June 15: 1 John 3:1

1 John 3:1

“See what sort of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that it did not know Him.” (3:1)

The important Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God, introduced in 2:28-29 (see the previous note), continues here. This identity as God’s children (“offspring”) reflects the love God has for us. He is willing to call us His offspring, and, in fact we are His offspring. This juxtaposition between the verb kale/w (“call”) and the verb of being (ei)mi) has important theological implications, which can easily be lost in translation. The identity of believers, as the sons/children of God, is not merely symbolic or figurative, but real. This differs markedly from the use of the sonship motif in the Old Testament Scriptures, applied to the people of Israel as a whole (or limited to the righteous), or to the king, where the usage is figurative. YHWH might call Israel His “son(s)”, from an ethical-religious standpoint, and reflecting the covenant relationship His has with them; but the people are not His offspring in nature and essence.

In the Johannine writings, there is a special theological significance to the verb of being, which tends to be applied to a Divine subject. This is certainly the case for the many instances of essential predication that occur in the Gospel and Letters. These simple predicative statements, which provide essential information regarding the subject, follow a basic pattern: (i) [Divine] subject, (ii) verb of being, (iii) predicate noun (or phrase). The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) statements by Jesus in the Gospel are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication.

Usually these predicative statements have the Son (Jesus) or God the Father as the subject; but, occasionally, the formula can be applied to believers, as it is, to some extent, here. The phrase “that we should be called (the) offspring of God” is followed by the short statement “and we are”, which functions as an example of essential predication. The statement consists of the verb of being, with the subject implied on the basis of context and the form of the verb—e)sme/n (“we are”). The predicate noun/phrase is also implied, referring back to “(the) offspring of God”; thus the predicative statement here can be filled out as: “we [i.e. believers] are the offspring of God”. Because believers are the children of God, it is possible for them/us to be treated as the Divine subject of the essential predication, much as the Son of God (Jesus) is elsewhere in the Johannine writings.

The noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is reserved for Jesus (the Son), but believers are still genuinely the offspring of God. The birth as His offspring is not merely symbolic, but real (as noted above). Believers come to be born (vb genna/w) out of (e)k, “from”) God Himself. The birth is real, though it is spiritual, not physical (see Jn 3:3-8). As believers, we are born from God’s Spirit, and are His offspring through the Spirit.

Another important Johannine theme is introduced at 3:1b—that of the contrast between believers and the world (o( ko/smo$). This lays the groundwork for the development of the principal theme of 1 John, here in the central division (2:28-3:24) of the author’s work, which is: the contrast between the true and false believer. This theme is part of the broader contrast between believers and the world (with false believers belonging to the world). Throughout the Johannine writings, the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), tends to be used in a categorically negative sense, as part of a dualistic mode of thinking and expression. The “world” represents the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God, being located and manifested principally on earth (‘below’), among human beings. This use of ko/smo$ occurs throughout the Gospel, but is most prominent in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33, where the noun occurs 20 times), and the subsequent Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17 (where it is even more frequent: 18 times, in vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). Jesus prepares his disciples—and, by extension, all believers—for the hostility and opposition that they will face from the world during the course of their mission.

The contrast between God and the world was established in 2:15-17, just prior to the first section dealing directly with the ‘antichrist’ opponents (2:18-27). The contrast is then restated, in relation to the opponents, in the second ‘antichrist’ section (4:1-6), making it clear that, from the author’s standpoint, the opponents are false believers who belong to the world, not to God.

The same contrast is developed here in chapter 3, but from the more positive standpoint of what it means to be a true believer—since what is true can be distinguished from what is false, just as what is right (dikaiosu/nh, see the previous note on 2:29) can be seen in contrast to what is sin.

Because believers are the offspring of God, the world does not (and cannot) know them. There is a double meaning to the use of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) here. On the one hand, from the world’s standpoint, the world does not recognize the true believer as belonging to it, as one of its own. At the same time, from the standpoint of the truth, the statement in 3:1b means that the world cannot recognize that believers belong to God. It is precisely because (dia\ tou=to) believers are God’s own offspring that the world does not know them. Since the world does not know God Himself, they cannot know His offspring either.

Textual Note on 3:1

It should be pointed out that the short phrase “and (so) we are” (kai\ e)sme/n) is absent from a number of Greek manuscripts (K L), including most minuscules (which tend to be of later date), and the reading without the words was followed by the ‘Textus Receptus’, thus leading to the absence of the words from the King James Version (and other older English versions). However, the words are almost certainly original, being attested in an extremely wide range of manuscripts and other witnesses (Ë74 vid a A B C 33 81 614 1739 ith, 65 vg al). Possibly the words were omitted by accident, since, in the uncial writing, they would have resembled the previous word (klhqw=men); note the similarity—klhqwmen | kaiesmen. Cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition (1994), p. 642.

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