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.

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