acts without having to grapple with the two different versions, or recensions, that exist for this work. On the one hand, there is the Majority version, reflected in most critical editions of the Greek text, as well as nearly all English translations. The Majority version, in its ancient form, is represented by the Papyri 45 and 74 (Ë45 Ë74), the uncial manuscripts a A B C Y, and the minuscules 33 81 104 326 1175. It is typically referred to as the Alexandrian version. Then, on the other hand, there is the minority or ‘Western’ version, represented principally by the Codex Bezae (D), the fragmentary Papyri Ë29 Ë38 Ë48, the Old Latin MS h, the marked/marginal readings of the Harclean Syriac version, and by quotations in the Latin authors Cyprian and Augustine. For a good introduction, see Metzger, pp. 222-236.

Acts 1:1-2ff

As an example of the different recensions of the text of Acts, we can consider the prologue/introduction in 1:1-5. There is no real difference in the opening verse, but there are noticeable differences in verse 2. Here is a translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, as reprented by the Nestle-Aland (NA) critical text:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], he was taken up

Here is the Greek of verse 2 (including transliteration):

a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$ e)nteila/meno$ toi=$ a)posto/loi$ dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou ou^$ e)cele/cato a)nelh/mfqh
áchri h¢¡s h¢méras enteilámenos toís apostólois diá pneúmatos hagíou hoús exeléxato anel¢¡mphth¢

Now, here is a translation of vv. 1-2 in the Codex Bezae (D):

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message

The points of difference with the Alexandrian/Majority version are indicated in italics above: (1) the verb form a)nelh/mfqh (anel¢¡mphth¢, “he was taken up”) occurs at an earlier point in the verse, making for a somewhat smoother syntax, and (2) the inclusion of an additional clause:

kai\ e)ke/leuse khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
kaí ekéleuse k¢rýssein tó euangélion
“and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

Both of the points of difference can be explained as improvements to the text, and thus would argue in favor of the Alexandrian version as being more original (based on the principle lectio difficilor potior, “the more difficult reading is to be preferred”). As mentioned above, the placement of “he was taken up” (anel¢¡mphth¢) in that earlier position makes for a smoother (and less awkward) syntax. As for the additional clause, it serves to clarify the charge/duty Jesus laid on the disciples (vb entéllomai)—namely, that it was to proclaim the Gospel. While this, of course, is central to the narrative of Acts (Acts 1:8; see Lk 24:47), it is worth noting that the noun euaggélion (“good message,” i.e. Gospel) is actually quite rare in Luke-Acts, never being used in the Gospel of Luke and only twice in Acts (15:7; 20:24); see Fitzmyer, p. 197. These factors tend to confirm the secondary character of the ‘Western’ version.

In several ‘Western’ witnesses (gig, quotations in Augustine and Vigilius), there is no reference to the ascension of Jesus in v. 2, with the Latin equivalent of anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) being absent (or omitted). It is possible that the word was omitted to avoid any possible contradiction with Luke 24:51, where it seems that Jesus ascends on the same day as his resurrection appearance. As it happens, the words kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón (“and he was carried up into the heaven”) are also absent from some key Western manuscripts (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac); the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*). For further discussion on this particular textual issue, see my earlier article “Where Did Jesus Go? Critical Notes on the Ascension”.

Several scholars (e.g., F. Blass, J. H. Ropes) have, in the past, attempted to reconstruct an original Greek version that underlies the Latin variants of the ‘Western’ text of verse 2. The following has been proposed (see Metzger, p. 238):

e)n th=| h(me/ra| tou\$ a)posto/lou$ e)cele/cato dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou kai\ e)ke/leusen khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
“…on the day (when) he gathered out [i.e. chose] the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] through the holy Spirit, and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

In many ways, this syntax is far superior to that of the Alexandrian/Majority version, being much clearer and more straightforward. In this case, the phrase “through the holy Spirit” refers to Jesus’ choosing of the apostles, rather than his instruction of them. The place of the same phrase in the Alexandrian/Majority version is less clear. Given the thematic role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts, we would perhaps expect that the phrase is to be connected here specifically with the verb entéllomai, and the duty/mission of the apostles (to preach the Gospel), i.e., “(hav)ing laid on (them) a duty to complete…through the holy Spirit” (see verse 8).

The textual and syntactical issues surrounding verse 2 are further complicated by the fact that verses 1-5 essentially read as a single long sentence (compare the Gospel prologue, 1:1-4). The placement of the verb anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) at an earlier point in the verse certainly helps to alleviate the cumbersome syntax. Below, I continue the translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, but with the ‘Western’ modification of the repositioned anel¢¡mphth¢:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], 3to whom also he stood [i.e. presented] himself alongside, living, after his suffering, with many (sure) marks, (hav)ing been seen by them through(out) forty days, and giving account (of) the (thing)s about the kingdom of God; 4and, being gathered with (them), he gave along a message to them (that they were) not to make space away from Yerushalaim, but (were) to “remain about (for) the announced (promise) of the Father, which you (have) heard of [i.e. from] me, 5(how) that Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit (after) not many (of) these days”.

Most English translations naturally break up vv. 1-5 into a number of shorter sentences. However, I think it is worth retaining a sense of the continuity of narration intended by the author. Note, in particular, the way that he shifts from the opening point of the prologue-sentence, where he (the author) is speaking to Theophilus (“Friend-of-God”, “Dear-to-God”), to the end point, where Jesus is now speaking to his disciples. In its own way, the shift is a deft and clever literary achievement.

With the prologue still firmly in mind, next week we will turn to consider the place of verses 6-8 as marking the beginning of the Book of Acts proper. There are a number of significant historical and literary-critical issues that must be discussed. I hope that you will join me in this study next Saturday.


May 27: 1 John 1:8-10ff

1 John 1:8-10

As discussed in the previous note, the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) in vv. 6-7 has a traditional ethical-religious significance, as we see clearly by Paul’s use of the same verb in Galatians 5:16. There Paul establishes a most memorable contrast between sinful “works of the flesh” and holy “fruit of the Spirit”. The overall context of 1:5-2:17 certainly shows that the author has sin (a(marti/a) in mind; and the light-darkness contrast in Old Testament and Jewish tradition often has a similar ethical orientation (e.g., Job 30:26; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20).

It may be instructive to consider briefly the other occurrences of peripate/w in the Johannine Letters, to gain a better sense of the ethical-religious focus here in vv. 6-7ff:

    • 2:6: The true believer will follow Jesus’ example, “walking about” as he did; that is, the conduct/behavior of believers should correspond to the reality of their/our abiding in Christ, and of his abiding in us (through the Spirit).
    • 2:11: The image of “walking about” in darkness is explained in terms of hating one’s brother (i.e. a fellow believer); no true believer will hate (i.e., fail to demonstrate proper love to) another believer.
    • 2 Jn 4 / 3 Jn 3-4: It is indicated that a characteristic of believers is “walking about” in the truth; in a Johannine context, this refers primarily to the truth about who Jesus is, such as is revealed and confirmed through the witness of the Spirit; in a secondary sense, it refers to the conduct/behavior of believers, i.e., acting in a way that corresponds with the truth.
    • 2 Jn 6: The emphasis is on “walking about” in obedience to the duty (e)ntolh/) placed on believers (1 Jn 3:23-24)—most notably, the duty to love one’s fellow believers (cf. on 1 Jn 2:11, above).

Thus, while the general ethical component of following (on a regular, daily basis) the example of Jesus (during his life and ministry) is important (1 Jn 2:6), the primary focus is on obedience to the two-fold ‘command,’ or duty (e)ntolh/) placed on believers (3:23-24), namely—(1) a genuine trust in Jesus (as the Son of God), according to the truth; and (2) showing love to fellow believers. In actuality, the ethical component is subsumed under the ‘love command’, as we see expressed elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; cf. Mk 12:31-33 par). Believers are most following Jesus’ example when they/we show love in the way that he did (Jn 13:1, 34-35; 15:9-10ff, etc).

With this emphasis in mind, let us consider briefly the author’s discussion of sin in vv. 8-10ff. In terms of the thematic structure of the passage, note the following outline:

    • Statement that believers are not without sin [noun, a(marti/a] (v. 8)
      • Promise that believers will be cleansed of sin (v. 9)
    • Statement that believers are not without sin [vb, a(marta/nw] (v. 10)
      • Promise that believers will be cleansed of sin (2:1-2)

The two statements declaring that believers are not entirely without sin may be compared next to each other:

    • “If we say that we do not hold (any) sin [a(marti/a],
      we lead ourselves astray
      and the truth is not in us.” (1:8)
    • “If we say that we have not sinned [vb a(marta/nw],
      we make Him (to be) a liar
      and His word [lo/go$] is not in us.” (1:10)

There is a clear parallel structure to these two statements, with three components to each statement. The first component is a conditional clause (protasis)  that sets the condition (“if [e)an]…”). The second component states what results if/when the condition is fulfilled (apodosis), i.e, “if… then…”. The final component states the consequence of what can be shown or inferred as a result of meeting the condition.

The condition involves the thought or claim that believers are without sin—that they (currently) have no sin, and/or that they have not (or, possibly, have never) sinned. If one thinks this way, he or she is clearly wrong, according to the author, and demonstrates a perverse mindset, in two ways: (1) such people lead themselves astray (vb plana/w), and (2) they make out God to be someone who speaks/acts falsely (yeu/sth$, i.e., a ‘liar’). The last point is probably to be implied from the fact that, throughout the Scriptures, God repeatedly has testified to the reality and existence of human sin. That all human beings are prone to such tendencies, even after coming to trust in Jesus, is also evident throughout the New Testament (and other early Christian) writings.

The implication of the third component in the author’s statement(s) is even more forceful, as it suggests quite strongly that anyone who would make such claims of sinlessness is not, in fact, a true believer:

    • “the truth is not in” (such people)
    • “His word is not in” (such people)

Since truth (a)lhqei/a) and word (lo/go$), in the Johannine writings, are fundamental Divine attributes, and are also ways of referring to the presence of God’s Spirit, the rather clear implication is that the Spirit is not in people who would make such claims, even if they claimed to be (or were thought of) as believers.

Many commentators think that the author here is referring specifically to his ‘opponents’, of whom he speaks more directly in the “antichrist” passages of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6. If so, then it is possible that some of these Christians were claiming to be free from sin, presumably as a result of the abiding presence of the Spirit in them. The author would, in a roundabout way, be saying the very opposite of them. Indeed, according to the author’s view, these opponents sin in the most egregious (and unforgivable) way, violating the great dual-commandment of 3:23-24.

The reality is, according to the author, that believers will, at times, sin, in the traditional/conventional sense of moral or religious failure. All such sins will be removed and cleansed (vb kaqari/zw) through the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”). The declaration in v. 7 is reaffirmed in the parallel statements of v. 9 and 2:1-2 (cf. above). According to verse 9, all that is required to effect cleansing is an acknowledgement of the sin, expressed by the verb o(mologe/w, which means “give account as one”, i.e., in common, together with others. In an early Christian context, the verb connotes public confession or acknowledgement, in front of other believers, implying a solidarity and common consent of what is believed and felt by the congregation.

In 2:1-2, the sacrificial character of Jesus’ death is again affirmed. Instead of reference to his death as “blood,” it is called a i(lasmo/$, a word that is difficult to translate, but, in a religious context, it refers to a (ritual) means of seeking/gaining God’s favor. In this case, the favor involves the removal of sin (and its guilt). The word i(lasmo/$, in its derivation, carries the connotation of appeasing God’s anger, of soothing it and causing Him to be gentle again. The universal aspect of the sin(s) of the entire world (i.e., of all human beings) may allude to the famous Lamb of God declaration by John the Baptist in Jn 1:29.

It is clear from the author’s words in 2:1 that, even though believers may (and will) occasionally sin, the goal is that they/we should not sin. This, indeed, is a primary goal of all early Christian ethical-religious instruction. There is no indication that the author of 1 John thought about this aspect of Christian life and identity any differently than the other New Testament authors. However, the Johannine theology—and spiritualism—which he inherited gave a very distinctive shape and emphasis to his instruction. This is all the more so if, as I believe, the Johannine spiritualism was an important factor in the crisis which the author addresses. I will begin discussing the question at length in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament” (the first of a set of articles on 1 John).

The next daily note will touch briefly upon the reprisal of the light-darkness contrast in 2:8-11.

May 26: 1 John 1:5-7 (continued)

1 John 1:5-7, continued

In the previous note, the Gospel parallels to vv. 5-7 were noted—particularly the statements by Jesus in 8:12; 11:9-10 and 12:35, all of which utilize the same verb peripate/w (“walk about”) in the context of the same light-darkness contrast:

“I am the light of the world; the (one) following me shall not walk about [peripath/sh|] in the darkness, but shall hold the light of life.” (8:12)

“if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the day, he will not strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] he sees (by) the light of this world; but if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the night, he does strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] the light is not in [i.e. with] him.” (11:9-10)

“(For) yet a little time the light is in [i.e. with] you. You must walk about [peripatei=te] as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; (for) indeed the (one) walking about [peripatw=n] in the darkness has not seen [i.e. does not know] where he leads (himself).” (12:35)

In many ways, Jesus’ saying in 8:12 is closest to vv. 5-7, particularly in regard to:

    • The essential predication of light as a Divine characteristic, identifying God the Father (and Christ the Son) with the Light:
      “God is [e)stin] light…” [v. 5]
      “I am [ei)mi] the light…” [8:12]
    • The use of the verb e&xw (“hold”), indicating what the true believer holds:
      koinwni/a [“common-bond”], with God and with other believers [vv. 6-7]
      — “the light of life” (to\ fw=$ th=$ zwh=$) [8:12]
    • In the context of the prologue, we may note the formal parallel between the expression “the word [lo/go$] of life” (v. 1) and “the light [fw=$] of life” (8:12)

On the last point, I have previously discussed how, in a Johannine theological context, the noun koinwni/a and the expression “the word of life” both allude, however indirectly, to the presence of the Spirit. The same may be said of the expression “the light of life” in Jn 8:12. The Spirit is the basis of believers’ union with God (and with each other), and the Spirit is also the living (and life-giving) Word which the Son (Jesus) communicates to believers. Primarily, of course, the expressions “word of life” and “light of life” refer to the person of Jesus (the Son), but this person is ultimately present in and among believers through the Spirit. For more on this, cf. the recent articles and notes on the Paraclete-sayings in the  Last Discourse.

Turning briefly to the Gospel sayings in 11:9-10 and 12:35, the formal contrast between light and darkness is more focused, just as it is here in vv. 5-7. One may also note the specific wording of the light being in (e)n) believers, with the implied contrast, namely that the light is not in non-believers. On the surface, in Jesus’ illustrations, the preposition e)n would more naturally be translated “with” —since the basic image is of a person having a light at hand by which to walk. But I would take these as yet further instances of Johannine double-meaning in the discourse: viz., according to the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, believers have the light in them, while it is absent in non-believers. Again, the abiding presence of this Divine Light is realized through the presence of the Spirit. To this point, there is little fundamental difference between Paul’s idea of believers walking about (same verb, peripate/w) “in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16; cf. Rom 6:4; 8:4) and the Johannine image of walking about “in the light”.

The final Gospel saying (in 12:35f), shares with 8:12 the idiom of “holding” (vb e&xw) the light. In the Johannine writings, this common verb repeatedly carries special theological significance, referring to the dynamic of believers holding (eternal) life within them, given to them by the Son (Jesus) through the Spirit—cf. 3:15-16, 36; 4:11, 32; 5:24, 26, 38-40; 6:40, 47, 53-54; 10:12; 14:21; 16:15, 33; 17:13; 20:31. In most of these references an association with the Spirit is either clearly indicated (by the context) or implied. Just as believers hold life, so they/we also hold all the attributes and characteristics of God—love, word, truth, etc.—indeed, believers hold God Himself (along with Jesus the Son) within themselves. The range of this thematic concept is expressed, repeatedly, by the use of the verb e&xw in 1 John: e.g., 2:1, 7, 20, 23; 3:3, 15; 4:16, 21; 5:10, 12-13; cf. also 2 John 9.

The statement in Jn 12:35 is punctuated by Jesus’ further declaration in v. 36a:

“As you hold the light, you must trust in the light, (so) that you may come to be sons of light.”

This introduces the familiar idea, in its distinctly Johannine form, of believers—those who trust in Jesus (“the light”)—being identified as children of God. In the common mode of expression, believers “come to be (born)” out of God, utilizing the verb of coming-to-be, genna/w. Here, the related verb of becoming, gi/nomai, is used, with little difference in meaning. The Johannine writings always use the neuter plural noun te/kna (“offspring,” i.e., children) in reference to believers, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”), in the singular, reserved for Jesus. This is the only instance in the Johannine writings where believers are referred to as ui(oi/ (“sons”), cp. Rom 8:14-15ff; Gal 3:26; 4:5-6; cf. also Heb 2:10; Matt 5:9, 45; Lk 6:35; indeed, this is the only Johannine occurrence of ui(o/$ in the plural. The discrepancy is no doubt to be explained as the result of the Gospel writer inheriting (in established sayings of Jesus) a traditional expression (cf. Luke 16:8, and frequently in the Qumran texts, 1QS 1:9; 2:16; 3:13, 20-21, 24-25; 4:11; 1QM 1:1, 3, 9, 11, 13).

In any case, the wording in 12:36 is significant for the author’s thematic emphasis in 1 John, as he discusses the characteristics of true and false believers. The true believer manifests the light of God, while the false believer displays the darkness of the world which is opposed to God (and to His Son). As true believers “walk about in the light [e)n tw=| fwti/]” it is an indication that they are “in God” (in His light). The idiom itself is traditional, and likely alludes to Scripture passages such as Psalm 36:9; 56:13; 89:15, etc. The specific idea of God being “in light” may simply allude to the familiar imagery of the Divine Presence being surrounded by a luminous/shining aura of glory; or, possibly, a Scripture reference such as Psalm 104:2 may be in mind; of YHWH Himself as light, see esp. Isa 60:19-20. In terms of the Johannine theology, believers abide in God and God abides in them. God’s abiding presence is realized through the presence of His Son (“the true light,” 2:8), which, in turn, is realized through the Spirit. Thus, to say that believers are “in the light” implies that they/we are “in the Spirit” and are “in Christ” (to use the Pauline expression).

How does the author of 1 John understand what it means to “walk about” in light and in darkness, respectively? It seems clear, from the content of 1:5-2:17 as a whole, that he understands the verb peripate/w in much the same ethical-religious sense as Paul does, e.g., in Gal 5:16ff, with that memorable contrast between sinful “works of the flesh” and the holy “fruit of the Spirit”. However, the Johannine writings also have a very distinctive way of defining sin, and this informs the author’s use of the noun a(marti/a (and verb a(marta/nw) throughout. The difficulties surrounding this usage in 1:8-10, when compared with other passages in 1 John, continues to be much discussed and debated among commentators. What is most important, however, and what takes first position in the author’s line of argument, is the statement in verse 7b that

“…the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Whatever the precise relationship between the (true) believer and sin (a(marti/a), as understood by the author, believers are cleansed “from all sin” by the “blood” of Jesus—that is, as a result of his sacrificial death (cf. Jn 1:29). The cleansing power of Jesus’ “blood” is communicated to believers spiritually, through the presence of the Spirit; in an earlier note, I argued for this line of interpretation of 1:7, in light of certain passages in the Gospel—most notably, the ‘eucharistic’ portion of the Bread of Life Discourse (6:51-58, in relation to v. 63), and in the distinctive Johannine presentation of (traditional) details surrounding Jesus’ death (19:30, 34); cf. also the traditional idea of Jesus baptizing believers “in the Spirit” (1:33), with its obvious connotation of cleansing (from sin).

In the next daily note, I will explore in a bit more detail what the author says regarding sin in vv. 8-10ff.

May 25: 1 John 1:5-7

1 John 1:5-7

A key point of transition between the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) and the first major section of the work (1:5-2:17) is the noun koinwni/a, which I translate as “common-bond”, and which, as a keyword, reflects the ideal of unity among believers (cf. Acts 2:42). It is used at the close of the opening sentence (in verse 3, cf. the previous note), and occurs again in vv. 6-7. Even though the word does not occur in the Gospel of John, nor anywhere else in the Johannine writings, it may be said to express the underlying idea of unity—and of union—both among believers, and between believers and God, which is so important to the Johannine theology.

In the Gospel, these themes feature most prominently in the Last Discourse and the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, and, in this context, relate to the Paraclete-sayings; in other words, this unity/union is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit. I have discussed the (indirect) allusions to the Spirit in the prologue, and will touch on them also here in vv. 5-7. The role of the Spirit is central to the author’s rhetorical approach in 1 John, being a reflection of a distinctive Johannine spiritualism.

The principal thematic emphasis of 1:5-2:17 is established at the beginning, in verse 5:

“And this is the message which we have heard from him, and (which) we give forth as a message to you: that God is light, and there is not (any) darkness in Him, not one (bit).”

The declaration in v. 5b is presented as a message given to his disciples by Jesus (“from him”). This is another element of continuity with the prologue, both in the emphasis on things Jesus said to his disciples (during his earthly ministry), and with the concept of preserving and transmitting that tradition to future believers, utilizing the verb a)nagge/llw (or its parallel, a)pagge/llw).

We do not have any actual saying by Jesus that corresponds to v. 5b; however, it certainly does reflect the teaching in the Gospel, combining two distinctive Johannine themes:

    • The identification of Jesus as the light (fw=$) of God, which shines in the darkness of the world—1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; cp. 1 Jn 2:8ff.
    • The idea that Jesus (as the Son) reveals God (the Father) to the world (spec. to believers), including His fundamental characteristics and attributes; this theme is particularly prominent in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse—14:7-11, 20-23; 15:8ff; 16:15, 25ff; 17:2ff, 7ff, 12-14ff, 22ff, 26.

The contrast between light and darkness (skoti/a) is an essential component of the Johannine dualism. It is also a most natural and obvious point of contrast, which can be found utilized in many different religious and philosophical systems. One does not need to look much further than the Old Testament and Jewish tradition to find numerous examples (e.g., Gen 1:4-5; Job 12:22; 29:3; 30:26; Psalm 18:28; 139:11-12; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; Amos 5:18ff). The light-darkness juxtaposition is as much a part of the dualism in the Qumran texts, as in the Johannine writings; cf. for example, the ‘Two Spirits’ treatise in the Community Rule text (1QS 3:13-4:26).

From the Johannine standpoint, light characterizes God, while darkness characterizes the world (o( ko/smo$); and these are entirely opposite and opposed to each other—in particular, the world is fundamentally opposed to God and His truth. This means that the world is also opposed to God’s Son (Jesus) and to all of His offspring (believers). There is nothing at all (ou)demi/a) of the darkness in God or in His children.

The author expounds this light-darkness message in vv. 6-7, giving to it a practical (and most pointed) emphasis:

“If we say that we hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with Him, and (yet) should walk about in the darkness, (then) we are false and do not do the truth;” (v. 6)

This is the first, negative side of the instruction, and refers to false believers (vb yeu/domai, “be false, act falsely”)—that is, those who say they hold common-bond with God (i.e., as true believers), but yet “walk about” in the darkness. This contrast almost certainly relates to the ‘opponents’ of whom the author speaks in the “antichrist” sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6). This contrast between true and false believers informs the entirety of 1 John as a treatise.

The positive side of the instruction, describing the true believer, comes in verse 7:

“but, if we should walk about in the light, as He is in the light, (then) we hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with each other, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

False believers walk about in darkness, but true believers walk about in the light. This idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) goes back to Old Testament tradition, with the use of the corresponding Hebrew verb El^h* (“walk, go”, esp. in the reflexive Hithpael stem), to describe a person’s habitual behavior (in an ethical-religious sense). Paul famously uses the verb in Galatians 5:16, where walking about “in the Spirit” is more or less equivalent with the Johannine walking “in the light”; cf. also Romans 6:4; 8:4. The Johannine idiom, using the same verb (in the same sense), is found in 8:12; 11:9-10 and 12:35, which are worth citing (in order):

“I am the light of the world; the (one) following me shall not walk about [peripath/sh|] in the darkness, but shall hold the light of life.”

“if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the day, he will not strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] he sees (by) the light of this world; but if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the night, he does strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] the light is not in [i.e. with] him.”

“(For) yet a little time the light is in [i.e. with] you. You must walk about [peripatei=te] as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; (for) indeed the (one) walking about [peripatw=n] in the darkness has not seen [i.e. does not know] where he leads (himself).”

The relation of the author’s instruction to these (Johannine) statements by Jesus will be discussed in the next daily note.

May 24: 1 John 1:3-4

1 John 1:3-4

Following the parenthesis of verse 2 (cf. the previous note), the main syntactical line of verse 1 is picked up in verse 3, repeating the relative clause/phrasing from verse 1: “…that which [o%] we have seen and heard…”, referring to the witness of the first disciples to the person of Jesus (the Son sent to earth by God the Father). The author includes himself as one of these witnesses (“we have seen…”). This has led some commentators to claim that the author was, indeed, one of the first disciples (early tradition identified him with John son of Zebedee).

However, it is more likely that this is part of the author’s conscious rhetorical and apologetic strategy; he aligns himself with the historical (and authoritative) Gospel tradition that goes back to the first disciples (as eye/ear-witnesses) and the earthly ministry of Jesus. At the same time, it is possible that he has the ‘Beloved Disciple’ in mind, who, apparently, had an unusually long life-span, and may have outlived the other early disciples (cf. the tradition in the Gospel appendix, 21:20-23). If the implications of this traditional information is correct, the elders in the Johannine Community (such as the author[s] of 1-3 John) likely would have known the ‘Beloved Disciple,’ prior to his death.

What follows in verse 3 marks the principal clause of the prologue, to which the preceding relative phrases (with their accusative relative pronouns) are subordinate:

“…we even give (it) forth as a message [vb a)pagge/llw] to you…”

If we were to rearrange the phrasing to make a more conventional statement, it would read:

“We give forth that which was from the beginning…as a message to you”
or, alternately:
“We give forth…(this) about the word of life…as a message to you”

What believers give now, in the present, is an authoritative message about the Son (Jesus), identified as the Divine “word of life”. They/we bear witness to Jesus’ identity and to the life that he gives. In the previous note, I discussed the strong reasons for seeing an indirect allusion here to the Spirit in the expression “the word of life”. But what believers give (to others) is not the living Word, or the Life itself, but a message and witness about (peri/) this Life. It is a message that corresponds with the witness of the first disciples, who saw what Jesus did, and heard what he said, during his earthly life.

In the subordinate i%na-clause that follows, and which brings the sentence of vv. 1-3 to a close, the purpose of this witness-message is stated:

“…(so) that [i%na] you also might hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with us; and, indeed, our common-bond (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The purpose thus is that the author’s readers would be joined, holding things in common, with him (and his circle of adherents). The author clearly identifies his community with the community of true believers, by adding that “our common-bond” is with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This is important for understanding the author’s overall purpose in writing, which he establishes here in the prologue.

The noun koinwni/a is relatively rare in the New Testament, being used primarily (12 of 19 occurrences) in the letters of Paul (e.g., 1 Cor 1:9; 10:16; 2 Cor 6:14; Phil 3:10). It is often translated “fellowship,” but this seems rather too tepid a translation; nor does it properly capture the essential meaning of the word, which denotes something that people hold in common (koino/$). I feel that “common-bond” is a more appropriate rendering, especially since it also touches upon the idea of a covenant (Heb tyr!B=, a binding agreement) between believers and God, just as we see expressed here.

The noun koinwni/a occurs in Acts 2:42, as a characteristic of the first believers (in Jerusalem), reflecting their unity, as well as their sense of community and shared purpose (o(moqumado/n). However, somewhat surprisingly, the word is used nowhere else in the Gospels or Acts, and is not at all part of the vocabulary of Jesus in his teaching (as it was preserved and translated into Greek). It does not occur in the Gospel of John, even where we might most expect it, in the Last Discourse and the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17. The strong emphasis on unity in the Prayer-Discourse is similar to what we find here in verse 3 of the prologue; even though koinwni/a is not used in the Gospel, the underlying thought is very much present (esp. in chaps 13-17).

A strong argument can be made that, in the Gospel, the unity between believers and God, and among believers, is realized through the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that both God the Father and the Son (Jesus) are present in and among believers. Indeed, God’s abiding presence depends upon the Spirit, since He Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24). Foremost of what Jesus gives to believers is the Spirit (1:33; 3:34; 4:10-15; 7:37-39; 15:26f; 16:7b-11ff; 19:30/20:22), and he continues to be present, communicating to them/us through the Spirit (6:63; 16:12-15; cf. also the other Paraclete-sayings).

In terms of the author’s rhetorical purpose, if his readers will join (in agreement) with him, as he hopes, then they will demonstrate that they share this common-bond, sharing in the Spirit of truth, and are to be considered part of the Community of true believers. Knowing that those who receive and respond to his writing are to be counted among the true believers, possessing a true faith in Christ and the true witness of the Spirit, will bring great joy to the author and his circle:

“And we write these (thing)s (to you), (so) that our joy might be made full.” (v. 4)
Some MSS read u(mw=n (“your”) instead of h(mw=n (“our”), but the first person plural is more likely to be original, and is certainly more appropriate to the context.

The author may have in mind something of the theology of the Gospel Prayer-Discourse (chap. 17), with the idea that unity—the full community of believers—will only be realized once the full number of the elect/chosen ones come to trust in Jesus through the (apostolic) mission of believers (cf. vv. 20-26). However, as will be discussed in the upcoming notes and articles on 1 John (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), the author’s mission also has the specific focus of achieving (and/or restoring) a certain kind of orthodox unity among the Johannine churches.

Along these lines, in the next daily note, I will be looking at the other occurrences of koinwni/a, in verses 6-7.

May 23: 1 John 1:2

1 John 1:2

Much of the syntactical awkwardness of the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) is due to the parenthetical clauses in verse 2. As indicated in the previous note, verse 3 picks up the main line of syntax from verse 1, with its repeated relative phrases (modifying the initial phrase). As a parenthesis, verse 2 is expository, expounding the significance of the expression “the word of life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$) at the close of verse 1. The subject of verse 2 is “the life” (h( zwh/):

“and th(is) life was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh], and we have seen and give witness and give forth as a message to you th(is) life of the age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which was toward the Father, and was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh] to us”

The parallel use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) brackets the statement. This verb is something of a Johannine keyword, occurring nine times each in the Gospel and First Letter. As applied to Jesus, it refers to his public appearance on earth, alluding both to the incarnation of the Logos (1:14ff, cf. verse 31) and to Jesus’ earthly ministry with his disciples. One may understand the passive voice in these instances as an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. In the Johannine theological idiom, this is otherwise expressed by the idea of God the Father sending the Son (Jesus) to earth.

The Logos was made to shine forth (on earth), but also specifically “to us” —that is, to believers, beginning with the first disciples (the implied eyewitnesses in verse 1). The same implication is repeated here in verse 2: “we have seen” (e(wra/kamen). In the Johannine Gospel, the motif of seeing has Christological significance—it signifies recognizing who Jesus is (i.e., the Son sent by the Father) and trusting in him.

Believers, from the first disciples to the present (when the author is writing), both “give witness” (vb marture/w) to Jesus and declare the message (vb a)pagge/llw) of who he is (and of what he has said and done, cf. verse 5ff). These two verbs are also part of the Johannine idiom, playing an important role in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse. The Spirit as a witness is specifically emphasized in the third saying (15:26-27), and is indicated again in the final saying(s) (16:7b-11ff). The only other Johannine use of a)pagge/llw (“give forth a message”) occurs in 16:25, where the reference is to Jesus (the Son) communicating the truth to believers “about the Father”; however, the parallel verb a)nagge/llw, which has nearly identical meaning, features prominently in the final Paraclete-saying (16:13-15), and is also used here in 1 Jn 1:5.

The implication of this vocabulary analysis is that the terminology, which applies here to the witness of believers to the truth of Jesus’ identity, is closely tied to the Johannine view of the Spirit’s witness. Indeed, in the third Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the Spirit and the disciples (believers) work together as a witness—the Spirit bears witness to believers, who, in turn, give witness of the truth to others in the world (see esp. 17:18-21).

For this reason, I believe it is proper to find here in the prologue to 1 John a certain indirect allusion to the Spirit. This is confirmed, I think, by the use of the expression “the word of life,” when understood within the Johannine theological idiom—especially as expressed in the Gospel Discourses. An important component of this theology is the idea that Jesus (the Son) is said to give the Spirit to believers, and also to give life to them. On the specific motif of giving life (zwh/, which means Divine/Eternal Life), cf. 5:21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 10:28; 17:2-3, with many other clear allusions, tied to trusting/following Jesus (3:15-16, 36; 5:39-40; 8:12; 10:10ff; 11:25), including the important theological statement in the Prologue (1:4; cp. 14:6). Jesus’ giving of the Spirit brackets (and informs) the entire Gospel narrative (1:33; 19:30/20:22), is implied in 3:34, and features prominently in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7bff). The two motifs of life and Spirit are combined in the image of the “living water” that Jesus gives (4:10-15; 7:37-39).

The wording of Jesus’ famous saying in Jn 6:63 seems especially relevant in this regard (cf. the earlier study on this verse):

“The Spirit is the (thing) making alive [vb zwopoie/w], the flesh is not useful (for) anything; the words [r(h/mata] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life [zwh/].”

The close association of the Spirit with both word and life makes an allusion to the Spirit in 1 Jn 1:1-2 all the more likely. The plural r(h/mata (lit. “utterances”) is used in Jesus’ saying, rather than the singular lo/go$, which means that the reference is to the message (words/teaching) that Jesus speaks to believers, rather than to his own person (as the Logos). Even so, this is one of the three aspects of the meaning of lo/go$ here in 1:1, as I explained in the previous note; the point is confirmed by the context of what immediately follows the prologue in verse 5.

By communicating the Spirit to believers, Jesus gives life to them/us—and, indeed, gives the Divine source of that (eternal) life, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). According to the Gospel tradition and narrative (20:22), the first disciples received the Spirit through the (meta)physical presence of the resurrected Jesus; for all other believers, this same takes place as a result of our trust, having received and accepted the Gospel witness, beginning with the witness of the first disciples (17:20-21, etc; see esp. the important closing statement in 20:29).

It is worth emphasizing again the close relation between the prologue of 1 John and the Gospel Prologue. Of particular theological importance is the essential predication, whereby Jesus is identified with the (pre-existent) Word (lo/go$) and Life (zwh/) of God; if we add to this the attribute of Light (fw=$), introduced in verse 5ff, then all three key Divine attributes from the Prologue (1:1-5ff)—Word, Light, Life—are similarly represented here in 1 John. Jesus is specifically identified with the Word and Life of God, while in verse 5 it is God the Father who is identified as Light; however, there can be no doubt of the Christological significance of the light-motif, with an understanding of Jesus (the Son) manifesting the “true light” (2:8ff), just as we see throughout the Gospel.

Why was the parenthetical statement in verse 2 included with such bold emphasis, so as to contribute to such a noticeably awkward syntax in the prologue? I have to wonder if the emphasis may be tied specifically to the rhetorical purpose and strategy of the author. He seems to out of his way to position both elements of the expression “the word of the life” —the Word and the Life—within a dual-meaning context. As outlined in the previous notes, the two aspects of meaning are: (1) Christological (the person of Jesus), and (2) Evangelistic (the message/traditions about Jesus). This is significant if, as I believe to be the case, the crisis (and the opponents) addressed by the author in 1 John relate to the spiritualism of the Johannine churches. One theory regarding the nature of this crisis is that it involved a tendency to localize the Word and Life of God in the abiding presence of the Spirit, in a way that devalued the importance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. This topic will be discussed in the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will conclude our discussion on the prologue, looking specifically at verses 3-4.