1 John 2:22 and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 1)

1 John 2:22

“Who is the false (one), if not the (one) denying (by saying) that Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)? This is the (one who is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], the (one) denying the Father and the Son!”

This note is supplemental to the article on 1 John 2:18-27 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The key references to the Spirit, in vv. 20-27, are framed within the context of the crisis that the author is at pains to address in his work. While he alluded to this crisis earlier (both in the prologue and first section), he tackles it more directly here. He refers to certain ‘opponents’, false believers who, in the author’s mind, were exerting an evil and harmful influence on the Johannine churches. The presence of these false believers has eschatological significance, indicating that the end of the Age is very near:

“Little children, (the) last hour is (here), and, just as you heard that (one) ‘against the Anointed’ [a)nti/xristo$] comes, even now there have come to be many (who are) ‘against the Anointed’ [a)nti/xristoi], from which we can know that the last hour is (here).” (v. 18)

For more on the “Antichrist” tradition that the author apparently references here, cf. my earlier 3-part article (part 1, 2, 3).

The author is taking literally the meaning of the term a)nti/xristo$, “against [a)nti/] the Anointed [xristo/$]”, implying that the opponents hold views and beliefs that are against Christ. How is this possible, if these people present themselves as (true) believers, and, almost certainly, regarded themselves as such? The author gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the substance of the conflict in verse 22. The false believer (yeu/sth$) is defined as “one denying that Yeshua is the Anointed [o( xristo/$]”. More literally, such people deny (vb a)rne/omai) the truth by saying “Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)”.

On the surface, it seems most unlikely that any Christian would claim that Jesus is not the Christ. How are we to understand the author’s presentation of the opponents’ view? There are a number of possible answers to this question; but, first, it is worth pointing out the similar Christological statement in the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6), as it almost certainly relates the statement here in 2:22:

“every spirit that acknowledges Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in (the) flesh is out of [i.e. from] God” (4:2)

This is phrased as a confession by a true believer, inspired by God’s own Spirit; however, by implication, a false believer will hold the opposite view—viz., that Jesus did not come in the flesh (as the Anointed [One]).

With this in mind, let us consider the possible ways for explaining the statement in 2:22.

1. The opponents deny that Jesus is the Messiah, as expected by Israelites and Jews of the first centuries B.C./A.D. This line of interpretation gives full weight to the meaning of the term xristo/$ as corresponding to Hebrew j^yv!m*, “anointed (one)”. On the Messianic background of early Christian belief, and on Jesus’ relationship to the various Messianic figure-types, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Most commentators who follow this interpretation would identify the ‘opponents’ of 1 John as Jewish Christians who have abandoned their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and have returned to the fold of non-Christian Judaism.

2. The statement in 2:22 is a shorthand for the more specific belief in 4:2 (cf. above). According to this interpretation, to deny that “Jesus is the Christ” means denying that “Jesus is the Christ having come in the flesh”. In this view, the statement in 2:22 must be understood in terms of the statement in 4:2. The emphasis is thus not on Jesus as the Christ, but on being the Christ in the flesh. The most common view among commentators has been that 4:2 is meant to combat a docetic Christology—viz., Jesus did not come to earth as a real flesh-and-blood human being, but only seemed to be a physical human. An alternate interpretation, following the same line of thought, is that the opponents downplayed or devalued the humanity of Jesus.

3. Xristo/$ is another way of referring to Jesus as the Son of God, and the opponents’ false Christology, in some way, denies that Jesus is God’s Son. Some commentators would suggest that the opponents held a separationist Christology, meaning that the man Jesus and the Divine Christ were two separate entities, who became joined at the incarnation (or the baptism), and then separated at the moment of death. Such a separationist Christology was associated (in early tradition) with the arch-heretic Cerinthus (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies I.26). In at least one colorful anecdote (Against Heresies III.3.4), Cerinthus is presented as a personal adversary of the apostle John; Irenaeus further states that John wrote his Gospel specifically to combat Cerinthus’ views (III.11.1).

4. Xristo/$ (“Anointed”) should be understood in connection with the references to the xri=sma (“anointing”) in vv. 20, 27. I mention this in light of the interesting (but somewhat peculiar) theory of U. C. von Wahlde, in his commentary on 1 John (The Gospel and Letters of John, Vol. 3 [Eerdmans: 2010], pp. 84f, 89-99). According to this theory, the opponents held that every believer should be considered an “anointed one” (xristo/$), and that this title should not be reserved for Jesus. It is the abiding presence of the Spirit, the “anointing” (xri=sma) by God, that makes believers to be God’s xristoi/ (“anointed ones”). By contrast (according to this theory), the author means to emphasis the uniqueness of Jesus as the “Anointed One”, and that his authoritative teaching and work cannot be replaced entirely by the internal activity of the Spirit.

In the following note, I will offer an exegetical analysis of verse 22, comparing the results with the various theories and approaches outlined above.

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