November 10: John 15:13 (continued)

John 15:13, continued

The believer’s duty (e)ntolh/) to show love is based upon the love that Jesus himself showed to his disciples (and to all believers). The sacrificial character of this love is expressed in verse 13 by the phrase “set (down) his soul over his dear (one)s [i.e. those dear to him]”. The specific expression involved is “set down (one’s soul) over”; the corresponding idiom in English is “lay down one’s life for…”, which is very close in both form and meaning. The two key components, indicated in bold, are: (1) the verb ti/qhmi (“set, put, place”) and (2) the preposition u(pe/r (“over”). Having discussed verse 13 as a whole in the previous note, we shall now look in more detail at these two elements.

The verb ti/qhmi occurs 18 times in the Gospel of John, but is not a particularly Johannine term. Being a common verb, and occurring frequently in narrative, in most of the occurrences it is used in the ordinary sense of setting/placing an object, etc. There are, however, three passages where the use of ti/qhmi is relevant for an understanding of v. 13 here. The first is in the Good Shepherd Discourse of chapter 10, specifically vv. 11-18. This section begins with an “I am” saying by Jesus—

“I am the good [kalo/$] herder.”

and then he qualifies the nature of this goodness (adj. kalo/$, in the sense of fineness, excellence) as follows:

“The good herder sets (down) [ti/qhsin] his soul over [u(pe/r] the sheep.”

This is precisely the same expression we find in 15:13. It clearly refers to the herdsman’s willingness to give up his own life to protect the sheep. The noun pro/baton denotes an animal that “steps forward”; it can refer to any quadruped that is herded, but is commonly used for sheep. In vv. 12ff, Jesus develops this illustration, expounding his self-identification with the “good shepherd” figure, and with the sacrificial action that demonstrates his “goodness”:

“…I set (down) my soul over the sheep” (v. 15)

Jesus is willing to give up his own life for the sake of his sheep (i.e., his disciples/believers), alluding to his impeding death on the cross. He knows those who belong to him, just as the Father knows him (the Son). Indeed the Father loves the Son especially because of this willingness of the Son to give up his life:

“Through [i.e. because of] this, the Father loves me: (in) that I set (down) [ti/qhmi] my soul, (so) that I might take it (up) again.” (v. 17)

Here is added to the illustration the idea of a person “taking (up)” (vb lamba/nw) again what was “set (down)”. In this context, it alludes to the resurrection of Jesus (i.e., ‘taking up’ his soul again) after his death. The Father’s love toward the Son encompasses both his sacrificial death and his return to life (resurrection)—both being components of the Son’s exaltation.

In the concluding verse 18, it is made clear that Jesus’ impending death is a willing self-sacrifice, made by the Son:

“No one takes it (away) from me, but I set it (down) from myself [i.e. on my own]. I hold (the) e)cousi/a to set it (down), and I hold (the) e)cousi/a to take it (up) again. This is the (duty laid) on (me) to complete [e)ntolh/] (that) I received (from) alongside my Father.” (v. 18)

The noun e)cousi/a is difficult to translate in English; basically it refers to something that is possible, or is in one’s power, to do. It indicates the ability to do something, but also can connote that one has been given permission (by a superior) to do it. Here, in this instance, it means that the Son (Jesus) has been given the ability to lay down his life and then take it up again, but also that this is something the Father has given him to do. Indeed, the self-sacrificial death (and resurrection) of the Son is described as an e)ntolh/—a duty placed on the Son (by the Father), which he is obligated to complete. The mission is completed at the moment of his death on the cross, as the declaration in 19:30 (“it has been completed”) makes clear.

The second occurrence of ti/qhmi which we must note also refers to the self-sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death, but in a more subtle way. At the Last Supper with his disciples, as Jesus initiates the symbolic foot-washing action, we read:

“…he rises from the supper and sets (down) [ti/qhsin] his garments, and (ha)ving taken [vb lamba/nw] a linen cloth, ties it around himself” (v. 4)

The combination of the verbs ti/qhmi and lamban/w echoes 10:17-18, but, more specifically, the image of Jesus “setting down” his outer garment(s) here almost certainly alludes (by way of foreshadowing) to his upcoming death (cf. the reference to his garments in the Crucifixion scene, 19:23f). The context of chapter 13 (vv. 1ff) clearly has the impending death of Jesus in view.

If there was any doubt of the significance of the verb ti/qhmi in this context, the third reference, in the opening section of the Last Discourse, unquestionably confirms it. In the exchange between Jesus and Peter, the latter asks:

“Lord, for what (reason) am I not able to go on (the same) path with you now? My (own) soul I will set (down) [qh/sw] over [u(pe/r] you!” (v. 37)

Peter declares his willingness to follow Jesus to the death—a disciple being willing to lay down his own life for his master. Jesus’ challenge to Peter in response uses the exact same wording:

“Your (own) soul will you (indeed) set (down) over me?” (v. 38)

The question is followed by the famous prediction of Peter’s threefold denial. In Peter’s failure to remain faithful to Jesus, he did not show the love required of the true disciple, who would be willing to lay down his own life. However, his status as a true disciple was restored, after the resurrection, with his threefold affirmation of love and devotion for Jesus (21:15-19).

The exchange between Jesus and Peter follows immediately after the ‘love command’ —the declaration by Jesus of the duty of disciples/believers to love one another—in vv. 34-35. Thus, a willingness to lay down one’s life is very much connected with the duty to love, even as it is here in the Vine illustration passage.

Finally, we must mention several other occurrences in the Gospel of the preposition u(pe/r (“over”), where a similar reference to Jesus’ sacrificial death is indicated or implied. First, there is the “I am” declaration in the final section of the Bread of Life Discourse:

“I am the living bread (hav)ing stepped down out of heaven. If any(one) should eat of this bread, he shall live into the Age; and, indeed, the bread that I will give is my flesh, (given) over [u(pe/r] the life of the world.” (6:51)

As many commentators have noted, this use of the pronoun u(pe/r seems to echo the eucharistic declaration by Jesus (at the Last Supper) in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:24; Lk 22:19-20). In the Markan form of this saying, Jesus’ blood is said to be poured out “over many”; in Luke, the sacrifice is directed toward the disciples (“over you”). The Lukan version is thus closer in sentiment to the Johannine words of Jesus to his disciples in the Last Discourse.

One of the most unusual Johannine traditions, recorded in the Gospel, is the unwitting (and ironic) prediction by Caiaphus of Jesus’ sacrificial death, when he:

“…foretold that Yeshua was about to die off over [u(pe/r] the nation—and not over the nation only, but (so) that also the offspring of God scattered throughout should be gathered together into one.” (11:51-52; cf. also v. 50; 18:14)

Clearly, in all these references, u(pe/r essentially means “on behalf of, for the sake of”.

The final reference of note occurs toward the end of the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, being (in the narrative context) among the last words spoken by Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, before his death. In this instance, his impending death is described by the verb a(gia/zw (“make holy”, i.e., purify, sanctify, consecrate):

“and (it is) over [u(pe/r] them (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they (them)selves might be (one)s having been made holy in (the) truth” (17:19)

The death and resurrection of Jesus is for the sake of his disciples (and all believers). The Father consecrated the Son (10:36) for his mission, and now the Son consecrates himself, in preparation for its completion (19:30). By participating in the life-giving and cleansing power (cf. 1 Jn 1:7ff) of Jesus’ death, the disciples themselves are purified and made holy. Since the Son is the truth (14:6), believers are thus made holy in the truth (i.e., in Jesus); in particular, the cleansing that makes believers holy is communicated through the Spirit (who also is the truth, 1 Jn 5:6).

November 9: John 15:13

John 15:13

“Greater love than this no one holds: that one would set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s.”

The duty (e)ntolh/) of believers to love one another was presented in verse 12 as a directive, given by Jesus, to his disciples. The verb a)gapa/w (“[show] love”) is in the subjunctive mood, with the force essentially of an imperative (“you should love,” i.e., “you shall/must love”). The wording in v. 12 is virtually identical with the earlier ‘love command’ in 13:34; cf. the discussion in the previous note.

Here in verse 13 Jesus distills the essence of what it means for disciples (believers) to show love for one another—particularly love that follows the example of Jesus himself (“just as I have loved you”). The greatest love—the love that Jesus (the Son) holds and shares with God the Father—is characterized by a willingness to lay down one’s life for others. This point is formulated by the comparative adjective mei/zon (“more, greater”), along with a comparative use of the genitive case (“greater than…”). The specific expression in mei/zona tau/th$ (“greater than this”), with the demonstrative pronoun referring ahead to the statement that follows: “that one would set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s”. The phrase “set down his soul” is a literal rendering in the Greek; the corresponding idiom in English would be “lay down his life”. In this instance, the subjunctive mood of the verb ti/qhmi indicates volition— “would set (down),” i.e., be willing to set down.

The goal or purpose of this willingness to lay down one’s life is expressed by the final phrase “over his dear (one)s” (u(pe\r tw=n fi/lwn au)tou=). The preposition u(pe/r (“over”) can be understood as essentially meaning “for the sake of, on behalf of”. The expression tw=n fi/lwn au)tou= (“his dear [one]s”) might be more accurately translated “th(ose) dear to him”, i.e., his friends or loved ones. The verbs file/w (“have affection for”) and a)gapa/w (“[show] love”) are, to some degree, interchangeable, and very much so in the Gospel of John.

The verb file/w occurs somewhat more frequently than the noun fi/lo$. Outside of the Vine illustration (vv. 13-15), fi/lo$ occurs just 3 times in the Gospel. In 3:29, John the Baptist refers to himself as a “dear (friend) [fi/lo$] of the bride-groom”, as a way of explaining that he himself is not the Messiah, but only a close friend to the Messiah (Jesus), who stands nearby and listens. In 11:11, Jesus refers to Lazarus as his “dear (friend)”, parallel to the designation of Lazarus in v. 3 as the one whom Jesus loves (“the [one] whom you love [vb file/w]”)—i.e., a close and beloved friend. This has led some commentators to identify Lazarus with the ‘beloved disciple’ mentioned in 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20. Finally, fi/lo$ is used in 19:12, referring to Pilate (in relation to the Emperor), echoing the idea alluded to in 18:33-38, viz., that Pilate represents the kingdom of the world, in opposition to the kingdom of God (and Christ).

As noted above, the verb file/w is largely synonymous with a)gapa/w, being similarly used in reference to the love between Father and Son (5:20; 16:27), and also between the Son and his disciples—11:3, 36; 16:27; 20:2; 21:15-17. The occurrence in the discipleship-saying of Jesus in 12:25 is also relevant to our study here:

“The (one) being fond [filw=n] of his soul loses/destroys it, while the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The love believers have for one another characterizes and demonstrates their identity as true disciples of Jesus (13:34-35). Here the noun fi/lo$ specifically designates a fellow disciple/believer. It is important to realize that, in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), love is understood almost exclusively in terms of love toward other believers. Virtually nothing is said about love toward non-believers, and this distinguishes the Gospel of John from the Synoptics, which record a number of sayings by Jesus regarding love toward enemies and outsiders, etc. The Johannine writings focus on love between believers, reflecting of the bond of unity between believers, as they/we are united with the Son (and through the Son, with the Father). As previously discussed, to remain in the Son’s love means essentially the same as remaining in the Son himself (cp. verses 4-7 with 9-10).

Such love is demonstrated by a willingness to “set down” one’s soul (i.e., life) “over” one’s fellow believers. The key terms are the verb ti/qhmi (“set, put, place”) and the preposition u(pe/r (“over”). In the next daily note, we will examine the significance of these terms, in relation to the self-sacrifice of Jesus (i.e., his death) as a manifestation of this ideal of love.

October 19: John 15:3

John 15:3

“Already you are clean [kaqaroi/], through the word that I have spoken to you.”

This is the final statement of the initial illustration (vv. 1-3), but it is also transitional, as Jesus begins his exposition (and application) of the illustration for his disciples. Before we proceed with a detailed exegesis of verse 3, let us examine a bit further the relationship of the verse to the prior v. 2, in its development of the thematic motif of cleansing. Verse 2 used the verb kaqai/rw (“[make] clean”), while here we have the related adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean, clear, pure”). There are three other occurrences of this adjective in the Johannine writings—all in Jn 13:10-11, in the foot-washing episode of the Last Supper scene, which establishes the narrative setting for the Last Discourse.

These occurrences were discussed briefly in the previous note; let us now examine them in more detail:

    • “If I should not wash you, (then) you have no part with me.” (v. 8b)
    • “The (one) having bathed has no business washing, if not (only) his feet; but (his) whole (body) is clean [kaqaro/$]” (v. 10a)
    • “and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)” (v. 10b) /
      “not all (of you) are clean [kaqaroi/]” (v. 11b)

The important symbolism of this episode is conveyed in a subtle fashion, with the true meaning only hinted at. The weight of the symbolism is indicated by Jesus’ warning to Peter in verse 8:

“If I should not wash [ni/yw] you, (then) you have no part [me/ro$] with me.”

It is necessary for Peter to be washed (vb ni/ptw) by Jesus; this is certainly true for all of the disciples, but Peter is particularly singled out in the narrative. There are various reasons for this, including, I believe, an important contrastive parallel between Peter’s (temporary) denial of Jesus and the (complete) defection by Judas. Note, in particular, how this is developed throughout chapter 13 (up to verse 30, following the departure of Judas), and compare the similar contrast in 6:66-71.

Many commentators see in the washing motif of this episode a primary reference to baptism. I find this line of interpretation to be quite off the mark; at best, there is only a loose secondary allusion to baptism. The principal significance of the washing theme/motif is two-fold: (1) the cleansing of the disciple/believer (from sin), and (2) participation in the sacrificial death of Jesus. In order to have a part or share (me/ro$) with Jesus, these two aspects, as symbolized by the foot-washing, must be applied (by Jesus) to the disciple.

The statement in verse 10a gives us the important distinction that only the feet must be cleansed. It is only the feet that accumulate dirt, during the normal activity of moving/traveling about, to the extent that washing is required or desirable. If a person has otherwise bathed (vb lou/w), then the whole (o%lo$) rest of the body is clean, and only the feet need to be washed. In v. 10b, Jesus declares that the disciples are fully clean (kaqaroi/, plur.) in this way, and need only for their feet to be cleansed. The dirt that naturally accumulates on the feet represents the sin of the disciple/believer, which needs to be cleansed (by Jesus). Such occasional sins are quite different from the fundamental sin of unbelief. Even Peter’s denial of Jesus can be forgiven, in contrast to the betrayal and defection of Judas; Peter’s (implicit) restoration represents the repentance and forgiveness of the believer, while Judas’ departure into the darkness (vv. 29-30) represents the sin of unbelief.

Along these lines, it is possible to read the body/feet juxtaposition as symbolic of the collective body of the disciples. Judas represents the portion (feet) that is unclean, while the rest of disciples (who remain with Jesus to hear the Last Discourse) represent the remainder of the body that is clean. The wording and emphasis in vv. 10-11 tends to support such an interpretation.

The association of the foot-washing with Jesus’ death is also key to the episode’s meaning. In addition to the location of this episode, at the Last Supper and at the beginning of the Passion narrative (cf. verses 1-3), the symbolism of the act undertaken by Jesus (vv. 4-5) seems to allude to the self-sacrificial character of his death. It is this aspect that Jesus emphasizes in the short explanation he gives in vv. 12-17. The washing by the disciples of each other’s feet (vv. 14-15) must be viewed as a demonstration of the sacrificial love that believers are commanded to show to one another, following the example of their Lord Jesus (vv. 13-14, 34-35). Believers must follow even to death, being willing to lay down their lives in love for one another, just as Jesus has done (15:12-13; cp. 10:11, 15, 17-18). Jesus’ words to Peter in vv. 37-38 (cp. 21:18-19) confirm this thematic emphasis.

The two aspects of the foot-washing motif—cleansing from sin and participation in the death of Jesus—are combined together in the two Johannine occurrences of the verb kaqari/zw (“make clean, cleanse”), which is so close in meaning to kaqai/rw (in v. 2). These are found in 1 John 1:7, 9, in a passage (1:5-2:2) dealing specifically with sins committed by the believer. Contrary to the claims of some Christians (1:8, 10), believers do, on occasion, sin, but they/we are cleansed of all such sin through the “blood” (i.e., the sacrificial death) of Jesus. This is stated generally in verse 7:

“If we would walk about in the light, as He is in the light, (then) we hold common-bond with each other, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses [kaqari/zei] us from all sin.”

The actual process is described, somewhat cursorily, in verse 9:

“If we would give account (of) [i.e. confess/acknowledge] our sins, he is trustworthy and right(eous), (so) that he should put away [i.e. remove/forgive] the sins for us, and should cleanse [kaqari/sh|] us from all (that is) not right.”

Here sin is defined by the parallel term a)diki/a, literally a “lack of what is right,” i.e., “what is not right”. As noted above, this a)diki/a for the believer is symbolized by the dirt that can accumulate on one’s feet during the daily activity of moving/traveling about. Following repentance and confession of such a)diki/a, the believer is cleansed from it. The role of Jesus (the Son) in this process is elucidated in 2:1-2; the use of the noun i(lasmo/$ alludes again to the sacrificial character of Jesus’ death, and the efficacy of the cleansing “blood”. It should be emphasized again that Jesus is the one who cleanses the disciples/believer in the symbolism of the foot-washing: “If I should not wash you…” (13:8).

Before proceeding to an examination of 15:3, let us first note the general parallel between this statement and the declaration in 13:10 (cf. above):

Already you are clean [kaqaroi/], through the word that I have spoken to you.”
and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)”

In the next daily note will look at v. 3, examining each word in some detail.

October 16: John 15:2 (12:24)

John 15:2, continued

In considering how to interpret the idiom of “bearing fruit” (vb fe/rw + karpo/$) in the context of the Vine-illustration (cf. the previous note on v. 2), it is necessary to examine the use of this same terminology elsewhere in the Gospel of John. There are two relevant references: (1) 4:36, in the context of the discourse-illustration of vv. 31-38, and (2) the saying in 12:24. As the saying by Jesus in 12:24 is closer in form and substance to the statement in 15:2, we will look first at that reference.

John 12:24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, (that) if the kernel of the grain, falling into the earth, should not die off, (then) it remains alone; but, if it should die off, (then) it bears much fruit.”

This saying is part of the Discourse-unit of 12:20-36. The narrative introduction is established in vv. 20-22, describing the unusual circumstances of some Greek visitors to Jerusalem (for the Passover festival) who expressed an interest in seeing Jesus (“we wish to see [i)dei=n] Yeshua”). In the Gospel of John, the idiom of seeing (and the specific use of the verb ei&dw, along with other sight-verbs), has theological and Christological significance. To see Jesus means coming to know and trust in him. Thus, this short episode, occurring toward the close of Jesus’ public ministry (as narrated by the Gospel), likely is meant by the author as a foreshadowing of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. At the historical level, the “Greeks” (or Greek-speakers) should probably be understood as Gentile converts (proselytes) or ‘God-fearers’ (such as Cornelius [cf. Acts 10-11]).

This allusion to the Christian mission is a sign that Jesus’ own mission on earth is nearing its end. This is the significance of the central declaration in verse 23:

“…the hour has come that the Son of Man should be shown honor [docasqh=|]”

Throughout the Gospel, the title “the Son of Man” (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) is used specifically in reference to the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Son sent by God the Father to earth.

The verb doca/zw essentially means “recognize”, typically in the sense of giving/showing honor to a person, sometimes by placing the person in an esteemed/honored position. It is one of several verbs in the Gospel used in the specific theological context of the exaltation of Jesus. Within the Johannine Christological narrative, the exaltation of Jesus involves a process that covers (and includes) Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ passion (and the passion narrative), preceding his death, marks the beginning of the process of exaltation. For other occurrences of the verb doca/zw with this meaning, cf. 7:39; 12:16; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5; it occurs three more times in this passage (v. 28).

Thus, the immediate context of verse 24 is the beginning of Jesus’ exaltation, anticipating his impending suffering and death. As noted above, his death marks the end of his earthly mission, and foreshadows the beginning of the believers’ mission. This is the light in which we must read verse 24. The dying (vb a)poqnh/skw, “die off/away”) of the seed in the ground (or “earth”, gh=) clearly alludes to Jesus’ impending death. And yet, the proverbial and gnomic character of this saying suggests that it applies to the disciple of Jesus (i.e., believer in Christ) as well. The following verse 25 more or less confirms this point:

“The (one) being fond of his soul loses it, but the (one) hating his soul in this world shall guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life].”

This saying resembles comparable discipleship-sayings in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 8:35; Matt 10:39; 16:25; Luke 9:24; 17:33), and likely derives from the same underlying historical tradition(s). The implication is that the disciple must be willing to sacrifice his/her own life (“in this world”)—dying, if necessary—in order to obtain eternal life. This attitude of willing self-sacrifice follows the example of Jesus himself. In the Synoptics, this teaching is best expressed by the saying regarding the disciple “taking up his cross” and following Jesus; versions of this saying are preserved in both the Synoptic/Markan and “Q” lines of tradition (Mk 8:34 par; Matt 10:38 par). In the Gospel of John, this same principle is expressed primarily in terms of the “love command” (13:1, 14ff, 34-35; 15:12-13; cf. also 10:11-17). In both the Johannine and Pauline writings, we also find the idea that the believer shares/participates in Jesus’ death, and its life-giving power, through the Spirit, as symbolized by the rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The servant who follows Jesus in this manner, willing to share in his suffering and death, will be shown/given honor (same verb, doca/zw) by God the Father, just as Jesus (the Son) is exalted (v. 26; cp. 21:19).

It is in this context that we are to understand the motif of “bearing fruit”. Consider the short dialogue and exposition by Jesus that follows (vv. 27-36), in which he discusses further the nature and effect of the Son’s exaltation (beginning with his death). Here, in verse 32, an earlier Son of Man saying (3:14; 8:28; cp. in v. 34) is reprised, utilizing the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”) to express the theme of exaltation:

“…and I, if I should be lifted high [u(ywqw=] out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.”

Most commentators translate the prepositional expression e)k th=$ gh=$ as “from the earth”; however, this misses the important connection with the agricultural imagery in verse 24. The seed, falling “into the earth” (ei)$ th\n gh=n), dies, and then produces new life/growth that comes up “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$). The “fruit” (karpo/$) motif, in this agricultural context, thus refers to the life that is produced through the death of Jesus (the Son), and which is then communicated to the world. This Divine/eternal life is made available to every one who trusts in him; so powerful is this source of life that believers find themselves dragged (vb e(lku/w) toward it. The qualifying idiom “much fruit” (polu/$ karpo/$) in verse 24 should be understood in relation to the idea of “all (people)” (i.e., all believers) being drawn/dragged to the eternal life that the Son gives.


Saturday Series: John 8:21-30 (continued)

John 8:21-30, continued

In picking up from last week’s discussion on the references to sin in Jn 8:21-30, there are two questions which need to be addressed: (1) how does this passage relate to the earlier sin-reference in 1:29, and (2) what is the significance of the parallel versions of the statements in vv. 21 and 24, using the singular and plural forms, respectively, of the noun hamartía?

With regard to the first question, the statement in verse 24 is key:

“if you do not trust that I am, you will die off in your sins”

The fate of dying in one’s sin(s) thus is tied directly to whether or not the person trusts (vb pisteúœ) in Jesus. This trust is defined in terms of the essential predication (“I am,” egœ¡ eimi), that is characteristic of God (the Father), being applied to Jesus (the Son). This is a roundabout (and distinctly Johannine) way of affirming Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In other words, unless a person trusts that Jesus is the eternal/pre-existent Son sent by the Father, that person will die in his/her sin(s). This fate of dying, lost in sin, must be contrasted with the salvation and eternal life that comes through trust in Jesus.

The famous declaration in 3:16-17 brings this out with particular clarity, and it helps us to understand the significance of the earlier Lamb of God declaration (1:29) in this regard. In each instance, the relationship between Jesus and the world (ho kósmos) is at issue:

    • “See, the Lamb of God—the (one) taking (away) the sin of the world.” (1:29)
    • “God sent forth the Son into the world…(so) that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17)

As previously discussed, in these passages, the noun kósmos is not (primarily) used in the negative sense that is so distinctive and typical of the Johannine writings. Instead, the principal meaning here is of humankind generally—i.e., of all the people on earth, in the inhabited world. The idiom of the world “being saved” is parallel, and essentially synonymous in meaning, with its sin being “taken away”. In the earlier study on 1:29, I discussed the use of the verb aírœ (“take up”) in that verse, and determined that the primary meaning there is “take away” (i.e., remove). Thus, the Lamb of God takes away (removes) sin, which is central to the idea of people (in the world) being saved.

As in 8:24, the statement in 3:16 makes clear that one is saved through trust in Jesus; combining this with the declaration in 1:29 leads to the conclusion that the Lamb of God “takes away” sin when one trusts in Jesus as the Lamb. As I discussed, the Passover lamb is the principal figure that informs the “Lamb of God” concept, and, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified with the Passover lamb primarily in the context of his death on the cross. The lamb is “lifted up” on the cross, in a way that is comparable to the application of the bronze-serpent tradition (Num 21:9) in 3:14-15:

“And, just as Moshe lifted high the serpent in the desolate (land), so also it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of (the) Age [i.e. eternal life].”

These words occur immediately prior to the salvation-statement(s) in 3:16-17, and clearly frame the concept of one’s trust in Jesus in terms of trusting in his exaltation (i.e., being “lifted up”). In the Gospel of John, the exaltation of Jesus represents a process that includes: his death, resurrection, and return to the Father in heaven. The exaltation begins with his sacrificial death—as the Passover lamb who is slain, and whose blood protects (i.e., saves) people from death and judgment. When one trusts in Jesus the Son, this necessarily entails trusting in the sacrificial nature of his death and its life-giving power (represented by the image of blood). It is not enough to trust that Jesus is the Son of God, if that trust does not include this understanding and belief regarding the cleansing (i.e., sin-removing) and life-giving power of his death. This is a point that the author of 1 John argues vigorously against certain ‘opponents’ who apparently hold a rather different view of Christ’s death.

But what of the second question mentioned above? Is there any particular significance to the author’s use of both the singular and plural forms of the noun hamartía in 8:21 and 24?

    • “…you shall seek me, and (yet) you shall die off in your sin [hamartía]; for the (place) to which I go away, you are not able to come (there)” (v. 21)
    • “…if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in your sins [hamartíais]” (v. 24)

In 1:29, the singular hamartía (“sin”) was used in a general or collective sense—that is, for the sin(s) that the people in the world possess, and the condition of sin(fulness) that controls and dominates the world of humankind. It is possible that the variation between singular and plural in 8:21, 24 simply expresses this same general/collective sense of sin. However, I believe that the author (and Jesus as the speaker) is utilizing a clever bit of wordplay (something that occurs frequently in the Johannine Discourses), bringing out two important and distinct aspects of sin. The plural refers to sin in the general/conventional sense, as wrongs, errors, and misdeeds committed by people; however the singular refers to sin in a specific sense—which, I would argue, is the primary sense of sin in the Johannine writings.

If we translate the genitive expressions in 8:21, 24 in an ultraliteral way, it may help us to perceive the distinction:

    • “you will seek me, and (yet) you will die off in the sin of you”
    • “if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in the sins of you”

In v. 21, Jesus tells his audience that they will not be able to follow him, and so will die off in their sin (“the sin”). What is this sin? It is the great sin—the sin of unbelief, of not trusting in Jesus. As v. 24 makes clear, when a person possesses this great sin, it means that all other sins remain and cannot be removed; thus the person will die in “the(se) sins”. R. E. Brown, in his famous commentary on the Gospel (Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29, p. 350) states the matter this way:

We note that “sin” is in the singular in vs. 21, for in Johannine thought there is only one radical sin of which man’s many sins (plural in vs. 24) are but reflections. This radical sin is to refuse to believe in Jesus and thus to refuse life itself.

I generally concur with Brown’s analysis in this regard, though I am perhaps not so quick as he to connect this idea of one great sin with the Synoptic tradition of the unforgivable sin (of blaspheming the Holy Spirit).

In any case, I would maintain that the Johannine writings understand two distinct levels, or aspects, of sin, which can be distinguished here in 8:21, 24 by the use of the singular and plural, respectively:

    • Singularthe great sin of not trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)
    • Plural—sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense of wrongs and misdeeds that a person commits.

As we proceed through the remaining sin-references in the Johannine writings, this important distinction will come more clearly into view, along with certain theological, Christological, and spiritual implications.

Next week, we will examine the next section of the Sukkot Discourse in chaps. 7-88:31-47, with the statement regarding sin in verse 34. This passage defines sin through thematic idiom of slavery and bondage/freedom. The further reference in verse 46 will also be discussed.


Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 5:5-12

1 John 5:5-12

An important structuring principle of 1 John is the thematic alternation between the subjects of trust (pi/sti$) and love (a)ga/ph), respectively. These represent the two branches of the great dual-command, the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers, as summarized by the author of 1 John in 3:23. Trust is the dominant theme in 2:18-27, then love in 2:28-3:24, then trust again in 4:1-6, and love again in 4:7-5:4. The dual-command is essentially restated by the author in 5:1:

    • Trust (v. 1a):
      “Every (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) [cf. 2:22f] has come to be (born) out of God”
    • Love (v. 1b):
      “and every (one) loving the (One) causing to be (born) [also] loves the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

Both aspects of the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) for believers here are particularly expressed in the distinctive Johannine (theological) idiom, using the verb of becoming (genna/w), along with the preposition e)k (“out of”), in the context of the begetting/birth of a child (i.e., believers as the offspring [te/kna] of God). The one who fulfills the great two-fold duty is shown to be a true believer and a genuine child of God. Those who do not fulfill (or who violate) the command, are, by contrast, false believers, who belong to the world and show themselves to be children of the Devil. The opponents, according to the author, are such false believers who violate both parts of the e)ntolh/.

Here in the next section (5:5-12), the  focus shifts back to the believer’s trust. It has much in common with the previous two sections on trust (2:18-27; 4:1-6), referred to as the “antichrist” sections because of the distinctive use of the term a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos, “against the Anointed”)—2:18, 22; 4:3 [par 2 Jn 7]. The term is applied to the opponents, because of what the author regards as their false view of Jesus Christ. The interpretive question regarding the nature of the opponents’ Christology has been discussed extensively in supplemental notes on 2:22f and 4:2f, respectively. The author seems to have the opponents’ view in mind here in 5:5-8ff as well (cf. below).

At the close of the previous section (5:4), the author reiterates his exhortation from 4:4, assuring his readers that they (if indeed they are true believers) are victorious over the world. This verb (nika/w), was also used earlier in 2:13-14. As discussed in the previous article, the verb is something of a Johannine keyword, being especially prominent in the book of Revelation (17 of the 28 NT occurrences). The theme of being victorious over the world (o( ko/smo$), in the negative Johannine meaning of the term, echoes the climactic declaration by Jesus in the Last Discourse (Jn 16:33). It is one’s trust in Christ that allows the believer to share in Jesus’ victory over the world:

“(For it is) that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world; and this is the victory [ni/kh] that made (us) victorious [nikh/sasa] (over) the world—our trust [pi/sti$].”

This statement prepares the way for the author’s discussion on pi/sti$ in 5:5ff, as he expounds the nature of genuine trust—the trust that marks a person as a true believer:

“[And] who is the (one) being victorious [nikw=n] (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting [pisteu/wn] that Yeshua is the Son of God?” (v. 5)

Trust and victory are essentially synonymous, as the parallel use of the participles of the verbs nika/w and pisteu/w makes clear; i.e., trusting (pisteu/wn) in Jesus means being victorious (nikw=n). The Christological statement here (“Jesus is the Son of God”) matches the fundamental Johannine confessional statements in the Gospel (11:27; 20:31), which are reaffirmed by the author throughout 1 John (1:3; 3:23; 5:20)—viz., that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ), the Son of God. While the precise nature of the opponents’ view of Jesus remains disputed, it is clear that the author regarded it as false, representing a dangerous error. According to him, the opponents did not have a genuine trust in Jesus (as the Anointed One and Son of God).

In verse 6, the author gives us, I think, a better idea of the opponents’ error as he begins to expound in more detail the true view (as he sees it) of Jesus Christ:

“This is the (one hav)ing come through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in water only, but in water and in blood…”

The demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this [one]”) is epexegetical, giving us more information about this person Jesus (Yeshua) who we, as believers, understand to be the Son of God. Here in v. 6, as earlier in the confessional statements of 2:22f and 4:2f, the focus is specifically on Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Christ). In other words, when we speak of “Yeshua (the) Anointed”, specifically, as the Son of God, what is meant?

In my view, the author here is further elaborating the Christological statement in 4:2, as can be seen by a comparison of the parallel wording:

    • “Yeshua (the) Anointed having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/]” (4:2)
    • “(Yehsua the Anointed), the (one) (hav)ing come [e)lqw/n]…in water and in blood [e)n tw=| u%dati kai\ e)n tw=| ai%mati]” (5:6)

Initially, the author uses the preposition dia/ (“having come through [dia/]…”), but then switches to the preposition e)n (“in”), which matches the expression in 4:2:

    • “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/)
    • “in water and in blood” (e)n tw=| u%dati kai\ e)n tw=| ai%mati)

Thus it would seem that the expression “in water and blood” is meant to clarify the earlier expression “in (the) flesh”; that is, Jesus Christ (the Son of God) coming in the flesh means that he came in water and blood (lit., “in the water and in the blood”). In previous notes examining the Johannine use of the noun sa/rc, as well as the specific expression “in (the) flesh” ([e)n th=|] sarki/), it was determined that the principal idea in these Christological statements involved Jesus existence and life as a human being. It is thus fair to assume that the expression “in water and in blood” should be understood in this light.

Most commentators explain the noun ai!ma (“blood”) here as referring to the death of Jesus; this corresponds with the Johannine usage elsewhere (Jn 6:53-56; 19:34; 1 Jn 1:7), and also reflects a widespread early Christian manner of expression regarding Jesus’ death (Mk 14:24 par; Matt 27:24-25; Acts 5:28; 20:28; Rom 3:25; Col 1:20; Heb 9:12-14ff; 10:19; 13:12; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; Rev 1:5; 5:9, etc). But what of the term u%dwr (“water”)? Given the required context (viz., Jesus’ existence and life as a human being), and the juxtaposition with Jesus’ death, there would seem to be two possible explanations:

    • A reference to Jesus’ human birth, in contrast to his death
    • A reference to his baptism—as marking the beginning of his earthly mission, with his death marking its end

The majority of commentators prefer the second option, often simply taking it for granted. There are, indeed, very few I have found who would explain “water” here as a reference to Jesus’ birth. And yet, in my view, the evidence from the Gospel (u%dwr occurs nowhere else in 1-3 John, outside of vv. 6, 8 here) favors the birth motif—including, we might say, the more generalized concept of birth as the beginning of life.

In the Gospel, the noun u%dwr is used principally in connection with the Spirit, contrasting ordinary physical/material water with the living water of God’s Spirit. This contrast is most explicit in 4:10-15 and 7:37-39; elsewhere, it is expressed in two important ways:

    • The contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist, drawing upon the traditional saying by the Baptist (1:26, 33; cf, Mark 1:8 par)—i.e., baptizing in water vs. baptizing in the Spirit.
    • The birth imagery of 3:3-8, in the Nicodemus Discourse

In each of these instances, “water” (u%dwr) refers to ordinary physical water, in contrast to the Spirit. Because of this marked contrast, and because Jesus’ own baptism is so closely connected with the presence of the Spirit, I feel it is rather more appropriate that the author (in 5:6ff) uses “water” as a way of referring to Jesus’ birth. In this regard, the usage in Jn 3:3-8 is directly applicable, since it contrasts a normal human birth “out of water” with a divine/spiritual birth “out of the Spirit” (v. 5ff); that this is the meaning of “out of water” in Jn 3:5 is clear from the parallel “out of the flesh” in v. 6. Indeed, this is precisely the same parallel we find in 1 Jn 4:2 / 5:6—i.e., “having come in the flesh” / “having come in water…”.

If “water” thus symbolizes Jesus’ human birth (and earthly life), it also alludes to his sacrificial death. This is indicated by the symbolic use of water (by Jesus) in the Last Supper narrative (13:5ff), and is represented even more clearly by the historical detail noted in 19:34f—the “blood and water” that came out of Jesus’ side after his death. In light of the wording in 19:30, it is likely that the water in v. 34 is meant to allude specifically to the “living water” of the Spirit that Jesus gives. The gift of the Spirit is only possible after Jesus’ death, with the life-giving power and efficacy of his sacrificial death being communicated to believers through the Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 1:7 and Jn 6:51-58 [in light of v. 63]).

The similarity of motif between water and wine in the Cana miracle episode (2:1-11) and water and blood in 19:34, is not, in my view, a coincidence. The two episodes mark the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and symbolize, in different ways, the power of his life and death, respectively. The Spirit is associated closely with Jesus’ earthly life (from at least his baptism, cf. above), and also with his death. It is thus significant that the author emphasizes the same association here in vv. 6ff:

“…and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the truth.”

The Spirit gives witness (vb marture/w) to Jesus Christ “having come…in water and in blood”. This rather clearly refers back to 4:1-6 (cf. the previous article), and the fundamental idea that the indwelling Spirit teaches the truth to believers, while false believers are not inspired by the Spirit of God, but by a different (lying/deceiving) spirit. In particular, the Spirit teaches the truth about Jesus Christ; thus, the true believer, guided by the Spirit, will affirm (and confess) the true view of Jesus, while false believers (like the opponents) will not. In 4:6, the Spirit was referred to by the traditional expression “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; cp. 1QS 3:18-19, etc); here, however, the author goes a step further and declares that the Spirit is the truth, forming a kind of belated answer to the question posed by Pilate in Jn 18:38.

The Christological issue, and the point of conflict between the author and the opponents, involves the reality and/or significance of Jesus’ death. The opponents apparently accepted the reality of Jesus’ human birth, but were unwilling to embrace his death. Or, following the more common line of interpretation (cf. above), they understood the importance of Jesus’ baptism (when the Spirit descended upon him), but denied the significance of his sacrificial death. The Spirit, as the author emphasizes, bears witness to the reality (and importance) of both Jesus’ birth/baptism and his death. For more on this aspect of the opponents’ Christology, cf. the recent 3-part supplemental note on 4:2-3 (pts 1, 2 & 3).

In verses 7-8, the author’s emphasis shifts slightly:

“(And it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and the three are unto/into [ei)$] the one.”

In v. 6, the Spirit was a witness of the water and blood; now, the Spirit is a witness along with the water and blood, witnessing to the truth of who Jesus is—viz., the Anointed One and Son of God. If Jesus thus came through the water (i.e., a human birth and earthly life), and through the blood (i.e., his sacrificial death), he also has come now through the Spirit, abiding in and among believers through the Spirit. The internal testimony of the Spirit will agree with the historical tradition (preserved in the Gospel) regarding Jesus’ birth/life and death—i.e., the three will affirm the same truth about Jesus, functioning “as one (witness)”.

Being God’s own Spirit, the witness of the Spirit is the witness given by God the Father Himself, as the author declares in verse 9:

“If we receive [i.e. accept] the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, (in) that this is the witness of God that He has given as a witness about His Son.”

The idea of giving witness, utilizing the noun marturi/a and the verb marture/w, is an important Johannine theme, recurring throughout the Gospel and Letters—cf. Jn 1:7-8, 15, 19, 32, 34; 3:11, 26ff, 32-33; 4:39; 5:31-39; 7:7; 8:13-14ff; 10:25; 15:26-27; 18:37; 19:35; 21:24; here in 1 Jn 5:6-11; 3 Jn 12; it also features prominently in the book of Revelation (1:2, 9; 6:9; 12:11, 17; 20:4; 22:16ff, etc). God gives witness about His Son, not only through the Spirit, but through the reality of Jesus’ incarnate (human) birth/life and death, as preserved in the historical tradition(s) of the Gospel. The record of Jesus’ life and death goes back to the first disciples who were first-hand witnesses (1:1-4). The point must be stressed again, from the author’s standpoint, that the witness of the indwelling Spirit (about Jesus) will agree with the Gospel record of his earthly life and death (“water and blood”). The emphasis on the role of the Spirit is given again in verse 10:

“The (one) trusting in the Son holds th(is) witness in himself; (but) the (one) not trusting God has made Him (to be) false [i.e. a liar], (in) that [i.e. because] he has not trusted in the witness which God has given as a witness about His Son.”

Two key points, and fundamental theological principles in 1 John, are again stressed: (1) the contrast between the true and false believer; and (2) the indwelling/abiding presence of God’s Spirit as a witness to the truth. The reason why the opponents espouse a false view of Jesus is that they are false believers, and thus do not possess God’s Spirit.

The author concludes the section with a fine summary of the Johannine theology:

“And this is the witness: that God gave to us (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and this Life is in His Son. The (one) holding the Son holds th(is) Life, (while) the (one) not holding the Son of God does not hold the Life.” (vv. 11-12)

The emphasis, in the context of the author’s argument, is two-fold: (a) the witness regards the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God; and (b) the implicit teaching that the Divine/eternal life which God gives to believers (i.e., those trusting in His Son) comes through the reality of the Son’s incarnate life and death. In particular, the emphasis is on Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death (“blood”), which communicates life to believers. The opponents’ great error, apparently, was in their denial of the reality (and/or importance) of Jesus’ death; for this reason, they, unlike all true believers, do not have access to this eternal life. As noted above, the life-giving power of Jesus’ death is communicated to believers through the Spirit (on this, cf. my earlier note on 1:7); believers “hold” eternal life within them through the abiding presence of the Spirit (3:24).

These articles on 1 John will be brought to a close with a supplemental article that specifically addresses the relation of the opponents to the spiritualism of the Johannine Community (and its writings).

1 John 4:2-3 and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this supplemental note, I surveyed and evaluated seven interpretative approaches that seek to explain or elucidate the Christology of the opponents in 1 John. Each approach, in particular, offers a comparative explanation regarding the statements in 2:22-23 in 4:2-3:

    • 2:22-23: Jesus is not the Christ
      “Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)”
    • 4:2-3: Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh
      “Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) {not} having come in (the) flesh” (cp. 2 Jn 7)

Here, in Part 3, I will offer a summary exposition, which may also, in its own way, form a working hypothesis for future study.

To begin with, in regard to the statement in 2:22-23, it is necessary to decide between two possibilities:

    • The title o( Xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”) is to be understood in terms of Jewish Messianic expectation(s), just as o( Xristo/$ is used throughout the Gospel of John; i.e., the denial means “Jesus is not the Messiah”.
    • The title is to be understood in a distinctly Christian (and Johannine Christian) sense, with the statement “Yeshua is the Anointed (One)” essentially as a shorthand for the confessional formula in Jn 11:27; 20:31: “Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

I find the first option intriguing, and deserving of further study, particularly in terms of interpretive approach #2 (discussed in Parts 1 & 2). However, the weight of evidence in the Johannine Letters does, I think, favor the second option. The noun xristo/$ in the Letters occurs more frequently in the double-name Ihsou=$ Xristo/$ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed,” Jesus Christ)—1:3; 2:1; 3:23; 4:2; 5:6, 20; 2 Jn 3, 7—with the title o( Xristo/$ only here in 2:22 (par 5:1) and 2 Jn 9. It is perhaps noteworthy that o( Xristo/$ in 2 Jn 9 probably does not refer specifically to the Jewish Messiah, unless tou= Xristou= be regarded as an objective genitive—viz., teaching about Jesus as the Messiah. In the three key Christological references which divide and punctuate 1 John—beginning (1:3), middle (3:23), and end (5:20)—the name Jesus Christ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”) is joined precisely with the title Son of God (“His Son, Yeshua [the] Anointed”).

With this point established, we may now relate 2:22-23 to 4:2-3, understanding the latter to represent, for the author, the essential Christological error of the opponents—viz., not confessing/acknowledging Jesus Christ (the Son of God) to have come in the flesh. Based on the analysis in Parts 1 & 2, there are now three main options from which to choose, regarding the significance of the phrase “having come in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki\ e)lhluqo/ta):

    • “come in the flesh” refers to the reality of Jesus’ human existence—as opposed to a docetic view of Jesus (i.e., he only seemed to be human)
    • “come in the flesh” refers to the incarnation of the (pre-existent) Son of God
    • “come in the flesh” signifies the means by which Jesus Christ acted during his mission on earth, specifically with reference to his sacrificial death.

There is some support for the first option based on the way that the author, in the prologue (1:1-4), emphasizes the actual seeing, hearing, and touching of Jesus by the first disciples. A parallel for this may be found in the Thomas-episode at the end of the Gospel (20:24-29). Moreover, a connection between 4:2-3 and an early docetic view of Jesus is confirmed by the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (esp. his letter to the Smyrneans). Given the proximity of time and (possibly) place between the Johannine and Ignatian letters, the opponents addressed in each could be related.

It is, however, somewhat more likely, in my view, that the Johannine opponents either: (a) denied the incarnation of the Son of God, or (b) denied certain aspects of the incarnation. In the first option (a), they held that the pre-existent Logos/Son of God came upon the man Jesus, through the Spirit, at his baptism, but did not “become flesh” or “come in the flesh”. In the second option (b), the opponents accepted, in general, that the Son of God was incarnate in Jesus, but only in a qualified sense—the principal issue seeming to be the reality of Jesus’ death (5:5-8). If Jesus did not truly suffer and die, as a mortal human being, then he did not fully “come in the flesh”.

The wording of 4:2-3 favors option (a), however, I suspect that option (b) is much closer to the mark. There are several reasons for this conclusion:

    1. The author’s polemic distortion and simplification of the opponents’ view in 2:22f suggests that he may be doing the same here in 4:2f; if so, then it is natural to look to what follows in 5:5-8 as an explanation and elaboration of what he has in mind.
    2. The parallel in wording between 4:2 and 5:6 likewise suggests that the two are conceptually related, and that “in water and blood” (“blood” specifically referring to Jesus’ death) is meant to clarify the expression “in (the) flesh”.
    3. The ‘docetism’ of the opponents of Ignatius is defined largely in terms of Jesus’ suffering and death. This is certainly true in regard to Ignatius’ use of the specific verb doke/w in Smyrneans 2:1 (cp. 4:2); Trallians 10:1. The earlier ‘docetism’ (as such) of the Johannine opponents is likely to have been even more narrowly expressed—that is, primarily, if not exclusively, in terms of Jesus’ death (“blood”).

Thus, while a more generalized docetism or denial of the incarnation cannot be ruled out entirely, I feel that the Christological error of the opponents, according to the author, rested primarily in a denial (in some fashion) of the reality of Jesus’ death—viz., that he did not truly suffer and die like an ordinary human being. Possibly, it was the meaning and importance of Jesus’ death which the opponents denied; however, the language used by the author, and the force of his rhetoric, suggests something even more serious (and fundamental) was at stake.

Once a pre-existence Christology had developed and taken root among believers, it was natural that many Christians would struggle with the idea that the Divine/eternal Son could suffer and die like a normal human being. Among various individuals and groups, in the second century, a number of Christological solutions to this problem developed. Docetic and separationist Christologies were among the earliest of these. In many ways a separationist approach accords much better with the New Testament (Gospel) evidence—i.e., the Divine Presence comes upon Jesus (through the Spirit) at his baptism (Jn 1:32-33 par), and then departs at the moment of his death (19:30 par). Commentators have variously identified the opponents as early docetists or separationists.

I do not know that the Christology of the opponents can be determined with any precision, beyond the author’s statements in 2:22-23, 4:2-3, and 5:5-8. I propose the following interpretation, in line with how I understand the logic of the author’s polemic (against the opponents); it can be outlined as follows:

    • 5:5-8. The opponents deny the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death. They accept that the Son of God came as a human being, “in water” —referring either to Jesus’ birth or to his baptism—but deny that he came “in blood”. Nor do believers participate in the death of Jesus through the Spirit. Perhaps the thought was that the Spirit was released (for believers) prior to Jesus’ death (Jn 19:30).
    • 4:2-3. Because the opponents do not accept that the Son of God came “in water and blood”, they do not truly believe that the Jesus Christ the Son came “in the flesh” (v. 2); as such, they do not confess a true faith in Jesus.
    • 2:22-23. Because of this false view of the incarnation, the opponents do not affirm the fundamental confession that “Yeshua is the Anointed One(, the Son of God)”. By denying the true identity of the Son, they effectively deny the Father as well.

In the upcoming article on 5:5-8, I will develop this analysis further, including giving serious consideration to the question of how the role of the Spirit relates to the opponents’ Christology.

May 27: 1 John 1:8-10ff

1 John 1:8-10

As discussed in the previous note, the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) in vv. 6-7 has a traditional ethical-religious significance, as we see clearly by Paul’s use of the same verb in Galatians 5:16. There Paul establishes a most memorable contrast between sinful “works of the flesh” and holy “fruit of the Spirit”. The overall context of 1:5-2:17 certainly shows that the author has sin (a(marti/a) in mind; and the light-darkness contrast in Old Testament and Jewish tradition often has a similar ethical orientation (e.g., Job 30:26; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20).

It may be instructive to consider briefly the other occurrences of peripate/w in the Johannine Letters, to gain a better sense of the ethical-religious focus here in vv. 6-7ff:

    • 2:6: The true believer will follow Jesus’ example, “walking about” as he did; that is, the conduct/behavior of believers should correspond to the reality of their/our abiding in Christ, and of his abiding in us (through the Spirit).
    • 2:11: The image of “walking about” in darkness is explained in terms of hating one’s brother (i.e. a fellow believer); no true believer will hate (i.e., fail to demonstrate proper love to) another believer.
    • 2 Jn 4 / 3 Jn 3-4: It is indicated that a characteristic of believers is “walking about” in the truth; in a Johannine context, this refers primarily to the truth about who Jesus is, such as is revealed and confirmed through the witness of the Spirit; in a secondary sense, it refers to the conduct/behavior of believers, i.e., acting in a way that corresponds with the truth.
    • 2 Jn 6: The emphasis is on “walking about” in obedience to the duty (e)ntolh/) placed on believers (1 Jn 3:23-24)—most notably, the duty to love one’s fellow believers (cf. on 1 Jn 2:11, above).

Thus, while the general ethical component of following (on a regular, daily basis) the example of Jesus (during his life and ministry) is important (1 Jn 2:6), the primary focus is on obedience to the two-fold ‘command,’ or duty (e)ntolh/) placed on believers (3:23-24), namely—(1) a genuine trust in Jesus (as the Son of God), according to the truth; and (2) showing love to fellow believers. In actuality, the ethical component is subsumed under the ‘love command’, as we see expressed elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; cf. Mk 12:31-33 par). Believers are most following Jesus’ example when they/we show love in the way that he did (Jn 13:1, 34-35; 15:9-10ff, etc).

With this emphasis in mind, let us consider briefly the author’s discussion of sin in vv. 8-10ff. In terms of the thematic structure of the passage, note the following outline:

    • Statement that believers are not without sin [noun, a(marti/a] (v. 8)
      • Promise that believers will be cleansed of sin (v. 9)
    • Statement that believers are not without sin [vb, a(marta/nw] (v. 10)
      • Promise that believers will be cleansed of sin (2:1-2)

The two statements declaring that believers are not entirely without sin may be compared next to each other:

    • “If we say that we do not hold (any) sin [a(marti/a],
      we lead ourselves astray
      and the truth is not in us.” (1:8)
    • “If we say that we have not sinned [vb a(marta/nw],
      we make Him (to be) a liar
      and His word [lo/go$] is not in us.” (1:10)

There is a clear parallel structure to these two statements, with three components to each statement. The first component is a conditional clause (protasis)  that sets the condition (“if [e)an]…”). The second component states what results if/when the condition is fulfilled (apodosis), i.e, “if… then…”. The final component states the consequence of what can be shown or inferred as a result of meeting the condition.

The condition involves the thought or claim that believers are without sin—that they (currently) have no sin, and/or that they have not (or, possibly, have never) sinned. If one thinks this way, he or she is clearly wrong, according to the author, and demonstrates a perverse mindset, in two ways: (1) such people lead themselves astray (vb plana/w), and (2) they make out God to be someone who speaks/acts falsely (yeu/sth$, i.e., a ‘liar’). The last point is probably to be implied from the fact that, throughout the Scriptures, God repeatedly has testified to the reality and existence of human sin. That all human beings are prone to such tendencies, even after coming to trust in Jesus, is also evident throughout the New Testament (and other early Christian) writings.

The implication of the third component in the author’s statement(s) is even more forceful, as it suggests quite strongly that anyone who would make such claims of sinlessness is not, in fact, a true believer:

    • “the truth is not in” (such people)
    • “His word is not in” (such people)

Since truth (a)lhqei/a) and word (lo/go$), in the Johannine writings, are fundamental Divine attributes, and are also ways of referring to the presence of God’s Spirit, the rather clear implication is that the Spirit is not in people who would make such claims, even if they claimed to be (or were thought of) as believers.

Many commentators think that the author here is referring specifically to his ‘opponents’, of whom he speaks more directly in the “antichrist” passages of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6. If so, then it is possible that some of these Christians were claiming to be free from sin, presumably as a result of the abiding presence of the Spirit in them. The author would, in a roundabout way, be saying the very opposite of them. Indeed, according to the author’s view, these opponents sin in the most egregious (and unforgivable) way, violating the great dual-commandment of 3:23-24.

The reality is, according to the author, that believers will, at times, sin, in the traditional/conventional sense of moral or religious failure. All such sins will be removed and cleansed (vb kaqari/zw) through the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”). The declaration in v. 7 is reaffirmed in the parallel statements of v. 9 and 2:1-2 (cf. above). According to verse 9, all that is required to effect cleansing is an acknowledgement of the sin, expressed by the verb o(mologe/w, which means “give account as one”, i.e., in common, together with others. In an early Christian context, the verb connotes public confession or acknowledgement, in front of other believers, implying a solidarity and common consent of what is believed and felt by the congregation.

In 2:1-2, the sacrificial character of Jesus’ death is again affirmed. Instead of reference to his death as “blood,” it is called a i(lasmo/$, a word that is difficult to translate, but, in a religious context, it refers to a (ritual) means of seeking/gaining God’s favor. In this case, the favor involves the removal of sin (and its guilt). The word i(lasmo/$, in its derivation, carries the connotation of appeasing God’s anger, of soothing it and causing Him to be gentle again. The universal aspect of the sin(s) of the entire world (i.e., of all human beings) may allude to the famous Lamb of God declaration by John the Baptist in Jn 1:29.

It is clear from the author’s words in 2:1 that, even though believers may (and will) occasionally sin, the goal is that they/we should not sin. This, indeed, is a primary goal of all early Christian ethical-religious instruction. There is no indication that the author of 1 John thought about this aspect of Christian life and identity any differently than the other New Testament authors. However, the Johannine theology—and spiritualism—which he inherited gave a very distinctive shape and emphasis to his instruction. This is all the more so if, as I believe, the Johannine spiritualism was an important factor in the crisis which the author addresses. I will begin discussing the question at length in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament” (the first of a set of articles on 1 John).

The next daily note will touch briefly upon the reprisal of the light-darkness contrast in 2:8-11.

May 6: Hebrews 9:14

In the previous notes in this series, we have explored the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus. By all accounts, this association represents a certain development in early Christian thought, for which there is very little evidence in the Gospel Passion narratives. Only in the Gospel of John do we find a connection between the Spirit and the death of Jesus, and there only by way of allusion and foreshadowing. As discussed in a prior note, the Johannine presentation of the tradition regarding Jesus’ last words, and the actual moment of his death (19:30), can be understood as a reference to Jesus giving the Spirit. Similarly, many commentators find an allusion to the Spirit in the water that comes forth from Jesus’ side (19:34f, note), as symbolic of the Spirit as ‘living water’ —cf. 4:10-15; 7:37-39, and note the contrast between ordinary water and the Spirit in 3:5-8; cp. 1:26, 33.

Another possible connection is found in the use of Psalm 16:8-10 within the sermon-speeches of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts (2:25-28; 13:35), applied to the death of Jesus. It could be taken to imply that God (and His Spirit) remained with Jesus all the way through the moment of his death (and his burial thereafter). Cf. the introduction to this series, and the recent Easter Sunday article.

Apart from these indirect references, I can find only one passage in the New Testament that connects the Spirit with the actual death of Jesus—Hebrews 9:11-14, with the climactic statement in verse 14.

Hebrews 9:14

An important theme that runs throughout the letter of Hebrews is the fulfillment, in Jesus’ person, of all the sacrificial ritual previously required by God of His people (in the old covenant). In the new covenant, such sacrificial offerings are no longer required (cf. 10:9, etc), since they were fulfilled by Jesus, and he himself is the mediator of a new agreement between God and His people (believers)—see esp. 7:22; 8:6-10ff, 13; 9:1ff, 15-20; 10:16-17 (citing Jer 31:33-34); 12:24; 13:20.

The focus on the sacrificial offerings runs through chapters 7-10, with special attention given to the Day of Atonement ritual (Leviticus 16). Jesus fulfills the role of the high priest who enters “the inner (space)” behind the curtain (Heb 6:19)—that is, into the innermost shrine (‘Holy of Holies’)—to offer sacrifice (by sprinkling blood), cleansing the shrine of impurity, from the sins of the people, in the presence of YHWH (Lev 16:15ff). The sacrificial offering is burnt upon the Temple altar (vv. 24ff), as a sin offering on behalf of all the people (including the priests). In terms of the typological interpretation applied by the author of Hebrews, Jesus is both the High Priest who offers the sacrifice and the sacrificial offering itself.

The dual imagery comes together in 9:11-14, where Jesus, the High Priest, is said to have entered into the inner shrine to sprinkle the cleansing blood (of the slaughtered animal), according to the regulation laid down in Lev 16:15ff. However, the blood that he brings is his own—that is, he himself is the sacrificial offering that has been slain:

“…and not through (the) blood of goats and calves, but through (using) his own blood, he came in, on one (occasion only), into the holy (place), (hav)ing found for the ages (the) loosing from (bondage).” (v. 12)

The ‘bondage’ from which people are loosed (i.e. set free) is the bondage to sin—the Day of Atonement rituals, of course, being intended specifically to remove the effects of sin. It is a sacrificial ritual to be performed “upon one (occasion)” (e)fa/pac)—that is, one time only. After the fulfillment by Jesus, there is no longer any need for the ritual to be performed. It was fulfilled by Jesus through his sacrificial death—which involved (literally) the shedding of blood, but also the cruelty and violence of his manner of death (crucifixion) represents, in a general sense, ‘bloodshed’. On this specific Christological use of the blood-motif, cf. Mark 14:24 par; John 6:54-56; [19:34]; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:25; 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16; Col 1:20; Eph 1:7; 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7; 5:6ff; Rev 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; 19:13. Outside of chapters 7-10 in Hebrews, cf. also 12:24; 13:12, 20.

The contrast between the blood of slaughtered animals, as used in the ritual, and Jesus’ own blood, is emphasized in verses 13-14:

“For, if the blood of goats and calves…(by) sprinkling (it on) the (one)s having been made common [i.e. unclean/profane], makes (them) holy toward the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Anointed (One), who, through (the) Spirit of the Ages [i.e. eternal Spirit], brought himself, without blemish, toward God, cleanse our sunei/dhsi$ from dead works, unto performing service to (the) living God?”

Verses 13-14 comprise a relatively long and complex sentence, as my very literal translation above makes clear. The complexity is due, in large part, to the considerable mixture of images and motifs which the author has brought together. This includes both the idea of the sprinkling of blood—alluding not just to the Day of Atonement ritual, but to a range of sacrificial contexts (e.g., Exod 24:8; cp. Mk 14:24 par)—and of presenting the slaughtered animal as a burnt offering (for sin, etc).

The reference to the Spirit in verse 14 is significant, and is the particular focus of our study. The expression is pneu=ma ai)wni/ou, “(the) Spirit of the Ages”, with the adjective ai)w/nio$ (“of the age[s]”) typically translated “eternal” —understood, not so much in a temporal sense, but as a fundamental Divine characteristic or attribute. It is possible to consider also that ai)w/nio$ alludes to a certain ‘timelessness’ as a characteristic of God’s Spirit.

The expression is part of a wider prepositional phrase: dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou, “through (the) Spirit of the Ages,” “through (the) eternal Spirit”. Commentators have long debated the precise significance of this phrase in v. 14; an entire monograph has even been devoted to the subject (by John J. McGrath, S.J., Through the Eternal Spirit: An Historical Study of the Exegesis of Hebrews 9:13-14 [Rome: Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, 1961]). The interpretive key would seem to be the parallelism with the dia/– phrases in vv. 11-12 (cf. Attridge, p. 251):

    • “through [dia/] the greater and more complete tent”
    • “through [dia/] his own blood…” (cf. above), contrasting
      not through the blood of goats…”

The Spirit represents both the location and the manner of the sacrifice. In the first instance, the sacrificial offering takes place ‘in the Spirit’ —that is, in the realm of the Spirit; in the second instance, it is offered at the level of the Spirit, in a spiritual manner. Thus, even though Jesus suffered a physical death, in which concrete and material blood was shed, he truly offered “his own blood” through the Spirit.

This is comparable to the Johannine view of Jesus’ death, in which, as discussed in prior notes, the life-giving (and cleansing) power of Jesus’ blood (i.e., his sacrificial death) is communicated to believers through the Spirit; and, indeed, we participate in, and partake of, his ‘blood’ in a spiritual manner. Cf. especially the notes on Jn 6:51-58; 1 Jn 1:7, and 5:6-8. However, here in Hebrews the focus is somewhat different. The emphasis is not on how we experience Jesus’ death, but on the death itself. Verse 14 indicates that Jesus’ death was spiritual, as much as (or even more than) it was physiological.

Perhaps it would be better to say that Jesus’ sacrificial death effected something at the spiritual level. It brought about a cleansing of sin that is realized, for believers, spiritually; for more on this, cf. again the prior note on 1 Jn 1:7ff. Specifically, v. 14 locates this cleansing in the sunei/dhsi$ of the believer. This noun is derived from the verb sunei/dw, which literally means “see together”, in the sense of seeing how things fit together, indicating a certain knowledge and awareness of the matter. The noun sunei/dhsi$ most commonly refers to a person’s self-awareness, often in a moral-ethical sense—i.e., awareness of one’s behavior and conduct, etc. It is typically translated in English as “conscience”.

The awareness of which believers are cleansed, by Jesus’ blood, relates to our religious identity—specifically, to our identity as God’s people. In the old covenant, this identity was defined principally by the Torah regulations, including those involving the sacrificial rituals. The rituals were required to deal with the reality of sin and impurity. One such ritual, alluded to by the author (in a curious fashion) in v. 13, is the rite of the Red heifer (Lev 19), which was performed in order to remove the impurity that came from being in contact with a dead body. Probably the author is alluding to this when he refers to being cleansed from “dead works”.

Now, in the new covenant, through the sacrifice of Jesus, we perform service (vb latreu/w) to God in a new way. Our minds and hearts having been cleansed from sin, through the blood of Jesus, in the Spirit, the old sacrificial rituals are no longer required. No longer are we rendered impure from “dead works”, but we are alive in the Spirit and serve a living God. As we have seen, Paul was more forceful than the author of Hebrews in defining the contrast between the old and new covenants as a contrast between “death” and “life” (see esp. 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6-7ff, 14, 17-18). However, as our author continues in vv. 15ff, he very much brings out a similar connection between the old covenant and death. The new covenant was also founded on a death—that of Jesus—but it was a death that occurred only one time (e)fa/pac), and never again.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, edited by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).

May 4: Ephesians 2:13-18

Ephesians 2:13-18

The final passage from the Pauline letters to be examined in these notes is Ephesians 2:11-22, focusing specifically on the portion from verse 13 to v. 18. In the view of many commentators, Ephesians is pseudonymous. This is not the place to consider the various arguments for and against Pauline authorship; the main point to note is that even scholars who would maintain that the letter is pseudonymous recognize its Pauline character. That is to say, the author (if not Paul) was certainly influenced by Paul’s writings, and himself writes in a way that very much reflects the Pauline theology and manner of expression.

An important theme in Ephesians, especially in the first half of the letter, is the unity of believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles alike. This was also a central theme for Paul in Romans, and relates to his distinctive (and controversial) view regarding the place of the Torah in the new covenant. His line of exhortational argument in 2:11-22 reflects the same religious and theological viewpoint, and could serve as a summary of Paul’s thoughts on the matter.

The key statement is in verse 13, where Paul (or the author) indicates that this unity—between Jewish and non-Jewish believers—was brought about through the death of Jesus:

“But now, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, you, the (one)s being in times (past) far off, (have) come to be near, in [i.e. by] the blood of the Anointed.”

The expressions “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” and “in the blood of the Anointed” are clearly parallel, and largely synonymous. They reflect the key Pauline themes of believers being “in Christ” and of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ —that is, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous notes, we have seen how, in Paul’s view, this participation is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit.

The main focus in this passage, however, is on how our shared participation in Jesus’ death means that there is no longer any separation or division between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. The old religious identity, with its distinctions and exclusivity, no longer applies for believers in Christ. This new reality is expressed here in terms of those who were “far away” (makra/n), i.e. Gentiles, coming to be identified (along with believing Jews) as God’s people—they now come to be “near” (e)ggu/$). As part of God’s people, Gentiles are able to come near to God, in a covenant bond of relation to Him (cf. below on v. 18). This is, of course, a new covenant, which supersedes the old covenant and its Torah (on the definite contrast, see esp. 2 Cor 3:6, 14, in context).

The emphasis on unity between Jew and Gentile is expressed powerfully in verse 14, stressing again how this unity was achieved through Jesus’ death—and of our participation, as believers, in his death (“in his flesh” [e)n th=| sarki\ au)tou=]). Such unity could only be achieved by abolishing the old religious differences (which were ethnically and culturally defined). The Torah regulations represent the terms of the old covenant, which were binding for God’s people. Now, with the coming of Christ—and, specifically, through his sacrificial death (on the cross, cf. Gal 2:19ff; Col 2:14)—these regulations of the old covenant are no longer binding for believers in Christ.

This is the essence of Paul’s view of the Law, expressed (as I see it) in unmistakable terms, throughout Galatians, Romans, and in 2 Corinthians 3. It is also expressed quite clearly here in verse 15. Following the thought in v. 14, where it is stated that Jesus’ death ‘dissolved’ (vb lu/w) the “middle wall of the fence” that previously separated Jew from non-Jew. This “wall” is further identified, in verse 15, as “the law [no/mo$] of e)ntolai/ e)n do/gmasin.” This particular qualifying expression is difficult to translate. The noun e)ntolh/ fundamentally refers to a charge or duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is obligated to complete. In context, it clearly refers to the regulations and requirements in the Torah, and is typically translated flatly as “command(ment)s”. The word do/gma essentially means an (authoritative) opinion, often in the sense of a view that is presented as a guiding principle; in a governmental or legal context, it can refer to an official ordinance or decree. Here, the expression e)n do/gmasin refers to the specific Torah regulations/requirements in their written (legally binding) form.

Jesus’ death literally made these binding regulations “cease working”; that is the fundamental meaning of the verb katarge/w, which Paul uses repeatedly to express the idea that the Torah regulations are no longer binding for believers in Christ. It occurs 4 times in 2 Corinthians 3 (vv. 7, 11, 13-14) and twice in Rom 7:1-6 (vv. 2, 6); Paul also uses it, in the same context, but in the reverse sense—viz., that continuing to live under the old covenant effectively invalidates the Gospel and faith in Christ! (cf. Rom 4:14; Gal 5:4, 11). Paul was fully aware how controversial this view of the Torah was, especially for Jewish Christians. In Rom 3:31—a verse that can easily be misunderstood—he declares that his view of the Torah does not nullify/invalidate (same verb, katarge/w) the Law. God’s Law continues to be upheld, but through the Spirit and by following the example of Jesus (esp. the ‘love command’), rather than by continuing to treat the Torah regulations as legally binding.

The thought in vv. 14-15 is developed and restated in vv. 16-17, emphasizing again how the unity of believers was achieved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. In the climactic verse 18, Paul (or the author) ties this unity directly to the presence of the Spirit:

“(for it is) that, through him, we hold the way leading toward (God)—the both (of us) in one Spirit—toward the Father!”

The death of Jesus gives believers direct access to God the Father. The noun used is prosagwgh/, which essentially refers to the way “leading toward” something (or someone); it can also have the more active (verbal) meaning of bringing someone forward. In any case, believers are brought (or allowed to come) “toward” (pro/$) God (the Father). This coming toward God is made possible through our participation in Jesus’ death (“through him”), but it is realized “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). The exact expression, e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati (“in one Spirit”), could conceivably refer more generically to a ‘spirit of unity’ between human beings. While this would be valid, any ‘spirit’ of unity among believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The concluding use of the word pneu=ma in verse 22, makes absolutely clear that the focus is on the Spirit of God (and Christ). From the Pauline theological standpoint, as we have seen, it is through the presence of the Spirit that the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) is communicated to us. I have no doubt that the author of Ephesians—if that person is not Paul himself—shares this same Pauline perspective.

In the next daily note, our final note in this series, we will look at the statement in Hebrews 9:14, which is one of the very few passages in the New Testament indicating a role for the Spirit in Jesus’ actual death.