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”
“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.