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

1 John 4:1-6, continued

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

I wish to examine two additional themes this week.

2. Believers “born of [ek] God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. “remain in” (ménœ + en)

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

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

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

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

b. “be in” (eimi + en)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*        *        *        *        *        *        *

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

July 5: 1 John 5:20, continued

1 John 5:20, continued

(see the previous note)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 4: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 3: 1 John 5:18-20

1 John 5:18, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

June 27: 1 John 4:7, continued

1 John 4:7, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. “and knows God” (kai\ ginw/skei)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 22: 1 John 3:9

1 John 3:7-9, continued

For Statements 1 and 2, see the previous notes on verses 7 and 8.

Statement #3 (verse 9):

“Every (one) having come to be (born) of God does not do sin, (in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him, and (so) he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God.”

The third, climactic, statement, as in verse 6, represents the key statement regarding the relation of the believer to sin. The parallel descriptive expression, again using the Johannine idiom of the substantive participle (with definite article, preceded by the adjective pa=$ [“every”]), characterizes the true believer:

    • “every (one) remaining in Him” (v. 6)
    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God” (v. 9)

This is very much Johannine terminology, particularly the distinctive use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), as well as the verbal expression genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] out of”). The true believer comes to be born from God, and then remains in Him. There are thus two stages to the Divine life of the believer: (1) the birth occurs as the result of trust in Jesus (as God’s Son), followed (2) by an abiding relationship that is realized through the Son. Ultimately, both the birth and the remaining are realized through the presence and activity of the Spirit (Jn 3:5-8; 14:17ff; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13).

Interestingly, both aspects—birth and remaining—are emphasized here in verse 9. The birth imagery dominates, and includes the aspect of remaining: the believer comes to be born out of God, and then, as His offspring, God’s seed (spe/rma) remains in the believer. Both aspects are integral to the idea of the sinlessness of the believer; note the chiastic arrangement of the verse:

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

Both aspects relate to sinlessness, but it is the central aspect—God’s seed remaining in the believer—which is most relevant, since it refers to the life-time of the believer after he/she has been “born”.

If we are to understand how the believer can be sinless (and “unable to sin”) —in apparent contradiction to what the author wrote earlier (in 1:5-2:2; see also 5:16-17)—the key is this central motif of God’s seed remaining in the believer. In this regard, it is necessary to address two interpretive questions, which can be summarized as: (1) what is the “seed” of God, and (2) what does it mean for the seed to remain? The latter question needs to be addressed in relation to the Johannine use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), where it is more common to speak the believer remaining in God.

1. The meaning of the expression “seed of God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • the use of the verb genna/w (here the compound a)nagenna/w) + the preposition e)k, to express the idea of the birth of believers
    • the use of a (substantive) perfect passive participle to express this as a fundamental characteristic of believers
    • the idea that this is a new birth, with the believer being “born again/anew” (compare Jn 3:3ff)
    • this new birth is facilitated by the presence of God’s own “seed” (the related noun spora/ instead of spe/rma)
    • the true, spiritual nature of the imagery is indicated by the language used, and by the specific designation of the seed/word as “living” (zw=nto$)—see Jn 4:10-11; 6:51, 57; 7:39.
    • the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)
    • the idea that the Word of God “remains” in the believer

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

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

2. The Divine seed “remaning” in the believer

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, this line of ethical interpretation should not obscure the fundamental aspect of the Johannine understanding of sin, as with that of right(eous)ness (dikaiosu/nh)—namely, that it primarily refers to a person’s trust in Jesus as the Son of God. Specifically (as noted above), the terminology relates to the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of every believer, as summarized concisely by the author in verse 23. This will be discussed further in the next daily note (on verse 10).

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

1 John 3:4-9, concluded

In these studies on the concept of sin in the Johannine writings, our examination of 1 John 3:4-9 demonstrates how the tenets of Biblical Criticism can help to elucidate difficult interpretive problems. One begins with the Greek (or Hebrew) text, giving careful consideration to the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax utilized by the author. Then the cultural and historical background of the text is examined, along with the thought-world of the author and the original audience (as far as this can be determined). Also essential to this critical study is a thorough analysis of the literary context of a passage—the structure of the work as a whole, the rhetorical approach, the author’s goal and purpose in writing, and all the various literary devices employed in pursuing the intended goal.

All (or most) of these aspects of critical study have been touched upon in our examination of 1 John 3:4-9, and in relation to longstanding interpretive problem inherent in these verses. This ‘sin problem’ involves the apparent contradiction between the author’s statements (regarding sin) in 1:5-2:2 and those in 3:4-9; the same basic contradiction is repeated, for good measure, in 5:16-17 and 18. Our studies on 1 John 3:4-9 have proceeded with the ‘sin problem’ clearly in view.

There have been numerous attempts by scholars to resolve the apparent contradiction. They vary in approach, but none has proven particularly successful; certainly, no proposed solution to date has garnered much of a consensus among New Testament scholars. Many commentators today seem more or less resigned to the fact that the ‘sin problem’ of 1 John cannot really be solved.

In bringing the study on 1 John 3:4-9 to a close, I wish to present four interpretative approaches which have been reasonably popular among commentators in recent decades. I will discuss these briefly, before offering two distinct, but somewhat divergent, approaches of my own.

Four Approaches to the ‘Sin Problem’ of 1 John

1. One explanation, especially popular among conservative (and evangelical) commentators, is that the author of 1 John is making a distinction between occasional sins (which a believer may commit) and a pattern of regular or habitual sinning. The author maintains that believers can (and do) commit occasional sins (1:8-2:2; 5:16-17), but then declares that they will not engage in regular or repeatedly sinful behavior (3:4-9; 5:18).

There is a certain attractiveness to this solution, since it generally reflects Christian experience and makes for practical ethical instruction. However, I find the approach to be quite unconvincing, and do not think that it is at all what the author is emphasizing in 3:4-9. Much of the solution hinges on the use of the present tense throughout 3:4-9, compared, for example, with the use of the perfect tense in 1:10 or the aorist in 2:1. The present tense here, it is argued, implies a regular (progressive, continuous) action. However, this need not be the emphasis; indeed, it does not seem to be the emphasis in 3:9c. Moreover, the present tense is also used in 1:8, which weakens the argument based on a supposed distinction in tenses.

Those who take this approach would do better to focus on the use of the substantive participle (with definite article) throughout 3:4-9. This syntax, typical of Johannine style, is used to define believers (or non-believers) according to the action or condition indicated by the verbal expression—e.g., “the one(s) doing {such}…”. This certainly implies a regular and characteristic behavior. However, this very usage ultimately works against the proposed solution. Note, for example, the way that the false believer is characterized as “the (one) sinning” in verse 6; however, the opposite is not stated the same way. Rather, the true believer is characterized as “the (one) remaining in him”, as a result of which, he/she does not sin. Admittedly, the participial expression “the (one) doing the right (thing)” in v. 7 is formally parallel to “the (one) doing the sin” in v. 4, but this does not solve the problem of the language the author uses in vv. 6 and 9.

2. Another common approach is to interpret the author’s teaching in 3:4-9 from a paraenetic and exhortational standpoint. That is to say, the sinlessness language in vv. 6 and 9 represents the ideal for which believers must strive. It is as though when, in verse 6, the author says “every (one) remaining in him does not sin”, he really means “…should not sin”. Again, this would represent sound and practical instruction, and such exhortational emphasis is, indeed, present in verse 3: “Every (one) holding this hope upon him [i.e. upon Christ] purifies himself, even as that (one) [i.e. Christ] is pure”.

However, the author’s emphasis in vv. 4-9 does not seem to be exhortational, but, rather, is theological. He is describing the nature of the true believer, in contrast to that of the false believer, a nature that is defined in relation to their/our union with the Son (Jesus). Since the Son removed sin, and is himself free from sin (vv. 5, 8), the one who abides/remains in him is similarly free from sin (vv. 6, 9). The absoluteness of the statement in v. 9c, in particular, defies the proposed solution. The claim that “the (one) having come to be (born) of God…is not able to sin” goes beyond an exhortation to the believer—it defines what it means to be a true believer.

3. A third interpretative approach understands the sinlessness of the believer (vv. 6, 9) in terms of the power or ability to avoid sin. Believers are not completely free from sin, except insofar as they allow this power to work within them, submitting to its internal guidance. This approach has more to recommend it than the previous two. In particular, the central emphasis, in verse 9, on the “seed” of God that “remains” within the believer, would seem to provide strong support for this line of interpretation. It would be much stronger, however, if verse 9c was worded differently: “…is able not to sin”, rather than “…is not able to sin”. The author’s actual wording (with the negative particle ou preceding dýnatai [“is able”]) suggests that it is not even possible for the true believer to sin.

4. The fourth approach is, in some ways, a variation on #2 (see above), but with an eschatological orientation. Sinlessness is the ideal and goal for the believer, but it is to be realized with the coming of the end. Even the seemingly absolute language in verse 9 could be explained on these terms. It is the eschatological destiny of every true believer to be completely free of sin. While one may currently struggle to avoid sin, and (indeed) may occasionally sin, our sinless perfection will soon be realized, with the return of Christ, when our identity as “those born of God” will be made complete.

The immediate context of vv. 4-9 argues strongly in favor of this interpretive approach. After all, the section opens with an eschatological instruction (2:28-3:3) which includes the idea that, upon the return of Christ, believers will come to be something more than what we currently are (3:2). A sinless perfection, reflecting the Son’s own sinlessness (cf. verse 2 in light of v. 5), certainly could be seen as part of this fully realized identity.

Even so, this eschatological approach to the sin-problem, for all its merit, still falls short and remains unsatisfactory. Its greatest weakness is that it does not do full justice to the author’s language in vv. 4-9, particularly the declarations in verse 9.

Two Alternative Approaches

I would offer two rather different approaches to the ‘sin problem’ in 1 John. These approaches are based, correspondingly, upon the results of our critical study on the idea of sin in the Johannine writings. Each approach is rooted in a distinctive element of the Johannine theological idiom—an idiomatic language of which the author of 1 John makes extensive use. Indeed, this mode of theological expression defines and governs his rhetorical approach. There are, in particular, two components which I would emphasize as being key to understanding the author’s thought regarding sin and the believer:

    • The use of the verb ménœ, and
    • The Johannine dual-layer understanding of sin (hamartía, vb hamartánœ)
1. The use of the verb ménœ

In our studies on 1 Jn 3:4-9, the use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) has been discussed extensively. This verb, which is used in a unique theological sense throughout the Gospel and Letters of John, occurs quite frequently in 1 John (24 times). The greatest concentration of occurrences is in the central division of the letter (2:28-3:24), where ménœ occurs 8 times, but this usage is enhanced when we consider it in the context of the five occurrences of the verb in vv. 24 and 27 (twice in v. 27).

The thrust of the exhortation in this section (see approaches #2 and #4 above) involves the verb ménœ, established by the imperative at the beginning of 2:28: “You must remain [ménete] in him…”. This exhortation is paired with the key occurrences of the verb in 3:6 and 9, the very sin-references which are at issue. Each reference expresses a different aspect of the believer’s union with the Son (and with the Father). In verse 6, the bond of union is described from the believer’s standpoint:

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

The implication seems clear: if the believer remains in the Son, then he/she will not sin. In verse 9, the same point is made (9a), but includes a consideration of the bond from God’s standpoint:

“His [i.e. God’s] seed remains in him,
and (so) he [i.e. the believer] is not able to sin”

Essentially, these central lines from verse 9 (bc) are added to the declaration in verse 6, as may be outlined as follows:

    • “Every (one) having come to be (born) of God does not do sin” (9a)
      • “(in) that His seed remains in him” (9b)
      • “and (so) he is not able to sin” (9c)
    • “(in) that he has come to be (born) of God” (9d)

The subordinate clause of 9d restates the participial expression of 9a (parallel with that of v. 6a). The central lines (bc) are expository; they explain further the situation in line a/d. We may summarize this point as follows: the believer, who has come to be born of God, does not sin, because the seed of God remaining in the believer means that he/she is not able to sin.

How, then, can a believer possibly sin? Only if the believer does not remain in the Son. If the believer remains in the Son, then he/she will not sin. If, however, the believer—in whatever way, or for whatever reason—fails to remain, even temporarily, then it is possible to sin. This approach is not without certain difficulties, which I will be discussing in some detail at a later point. Yet I believe that it offers a solid basis for understanding and explaining the author’s view of sin (in relation to the believer).

2. The two aspects of “sin” in the Johannine writings

In these studies, we have seen how there are two distinctive ways of understanding sin (hamartía, vb hamartánœ) in the Johannine writings:

    1. in the conventional sense of ethical-religious failings and wrongdoings
    2. in the theological (Christological) sense of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God

The Gospel of John, in particular, plays on both of these layers, or aspects, of meaning, giving decided emphasis to the second. From the Johannine standpoint, refusing to trust in Jesus represents the great sin, and, indeed, the true nature of sin (cf. Jn 16:8-9). Yet the two aspects are related. The great sin of unbelief is, in a real sense, the basis for all other sins. This may be understood several ways. Perhaps the clearest example of the relation involves the idea that Jesus’ mission on earth resulted in the removal of sin (Jn 1:29; 1 Jn 3:5, 8). But this is only realized for the believer; if one does not trust in Jesus, then the sin is not removed—indeed, in that case, a person’s sins all remain (Jn 9:41).

I am convinced that the author of 1 John (if he is not the same person as the Gospel writer) has the same dual-layered understanding of sin, and that he also moves between these two aspects of meaning (for the noun hamartía and verb hamartánœ). This dual-meaning may provide the key to solving the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John. It could be stated, simply, as follows: the true believer can sin according to the first aspect of meaning, but not the second. That is to say, the true believer may (occasionally) commit sin in the conventional sense of ethical-religious failure or wrongdoing; however, he/she is not able to sin in the fundamental sense of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus.

The latter understanding of sin should actually be defined more properly in terms of violating the great ‘command’ (or duty, entol¢¡) that is required of all believers. In both the Gospel and First Letter, there is only one such entol¢¡, but it is two-fold, with two components, and so can also be regarded as two entolaí. In the Gospel, this dual ‘command’ is presented primarily in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), and especially in the Vine-illustration section (15:1-17), where the verb ménœ occurs eleven times. This two-fold entol¢¡ effectively defines what it means to remain in the Son (Jesus)—one remains in his word (lógos), and also in his love (agáp¢). I have illustrated this with the following simple diagram:

The only way a believer can fail to remain in the Son is by either failing to remain in his word or in his love.

The author of 1 John evinces a comparable dual-command, a two-fold duty (entol¢¡) that is required of all believers. However, he formulates and frames it somewhat differently. It is presented clearly in 3:23, at the end of the central section (2:28-3:24) of the letter. He defines it as: (1) true/proper trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (2) love for one’s fellow believer, according to Jesus’ own example. The true believer will not, and cannot, violate this dual-command; however, the false believer can (and does) violate it.

The principal theme of 1 John is the contrast between true and false believers. The “antichrist” opponents, whom the author combats (esp. in 2:18-27 and 4:1-6), are false believers, who demonstrate that they possess neither true faith in Christ nor true love. By contrast, the author treats his readers as being among the true believers. This positioning of his audience is actually part of the author’s rhetorical strategy—a position from which he can warn them not to be led astray by the teachings and example of the “antichrists”. It is no coincidence that the central section of 2:28-3:24 is framed by the two “antichrist” sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6). The author exhorts his readers to “remain” in Christ, by remaining rooted in both his “word” (i.e., the truth of the Gospel message regarding Jesus’ identity as the Son) and his “love” (maintaining the bond of unity with other believers).

The very exhortation implies that it is possible for a (true) believer to lapse from this state of “remaining”, at least temporarily, and to be led astray. The focus in 1 John is on being led astray by false believers (who function as false prophets of the end-time). Yet, the true believer will never violate the fundamental entol¢¡ of trust and love. Even if, like Peter, in the Gospel narrative (13:36-37; 18:15-18ff), the believer may lapse into the darkness of sin and doubt, it is possible to be restored into the abiding union (cf. Jn 20:1-6ff; 21), and once again to remain in the Son.

Before bringing this series of studies to a close, and, as a way to test and evaluate the two proposed solutions to the ‘sin problem’ which I have offered above, we shall examine the final sin-passage in 1 John (5:16-18). This we shall do next week.

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

1 John 3:4-9, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us consider each of these, in turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 29: Romans 8:14-17

Romans 8:14-17

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

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

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

Chapter 8, in turn, has the following outline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 3:4-9, continued

Last week, we looked in depth at verses 4-6, including the climactic sin-reference of v. 6. This week we will examine the second unit of the passage (verses 7-9), with its corresponding sin-reference in v. 9.

Verses 7-9

As in the case of vv. 4-6, we may divide this unit into three statements, corresponding to the three numbered verses.

Statement #1 (verse 7):

“(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray: the (one) doing th(at which is) right [dikaiosýn¢] is right [díkaios], even as that (one) is right [díkaios].”

This first statement corresponds with the first statement of vv. 4-6 (in verse 4). In each statement a person is characterized by the Johannine grammatical convention of using a substantive participle (with definite article). Two different kinds of person are differentiated by the contrasting verbal expressions that are used:

    • “the (one) doing [poiœ¡n] the sin [hamartía]” (v. 4)
    • “the (one) doing [poiœ¡n] the right-ness [dikaiosýn¢]” (v. 7)

Sin (hamartía) is contrasted with “right-ness” (dikaiosýn¢). The noun dikaiosýn¢ denotes that which is right (díkaios), in a general or inclusive sense. Both the noun and adjective are used here in verse 7. In a religious context, these terms are usually rendered as “righteous(ness)”, while, in a social or legal setting, they are more properly rendered as “just(ice)”. Both of these contexts are suggested by the explanation of sin as anomía, a condition of being or acting “without law” (ánomos), i.e., “lawlessness” (see the discussion on verse 4 last week). More fundamentally, the contrast is between “that which is right” and “that which is wrong” (i.e., sin).

The noun dikaiosýn¢ is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, compared with its extensive use by Paul; the same is true of the dikaio– word-group as a whole. In the Johannine letters, the noun occurs only in this section (three times, 2:29; 3:7, 10), while similarly it occurs in only one passage (16:8, 10) in the Gospel. The adjective díkaios is somewhat more frequent. In 1 John it is most notable that the use of the adjective follows early Christian tradition, utilizing it as a descriptive characteristic (and title) of Jesus as “(the) righteous (one)” (2:1; cf. Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14). In being righteous, the Son (Jesus) reflects the righteousness of God the Father (1:9; 2:29); as one who is right(eous), the Son does what is right. This is the point made here in v. 7.

The true believer, as one who has been “born of God”, reflects the righteous character of God even as the Son (Jesus) does. The true believer, thus, will similarly “do what is right”, even as the Son “does what is right”. This equation is established in 2:29, and is echoed again here in v. 7. If the true believer does what is right, then the non-believer (and false believer) does what is wrong. Moreover, if sin is defined as being contrary to law (lit. “without law”), as stated in v. 4, then, “right(eous)ness” must similarly be understood as that which follows and fulfills the law.

The Johannine theological interpretation of this ethical-religious language is indicated by the use of both hamartía and dikaiosýn¢ in Jn 16:8-11, one of the ‘Paraclete’ sayings by Jesus in the Last Discourse. When the Spirit comes (as one “called alongside”, parákl¢tos), he will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular (v. 8): sin (hamartía), right(eous)ness (dikaiosýn¢), and judgment (krísis). The true nature of sin is given in verse 9, where it is defined as unbelief—the failure and/or unwillingness to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. The true nature of right(eous)ness, in verse 10, is stated more indirectly, requiring a certain amount of interpretation. While there remains a lack of agreement among commentators, the basic idea seems to be that righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Son, and that, following the completion of his earthly mission, with his exaltation, this identity has been confirmed by his return to the Father. True righteousness is the Divine righteousness of God (the Father), which is also reflected and manifested in the Son.

Statement #2 (verse 8):

“The (one) doing the sin is of the Diabólos, (in) that, from the beginning, the Diabólos sins; unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth—that he might loose [i.e. dissolve] the works of the Diabólos.”

The second statement in vv. 7-9 also corresponds with the second statement of the first unit (vv. 4-6), in v. 5. Both statements refer to the purpose of the Son’s appearance on earth, the mission for which he was sent (by God the Father). In verse 5, the stated purpose is “that he might take away the sin”; here it is “that he might dissolve the works of the Devil”. Sin is thus characterized as the “work of the Devil” —that is, what the Satan (or the Devil) does. This relates to the definition of the true nature of judgment (krísis) in Jn 16:11 (see above). Through the Son’s mission on earth, which he faithfully completed, the world and its ruler (i.e., the Devil), has been judged. Even though the world continues, in the present, to be dominated by darkness and evil, fundamentally opposed to God, it has, in truth, already been judged.

An essential aspect of this judgment is that the power of the world (and of the Devil) has been dissolved, at least for believers in Christ. Sin and evil no longer have any power or control over believers. Being in the Son, united with him, believers now share in his victory over the world (Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5).

The Son, who is present in us through the Spirit (“the [One] in you”, 4:4), frees us from the power of sin and evil. If this dynamic were explained in Pauline terms, we would say that we, as believers, were no longer in bondage to the power of sin. This means that we are no longer compelled to sin, and are able to avoid sin, living in a holy and righteous manner, in conformity to God’s will. However, we are still subject to impulses from the flesh which can prompt us toward sin; these can be resisted and avoided, but they are more or less continually present. It hard to know to what extent the Johannine author(s) may have held a comparable view, regarding sin and the believer. Certain features do seem to have been held in common, though the Johannine writings do not utilize the Pauline concept of the “flesh” as a way of explaining sin.

Statement #3 (verse 9):

“Every (one) having come to be (born) of God does not do sin, (in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him, and (so) he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God.”

The third, climactic, statement, as in verse 6, represents the key statement regarding the relation of the believer to sin. The parallel descriptive expression, again using the Johannine idiom of the substantive participle (with definite article, preceded by the adjective pás [“every”]), characterizes the true believer:

    • “every (one) remaining in Him” (v. 6)
    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God” (v. 9)

This is very much Johannine terminology, particularly the distinctive use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”), as well as the verbal expression gennᜠek (“come to be [born] out of”). The true believer comes to be born from God, and then remains in Him. There are thus two stages to the Divine life of the believer: (1) the birth occurs as the result of trust in Jesus (as God’s Son), followed (2) by an abiding relationship that is realized through the Son. Ultimately, both the birth and the remaining are realized through the presence and activity of the Spirit (Jn 3:5-8; 14:17ff; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13).

Interestingly, both aspects—birth and remaining—are emphasized here in verse 9. The birth imagery dominates, and includes the aspect of remaining: the believer comes to be born out of God, and then, as His offspring, God’s seed (spérma) remains in the believer. Both aspects are integral to the idea of the sinlessness of the believer; note the chiastic arrangement of the verse:

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

Both aspects relate to sinlessness, but it is the central aspect—God’s seed remaining in the believer—which is most relevant, since it refers to the life-time of the believer after he/she has been “born”.

In order to understand these sin-references (and the ‘sin problem’) fully, and correctly, it is necessary to address two key interpretive questions:

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

These questions will be discussed in the next study, as we bring this study of the sin-references in 1 John 3:4-9 to a close.