Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10b)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we examined the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13), in comparison with the Lukan. In particular, along with the first two petitions of the prayer (vv. 9b-10a), Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will come to be [done]”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will come to be”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

The first petition (v. 9b) was examined in the previous study. Here, we must consider the third petition (v. 10b):

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

In the previous study, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)— “May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass (“comes to be”) on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father. Cf. further on 7:21, discussed below.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon. God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., His word or instruction (Torah) which reveals His intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with His own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. Particularly, it expounds the meaning of the Kingdom-petition in v. 10a. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom of God is specifically associated with the “rightness” (or righteousness), dikaiosu/nh, of God. As previously discussed, a reference to the Kingdom of God frames the Beatitudes (5:3, 10). The one who belongs to the Kingdom, and who is able to enter (and inherit) the Kingdom, will be “poor” in their own spirit, devoting themselves, not to self-centered or worldly aims and desires, but to the will of God. For this same reason, those who are part of God’s Kingdom will often be persecuted (lit. pursued, with hostile intent) “on account of what is right” (e%neken dikaiosu/nh$)—that is, because of their desire for God’s righteousness.

At the beginning of the Sermon proper (5:17-20), Jesus associates “what is right” (right[eous]ness, dikaiosu/nh) with the precepts and regulations, etc, of the Torah. The followers of Jesus must exhibit a religious and ethical-moral “rightness” (upright character and conduct) which at least equals that of others who are devoted (religiously) to observing the Torah (vv. 19-20). The Pharisees and “writers” (i.e., scribes, literate persons with [expert] knowledge of the Scriptures) are specifically singled out as examples; even such people, who are not Jesus’ followers, will often exhibit strong religious devotion and upright moral conduct.

Jesus’ followers, however, are called to a right(eous)ness that surpasses the Pharisees’ fidelity to religious and ethical “rightness”. The teaching of Jesus in the Sermon expresses this. For example, in the Antitheses (5:21-48), six areas are addressed relating to the conventional righteousness established from the Torah and religious tradition. In each instance, Jesus requires of his followers that they go a step further. For a discussion on what this entails, see my earlier study on the Antitheses in the series “Jesus and the Law”. Similarly, in 6:1-18, Jesus focuses on three areas of customary religious behavior—acts of mercy (alms), prayer, and fasting—instructing his disciples that their conduct in such matters must focus on the heavenly (viz., the righteousness and will of God in heaven), rather than the earthly (i.e., how things are viewed by other people on earth). This same principle underlies the remainder of the practical instruction in chapter 6, culminating with the command in verse 33:

“You must first seek the kingdom [of God] and its right(eous)ness, and all these (other thing)s will be set toward you (as well).”

Finally, toward the close of the Sermon, Jesus effectively summarizes the teaching regarding the Kingdom, in 7:21 (cf. above):

“Not every(one) saying ‘Lord, Lord’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father th(at is) in the heavens.”

The Kingdom of God is here virtually identified with the will of God, and this confirms the similar close connection between the two in the Lord’s Prayer. The will of God is expressed in the Torah precepts, etc, but also (and more completely) in the teaching of Jesus—such as that preserved in the Sermon. The faithful follower of Jesus fulfills the will of God, and thus demonstrates that he/she belongs to the Kingdom.

This means that there is a strong evangelistic emphasis to the petitions in vv. 9-10. The Kingdom “comes” and God’s will “comes to be” when people throughout the world are following Jesus and his teachings. At the same time, in this regard, there is a vital eschatological component (noted above) that is often overlooked by Christians and students of the Gospels today. The coming of the Kingdom is fundamentally an eschatological event, as is clear from the very beginning of the theme in Matthew (and the Synoptic Tradition). The Kingdom-references in the Sermon, and continuing throughout the Gospel, develop the earlier references in 3:2 and 4:17, 23 par (see the discussion on these).

In the next study, we shall focus on this eschatological aspect of the Kingdom-theme in Matthew. We will start with the Lord’s Prayer (esp. its closing petition[s], v. 13), proceeding then to examine a number of the teachings and references in the following divisions of the Gospel.

June 25: 1 John 3:10 (continued)

1 John 3:10, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 24: 1 John 3:10

1 John 3:10

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

Verse 10 represents the conclusion of the section (2:28-3:10) under examination here. The central theme in this section—viz., the true believer (in contrast to the false) as Divine offspring (te/knon) ‘born’ of God—also finds its fulfillment in this verse. It is presented within the broader theme of the contrast between the true and false believer, as expressed by the eschatological framework established in 2:28-29.

Note, in particular, the use of the adjective fanero/$ (“shining”), in relation to the verb fanero/w (“[make] shine forth”) in 2:28 (and 3:2). This verb came to hold a special eschatological significance among early Christians (e.g., 2 Cor 5:10-11), especially with regard to the end-time appearance of the exalted Christ (see, for example, Col 3:4; 1 Pet 5:4); however, it also could refer to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, with incarnational implications—viz., his appearance (as a human being) on earth (cf. Col 1:26; 1 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 1:10; 1 Pet 1:20; Heb 9:26). Moreover, the eschatological usage could apply to the end-time Judgment, as the moment when a person’s deeds will be brought to light, and it will become apparent who the righteous and the wicked are (1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Eph 5:13).

The Johannine writings generally follow this traditional usage of fanero/w, but adapt it in terms of their distinctive theology. For example, the verb is used in the Gospel in the specific context of the incarnation of the Son, on earth, in the person of Jesus; through the mission of Jesus, his identity as the Son is made manifest—Jn 1:31; 2:11; 17:6; cf. also 7:4, and the references to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in 21:1, 14. The verb is used in a similar way in 1 John—1:2; 3:5, 8 [note]; 4:9 [cp. Jn 3:16]. Then, as discussed in the prior notes on 2:28-29 and 3:1-2, the verb can also be used, specifically, for the end-time appearance (second coming) of the Son (2:28; 3:2). Finally, the Judgment-context is utilized in 2:19, and here in verse 10, following upon the important reference in Jn 3:21.

Even during the end-time period of distress, preceding the Judgment proper, it is becoming apparent (“made to shine forth”) who the true believers are, distinguishing them from the false believers of the world. This is the point made by the author, regarding the “antichrist” opponents, in 2:19 (cf. the context of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6). The very departure of the opponents, away from the Community of true believers (and from the truth), is proof that they never were true believers. Like Judas Iscariot in the Gospel narrative (13:30), the opponents have left the circle of true believers, and have gone out into the darkness of the world.

This is the significance of the adjective fanero/$ here in verse 10. What “shines out” is the distinguishing identification of who is a true believer and who is a false believer—expressed by way of the birth/offspring motif: the offspring of God vs. the offspring of the Devil. This contrast was established in the first two statements of vv. 4-6 and 7-9, respectively. Note the contrast in the first statement, comparing v. 4 with v. 7:

    • “every(one) doing the sin” acts “without law” (i.e., lawlessly)
    • “every(one) doing th(at which is) right” is “right(eous)”, according to the Divine righteousness of the Son

Now, consider the contrast in the second statement (v. 5/8):

    • the believer in Christ is free from sin, according to the sinlessness of the Son
    • “the (one) doing the sin”, by contrast, is a false believer, ‘born’ “of the Devil”

The implications of these statements are brought to fruition in v. 10, bringing out more clearly (following the thematic emphasis in the third statement [v. 6/9]) the birth/offspring motif. There are two main aspects to the contrast: (1) essential identity, and (2) practical manifestation:

    • The true believer:
      • Identity: “the offspring [te/kna] of God”
      • Manifestation:
        “the (one) doing th(at which is) right” =
        ‘the (one) not doing [the] sin’
    • The false believer:
      • Identity: “the offspring [te/kna] of the Devil”
      • Manifestation:
        acting “without law” (viz., doing what is not right) =
        “the (one) doing [the] sin”

The identity is manifest (fanero/$) “in this” (e)n tou=tw|): whether or not one does “what is right” (dikaiosu/nh). As vv. 4-9 makes quite clear, “doing what is right” is essentially equivalent to “not doing the sin”, whereas “not doing what is right” is equivalent to “doing the sin”. The terms dikaiosu/nh and a(marti/a (also the verb a(marta/nw) are thus closely related, and, to a large extent, are interchangeable. For this reason also, it makes relatively little difference whether the expression e)n tou=tw| (“in this”) refers to what precedes (vv. 4-9, specifically v. 9), or to what follows (v. 10b); grammatically, it could refer to either (cf. the discussion by Brown, p. 416).

An overlooked detail here, at the end of verse 10 (and the section 2:28-3:10), is the qualifying phrase “…and the (one) not loving his brother”. Precisely how this relates to the main phrase immediately preceding (“every[one] not doing what is right”) is not entirely clear. Is it to be taken in addition, or as synonymous?—or, perhaps, it is meant as a particularly notable example of what it means to “not do what is right”. I would argue that, from the author’s standpoint, and according to the Johannine theological meaning of the terminology, the phrases are essentially synonymous. However, this requires some further explanation, which I will offer in the next daily note, the final note (in this series) on 1 Jn 2:28-3:10.

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

 

 

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).

June 21: 1 John 3:8

1 John 3:7-9, continued
Statement #2 (verse 8):

“The (one) doing the sin is of [e)k] 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 (kri/si$) in Jn 16:11 (see the discussion in the previous note, and cf. below). 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 (cf. Jn 3:18-19ff; 12:31).

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.

The true believer and the false believer are contrasted, by the terminology used in vv. 7 and 8. The true believer is characterized (and defined) as “the (one) doing the right” (o( poiw=n th\n dikaiosu/nhn), and is the offspring of God (2:29, and here in 3:6 & 9); by contrast, the false believer is “the (one) doing the sin” (o( poiw=n th\n a(marti/an), and is the offspring of the Devil, rather than God. The preposition e)k (“out of”) in the expression e)k tou= diabo/lou (“out of the Devil”) is a kind of shorthand equivalent for genna/w e)k (“come to be [born] out of”). However, the verb genna/w is reserved for the birth of believers (from God), and is not applied to non-believers (or false believers). Also, the ‘birth’ is not the same. In the case of believers, the birth from God is real, even though it is a spiritual (rather than physical) birth; for non-believers (and false believers), the ‘birth’ from the Devil is figurative, referring primarily to the fact that they act like the Devil’s offspring, by doing the kinds of things that the Devil (their ‘father’) does. Cf. John 8:39-47, discussed in a prior note; the point is made at the conclusion of this section (v. 10) as well.

Central to the author’s line of argument is the precise meaning of the contrasted terms dikaiosu/nh (“right-ness, what is right”) and a(marti/a (“sin”). The best guide to the meaning of these terms, within the Johannine theology, is the Paraclete-saying in Jn 16:8-11, mentioned in the previous note. Here is how Jesus (and the Gospel writer) effectively define the terms:

    • “sin” (a(marti/a): a failure and/or refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God (“[in] that they did not trust in me”), v. 9
    • “right(eous)ness” (dikaiosu/nh): a trust in, and confirmation of, Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, manifest by his exaltation and departure back to the Father (“I lead [the way] under [back] to the Father, and you [can] no longer look on me”), v. 10

These definitions differ notably from the conventional ethical-religious sense of “sin” and “righteousness” —viz., wrongdoing, contrasted with devout and morally upright conduct. The Johannine writers accept this conventional understanding of sin and righteousness, but it is secondary to the theological (Christological) meaning. I have discussed the two-fold, or two-layered, understanding of sin (and righteousness) at some length in a recent series of studies. Ultimately, “the right-ness” (or “that which is right”) refers principally, and primarily, to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, and our trust in him. The righteousness is God’s righteousness, which Jesus possesses as His Son. By trusting in the Son, we, as believers, come to share in that righteousness—as the Son is righteous, believers (as God’s offspring) are also righteous. This is the point made in verse 7 (see the previous note).

The same dynamic is at work regarding sin, but in an opposite, negative sense. The “sin” which non-believers (and false believers) commit is that they do not trust in Jesus as God’s Son. They also will tend to sin in the more conventional sense of ethical-religious failures and misdeeds, but their lack of trust in Jesus is primary. In this regard, note particularly the conclusion of the episode in chapter 9 of the Gospel (vv. 35-41), and cf. my earlier study on the passage. This sense of sin also prevails in sections 8:21-47ff of the Sukkot-Discourse.

In a comparable way, believers will act in an upright manner—viz., doing what is right—in a conventional ethical-religious sense. However, trust in Jesus is primary; actually, it would be more correct to define righteousness here in terms of the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers (3:23)—comprising the aspects of trust in Jesus and love for fellow believers (following Jesus’ own example). The true believer fundamentally “does what is right” by fulfilling both aspects of this e)ntolh/, while the false believer does not. It is interesting that the author here extends the essential predication of v. 7 (cf. the previous note), involving believers as the Divine subject, to include the antithesis—that is, with false believers as the subject. Note the contrastive (antithetical) parallelism:

the (one) doing th(at which is) right is [e)stin] righteous / born of God
(combining v. 7 with 2:29)
the (one) doing the sin is [e)stin] (born) of the Devil
(v. 8)

It should be mentioned again that, throughout this section—as, indeed, throughout 1 John as a whole—it is the “antichrist” opponents who, in the mind of the author, fulfill the role of the false believers. When the author speaks of the contrast between true and false believer, he primarily has these opponents in view. There is a definite allusion to this in the words with which the sub-unit opens (v. 7): “(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray…”. The people who might “lead astray” (vb plana/w) his readers are the “antichrist” opponents, as is clear from the conclusion of 2:18-27 (v. 26), and also throughout 4:1-6 (esp. verses 1, 6).

In the next daily note, we will examine the concluding statement of this unit (v. 9), in which the author presents a definitive declaration regarding the relation of believers (as offspring born of God) to sin.

June 20: 1 John 3:7

1 John 3:7-9

As discussed in the previous note, verses 4-9 represent a distinct unit, comprised of two parallel halves. Each sub-unit contains three statements (corresponding to the three verses), that are formally and thematically parallel with those of the other (cf. the outline in the previous note). Verses 4-6 have now been surveyed, including the climactic sin-reference of v. 6. In this note, we will examine the second unit of the passage (verses 7-9), with its corresponding sin-reference in v. 9.

Again, 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 [dikaoisu/nh] is right [di/kaoi$], even as that (one) is right [di/kaio$].”

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 [poiw=n] the sin [a(marti/a]” (v. 4)
    • “the (one) doing [poiw=n] the right-ness [dikaiosu/nh]” (v. 7)

Sin (a(marti/a) is contrasted with “right-ness” (dikaiosu/nh). The noun dikaiosu/nh denotes that which is right (di/kaio$), in a general or inclusive sense. Both the noun and adjective are used here in verse 7. In a religious context, these terms are usually rendered as “righteous(ness)”, while, in a social or legal setting, they are more properly rendered as “just(ice)”. Both of these contexts are suggested by the explanation of sin as a)nomi/a, a condition of being or acting “without law” (a&nomo$), i.e., “lawlessness” (see the discussion on verse 4 in the previous note). More fundamentally, the contrast is between “that which is right” and “that which is wrong” (i.e., sin).

The noun dikaiosu/nh 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 di/kaio$ 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 a(marti/a and dikaiosu/nh in Jn 16:8-11, one of the ‘Paraclete’ sayings by Jesus in the Last Discourse. When the Spirit comes (as one “called alongside”, para/klhto$ [parákl¢tos]), he will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular (v. 8): sin (a(marti/a), right(eous)ness (dikaiosu/nh), and judgment (kri/si$). 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.

The thought expressed here is quite similar to that of 2:29 (discussed in a prior note); indeed, even the wording is similar:

“If you have seen that he is [e)stin] right(eous) [di/kaio$], (then) you know that every(one) doing th(at which is) right [h( dikaiosu/nh] has come to be born out of Him.”

Since the Son of God (Jesus) is, in nature and character, righteous, implicitly he will do what is right; similarly, believers, as the offspring/children of God, will follow the pattern/example of the Son, and will likewise regularly do what is right. The converse also holds: the one who does what is right, like the Son, must be a child of God.

In our discussion on 2:29, I mentioned how the verse contains an example of Johannine essential predication, with the Son (Jesus) as the Divine subject: “{subject implied} | he is [e)stin] | right(eous) [di/kaio$]” —with the adjective di/kaio$ functioning as a substantive predicate nominative. A similar predicative statement occurs here in 3:7, but with the (true) believer as the Divine subject (viz., the offspring/child of God):

“the (one) doing th(at which is right) | is [e)stin] | right(eous) [di/kaio$]”

The believer (as the subject) is expressed by the substantive verbal noun (participial) phrase, stated in typical Johannine fashion (cf. above), “the (one) doing th(at which is right)” (o( poiw=n th\n dikaiosu/nhn). Moreover, here the two predicative statements are combined, showing how the believer’s right-ness relates to that of Jesus (the Son):

    • “the one doing that which is right | is | right(eous)”
    • just as “that one [i.e. the Son/Jesus] | is | right(eous)

If the Son of God (Jesus) is righteous, then any other true child/offspring of God (i.e., believer) also is righteous. The proof that a person is a true believer (and thus a child born of God) is that he/she does (vb poie/w), as a matter of personal character (reflected in regular conduct), “that which is right” (or, “the right-ness”, h( dikaiosu/nh). As the essential predication implies, this “right-ness” is a Divine right-ness, a Divine characteristic and attribute, shared by both God the Father and the Son. It is specifically contrasted with “the sin” (or, “th[at which is] sin”, h( a(marti/a), which is characteristic of the false believer (and the non-believer), not the true believer. This will be examined further in the next daily note, on verse 8.

 

 

 

 

June 19: 1 John 3:4-6

1 John 3:4-6

Verses 4-9 form a distinct unit, within the section of 2:28-3:10 and the division 2:28-3:24 as a whole. The verses have been carefully constructed, as evidenced by the formal and thematic parallelism between vv. 4-6 and 7-9. There are three statements in each of these sub-units (corresponding to the three verses), with a definite 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 principal theme involves the relation of the believer to sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw). In many ways, this section expounds upon 2:28-3:3, particularly with regard to the positive exhortations, indicating that the true believer “does what is right” (2:29) and also “makes himself/herself pure” (3:3). These statements are formulated using the familiar Johannine syntax of a substantive verbal noun (participle) with the definite article, preceded by the comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“every”). The author of 1 John regularly uses this formula as a way of defining what it means to be a (true) believer. Note the usage here:

    • “every(one) doing the right (thing)” [2:29]
      pa=$ o( poiw=n th\n dikaiosu/nh
    • “every(one) holding this hope…makes himself holy [or, keeps himself pure]” [3:3]
      pa=$ o( e&xwn th\n e)lpi/da tau/thna(gni/zei e(auto/n

The overarching theme of these verses is that of believers as the offspring (te/kna) of God, children “having come to be (born) of” (vb genna/w + e)k) Him. If the true believer, the child of God, “does what is right” and seeks to become/remain pure, then the opposite is surely true as well: he/she does not sin. This is the point made so boldly by the author in vv. 4-9—particularly by the concluding statements in vv. 6 and 9. And yet, these statements, to the effect that the true believer does not (and cannot) sin, would seem to be in stark contradiction to the earlier discussion in 1:5-2:2, where the author clearly indicates that believer can (and does occasionally) sin. The same apparent contradiction is found in 5:16-18.

I have discussed this famous “sin-problem” in earlier notes and articles—most recently, in a series of studies on 3:4-9. Verses 4-6 were specifically discussed in one of these studies, and the comments below represent an adaptation and abridgement of that study.

As mentioned above, the unit of vv. 4-6 is comprised of three statements, corresponding to each of the designated verses:

Statement 1 (verse 4):

“Every (one) doing the sin also does the lawless (thing); indeed, the sin is the lawless (thing).”

The author utilizes the same syntactical expression noted above—substantive participle with definite article, preceded by the adjective pa=$ (“every”): “every (one) doing the sin”. This describes the nature and character of a certain type of individual, or group. It will become clear that it designates the opposite of the true believer, though this has not yet been established explicitly within the author’s line of argument.

The thrust of the statement is the identification of “sin” (lit. “the sin”, h( a(marti/a) with “lawlessness” (lit. “the lawless [thing]”, h( a)nomi/a), that which is “without law” (a&nomo$). I have discussed this identification elsewhere, along with the use of a)nomi/a (and a&nomo$) elsewhere in the New Testament. This is the only occurrence of a)nomi/a in the Johannine writings. The author would seem to be drawing upon two fundamental aspects of the term, as it is understood and used by early Christians. The first aspect highlights the idea of opposition to the law (no/mo$) of God. This can refer to immorality and “lawlessness” generally; however, I believer that the author is making use of the noun here in order to prepare his audience for the theme that will dominate verses 11-24: that of fulfilling the duty (or ‘command’, e)ntolh/) that is required of all (true) believers. The legacy of the Old Covenant, emphasizing obedience to the regulations and commands of the Torah (the Law), informs the author’s wording. The person who is “without law” disregards the e)ntolh/ of God, and even comes to oppose it—like the opponents who are called “antichrist” (against the Anointed).

The second aspect is eschatological. In early Christian eschatological tradition, the noun a)nomi/a designates the wickedness of the end-time, with its opposition to God and distortion of the truth. The eschatological context of our passage was established in 2:29-3:3 (see the discussion in prior notes on 2:28-29 and 3:1-2).  Almost certainly, the author has in mind, primarily, the false views of the opponents, whom he refers to as “antichrists” of the end-time; note how the “antichrist” sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6), describing the opponents and their view of Christ, frames the central section of 2:28-3:24. It is unlikely that the author would use the loaded term a)nomi/a here without having the sin of the opponents fully in view. The opponents are the principal example of the would-be believer who sins: “the (one) doing the sin”.

Statement 2 (verse 5):

“And (yet) you have seen [i.e. know] that that (one) was made to shine forth (so) that he might take (away) sin—and there is not (any) sin in him.”

In this second statement, sin is related to the person of the Son (Jesus Christ), referred to simply by the demonstrative pronoun e)kei=no$ (“that [one]”, also in verse 3). There are two components to this double-statement: (1) the earthly mission of the Son was to “take away” (vb ai&rw) sin, and (2) there is not any sin in him. The connection of the first component to the ‘Lamb of God’ declaration in Jn 1:29 was discussed in an earlier study. The Son both removes sin (for believers), and is himself free of sin.

The interpretative key for this verse—the center of vv. 4-6—is the closing prepositional expression “in him” (e)n au)tw=|), that is, “in the Son”, “in Christ”. There is a dual-meaning to the use of this expression, in context. On the one hand, it means that Jesus Christ himself has no sin. At the same time, it also alludes to the condition of the believer who is “in him”. If there is no sin “in him”, then anyone who is “in him” will also be free of sin. This is an essential principle to keep in mind when considering the idea of the believer’s sinlessness.

Statement 3 (verse 6):

“Every (one) remaining in him does not sin; (while) every (one) sinning has not seen him, and has not known him.”

The initial phrase is parallel with that of verse 4 (see above); note the contrastive (antithetical) juxtaposition:

    • “Every (one) doing the sin…”
    • “Every (one) remaining in him…”

The participial expression “doing the sin” is more or less synonymous (if not equal) to the participle “sinning” here in v. 6b. We can fill out the comparative thought in vv. 4 and 6a as follows:

    • “Every (one) sinning (does what is lawless)”
    • “Every (one) remaining in him does not sin”

Thematically, it is possible to combine the phrases of these statements, treating them as a chiasm:

    • sinning
      • acting “without law”
        (the false believers, i.e. the opponents)
      • remaining in Christ
        (the true believers)
    • does not sin

The second half (b) of verse 6 is easy to understand: the person characterized by sin (“the [one] sinning”) is not, and cannot, be a true believer. The interpretive difficulty is found in the first half (a). Much depends on the force of the phrase “does not sin” (ou)k a(marta/nei): does this mean “does not ever sin” or “does not regularly sin”? Some commentators simply assume the latter; indeed, certain English translations (such as the ESV) actually build this line of interpretation into their translation: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning”; similarly, for example, in verse 4, “Every one who makes a practice of sinning”.

I find such an overly-interpretive translation to be quite irresponsible; yet the interpretive approach itself is not without merit. As discussed above, the use of the substantive participle characterizes a person or group—indicating one’s essential nature and, we may assume, regular behavior as well. It goes without saying that a true believer would not be characterized by sinful behavior, persistent immoral conduct, and the like. But is that what the author is emphasizing here in verse 6? It seems unlikely, given the parallel statements in verse 9:

    • “Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do sin”
    • “indeed he is not able to sin, (in) that [i.e. because] he has come to be (born) of God”

In the next daily note, we will examine verses 7-9, comparing the author’s line of argument in that discourse-unit with the earlier unit of vv. 4-6. In so doing, we will begin to gain a greater understanding of how the author views the relation between the true believer (offspring “born of God”) and sin.

June 14: 1 John 2:29

1 John 2:29

As discussed in the previous daily note, the Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God was introduced in 1 John at the beginning the central division of the work (2:28-3:24), as the author addresses his audience tekni/a, “(my) dear offspring…”, or “little children…”. It is in the central division that the author most clearly expounds his primary theme—that of the contrast between true and false believers.

The author’s message also has a strong eschatological orientation, as is clear from the references in 2:28 to Jesus’ being “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), and his “(com)ing to be alongside” (parousi/a). Both of these terms are part of the early Christian eschatological vocabulary, referring to the end-time (second) coming of Jesus. Like virtually all first-century Christians, the author of 1 John held an imminent eschatology, as is clear from the wording throughout—particularly in 2:18: “Little children, this is the last hour…”. The author believed that he and his audience were living at the end of the current Age, a period which traditionally was thought to represent a time of great distress (qli/yi$, Dan 12:1 LXX, Mark 13:19, 24 par; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rev 1:9; 7:14), when the forces of darkness and evil were particularly active and intense. This evil activity includes the presence of false prophets (and false messiahs) who would lead humankind astray (Mk 13:22 par; Matt 24:11; cf. 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1); even believers are not completely safe from their deceptions. The opponents, whose views and teachings are the focus of the author’s warnings, are called “antichrists” (2:18ff; 4:3; 2 Jn 7) and are regarded as false prophets of the end-time (4:1-6), capable of leading other Christians astray.

The exhortations and warnings in 2:28-3:24 have the same eschatological context. The emphasis on remaining in Christ—and in the truth of the Gospel regarding who Jesus is (and what he did)—is particularly urgent, given the malevolent influence of the “antichrist” opponents. The opponents have departed from the truth, holding false views regarding Jesus Christ, and are thus false believers (and also false prophets). The author encourages his audience to remain in the truth; if they do, then they will not be led astray, and will show themselves to be true believers—those who have been ‘born’ of God as His offspring.

This birth/offspring imagery is particularly emphasized in the first section (2:28-3:10), where the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna) and the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”, + e)k “out of”) occur multiple times. Following the use of the diminutive tekni/a in verse 28, the term te/kna (the first occurrence in 1 John) follows in 3:1, being preceded by the genna/w + e)k idiom in v. 29:

“If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (then) you know that also every(one) doing (what is) right [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of [e)k] Him.”

This is the first instance in 1 John where believers in Christ—that is, true believers—are defined as those “having come to be (born) out of God”. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle), with the definite article, reflects a typical Johannine manner of expression. It is a way of describing a person (or group) according to a characteristic attribute or behavior—viz., “the one(s) doing/being {such}…”. When the verb is genna/w, it is typically used in the perfect tense: “the (one[s]) having coming to be (born)”. The perfect tense usually indicates a past action (or state), the effect/results of which continue into the present. This aspect of continuing is reinforced, in the Johannine theological idiom, by use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

Two points are made regarding believers as the offspring of God here in v. 29. The first point is expressed by the first phrase: “If you have seen that he is right(eous)…”. The subject of the verb e)stin (“he is”) is ambiguous, but, given the point of reference in v. 28, it can only refer to Jesus Christ (the Son). Moreover, Jesus was specifically identified by the same adjective (as a substantive title) in 2:1, “(the) Right(eous one)”, an appellation which appears to have been a traditional designation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. Lk 23:47). The true believer sees/knows who Jesus is—namely, that, as the Messiah and Son of God, he is the Righteous One, acting in accordance with what is right (dikaiosu/nh). This is part of what it means to have a genuine trust in Jesus.

If the first phrase sets the condition (protasis, “if…”), the remainder of the verse states the apodosis (“then…”): “then you know that every(one) doing (what is) right…”. The second point thus is: the true believer, following the example of Jesus himself (see v. 6), does what is right. If the Son does what is right, then believers, as the offspring/children of God, will also do what is right.

The noun dikaiosu/nh, with the definite article, denotes “the right (thing)”, or “th(at which) is right”, “what is right”; it should be understood in a collective or comprehensive sense (“right-ness”), rather than referring to a specific right deed. Again, the use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) indicates behavior that is characteristic of the believer: “the (one) doing…” (o( poiw=n). It is characteristic of the true believer that he/she “does what is right”. The author does not here indicate to his readers precisely what it means, in a practical sense, to “do what is right”. Doing right certainly would include the range of traditional religious-ethical conduct (cf. the context of 1:5-2:2ff), but the Johannine writings tend to express this, for believers, in a very particular way. The ethic of the believer in Christ is realized (and expressed) in terms of the Johannine theology—something that the author develops, in particular, throughout 2:28-3:24.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the birth/offspring theme in 2:28-3:10, examining 3:1.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 94 (Part 2)

Psalm 94, continued

Wisdom Couplets (verses 12-15)

The four Wisdom couplets in vv. 12-15 parallel those in vv. 8-11 (discussed in Part 1). The first set of couplets addressed the wicked (who are fools), while the second addresses the righteous (i.e., the wise).

Verse 12

“(O the) happiness of (the) strong (one) when you discipline him,
O YH(WH), and from your Instruction you teach him.”

This first couplet addressing the wise/righteous takes the form of a beatitude, utilizing the plural construct yr@v=a^ (“[the] happy [thing]s of…”) as an intensive interjection: viz., “O (the) happiness of…!”. It is typically translated “blessed is…” or “blessed be…”. The beatitude formula occurs frequently in the Psalms, most notably in Psalm 1 (see the earlier study). As I discuss in a separate note, the happiness (or blessedness) indicated in the beatitude formula refers to one who obtains the blessed afterlife (with God) in heaven. While the wicked are merely left with the emptiness of their brief life on earth (v. 11), the righteous will experience a blessed life after death.

However, the blessedness begins for the righteous even in this life, as they have the good fortune of being taught by YHWH, from the Divine Instruction (hr*oT) which He has given to His people. The righteous are willing to be taught, even when it involves sometimes painful discipline (vb rs*y`) and correction. The noun rb#G# denotes a strong/mighty person, though sometimes it is used more generally, as referring to an(y) able-bodied male. It is presumably being used here in a generic sense, though one should not ignore the etymological force of rbg; the righteous are made strong, able, and skilled (like a warrior) through the discipline and and instruction provided by YHWH.

Verse 13

“(It is) to give rest for him from (the) days of evil,
while for (the) wicked is dug a (pit of) ruin!”

The Instruction from YHWH, and the blessedness it brings, results in a place quiet and rest (vb fq^v*, Hiphil) from the “days of evil”. Again the blessed afterlife is primarily in view, but the imagery can also apply to happiness and blessedness for the righteous in this life. By contrast, the wicked have only death and the grave to look forward to. The noun tj^v^ literally means “ruin, corruption”, but is often applied more concretely to a grave or “pit” in which a person goes to ruin. There is almost certainly an intentional bit of alliterative wordplay here, between the verb fq^v* (š¹qa‰) and tj^v^ (šaµa¾).

A contrast between the righteous and the wicked (and their respective fates) is found frequently in the Psalms, the theme drawing heavily in this regard upon Wisdom tradition. It is very much part of the beatitude in Psalm 1, just as it is here.

The meter of this couplet is slightly extended, 4+4. Also, I should note that it is possible (and perhaps preferable) to read verse 13 gramatically as a continuation of v. 12: “…you teach him, (in order) to give rest to him…”.

Verse 14

“For (surely) YHWH does not cast away His people,
and His inheritance does not leave behind.”

The faithfulness of YHWH, to the covenant-bond with His people, is implied here. However, in the Wisdom context of these verses, with the focus on the righteous, we should understand the reference to God’s people in this ethical-religious (rather than an ethno-religious) sense. YHWH will not abandon His people, insofar as they remain faithful to the covenant, and to His Instruction.

The initial yK! particle is emphatic. Metrically, this couplet is slightly irregular (4+3).

Verse 15

“Indeed, the ruling-seat of righteousness returns judgment,
and following after it (are) all (the) straight of heart.”

The interpretation of this closing couplet is difficult. If the word du in the first line is (as most commentators and translators take it) the preposition du^ (“until, unto”), then the line would mean something like: “indeed, unto righteousness (right) judgment returns”. That is to say, for the righteous, as a result of their righteousness, YHWH’s ruling judgment is to their benefit (and blessedness); a reference to the afterlife judgment would fit the contextual background of the beatitude-form (see above).

However, I am inclined to follow Dahood (II, p. 349, also p. 81f) in seeing du here as another (rare) example of a separate root indicating “throne, throne-room, royal pavilion” (HALOT, p. 788; cf. Ps 89:38[37] and the earlier note on this verse). The expression “throne [du] of righteousness” provides a suitable (contrastive) parallel with “throne [aS@K!] of corruption” in verse 20.

Ultimately, it is best to see this verse in parallel with the previous verse 14, referring to YHWH’s role in relation to the righteous. He takes His seat of rule as Sovereign over humankind, and renders judgment. The righteous (“[those] straight of heart”) follow His judgment, even as they have followed His instruction (see above), and it is favorable for them, leading to their blessedness.

Prayer for Deliverance (verses 16-21)

This section corresponds to the lament in vv. 3-11 (see the discussion of these verse, and the chiastic outline for the Psalm, in the previous study [Part 1]). This pairing of lament + prayer for deliverance is typical of many Psalms. Here, it also continues the theme of contrast between the righteous and wicked. The protagonist prays specifically for YHWH to rescue him (i.e., the righteous) from the wicked.

Verse 16

“Who will stand up for me against (those) doing evil?
Who takes his stand for me against (those) making trouble?”

The motif of standing up (vb <Wq) and taking one’s stand (vb bx^y`, Hitpael) here has a dual-meaning. On the one hand, the theme of YHWH as Judge continues from verse 15—i.e., YHWH stands in judgment, on behalf of the righteous, and against the wicked. At the same time, standing against (prep. <u!) an opponent can imply a military action, and such imagery is frequently used in Psalms, in the context of the protagonist’s prayer for deliverance. The Psalmist presents the matter here as a rhetorical question: “who will stand up…?” The implication is that he has no one to stand up for him against the wicked, apart from YHWH.

The wicked are referred to by a pair of common substantive participles (the latter being a participial expression), indicating their characteristic behavior: <yu!r@m= (“[one]s doing evil”) and /w#a* yl@u&P) (“doers/makers of trouble,” “[one]s making trouble”, i.e. trouble-makers).

Verse 17

“If it were not (that) YHWH (was the) help for me,
in a little (while) would dwell my soul in silence.”

Only YHWH can provide help (hr*z+u#) for the Psalmist. If YHWH were not there to help (a condition indicated by the negative particle al@Wl), then it would not be long (fu^m=K!, “in a little [while]”) before the wicked would destroy him, sending his soul to “(the place of) silence” (hm*WD). On this expression as an idiom for death and the grave, cf. Psalm 115:17. Dahood (II, p. 347f) suggests that hm*WD here is better explained in relation to the Akkadian dimtu and Ugartic dmt, “fortress, tower”, which would mean that a different image is being employed—viz., the realm of death as a fortress in which one is imprisoned.
Some commentators explain hmd (hmdk) in Ezek 27:32 as having a similar meaning, i.e., Tyre as a mighty fortress/tower in the midst of the sea; cf. M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 22A (1997), p. 562f.

Verse 18

“If I were to say, ‘My foot is slipping!’
your loyal devotion, YHWH, supports me.”

The Psalmist here expresses his confidence in the help that YHWH provides, that it will come in time, and as needed. The moment he realizes that his foot is slipping (vb fom), YHWH is right there to support him (vb du^s*). This support is an expression of God’s ds#j#—a regular term meaning “goodness, kindness”, which (as I have frequently noted), in the context of the covenant, connotes faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. It indeed carries this meaning (i.e., covenant loyalty) in most of the Psalms. Another regular theme in the Psalms is of the protection which the faithful/righteous ones can expect from YHWH, as part of His obligation to the covenant bond.

Verse 19

“Among (the) multitude of impassioned (thought)s in my heart,
your comforting (word)s give delight to my soul.”

A different sort of help given by YHWH is expressed here, in this rather more prosaic couplet. The plural noun <yP!u^r=c^ is usually explained as a byform of <yP!u!c= with an inserted (epenthetic?) letter r (cf. also Psalm 139:23). The root [uc denotes the presence of passionate thoughts/feelings (cf. Job 4:13; 20:2). In the first line, the Psalmist describes a situation where there are a multitude of passionate thoughts within him. The noun br#q# denotes something close/near; in such an anthropological context, it refers to the nearest/inmost part of a person, which here, for poetic concision, I have translated as “heart” (“in my heart”).

In the midst of such turbulent passions—thoughts and feelings—YHWH gives comfort to the Psalmist. The plural of the noun <Wmjn+T^ (from the root <jn) is used to express this. The plural form (“comforts”) could indicate comforting words, or actions; I have opted for the former, as a counterbalance to the impassioned thoughts/feelings within the Psalmist. The idea of YHWH speaking also continues the theme of instruction from vv. 12-15 (see above).

Verse 20

“Can a throne of corruption be allied with you,
(or one) fashioning trouble upon an inscribed (decree)?”

The language and imagery of this couplet is rather difficult to decipher. What seems clear is that it continues the contrast of the righteous and wicked. The righteous are aligned with the throne of YHWH (a “royal-seat of righteousness”), being obedient to His instruction and sovereign judgments (see verse 15, above). The wicked, by contrast, are aligned with a separate “throne of corruption”, which cannot be joined or allied with the throne of YHWH’s righteousness. The noun hW`h^ could be read as two different nouns: (I) connoting evil desire, or (II) meaning “destruction, disaster”. The latter is related to cognate words in Syriac and Arabic referring to the “pit” or “abyss” (of death and the nether-realm, etc); this is fitting in light of the wording used in verse 13 (see above). In keeping with this parallel with tj^v^ (in v. 13), I have translated hW`h^ here as “corruption”.

The second line is more difficult to explain. I have retained the MT without emendation or re-vocalizing (cp. Dahood, II, p. 350). Parallelism with the first line suggests the figure of a ruler (on the “throne of corruption”) who inscribes wicked decrees (“upon an inscribed [decree]”). By these evil decrees, the wicked human leaders of this world are fashioning (vb rx^y`) trouble (lm*u*); compare the wording in verse 16 (see above).

Verse 21

“They band together against (the) soul of (the) righteous,
and (the) blood of (one) clear (of guilt) they treat wickedly.”

Though these wicked leaders cannot be aligned with YHWH and His righteousness, there are able to join together, with each other; and, in their wickedness, they end up attacking the righteous. The verb dd^G` II seems to have, as its basic meaning, the idea of people moving together (the cognate Arabic jannada means “mobilize”, cf. HALOT, p. 177). The sense is of people banding together for a hostile purpose (cf. Psalm 56:7[6]; cp. 59:4[3]). The description of evil world-leaders (v. 20) gathering together against the righteous reminds one of the opening lines of Psalm 2.

The righteous person is “clear” (yq!n`) of guilt; that is, he/she has done nothing worthy of being condemned and attacked. The righteous are innocent in this regard, and their “blood” (i.e., their lives) are sacrosanct, and should be protected. The wicked, however, treat the innocent blood of the righteous in a wicked fashion, implying violent action. It is this hostile intent which prompts the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH, asking for His protection and deliverance.

Conclusion (verses 22-23)

Verse 22

“And (so) may YHWH be for me as my place up high,
even my Mighty (One) as (the) Rock of my refuge!”

The conclusion of the Psalm corresponds with the invocation (in vv. 1-2), where the Psalmist calls on YHWH to stand and render judgment, punishing the the wicked for their evil deeds. The same basic idea prevails here in the concluding lines, but adapted to reflect the themes of the previous sections—most notably the language and imagery in vv. 16-21. The Psalmist expects an answer to his prayer for deliverance, that he will be protected and rescued (by YHWH) from the wicked adversaries who threaten him.

The initial w-consecutive verb form could be rendered as past tense, suggesting that YHWH has already acted on the Psalmist’s behalf. This is a valid way of reading the text; however, I believe it is better to treat this verb as a precative (comparable to a precative perfect form), expressing the Psalmist’s wish (and expectation) in terms of something that has already happened.

The locative nouns bG`c=m! and hs#j&m^ both allude to the protection that YHWH provides for the righteous. The first term denotes a “place set up high”, protected and difficult to access; the second means “protected place” or “place of refuge”. Both terms occur with some frequency in the Psalms, part of the broader theme of Divine protection as a reflection of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant. This protected place “up high” fits nicely with the motif of YHWH as a “Rock” (rWx); the same image also serves to represent the faithfulness of God.

Verse 23

“And may He return upon them their trouble,
and in their evil may He destroy them,
may He destroy them, YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The Psalm ends with an imprecation, calling upon YHWH to bring judgment upon the wicked, just as the Psalmist does in the opening invocation (v. 2). This judgment reflects true justice, according to the principle of lex talionis. The Psalmist asks YHWH to “return” upon the wicked the trouble that they have caused (“their trouble”, cf. verses 16 and 20). The idea is that their own actions will come back upon them, being punished for their evil deeds in like measure, and in like manner.

Beyond this, the Psalmist calls on God to “destroy” (vb tm^x*) the wicked, even as they are engaged in their evil conduct (“in their evil”). This double-call for YHWH to destroy the wicked may seem quite harsh and disconcerting to modern readers (esp. Christian readers), but it is altogether typical of ancient imprecatory language and conventions, of which there are many examples in the Psalms (and throughout the Old Testament). The Psalmist expects, and hopes, that judgment will finally come for the wicked. Though they may have prospered during this life (vv. 3-7), God’s justice and judgment ultimately cannot be flaunted or escaped; the wicked will pay the price for their evil conduct, especially for the oppression and violence inflicted upon the righteous—including all manner of injustice against the innocent, poor, and vulnerable members of society.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

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.