Saturday Series: 1 John 4:1-6

This study continues our series examining how conflicts within the early Christianity shaped the theology and religious worldview of the New Testament. The initial set of studies has focused on the Letters of John (see the prior studies on 2 John 4-11 and 1 John 2:18-27, as well as the previous study exploring the central section of 1 John). We will be looking at 1 John 4:1-6, focusing on several important Johannine themes, which the author has adapted, as a way of confronting and addressing the conflict involving the “antichrist” opponents. In so doing, we will also consider briefly some of the themes and points emphasized in the central section (2:28-3:24).

1 John 4:1-6

This passage must be considered in the context of the entire central bloc of material spanning 2:18-4:6. In 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, the author deals directly with the conflict involving a group of ‘opponents’ whom he refers to as antíchristoi, people “against [antí] the Anointed [Christós]” (i.e., against Christ)—2:18, 22; 4:3 (see also 2 John 7). These two “antichrist” sections flank the central division of the treatise (2:28-3:24), which expounds the author’s central theme: the contrast between the true and false believer.

By all accounts, the opponents, no less that the author and his adherents, were Johannine Christians who were rooted in the Johannine Tradition. Both groups likely knew (and used) some version of the Gospel of John, and would have shared a common religious tradition, theological vocabulary, and mode of expression. For this reason, in order to combat what the author regards as the false teaching (and example) of the opponents, it was necessary for the author to develop, adapt, and apply certain aspects of the Johannine Tradition. I wish to examine several of these here.

1. “The Spirit of Truth”

In both the Gospel and 1 John there is a strong emphasis on truth. The noun al¢¡theia occurs quite frequently in the Johannine writings (45 out of 109 NT occurrences); it occurs 25 times in the Johannine Gospel, compared with just 7 in the Synoptic Gospels. Also the related adjectives al¢th¢¡s and al¢thinós occur with some frequency—17 out of 26 for al¢th¢¡s, and 13 out of 28 for al¢thinós (23 out of 28 if one includes the book of Revelation as Johannine). Truth, of course, is a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God, and naturally applies to the Son (Jesus) and his teaching, etc, as well. However, in the Johannine writings, there is also a distinctive association with the Spirit. The expression “the Spirit of truth” (to pneúma t¢¡s al¢theías) occurs three times in the Gospel (in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse), 14:17; 15:26; 16:13, and also here in 1 John 4:6 (see below). A close association between the Spirit and truth, as a fundamental Divine attribute, is expressed famously in Jn 4:23-24, and the author of 1 John goes so far as to identify the Spirit with truth itself (5:6; compare a similar identification of the Son [Jesus] with truth in Jn 14:6).

According to the Johannine theology, which is rooted in the broader early Christian tradition, believers in Christ receive the Spirit of God (Jn 4:10ff/7:37-39; 6:63; 20:22; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13), and are also born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8). It is through the Spirit that believers, as God’s offspring, are united with both the Son of God (Jesus) and God the Father. That is to say, our abiding union as believers, in the Son and in the Father, is realized through the Spirit. As a theological point, this is not stated explicitly in the Johannine writings, but it may be plainly inferred from a number of passages. First, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24), any union with Him must take place in a spiritual manner, at the level of the Spirit. Secondly, there are the statements regarding the Spirit-Paraclete by Jesus in the Last Discourse (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:8-15) where it is clear that, even after his departure back to the Father, the Son (Jesus) will continue to be present in and among believers through the Spirit. The context of these statements, in the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, well establishes the principle that the abiding union of believers with the Son and the Father is realized through the Spirit. This theology is confirmed by the author’s words in 3:24 and 4:13 as well.

Through the Spirit, Jesus continues to be present within believers—all believers—and continues to teach them the truth of God. In light of this role of the Spirit, as it is described in the Paraclete-sayings, there would seem to have been a notable spiritualistic emphasis, or tendency, within the Johannine congregations. The teaching that comes through the internal witness of the Spirit takes priority over the external teaching (by other human beings), since this witness of the Spirit is that of God Himself (and His Son, Jesus).

Such an emphasis on the teaching of the Spirit was a basic component of early Christian identity, rooted in Old Testament prophetic and eschatological tradition. The early Christians viewed their experience (of receiving the Spirit) as the fulfillment of a number of key prophecies (Joel 2:28-32; Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:26-27; 39:29, etc) regarding the restoration of God’s people in the New Age. God will ‘pour out’ His Spirit upon His people in a new way, with the result that the Instruction (Torah) of God will be written within, on their hearts (cp. 2 Corinthians 3:6-18). Of particular importance is the “new covenant” prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which indicates that, in the New Age, God’s people will no longer need to be taught the Torah, because it will be written in their hearts.

This prophecy had enormous influence on early Christians, but it seems to have been taken particularly seriously by the Johannine Community. There is an allusion to Jer 31:33-34 (by way of Isa 54:13) in Jn 6:45, and I believe that it informs the Paraclete-sayings as well (see above on the teaching role of the Spirit). The priority of the internal witness of the Spirit is also expressed in 1 John, featuring prominently in all three sections—2:18-27, 4:1-6, and 5:4b-12—that deal most directly with the “antichrist” opponents. Particularly in 2:21ff and 27, the author emphasizes that believers are taught by the Spirit; I take the references to “the anointing” as referring to the Spirit, though not all commentators agree on this point. The witness of the Spirit is sufficient; believers do not need any other human being to teach them regarding the truth—specifically the truth of who Jesus is (Messiah and Son of God), and what was accomplished through his earthly ministry.

But this creates a problem. If all believers are taught the truth by the Spirit, how can Christians such as the opponents espouse a false view of Jesus? Indeed, from the author’s standpoint, these opponents have a false belief in Jesus, and thus cannot be true believers at all; rather, they are false believers, and also false prophets. This is how the author characterizes them in 4:1: “…many false prophets [pseudoproph¢¡tai] have gone out into the world”. The noun proph¢¡t¢s means “foreteller”, but this does not always mean telling the future (i.e., beforehand); rather, the corresponding Hebrew term n¹»î° properly means a “speaker” (spokesperson), one who speaks as God’s representative, communicating His word and will to others. According to the early Christian ideal, all believers function as prophets in this way, and the Johannine churches seem particularly to have emphasized an egalitarian approach to prophecy.

If the opponents (as “false prophets”) are speaking a false word regarding Jesus, then they cannot be inspired by the Spirit of God (the Spirit of truth); instead, they must be speaking from a different spirit. Throughout 4:1-6, the author contrasts this ‘spirit’ with the Spirit of God, beginning here in verse 1:

“Loved (one)s, you must not trust every spirit; but (instead) examine the spirits, (to see) if it is of God.”

There is, of course, only one Spirit that is from God; however, the plural here refers to the idea that each person, who would speak about God, as a prophet, speaks under the influence of a spirit. If they are not inspired by God’s Spirit, then they speak by a different spirit that is not from God. The author puts forward a test, by which believers may examine the prophetic word, and this test is Christological (vv. 2-3). More to the point, the Christological significance is related to the controversy surrounding the opponents (and their understanding of the person of Christ). Unfortunately, from our standpoint, the defining phrase “having come in (the) flesh” does not tell us as much about the opponents’ Christology as we might like to know. Did they deny the reality of the incarnation, holding to an early docetic view of Christ? Or did they, in some way, deny or minimize the importance of the life and ministry of Jesus? The parallel confessional statement in 5:6 suggests that it was the death of Jesus, and/or its significance, that was particularly at issue. For further discussion on the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ, see my earlier notes and articles on the subject, especially the sets of notes on 2:22 and 4:2-3.

Two Johannine themes are thus brought together here in 4:1-6, in an attempt to combat the views of the opponents: (1) the Johannine principle of the internal witness of the Spirit (in teaching the truth), and (2) the eschatological aspect of prophecy (and false prophecy). The opponents are false prophets of the end-time; their view of Jesus, which they speak and teach, being false, does not come from the Spirit of God, but from a different spirit—a false and deceiving spirit. It is a spirit that is opposed to God, and is “against Christ” (antichrist). Indeed, the spirit that does not confess the truth of Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” (v. 2), is a “spirit of antichrist” (v. 3), a deceiving spirit of false prophecy that is at work in the world. It is a spirit that belongs to “the world” (in the thoroughly negative Johannine sense of the term kósmos); those who speak from this spirit (i.e., the opponents) belong to the world, and only others who belong to the world (i.e., false believers) will listen to and accept what they say (v. 5).

The true believer, however, belongs to God (as His offspring), and not to the world. The Spirit of God dwells within every true believer, and this Spirit is far greater than the false/deceiving spirit of “antichrist” that is in the world (v. 4). Because the Son (Jesus) was victorious over the world (Jn 16:33), believers, who are united with him, share this same victory (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5). In this immediate context, “victory” (vb nikáœ) refers specifically to rejecting the false teaching of the opponents and resisting their influence. The true believer should not—and will not—let himself/herself be led astray by the false teaching and example of the opponents. Here again, the author draws upon early Christian eschatological tradition, regarding the ‘false prophets’ of the end-time who lead people astray (vb planáœ)—see Mark 13:6, 22 par; 2 Tim 3:13; 2 Pet 2:15; Rev 2:20; 12:9; 13:14, etc).

The author offers an exhortation (and warning) to his readers not to be led astray by these particular “false prophets” (2:26; cf. also 1:8; 3:7). At the close of this section (v. 6), the author establishes a stark contrast, between “the Spirit of truth” and “the spirit of going/leading astray [plán¢]”. The noun plán¢ is derived from the verb planáœ, and carries the same eschatological significance—see 2 Thess 2:11; 2 Pet 2:18; 3:17; Jude 11. True believers possess the Spirit of truth, are guided and taught by it, and speak from it; false believers, by contrast, are guided by a false spirit, being led astray by it, and also leading others astray. Just as the true believer will not listen to the false spirit, so the false believer cannot (and will not) hear the Spirit of truth. Note the way that the author frames this in terms of “us” (i.e., true believers) vs. “them” (false believers, viz. the opponents):

“We are of God, (and) the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of God does not hear us. Out of this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of going/leading astray.” (v. 6)

Next week, we shall examine several other Johannine themes, which the author employs in his effort to deal with the conflict surrounding the opponents.

Saturday Series: 1 John 3:4-9 (continued)

1 John 3:4-9, continued

In our study on 1 John 3:4-9, we have examined the climactic sin-references in verses 6 and 9. Each of these verses marks the climax of a parallel unit—vv. 4-6 and 7-9, respectively. There is, indeed, a parallelism to the three statements in each unit:

    • Statement 1, contrasting the true and false believer:
      “the (one) doing the sin” (v. 4)
      “the (one) doing the right (thing)” (v. 7)
    • Statement 2, describing the mission of the Son (Jesus) with regard to the removal of sin; he appeared (lit. was made to shine forth):
      “…(so) that he might take away sin” (v. 5)
      “…(so) that he might dissolve the works of the Diábolos” (v. 8b)
    • Statement 3, regarding the sinlessness of the (true) believer in Christ:
      “every (one) remaining in him does not sin” (v. 6)
      “every (one) having come to be (born) of God does not do sin” (v. 9)

The implications of statements 2 and 3, when taken together, are clear: the Son, through his mission, removed sin, and thus the true believer, who remains in him, does not sin.

As I discussed in the previous study, verse 9 formulates this characteristic of the true believer according to two distinctly Johannine theological idioms: (1) the motif of birth, using the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”) + the preposition ek (“[out] of”); and (2) the use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”). Both of these aspects are emphasized in verse 9. As I noted, the birth imagery dominates, and includes the aspect of remaining: the believer comes to be born out of God, and then, as His offspring, God’s seed (spérma) remains in the believer. Both aspects are integral to the idea of the sinlessness of the believer, as the chiastic arrangement of the verse indicates:

    • every (one) having come to be (born) of God
      • he does not sin
        • His seed remains in him
      • he is not able to sin
    • he has come to be (born) of God

If we are to understand how the believer can be sinless (and “unable to sin”) —in apparent contradiction to what the author wrote earlier (in 1:5-2:2; see also 5:16-17)—the key is in this central motif of God’s seed remaining in the believer. In this regard, it is necessary to address two interpretive questions:

    1. How is the “seed” of God, that remains in the believer, to be explained? and
    2. How does the remaining of this Divine “seed” in the believer relate to the remaining of the believer in God?

Let us consider each of these, in turn.

1. How is the “seed” of God, that remains in the believer, to be explained?

First, the context makes clear that the word spérma (“seed”) here refers to the believer’s birth from God (lit. “out of God,” ek tou Theou). Because the male image of “seed” (spérma, i.e. ‘sperm’) is utilized, some commentators believe that the principal idea that is being emphasized is the begetting of the believer, rather than the birth per se. The seed-motif certainly implies a begetting by God as Father; this “seed” literally comes “out of” God, to be implanted within the believer. It is a Divine seed, and enables the birth of the believer as God’s own “offspring” (téknon). Though the idea of ‘begetting’ is certainly present, it is, in fact, the birth of the believer that is principally in view.

The noun spérma occurs only rarely in the Johannine writings. Even though the theological birth-motif occurs with some frequency, especially in 1 John (2:29; 3:1-2, 10; 4:7; 5:1-2, 4, 18; see also Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8; 8:39ff; 11:52), the noun spérma is not used elsewhere in this context, except indirectly in Jn 8:33, 37 (compare the following vv. 39-47). The only other occurrence in the Gospel and Letters (Jn 7:25) simply uses the word in the figurative sense of a person’s offspring (or descendant).

There are, however, instances elsewhere in the New Testament where spérma is used in a theological sense. Most notably, there is Jesus’ parable of the Sower, in which the “seed” that is sown is explained as symbolizing the “Word (of God)”, Mark 4:14ff par. In that Synoptic passage, the noun spérma is implied, but then is used explicitly in a subsequent parable (v. 31), and in the Matthean parable of the Weeds (13:24-30, 36-43), where it has a comparable meaning. In these Kingdom-parables, the “word” or “account” (lógos) of God refers specifically to the preaching/teaching of Jesus (regarding the Kingdom of God). The Son’s “word” (lógos) also has a central place in Johannine tradition, even if this is expressed rather differently than it is in the Synoptics, with a stronger theological (and Christological) orientation.

The closest parallel to 1 Jn 3:9 is found in 1 Peter 1:23; indeed, the wording and thought is quite similar, referring to believers as:

“having come to be (born) again, not out of a decaying seed [sporá], but undecaying, through the Word of God living and remaining”

The parallels with Johannine thought, and to v. 9 in particular, are noteworthy:

    • the use of the verb gennᜠ(here the compound anagennáœ) + the preposition ek, to express the idea of the birth of believers
    • the use of a (substantive) perfect passive participle to express this as a fundamental characteristic of believers
    • the idea that this is a new birth, with the believer being “born again/anew” (compare Jn 3:3ff)
    • this new birth is facilitated by the presence of God’s own “seed” (the related noun sporá instead of spérma)
    • the true, spiritual nature of the imagery is indicated by the language used, and by the specific designation of the seed/word as “living” (zœ¡ntos)—see Jn 4:10-11; 6:51, 57; 7:39.
    • the use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”)
    • the idea that the Word of God “remains” in the believer

A different kind of parallel can be found in Paul’s use of the noun spérma in Galatians 3 (vv. 16, 19, 29) and Romans 4 (vv. 13, 16, 18; also 9:7-8). There the expression is “seed of Abraham”, identifying believers as the true offspring/descendants of Abraham, and thus able to inherit the covenant promises made by God. It is actually Jesus who is the “seed”, but believers take on the same identity through trust in him. Ultimately, this is another way of referring to believers as the sons/children of God (see Gal 3:26-29; 4:4-6; Rom 8:14-17ff; 9:8). A similar “seed of Abraham” theme appears in the Gospel of John (8:31-47).

There are two ways of understanding the “seed” motif in 1 John 3:9: (a) as the implanted Word of God, and (b) as the living Spirit of God which enables our “birth” (Jn 3:5-8) as His offspring. In Johannine thought, these two aspects are tied together, and it would be a mistake to create a false dichotomy by suggesting that the interpreter here must choose a single aspect. In responding with faith/trust, the believer receives the Word—the Word of God the Father, manifest in and through the Son. It comes to remain (i.e., abide) within the believer. However, since God Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24), His Word also is Spirit (see 6:63). The believer is united with both Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit; it is the Spirit that remains in the believer (1 Jn 3:23; 4:13), and His Word through the Spirit. Primarily, then, the “seed” that remains in the believer is the Spirit of God, but it is also His Word.

2. How does the remaining of this Divine “seed” in the believer relate to the remaining of the believer in God?

The Johannine writings use the verb ménœ to express both sides of the abiding union of the believer with God. There are two sides because this union is reciprocal: the believer remains in God, and God remains in the believer. The union with God the Father is realized through the Son: this means, the believer remains in the Son, and the Son remains in the believer.

With regard to these two sides of the union, we may draw a comparison with the covenant-bond—indeed, this spiritual union, between God and believers, represents a new covenant, patterned to some extent after the old bond between God and His people. In the old covenant-bond, YHWH remained ever-faithful to His people (see Deut 7:9, etc); the question was, whether the people would remain faithful to Him. Much the same situation applies to the new covenant. The Son (and Father) remains in believers, but will believers be faithful and remain in Him?

The exhortations to “remain”, found in both the Gospel and First Letter, show the importance of this question, as it is framed. The principal passage in the Gospel is the Vine-illustration section (15:1-17) of the Last Discourse, which I have discussed at length in a recent series of notes. In verses 4-10, the verb ménœ occurs ten times, and once more in v. 16. These instances begin (v. 4) with an imperative: “you must remain [meínate] in me”. Actually, both sides of the bond of union are mentioned, though only the believer’s side is there specifically an imperative: “you must remain in me, and I in you”. In the remainder of vv. 4-10, Jesus explains to his disciples what will happen if they should not remain (vv. 4, 6), and, conversely, what it means if they are faithful and do remain (vv. 5, 7). The emphasis in vv. 9-11ff is on remaining in the Son’s love; but the Vine passage also expresses the importance of remaining in his word (v. 7, see 8:31). Remaining in the Son means remaining in his word and his love, as I have illustrated:

This is the great two-fold command, as it is formulated by Jesus in the Gospel. First John continues this tradition of a two-fold command (or duty, entol¢¡) that is required of every believer, but formulates it somewhat differently (see 3:23-24).

The implication of 1 John 3:9 is that, if the believer will take care to remain in the Son—which means remaining in his word and his love—then the Divine “seed” which remains in the believer will enable the believer to be free from sin. As noted above, this “seed” refers essentially to God’s Spirit (which is the Spirit shared by His Son), but the Spirit, in turn, embodies and manifests the living presence of both the Word and Love of God. Even as the Son manifested the Father’s Word and Love during his earthly mission, so it is now realized for believers through the Spirit.

As in John 15:4, so also 1 John employs the verb ménœ in the imperative (2:24, 27-28). Actually the form of the verb in 2:27-28 is ambiguous; it could be read as either an indicative or an imperative. It is best read as an imperative in v. 28, but many commentators feel that the indicative is more appropriate in v. 27. In any case, the exhortation is clear enough: “you must remain in him” (ménete en autœ¡). There would be no point in making such an exhortation, with its implicit warning, if there were not the possibility that the believer, through carelessness or neglect, could cease (or fail) to remain in the Son. In the context of 3:9, we could formulate the author’s argument as follows: if the believer remains in the Son, then the abiding presence of the Son (and Father), through the Spirit, will keep the believer from sin; however, if the believer ceases, even temporarily, to remain in the Son, then it is possible to sin.

In next week’s study, the last in this set on 1 John 3:4-9, I will discuss the feasibility of this line of interpretation, in light of the wider context of First John, and of the Johannine writings as a whole. I will also touch upon other approaches and proposed solutions which commentators have variously adopted as a way of resolving the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John.

February 29: Romans 8:14-17

Romans 8:14-17

As we explore this theme of believers as the “sons (or children) of God”, in Paul’s letters, we turn from Galatians to his letter to the Roman Christians. In Romans, many of the themes from Galatians are repeated, and further developed. This is certainly true with regard to his view of the Law (viz., the Torah regulations). He even utilizes some of the same lines of argument that were employed in the probatio (chaps. 3-4) of Galatians. For example, much of the argument from Scripture, dealing with the figure of Abraham, from Galatians 3, is essentially repeated in Romans 4. Similarly, the illustration in Rom 7:1-6 resembles the kind presented in Gal 3:15-4:6, to the effect that the Torah regulations were in force only during a certain period of time—a period which, with the coming of Jesus Christ, has now reached its end (cf. Rom 10:4).

This aspect of Paul’s view of the Law, indeed, is a central theme of chapters 6-7 in Romans, but it actually runs through the entirety of the probatio of the letter (1:18-8:39). Chapter 8 is the last of four sections which comprise the probatio; thematically, I have outlined them as follows:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin
    • Rom 8:1-30ff: Announcement of Life in the Spirit

Chapter 8, in turn, has the following outline:

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Believers in Christ are now freed from the Law—meaning that they/we are no longer bound by the regulations of the Torah. This is a primary point argued throughout the probatio (particularly in chaps. 6-7), and is declared again at the start of chapter 8 (vv. 1-2ff). The believer is now led internally, by the indwelling Spirit, rather than externally (by the Torah).

The consequences of this reality are dealt with by Paul in the exhoratio (exhortation) section of Galatians (5:1-6:10), and similarly here in Romans 8. The believer is now led by a new Law (as, indeed, by a new covenant). This new “law of the Spirit of Life” (v. 2) is, however, not unrelated to the old Law; on the contrary, the old covenant is fulfilled by the new (cf. 3:31; 8:4). As we are guided by the Spirit, in union with Christ (“in Christ Jesus”), we fulfill the Law of God, but now without any requirement of a written code (such as the Torah regulations). This is to be expected, if, as Paul states, the Law is “of the Spirit” (pneumatiko/$).

As in Galatians, Paul defines this new freedom (and life in the Spirit) in terms of sonship—we, as believers, are now sons rather than slaves, children of God rather than in bondage to sin (and to the “Law of sin and death”). In vv. 12-17, Paul further positions this idea, of believers as God’s sons, in the context of the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc). This Spirit-flesh dualism is a fundamental component of Paul’s theology, being central to his thought in Galatians, and also in Romans. It is particularly prominent in the exhortation sections of each letter—Gal 5:1-6:10 and here in chapter 8, being the dominant theme of vv. 1-11, and continuing in vv. 12-13. The ethical emphasis is on the need for believers to be guided by the Spirit, rather than by the impulses (toward sin) of the flesh.

When we, as believers, are so guided by the Spirit, it is then that we are realizing our fundamental identity as sons/children of God:

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are (the) sons of God.” (v. 14)

The lines of identification are given formally by Paul’s syntax:

as many as are led (by) the Spirit of God
these are the sons of God

The contrast between sonship and a state of slavery (doulei/a$) is emphasized again in verse 15, more or less equating sonship with freedom:

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again unto fear, but (rather) you received (the) Spirit of placement as a son [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry out ‘Abba, Father!'”

The wording here certainly echoes that of Galatians 4:5-6, and expresses much the same thought (cf. the discussion in the earlier note). One difference is that, in Galatians, Paul seems to distinguish two related stages: (1) the legal status of our “placement as a son” (i.e., adoption), and (2) our truly becoming God’s sons upon receiving the Spirit of His Son. Here, these two aspects are blended together so as to represent a single dynamic. In this instance, the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son”) really should not be translated “adoption”; much preferable is the literal rendering “placement as a son” —with emphasis on becoming God’s son.

Paul also provides an explanation of the Spirit’s cry (“Abba, Father!”) within us, here in verse 16:

“The Spirit itself gives witness together with our spirit that we are (the) offspring [te/kna] of God.”

The Spirit, through this outcry, identifying God as our Father, bears witness to the fact that we are, indeed, God’s children. The plural te/kna (“offspring”, i.e. “children”) is used here instead of ui(oi/ (“sons”); Paul uses the terms interchangeably, whereas, in the Johannine writings, te/kna is used exclusively for believers, with the noun ui(o/$ being reserved for Jesus. The Spirit bears witness together with our own (human) spirit; Paul expresses this by the compound verb summarture/w (su/n [“with”] + marture/w [“give witness”]). Paul emphasizes this interaction, between God’s Spirit and our own spirit, further in vv. 23-27, and in other passages (cf. 1 Cor 2:10-14; 14:2, 12ff).

Paul closes this section much as he does in Gal 4:6, emphasizing an important consequence of our sonship as believers—namely, that we are heirs of the things belonging to God:

“And, if (we are His) offspring, (then) also klhrono/moi—(on the one hand,) (true) klhrono/moi of God, but (on the other hand) klhrono/moi together with (the) Anointed, if indeed we suffer with him, (so) that we should also be honored with him.”

The noun klhrono/mo$ means one who receives the “lot” (klh=ro$) of an inherited portion (no/mo$)—in other words, an heir. The same noun (no/mo$), elsewhere used in the sense of “law”, is built into this compound word, with the component no/mo$ in its more rudimentary meaning of something “portioned” out. It is hard to know whether, or to what extent, Paul might be intentionally bringing out this etymological association. In any case, the principal idea is of the son who inherits his father’s property.

The identity of believers as the children (“sons/offspring”) of God is dependent upon the Sonship of Jesus. In his own way, Paul emphasizes this no less than do the Johannine writings (see above). Here the point is made more directly than in Gal 4:4-6. Paul makes it through use of a grammatical me/nde/ construct (“on the one hand…on the other…”). On the one hand (me/n), believers truly are God’s sons, and thus also the true heirs of all that belongs to Him. Yet, at the same time (de/), we have this identity only through union with Jesus Christ (the Son of God). As in verse 16 (see above), this is expressed by use of a compound word with a prepositional su/n– (meaning “[together] with”) prefix. The noun is sugklhrono/mo$ (su/n + klhrono/mo$), meaning one who receives the lot (i.e. inherits) together with another. However, from a Christological standpoint, this is better understood as in union with—referring to the believer’s spiritual union with Christ.

Earlier in Romans (6:3-11), Paul defined this union in terms of our participation in both the death and resurrection of Jesus, the second being dependent upon the first—by dying with him, we will also be raised (to new life) with him. The same dynamic is alluded to here in verse 17, expressed conditionally, “if indeed [ei&per] we suffer with him, (so) that we should also be honored with him”. The two verbs—sumpa/sxw (“suffer with”) and sundoca/zw (passive, “be honored with”)—each contain a sun– prefix, just like the noun sugklhrono/mo$. Through this language, Paul is giving repeated emphasis to the idea of the believer’s participation (and union) with Christ.

In the next daily note, we will examine how Paul further develops this sonship theme in the final two sections (vv. 18-25, 26-30) of chapter 8.

February 13: Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31 represents the final section of the probatio of the letter (chaps. 3-4), and also the final argument used by Paul in support of his central proposition (expressed in 2:15-21). By these arguments, Paul endeavors to ‘prove’ (thus, probatio) his proposition, regarding the relation of believers in Christ (Jewish and non-Jewish) to the Torah.

I have discussed this section previously, most notably as an article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”. Here I will be focusing on the particular theme of the sonship of believers, contrasting this sonship with a condition of slavery. This is a theme which runs through chapters 3-4—and, indeed, through the entire letter. Are believers still in bondage to the regulations of the Torah (under the term no/mo$), thus continuing in a kind of slavery? or, as sons, who have now come of age, able to inherit everything that belongs to the Father, are we free of this guiding authority? Paul argues strenuously against the former, while affirming (just as vigorously) the latter. The allegorical illustration he uses in 4:21-31 represents his final argument (of the probatio) toward this goal. He frames the illustration with a pointed rhetorical question for his audience:

“Relate to me, (you) the (one)s wishing to be under the Law, would you not hear the Law?” (v. 21)

This rhetorical device is known as the interrogatio method, by which Paul questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians, and cuts right to the heart of Paul’s message in the letter. It also alludes to the seemingly paradoxical character of Paul’s view of the Torah. In support of his argument that believers are no longer bound by the Torah’s authority, he appeals to the Torah’s authority.

There is actually a double-use of no/mo$ here, referring both to the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) and, secondly, to the narratives of the Pentateuch. This is significant since Paul’s argument is based upon the interpretation of a specific Scriptural narrative (from the Torah/Pentateuch). The expression “hear the Law” also has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

In verses 22-23, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidi/skh) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This establishes the contrast between slavery and freedom—a key theme which Paul introduced (2:4) and developed (3:23-29; 4:1-10) earlier in the letter (cf. the previous notes on 3:26 and 4:4-7). It also sets the stage for the specific emphasis on freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff.

The contrast, expressed through the figures of Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative, is also expressed grammatically by the me/nde/ (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some manuscripts (Papyrus46 B f vg) omit me/n]. The contrast/conflict between freedom and slavery is also defined as being between the “promise” (e)paggeli/a) and the “flesh” (sa/rc):

“the (one born) of the servant-girl has come to be (born) according to (the) flesh,
but the (one born) of the free (woman) through (the) e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise]” (v. 23)

The promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). Meanwhile, the expression “according to (the) flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) is used frequently elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3].

The two kinds of sons thus symbolize this dualistic orientation of Paul’s theology. The symbolism is based on his interpretation of the Genesis story as an “allegory” (a)llhgori/a), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18. The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (sustoixe/w, v. 25) as follows:

Slave-girl vs. Free (woman) [v. 22b]

Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]

(Old) Covenant vs. (New) Covenant [v. 24]

Jerusalem (on earth) vs. Jerusalem above [v. 25-26]

Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac [v. 28-29]

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diaqh/kh) is literally something “set through” or “put in order”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew tyr!B= (“binding agreement”)—that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new—are contrasted syntactically by way of another me\nde/ formulation (see above):

    • me/none (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [ei)$ doulei/an]… (vv. 24-25)
    • de/(the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [e)leuqe/ra e)stin]… (vv. 26-27)

Paul establishes this line of association first by equating Sinai with the (current) earthly Jerusalem in verse 25; he does this by way of (allegorical) correspondence, even though he recognizes that Mt. Sinai is actually in “Arabia” (presumably the Sinai peninsula). This equation has the following interpretive relationship:

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [doulei/a] =>
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleu/ei]

The last point could be taken either in a socio-political (i.e. under Roman occupation) or religious-spiritual (bondage under the Law and sin) sense, or both. This contrasts sharply with the traditional Jewish self-understanding of freedom related to the Torah and the covenant with God (see Mishnah Abot 6:2, also e.g. John 8:33), which Paul reverses completely. Here is the associative logic as a whole:

    • The Old Covenant (the Law/Torah) given at Mt. Sinai
      • Sinai = earthly Jerusalem
        • The Jerusalem below | Slavery
        • The Jerusalem above | Freedom
      • Jerusalem (above) = believers in Christ
    • The New Covenant (the Spirit/promise) realized in Christ

This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (see Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2. Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

In verses 28-31, Paul applies this interpretation to the identity of believers in Christ. These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom, and emphasizing again the theme of the sonship of believers

V. 28: “But you*, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
{* some manuscripts read “we”}

V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

Verses 29-30 stand in between, and are descriptive of conflict for believers:

    • V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), see t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects:
      (1) Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts.
      (2) The dualism of kata\ sa/rka (“according to the flesh”) vs. kata\ pneu=ma (“according to the Spirit”). Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.
    • V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; see also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (see 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

The thematic structure of these verses may be outlined as follows:

    • V. 28—Believers are children of the promise
      • V. 29—Conflict for believers: Flesh vs. Spirit
      • V. 30—Action for believers: “Cast out” the son of the slave-girl (i.e. slavery)
    • V. 31—Believers are children of the free woman

Significantly, these verses, which conclude the probatio, also prepare for the ethical instruction that follows in the exhortatio (“exhortation”) section, 5:1-6:10. Indeed, here Paul begins to turn his readers’ attention to the implications and consequences of what it means to be “sons/children of God”.

One primary implication has been the main focus of the letter, up to this point: believers are no longer under the binding authority of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision, the dietary and purity laws, etc), and are not obligated to observe them. This is emphasized by the ‘outer’ verses (vv. 28, 31) of the outline above.

The second implication (cf. the ‘inner’ verses 29-30), which is just as important, comes to be the focus in 5:1-6:10. Now that believers are freed from the Torah regulations, how is our life and behavior to be regulated? This is defined principally by the conflict between flesh and the Spirit. The impulses of the flesh (toward sin) still need to be curbed. However, this is no longer achieved through the external authority of the Torah regulations, but through the internal guidance of the Spirit. Even what remains of the Torah regulations—namely, the command/duty to love one another (5:13-15; 6:2ff)—is interpreted in light of the new reality that believers now live and act according to the Spirit. Paul expounds this quite clearly in 5:13-24, a passage which lies at the very heart of his instruction in 5:1-6:10.

This message may be summarized by the principle that: the sonship of believers is defined by the presence and work of the Spirit. In the next daily note, will begin examining this principle further, as Paul develops and explains it, in Romans.

November 7: John 15:11

John 15:11

“These (thing)s I have spoken to you, (so) that my joy might be in you, and (that) your joy might be (made) full.”

This statement by Jesus concludes the expository unit vv. 9-11, but it also holds an interesting structural position within the exposition as a whole. Brown (p. 667), following the lead of earlier commentators, notes that verse 11 is transitional between vv. 7-10 and 12-17, joining the two sections thematically. In fact, one may discern a series of inverse parallels within these units:

    • Jesus’ words ‘remaining’ in the disciples, implying their faithfulness in keeping his words (vv. 7a, 17)
    • The promise that the Father will give the disciples what they request (vv. 7b, 16b)
    • The motif of “bearing fruit” (vv. 8, 16)
    • Being disciples (chosen ones) of Jesus (vv. 8, 16a)
    • What Jesus has received (love) from the Father (vv. 9a, 15b)
    • Jesus’ love for the disciples (vv. 9b, 15a)
    • The disciples “remaining” in love and keeping the duties given to them by Jesus (vv. 10, 12/14)

The key motif in verse 11 is joy (xara/). There are three other places where this noun occurs in the Gospel of John. The first is in 3:29, part of John the Baptist’s closing witness concerning Jesus (vv. 27-30)—his Messianic identity and heavenly origin. The Baptist identifies himself as a “dear (friend)” of the bridegroom, rather than the bridegroom (the Messiah) himself:

“The (one) holding the bride is (the) bride-groom; but the dear (friend) of the bride-groom, the (one) having stood (by) and hearing him, rejoices [xai/rei] with (great) joy [xara/] through [i.e. because of] the voice of the bride-groom. So this joy [xara/] of mine has been made full [peplh/rwtai].”

With Jesus having embarked on his ministry, John the Baptist realizes that the time of his own mission has come to an end. He has “heard the voice” of the Messiah (the ‘bridegroom’), and feels complete joy. The Baptist’s own joy, related to his mission and calling by God, is made complete (fulfilled, vb plhro/w) through the coming of the Son (Jesus).

The second passage occurs in the Last Discourse, but in the third Discourse-division (16:4b-28), and following the Vine-illustration. The context is the impending departure of Jesus, which is understood on two levels: (1) his immediate death, and (2) his return to the Father. Both departures will bring feelings of sadness to the disciples (v. 20a), but this will only be temporary, for their sorrow will soon turn to joy (v. 20b). At the first level, this joy relates to the resurrection of Jesus and his immediate return to his disciples; on the second level, the joy refers primarily to the coming of the Spirit (cf. the context of the Paraclete-saying[s] in vv. 7-15), when Jesus will be present with them in a new and abiding way. This is illustrated by the human example of a woman giving birth to a child:

“When the woman would produce (her child), she holds sorrow, (in) that her hour (has) come; but when she should cause to be (born) the little child, she no longer remembers the distress, through [i.e. because of] the joy [xara/] that a man [i.e. human being] has come to be (born) into the world.” (v. 21)

The use of the term “distress” (qli/yi$) tends to have eschatological significance for early Christians, referring to the end-time period of distress, which begins with the passion and death of Jesus. This allows for a further level of meaning to the ‘departure’ of Jesus (back to the Father); the disciples will experience joy with the coming of the Spirit, but they will also find joy with the final return of Jesus. There are thus three ways of understanding the ‘return’ of Jesus, when he will see his disciples again (v. 22): (i) his appearance after the resurrection, (ii) his presence in the Spirit, and (iii) his final/eschatological return. Given the importance of the Spirit-Paraclete statements in the Last Discourse, I would say that the second (ii) of these aspects is primarily in view. Jesus’ abiding presence will be with the disciples (and believers) through the Spirit; and their joy also will abide:

“…your heart will rejoice [xarh/setai], and no one takes (away) your joy [xara/] from you.” (v. 22b)

The final reference is in the chap. 17 Discourse-Prayer that follows the Last Discourse. Again, the impending departure of Jesus is in view, and he (the Son) addresses God the Father in preparation of his exaltation (v. 1)—that is, his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. In verse 11, at the heart of the passage, the ultimate goal of the unity/union of believers, together with the Son and the Father, comes into prominence:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, while I am com(ing) toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name that you have given to me, (so) that they may be one, just as we (are).”

The Son (Jesus) was able to keep watch over the disciples while he has been present on earth (v. 12), but now that he is going away, he asks the Father to take over this role, which ultimately will be fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit. And, indeed, the promise of the Spirit was at the heart of Jesus’ message to the disciples in the Last Discourse, and we should probably understand it as the focus of his words here in v. 13 as well:

“Now I come toward you, and (so) these (thing)s I speak in the world, (so) that they might hold my joy [xara/] made full [vb plhro/w] in themselves.”

The Son’s joy is made complete (lit. made full, fulfilled) when he is reunited with the disciples (and all believers) through the Spirit. The disciples will hold this joy within themselves, through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

The language in 17:13 resembles that of 15:11, with the phrase “these (thing)s I speak…”. It also echoes his earlier statement in 14:25, toward the close of the first division of the Last Discourse (and immediately prior to the second Paraclete-saying, vv. 26-27): “These (thing)s I have spoken to you (while) remaining [vb me/nw] alongside you”. The expression “these things” (the demonstrative neuter plural pronoun tau=ta) can be understood on several levels: (a) all of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples (i.e, his “word” in a general/collective sense), (b) the Last Discourse as a whole, or (c) the immediate Discourse-unit (such as the Vine illustration and exposition). All three ways of understanding the use of the comprehensive pronoun are valid.

We may also mention the contextual association between the joy-motif and the promise of the disciples’ prayers being answered by the Father (v. 7). The same association is found in 16:24:

“Until now you have not asked (for) anything in my name; ask and you shall receive, (so) that your joy may be made full.”

The italicized phrase is similar to the one in 17:13 (cf. above); both use a perfect passive participle of the verb plhro/w (“make full, [ful]fill”) as a qualifying verbal adjective. This syntax is difficult to translate literally in English: “that your joy may be (something) having been [i.e. that has been] made full”.

How should we understand the joy-motif as it is used here in the Vine exposition? There are three phrases in verse 11:

1. “These (thing)s I have spoken to you…” The demonstrative pronoun “these (thing)s” (tau=ta) refers comprehensively to all of Jesus’ teaching during his ministry, but particularly (in the narrative context) to the Last Discourse, and specifically to the instruction he gives to his disciples here in the Vine passage.

2. “…(so) that my joy might be in you” This phrase is quite similar to the statement by Jesus in 17:13 (cf. above), expressing his wish that his joy would be in the disciples. The joy of the Son (Jesus) is best understood in terms of his return to the Father, following the completion of his mission. Recall that in 17:11 (just prior to v. 13), Jesus’ request was that the disciples (and all believers) would be one, just as he and the Father are one; the abiding union the Son has with the Father will be realized in and among believers as well.

3. “…and (that) your joy might be (made) full” As discussed above, the disciples’ joy is experienced when they see Jesus again, and are reunited with him. In the context of the Last Discourse, this refers primarily to the presence of Jesus, in and among believers, through the Spirit. The significance of the verb plhro/w (“make full”) in this regard is an emphasis on the abiding presence of the Spirit, through which the Son remains in believers.

The thrust of the Vine-illustration was the importance of believers remaining (vb me/nw) in the Son, and the Son in believers. Here in verse 11, we see the purpose of his teaching is “so that” (i%na) by “remaining” in Jesus—in his word and in his love—believers will be able to experience an abiding union with the Son, and in so doing, share also in the abiding union between Father and Son.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next unit of the exposition (vv. 12-15), in which Jesus further expounds for his disciples (and for us as believers) the nature of the duty (e)ntolh/) to love.

October 23: John 15:3 (concluded)

John 15:3, continued

Having examined verse 3 in detail, word-by-word, in the previous note, we shall now consider the verse in terms of an interpretation of the Vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) as a whole.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the land-worker. Every broken (branch) in me (that is) not bearing fruit, He takes it (away); and every (branch) bearing fruit, He cleans it, (so) that it might bear more fruit. Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”

The statement in verse 3:

“Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”
h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste dia\ to\n lo/gon o^n lela/lhka u(mi=n

The first point to make is that the disciples, whom Jesus is addressing in the context of the Last Discourse, are identified as the branches (klh/mata) of the vine. However, unlike the statements in verse 1, this identification is not made explicit (until verse 5). The precise relationship of the branches (disciples/believers) to the vine (Jesus) will be discussed in the upcoming note on v. 5.

The second point is that the time of the cleaning/pruning (kaqai/rw) is now, at the present moment that the disciples are being addressed. The adverbial (temporal) particle h&dh (“even now, already”), in emphatic position at the beginning of the verse, emphasizes this point. As discussed in the previous note, the use of this particle here has eschatological significance, as with the similar usage in 3:18; 4:35. The latter reference is particularly relevant, since it involves a comparable agricultural illustration (cf. the earlier note dealing with 4:31-38), with the particle in a similarly emphatic position. The eschatological significance involves a contrast, related to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine Gospel. In 4:35, the end-time “harvest” (of the Last Judgment, etc) has already come—for both believers and non-believers. Similarly, the pruning of the vine—which typically occurs after the fall grape-harvest, in the dormant season—has already come for the disciples. In this regard, the adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean”) plays on the related verb kaqai/rw (“make clean”) in verse 2.

Third, the adjective kaqaro/$ here alludes to the cleansing of the disciples/believers from sin. It is important to keep in mind the close parallel between v. 3 and 13:10b, in the context of the foot-washing episode (esp. verses 8-11). This was discussed in some detail in a prior note. The basic declaration is: “Already you are clean” (h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste). The disciples have already been cleansed from sin in a fundamental way; for the idea of the removal of sin, cf. the earlier note on the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29. The same verb, ai&rw, in the sense of “take away” (i.e., remove), is used in both 1:29 and 15:2; and the idea of the removal of sin is present in both references. This cleansing allows and enables the disciples/believers to bear “more fruit”.

Fourth, the cleansing takes place, according to Jesus, “through [dia/] the word [lo/go$] that I have spoken to you”. The force of the preposition dia/ (“through”) could be on the word (lo/go$) as the specific means of cleansing, or that simply the cleansing takes place because of (or as a result of) the word Jesus speaks. There are two components of this source of cleansing: (a) the word (lo/go$), and (b) the act of speaking (vb lale/w) by Jesus.

I previously discussed the dual-meaning of the noun lo/go$ (translated loosely as “word”) within the Johannine theological idiom. As is established in the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff), lo/go$ can refer to the Son (Jesus) himself as the incarnation of the living/eternal Word (Logos) of God. On a secondary level, lo/go$ refers collectively to the words/teaching of Jesus during the time of his earthly ministry. Because the specific act of speaking is emphasized, the latter aspect of meaning is primary here in v. 3; however, the idea of Jesus as the incarnate/living Word is present as well.

This Christological concept is implicit from the presence of the Johannine theological idiom—such as the central occurrence of an “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement by Jesus, alluding to his (Divine) identity as the Son of God, along with the emphasis on the Son’s relationship to God the Father (“my Father…”). As I have mentioned, the idea of the Son speaking the words of the Father, utilizing the verb lale/w (“speak”), is an important theme in the Gospel. Cf. the references cited in the previous note. By speaking the Father’s word(s), Jesus demonstrates that he is the Son; moreover, his words are Divine in nature and character, since they belong to God.

But how does the word Jesus speaks cleanse the disciples? This brings us to the final point to be addressed. The key to answering this question lies in the Divine nature of the word. Since God is Spirit (4:24), then His word, which belongs to Him and comes from Him, is also Spirit. The statements in 3:31-35 are especially instructive in this regard, since they bring together three key Johannine themes: (i) the Divine origin of the words Jesus speaks, (ii) the idea of the Father giving to the Son “all things” that belong to Him, and (iii) the specific idea of the Father giving the Spirit (in its fullness) to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers. This close association between word and Spirit is made explicit by the statement (by Jesus) in 6:63b:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life”

There is a close formal parallel between this statement and 15:3b:

    • “the utterances that I have spoken to you”
      ta\ r(h/mata a^ e)gw\ lela/lhka u(mi=n
    • “the word that I have spoken to you”
      to\n lo/gon o^ lela/lhka u(mi=n

The plural r(h/mata (lit. things uttered, utterances) refers to the specific things Jesus has said/taught, and, in this context, is essentially synonymous with the plural of lo/go$ (lo/goi, “words”). The singular lo/go$ refers to the sayings/teachings of Jesus in a general or collective sense.

The prior statement in 6:63a explains how the word of Jesus, which is Spirit, can cleanse the disciples:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making live [i.e. giving life], the flesh does not benefit anything”

The Spirit communicates life—that is, the life of God, eternal life—to the believer. This dynamic involves the removal of sin and protection from the Judgment (against sin). The association of the Spirit with water (as also with fire), has, as a major point of significance, the concept of cleansing. In giving the Spirit to believers, Jesus “baptizes” them/us with it (1:33), implying that they/we are cleansed (washed); cp. again the foot-washing scene (13:8-11). Cleansing is not the only significance of the association with water; the water-motif also is used to signify being born of the Spirit (3:3-8), and partaking of (i.e., drinking) the Spirit as “living water” which resides within the believer (4:10-14; 7:37-39).

The use of lo/go$ in v. 3 is best understood as general and comprehensive, referring to the teaching and proclamation by Jesus in total. Even so, a certain priority must be given to the teaching in the Last Discourse, since it represents the fullest revelation, given by Jesus, to the disciples. With the departure of Judas (13:29-30), only the close circle of Jesus’ true disciples (i.e., true believers) remains, and he now has the opportunity to instruct them in the truth at a deeper level. This instruction will continue, spiritually, through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

In communicating the word of God, Jesus is also communicating himself as the eternal/living Word. The two aspects of the theological meaning of lo/go$ really cannot be separated in this regard. Jesus communicates the Spirit, but is also himself present in/through the Spirit. The important conceptual parallel, between “remaining in” the Son and “remaining in” the Son’s word (cf. 8:31), will be discussed further as we proceed through these notes.

August 13: 1 John 2:20

1 John 2:20

Having considered the use of the title “the holy (one) of God” in Jn 6:69 (the confession by Peter, cp. Luke 9:20 par) in the previous note, I wish to examine now the same title (“the holy [one]”) in 1 John 2:20. In the previous discussion, I had mentioned that, within the Johannine theological context, the title “holy one of God” in Jn 6:69 contained an allusion to the important association between the Son (Jesus) and the holy Spirit of God. It is worth giving further consideration to the point by examining the evidence in the Gospel.

First, we have the Paraclete-saying in 14:25-26, in which the Spirit-Paraclete is specifically referred to as “the holy Spirit” (v. 26). In point of fact, the adjective a%gio$ is rather rare in the Gospel of John, occurring just five times. In addition to Peter’s confession (here, 6:69), and one occurrence in the Discourse-Prayer of Jesus (17:11, addressing God the Father), it is only used in three references to the Spirit (with the full, qualifying expression “[the] holy Spirit”, [to\] pneu=ma [to\] a&gion).

It is significant the way that these three Spirit-references frame the Gospel narrative, in relation to the ministry of Jesus (the incarnate Son of God) on earth:

    • 1:33—at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, part of the Johannine version (cf. also verse 26) of the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mark 1:8 par), alluding to the promise of Jesus’ giving the Spirit to believers: “(he) is the (one) dunking [i.e. baptizing] in (the) holy Spirit”.
    • 14:26—the Johannine narrative of Jesus’ ministry is structured around the great Discourses, culminating in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), in which Jesus gives the final teaching to his close circle of disciples (and true believers); the Paraclete-sayings deal with the coming of the Spirit, following Jesus’ teaching to this effect in the earlier Discourses—cf. the Spirit-references in 3:5-8, 34f; 4:10-15 [7:37-39], 23-24; 6:63.
    • 20:22—at the end of Jesus’ ministry, following the fulfillment of his mission (and his exaltation), Jesus finally gives the Spirit to his disciples (the first believers).

It is only natural that holy one of God (Jesus) would give the holy Spirit of God, particularly since the Son (Jesus) possesses the fullness of the Spirit, having received it from the Father (3:34-35). This Christological dynamic makes the use of the title “holy (one)” in 1 John 2:20 particularly intriguing:

“But you hold (the) anointing [xri=sma] from the holy (one) [o( a%gio$], and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s.”

There is some debate among commentators as to whether the title o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) refers specifically to Jesus (the Son) or God the Father. In the previous note, I discussed the use of the title “holy one” (in Hebrew, the use of the substantive adjective vodq* corresponds with a%gio$ in Greek). In the Old Testament Scriptures, almost exclusively it is used as a title for God the Father (YHWH)—particularly in the expression “the Holy One of Israel” (most frequent in the book of Isaiah)—and only very rarely is applied to human or angelic beings as God’s consecrated servants (Num 6:17; Psalm 106:16; Dan 8:13); the same usage is attested in the subsequent Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D.

By contrast, in the New Testament, “[the] holy one” ([o(] a%gio$) is predominantly a title, with Messianic significance, that is applied to JesusMark 1:24 [par Lk 4:34]; Acts 2:27 and 13:35 [citing Ps 16:10]; Rev 3:7, and of course in John 6:69 (cf. also 10:36); the Messianic context of these references was discussed (and established) in the previous note. Only in Rev 16:5 is the title used in its more traditional religious-historical aspect, as an epithet of YHWH. Interestingly, as I had mentioned, the adjective a%gio$ is actually rather rare in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), occurring just five times in the Gospel and once (here) in 1 John. In the Gospel, once it is applied to Jesus the Son (6:69), once to God the Father (17:11), and three times to the Spirit (i.e., “[the] holy Spirit,” 1:33; 14:26; 20:22).

Overall, the New Testament and Johannine usage favors o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) here as a title of Jesus Christ (the Son).

Rather more certain, in my view, is the conclusion that the term xri=sma (“anointing”) here (and in v. 27) refers to the presence of the Spirit. The noun xri=sma occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, so there is little opportunity for comparative examination of word-usage. However, for reasons I detailed in the earlier article on 2:18-27, the anointing which believers received (v. 27) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. Most likely, in common with other early Christians, the Johannine churches viewed the believer’s baptism as representing the moment when he/she received the Spirit (cf. Jn 1:33); to view the baptism as an ‘anointing’ by the Spirit was natural, drawing upon the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism (cf. especially the Lukan emphasis of 4:18ff, in light of 3:22; 4:1, 14). Also significant and influential are the Prophetic passages referring to God ‘pouring out’ the Spirit on His people in the New Age (cf. the Introduction to this series for the key passages).

But does the believer receive the Spirit from Jesus (the Son) or from God (the Father)? The immediate evidence from 1 John (3:24; 4:2ff, 13; 5:6-8ff) indicates the latter—that it is God the Father who gives us the Spirit. However, the Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ role in giving the Spirit (cf. above). According to the framework of the Johannine theology—expressed clearly in the Gospel, and only alluded to in the Letters—the Son (Jesus) receives the Spirit from the Father, and then, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers. The Father is the ultimate source, but the Son is the immediate giver; thus, there is a certain variability and interchangeability with how this is expressed in the Johannine writings (cf. for example, the variation in the Paraclete-sayings, in 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7b, 13-15).

The focus in 2:18-27 is on the person of Jesus—the Anointed One (xristo/$) and Son of God—and this would tend to confirm the point of reference for the title “holy one”. It also corresponds with the Messianic (and Christological) significance of the title in Jn 6:69, as was discussed in the previous note.

Yet in verse 27, the Divine subject, in relation to the anointing (xri=sma), is expressed more ambiguously:

“But (as for) you, the anointing which you received from him, it remains in you, and you do not have a need that any (one) should teach you; but, as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not false, and even as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.”

The phrase “the anointing which you received from him” seems to allude back to verse 20; if the title “the holy one” refers to the Son (Jesus), then it is most likely that the pronoun of the prepositional expression “from him” (a)p’ au)tou=) also refers to Jesus. Turning ahead to verse 28, where Jesus is clearly the implied subject of the second clause, the implication is that the pronoun of the expression “in him” (e)n au)tw=|), at the end of v. 27 and beginning of v. 28, likewise refers to Jesus; certainly, there is no obvious indication of a change of reference. For the same reason, it would be simplest to interpret the qualifying subject “his anointing” (to\ au)tou= xri=sma) as meaning the anointing received from Jesus.

In other words, all the third person singular pronouns in vv. 27-28, refer primarily to Jesus Christ (the Son). It is he who gives the anointing (i.e., the Spirit) to believers, having himself received it from God the Father. As noted above, the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit, but it is given through the mediation of the Son. Just as it was promised that the Jesus would baptize believers in the Spirit, so he anoints them, pouring out the Spirit upon them. Yet the anointing does not simply come from without, like physical liquid poured out on a person, but abides within; this is the clear significance of the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—both here and throughout the Johannine writings. The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) remains within (cf. 3:24; 4:13; Jn 14:17), and is the means by which believers remain in the Son; and, in turn, it is through the presence of the Son that we remain in the Father (and He in us). This is the essence of the Johannine theology; even though it is expressed more clearly and precisely in the Gospel, the theology is equally present, in an implicit and allusive fashion, throughout 1 John.

 

August 9: John 6:63 (8)

John 6:63, concluded

“…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.” (v. 63b)

In this final note on Jn 6:63, we will examine the second part of the verse (b) in terms of the second Christological difficulty (related to the Bread of Life Discourse, cf. the disciples’ reaction in v. 60) outlined in the prior notes—namely, the idea that is necessary to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). The first Christological difficulty—viz., Jesus’ claim of having come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin)—in relation to v. 63b, was discussed in the previous note.

(2) The need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”)

This aspect of the Discourse (see vv. 27, 32f, 35, 48ff, 50, 51ff) has been discussed in the prior notes, including its specific relation to the statement in v. 63a. Now, we will be looking at v. 63b: “…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

In applying this statement to the idea of eating Jesus, the most obvious implication is that Jesus’ words in the Discourse to that effect must be understood (and interpreted) in a spiritual manner. If his words (r(h/mata) are Spirit, then they can only be understood correctly in a spiritual way. From the Discourse itself, it is clear that “eating” Jesus means trusting (vb pisteu/w) in him (i.e., as the one sent by God the Father from heaven). This is indicated clearly in vv. 29, 35f, 40, 47; even so, Jesus’ hearers at the time (including his disciples) would have found it difficult to understand the connection. His words became particularly “harsh” (v. 60) once Jesus began to explain this eating in terms of eating his flesh (v. 51). Some of those who heard him naturally asked, “How is this (man) able to give us [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52).

Modern commentators continue to be “tripped up” (v. 61) over this point, but for a different reason—as many take more or less for granted that the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58 refers to a physical eating of the (sacramental) bread (i.e., in the Lord’s Supper ritual). Against this understanding, verse 63 suggests that a spiritual interpretation of the Supper is intended.

The shift from the motif of “bread” to “flesh” represents a narrowing of focus—from the Son’s incarnate “stepping down” (to earth as a human being) to the fulfillment of his mission through his death (as a human being). While the idiom of eating is the same in both instances, the emphasis of the “bread” motif is on Jesus’ heavenly origin (“bread from heaven”), while that of “flesh” (and “blood”) is on his sacrificial death. In both instances, “eating” refers to trust in Jesus (cf. above)—i.e., trust in his heavenly origin (“bread [from heaven]”) and trust in his sacrificial death (“flesh [and blood]”).

Trust results in receiving the Spirit, which the Son gives/sends to believers, having himself received it from the Father (3:34f). Only when the believer has come to be born “from above” (3:3-8)—that is, from the Spirit—is he/she able to recognize the heavenly origin and spiritual nature of Jesus’ words (cf. 3:31ff), and to begin to grasp their true meaning. Spiritual words can only be understood in a spiritual way (cp. 1 Cor 2:13ff).

In 4:10-15, the very idiom of eating/drinking is applied to the idea of believers receiving the Spirit, as the parallel in 7:37-39 makes clear. It is fair to assume that the “living bread” in chap. 6 (vv. 51) has a correspondingly similar meaning as “living water” in 4:10f; 7:38. In both instances the living (zw=n) nourishment is given by Jesus (4:10, 14; 6:27, 33, 51), just as he gives the Spirit (1:33; 16:7b; 20:22; cf. also 3:34f). Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is life (zwh/) that the Son (Jesus) gives (5:21, 26; 6:33, 57; 10:28; 17:2, etc). There is certainly a very close connection between Life and the Spirit, as stated here in v. 63.

Thus, what the believer takes in (i.e., ‘eats’ or ‘drinks’) is the Spirit, which is also living (zw=n)—which refers to the Divine/eternal life (zwh/) that God possesses. The Son gives life, but so does the Spirit (according to v. 63a); the implication is that the Son gives life through the Spirit. However, in the Bread of Life Discourse, the “living” bread is not just given by the Son, it is identified with the person of the incarnate Son (Jesus) himself. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this is best understood by the principle that the Son (Jesus) is present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, one “eats” Jesus by trusting in him, and thus receiving the Spirit, which gives eternal life that the believer possesses (“holds”) within; the eternal Son (Jesus), who is life (1:4; 14:6), is also personally present through the indwelling Spirit. In so doing, one also eats/drinks the “flesh/blood” of Jesus, meaning that the life-giving (and cleansing) power of his death is communicated to believers, through the Spirit (cf. the earlier note on 1 Jn 1:7ff).

But what relation does this have to the specific words (r(h/mata) uttered by Jesus? In a sense, the believer also ‘eats’ these words, though in the Johannine idiom this is expressed more properly through the idea of the word(s) abiding within the believer, utilizing the key-verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). As discussed in the previous note, the singular noun lo/go$ can refer both to (1) a specific saying or teaching by Jesus, and (2) to the living/eternal Word of God (of the Johannine Prologue, 1:1-2, 14) with whom Jesus (the Son) is personally identified. In 1 John 1:1, these two aspects are blended together with the traditional use of lo/go$ to refer to the “account” of Jesus (i.e., the Gospel). The words abide through the presence of the abiding Word, though the repeated exhortations (in the Gospel and First Letter) indicate the importance of believers holding firm to the teachings (and example) of Jesus which they received. For the key Johannine references in this regard, using the verb me/nw, cf. 5:38; 6:27, 56; 8:31; 14:17; 15:4-10; 1 Jn 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:9, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16; 2 Jn 2, 9. The words give life because the abiding Word gives life; both are Spirit, and must be understood and recognized according to the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the confessional statement by Peter in verse 68.

 

August 6: John 6:63 (6)

John 6:63, continued

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything!” (6:63a)

As I have discussed, there are two aspects of Jesus’ teaching in the Bread of Life discourse which would have caused difficulty for his disciples (v. 60): (1) the claim by Jesus that he has come down from heaven (implying a heavenly origin) [v. 41f], and (2) the idea that people need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”) [v. 52]. Both points can only be understood from the standpoint of the Christology of the Gospel. In the previous note, we looked at the contrastive (Spirit/flesh) statement in v. 63a in terms of the first Christological aspect; today we will consider the second aspect.

Even without verses 51-58, the idea that people need to “eat” Jesus would have been difficult to understand (see the reaction in v. 41f). When one includes the eucharistic language of vv. 51-58, and the specific image of eating (human) flesh and drinking (human) blood, the concept would have seemed especially grotesque and offensive (see v. 52). The disciples’ response (in v. 60) surely indicates something of the same reaction.

When Jesus’ declaration in v. 63a is considered in relation to this particular difficulty (stated rather clearly in v. 52), the Spirit/flesh contrast takes on a different level of significance. In an earlier article (cf. also the supplemental note), I discussed this verse in the particular context of the Johannine understanding of the Eucharist (i.e. the Lord’s Supper rite). When verse 63 is read in relation to the eucharistic language of vv. 51-58, it strongly suggests a spiritual (rather than sacramental) interpretation of the Supper. We shall now follow up on this discussion, looking at the matter from a Christological standpoint.

If, from a Christological standpoint, “Spirit” (pneu=ma) designates the Divine nature and status of Jesus (as the eternal Son of God), then “flesh” (sa/rc) refers to the Son’s (incarnate) life and existence as a human being; cf. the discussion in the previous note. The implication, then, of the statement in v. 63 (“the flesh does not benefit anything”) is that one does not actually, physically, eat Jesus’ human flesh. I would maintain that this premise extends even to the physical consumption of the eucharistic bread (symbolizing the flesh). It is only the Spirit, not the flesh, that has life-giving power.

Why, then, is it necessary to eat Jesus’ flesh? It is important to understand the connotation of the terms “flesh” (sa/rc) and “blood” (ai!ma) in the theological context of the Discourse. As indicated above (and in the previous note), sa/rc refers to the Son’s life and existence as a human being; the term ai!ma (“blood”) takes this point further, by referring specifically to Jesus’ death (as a human being). This conceptual terminology is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, but, where it does occur, it has a vital significance that is emphasized by the author—Jn 19:34f; 1 Jn 1:7; 5:6-8; cf. also Rev 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; 19:13. It is also a sacrificial death, which possesses the cleansing (and life-restoring) power of a sacrificial offering for sin (1 Jn 1:7; Rev 1:5; cf. Jn 1:29). This idea is expressed or alluded to repeatedly in the Bread of Life Discourse—especially in vv. 53-58.

According to the principle expressed in v. 63a, the efficacious power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (his “blood”) is communicated to believers by the Spirit. There are two components to this teaching:

(1) It is communicated to believers

In the Discourse, “eating” the living bread of Jesus means trusting (vb pisteu/w) in him; this is clearly stated or expressed throughout the discourse—vv. 29, 35f, 40, 47.

(2) It is communicated by the Spirit

The clearest indication of this, apart from v. 63 itself, is the parallel between the motif of “living bread” (v. 51) and the “living water” of 4:10-15; 7:37-39. In each instance, the motif refers to something, given by Jesus, which the believer consumes (eats/drinks), and which has the Divine/eternal attribute of “living” (zw=n). Since the Gospel writer understands the living water as referring to the Spirit, almost certainly the living bread has the same point of reference. The Son possesses the fullness of the Divine Spirit, having received it from the Father (3:34f); just as God the Father is Spirit (4:24), so also is His Son. The Life he possesses from the Father, the Son is able to communicate to believers (1:4ff; 5:26; 14:19, etc). This is expressed most clearly in the Discourse by the statement in verse 57:

“Just as the living [zw=n] Father sent me forth, and I live [zw=] through the Father, (so) also the (one) eating me—even that (one)—will live [zh/sei] through me.”

At the physical level of human existence (“flesh”), life is given/maintained through the eating of material food (“bread”); similarly, at the Divine level (of the Spirit), life is given (and preserved) through the eating of spiritual food. One “eats” the bread/flesh of Jesus himself, in a spiritual way, through the Spirit. This corresponds precisely with the contrast in 3:3-8, between an ordinary (physicial/biological) human birth and spiritual birth (“out of [i.e. from] the Spirit,” e)k pneu/mato$).

Once the believer receives the Spirit, it abides/remains (vb me/nw) within, functioning as a continuous source of (eternal) life which the believer possesses, even during his/her existence (as a human being) on earth. For this language and imagery here in the Discourse, cf. vv. 27, 35, 53, 55-57; elsewhere in the Gospel, esp. 3:34-35; 4:14; 7:38f; 14:17; cf. also 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13.

In the next daily note, we will examine the second part of verse 63[b], according to the same two Christological aspects by which we examine v. 63a.

Spiritualism and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 2)

Having summarized (in Part 1) my understanding of the evidence regarding both the opponents in 1-2 John and of the Johannine spiritualism, I will now attempt to bring together the results of my analysis, synthesizing it, to see in what ways the opponents (and the conflict surrounding them) may relate to this spiritualism.

Spiritualism and the Opponents: Synthesizing the Evidence

I will present three specific lines of interpretation, expounding and arguing them as far as the evidence may allow:

    1. The priority of the Spirit in teaching/guiding believers
    2. The abiding presence of Jesus through the Spirit, and
    3. Spiritualistic aspects of the Johannine Christology (i.e., regarding the person of Christ)
1. The Priority of the Spirit in Teaching/Guiding Believers

The key evidence for this particular aspect of Johannine spiritualism is: (a) the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and (b) the xri=sma-statements in 1 Jn 2:20, 27. These statements emphasize the role of the Spirit in teaching and guiding believers. This role is suggested by the very title “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:12; 1 Jn 4:6, cf. also 5:6), obviously implying the truthfulness of the Spirit’s teaching and witness, but even more particularly by the promises in 14:26 and 16:13:

    • “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will teach you all (thing)s”
    • “when that (one) should come…he will lead you on the way in all truth”

In 1 John 2:20f, 27, the “anointing” (xri=sma) that abides/remains in the believer functions in much the same way:

“…you hold (the) anointing from the Holy (One), and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s” (v. 20)
“…the anointing that you received from Him remains in you, and you do not have (any) need that any(one) should teach you…the anointing teaches you about all (thing)s” (v. 27)

The term xri=sma (“anointing”) here is best understood as a reference to the abiding presence of the Spirit, as I discuss in the article on this passage.

The opponents almost certainly shared this Johannine belief with the author of 1 John (and with the Community at large). If so, then it is fair to assume that the opponents, who would have regarded themselves as true believers, understood that they possessed God’s Spirit, and that the Spirit was the primary (and sufficient) source for Divine teaching and instruction. Moreover, they presumably believed also that Jesus (the Son) was himself teaching them through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 16:12-15).

On this basis, with the presumption that the Spirit of Truth (and Jesus through the Spirit) would not (and could not) teach them anything false, the opponents likely regarded their Christology, their understanding of Jesus Christ, to be true, confirmed by the internal witness of the Spirit.

The problem, then, for the Johannine Community, which apparently was experiencing a significant Christological division, was how to reconcile two contrasting (and opposing) views of Jesus with the one Spirit of truth. Significantly, the author does not deny the primacy of the Spirit as the guiding (and authoritative) source of truth, though this might have been useful as a way of combating the opponents. Instead of relying, for example, upon a personal apostolic authority (the noun a)po/stolo$ is essentially absent from the Johannine writings [cf. Jn 13:16]), the author seems to maintain the priority of the abiding (internal) presence of the Spirit, which is available to all believers. I tend to take seriously the author’s statements in 2:20, 27 as representing fundamental declarations of Johannine belief, doubtless understood as a fulfillment of the ‘new covenant’ prophecy in Jer 31:31-34 (vv. 33-34). The same focus on the (internal) witness of the Spirit is found in 3:24 [par 4:13], 4:4, and 5:6-8.

How, then, does the author combat the opponents? He does this two ways. First, in addressing his readers, he effectively treats them as true believers, assuming that they will thus be in agreement with the Community (of true believers)—with whom he also identifies himself. The underlying assumption, thus, is that, as true believers, the readers can trust that the indwelling Spirit will convince them of the truth, and that they will accept the Christology of the author (as representing the view of the Community), rather than that of the opponents.

Along with this rhetorical strategy, the author adds the implicit test that the witness of the Spirit will affirm, and will not contradict, the established witness of the historical (Gospel) tradition—regarding the person and work of Jesus. The author introduces this theme at the very beginning of his treatise, in the prologue (1:1-4), and it continues to run as an underlying thread throughout. In particular, the reality (and significance) of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being) is emphasized—especially his sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”, 1:7; 5:6-8, cf. Jn 6:53-56; 19:30). I have previously noted how the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch (see esp. his letter to the Smyrneans) seem to have similarly denied/devalued Jesus’ death, and how they resemble the Johannine opponents in certain respects.

Ultimately, the author summarizes the Gospel tradition by way of a trio of Christological confessional statements—in 2:22-23; 4:2-3 [par 2 Jn 7]; 5:5-6f—which he presents as a litmus test to distinguish between the true believers and the opponents.

2. The Abiding Presence of Jesus through the Spirit

A fundamental component of the Johannine theology is that Jesus (God’s Son) abides/remains (vb me/nw) in and among believers through the Spirit. God the Father, present in the Son, also abides in believers (and believers in Him)—cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, etc. Thus, even after his departure/return to the Father (in heaven), Jesus continues to remain with believers, teaching and guiding them. This is the principal message of the Gospel Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and it can be inferred from the other Spirit-references in the Gospel as well.

As I discuss above, there is little reason to doubt that the opponents shared this Johannine belief with the author of 1 John (along with the wider Community). This may help to explain how they might come to devalue or relativize the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. After all, if he continues to remain with believers, continuing to teach and guide, then why should one place such importance on the things he said and did during the short span of his earthly ministry. Moreover, is not his presence in the Spirit greater that his limited presence in the flesh, as a matter of principle (cf. Jn 4:24; 6:63), far surpassing it in importance?

Again, the author does not in any way deny the fundamental Johannine belief—viz., of the Son’s abiding presence through the Spirit. However, as discussed above, he very much gives emphasis to Jesus’ earthly life (and death) as a human being. The idea of Jesus’ coming “in the flesh” (4:2f; 2 Jn 7) clearly refers to his life and existence as a (real) human being. Whether or not the opponents’ Christology was docetic, they do seem at least to have denied (or devalued) the significance of Jesus’ earthly life. Their denial, according to the author, was focused principally upon Jesus’ human death (“blood”)—its reality and/or importance. In my view, as I have discussed (cf. the article and supplemental notes), the confessional statement in 5:5-6ff informs the earlier ones in 4:2-3 and 2:22-23. In other words, the opponents’ false Christology (according to the author) was rooted in their understanding of his death.

One can see how a strongly spiritualistic view of Jesus (cf below) might tend to avoid emphasizing his death. After all, if “the flesh is not useful (for) anything” (Jn 6:63), how could this not include a person’s death in the flesh? By contrast, the author gives particular emphasis to Jesus’ death, especially in 5:6-8. This passage toward the end of the treatise is matched by the earlier reference in 1:7ff (cf. the earlier note), focusing on the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. The implication is that this life-giving (and preserving/restoring) power is communicated to the believer through the Spirit. This idea is brought out more directly, it seems, by two passages in the Gospel: (1) the eucharistic language in 6:51-58, read in light of the statement of v. 63; and (2) the allusion to Jesus’ giving of the Spirit in 19:30 (also v. 34) at the moment of his death.

3. Spiritualistic Aspects of the Johannine Christology

It is reasonable to posit that the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ is rooted in the wider Johannine Christology, and represents a particular variation, or development, of it. As such, it is worth considering if there are any spiritualistic aspects of this Christology which may, in some respect, inform the opponents’ view. Here three lines of exploration will be considered briefly:

    1. Pre-existence Christology
    2. The Priority of the Spirit in the Gospel Narrative
    3. Jesus’ Role in the Outpouring of the Spirit
a. Pre-existence Christology

If, as would seem to be the case, the Gospel of John is representative of the Christology of the Johannine churches (when the Letters were written), then this was a pre-existence Christology—that is, characterized by a fundamental belief that identified Jesus Christ as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, existing as such even prior to his earthly life. Once such a Christology had taken root throughout the Community, it created certain difficulties for the understanding of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being). In particular, it became hard to explain Jesus’ death—indeed, how could the eternal Son of God die like any other ordinary human being?

Two relatively influential Christological trends—which are attested throughout the second and third centuries, but which likely originated sometime near the end of the first century—the Docetic and the Separatist, offered different explanations to navigate around this problem. In the various forms of the Docetic view, Jesus Christ only seemed (or appeared, vb doke/w) to be human, and thus only seemed to suffer an ordinary human death. Alternately, according to the Separationist view, the Divine Son/Christ and the man Jesus were two separate entities, who were joined together at the baptism and then separated at the moment of his death; this can be represented by the coming and departure of the Spirit, respectively (cf. Jn 1:26, 33; 19:30, [34]). Based on the evidence from the Ignatian letters (cf. throughout Smyrneans, also Trallians 10, etc), it is quite possible that the Johannine opponents held a rudimentary docetic view of Jesus, though a separationist view would accord better with the Johannine Gospel itself (cf. below).

The consequences of a pre-existence Christology to the Johannine spiritualism may be even more fundamental. One practical result of this Christology is to shift the focus from Jesus’ human nature to his Divine nature as Spirit (Jn 4:24); the Son receives the fullness of the Father’s Spirit (3:34-35). This is not simply the product of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation (cp. 1 Cor 15:45; 6:17), it is intrinsic to his eternal identity as the Son (and he returns to it after the resurrection, Jn 17:1-5, etc). Thus the essential spiritual nature of Jesus may be seen as an important component of the Johannine Christology, even though (admittedly) this aspect is not particularly developed in the writings. It would, however, imply that the presence of Jesus (in believers) through the Spirit is the principal way that believers understand and experience him. The Gospel record of Jesus’ limited earthly life (and death), by comparison, could be seen as of only secondary importance. Possibly the opponents’ denial of Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” is rooted in this basic Christological preference for Jesus as Spirit, rather than as flesh (cf. Jn 6:63).

b. The Priority of the Spirit in the Gospel Narrative

References to the Spirit frame the Johannine Gospel narrative, with the Spirit coming upon Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (1:32-34), and then being released (by Jesus) at the end (19:30, [34]; 20:22). The emphasis on Jesus ‘baptizing’ people in the Spirit (i.e., living water [cf. 4:10-15; 7:37-39], instead of with ordinary water), following the tradition of the Baptist’s saying (1:26, 33; cp. Mark 1:8 par), is a theme that dominates chapters 1-3. The statements about being born of the Spirit (instead of an ordinary human birth [out of ordinary water]) in 3:3-8 (cp. 1:12-13) is part of this thematic development. In the following Discourses of chaps. 4-8, the idea of Jesus giving the Spirit—through the idiom of giving living water/bread—also features as an important theme (cf. 4:10-15, 32ff; 6:35ff, 48ff, 51-58, 63; 7:37-39). Finally, the promise of the Spirit, as the abiding presence of Jesus the Son (and God the Father) with believers, is central to the Last Discourse (particularly in the Paraclete-sayings, 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and is also alluded to in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse.

All of these theological (and Christological) points of reference strongly suggest that believers experience the presence and power of Jesus Christ (the Son of God) primarily, and directly, through the indwelling Spirit. This spiritual primacy of believers’ relationship with God (the Father, and Jesus the Son) is an essential component of Christian spiritualism. It would very much seem to reflect the understanding of the Spirit within the Johannine Community, and likely was influential in shaping the views of the opponents as well.

c. Jesus’ Role in the Outpouring of the Spirit

The Gospel references related to Jesus’ giving the Spirit are documented in section (b.) above, including the idiom of baptizing people in/with the Spirit and the motif of living water—both of which involve the image of pouring out water. There can be no doubt as to the eschatological significance of this imagery, drawn as it is from Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon His people in the New Age of Israel’s restoration (see the passages cited, with links to detailed notes, in the Introduction to this series). The end-time outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people (believers) is ushered in by the work of Jesus the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), culminating in his death, resurrection, and exaltation.

The Johannine churches shared this basic belief with all other early Christians. However, the particular emphasis on the Spirit—and on Jesus giving the Spirit to believers—has a special prominence in the Johannine tradition (and its Gospel, cf. above). It may be said that, for most Johannine Christians, the primary role of Jesus—and the purpose of his incarnate mission on earth—was as the giver of God’s Spirit to His people. Though Jesus (the Son) possessed the fullness of God the Father’s Spirit (cf. above), his giving of the Spirit to believers was made possible only after the fulfillment of his earthly mission—culminating in his sacrificial death. This would seem to be expressed clearly enough in the Gospel, and yet the opponents apparently did not recognize the significance of Jesus’ death in this regard. Even if they acknowledged the reality of his human death, they may have denied its importance (and salvific power).

How does this relate to Johannine spiritualism? It is possible that the opponents held that the Spirit was communicated to believers by Jesus apart from his death. This is one way of understanding the significance of the author’s distinction between Jesus’ coming “in/through water” and “in/through blood” (1 Jn 5:6ff). If “water” here refers to Jesus’ baptism, then this was the moment when the Spirit came upon Jesus. Typically early Christians saw a believer’s baptism as the moment when, similarly, the believer received the Spirit (from Jesus). Thus, it is the baptism that holds the significance for receiving the Spirit, not Jesus’ death (“blood”). Again, it is possible that this way of thinking informed, to some extent, the opponents’ view. I am more inclined to think that “in/through water” refers rather to Jesus’ birth as a human being (and “in/through blood” to his death), but I will admit that the water-baptism connection represents a plausible interpretation that must be seriously considered.

Some final thoughts regarding the opponents, and their relation to Johannine spiritualism, will be given in the conclusion to the studies (in this series) on the Johannine writings.