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

1 John 2:22, continued

As discussed in part 1 of this supplemental note, most commentators regard 2:22 as characterizing a group of ‘opponents,’ whom the author considers to be false believers. That activity of these persons, called by the author “antichrists” (a)nti/xristoi, “[those] against the Anointed”), had created a crisis, of sorts, within the Johannine churches, at least as the matter was viewed by the author. He warns his readers against these “antichrists” and their false belief in Jesus (see esp. 2 John 7-8ff).

However, if verse 22 is meant to encapsulate the opponents’ view of Jesus, this creates a problem of interpretation. For, how could any Christian claim that Jesus is not the Christ? There can be little doubt that the opponents considered themselves to be (true) believers; what, then, are to we make of the author’s claim? He describes the false believer (o( yeusth/$) as:

“the (one) denying (by saying) that
‘Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)’
[ )Ihsou=$ ou)k e&stin o( Xristo/$]”

In order to gain a clearer sense of what the author has in mind, it is necessary to examine carefully the use of the title xristo/$ (“anointed [one]”) in the Johannine writings.

The use of xristo/$

The noun xristo/$ occurs 30 times in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters)—19 times in the Gospel, 8 times in 1 John, and 3 times in 2 John. The word (as a title) is used two ways:

    1. Together with the name   )Ihsou=$ (Yeshua/Jesus) to form the double-name   )Ihsou=$ Xristo/$ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed,” i.e., Jesus Christ), following the common practice of early Christians.
    2. On its own, with the definite article—o( Xristo/$, “the Anointed (One),” the Christ.

Of the 19 occurrences of xristo/$ in the Gospel, the vast majority (17) are the arthrous title (2. above), o( Xristo/$; only twice is it used in the double name (1.). The first occurrence of the double-name is at the end of the Prologue (1:17); the second is in the Prayer-Discourse (17:3), where it is part of a fundamental Johannine theological declaration regarding Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.

Elsewhere, it is quite clear that the title o( Xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”) refers specifically to the Messiah (Heb j^yv!m*) of Jewish expectation; indeed, the Gospel writer makes this explicit in 1:41. Probably the Davidic royal Messiah is intended in most, if not all, instances (this is certainly the case in 7:4142), though the figure-type of a Messianic prophet would be more appropriate in relation to John the Baptist (1:20, 25; 3:28; cf. also 7:31). The Messianic expectation of Jews (and also of Samaritans) is clearly in view in 4:25, 29; 7:26-27ff; 10:24; cf. also 9:22; 12:34.

Of special importance are the confessional statements in 11:27 and 20:31. The confession by Martha in 11:27 holds much the same place in the Gospel of John as Peter’s famous confession does in the Synoptics (Mark 8:29 par). The significance of the Martha-confession is seen clearly by its similarity with the statement in 20:31, at the very close of the (original) Gospel, where the author states his very purpose in writing:

    • “I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world” (11:27)
    • “I have written these (thing)s (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God, and that, trusting, you might hold life in his name.” (20:31)

In both instances, the title “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) is combined with “the Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=). The two titles are set in apposition, implying that there is a certain equivalence between them. At the same time, the sequence suggests that the second title (“Son of God”) follows upon the first (“Anointed”/Messiah). In other words, Jesus is the Messiah, but he is also the eternal Son of God. From a Johannine theological standpoint, the true believer will affirm (and confess) both titles of Jesus.

With these results in mind, we may turn to the occurrences of xristo/$ in the Johannine Letters. In contrast with the Gospel, where the double-name occurs just twice (out of the 19 occurrences, cf. above), it is much more common in 1 John—of the 8 occurrences of xristo/$, 6 are in the double name. Based on the usage in the Gospel, this would suggest that the overriding idea of belief in Jesus as the Son of God is primarily in view (cf. above on 1:17; 17:3, especially in light of the confessional statements in 11:27; 20:31). The usage in 1 John tends to confirm this (1:3; 2:1; 3:23; 4:2 [2 John 7]; 5:6, 20; cf. also 2 John 3). Indeed, the double-name in 3:23 is unquestionably fundamental to the Johannine theology, and for what it means to be a true believer in Christ.

The analysis of the Gospel usage strongly suggests that the arthrous title o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”) refers specifically to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Does this apply as well to the usage in 1 John? The use of o( xristo/$ in 2 John 9 might argue against this, since, in that reference, it seems simply to be another way of referring to the person of Jesus (i.e., “the teaching of the Anointed” = “the teaching of Jesus”). This would be a valid objection if tou= xristou= (“of the Anointed”) is understood as a subjective genitive, i.e. the teaching that Jesus gives. However, it is also possible to read tou= xristou= as an objective genitive (i.e., about the Anointed); if so, then one might understand the expression “the teaching of the Anointed” as a shorthand for “the teaching regarding Jesus’ identity as the Anointed”.

Apart from the statement in 2:22, the only other occurrence of o( xristo/$ in 1 John is at 5:1; however, the context in 5:1 is essentially identical with that of 2:22 (with o( xristo/$ used in an equivalent confessional formula), so the two occurrences must be judged together, as reflecting a single usage.

The Johannine usage of the noun xristo/$ (“anointed [one]”) leaves us with two plausible explanations for how the author of 1 John intends its use in 2:22/5:1:

    • The identification of Jesus as the Messiah of Jewish expectation, or
    • As a shorthand for the idea expressed in the confessional statements in Jn 11:27; 17:3; 20:31 (cf. above)—that Jesus the Messiah is also the Son of God

One might combine both of these options, based on the observation (made above) on the confessional statements in Jn 11:27 and 20:31. It may be summarized this way: the true believer will affirm (and confess) that Jesus is both the Messiah and the Son of God; anyone who would deny Jesus’ identification with either title is not a true believer.

With this conclusion in mind, let us return to the specific context of the author’s claim, regarding the distinction between true and false believers (i.e., the opponents) in 2:22. This we will do in part 3 of this supplemental note.

For a comparable study on the word xristo/$ in the Johannine writings, with additional insights to what I have provided above, cf. M. de Jonge, “The Use of the Word xristo/$ in the Johannine Epistles,” in Studies in John Presented to Professor Dr. J. N. Sevenster, Supplements to Novum Testamentum Vol. XXIV (Brill: 1970), pp. 66-74.

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