November 17: John 15:16 (4)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“and (that you) should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain”
kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte kai\ o( karpo\$ u(mw=n me/nh|

Picking up on our discussion from the previous note, the idiom of bearing fruit (vb fe/rw + obj karpo/$), as it applies to the disciple of Jesus, refers principally to the fulfilling of the mission given to the disciple. As I discussed, in the Gospel context, this means the continuation (and extension) of Jesus’ own mission—the mission of the Son, for which the Father sent him from heaven (to earth). Within the framework of the Johannine theology, this mission is rooted in the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that Jesus has given to disciples/believers, which itself follows the duty that the Father gave to the Son. The two-fold duty is: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”, 8:31; 15:7), and (2) to show love to one another, following the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”, 15:9-10).

In the qualifying phrase that follows, here in v. 16, Jesus adds the purpose that the fruit the disciple ‘bears’ should remain (vb me/nw). This important Johannine keyword has been discussed repeatedly in prior notes; it is especially prominent in the Vine-passage (15:1-17), where it occurs 11 times (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). It defines the believer’s fundamental identity, as belonging to the Son (Jesus), and of being/staying in union with him. The verb, with its basic meaning “remain, abide, stay”, carries both the sense of residing and of enduring.

The Johannine use of the verb entails both sides of the believer’s relationship with the Son: the believer remains in the Son, and the Son remains in the believer. This aspect of reciprocity is very much emphasized in the Vine illustration—see esp. the formulations in vv. 4 and 7:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you” (v. 4)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v. 7)

But what does it mean for the believer’s fruit to remain? There are two references elsewhere in the Gospel that may shed some light on this question. The first is the statement by Jesus in 4:36:

“The (one) harvesting receives a wage, and gathers together fruit unto (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life], (so) that the (one) sowing and the (one) harvesting might rejoice as one.”

This verse was examined in an earlier note, where I pointed out the eschatological background and orientation of these harvest illustrations in the New Testament. The time of harvesting, indeed, serves as a natural image for the end of the current Age. The expression “into/unto the Age” refers to this eschatological perspective (viz., the ushering in of the coming New Age), while the related expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/) refers to the Divine/blessed life that the righteous will experience in the Age to Come.

The Gospel of John retains this eschatological point of reference, but gives to it a deeper theological and spiritual meaning. Now, the “life of the Age”, or simply the shorthand term “life” (zwh/), refers to the life (and life-giving power) that God Himself possesses, and which is communicated to believers through the Son (Jesus). The Son possesses the same life that belongs to God the Father, it being given to him by the Father (cf. 3:34f; 5:26; 6:57); the Son, in turn, is able to give the life to believers. This happens even in the present, prior to the end-time Judgment—the one who trusts in Jesus has already passed through the Judgment, and now holds eternal life (see esp. 5:24).

The passage 4:31-38 shares with 15:16 (and with the Last Discourse as a whole) the theme of the disciples (believers) sharing in the mission of Jesus, and continuing it. Through the proclamation of the Gospel message, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, believers serve as a witness to who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent by God the Father, who makes the Father known. The Gospel is rooted in Jesus’ own words (in the Discourses, etc) regarding his identity, and by the witness of the earliest disciples (and subsequently, by other believers) that confirms his word. Believers who are faithful to this witness thus “remain in his word”. It is a message—the word of Jesus—that leads to eternal life for those who trust in it.

The second reference of note is the opening declaration of the Bread of Life Discourse (chap. 6):

“You must not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining [me/nousan] unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man shall give to you” (v. 27)

The motif of ‘food that remains’ is clearly parallel to that of ‘fruit that remains’. Thus, there is good reason to conclude that this abiding fruit, like the abiding food, refers to the eternal life that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers. This life is possessed (“held”) by believers even in the present, but only if one remains in the Son will this life remain.

It is possible, I think, to isolate three distinct strands of meaning that inform the motif of bearing “fruit that remains” in v. 16:

    • It is an extension of the broader concept of the believer remaining in Jesus, and Jesus in the believer. Through this abiding union with the Son, believers are also united with the Father, realizing their/our identity as His offspring (1:12-13, etc).
    • In particular, it refers to the eternal life from the Father that is granted to believers through the Son, being communicated by the Spirit.
    • It also relates to the discipleship-theme of believers’ role in continuing the ministry of Jesus—witnessing to the message (the words and example) of Jesus that leads to eternal life for all who trust in him.

August 10: John 6:68

John 6:68

Having discussed in detail the saying by Jesus in Jn 6:63 (over a set of eight daily notes), let us turn briefly to consider the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68, which essentially affirms, as a statement of faith, what Jesus has said in v. 63.

The difficulty posed by the teaching in the Discourse (see v. 60) proved to be a test and turning point for those following Jesus; at that time, apparently, many turned away and ceased following him (v. 66). Jesus had already made clear that some of those following him where not true disciples (i.e., believers): “But there are some of you that do not trust” (v. 64). The group of disciples was reduced considerably; the implication in the narrative is that only the Twelve remained. To them Jesus asks: “You do not also wish to go away(, do you)?” (v. 67).

This sets the stage for the confession by Peter, which, in certain respects, holds a similar place in the Gospel of John as that of the more famous Synoptic confession in Mark 8:29 par. Indeed, it has been suggest that the Johannine and Synoptic traditions, at this point, are drawing upon the same underlying historical tradition. Before considering that critical question, here is Peter’s initial response in verse 68:

“Lord, toward whom shall we go away? You hold the utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The question is rhetorical and hypothetical: even if we were to go away from [a)po/] you, toward [pro/$] whom else could we go? The question assumes a negative response: there is no one else we can go to, in place of you. Peter, speaking for the Twelve (that is, the eleven true disciples, vv. 64, 70-71), recognizes that there is something truly unique and special about Jesus; he may not yet understand completely Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), but he recognizes that the words have a special Divine inspiration.

Peter uses the same plural r(h/mata (“things uttered, utterances”) that Jesus does in v. 63. In an earlier note, I discussed how, in the Gospel of John, plural r(h/mata and singular lo/go$ can be used almost interchangeably (see v. 60)—referring to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus. Thus Peter essentially affirms the connection between Jesus’ sayings/teachings (“words”) and life (zwh/), very much as in verse 63. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, the noun zwh/ in the Johannine writings virtually always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God—and to His life-giving power. Peter affirms the life-character of Jesus’ words through a genitival expression:

“(the) utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) life [zwh=$] eternal [ai)wni/ou]”

Above, I translated ai)wni/ou as “of the Age(s)”; however, it is an adjective, which here modifies the genitive noun zwh=$ (“of life”); therefore, to avoid complicating the genitive relationship, I have rendered it here as “eternal”.

Syntactically, the expression could be read either as a subjective or objective genitive. In the first instance, “eternal life” would be an attribute or characteristic of Jesus’ words; in the second instance, it would most likely refer to what Jesus’ words give or bring about. Both aspects are appropriate to the Johannine theology, in context; indeed, Jesus mentions both in v. 63:

    • Subjective: His words are life
    • Objective: His words (as Spirit) make live (vb zwopoei/w, i.e. give life)

Whatever Peter may have understood, precisely, at the historical level, in the literary context of the Gospel his confession combines together both of these theological aspects. It thus serves as a suitable conclusion to the entire Discourse-narrative of chapter 6. Anticipating the fuller understanding (for believers) that would come after Jesus’ exaltation (cf. the allusion to this in v. 62), Peter’s confession affirms two important theological points—points which are developed further (and more fully) elsewhere in the Gospel:

    • The Divine/eternal character of Jesus’ words (r(h/mata), since he himself (as the eternal Son of God) is the Divine Word (lo/go$) incarnate (1:14).
    • His words give eternal life. Since God is Spirit (4:24), His word possesses the life-giving power of His Spirit, clearly indicated by role of His Word in creation (1:3-4). The Son shares the same Divine Spirit, receiving it from the Father (3:34-35); his words thus have the same life-giving power, communicating (through the Spirit) the Divine/eternal life of God. As the Living Word, the Son’s words naturally bring life.

In the next daily note, we will look at the continuation of Peter’s confession in verse 69.

August 9: John 6:63 (8)

John 6:63, concluded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 8: John 6:63 (7)

John 6:63, continued

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

Having conducted an examination of the first part of verse 63(a) from a Christological standpoint (cf. the previous note, and the note prior), we now shall do the same for the second part of the verse (b). The Christological examination has proceeded according to the two main points of difficulty that Jesus’ disciples would have had with the teaching in the Bread of Life Discourse (see v. 60): (1) the claim by Jesus that he has come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin), and (2) the idea that people need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). Let us now consider verse 63b from the standpoint of each of these Christological aspects.

(1) Jesus’ heavenly origin

The idea expressed by Jesus in v. 62 is that, once the disciples observe his exaltation (“stepping [back] up” to the Father in heaven), then they will realize that he, indeed, has “stepped down” to earth from heaven. It is this heavenly origin of Jesus (as the eternal Son of God) that underlies the type-image of the manna as “bread from heaven”; Jesus fulfills the figure-type in his own person, showing himself to be the true and living bread that has “come down from heaven”.

From a Christological standpoint, Jesus’ identity as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God means that he, like God the Father, possesses the fullness of the Spirit, along with the Father’s life-giving power. If God the Father is Himself Spirit (4:24), then so also is the Son, having received the full measure of the Spirit from his Father (3:34f). The creative, life-giving power of God is also possessed by the Son, being intrinsic to his identity; the Son receives everything that belongs to the Father, including His life-giving power—on this important theme in the Gospel, see esp. 1:4ff; 5:26; 6:57; 14:19.

These attributes of Spirit (pneu=ma) and Life (zwh/) are things which the Son (Jesus) possesses, and which he, in turn, is able to give to believers. He communicates them directly to believers by his presence in/with them through the Spirit. And a principal idiom of this communication is that of the word, of speaking. As the Paraclete-sayings, in particular, make clear, Jesus speaks to believers through the Spirit (see esp. 16:12-15).

From a theological standpoint, if the Son shares in the Divine Spirit (as God, 1:1; 4:24; 10:30), having received the fullness of God’s Spirit (3:34f), then also his words are Spirit; Jesus says as much here: “the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit”. This can be understood several ways, according to several specific implications of the theological premise:

    • The Son’s words have a spiritual source. The Divine/heavenly origin of Jesus’ words is expressed quite clearly in 3:31ff, and in v. 34 the connection between the Son’s speaking and the Spirit is explicit:
      “For the (one) whom God (has) sent forth speaks the utterances of God, for not out of a measure does He give the Spirit.” (cp. 8:47)
      Elsewhere in the Gospel we find the repeated theme of the Son saying what he has heard from the Father (7:17; 8:26, 28, 38, 40; 12:49; 14:10, 24; 15:15), implying that his words ultimately come from God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24).
    • The Son’s words have a spiritual nature. This is explained best in terms of the association between the Spirit and life; in the Gospel of John, the noun zwh/ almost always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God, but this can also be related to the physical motif of resurrection-life (as in chaps. 5 and 11). The life-giving (i.e., Divine/Spiritual) power of the Son’s words is most clearly expressed in 5:21, 24-29, but the implication is also present in 5:39-40; 8:31-32; 10:10, 16; 12:50; 17:2-3, 14, and elsewhere.
    • The Son’s words must be received and understood in a spiritual manner. This principle is implicit throughout the Gospel Discourses, in which Jesus’ words always have a true and deeper meaning that goes beyond the apparent meaning. The audience typically misunderstands the key sayings or statements of Jesus, which utilize images and motifs from tradition or the natural world; this provokes questions which lead to further explanation/exposition by Jesus. The exposition, which points to the true (spiritual) meaning of the sayings, is of a Christological nature, focusing on Jesus’ self-identity as the (eternal) Son and his relationship to the Father (including the mission for which the Father sent him to earth from heaven). Only a person who has been “born from above”, from the Spirit, is able to see/know the true meaning of the Son’s words (3:3-8; cf. also the Paraclete-sayings 14:26; 15:26; 16:7ff, 13-15).

Along with these points, there is the fundamental theological theme of the Prologue, identifying Jesus, the eternal Son, also as the eternal Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God (1:1-2, 14). The close connection between the Divine Word (lo/go$) and the Divine Life (zwh/) is also a central theme of the Prologue (v. 4), assuming the theological tradition of the role of God’s Word (and Wisdom) in creating life (v. 3).

In 6:63 (also v. 68), the plural r(h/mata (sing. r(h=ma) is used; often translated “words”, r(h=ma properly refers to something spoken or uttered (i.e., “utterance”). In the Gospel of John, r(h=ma is always used in the plural, referring to specific things said by Jesus (the incarnate Son) during his time on earth. However, there can be no real doubt about the relationship between these “words” (r(h/mata) and the eternal Word (lo/go$) of the Prologue. The noun lo/go$ has a broad semantic range that resists easy or consistent translation in English. It can refer to a specific saying or teaching, as by Jesus, cf. 2:22; 4:41; 7:36, etc. This is how it is used by the disciples here in their complaint: “This word [lo/go$] is hard…” (v. 60).

At times, lo/go$ in reference to the saying(s)/teaching of Jesus, hints at the deeper theological meaning of lo/go$ in the Prologue. Of particular importance in this regard is the statement in 5:24:

“the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]” (cp. 17:3)

Another Johannine theme is of the Son’s word (lo/go$) abiding/remaining in the believer, being kept/held within—8:31, 37, 51ff; 12:48; 14:23-24; 17:6, 14ff; on the theme in 1 John, cf. 1:10; 2:5ff, 14. It is hard to separate this from the related idea of God’s eternal Word, identified with the person of the Son (Jesus), abiding within (and among) believers; cf. this important theological use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) in the Gospel and Letters of John. Particularly in 1 John, the twin ideas of God’s word (identified with the Gospel and teaching [of Jesus]) and of God Himself (through the Son) abiding in the believer can scarcely be separated; cp. the use of lo/go$ in 1:1 with the me/nw-passages in 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14-15, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16.

It is understandable that the disciples, unable to discern the true meaning of Jesus’ words, or recognize their spiritual nature, or comprehend their Christological significance, would complain of their difficulty (6:60). Moreover, in the context of the Johannine theology, it is quite appropriate that they would declare “this word [lo/go$] is hard!”

In the next daily note, the last of this series, we will examine v. 63b in the light of the second Christological point of difficulty (cf. above). At the same time, in conclusion, we will consider v. 63 in relation to the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68.

 

 

August 4: John 6:63 (4)

John 6:63, continued

The Christological emphasis of the question by Jesus in v. 62 was discussed in the previous note. In the narrative context, the question serves as a challenge to Jesus’ disciples in the moment—as to whether they would continue to trust in him—but also is a promise of what they would see (and come to understand) in the future (much like the earlier Son of Man saying in 1:51). The difficulty surrounding Jesus’ words in the Discourse primarily involves his claim of a heavenly origin—i.e., that he has come down (lit. “stepped down”, vb katabai/nw) from heaven. Fundamentally, then, verse 62 entails a Christological point—viz., the disciples can trust that the Son (Jesus) came down from heaven, because they will see him going back up (vb a)nabai/nw, “step up”) to heaven.

Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning briefly the specific wording used in v. 62. The expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) and the verb a)nabai/nw (“step up”), used in the special Johannine theological sense, have already been discussed. The verb qewre/w is one of several sight/seeing verbs used by the Gospel writer—again in the special theological/Christological sense of seeing = knowing = trust in Jesus that leads to knowledge/vision of God. The specific verb qewre/w denotes looking closely at something (vb qea/omai)—i.e., being an observer or spectator (qewro/$). The idea, then, is that the disciples will observe the “stepping up” of the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus), much like the promise of vision in the Son of Man saying of 1:51. The verb occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences), making it something of a Johannine keyword; for other instances with a clear theological/Christological significance, cf. 6:40; 12:45; 14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17ff; 17:24.

What is that they will observe? The verb a)nabai/nw, in the special Johannine theological sense (and usage), refers to the exaltation of the Son (by God the Father); elsewhere in the Gospel, this is expressed by the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”), where it is specifically used in Son of Man sayings with a comparable meaning and significance to that of 6:62—cf. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. The “stepping up” by the Son is thus a result of his being “raised/lifted high” by the Father. This ascent, within the context of the Johannine narrative, involves a process—viz., of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The disciples of Jesus will, in different ways, observe this process. And, when they see him “stepping up” to God the Father, then they will truly understand and know that he has “stepped down” to earth from heaven.

The heavenly origin of the Son is also indicated here by the phrase “(the place) where [o%pou] he was [h@n] at the first [to\ pro/teron]”. The imperfect form of the verb of being (h@n, “he was”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, due to its repeated use in the Prologue (1:1-2, 4, 8-10, 15 [par 30]), where it refers to the eternal pre-existence of the Son (and Logos). Particularly in 1:1-2, the Son’s presence with the Father in heaven is clearly indicated. Jesus’ return to the Father’s presence (in heaven) is alluded to at a number of points in the Gospel (esp. in the Last Discourse), being stated most clearly in 14:28; 16:10, 28, and 17:5, 11, 13, 24. The expression to\ pro/teron (“the first”) is comparable to the use of a)rxh/ (“first, beginning”) in 1:1-2; 8:25; 1 Jn 1:1; 2:13-14; cf. also prw=to$ in 1:15, 30. Again, these terms have Christological significance, in reference to the pre-existence and deity of Jesus (as the Son of God).

Jesus’ statement in v. 63 follows after the Son of Man saying (question) in v. 62, and thus should be understood in light of the Christological emphasis of v. 62. But how, exactly, does v. 63 relate to v. 62? If the question, as both a promise and a challenge, involves seeing the exaltation (“stepping up”) of Jesus (the Son of Man), then it would stand to reason that the statement in v. 63 should be read in this immediate context:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

The initial contrast, between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc), would then relate to the seeing of the exalted Son of Man—that is, one sees it through the Spirit, not through the ordinary eyes of the flesh. But how does one “see” through the Spirit? This is indicated by Jesus in the earlier Nicodemus Discourse:

“if one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see [i)dei=n] the kingdom of God” (3:3)

As is clear from what follows in vv. 5-8, birth “from above” (which is also a new/second birth, via the dual-meaning of a&nwqen) means the same as birth “out of the Spirit” (e)c pneu/mato$). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings (esp. 1 John), the idiom is “coming to be (born) out of God [e)k qeou=]” (1:13, etc); but since God is Spirit (4:24), the two expressions are essentially equivalent—i.e., “out of God” = “out of the Spirit”. Once a person is born of the Spirit, he/she is able to see God and the things of God (“kingdom of God”); but it is spiritual, rather than physical, sight. Cf. the symbolism of the chapter 9 healing miracle, with the thematic motif of Jesus Christ as light (by which one sees, 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5ff; 2:8ff).

The emphasis in 6:63 is on the Spirit giving life; however, in the Gospel of John, light and life are closely connected—with the light of Jesus Christ leading to eternal life for those who trust in him (1:4; 3:19ff [in the context of vv. 15-17]; 8:12; 11:9-10 [in the narrative context of resurrection/life]). Similarly, in the Bread of Life Discourse, those who “eat” Jesus (meaning trusting in him) will have eternal life (6:27, 33, 40, 47, 51-54, 58); this is the significance of the expression “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48) and “living bread” (v. 51). The Father gives this Divine/eternal Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to believers (v. 57; cf. also 5:25-26; 14:19).

The development of these Christological themes in the Bread of Life Discourse is complex, and vv. 62-63 represent the climax of this development. In the next daily note, we will continue with the current discussion, looking at some of the Christological aspects of verse 63 in more detail.

July 18: 1 John 5:20 (cont.)

1 John 5:20, continued

“And we have seen that the Son of God is here, and (that) he has given to us dia/noia, (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (that) we are in the (One who is) true, in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The middle two clauses of verse 20 (b) were discussed in the previous note, and the first two clauses (a) in the note prior; we now turn to the final two clauses (c).

Verse 20c:
    • “in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—
      this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The first phrase here in v. 20c (the fifth clause, or phrase, of the verse), is epexegetical—that is, it explains or qualifies the previous statement: “we are in the (One who is) true”. This theological statement (cf. the discussion in the previous note) means that believers are “in” (e)n) God the Father (“the [One who is] true”). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, this idea of being “in” God is expressed more fully by the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

This is a fundamental Johannine theological idiom, which occurs in 1 John some 20 times. It is used to express the idea of the believer abiding in God (2:6, 10, 28; 3:6), or of God abiding in the believer (2:14; 3:9, 15, 17; 4:12), or both (2:24, 27; 3:24; 4:13, 15-16). Sometimes the idiom is expressed specifically in terms of the word/life/light/love, etc., of God, rather than God Himself, but these are simply specifications of the general theological principle, drawing upon particular attributes or characteristics related to the dynamic of the relationship between God and the believer.

The use of the verb of being (ei)mi) can substitute for the verb me/nw, whereby the union between the believer and God takes on a more essential quality, emphasizing its reality (or lack thereof) in the present. For the usage (ei)mi + e)n) in 1 John, cf. 1:8, 10; 2:4-5, 8, etc. The verb of being is used here in v. 20c: “we are [e)sme/n] in [e)n] (Him)”.

A central element of the Johannine theology is that God the Father abides in the believer (and the believer in God) through the presence of His Son (Jesus). And this quite clearly expressed by the author here; the statements (4&5) are parallel, with one building upon (and explaining) the other:

    • “we are in the One who is true [i.e. God the Father]” (because) =>
      • “(we are) in His Son Jesus Christ”

The Son makes the Father known to believers (cf. statements 1-3, v. 20ab), and is the means by which they/we are united with Him, coming to abide/remain “in Him”.

Verse 20 concludes with a final statement (6) that summarizes the entire Johannine theology:

“this is the true God and eternal Life”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$

There is debate as to the specific force of the initial demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this,” or “this one”). Commentators are divided as to whether the pronoun refers to God the Father or Jesus the Son. Given that Jesus (“His Son Yeshua…”) is the nearest antecedent, it would seem most natural that ou!to$ refers to him. However, as Brown (p. 625) notes, the pronoun can sometimes refer to an earlier subject; and there is a clear (Johannine) example of this in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have come into the world, the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this (one) [ou!to$] is the (one) leading (people) astray and the (one) against the Anointed [i.e. antichrist].”

Even though Yeshua is the noun preceding the demonstrative pronoun, the pronoun clearly refers back to the false believer(s), called [oi(] pla/noi (“[the one]s going/leading astray”). This grammatical parallel suggests that the demonstrative pronoun here in v. 20c refers back to God the Father, rather than Jesus. The use of the expression “the true God” (o( a)lhqino\$ qeo/$) would seem to confirm this (cp. Jer 10:10; 2 Chron 15:3; 1 Thess 1:9). Beyond this, the parallel declaration in the Gospel (17:3) is decisive:

“And this [au%th] is eternal Life: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

In the literary context of chap. 17, Jesus is addressing God the Father, referring to Him (El-YHWH), in traditional Israelite-Jewish religious terms, as “the only true God”. Almost certainly, then, the expression “the true God” here in v. 20c likewise refers to God the Father.

However, the close parallel in thought and vocabulary between v. 20c and Jn 17:3 is instructive, in that it suggests that the author has a dual reference in mind. In other words, the demonstrative pronoun (“this”) refers to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The Father is the primary point of reference, but He, as the Father, cannot be separated from His Son. Indeed, the two are inseparable, especially given the Johannine theological principle (discussed above) that believers experience the God the Father through His Son.

If God the Father is the primary referent for the expression “the true God”, then it is the Son of God (Jesus) who is primarily being referred to by the expression “[the] Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal Life]” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$). Even though God the Father is the ultimate source of life (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:57; 12:50, etc), the Father gives this life to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers (4:14; 5:39-40; 6:27, 33, 51ff, 63; 10:28; 17:2). Life is predicated of the Son as an essential attribute (Jn 1:4; 6:48; 11:25; 14:6), and believers come to possess (“hold,” vb e&xw) this life through trust in Jesus (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 8:12; 11:25; 20:31).

In 1 John, the author ties the possession of this eternal life, as a defining characteristic of the true believer, specifically to the fulfillment of the great dual-command (or two-fold duty [e)ntolh/]) as stated in 3:23: genuine trust in Jesus Christ (as the Son of God), and love for one’s fellow believers (according to Jesus’ own example). True believers fulfill this e)ntolh/, while false believers (like the opponents) disregard and violate it. Their false view of Jesus Christ (as the author sees it) means that they do not truly trust in him, and thus cannot hold eternal life in themselves.

The author establishes this logic at the very beginning of his work (1:1-2), and the references to “life” (zwh/) throughout the rest of 1 John (2:25; 3:14-15; 5:11-13ff) follow this same line of argument. In 5:11-13, at the close of the third and (final) section (5:5-12) dealing with trust in Jesus (in opposition to the false view of Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents), the author clearly and emphatically restates the Johannine definition of eternal life as the result of trust in Jesus. Through this trust, believers are united with God’s Son, coming to abide/remain in him; as noted above, it is through the presence of the Son that we, as believers, abide in the Father (and He in us).

Ultimately, our union with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit, though that particular theological point is only stated implicitly here in v. 20 (cf. the previous notes on 20a and 20b). The Spirit is the foremost of the things which the Son receives from the Father (cf. Jn 3:34-35), and which he then gives to believers. The association between the Spirit and the Life of God is so close as to almost be synonymous (cf. Jn 3:5-8ff; 4:10-15 [7:37-39]; 6:63). As the author of 1 John makes clear (3:24; 4:13), the presence of the Spirit is the ultimate evidence that we, as believers, abide/remain in God and thus possess eternal life.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 (1982).

July 7: 1 John 5:16-19 (3)

1 John 5:16-17, continued

The author’s instruction in vv. 16-17 (cf. the previous note) would make more sense if “life” (zwh/) and “death” (qa/nato$) referred to ordinary physical life and death, respectively. The implication then would be that the sinning believer might well come to be chastised by God, possibly punished with illness—but not so far as to result in death. The context of the expression “not toward death” would then be comparable to Jesus’ statement (at least on the surface) regarding Lazarus’ illness, in Jn 11:4 (“this weakness [i.e. sickness] is not toward death [pro\$ qa/naton]”); cf. also James 5:14-16 for the idea of a sinning Christian being delivered from sickness through the prayer of other believers.

However, in the Johannine writings, the noun zwh/ (“life”) virtually always refers to the Divine/eternal life, possessed by God, which is given to believers in Christ. In a number of passages (cf. Jn 5:24; 8:51-52; 1 Jn 3:14), qa/nato$ (“death”) has a comparable meaning—viz., the eternal death that comes to the wicked (unbelievers) in the Judgment. As I mentioned previously, the immediate context of vv. 11-13, referring to eternal life, strongly suggests that “life” and “death”, respectively, in vv. 16-17 should be understood in a similar light.

But, if so, what does it mean for God to “give life” to the sinning believer (“and He will give life to him”)? Do not believers already possess eternal life, through the Spirit, in union with the Son (Jesus) and God the Father? There are several ways that the phrase can be explained.

The first option is to understanding giving eternal life here in terms of preserving it. Through forgiveness of sin, and the communication of the cleansing (and life-giving) power of Jesus’ death (“blood,” cf. 1:7ff; Jn 6:51-58), the believer is protected from the loss of life that would otherwise result from sin. The idea expressed by the author in v. 18 (to be discussed) tends to confirm this line of interpretation.

A second explanation is that God restores life to the sinning believer. According to this interpretation, there is a genuine (but temporary) loss of life when a believer sins. However, the sin does not lead to ultimate (eternal) death (“not toward death”); rather, through forgiveness and the cleansing power of Jesus’ “blood” (1:7), communicated by the Spirit, the believer is restored to the fullness of life. For more on this line of interpretation, cf. the discussion at the end of this note.

A third option, which may be viewed as a variation of the first option (above), holds that forgiveness of sin is a component of the (eternal) life that God gives to the believer. That is, the regular process of confession and forgiveness is part of the dynamic of God giving life to the believer. In other words, the gift of life is not a one-time event, occurring only at the point when the believer comes to trust in Jesus; rather, it represents an ongoing process, just as biological life is given continually to a human being.

There is merit to each of these lines of interpretation, with sound arguments to be made on behalf of each. Let us see if, through a continuation of our study on vv. 16-19, it is possible to narrow the choice.

There are two main aspects of vv. 16-17 which still need to be discussed; this will be done in the next daily note.

*     *     *     *     *

The apparent contradiction in the author’s statements (here, in vv. 16a and 18), to the effect that believers both do and do not sin, have confounded commentators for centuries. One alternative solution that I have proposed involves the specific idea of the believer abiding in God (and God in the believer), utilizing the verb me/nw (“remain”) in its distinctive Johannine theological sense; the verb occurs 24 times in 1 John, in 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14-15, 17, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16.

The proposed solution is as follows: As long as the believer “remains” in God, he/she is unable to sin; only when, through neglect, one falls out of a state of abiding (“remaining”) in God, does one become prone to committing sin (but not the sin that is “toward death”). Through confession and forgiveness, the condition of abiding in God (and God in the believer) is restored, and the believer once again “remains” in God.

I find this to be an attractive solution, and one that is fully rooted in the Johannine theological idiom. However, it is not without several serious problems; these will be discussed in the upcoming notes, as we consider the best way to resolve the apparent contradiction in the author’s statements regarding sin and the believer.

July 6: 1 John 5:16-19 (2)

1 John 5:16-17

Having examined 5:16-19 in its immediate and broader context within 1 John (cf. the previous note), I will now turn to discuss verses 16-17 in detail.

“If any(one) should see his brother sinning (the) sin (that is) not toward death, he shall ask and (then God) will give life to him, to (the one)s sinning not toward death. There is a sin (that is) toward death, (and) I do not say that you should make a request about that.” (v. 16)

Three times in this verse (and again in v. 17), the author uses the expression “sin (that is) toward death [pro\$ qa/naton].” He apparently distinguishes between such sin and all other sin. He specifically instructs his readers that they should not pray to God on behalf of someone who is sinning the sin that is “toward death”. The author clearly has something quite distinctive in mind by this expression, but its meaning is largely lost for readers today. This has led to considerable discussion and speculation among commentators and theologians.

It is best to begin with the immediate context (vv. 14-15), which relates to the idea of believers praying to God, making requests (vbs ai)te/w and e)rwta/w in v. 16) on behalf of other believers, other members of the Community. The situation involves a believer doing something that can be seen (i.e., observed) and recognized (as sin) by another believer. This does not include ‘hidden’ sins of the heart—impure thoughts and desires—but only actions which can be observed (including things that are heard, with speech understood as an act). Members of the Community thus should pray for such believers, asking that God will lead them to repentance and forgive their sin (cf. 1:7-2:2, 12).

But what of the specific expression “toward death” (pro\$ qa/naton)? I believe that this is best explained as traditional language that has been adapted to a Christian (and Johannine) context. It is probably derived, primarily, from the ancient Torah regulations, within which we find the principle distinguishing between unintentional and deliberate sin—see esp. the instruction in Leviticus 4  and Numbers 15:22-31. The guilt and impurity from unintentional sins can be removed through the sacrificial ritual; however, in the case of willful and deliberate sins, the ritual does not apply, and the sinner shall be “cut off” from his people (Num 15:30-31, etc).

The use of the verb tr^K* (“cut [off]”) in these regulations has been variously explained, either as either banishment or death (whether by the hand of the Community or Divine intervention). Cf. the discussion by J. Milgrom in Excursus 36 (pp. 405-8) of his JPS Torah Commentary (on Numbers). The Community of the Qumran texts applied this same principle: those guilty of deliberate sin were banished from the Community (cf. 1QS 8:21-9:2). In Jubilees 21:22 the specific expression “sin unto death” is used, in reference to an Israelite who followed the sinful (and idolatrous) ways of the surrounding peoples, with the ultimate result that the sinner’s “name and seed” would perish from the earth. Cf. Brown, p. 617.

It is unlikely, however, that physical death is primarily in view here. Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the noun qa/nato$ (“death”) tends to connote the eternal death that comes to a person in the Judgment, to be contrasted with the eternal life (zwh/) that comes to the believer in Christ (who passes safely through the Judgment)—Jn 5:24; 8:51-52; 1 Jn 3:14; this is the implication even in Jn 5:24 and 11:4ff, where physical death is the primary point of reference. Indeed, the specific reference to eternal life in the preceding vv. 11-13, suggests strongly that, similarly, eternal death (in the Judgment) is intended here in vv. 16ff. This is most important for an understanding of what the author means by the expression “sin (that is) toward death” —it is sin that leads toward (and results in) eternal death from God’s (final) Judgment.

In this regard, the use of the word zwh/, here in the context of v. 16, is significant. The particular statement is (literally): “he shall ask, and he will give life to him”. The ambiguity of pronoun and verbal subject is rather typical of Johannine style, but it can make interpretation of the author’s statements difficult at times. The best explanation is that three different persons are involved:

he [i.e. the one praying] shall ask, and He [i.e. God] will give life to him [i.e. the one sinning]”

But what does it mean for God to give life to the sinning believer, when the noun “life” (zwh/) virtually always means Divine/eternal life in the Johannine writings? Does not the true believer already possess eternal life (vv. 11-12, 13)? This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 (1982).
Those marked “Milgrom” are to The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers rbdmb, commentary by Jacob Milgrom (Jewish Publication Society: 1990).

May 23: 1 John 1:2

1 John 1:2

Much of the syntactical awkwardness of the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) is due to the parenthetical clauses in verse 2. As indicated in the previous note, verse 3 picks up the main line of syntax from verse 1, with its repeated relative phrases (modifying the initial phrase). As a parenthesis, verse 2 is expository, expounding the significance of the expression “the word of life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$) at the close of verse 1. The subject of verse 2 is “the life” (h( zwh/):

“and th(is) life was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh], and we have seen and give witness and give forth as a message to you th(is) life of the age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which was toward the Father, and was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh] to us”

The parallel use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) brackets the statement. This verb is something of a Johannine keyword, occurring nine times each in the Gospel and First Letter. As applied to Jesus, it refers to his public appearance on earth, alluding both to the incarnation of the Logos (1:14ff, cf. verse 31) and to Jesus’ earthly ministry with his disciples. One may understand the passive voice in these instances as an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. In the Johannine theological idiom, this is otherwise expressed by the idea of God the Father sending the Son (Jesus) to earth.

The Logos was made to shine forth (on earth), but also specifically “to us” —that is, to believers, beginning with the first disciples (the implied eyewitnesses in verse 1). The same implication is repeated here in verse 2: “we have seen” (e(wra/kamen). In the Johannine Gospel, the motif of seeing has Christological significance—it signifies recognizing who Jesus is (i.e., the Son sent by the Father) and trusting in him.

Believers, from the first disciples to the present (when the author is writing), both “give witness” (vb marture/w) to Jesus and declare the message (vb a)pagge/llw) of who he is (and of what he has said and done, cf. verse 5ff). These two verbs are also part of the Johannine idiom, playing an important role in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse. The Spirit as a witness is specifically emphasized in the third saying (15:26-27), and is indicated again in the final saying(s) (16:7b-11ff). The only other Johannine use of a)pagge/llw (“give forth a message”) occurs in 16:25, where the reference is to Jesus (the Son) communicating the truth to believers “about the Father”; however, the parallel verb a)nagge/llw, which has nearly identical meaning, features prominently in the final Paraclete-saying (16:13-15), and is also used here in 1 Jn 1:5.

The implication of this vocabulary analysis is that the terminology, which applies here to the witness of believers to the truth of Jesus’ identity, is closely tied to the Johannine view of the Spirit’s witness. Indeed, in the third Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the Spirit and the disciples (believers) work together as a witness—the Spirit bears witness to believers, who, in turn, give witness of the truth to others in the world (see esp. 17:18-21).

For this reason, I believe it is proper to find here in the prologue to 1 John a certain indirect allusion to the Spirit. This is confirmed, I think, by the use of the expression “the word of life,” when understood within the Johannine theological idiom—especially as expressed in the Gospel Discourses. An important component of this theology is the idea that Jesus (the Son) is said to give the Spirit to believers, and also to give life to them. On the specific motif of giving life (zwh/, which means Divine/Eternal Life), cf. 5:21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 10:28; 17:2-3, with many other clear allusions, tied to trusting/following Jesus (3:15-16, 36; 5:39-40; 8:12; 10:10ff; 11:25), including the important theological statement in the Prologue (1:4; cp. 14:6). Jesus’ giving of the Spirit brackets (and informs) the entire Gospel narrative (1:33; 19:30/20:22), is implied in 3:34, and features prominently in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7bff). The two motifs of life and Spirit are combined in the image of the “living water” that Jesus gives (4:10-15; 7:37-39).

The wording of Jesus’ famous saying in Jn 6:63 seems especially relevant in this regard (cf. the earlier study on this verse):

“The Spirit is the (thing) making alive [vb zwopoie/w], the flesh is not useful (for) anything; the words [r(h/mata] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life [zwh/].”

The close association of the Spirit with both word and life makes an allusion to the Spirit in 1 Jn 1:1-2 all the more likely. The plural r(h/mata (lit. “utterances”) is used in Jesus’ saying, rather than the singular lo/go$, which means that the reference is to the message (words/teaching) that Jesus speaks to believers, rather than to his own person (as the Logos). Even so, this is one of the three aspects of the meaning of lo/go$ here in 1:1, as I explained in the previous note; the point is confirmed by the context of what immediately follows the prologue in verse 5.

By communicating the Spirit to believers, Jesus gives life to them/us—and, indeed, gives the Divine source of that (eternal) life, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). According to the Gospel tradition and narrative (20:22), the first disciples received the Spirit through the (meta)physical presence of the resurrected Jesus; for all other believers, this same takes place as a result of our trust, having received and accepted the Gospel witness, beginning with the witness of the first disciples (17:20-21, etc; see esp. the important closing statement in 20:29).

It is worth emphasizing again the close relation between the prologue of 1 John and the Gospel Prologue. Of particular theological importance is the essential predication, whereby Jesus is identified with the (pre-existent) Word (lo/go$) and Life (zwh/) of God; if we add to this the attribute of Light (fw=$), introduced in verse 5ff, then all three key Divine attributes from the Prologue (1:1-5ff)—Word, Light, Life—are similarly represented here in 1 John. Jesus is specifically identified with the Word and Life of God, while in verse 5 it is God the Father who is identified as Light; however, there can be no doubt of the Christological significance of the light-motif, with an understanding of Jesus (the Son) manifesting the “true light” (2:8ff), just as we see throughout the Gospel.

Why was the parenthetical statement in verse 2 included with such bold emphasis, so as to contribute to such a noticeably awkward syntax in the prologue? I have to wonder if the emphasis may be tied specifically to the rhetorical purpose and strategy of the author. He seems to out of his way to position both elements of the expression “the word of the life” —the Word and the Life—within a dual-meaning context. As outlined in the previous notes, the two aspects of meaning are: (1) Christological (the person of Jesus), and (2) Evangelistic (the message/traditions about Jesus). This is significant if, as I believe to be the case, the crisis (and the opponents) addressed by the author in 1 John relate to the spiritualism of the Johannine churches. One theory regarding the nature of this crisis is that it involved a tendency to localize the Word and Life of God in the abiding presence of the Spirit, in a way that devalued the importance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. This topic will be discussed in the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will conclude our discussion on the prologue, looking specifically at verses 3-4.

April 22: 1 John 5:9-12

1 John 5:9-12

This note follows up the discussion (yesterday and the day before) on 1 Jn 5:6-8, with a brief examination of the subsequent verses (9-12). Indeed, these verses continue the thought in vv. 6-8 and help us to understand more clearly what the author is saying.

“If we receive the witness [marturi/a] of men, the witness of God is greater; (and it is) that this is the witness of God that He has given witness [memartu/rhken] about His Son.” (v. 9)

The theme of witness continues here; as I discussed in the previous note, this is an important Johannine theme, with the noun marturi/a and verb marture/w serving as important theological keywords in both the Gospel and Letters (also prominent in the book of Revelation). This contrast between human and Divine witnesses also featured in the chapter 5 Discourse in the Gospel (vv. 30-47; see especially in vv. 43-44). The statement there regarding the willingness of people to accept human witnesses is harsher and polemically charged, whereas here it is framed as a simple objective statement, almost certainly with the legal principle of Deut 17:6 in mind (cf. also Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb 10:28). Evidence can be deemed reliable for establishing a legal case if it can be confirmed by two or (especially) three witnesses.

If three human witnesses will confirm the truth, how much more will three Divine witnesses do so—especially since, as v. 9 makes clear, God’s witness is much greater than that of man. This suggests that God’s witness here is to be identified with the three witnesses of vv. 7-8, but most particularly with the Spirit, which ultimately serves to guarantee the truth of the other two witnesses (“water” and “blood”, v. 6). And this witness by God is about (peri/) His Son, confirming the line of interpretation established for vv. 6-8—namely that the three-fold witness is a witness regarding the identity of Jesus, as the Son of God. This is the significance of the witness motif in the Johannine writings.

“The (one) trusting in the Son of God holds [e&xei] th(is) witness in himself, (while) the (one) not trusting in God has made Him (to be) a liar, (in) that he has not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son.” (v. 10)

The repetitive wording is typical of Johannine style, and should not be varied in translation to make for more engaging English. As throughout 1 John, the author presents a stark (dualistic) contrast between the person who trusts in God (i.e., the believer), and one who does not (i.e., the non-believer or ‘false’ believer). The opponents referenced by the author (cf. the discussion in the prior note) are considered by him to be among those who do not trust. Their lack of trust—showing them to be “antichrists” rather than true believers (cf. 2:18-27; 4:1-6)—is evidenced primarily by their false view and teaching regarding Jesus. The author would say about them that they “have not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son”. In particular, they seem to have denied, in some way, the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death; in other words, they do not trust in the witness of the “water” and “blood” that God has given (through the incarnation) declaring the truth about who Jesus is. I will be discussing this in more detail in upcoming notes.

By contrast, the one who truly trusts in Jesus as the Son of God, accepting all three witnesses God has provided, has this three-fold witness abiding within. The literal wording is “he holds [vb e&xw] th(is) witness in himself”. This can only mean that the believer holds the Spirit within; since the witness of the “water” (Jesus’ life) and “blood” (his life-giving death) are united with the Spirit’s witness, and cannot be separated (which is the point of vv. 6-8), the believer also holds the witness of the “water” and “blood” within. We now begin to approach the interpretation of 1:7ff which I offered in the earlier note—namely, that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood is communicated to the believer through the Spirit.

“And this is the witness—that (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life] God (has) given to us, and this life is in His Son.” (v. 11)

The declaration “this is the witness” can be understood two ways. First, the statement that follows in v. 11 represents the substance of what the witness says. The three witnesses—water, blood, and Spirit—all say the same thing, which can be summarized by a two-part theological statement:

    • Part 1: “God has given to us (the) Life of the Age(s)”
    • Part 2: “this Life is in His Son”

The expression “life of the age(s)” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$) is more typically rendered “eternal life”, and, indeed, in the Johannine writings “life” (zwh/) almost always refers to eternal life, in the qualitative (and attributive) sense of the Life which God Himself possesses. The message of the three-fold witness is that God has given us (believers) this Life “in His Son”. There is a comparable theological definition found in the Gospel:

“And this is the Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (17:3)

There are two aspects to the prepositional expression “in [e)n] His Son”. The first is the aspect of trusting in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God). This emphasis on trust is present both in our passage and the corresponding statement of Jn 17:3 (above). However, the more common preposition for trust in Jesus is ei)$ (lit. “into, unto”), and this points to the second aspect, which, in some ways, I think is more prominent here; this second aspect is best expressed by the Johannine idiom of “remaining” (vb me/nw) in Jesus. The believer remains in [e)n] Jesus (the Son), and the Son, in turn, remains in the believer—a unity which is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

Both aspects may be further summarized by the Christological mode of understanding “in His Son” as meaning that the eternal life we hold is based in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And Jesus is personally present in (and among) believers through the Spirit. For more on the association between the Spirit and (eternal) life, see my earlier note on Jn 6:51-58, and the recent articles (on 3:5-8ff, 4:10-15, and 6:63 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”).

“The (one) holding the Son holds th(is) Life, (while) the (one) not holding the Son does not hold the Life.” (v. 12)

This final verse summarizes the thought of vv. 9-11 quite succinctly, repeating the same stark contrast between believer and non-believer from v. 10, and also reiterating the key concept of the believer “holding” (vb e&xw). In light of this context, the idea of “holding” the Son can only refer to the believer “holding” the (three-fold) witness about the Son. The point of contact is obviously the Spirit. The Spirit witnesses about the Son (Jn 15:26, etc), but the Son is also personally present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, by holding the Spirit within (v. 9), the believer also holds the Son within (v. 12). Since (eternal) life comes through the Son, and is communicated (by the Son) through the Spirit, the believer also holds this same life within. This is a fundamental theological premise in the Johannine writings, which is perhaps expressed most concisely in John 6:57.