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 5: 1 John 5:20, continued

1 John 5:20, continued

(see the previous note)

Like all three statements in the triad, v. 20 begins with the conclusive declaration “we have seen that…” (oi&damen o%ti). Through the use of the plural, the author implicitly includes his audience with himself, as being among the Community of true believers. He assumes that here, by the end of the treatise, his readers/hearers will affirm the truth of what he presents. Let us briefly examine each phrase and element of the statement.

“the Son of God is come” (o( ui(o/$ tou= qeou= h%kei). This declares that the Son of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ—an allusion to both the incarnation and the mission for which the Father sent him to earth. The use of the present tense of the verb may seem a bit peculiar in this regard; however, it emphasizes the presence of the Son in and among us, and thus can be understood in terms of the Son’s continuing/abiding presence. The verb h%kw can specifically refer to being here. According to the author, the opponents hold an erroneous (false) view of the Son’s coming; on the nature of their Christology, see my earlier notes on 2:22 and 4:2-3.

“and he has given to us (the) ability to think through” (kai\ de/dwken h(mi=n dia/noian). A key aspect of Johannine theology is the point that the Son has received from the Father (Jn 3:35, etc), and has, in turn, given these things to us as believers. The verb di/dwmi (“give”) is used frequently, in the Gospel (and in 1 John), in this special theological sense. Here, it is said that one of the things the Son gave to us is the “(ability) to think (things) through” (dia/noia), the only occurrence of this word in the Johannine writings. But this does not refer to any ordinary mental or intellectual ability; rather, it is best explained in terms of the regular Johannine idiom of knowing (and seeing), using the verbs ginw/skw and ei&dw (along with other sight/seeing verbs). That is to say, the Son has given us the ability to know and to see the truth; the noun dia/noia could be translated fairly here as “insight” (this is how von Wahlde renders it, pp. 201, 207). This insight (and ability to see) comes only through trust in Jesus (as the Son) and our birth (as believers) from the Spirit (cf. John 3:3ff).

“that we should know the True (One)” (i%na ginw/skwmen to\n a)lhqino/n). Again, this is not ordinary cognitive knowledge, but knowledge of God, given to us through the Spirit. The Son came to make known the Father—a key Johannine theological point. The statement here would seem to echo the important confessional declaration in Jn 17:3:

“And this the life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]: that they should you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The title “the True (One)” is essentially shorthand here for the expression “the only true God”. It also reflects the fundamental Divine attribute/characteristic of truth. Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, this attribute is specifically associated with the Spirit (Jn 4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6); indeed, the Spirit is even identified with the Truth itself (5:6), an instance of Johannine essential predication where the Spirit is the Divine subject. There is an equally strong association with the Son, including an essential predicative statement (Jn 14:6) comparable to that of 1 Jn 5:6. As a fundamental Divine attribute, truth (a)lh/qeia) can be identified with God Himself—and so also with the Son and the Spirit, respectively.

“and we are in the True (One)” (kai\ e)smen e)n tw=| a)lhqinw=|). As believers, we do not only know God, we are in (e)n) Him, united with Him in a bond of union. This, again, reflects the identity of believers as the offspring/children of God, born of Him. Having been born of His Spirit, we are united with Him through the Spirit; just as the Son (Jesus) is united with the Father, so are we as His children. Indeed, it is through the Son that we are able to be united with the Father, our union with Father and Son both being realized through the Spirit. Both the Spirit and the Son are the truth (5:6; Jn 14:6), the very truth that is God Himself.

“in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed” (e)n tw=| ui(w=| au)tou= Ihsou= Xristw=|). As noted above, it is because we are “in the Son” that we are in the Father. The embedded confessional statement—viz., that Jesus Christ is the Son of God—echoes the theme from earlier in the treatise, that only those who remain rooted in the truth of who Jesus is, with a correct trust in him, can truly be said to be united with the Son and the Father. The opponents, who have departed from the truth of Jesus Christ, have union with neither the Son nor the Father (2:22-23, cf. the earlier notes on the Christology of the opponents).

“This is the true God and (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]” (ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$). This statement identifies God with both truth (a)lh/qeia) and life (zwh/)—both key Johannine theological terms (and themes) that occur frequently in the Gospel and First Letter. The Divine life, possessed by God, is, by its nature, eternal life. Our union with the Son (through the Spirit) enables us to share in this Divine truth and life; indeed, it is our possession as the offspring/children of God. Again, this declaration echoes the confessional statement in Jn 17:3.

The structure of verse 20 follows a logical causal chain (cf. von Wahlde, p. 201):

    • “the Son of God is come,
      • and he has given to us the ability to know/see [dia/noia],
        • that we should know the True (One),
          • and (so) we are in the True (One)”

The climactic statement “and (so) we are in the True (One)” is another example of Johannine essential predication, applied to believers as the Divine subject. The subject (“we,” i.e., believers) is implied, while the predicate nominative, in this instance, is a prepositional phrase, defining our abiding union with God:

(we) | are [e)smen] | in the True (One) [e)n tw=| a)lhqinw=|]”

A variation on this formulation (of essential predication) utilizes the demonstrative pronoun (ou!to$, “this”) for the Divine subject in an oblique (or general/comprehensive) way. We have an example of this in the closing statement of verse 20:

This [ou!to$] | is [e)stin] | the true God and eternal Life

The pronoun refers back to God as “the True (One)”, though it could also refer to the Son (“His Son, Yeshua [the] Anointed”). The ambiguity may be intentional. Certainly, as noted above, the Divine attributes of truth and life apply to the Son just as they do to the Father. The parallelism in the preceding phrases argues for a dual reference here:

    • “in the True (One) [i.e. God the Father]”
    • “in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed”

Eternal life may properly be defined by this: as being in the Son, and thus also in the Father.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

July 4: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

As discussed in the previous note, a key message in the closing statements of 1 John (in vv. 18-20) is that believers in Christ are, and can remain, free from sin. This freedom is rooted in the very identity of believers—true believers—as the offspring (te/kna) of God. This has been the theme of these notes throughout: believers as the children of God. As we have seen, in addition to the use of the keyword te/knon (“offspring,” i.e., “child”, plur. te/kna), the Johannine writings make use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) as an idiom with the expression e)k tou= qeou= (“out of God”). This birth language and imagery is basic to the author’s way of describing the true believer in Christ—such believers “have come to be (born) of God”.

The language stems from Johannine tradition—the theological idiom and mode of expression—but the author of 1 John has made particular use of it. Most commonly, a substantive (perfect) participle, with the definite article, is used: “the (one) having come to be (born)” (o( gegennhme/no$). Often it is preceded by the comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“all, every”)—pa=$ o( gegennhme/no$ e)k tou= qeou= (“every[one] having come to be [born] of God”). Through this Divine birth, which comes about as the result of trust in Jesus as the Son of God, the believer shares the Divine attributes and characteristics; being united with the Son, believers (now fellow children of God) share the very attributes which the Son possesses—including sinlessness, and the power to be free of sin (cf. 3:5-6, 8-9).

The point is emphasized again (in 5:18) at the close of the author’s work. Throughout 1 John, this issue of the relation of the believer to sin has been an integral part of the overall message and rhetorical thrust of the treatise. As we have discussed, the central theme of 1 John is the contrast between true and false believers. The author addresses his audience as though they are true believers, while the “antichrist” opponents are regarded as false believers. Throughout, the author exhorts his readers/hearers to reject the false teachings (and example) of the opponents; they are to remain in the truth, remaining faithful to the great duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers (3:23, etc).

This, ultimately, the author’s primary theological (and rhetorical) point. Believers, born of God, are united with the Son—they/we are “in the Son”. Through the Son, we are also united with the Father; the union with Father and Son both, being realized through the presence of the Spirit (3:24; 4:13, and see the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel). However, it is necessary that believers remain in the Son, and thus remain in this binding union with God. This aspect of remaining/abiding, utilizing the key verb me/nw, has been emphasized repeatedly by the author, just as it is in the Gospel (see especially the Vine-illustration section, 15:1-16). There are two sides to the dynamic of remaining; the Son remains in the believer, through the Spirit, but the believer must also remain in the Son. One can only remain in the Son by remaining in the truth of his word (primarily, the message regarding Jesus’ identity as the Son of God) and in his love.

In the author’s view, the false believers (viz., the opponents) have departed from the truth, and so, by departing from the Community of true believers, have shown themselves to be false believers. By rejecting the opponents, the Johannine Christians will remain faithful to the e)ntolh/ and will keep free of the great sin (viz., violation of the two-fold e)ntolh/). Yet, the consequences of remaining in the Son are even more comprehensive: for it enables the believer to remain free of all sin. The very presence and power of God, abiding in us (as His offspring), protects us from the sin and evil of the world (vv. 18b-19). This is how I understand the second clause of verse 18 (see the prior discussion on 18b). However, it is also possible to read this clause as referring to the believer guarding himself/herself from sin and evil. This, indeed, is also part of the author’s message (see the wording in 3:3), which he alludes to again in his final words (v. 21).

In closing, I wish to discuss briefly the structure of verse 20. This third of the triad of statements (in vv. 18-20) has been carefully constructed by the author, combining an essential Johannine confessional statement with a summary of Johannine theology, as applied by the author for the purposes of his writing. This will be done in the continuation of this note.

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).

 

 

July 2: 1 John 5:18, continued

1 John 5:18, continued

In the previous note, we examined three principal ways of reading/interpreting the second clause (b) of verse 18, particularly with regard to the subject of the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”):

    • [#1] The believer keeps watch over himself/herself, viz., by remaining in the Son, and thus keeping free from sin:
      “but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him(self)”
    • [#2] The Son keeps watch over the believer, keeping him/her free from sin:
      “but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”
    • [#3] The Father keeps watch over the believer:
      “but (as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, He keeps watch (over) him”

There are sound arguments for and against each of these options. Let us examine them briefly.

1. “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) himself”. According to this approach, the participle refers to the believer, who is both the subject and object of the verb thre/w, with the accusative (object) pronoun au)to/n being read reflexively.

In favor of this approach is the fact that, elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the idiom genna/w + e)k—and, particularly, the use of the substantive participle (with definite article) + e)k qeou= (“of God”)—always refers to the believer. This idiom regularly uses the perfect tense, so the use of the aorist here is a bit unusual; but this may simply be an instance of stylistic variation, switching to the aorist in the second clause to avoid immediately repeating the perfect form of the participle from the first clause. Also, the idea of the believer watching over himself/herself would be in accord with the context of the parallel in 3:4-9—specifically, the statement in 3:3, where the believer is exhorted to “make himself pure/holy” (a(gni/zei e(auto/n). The fact that some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun (e(auto/n) here in v. 18 indicates that this is how a number of early Christians (including some copyists) understood the clause.

A strong argument against this approach is the fact that the verb thre/w, which occurs relatively frequently in the Johannine writings (18 times in the Gospel, 7 in 1 John), is never used by the author(s) in this reflexive sense. In every other instance, where disciples/believers are the subject of the verb, the context involves keeping/guarding the required e)ntolh//e)ntolai/ (“duty” or ‘command[s]’)—Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jn 2:3-4; 3:22, 24; 5:3. This is in accordance with traditional usage of thre/w, for the “keeping” of the Torah regulations, etc (Jn 9:16; cf. Matt 19:17; Acts 15:5, etc). Parallel, and generally synonymous in meaning, is the idea of keeping the “word” of God, and/or the “word/s” of Jesus—Jn 8:51-52, 55; 14:23-24; 15:20; 17:6; 1 Jn 2:5 (cf. Matt 28:20; Rev 3:10, etc). In the few instances where believers are the object of the verb, it is God the Father or Jesus the Son who is the subject (Jn 17:11-12, 15; cf. 1 Thess 5:23; Jude 1). A reflexive use of thre/w is rare elsewhere in the New Testament as well, though there are a few examples that would parallel a reflexive usage here (1 Tim 5:22; James 1:27; Jude 21; Rev 16:15).

2. “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”. In this approach, the participial expression “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God” (o( gennhqei/$ e)k tou= qeou=) refers to Jesus as Son of God, rather than believers as the offspring/children (te/kna) of God. Some commentators have felt that this distinction is indicated by the shift in tense in the participle—from perfect (the usual tense when the expression refers to believers) to the aorist.

In favor of this interpretation is the fact that, as noted above, in the few other instances where believers are the object of the verb thre/w, either God the Father or Jesus the Son is the subject. The Son is the subject in Jn 17:12 (cf. also Jude 1). The parallel context in 3:4-9, as well as the theological orientation of 1 John as whole, also supports the idea that it is the Son (Jesus) who guards believers, protecting them from evil and keeping them free from sin. This sinlessness of the believer is the result of sharing in (“remanining in”) the sinlessness of the Son (and his sin-removing power), as is clear from the context of 3:4-9 (see esp. verses 5 and 8).

However, as noted above, in the Johannine writings, the application of the idiom genna/w + e)k, especially when phrased with a substantive verbal noun (participle) + definite article, always refers to believers, never Jesus. This would be the only instance where the expression referred to the Son. The verb genna/w is used of the Son in Jn 18:37, but in reference to his human birth (on earth, in the person of Jesus, cp. the use of gi/nomai in 1:14), not to his Divine ‘birth’ as God’s Son. This is an extremely strong argument against option #2.

3. “(as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, He [i.e. God] keeps watch (over) him”. In this approach, the initial phrase of 18b is a casus pendens, a suspended phrase that is identified with the object pronoun of the main phrase; placed ahead of the main phrase, it anticipates and informs/modifies the object.

Strongly in favor of this approach is the way that it balances the natural identification of both the participial expression and the object pronoun with the believer. As noted above, when the believer is it the object of the verb thre/w, we would expect that either God (the Father) or Jesus (the Son) would be the subject. The Father is the subject in Jn 17:11, 15, which provides the closest Johannine parallel to vv. 18b-19; Jn 17:15 is especially close in wording and theme:

(Jesus praying to the Father, on behalf of his disciples):
“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.”

As compelling as this argument may be, the overall thrust of the message in 1 John would suggest that it is the Son, rather than the Father, who would be seen as directly protecting the believer. After all, the believer remains/abides in the Son, and it is through the Son that they/we are united with the Father. Moreover, as noted above, it is by sharing in the sinlessness (and sin-removing power) of the Son, that believers are able to be free from sin (see especially 3:5 and 6). At the same time, as a counter-argument (in favor of this approach), the author of 1 John also views the birth of the believer itself as being the source/basis of sinlessness (cf. 3:9, and here in 5:18a). This birth comes from God; we are not born from the Son, though we do remain in him, once we are born as God’s offspring. The aspects of birth and remaining go hand-in-hand, as the parallelism of 3:6 and 9 makes clear.

Summary. Johannine usage would seem to require that both the participial expression and the object pronoun refer to the believer. This means that only approaches #1 and #3 above are feasible. Several factors favor option #3, two of which are most notable, and can be taken together: (1) the verb thre/w is never used reflexively, with the believer as the subject, elsewhere in the Johannine writings (such usage also being quite rare in the New Testament at large); and (2) when the believer is the object of the verb, either God the Father or Jesus the Son is the subject. The message and theology of 1 John tend to favor seeing the Son as the subject, but the parallels in Jn 17:11, 15 (esp. verse 15) strongly favor the Father. This also could be supported syntactically, as the implicit subject of the verb would most naturally relate back to the immediately preceding noun (qeo/$, “God”, “…of God” [e)k tou= qeou=]). This does, of course, assume a casus pendens construction.

In Johannine theology (and in the syntax of the theological idiom), Father and Son are often interchangeable as referents, since the Son’s words and actions are equally those of the Father. However, the Father is the ultimate source, since everything that the Son has is given to him from the Father (cf. Jn 3:35). One can thus speak of God the Father “keeping watch over” believers, protecting them from evil, and keeping us free from sin, even if it is more proper to view the Son as filling this role. Actually, it may be more precise to attribute the role to the Spirit (cf. the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel), through whom we, as believers, are in union with both the Son and the Father.

At this point, it would be rash to attempt a definitive explanation of the difficult clause in v. 18b. My own interpretation has shifted somewhat over the years, though always recognizing the difficulties involved. Presently, I do see option #3 as having the most to recommend it, being best supported by the Johannine evidence as a whole. This remains something of a minority view among commentators, though it has been held by notable scholars such as Balz, Beyer, Segond, and Schnackenburg. Apparently, it is also held by Maarten J. J. Menken in his more recent commentary (2010, p. 115) on the Letters (this work, in Dutch, has not been accessible to me; cf. van der Watt, Communities, p. 204). Many of the critical commentaries published in recent decades offer surveys of the various interpretive approaches to the verse, akin to what I have done here; as a representative example, see Brown, pp. 620-2.

In the next daily note, the last of this series, I will offer some final comments on verse 18, in the context of vv. 18-20 as the closing unit of 1 John.

References above marked “Brown” are to: Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 30 (1982).
“van der Watt, Communities” refers to the article by Jan G. van der Watt, “On Ethics in 1 John”, in Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles, edited by R. Alan Culpepper and Paul N. Anderson, Society of Biblical Literature [SBL]: Early Christianity and Its Literature, No. 13 (SBL Press: 2014).

July 1: 1 John 5:18

1 John 5:18

“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)

This is the final Johannine passage to be examined, dealing with the theme of the birth of believers as the children of God. It happens to be the most difficult of all the Johannine references dealing with this theme. The difficulty has to do with the grammatical ambiguity in the verse—rather typical of Johannine syntax, and particularly so in 1 John. Our author regularly leaves the subject of verbs, and the referent of pronouns, unspecified, in such a way that it is not always clear whether they refer to God the Father, Jesus the Son, or, on occasion, the believer. This verse is rife with such ambiguity.

We may divide the verse into three parts, corresponding to three clauses (abc). The first clause is straightforward enough:

“every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin” (18a)
pa=$ o( gegennhme/no$ e)k tou= qeou= ou)x a(marta/nei

This statement essentially repeats those of 3:6 and 9 (discussed in earlier notes); verse 9 is closest:

“every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not do the sin”

In that instance the author uses the verb poie/w (“do”) + the noun a(marti/a (“sin”, with the definite article); here the author uses the verb a(marta/nw (“sin”), as in verse 6:

“every(one) remaining in him does not sin”

The statement in 5:18 essentially combines these two, summarizing the message of 3:4-9.

Serious difficulties arise in the second clause:

“but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him” (18b)
a)ll’ o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n

The substantive participle here differs in tense (aorist) from that of the first clause (perfect). The expression o( gegennh/meno$ e)k tou= qeou=, using the perfect tense, is always used of believers; but is the same true here with the aorist tense? This would be unusual, and the difference in tense has led some commentators to posit that the reference in this clause is to Jesus (the Son). This would be fully consonant with both the message of 3:4-9 and of the Johannine theology as a whole. It is by abiding/remaining in the Son that believers can be free from sin. The power of sinlessness, and of removing sin, comes from the Son; thus, it would be quite proper to say that the Son “keeps watch over” the believer, protecting him/her from sin and evil (see below on Jn 17:12). Moreover, the Son, quite clearly, could be described as being ‘born’ of the Father.

The problem with this interpretation, is that the idiom of the verb genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] of [God]”) in the Johannine writings always applies to believers, not to Jesus. The verb genna/w is used of Jesus in Jn 18:37, but in reference to his human birth (i.e., incarnation) on earth. If applied to Jesus here in v. 18b, this would be the only instance where the verb referred to Jesus’ Divine birth (as the Son) from God.

If the expression with aorist tense is a variation of the typical expression (with the perfect), referring to the believer, then the object pronoun au)to/n (“him”) must be understood reflexively:

“but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) himself”

Some manuscripts make this explicit by using the reflexive pronoun (e(auto/n).

This line of interpretation is also in accord with 3:4-9, and the Johannine theology as a whole. Indeed, verse 3 clearly emphasizes the need for the believer to “make himself holy/pure” (a(gni/zei e(auto/n), and the exhortation to “remain” in the Son (and in the truth, and in love), fulfilling the great duty (e)ntolh/) required of all believers, is a central theme. Moreover, the verb thre/w (“[keep] watch [over]”) is usually applied to the disciple/believer, in just such a context—viz., of remaining in Jesus (in his word and love), and of fulfilling the e)ntolh/; cf. 2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3; Jn 8:51-52ff; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 20; 17:6.

Another possibility, though less plausible grammatically, is that the clause should be read as:

“but (as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, (God) keeps watch (over) him”

The participle refers to the believer, but God is the subject of the verb thre/w. In favor of this interpretation is the fact that the closest parallel to 5:18f, with its use of the verb thre/w, is found in John 17 (vv. 11-12, 15), where the reference is to God the Father “keeping watch (over)” believers; verse 15 is particularly close:

(Jesus praying to the Father, on behalf of his disciples):
“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep watch (over) [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil.”

In verse 12, it is the Son (Jesus) who watches over the disciples (during his earthly ministry). But, with his departure from earth, the Son asks the Father to watch over them, in his place. In the Last Discourse, this role is given to the Spirit-Paraclete (cf. my earlier notes on the Paraclete-sayings).

Thus, there are three ways to explain the subject of the verb thre/w in 5:18:

    • The believer keeps watch over himself/herself, viz., by remaining in the Son, and thus keeping free from sin [3:3, and most occurrences of the verb thre/w]
    • The Son keeps watch over the believer, keeping him/her free from sin [Jn 17:12, and the context of 3:5, 8]
    • The Father keeps watch over the believer [Jn 17:11, 15]

To this, a fourth option can be added. In a few manuscripts and other witnesses (including the Latin Vulgate), instead of the participle gennhqei/$ (“[hav]ing come to be [born]”), the reading is the noun ge/nnhsi$ (“coming to be [born]”, i.e., “birth”):

“but the coming to be (born) keeps watch (over) him”

That is to say, the birth from God itself watches over the believer (and keeps him/her from sin); it is because the believer has been born (as the offspring of God) that he/she is able to be free from sin (3:9, see above).

In the next daily note, we will continue this discussion on 5:18.

 

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 28: 1 John 5:1-4

1 John 5:1-4a

These verses represent the conclusion of the division 4:7-5:4a, which, like the central division 2:28-3:24, has the duty (e)ntolh/) of love as its focus—using this e)ntolh/ to distinguish the true believer (viz., the one born of God as His offspring) from the false. As we have discussed, there actually two aspects, or components, to the great e)ntolh/trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), and love for other believers (following Jesus’ own example). These two aspects go hand-in-hand and really cannot be separated. Their interconnectedness has been made clear by the author throughout, and, most notably, here in 4:7-5:4a. I have already pointed out the formal parallel between the wording in 4:7 and 5:1:

    • “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God” [4:7]
      pa=$ o( a)gapw=n e)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai
    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God” [5:1]
      pa=$ o( pisteu/wne)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai

Essentially these two statements bracket the section as a whole, emphasizing both components of the two-fold duty that is required of believers—trust and love.

However 5:1 is just the beginning of a complex unit—spanning 5:1-4a (or 5:1-5)—that both summarizes the thought of the section and provides a transition to the next (5:4b-12). Verses 4b-5 are, in fact, transitional, and can reasonably be connected both with what precedes and what follows. The thematic and formal chiastic structure of 5:1-5 has been illustrated by von Wahlde in his Commentary (p. 172f). Note the following schematic:

    • “Every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (v. 1a)
      • has come to be (born) of God… (vv. 1b-2a)
        • when we would love God and do His e)ntolai/. (v. 2b)
          • For this is the love of God— (v. 3a)
        • that we should watch over His e)ntolai/… (v. 3b)
      • every(thing) having come to be (born) of God… (v. 4-5a)
    • the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God (v. 5b)

To love God (the central theme) means “keeping watch over” (vb thre/w) the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/, plur. e)ntolai/) of trust and love. The aspect of trust is primary, since it precedes our birth as the offspring/children of God. Once we have come to be born, it is love that becomes primary. This dynamic is indicated by the outer and inner layers of vv. 1-5, respectively. The two aspects, however, remain interrelated; note, for example, how this is expressed in verse 1:

“Every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God; and, every(one) loving the (One hav)ing caused (him) to be (born), [also] loves the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

Consider the parallelism here of the trust and love aspects:

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed
      • has come to be (born) of God
    • every(one) loving…loves
      • the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

Loving God also means loving His offspring (i.e., true believers). Indeed, the one who truly loves God is His offspring; it is only natural that one who is His child, will love all the siblings— ‘brothers and sisters’ —all the other children of God. This point has already been made here in 4:20-21. The person who fails to show love toward other believers cannot love God. Indeed, loving God means loving His offspring, and thus fulfilling the duty (e)ntolh/) of love. This is expressed in verse 2:

“In this we know that we love the offspring [te/kna] of God:
when we would love God and do His e)ntolai/.”

The Johannine writings use the singular and plural of the noun e)ntolh/ interchangeably. The use of the plural (e)ntolai/) can be misleading, especially when translated as “command(ment)s”, since it suggests that a set of ethical-religious commands is in view, such as the regulations, etc, of the Torah. However, as I have repeatedly maintained, within the theological and religious worldview of the Johannine writings, there is just one e)ntolh/—viz., one duty/requirement placed on us (as believers) to fulfill. But this is a duty with two components (3:23); thus it can be viewed either as a single e)ntolh/ with two aspects, or as two e)ntolai/. Regardless of the use of the singular or plural, the meaning is the same.

If we, as believers, truly love God and fulfill our duty (e)ntolh/), then we can be sure (“know”) that we do, in fact, love our fellow believers. The love of our fellow believers follows as a natural consequence of our love of God. Again, this principle is expressed by way of the birth/offspring motif—if we love God the Father, as His children, we will also love all His other children (with whom we are related, through the Spirit). In verse 2, loving God and fulfilling the duty of trust/love seem to be presented as two separate, but related, actions; however, as verse 3 makes clear, there is really no separation—love of God is love of God’s offspring, principally because it is God’s own love that we possess:

“For this is the love of God: that we should watch over His e)ntolai/—and His e)ntolai/ are not weighing (heavy on us).”

The qualifying statement in 3c is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 11:30. The ‘lightness’ here could allude to the fact that just a single (two-fold) duty (or ‘command’) is involved. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, however, the proper explanation relates to the nature of our union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. Our fulfillment of the e)ntolh/ (or e)ntolai/) is enabled by the abiding presence of the Father and Son in us (through the Spirit). God’s own love abides in us, and thus we are able to love, as long as we remain in Him (and His love). The same is true with regard to the aspect of trust, as the author discusses in vv. 4b-12. The main point at issue, and the crux of the author’s message in 1 John, is the need for believers to remain in God, by remaining the Son—specifically, in the truth of who he is (viz., “trust”), and in his love. The “antichrist” opponents have not remained, but have departed from the truth (and from love); the same may be said for all other false believers.

In the next daily note, we will look at verse 4a (along with the following vv. 4b-5), which brings the section to a close, with a further reiteration of the birth/offspring theme.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).
See also the same author’s fine study on the use of e)ntolh/ in the Johannine writings, The Johannine Commandments: 1 John and the Struggle for the Johannine Tradition (Paulist Press: 1990).

June 27: 1 John 4:7, continued

1 John 4:7, continued

As discussed in the previous note, verse 7 can be divided into four component phrases or clauses:

    • “we should/must love each other”
    • “(in) that love is of God”
    • “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God”
    • “(everyone loving) knows God”

The first two components, which comprise an exhortation to demonstrate love, were examined in the previous note, along with the author’s development of the themes throughout the section (4:7-5:4a). Here, we will do the same with the final two components.

3. “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God” (pa=$ o( a)gapw=n e)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai)

There are two fundamental aspects of a person’s identity as a true believer in Christ, which the author of 1 John emphasizes, utilizing the Johannine key verbs genna/w (“come to be [born]”) and me/nw (“remain”). First, the believer comes to be born as the “offspring” (te/knon) of God; then, as a true child of God, the believer remains in God. The child remains in God the Father by way of the Son (Jesus). This is how the Johannine theology conceives the dynamic. The believer enters into an abiding union with the Son, and through the Son, with the Father. The other offspring share the same parent-child relationship along with the Son—as the Son abides in/with the Father, so do the other children.

The birth aspect is introduced here in verse 7, and then again in 5:1; through the remainder of the section, the emphasis is on the abiding union. Both aspects, however, are clearly framed in terms of the great two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers (3:23): (i) trust in Jesus Christ, and (ii) love for fellow believers, following Jesus’ own example. There is a precise formal parallelism in this regard, between the birth-statements of 4:7 and 5:1, as pointed out in the previous note:

    • “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God” [4:7]
      pa=$ o( a)gapw=n e)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai
    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God” [5:1]
      pa=$ o( pisteu/wne)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai

The abiding statements, in vv. 13-16, follow the same thematic pattern, paralleling trust (v. 15) and love (v. 16). The use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) was introduced in this section at verse 12, and is then expounded further, fully upon Johannine theological lines, in verses 13-14:

“In this we know that we remain [me/nomen] in Him, and He in us: (in) that He has given to us out of His Spirit.” (v. 13)

The relationship of abiding/remaining is reciprocal—viz., believers remain in the Father, and the Father remains in them—even as it is between the Son (Jesus) and the Father. Indeed, it is through our union with the Son that we have this abiding relationship with the Father. This is realized through the Spirit, as the author indicates here in verse 13. The Spirit is the manifestation of the union; much the same is stated in 3:24b, at the close of the central section of the treatise. Moreover, in 3:24a, the author declares that, only if a person fulfills the great e)ntolh/ (trust and love), will he/she remain in God (as His offspring).

This is also the message here in vv. 13-16. Both aspects—trust and love—are emphasized. First, the reciprocal abiding occurs when the believer trusts—demonstrating genuine trust in Jesus Christ as the Son of God:

“Whoever would give account as one (with us) that Yeshua is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God.” (v. 15)

It also occurs when the believer loves (v. 16). Here this is explained, somewhat elliptically, by a further use of the verb me/nw. God’s love remains in the believer, and so the believer must remain in His love; if this occurs, then the believer will remain in God, and God in the believer. The author could have used a similar mode of expression with regard to trust—e.g., by speaking of remaining in the truth (cf. 2 John 4ff), or by remaining in the word of truth (cf. John 8:31). The Spirit within us bears witness to this truth, a point the author alludes to in v. 14, and will develop later on in 5:5-12.

Focusing on the love aspect, as the author does here in this section, the true believer is one who fulfills the e)ntolh/ of love. Indeed, the fulfillment of this duty to show love demonstrates that the person has come to be born of God (v. 7), and abides/remains in God (v. 16). Both the birth and the abiding union are fundamental aspects of the believer’s identity as the offspring of God.

4. “and knows God” (kai\ ginw/skei)

This phrase is shorthand for “the (one) loving knows God”, being parallel with the prior phrase (see above). The second state (knowing God) follows upon the first (being born of God). This is rather clearly alluded to by Jesus in the Gospel, when he famously declares: “If one should not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God”. In the Johannine theological idiom, seeing God and knowing God are virtually identical in meaning, playing upon the dual meaning of the verb ei&dw, and upon the sight-idiom generally. Thus, a person can only know God when he/she comes to be born as His offspring. Moreover, this implies that knowledge of God (the Father) is dependent upon knowing (i.e., trusting in) the Son.

The author expounds upon this theme of knowing in vv. 13-19, beginning with the initial statement of v. 13 (see above): “In this we know that we remain in Him, and He in us…”. As noted above, the Spirit is the realization (and manifestation) of our abiding union with God, and thus relates to both our trust and love. Trust is emphasized in vv. 14-15, and love in v. 16, where the motif of knowing is again utilized: “And we have known and have trusted the love which God holds in us”. On the Divine nature/character of love, and of God as the source of our love, see the discussion in the previous note (on the second phrase of v. 7). Like the Spirit, God has given His love to us (on this Spirit/love parallel, cf. Romans 5:5). The principle is famously stated by the author in verse 19: “We love, (in) that [i.e. because] He first loved us”.

This association between knowing and loving continues in vv. 20ff. In this unit, the author applies the exposition (in vv. 7-19) to the specific situation involving the opponents. As a rhetorical device, he presents the claim of the false believer:

“If one should say, ‘I love God’, and (yet) should hate his brother, he is false [i.e. a false believer]”.

This is similar to the earlier false claim presented in 2:4:

“The (one) saying, ‘I know God’, and (yet) is not keeping (watch over) His e)ntolai/, is false, and the truth is not in him.”

The true believer is one who knows God—as, indeed, the offspring naturally know their Father. But only the person who fulfills the great dual-e)ntolh/ (presented as a plural [e)ntolai/] in 2:4) is a true believer, and can truly be said to know God.

The author continues to play on the reciprocity of the abiding relationship between child (i.e., true believer) and Father. Our love for God is manifest through our love for our fellow believers. The person who does not show love to other believers cannot possibly love God. This is the message of verse 20. The author goes so far as to call this lack of love “hate” (vb mise/w). It is somewhat surprising that the author provides no real indication of how this lack of love is demonstrated. Indeed, this is quite remarkable, given the rhetorical (and polemical) importance of the love-e)ntolh/ in his line of argument—viz., the opponents violate the e)ntolh/, and thus show themselves to be false believers, by failing to love. The only practical example he gives is in 3:17, and could suggest that the opponents may have been neglectful in caring for the physical/material needs of fellow believers. More likely, however, the author views the opponents’ very departure (from the Community of true believers, 2:19; cf. 4:1) as a fundamental lack of love, and thus a violation of the great e)ntolh/ (4:21).

In the next daily note, we will examine the conclusion to this section (5:1-4a), in which the author summarizes many of the themes and statements presented throughout the treatise. The unit begins with a birth-statement (using the genna/w + e)k idiom) parallel to that in 4:7 (see above).

 

June 25: 1 John 3:10 (continued)

1 John 3:10, continued

“In this it is shining out [i.e. apparent], (who are) the offspring of God and the offspring of the Diábolos: every(one) not doing what is right [dikaiosu/nh] is not (born) of God—even the (one) not loving his brother.”

In concluding these notes on 1 Jn 2:28-3:10, we must look again at the specific significance of the terms dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness”) and a(marti/a (“sin”, vb a(marta/nw), in the context of the Johannine theology (as it is used here by the author of 1 John). To this end, it is important to pay attention to the closing words of 3:10 (see the previous note)—namely, the qualifying phrase “and the (one) not loving his brother” (kai\ o( mh\ a)gapw=n to\n a)delfo\n au)tou=). This phrase is clearly related to the main phrase of verse 10b, but the nature of the relationship is not readily apparent. The phrases are, however, certainly parallel, both serving to define the “offspring [te/kna] of the Devil” (that is, false believers):

    • “the (one) not doing th(at which is) right”
    • “the (one) not loving his brother”

This distinctive Johannine syntax has been discussed extensively in the prior notes. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) describes the characteristic behavior of a person (or group). In this case, the false believer (“offspring of the Devil”) does the opposite of the true believer (“offspring of God”). The true believer does “th(at which is) right” (h( dikaiosu/nh), while the false believer does not do this.

The force of the conjunction kai/ (“and”), joining the two phrases of v. 10b, is not entirely certain. Is it meant to show that the two phrases—and the corresponding characteristic actions—are synonymous, or that the second is in addition to the first? In the latter case, we would translate: “the (one) not doing th(at which is) right—and also the (one) not loving his brother”. Another alternative is that the act of “loving one’s brother [i.e. fellow believer]” is to be included, as a particularly important example, of what it means to “do what is right”. This line of interpretation is surely closer to the mark. However, I am convinced that, for the author of 1 John, the two phrases are essentially synonymous. That is to say, to “do that which is right” means “to love one’s brother”.

The key to a correct interpretation is the relationship of 2:28-3:10 to the following 3:11-24. One must note, in particular, the importance of the theme of love in that section, and also the emphasis on the duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of every believer, and which every true believer will fulfill. The idea of loving fellow believers dominates verses 11-18, and thus the closing phrase of verse 10 is transitional—transitioning from the righteousness/sin emphasis in 2:28-3:10 to the love/duty emphasis of 3:11-18. The emphasis in vv. 11-18 is on love, while that of vv. 19-24 is on the duty (e)ntolh/) of believers (note the repeated occurrence of the noun e)ntolh/ in vv. 22-24).

As discussed in the previous note, “doing th(at which is) right” is essentially the same as “not doing the sin”; the opposite is also true— “not doing what is right” means “doing the sin”. I have discussed the Johannine understanding of sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw) extensively in a recent series of studies. My conclusion (demonstrated in those studies) is that the Johannine writings evince a dual-layered understanding. At one level, “sin” is to be understood from a conventional standpoint, in terms of ethical-religious failures and misdeeds. However, at a second (and deeper) level, “sin” refers to a failure/refusal to trust in Jesus. Both levels of meaning are valid, but the second is primary, and represents the true meaning of sin. The same may be said of “righteousness” (“right-ness”, what is right, dikaiosu/nh). As the opposite of sin, the true meaning of “right-ness” is: to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. These distinctly Johannine theological meanings of a(marti/a and dikaiosu/nh are defined in Jn 16:8-11 (vv. 9, 10).

How does this apply to the use of the terms in 1 Jn 2:28-3:10? I would maintain that the dual-layered meaning described above absolutely applies. The conventional ethical-religious meaning of the terms is in focus in 2:28-3:10, but the deeper theological meaning is also present, and comes firmly into focus in 3:11-24. The love-reference in 3:10b marks the transition between these two aspects of meaning.

Let us consider how this relates to the broader theme of believers as the “offspring [te/kna] of God”, and to the contrast between the true and false believer (viz., “offspring of God” vs. “offspring of the Devil”). In the previous note, I mentioned how there are two aspects to this contrast: (i) essential identity, and (ii) practical manifestation. The identity of the true believer (as the offspring of God) is manifested by “doing what is right” and “not doing what is sin”. Conversely, the identity of the false believer (as the offspring of the Devil) is demonstrated by “not doing what is right” and by “doing what is sin”.

At the ethical-religious level, “sin” refers to various kinds of wrong-doing, and a failure to do what is right. Similarly, “right(eous)ness” refers to upright (moral) behavior and acts of religious devotion. The “right-ness” and the sinlessness of the Son (Jesus) is also to be reflected in the children (offspring) of God. Insofar as believers remain in the Son, they can (and will) be free from sin, and will act in a right manner, following the Son in doing what is right. This is the ethical-religious message of 2:28-3:10, and it applies to the statements in 3:4-9, in spite of the difficulty surrounding the ‘sinlessness’ claims in vv. 6 and 9.

However, at the theological level, the message is somewhat different. For, as noted above, at this level of meaning, “sin” refers to a failure/refusal to trust in Jesus, while “right(eous)ness” means the opposite—a genuine trust in Jesus as God’s Son, and that, through this trust, believers are united with the Son, so as to share in his righteousness (which is the very righteousness of God). In this regard, the false believer sins, while the true believer does what is right (and is entirely free from sin).

A related point of Johannine theology is that trust in Jesus also involves showing love for fellow believers (following Jesus’ own example). The author of 1 John views these—trust and love—as two sides of the same coin. Indeed, in verse 23, at the climactic point of this central division of his work, the author clearly defines the duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers:

“And this is His e)ntolh/:
that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and
(that) we should love one another,
just as he gave this e)ntolh/ to us.”

This concept of a two-fold e)ntolh/ is also found in the Gospel, expressed by Jesus in his Last Discourse to his disciples (13:31-16:33). There the trust aspect is framed in terms of being faithful to Jesus’ word(s). Yet, it is important to remember that, in the Johannine Gospel, Jesus’ teaching (“word[s]”) refers primarily to his identity as the Son. Thus, to be faithful to Jesus’ words means, fundamentally, to trust in the message of his identity as the Son of God, sent from heaven by God the Father. Such a line of interpretation is fully in keeping with the thought (and message) of the author of 1 John.

Also in common, between the Gospel and First Letter, is the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) to express the identity of the true believer, in this regard. We have seen how often this verb was used in 1 John (including key occurrences in 2:28-3:10 [2:28; 3:6, 9; cf. 2:24, 27]), and this usage continues in 3:11-24—vv. 14-15, 17, and finally climaxing in v. 24. It also features prominently in the Last Discourse, particularly in the Vine-illustration section (where it occurs 11 times, in 15:4-7, 9-10, 16). The true believer is one who remains in the Son (Jesus), demonstrating this by fulfilling both aspects of the great e)ntolh/ (trust and love). I have utilized the following simple diagram to illustrate this:

The true believer trusts in Jesus, remaining in both his word and his love. The false believer, by contrast, does not. For the author of 1 John, it is the “antichrist” opponents who are principally in view when he speaks of false believers (“offspring of the Devil”). Although they, surely, would have considered themselves genuine believers in Christ, from the standpoint of the author (and his circle) they are false believers, since they hold to an erroneous view of Jesus Christ. They have departed from the truth of Jesus’ own word, away from the truth of who he is (and what he did during his earthly mission). Moreover, by departing from the Community of true believers, they also fail to show love to believers in Christ, and thus also violate the second part of the great e)ntolh/. Whether, or to what extent, the opponents manifested this lack of love in other practical or tangible ways, is hard to determine (but note the emphasis in vv. 16-18, esp. verse 17).

In the next daily note, we will continue exploring the birth/offspring theme in 1 John, turning to examine the remaining passages where the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”) and the idiom genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] of”) are used.