Saturday Series: 1 John 4:1-6 (continued)

1 John 4:1-6, continued

Last week, we examined the first of several themes—several aspects of the Johannine Tradition—which were utilized by the author of 1 John, for the purposes of addressing the conflict surrounding the “antichrist” opponents. Our focus has been on 4:1-6, the second of the sections where the opponents are called antíchristoi (“against the Anointed”). The first theme to be explored (1.) was entitled “The Spirit of Truth”, based on the use of the expression in verse 6 (see also Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). We looked at the author’s references to the Spirit in vv. 1-6, in light of the spiritualistic tendencies in the Johannine Tradition, emphasizing the role of the Spirit in prophecy and the teaching of believers, with priority being given to the Spirit as an internal (inner) witness to the truth.

I wish to examine two additional themes this week.

2. Believers “born of [ek] God”

A central Johannine theological principle is that believers—true believers—are born of God, as His offspring. The theological idiom used to express this—the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”) + the preposition ek (“out of, from”)—occurs repeatedly in the Johannine writings. It is introduced in the Gospel Prologue (1:13), is the focus of the Nicodemus Discourse (3:3-8), and is alluded to in section(s) 8:31-47 (see v. 41) of the Sukkot-Discourse. It is even more common in 1 John, where it occurs 10 times, usually with the verb in the perfect tense, and as a substantive participle (with the definite article)—ho gegenn¢ménos ek [tou Theou], “the (one) having come to be (born) out of [God]”. This theological idiom, identifying true believers as those “born of God”, features prominently in the central section (2:28-3:24, see 2:29 and 3:9), and in 4:7-5:4a (see 4:7; 5:1, 4), and again at the close of the work (5:18).

Even when the verb is not used, the preposition by itself can sometimes serve as a shorthand for the fuller expression—that is, “of God” (ek tou Theou) can stand for “having come to be born of God”. The preposition ek occurs in every verse of our section (9 occurrences in vv. 1-6). When used in the context of God (and of believers), it carries two principal meanings: (i) “from” or “out of”, indicating an origin or source; (ii) and the idea of belonging, i.e., being “of” someone or something. The birth idiom relates to both aspects of meaning, but principally the first. Believers come from God, in the sense of being born from Him; but, at the same time, they/we also belong to Him, as His offspring.

As this theme relates to 4:1-6, it is applied primarily to the role of the Spirit (v. 1). The Spirit that is at work in and among true believers comes from God; by contrast, the spirit that inspires false believers (such as the opponents), comes from a different source. It is called the “spirit of Antichrist” (v. 3), in that it speaks “against [antí] the Anointed” (vv. 2-3). This refers specifically to the opponents’ false view of Jesus Christ, which they espouse and proclaim (as the inspired truth). The author summarizes this false view, in confessional terms, as not acknowledging/confessing that Jesus Christ has “come in the flesh”. Though the precise Christology of the opponents remains somewhat uncertain, and continues to be debated (see my recent sets of notes on 2:22 and 4:2-3), the author has it particularly in focus, as the false teaching of which he is warning his readers.

In vv. 4-6, the emphasis switches from warning to exhortation. A key rhetorical strategy used by the author is to treat his readers/hearers as though they are true believers. As true believers, they surely will reject the opponents’ false teaching, and will resist the evil influence of these false believers. This strategy is reflected in the exhortation of verses 4ff:

“You are of [ek] God, (dear) offspring [teknía], and (so) you have been victorious (over) them, (in) that [i.e. because] the (One) in you is greater than the (one) in the world.” (v. 4)

Note the use of the preposition ek to express the identity of the believer as the offspring (or children) of God. The noun tekníon (plur. teknía) is a diminutive of téknon (plur. tékna), “offspring”, the regular Johannine term for believers as children born of God. By contrast, the opponents (false believers), and all others who would accept their teaching, are not of God; rather, they are “of the world” (v. 5). This use of the noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) reflects another prominent Johannine theme, whereby “the/this world” refers to the domain of darkness and evil that is fundamentally opposed to God. It is also opposed to the offspring of God (i.e., believers). The dualistic theme of the contrast, between believers and the world, is found throughout the Johannine writings—both in the Gospel (esp. chapters 13-17) and 1 John (2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1-5, 17; 5:4-5, 19).

The message of vv. 4-5 is reiterated in verse 6, at the close of the section. The author subtly indicates that all of his readers, insofar as they agree with his position (regarding the opponents and the conflict surrounding them), are to be identified as true believers, and the offspring/children of God. In verse 4, he declares “you are of God”, while here in v. 6 he says, “we are of God”. By this rhetorical device, he positions the audience along with himself (and his circle) as belonging to the Community of true believers. True believers will listen to the inspired voice of the Community, and will reject the teaching of the opponents; it is only false believers, those who belong to the world, who will listen to the opponents’ “false prophecy”.

3. Believers are (and remain) “in God”

If the Johannine writings employ a special theological meaning for the preposition ek (“out of”), they also do so for the preposition en (“in”). The preposition en has a place in the Johannine theological idiom, mainly through two featured expressions: one using the verb of being (eimi), and the other the important Johannine verb ménœ (“remain, abide”). Let us start with this second expression.

a. “remain in” (ménœ + en)

Like gennᜠ+ ek (see above), the verb ménœ + en is used as a fundamental descriptive attribute of the true believer. Actually, these two idioms represent two aspects of the believer’s identity (and life): (i) the believer first is born out of God, and then, as God’s offspring, (ii) remains in Him. This second aspect refers to the uniting bond, by which the believer experiences an abiding union with God. Both birth and union are achieved through the mediation of the Son (Jesus), and are realized through the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit’s role in the birth is clearly indicated in Jn 3:3-8, while the Spirit’s presence as the basis of the abiding union is implied in a number of passages (see esp. Jn 14:16-17; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13).

The verb ménœ, used in this theological sense, is distinctly Johannine. It also occurs more frequently in the Johannine writings (68 times [including once in Revelation]) than elsewhere in the New Testament (50 times). It occurs 40 times in the Gospel, compared with just 12 times in the Synoptic Gospels combined. It is even more frequent (relatively so) in 1 John, where the verb occurs 24 times within 5 short chapters. Most notable, are the repeated occurrences in the “antichrist” section 2:18-27 (vv. 29, 24 [3x], 27 [2x]), and the central section of 2:28-3:24 (2:28; 3:6, 9, 14-15, 17, 24 [2x]), where the principal theme of the contrast between true and false believers is emphasized. There are also important occurrences in 4:7-5:4a (4:12-13, 15, 16 [3x]).

The true believer remains “in” the Son (Jesus), by remaining faithful to his word (esp. the message regarding who he is) and his love (viz., following his example).

Through the Son, the believer also remains “in” God the Father. As noted above, this union is ultimately realized through the Spirit. False believers, such as the opponents, do not remain in the truth, but (instead) have departed from it. As such, they are not true believers, and do not have an abiding union with the Son (or the Father), cf. 2:23. A related Johannine theme (discussed previously) of great importance is the duty (or ‘command’, entol¢¡) that is required of every believer. Following Johannine tradition, the author of 1 John defines this entol¢¡ as two-fold (3:23): (i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example. The true believer fulfills this entol¢¡, and so remains in the truth (and in the Son). The opponents (like all other false believers) violate this entol¢¡, and, in so doing, commit the great sin. These themes are developed extensively throughout the central section (2:28-3:24).

b. “be in” (eimi + en)

In addition to the verb ménœ, the preposition en is also used with the verb of being (eimi). The verb of being has a special place within the Johannine theological idiom, as a marker of Deity—used in relation to a Divine subject. We can see this distinction most clearly in the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18), where the verb of being is applied to God (vv. 1-2, 4, 8-10, 15), while the verb of becoming (gínomai) is used of created (human) beings (vv. 3, 6, 10, 12)—including the incarnation of the Logos/Son, born as a human being (vv. 14-15, 17). Human beings “come to be”, but only God is.

The same theological implications attend the famous “I am” (egœ¡ eimi) sayings of Jesus in the Gospel. However, these sayings are actually part of a wider phenomenon in the Johannine writings, which I refer to as essential predication. These are simple predicative statements which provide essential information about the (Divine) subject. The components of these statements are: (i) Divine subject, (ii) verb of being, and (iii) predicate noun/phrase. Most commonly, the Son (Jesus) is the Divine subject, but the statements are also applied to God the Father, or (more rarely) to the Spirit, or to a particular Divine attribute. Frequently, especially in 1 John, essential predication is also applied to believers (as the Divine subject)—that is, as the offspring of God.

On occasion, in these essential statements, the verb of being is absent, but implied. This is true also for the idiom eimi + en. For example, in Jn 14:11, Jesus declares “I (am) in the Father, and the Father (is) in me”; in the prior v. 10, the verb of being was partially specified: “I (am) in the Father, and the Father is [estin] in me”. In the famous Vine-illustration section of the Last Discourse (15:1-12ff), Jesus extends this same idiom, to the union between himself (the Son) and believers, though using the verb ménœ (“remain”, see above) rather than the verb of being. That these expressions are closely related (and largely synonymous) is indicated by 14:17, where Jesus, speaking of the relationship between believers and the Spirit (Paraclete), says: “…he remains [ménei] alongside you, and will be [estai] in [en] you”. The use of eimi + en is particularly prevalent in chapter 17 (vv. 10-11ff, 21, 23, 26), with or without the verb of being made explicit.

This usage becomes much more frequent in 1 John, and represents, along with the related idiom ménœ + en, a vital part of the Johannine vocabulary (and syntax) that the author employs. We see this here in verse 4 of our section. First there is the essential predicative statement at the beginning of the verse (parallel to v. 6, see above):

“You | are [este] | of God”
“We | are [esmen] | of God”

In this instance, the true believers (“you/we”) stand as the Divine subject (i.e., the offspring of God), while the prepositional expression “of God” (ek tou Theou) stands as the predicate phrase. The same formulation is applied, in a negative (antithetical) way, at the beginning of v. 5: “they [i.e. the opponents, false believers] | are [eisin] | of the world”. Then, in the remainder of v. 4, a second predicative statement occurs, utilizing the relational preposition en:

“the [One] in you | is [estin] | greater than the (one) in the world”

Here, the Divine subject is the Spirit of God, though it could just as well be taken as referring to the Son (Jesus), or even to God the Father. In terms of the Johannine theology, the abiding union of believers with God occurs through the Son, but is realized through the Spirit. The Spirit is referred to here as “the (One) in you”, reflecting the use of the idiom eimi + en (and ménœ + en) discussed above. The predicate phrase, in this instance, is a comparative, continuing the important theme of the contrast between God and the world, as between the true and false believer.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *

I hope that this study on the Johannine Letters has been helpful in illustrating how early Christian theology and religious tradition came to be developed and adapted in response to certain conflicts that emerged within the congregations. Next week, we will turn our attention to the Pauline Letters, as we look at a number of examples where similar kinds of developments took place within the Pauline churches.

July 3: 1 John 5:18-20

1 John 5:18, continued

“We have seen that every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin, but (instead) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him, and (so) the evil does not touch him.” (5:18)

Based on our analysis in the previous note, there are two different ways the second clause of this verse can be read:

    • “but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him(self)”
    • “but (as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, He [i.e. God] keeps watch (over) him”

Both are entirely valid in terms of the Johannine theology and the message of 1 John as a whole. Presently, I am inclined to favor slightly the second option, as being more consistent with Johannine usage, regarding the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”). Let us turn now to the final clause:

“and (so) the evil does not touch him” (18c)
kai\ o( ponhro\$ ou)x a%ptetai au)tou=

The emphasis in the first clause was on the believer being free from sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw); here, in the third clause, it is on being protected from evil (adj. ponhro/$). The substantive use of the adjective (with the definite article), “the evil”, is ambiguous. It could be used as a general reference to evil—viz., “th(at which is) evil”. However, most commentators believe that it is a personalized (or personified) use, which should be translated “the Evil (one)” —that is, as a reference to the Satan/Devil.

Regardless, it is clear from verse 19 that the reference is to the evil that is at work in the world, and which dominates the world:

“…the whole world lies stretched out in the evil” (19b)
o( ko/smo$ o%lo$ e)n tw=| ponhrw=| kei=tai

This is another substantive (articular) use of the adjective ponhro/$, and could be taken to mean that the whole world is under the control/influence of “the Evil one” (viz., the Devil). In the Johannine writings, as I have frequently discussed, the term “the world” (o( ko/smo$) tends to be used in a starkly negative (and dualistic) sense—as a realm of darkness and evil, inhabited by human beings, that is fundamentally opposed to God. As such, “the world” is also opposed to Jesus (the Son of God), and to believers (as the offspring of God). Indeed, the author uses the term a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”, against Christ), and speaks of the “spirit of antichrist” that is currently at work in the world (4:3b), and which leads the world astray (v. 6). The dualistic contrast, between believers and the world, is a prominent theme in the Johannine writings. It features especially in the Last Discourse (Jn 13:31-16:33), and the great Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17, and runs throughout 1 John. The opponents, who are false believers and “antichrists”, belong to the world, and not to God; whereas all true believers belong to God. This is the point made in verse 19:

“We have seen that we are of God, and (that) the whole world lies stretched out in the evil.”

The first phrase is another example of Johannine essential predication, with believers as the Divine subject. The components of these predicative statements are: (i) Divine subject | (ii) verb of being | (iii) predicate nominative (noun/phrase). Here in v. 19a, the subject is implicit:

(we) | are [e)smen] | of God [e)k tou= qeou=]

The simple prepositional phrase e)k tou= qeou= (“of God”) has two related meanings: (a) in the sense of belonging to God, and (b) as a shorthand for the idiom genna/w + e)k tou= qeou=, “come to be (born) of God”, i.e., believers born out of God, as his offspring. This idiom has been used repeatedly in 1 John, including twice here in v. 18 (see above). By contrast, the false believers, who belong to the world, are the offspring of the Devil (3:8, 10; cf. Jn 8:44).

It is likely that the substantive o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) refers in a personal way to the Devil (“the Evil [one]”)—or, at least, that the expression includes such a point of reference. In the Gospel of John, the Devil is referred to as the “chief/ruler [a&rxwn] of the world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and this association is almost certainly intended here in v. 19. The same substantive use occurs in 2:13-14; 3:12; and Jn 17:15; as well as, famously, in the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13; cf. also 5:37; 13:19, 38, etc).

As the offspring of God, believers are protected (by God) from the evil in the world, and from the Evil one who is the chief of the world. A more precise theological formulation would state that the Son (Jesus) protects us (cf. Jn 17:12), and that his protective presence and power (which is also that of the Father) is realized through the Spirit (Jn 14:17; 16:8-12ff). Since the Son has been victorious over the world (and its evil, 16:33; cp. 1 Jn 3:8), we also are victorious over it (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5) through our union with him. This is an essential and vital attribute which belongs to us, insofar as we are true believers in Christ. As God’s own offspring, we are victorious over the world, and are protected from its sin and evil. However, this protection—and freedom from sin—is maintained only insofar as we remain (vb me/nw) in Him. This means remaining in the Son, and, specifically, remaining firmly rooted in trust and love—the great two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers.

Structurally, these statements are part of the final unit of 1 John (vv. 18-20). Through a triad of confessional declarations, each of which begins with the phrase “we have seen that…” (oi&damen o%ti), the author summarizes the message of his treatise, and the purpose for his writing. In closing, let us also consider this summary:

    • We have seen that the (one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin…and (that) the evil does not touch him.” (v. 18)
    • We have seen that we are of God, and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.” (v. 19)
    • We have seen that the Son of God is come…and we are in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed…” (v. 20)

From the standpoint of theological priority, we may say that these statements are given in reverse order. In particular, the last statement (v. 2o) comes first: The Son of God comes to earth, and gives to us (i.e., believers) the ability to become the offspring of God (cf. Jn 1:12-13ff). As the result of this birth, we are united with the Son, as the offspring of God; we are in the Son, and, through the Son, also in the Father.

Once we are born of God, we realize the consequences of this; and we can see clearly the contrast with the world (v. 19). While we, as believers, are of God, the world is dominated by evil. Those who are of the world are the offspring (in more figurative sense) of the Devil (“the Evil one”). Throughout 1 John, the thematic emphasis has been on the contrast between the true and false believer.

A further consequence of our being God’s offspring, born of Him, is that we are protected from the sin and evil that dominates the world (v. 18). In particular, we have the ability to be free from sin, and we will be free from it, insofar as we remain in the Son—remaining firmly rooted in true faith (trust) and genuine love, fulfilling the great e)ntolh/ (3:23).

In the next daily note, I will offer some final comments on this theme of freedom (from sin), as well as provide some further observations on the final statement by the author (in verse 20).

 

 

June 29: 1 John 5:4

1 John 5:1-4, continued
Verse 4f

“(Indeed, it is) that every(thing) having come to be (born) of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world” (v. 4a)

As a follow-up to the previous note, on 5:1-4a, it will be helpful to look in detail at verse 4a, along with in the transitional sub-unit vv. 4b-5. First, there is the clear parallel with verse 1a; indeed, the two short statements effectively bracket the unit (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note):

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God”
    • “every(thing) having come to (be) born of God is victorious (over) the world”

The parallelism is even more precise (with a clear thematic chiasm) if we include vv. 4b-5:

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed
      • has come to be (born) of God
      • every(thing) having come to be (born) of God
        is victorious (over) the world…
    • the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God.”

There is also a logical sequence at work:

    • Everyone trusting in Yeshua =>
      • has come to be born of God
        and, everyone born of God =>

        • is victorious over the world.

Through our trust in Jesus Christ we (as believers) become the offspring (te/kna) of God, sharing the presence and power of the Son of God. And, since the Son (Jesus) has been victorious over the world, so are we, the other offspring of God, who are united with him. This idiom of being victorious (vb nika/w) over “the world” (o( ko/smo$) represents a key Johannine theme, attested in both the Gospel and First Letter. Though rare in the Gospel, it occurs in the climactic declaration by Jesus at the end of the Last Discourse (16:33): “…I have been victorious (over) the world!”. This refers, principally, to the Son’s completion of his mission (viz., his death and exaltation), for which the Father sent him to earth. This is alluded to in 1 Jn 3:5a and 8b, though without use of the verb nika/w.

In the Johannine theological idiom (and mode of expression) “the world” (o( ko/smo$) refers to the domain of darkness and evil—on earth, among human beings—that is fundamentally opposed to God. Throughout the Johannine writings, there is a stark contrast between God and “the world”, as also between believers and “the world”. Since true believers are the children of God, the world has the same opposition and hostility toward them that it does to God the Father (and Jesus the Son)—cf. Jn 15:18-19; 16:20; 17:14ff. The contrastive juxtaposition, between believers and the world, runs throughout the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (where the noun ko/smo$ occurs 18 times).

As the offspring/children of God, believers share in the Son’s victory over the world (Jn 16:33). The author of 1 John mentions this on several occasions—first, in 2:13-14, when he states, in particular, that the “young (one)s” (neani/skoi) “have been victorious (over) the Evil” (nenikh/kate to\n ponhro/n). Probably the articular substantive adjective o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) should be translated “the Evil one”, in reference to the Satan/Devil (cf. 3:8). Being victorious over the Devil is essentially the same as being victorious over the world (cf. 5:19), since the Devil is “the chief (ruler) of the world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The ‘defeat’ and “casting out” of the Devil is part of the Son’s victory over the world (cf. 12:31; 16:11, in relation to 16:33), which occurred with the completion of his earthly mission (1 Jn 3:8).

This is stated even more clearly in 4:4:

“You are of God, (dear) offspring [tekni/a], and (so) have been victorious (over) them…”

The reference is specifically to the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 1ff), who are false believers belonging to the world, and not to God. Thus, true believers are (already) victorious over these “antichrists”, since they share in the Son’s victory over the world. A theological basis for the statement in v. 4a is provided in v. 4b:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] the (One) in you is greater than the (one) in the world.”

The expression “the (one) in you” refers to the Spirit of God, which is also the Spirit of the Son (viz., his abiding presence), in contrast to the false/evil “spirit of antichrist” that is present and at work throughout the world. As the offspring of God, they/we are born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and enter into an abiding union with God through the Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, and the Paraclete-sayings in their Gospel context). Since this birth comes about as a result of our trust in Jesus, and we (as believers) abide/remain in that trust, the author can say, in all truth, that our victory over the world lies in our trust. This the message of 5:4-5 (as a unit):

“(So it is) that every(one) having come to be (born) of God is victorious (over) the world—and this is the victory (hav)ing been victorious (over) the world: our trust. [Indeed,] who is the (one) being victorious (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God?”

As previously mentioned, vv. 4b-5 are transitional, serving both as the conclusion of 4:7-5:4 and the introduction of 5:5-12, where the theme of trust in Jesus again becomes the primary focus. The section 5:4b-12 shares with 2:18-27 and 4:1-6 an emphasis on the false view of Jesus Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents (thus their designation as a)nti/xristo$, lit., “against the Anointed”). From a rhetorical standpoint, the author’s declarations, to the effect that his readers have (already) been victorious over these opponents, are meant to exhort the Johannine Christians to reject the opponents’ teachings, and thus to protect the congregations from the malevolent influence of these ‘false believers’.

Interestingly, as a variation of his usual manner of expression, the author, at the beginning of verse 4, uses the neuter— “every(thing) [pa=n to/] having come to be (born) of God”, rather than “every(one) [pa=$ o(] having come to be (born) of God”. Probably this switch anticipates the use of the feminine subjects “victory” (ni/kh) and “trust” (pi/sti$) in v. 4b, and thus allows for a generalizing of the reference. Our trust, like our love, ultimately comes from God as its source, and thus, in its own way, can be said to be ‘born’ of God.

At some point, in a later study, I intend to analyze the many instances of Johannine essential predication that pervade these passages (cf. the examples discussed in prior notes, e.g., on 3:1, 2, 3, 7, 8; 4:7). They are fundamental to the Johannine theological idiom and mode/manner of expression, and are utilized extensively by the author of 1 John.

In the next daily note, however, we will examine the final birth/offspring reference in the Johannine writings—the author’s climactic declaration in 1 Jn 5:18.

June 15: 1 John 3:1

1 John 3:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textual Note on 3:1

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

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:16-18 (continued)

1 John 5:16-18, continued

In the study last week, I noted the close parallel between 1 John 5:18 and 3:9. This strongly suggests that two verses are closely related, and that the later reference (in 5:18) may be used to explain further the meaning and force of the sin-reference in 3:9 (discussed at length in prior studies). The formal parallelism in wording, between the two statements, is readily apparent—the main clause being nearly identical in each:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God…
      pás ho gegenn¢ménos ek toú Theoú

      • …does not do sin” (3:9a)
        hamartían ou poieí
      • …does not sin” (5:18)
        ouk hamartánei

Based on this close similarity, as noted above, it is fair to assume that the explanatory clauses which follow, in each reference, are also related. The hóti-clause in 3:9b is, again:

“…(in) that [hóti] His seed remains [ménei] in him”

This is the stated reason why the one having been born of God (i.e., the true believer) “does not sin”. It is because [hóti] God’s seed “remains” in the believer. The significance of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) in this context, within the Johannine theology, has been discussed extensively throughout these studies. Indeed, it is this distinctive use of the verb which serves as the basis for one of my proposals toward addressing the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John (see last week’s study and the one prior).

Now let us turn to the explanation provided by the author in 5:18:

“…but [allá] the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”

There is an ambiguity here of subject and (pronoun) object, much as there also is in 3:9b. However, the ambiguity in that earlier reference is much easier to decipher. Literally, the clause in 3:9b reads “his seed remains in him”. But, based on the context, and Johannine language, it is clear that this means “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains in him [i.e. the believer]”. The situation is not so straightforward in the case of 5:18, as nearly all commentators recognize. There are two main ways to explain the Greek syntax:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the Son, Jesus] keeps watch (over) him [i.e. the believer]
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

Some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”), rather than the ordinary pronoun autón (“him”). Such a reading would provide confirmation for the second interpretation (above). However, even if the reading autón is regarded as original, the second interpretation is still possible, since the ordinary pronoun (i.e., autós, etc) can be used reflexively.

The parallel with 3:9 strongly favors the first option—namely, that Jesus, the Son (i.e., the one born of God), protects the believer. God’s “seed”, in the Johannine theological context, is best understood as the living Word (Logos) of God, who is the Son, abiding in the believer. God’s eternal Word is manifest, primarily, through the person of His Son. Alternatively, the “seed” may be understood as the Spirit of God; but this would differ little, in terms of the Johannine theology, since the believer’s abiding union with the Son (and the Father) is realized through the Spirit (3:24; 4:13). Moreover, since God Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24), then also His Word is Spirit, and is experienced through the Spirit (cf. Jesus’ statement in Jn 6:63).

The problem with this interpretation of 5:18 is that the idiom “the one coming to be born of God”, using the substantive verbal noun (participle), of the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), followed by the preposition ek (“[out] of”, in the expression “of God” or “of the Spirit”), always refers to believers, not to Christ. The verb gennᜠis applied to Jesus in John 18:37, but in the context of his human birth, not to a Divine/spiritual birth as God’s Son. Moreover, the idea of believers guarding themselves from sin/evil, keeping themselves pure, etc, is not at all out of place in the context of 3:4-9, as the exhortation in 2:28-29 and 3:3 makes clear.

As it turns out, both lines of interpretation are quite valid—both in terms of the Johannine theology and the literary context of 1 John. Overall, the theological focus, along with the immediate parallel in 3:9, favors the first interpretation (i.e., the Son protects the believer), while Johannine usage (vocabulary and syntax) tends to favor the second interpretation (i.e., the believer guards him/herself). A third option is available, by way of a minority reading for the clause in 5:18

“…but the coming to be (born) [i.e., birth, génn¢sis] keeps watch (over) him”

that is to say, it is the very spiritual birth, the coming to be born (as God’s offspring), which protects the believer from sin. In some ways, this provides the closest parallel with 3:9b, since the idea of God’s “seed” being present, in the believer, generally corresponds to the idea of the believer’s birth (as His offspring). However, the textual (manuscript) evidence argues firmly against this reading, and it is adopted by few, if any, commentators today.

Possibly in favor of the first interpretation (that it is the Son who protects the believer) is the use of the aorist tense (for the participle), genn¢theís, rather than the perfect tense (i.e., gegenn¢ménos), which is typically used when referring to the birth of believers as God’s offspring. It has been suggested that the difference in tense here is meant to convey a certain distinction—viz., between the Son and believers. However, though this would make an attractive solution, it is precarious to based one’s interpretation on such slight evidence as the supposed distinction between tenses.

Even so, I am inclined to favor (slightly) the interpretation that understands the second participial expression as a reference to Jesus the Son (“the one born of God”), whose abiding presence protects the believer (“the one born of God” [first participle]) from sin and evil.

Continuing the comparison between 3:9 and 5:18, there is a comparable parallel between 3:9c and the final clause of 5:18. In each instance, the implications of the Divine protection, provided to the believer, are stated boldly. In 3:9c, we have (again) the difficult declaration (discussed previously):

“…and he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God”

Essentially, this restates the declaration of v. 9a, giving a chiastic structure to the verse (cf. the outline in the earlier study). However, what is to be most noted is the absolute character of the declaration—that the true believer, the one “born of God”, is not able to sin. This compares with the corresponding clause in 5:18:

“…and the evil does not touch him”

Indeed, the statement that evil does not (or cannot) touch the believer is comparable to the statement that he/she is not able to sin. One should perhaps understand the substantive adjective (with the definite article) ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) as a personification or personal reference— “the evil one” (compare 2:13-14; 3:12; Jn 17:15), i.e., the Satan/Devil (see 3:8, 10), elsewhere called, in the Johannine writings, “the chief (ruler) [árchœn] of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Whether understood more abstractly, or as a person, this evil fundamentally characterizes “the world” (ho kósmos)—that is, the present world-order (especially at the end of the current Age), which is opposed to God, and is dominated by sin and darkness. The “antichrist” false believers (2:18-27; 4:1-6), the opponents whose views the author combats throughout 1 John, are part of this evil world. The thoroughness of this negative portrait of “the world” is made clear in verse 19, by way of a typical dualistic Johannine contrast:

“We have seen that we are of God [ek tou Theou], and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.”

Again “the evil”, as in v. 18, can be understood as “the evil one”. The expression “of God” is a shorthand for “having been born of God”, but it also implies, more generally, the idea that believers belong to God. In any case, “the world” is so thoroughly dominated by sin and darkness, that only through the abiding presence of God—His Spirit, Son, and Word—can we, as believers, be protected, so that the evil of the world “does not touch” us. It was as a result of the Son’s fulfillment of his mission, for which the Father sent him to earth, that the power of the world (with its sin and evil) has been overcome (Jn 12:31; 16:33; cf. 1 Jn 3:5, 8). Now believers are, and can be, victorious over the world, through the life and truth that the Son, through the Spirit, provides. This is an important emphasis in 1 John and a key part of the author’s exhortation (2:13-14, 15-17; 3:1; 4:4ff; 5:4-5). The contrast between believers and the world is a fundamental theme that runs through the Johannine writings.

Next week, we will bring this series of studies, on the Johannine view of sin, to a close. As part of this conclusion, some final comments on the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John will be offered, along with a review of the pair of approaches to the problem which I have proposed.

 

 

Saturday Series: John 16:8-9

John 16:8-9

In this continuing study on sin in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters of John), we turn now to the Paraclete saying in 16:7-15. This is the fourth (and final) such saying in the Last Discourse, the prior three coming in 14:16-17, 25-26, and 15:26-27. I have recently discussed these in some detail in a set of notes and articles, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The term “Paraclete” is an anglicized transliteration of the descriptive title parákl¢tos (para/klhto$), which means “(one) called alongside” —that is, to give help or assistance. It is a title of the Spirit, which Jesus promises will come to the disciples, after he has been exalted and has returned to the Father in heaven.

In 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of parákl¢tos in the New Testament, it is Jesus himself who is referred to as “(one) called alongside”, to give help to believers, specifically through the act of interceding before God the Father on believers’ behalf (in matters related to sin). In 14:16, the first Paraclete-saying in the Gospel, the Spirit is referred to as “another parákl¢tos“, implying that Jesus was the first. Indeed, in many ways, the Spirit-Paraclete continues the work of Jesus in and among his disciples (believers). Jesus continues to be present, speaking to believers through the Spirit, teaching them. For more on this, see the articles on the Paraclete-sayings (1, 2, 3, 4).

The final Paraclete-saying (16:7-15) occurs in the last of the three Discourse-divisions (16:4b-28), which has the following general outline:

    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)

The promise of the coming of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15) is thus tied to the departure of Jesus (back to the Father in heaven). He speaks as he does to his disciples because he soon will no longer be with them, at least in a physical sense. And he still has many things he must yet say to his disciples (and all believers), v. 12. For this reason, it is necessary for the Spirit to come, to be present with (“alongside”) believers, and to remain in/among them:

“But I say the truth to you: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away from (you). For, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos] will not come to you; but, if I do travel (away), I will send him to you.” (v. 7)

It is actually beneficial to the disciples (and to future believers) that Jesus should go away (back to the Father). Though he will no longer be present with them physically, as a human being, he can still be present spiritually, through the Spirit. In each of the Paraclete-sayings, Jesus explains certain aspects of the Spirit’s role. He continues that teaching here in verses 8ff:

“And, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about sin, and about righteousness, and about judgment” (v. 8)

In the previous Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the emphasis was on the Spirit as a witness—specifically, a witness to the truth of who Jesus is (v. 26). The Spirit will give witness of this to the disciples, but also to the world, through the disciples. The essence of this witness is further explained here, utilizing the verb eléngchœ. The basic meaning of this verb is to show someone to be wrong. It occurs two other places in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 8:46. The first occurrence is close in context to the use here: it refers to a person’s evil deeds being shown to be evil, exposed as such by the light of Jesus Christ—and by the Gospel witness to the truth of his identity as the Son of God. The reference in 8:46, where the verb is used, as it is here, specifically in connection with sin, was discussed in an earlier study.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular: sin (hamartía), righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), and judgment (krísis). In the verses that follow (vv. 9-11), Jesus explains the basis upon which the Spirit shows the world to be wrong about each topic. The first topic he addresses is sin; his explanation is short and to the point:

“about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me” (v. 9)

In the prior studies, we have seen how the Johannine understanding of sin entails two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. First, there is sin as understood in the general or conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs/misdeeds that a person commits. And, second, there is sin in the theological sense, defined as the great sin of unbelief—that is, of failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. Here, the truth regarding sin is clearly defined in terms of the latter (“they do not trust in me”).

Many commentators take the verb eléngchœ here to mean that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, of showing the people of the world to be sinful. While this aspect of meaning is not entirely absent, I do not consider it to be primary here. To be sure, the world (kósmos), dominated as it is by darkness and evil, and being opposed to God, is characteristically sinful. However, what the Spirit does, specifically, is to show the world to be wrong about sin. The world’s view and understanding of sin—that is, the nature and reality of sin—is fundamentally wrong. People may accept the conventional meaning of sin, and even seek to live in a righteous manner, avoiding sin, without realizing the true nature of sin. Even the seemingly righteous people—such as religious Jews in Jesus’ own time, who followed the precepts of the Torah—were sinful, if they refused to trust in Jesus. Indeed, such people commit sin in its truest sense, since they commit the great sin of unbelief.

The explanation regarding the true nature of the judgment (krísis) alludes to this same theological-Christological understanding of sin. According to the conventional view, the judgment occurs at the end of the Age, at some point in the future, when all people will be judged for their deeds (i.e., sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense). However, according to Jesus, and the theology of the Gospel, the world (and its ruler) has already been judged:

“about judgment, (in) that the chief [i.e. ruler] of this world has been judged” (v. 11)

This judgment is based entirely on whether or not a person, when confronted with the Gospel witness, the truth about Jesus, trusts in him. The one who trusts in Jesus, has already passed through the judgment and holds eternal life, while the one who does not trust, has already been condemned. For the key references elsewhere in the Gospel, see 3:19-21; 5:22-24 (v. 24); 8:51; 12:31, 46-50. The subject was also discussed in the previous studies on 8:21ff and 9:39-41 / 15:22-24.

The judgment is realized through the exaltation of Jesus the Son of God. In the Johannine Gospel, the exaltation of Jesus is not limited to his resurrection or ascension; rather, it covers a process that begins with his Passion (suffering and death). This is particularly clear from the setting of the declaration in 12:31. The Son’s mission on earth, and the witness to his identity as the Son, reaches its climax with his death on the cross (19:30). Through his death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the Son is “lifted up”, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is manifest to anyone who would believe. This helps us to understand the second of the topics about which the Spirit will show the world to be wrong. In verse 10, Jesus explains the true nature of righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), as being defined in terms of the Son’s return to the Father. In other words, true righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ exaltation and his eternal identity as the Son. Believers experience righteousness only in relation to the Son.

For more detailed discussion on vv. 8-11, see my earlier article and set of notes.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the final two sin-references in the Gospel.

Saturday Series: John 9:41; 15:22-24

John 9:41; 15:22-24

Last week, we examined the two levels, or aspects, of meaning for the sin word-group (hamartía, vb hamartánœ) in John 9. At the beginning of the episode (vv. 2-3), sin is referenced in the conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs or misdeeds that a person may commit. However, at the conclusion of the narrative (vv. 39-41), the meaning has shifted, to the distinctive Johannine theological understanding of sin as unbelief—a failure/refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God.

A similar kind of dual-meaning applies to the motif of seeing. At the beginning of the episode (vv. 6-7), the blind man receives sight in the ordinary, physical sense (of seeing with his eyes). But at the conclusion (vv. 35-38), he receives sight in the theological (and Christological) sense of trusting in Jesus. The same shift of meaning occurs, naturally enough, for the idea of blindness—i.e., a lack of sight. At the beginning, the blind man has a lack of sight in the ordinary sense, while, at the end of the episode, it is the opponents of Jesus who are shown to be blind, in that they refuse to trust in Jesus. This refusal to trust comes in the form of refusing to acknowledge or accept that the work performed by Jesus (i.e., the healing miracle) comes from God the Father, and thus demonstrates that he is the Son of God.

In the climactic declaration by Jesus (v. 41), there is a play on both aspects of meaning:

“Yeshua said to them [i.e. to his opponents]: If you were blind, you would not hold sin; but now, (since) you say that ‘We see’, your sin remains.”

In the first clause, the motif of sight/blindness occurs in the ordinary (phyiscal/optical) sense. Jesus is telling his opponents that, if they were simply blind in the way that the blind man had been, they would not have sin. This is an echo of Jesus’ earlier statement in verse 3, to the effect that the man’s (physical) blindness was not the result of any sin. There is no sin involved in simply being blind (in the ordinary sense).

The true blindness of his opponents, however, is quite different, and they do not even recognize that they are without sight, for they say “we see”. They think that they understand who Jesus is—namely, a sinful pretender who insults God by claiming to work healing miracles (that come from God). They are actually blind to Jesus’ true identity—the Son of God, sent from heaven by God the Father, who performs the works of the Father. And, because they are blind in this way, they do have sin (“your sin remains”)—indeed, they are guilty of the great sin of unbelief.

At the same time, it is also possible to see both aspects of the sin concept present here in verse 41. Because the opponents of Jesus commit the sin of unbelief, it is not possible for them to be set free from other sins (see 8:34-36, discussed in the earlier study). Trust in Jesus leads to the removal of sin (1:29; see also 1 Jn 1:7; 3:5); without this trust, the removal of sin is not possible, and a person’s sin(s) remain. Thus in a real sense, according to the logic of the Johannine theology, the presence/existence of all other sins is dependent upon the great sin of unbelief.

John 15:22-24

There is a parallel to 9:41 in 15:22-24 which we must consider, and which represents the next sin-reference to be found in the Gospel. These verses occur in the second half (15:18-16:4a) of the second Discourse-division (15:1-16:4a) of the Last Discourse. The principal theme of this Discourse-unit is the persecution of Jesus’ disciples (believers) by the world (or world-order, Greek kósmos). This theme is established in vv. 18-21, within the wider context of the stark juxtaposition contrasting believers and the world.

There is a strong dualistic orientation in the Gospel of John, which is also central to the Johannine theology, defining the very identity of a believer in Christ. A person either belongs to God, or belongs to the world. The noun kósmos in the Johannine writings has, for the most part, a decidedly negative meaning—referring to the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. Human beings are trapped in this darkness, but the Son (Jesus) is sent to earth to bring light into the darkness. Those who belong to God come to the light (3:21), and trust in Jesus, and thus are set free—the light effectively dispelling the darkness.

This Christological significance of the light-motif is closely related to the sight/seeing-motif in chapter 9, as is clear from the declaration by Jesus in vv. 4-5. In terms of the Johannine dualism, the same significance applies to the parallel motifs of darkness and blindness—with the concept of sin (as unbelief) tied to both.

The “world” hates Jesus’ disciples (believers) because it hates him, the Son of God—being, as it is, fundamentally opposed to God. This is the main principle surrounding the persecution motif in 15:18ff. It is part of the wider theme, expressed throughout the Discourses (esp. in chapters 5-9), of the people’s opposition and hostility to Jesus. This hostility is rooted in a lack of knowledge, which, in chapter 9, is expressed by the idiom of blindness. In the Gospel of John, the concepts of seeing (vb eídœ, etc) and knowing (vb ginœ¡skœ) are interchangeable and virtually synonymous—both refer to trust in Jesus, a recognition of his identity as the Son of God. As the Son, Jesus reveals (i.e., makes visible) and makes known the Father; the believer who sees/knows the Son of God also sees/knows God the Father. This is an important thematic emphasis in the Last Discourse, and it very much relates to the world’s hostility toward believers:

“all these (thing)s they will do to you through [i.e. because of] my name, (in) that they have not seen [i.e. known] the (One hav)ing sent me.” (v. 21)

Those who belong to the world do not know God, and cannot see the truth. How this relates to the concept of sin is explained by Jesus in vv. 22-24:

“If I did not come and speak to them, they would not hold sin; but now they do not hold (any) forward showing around their sin.” (v. 22)

The first clause of v. 22 is similar to that of 9:41 (see above). If Jesus had not come (to earth) and spoken to the people (spec. his opponents), it would have been comparable to a condition where these people were simply blind (like the blind man)—and they would not hold (vb échœ) any sin. However, since the Son did come, the people are now in a position where they have to respond to him—either by trusting or by refusing to trust. By refusing to trust, the opponents, those belonging to the world, do now hold sin. And what is this sin which they did not hold before, but do hold now? The great sin of unbelief.

As discussed above, the presence of this fundamental sin means that all other sins are present as well—they remain, and are not removed. The contrast here in verse 22, is interesting. Before the coming of Jesus, the people of the world did not hold/have sin; now they do hold/have sin, but what they do not have is a “forward showing” around their sin. The noun próphasis literally means a “shining before”; the use of the preposition perí (“around”) suggests a shining light that surrounds someone (or something). For lack of any better option in English, I have translated this noun above as “forward showing”. Often próphasis connotes an outward show or pretense that is meant to cover one’s real intent.

A comparable idea is surely present here: that of a false “shining” that covers and masks the true darkness of a person. Almost certainly, there is an allusion to a kind of religious-ethical piety or ‘righteousness’ that masks a person’s unbelief. The religious opponents of Jesus may seem to be ‘shining’ with righteous devotion to God, but they are actually full of the darkness of sin (unbelief); by refusing to trust in God’s Son, they show their true nature—as people belonging to the world, and who are opposed to God. This is stated bluntly by Jesus in verse 23:

“The (one) hating me, also hates my Father.”

The statements of vv. 22-23 are combined together in verse 24, making it abundantly clear that sin is understood here principally in terms of unbelief:

“If I did not do among them the works that no one other (has) done, they would not hold sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.”

Here doing the works of God is parallel (in v. 22) with the idea of speaking the words of God—both represent the Son’s mission on earth, for which he was sent by the Father. In response to seeing and hearing this mission, one either trusts in Jesus as God’s Son or refuses to trust. Sin is defined primarily by this refusal to trust; it leads to expressions of hatred against both the Son (Jesus) and God the Father, and manifests other sins and evils that are characteristic of the darkness of the world.

Next week we will turn to the next sin-reference, which is embedded as part of the Paraclete-saying in 16:8-11. In a number of important ways, this references builds upon the earlier statements by Jesus regarding sin in 15:22-24.

July 19: 1 John 5:21

1 John 5:21

As we come to the close of these notes and articles on 1 John—related to the current series “Spiritualism and the New Testament” (see the most recent article) —it is worth considering the author’s closing words in verse 21:

“Dear offspring, you must guard yourselves from the (false) images.”

This short injunction, with the author apparently warning his readers against ‘idols’ (lit. “images”), has long puzzled commentators. It seems like an afterthought, without any clear connection with the preceding sections. On the surface, of course, it is the kind of traditional-religious instruction that early Christians would have commonly given, particularly for those (non-Jewish) believers living in the midst of a thoroughly polytheistic Greco-Roman culture.

The term ei&dwlon (“[visual] appearance,” i.e., something that can be seen, an “image”) is rather rare in the New Testament (11 occurrences), used most frequently by Paul in his letters (7 times). It reflects the monotheistic tradition of the Old Testament, which, especially in the anti-polytheistic polemic of the Prophetic writings, tended to treat the deities worshiped by the surrounding peoples as having no real existence beyond the images used to represent them. Thus “images” (ei&dwla) came to serve as a short-hand designation, among Jews and Christians, for all false/foreign deities other than the one true God (El-YHWH).

The danger to early Christians posed by Greco-Roman polytheism is seen clearly in the apostolic letter (Acts 15:22-29ff), sent to believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, which included an instruction to avoid anything (spec. food/meat) that had been offered to “images” (vv. 20, 29; cf. 7:41). Paul treats the subject more extensively (without any reference to the Acts 15 letter) in 1 Corinthians 8-10 (the word ei&dwlon occurs in 8:4, 7; 10:19; cp. Rev 9:20). As an apostolic missionary to non-Jews in the Greco-Roman world, many of the Christian converts Paul would have encountered came out of a thoroughly polytheistic environment (cf. 1 Thess 1:9; 1 Cor 12:2). Worship of false/foreign deities (‘idols’) was seen as fundamentally incompatible with the new Christian religious identity (2 Cor 6:16), a mindset shared by Israelites and Jews as well (Rom 2:22). Cf. Paul’s penetrating early Christian appraisal of the nature (and origin) of polytheistic ‘idolatry’ in Rom 1:18-32.

What are we to make of the author’s warning against idols at the end of 1 John? Is it simply an example of conventional Christian ethical-religious instruction that the author has tacked on to the end of his treatise? Or is there something more involved? Commentators are somewhat divided on this point, but one’s interpretation of 5:21 tends to be colored by the prominence accorded to the conflict (with the opponents) in 1 John—is it just one among a number of issues and points of instruction offered by the author, or is it the central concern that governs the entire work?

The answer to this question likely will determine how one explains 5:21. There are two main lines of interpretation which can be labeled:

    • The ethical-religious explanation, and
    • The polemical explanation
Ethical-Religious

According to this view, the warning in 5:21 is a piece of conventional religious instruction, along the lines of the other New Testament references (in Paul and Acts; cf. also Rev 9:20)—i.e. warning Johannine Christians to guard themselves against the idolatrous polytheism of the Greco-Roman world. A simple and straightforward reading of the language in 5:21 would tend to support this view. Moreover, while there is relatively little traditional ethical-religious instruction in 1 John, it is not entirely absent from the author’s work (e.g., 2:15-17; 4:17-18). Every other instance of the word ei&dwlon in the New Testament refers, more or less generally, to the idea of a pagan/polytheistic false deity (represented by its “image”).

Polemic

A second, alternative, line of interpretation explains the author’s warning as part of the overall polemic against his opponents (i.e., the “antichrists” of 2:18-27; 4:1-6 [cf. also 2 Jn 7-11]). It seems proper to work under the assumption that, within the context of author’s central theme—that of a contrast between true and false believers—the opponents clearly are intended to represent the false believers. Primarily because of their false/erroneous view of Jesus Christ (referenced in the three trust-sections [2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12], and also 2 Jn 7ff), the opponents are regarded by the author as false believers (and deceiving false prophets)— “antichrists” of the end-time.

Since the opponents’ view of Christ is false, by which they effectively deny God’s Son, their view of God (the Father) is also false. By espousing a false deity, the opponents are thus no different from non-believers, and even pagan (polytheistic) idolators. This would be the logic of the author, according to his polemic.

We see a comparable example of polemical exaggeration by the author in 3:11-15, where he compares the opponents’ lack of love with Cain’s murder of his brother. In terms of the opponents’ violation of the command/duty to love one’s fellow believers, the author gives no indication of any immoral, oppressive, or violent behavior on their part. The only specific information he alludes to, in vv. 16-18, could be taken to mean that the author considers the opponents to have been neglectful in caring for the material needs of other believers. Beyond this, the worst one might say of the opponents, is that they may have followed the author’s example in 2 Jn 10-11, refusing to show hospitality to their own Johannine ‘opponents’.

The real demonstration of the opponents’ failure to show love simply involves their separation (according to the author) from the other Johannine Christians. Yet this violation of the second branch of the dual-command (3:23) is enough for the author to equate the opponents’ behavior with murder. Given this harsh polemical distortion, it would not be at all surprising if the author were to have equated the opponents’ violation of the first part of the dual command (i.e., trust in Jesus Christ) with idolatry. Clearly, their false view of Jesus (as the Son of God) would be tantamount to a false view of God the Father (El-YHWH), which (as noted above) would make them little different from polytheistic idolators.

Conclusion

Which line of interpretation for 5:21 is most likely to be correct? I suspect that this may be yet another example of Johannine double-meaning. The author may well have both ways of understanding his words—traditional ethical-religious and also polemical (against the opponents)—in mind. On the one hand, the readers can take the injunction at face value, remembering the importance of “guarding themselves” from the idolatrous polytheistic culture around them.

On the other hand, the author, throughout his work, has been warning his readers against the false views and teaching of the opponents—teaching which can lead them astray from the truth, with potentially dire consequences (2:18ff, 26f; 4:1-6). Such false teaching, characteristic of the “antichrists” and false prophets of the end-time, carries the same evil and seductive influence as the demonically-inspired “images” of paganism. Compare, for example, the way false (Christian) teaching is associated with pagan idolatry in the book of Revelation (2:14-15, 20ff).

A final possibility to consider, in light of the examples from the book of Revelation (above), is that the opponents might have downplayed the need to avoid things (i.e., food) that had been sacrificed to “images”, perhaps thinking, as some Christians at Corinth apparently did, that, since the deities represented by the images have no real existence, the images themselves cannot have any harmful effect on believers. This would be typical, in certain respects, of the spiritualistic tendencies that seem to have been characteristic of the Johannine churches; and the opponents may represent a more extreme example of such tendencies. However, if they were actually indifferent regarding the ‘things sacrificed to idols’, I would expect the author to deal with the issue more directly (like Paul and the author of Revelation), rather than in such a cursory fashion at the end of his work.

‘Idols’ (i.e., false/foreign deities) are to be contrasted with the one true God (v. 20; Jn 17:3). There is a similar contrast in 1 John between true and false belief—and the Christians who exhibit such belief (the opponents representing the false believers). I think it probable that the author is at least alluding again to the conflict involving the opponents here at the end of his treatise, expressing his exhortation in traditional ethical-religious language. This is all the more likely, given the precedent (attested in Jewish writings of the period) for speaking of ‘idols’ in a figurative sense—i.e., in reference to sins or evil inclinations of the heart (see e.g., Testament of Reuben 4:5-6; 1QS 2:10-11ff; 1QH 4.9-11ff; CD 20:8-10); cf. Brown, p. 628; von Wahlde [3], p. 207-8.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 (1982).
Those marked “von Wahlde [3]” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary series (Eerdmans: 2010).

 

July 13: 1 John 5:16-19 (8)

1 John 5:19

“We have seen that we are of [e)k] God, and (that) the whole world lies in the evil.”

The section 5:13-20 concludes with a series of three exhortative declarations (vv. 18, 19, 20) that each begin with the verb form oi&damen (“we have seen”). The verbal usage reflects the sense of unity and solidarity that the author wishes to establish, between himself and his readers, as members together (“we”) of the Community of true believers. The translation “we have seen” is a literal rendering of oi&damen; however, the verb ei&dw can also mean “know,” being essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw. In English idiom, for the context here, oi&damen would be translated simply as “we know…”.

This use of oi&damen (also in v. 15 [twice]) reflects the author’s declaration of his intent (and purpose of writing) in v. 13, at the beginning of the section:

“These (thing)s I have written to you, that you might have seen [ei)dh=te, i.e. might know] that you hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], to (you) the (one)s trusting in the name of the Son of God.” (cp. the end of the Gospel, 20:31)

It is also appropriate that the author effectively concludes his work emphasizing the fundamental theme of the contrast between true and false believers. This juxtaposition is part of a wider Johannine theme, contrasting believers with the world (o( ko/smo$). The negative sense of the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), as referring to the domain of darkness and evil (in which human beings are enmeshed) that is opposed to God, is distinctly Johannine, and the word tends to have this meaning throughout the Johannine writings. The contrastive relationship, between believers and the world, comes to be a dominant theme in the Gospel Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16), along with the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17 (where ko/smo$ occurs 18 times, vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). The usage in 1 John fully reflects the Johannine theological idiom—2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1, 3-5; 5:4-5; only in 2:2; 3:17 is the more neutral sense of ko/smo$ emphasized (i.e., as the inhabited world of human beings), while both meanings are at work in 4:1, 3, 9, 14, 17.

Believers belong to God (as His offspring), while non-believers (and false believers) belong to the world (as children of the Devil [the “chief of this world”, Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]). That is the contrast being emphasized again here at the close of 1 John. On false believers (spec. the opponents in 1-2 John) as children of the Devil, see 3:8, 10; cp. Jn 8:41 (in the context of vv. 38-47).

Here in v. 19, the idea of believers as the offspring (te/kna) of God is expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of”), in the expression e)k tou= qeou= (“out of [i.e. from] God”), as a shorthand for the phrase “having come to be (born) [vb genna/w] out of God”. For this distinctive Johannine idiom in 1 John, cf. 2:29; 3:8-10; 4:4-7; 5:1, 4, 18; also 2:16ff, 21; 3:12, 19; 4:1-3; in the Gospel, cf. 1:13; 3:5-8, 31; 8:23, 41ff; also 15:19; 17:6, 14-16; 18:36, 37.

The idea that true believers belong to God, and not to the world, is seen most clearly in 4:4-6:

“You are of [e)k] God, (dear) offspring, and have been victorious (over) them [i.e. the ‘antichrists’, vv. 1-3], (in) that [i.e. because] the (One who is) in you is greater than the (one who is) in the world.” (v. 4)

As I have discussed, the expression “the (one) in you” (o( e)n u(mi=n) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. God the Father is present, in and among believers, through His Son, and the Son abides in believers through the presence of the Spirit. By contrast, “the (one) in the world” (o( e)n tw=| ko/smw|) refers to the evil spirit of antichrist (v. 3) that is opposed to the holy Spirit of God. In v. 6, the evil spirit is called “the spirit of going/leading astray [pla/nh]”, in opposition to the “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]”.

If the true believer (“you”) is described in v. 4, it is the false believer (“they”) who is referenced in v. 5:

“They are of [e)k] the world; through this [i.e. for this reason] they speak out of [e)k, i.e. from] the world, and the world hears them.”

In v. 6 (as here in 5:18-20), the author includes himself, together with his readers (“we”), as being among the true believers:

“We are of [e)k] God; the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of [e)k] God does not hear us.”

As noted above, this same language of belonging (using the preposition e)k), contrasting believers and the world, can be found in John 17—esp. verses 14-16, which are quite close in thought with what the author is saying here in 5:18-19 (cf. the previous note).

In v. 19a, the author repeats his declaration from 4:6: “we are of [e)k] God”. The implication, as in the references cited above, is that the author and his readers, correspondingly, are not “of [e)k] the world”. However, here the author states this in more general terms, by referring to the nature and condition of the world:

“…and the whole world lies in the evil”
kai\ o( ko/smo$ o%lo$ e)n tw=| ponhrw=| kei=tai

As in v. 18, as well as 2:13-14, 3:12 [1], and Jn 17:15, the substantive adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”), as a masculine noun with the article (o( ponhro/$, “the evil”), is best understood in a personal sense (i.e. “the evil one”), as a reference to the Satan/Devil. If so, then v. 19b needs to be translated something like:

“…and the whole world lies in (the hand of) the Evil (One)”

That the world, dominated as it is by darkness and evil, is under the control of the Devil (“Evil One”) is confirmed by the expression “the chief/ruler [a&rxwn] of this world” in Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. Because believers do not belong to the world, they/we are not under the power of the Evil One. Indeed, through trust in Jesus, believers have obtained victory over the world (2:13-14; 5:4-5). The victory achieved by Jesus Christ, through his sacrificial death (and exaltation)—cf. 3:8; Jn 12:31; 16:11, 33—is communicated to believers, in union with him, through the presence of the Spirit (4:4).

For this reason, the sin and evil of the world cannot touch the true believer (v. 18; cf. Jn 17:15). Even if we, as believers, may occasionally sin, through confession and forgiveness we are cleansed of all sin, with the result that the (eternal) life we possess from God is preserved/restored (1:7-2:2; 5:16).

In the next daily note, we will turn to examine briefly the author’s concluding statement in verse 20.

July 12: 1 John 5:16-19 (7)

1 John 5:18, concluded

Before proceeding to the final clause of 1 Jn 5:18 (c), let me summarize the results of the analysis in the previous note, regarding the interpretation of the difficult second clause (b). There would seem to be two options, for each of which a strong argument can be made in its favor:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer] watches (over) him(self)”
      —the believer does this by keeping watch over God’s word that abides within, and by keeping (i.e. fulfilling) the two-fold command or duty (e)ntolh/) that God requires of all believers (3:23); cf. the other occurrences of the verb thre/w in 2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3.
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] watches (over) him”
      —God abides in and among believers through the presence of His Son (Jesus), and the Son is present in the believer through the Spirit; God, through His Son (and the Spirit), protects believers from sin and evil (cf. John 17:11ff).

Let us now turn to the final clause (18c):

“…and the evil (one) does not touch him”
kai\ o( ponhro\$ ou)x a%ptetai au)tou=

The adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”) occurs six times in 1 John—in five of which, as a substantive (masculine noun) with the definite article (2:13-14; 3:12 [1], and 5:19). Most commentators understand this expression in a personal sense,  “the evil (one),” referring to the Satan/Devil, called elsewhere “the chief/ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11); the same applies to the occurrence in Jn 17:15, which would seem to be close in meaning to v. 18 here:

“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil (one).”

Jesus’ prayer is that God the Father would protect the disciples (believers) from the evil of the world (and the Devil), once he can no longer be present with them (vv. 11-12). Ultimately, Jesus will continue to be present through the Spirit (14:17ff), and the protection God provides should be understood on that basis.

The verb a%ptw (“touch”) occurs elsewhere in the Johannine writings only (and famously) in Jn 20:17. The corresponding Hebrew verb ug~n` is frequently used in the context of a physical disease or ‘plague’ afflicting a person (whether as judgment from God or directly by an evil spirit); in the New Testament, a%ptw tends to be used (primarily in the Gospels) in the opposite sense—i.e., in the context of the healing (by the touch of Jesus) from disease.

Here the “touch” is not one that results in disease and physical death, but, rather, which leads to sin and evil (and thus to eternal death). The influence of the world (ko/smo$, in the starkly negative sense) and its chief (the Devil) is clearly in view. The wicked (non-believers and false believers) belong to the world, while true believers belong to God, having been born from Him (vv. 18-19). Belonging to the world, moreover, means that a person effectively has the Devil as his/her father, having been born from him (3:8, 10, 12ff; cf. Jn 8:19, 42-47). The world is dominated by darkness and evil (Jn 3:19, etc), a point that is emphasized by the author here in verse 19 (to be discussed in the next daily note).

Is it possible to decide between the two ways of interpreting the central clause in v. 18b (outlined above)? The arguments seem to be equally strong on either side. On the one hand, the usage of the verb genna/w in the Johannine writings strongly favors the idea that the substantive participle (o( gennhqei/$) refers to the believer. On the other hand, the Johannine theology, together with the similar use of the verb thre/w in John 17, is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that it is Jesus the Son who protects the believer.

It would seem appropriate if one could somehow combine these two lines of interpretation. One might do so as follows:

The one born of God [i.e. the believer, as God’s offspring] is kept safe from evil through union with Jesus [God’s Son]. It is his abiding presence, through the Spirit, that allows the believer to be victorious over both the world and the evil one (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4f); and God the Father is Himself present through the Son, and He is ultimately the one protecting believers (Jn 17:11, 15, cf. above). God’s seed, which is best understood in terms of His life-giving Spirit, abiding in believers, keeps them from sin (3:9). The “seed”-concept can apply equally to the person of Jesus Christ—whether in terms of God’s living Word (lo/go$), or as God’s Son—who abides in and among believers through the Spirit. The victory and protection believers have over sin and evil (and the Evil One) comes through the mediation of Jesus Christ (3:8; cf. 1:7ff).