“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 8:28)

John 8:28

The next Johannine “son of man” saying is found in 8:28. The depth and complexity of the great Sukkot-Discourse (chapters 7-8 [excluding 7:53-8:11]) creates many challenges for commentators. As in the case of the Last (Farewell) Discourse (13:31-16:33), the Sukkot-Discourse is properly a Discourse-complex, comprised of a number of shorter, interconnected Discourse-sections. For each such section, the typical pattern for the Johannine Discourses is generally followed:

    • Principal statement/saying by Jesus
    • Response by his hearers, reflecting a misunderstanding of the true meaning of his words
    • Exposition by Jesus

The Discourse-section containing the “son of man” saying is 8:21-30. The principal saying by Jesus occurs in verse 21:

“I lead (myself) under—and you will seek (for) me, but you will die away in your sin!
(The place) where I lead (myself) under, you are not able to come (there).”

The verb u(pa/gw means “lead under”, i.e., go under cover, put (oneself) out of sight, be hidden, etc. It can be used in the very general sense of “go away”, but it would be rather misleading to translate it so here; it is important to preserve the aspect of being “under cover”, i.e., not able to be seen. The verb is used with frequency in the Gospel of John, and often in the special Christological sense of the Son’s departure back to God the Father (in heaven). That is how the verb is being used here in the Sukkot-Discourse (8:21-22, cf. earlier in 7:33; 8:14), anticipating a similar usage in the Last Discourse (13:3, 33, 36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 16).

Those who hear Jesus’ words without trusting in him—or, even worse, in hostile opposition to him—will not be able to follow him to God the Father in heaven. Indeed, they will die off in their sin, and will have no experience of the Divine (eternal) life that comes through trust in Jesus.

This is the thrust of Jesus’ saying. In the remainder of the Discourse-section, the pattern of Response/Exposition is repeated, producing a dialogue exchange. The first response by Jesus’ hearers is in verse 22; clearly they have not understood the meaning of his words, which he then restates, expounding the saying with greater Christological clarity:

“You are of the (thing)s below, (but) I am of the (thing)s above; you are of this world, (but) I am not of this world. So I said to you that you will die away in your sins—for, if you would not trust that I am [e)gw/ ei)mi], (then) you shall die away in your sins.” (vv. 23-24)

Jesus’ hearers cannot follow him to the Father (in heaven) because they do not belong to the Divine/heavenly things (“the [thing]s above [a&nw]”), but belong, rather, to the things below [ka/tw], in “this world”. This above/below contrast is part of the Johannine dualistic manner of thought and expression. Believers are “from above” (3:3ff), having come to be born from above, from the Spirit of God. On the contrast between believers and “the world” (o( ko/smo$), cf. throughout the Last Discourse, and also the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (where the noun ko/smo$ occurs 18 times); the theme also features prominently in 1 John (2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1-5, 17; 5:4-5, 19).

Verse 24 contains an “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) saying by Jesus, an example of the essential predication that occurs throughout the Gospel (and Letters) of John. This, however, is one of the few instances where a predicate nominative is omitted, leaving only the Divine subject (Jesus, “I”) and verb of being (ei)mi). There are three such occurrences in the Sukkot-Discourse—here in v. 24, again in verse 28 (see below), and finally, at the conclusion, in verse 58: “Before Abraham’s coming to be [gene/sqai], I am [e)gw/ ei)mi]”. The lack of a predicate nominative places the emphasis squarely on the verb of being, which, here in verse 58, is contrasted with the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). This is an important theological distinction, reflecting the way that the Johannine writings tend to distinguish the verb of being from that of becoming. The verb of being tends to be applied to God (or to a Divine subject), as is reflected by the essential predication formula. By contrast, the verb of becoming properly applies to created (human) beings. Humans come to be, but only God is. The distinction between ei)mi and gi/nomai is most notable in the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). The other absolute “I am” saying is found in 13:19.

Thus, for Jesus to say simply “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi), it represents the ultimate attribution of Deity (on the Old Testament background for this Divine self-predication, see, e.g., Exod 3:14; 6:7; 7:5; Isa 43:25; 45:18; 51:12; 52:6; Hos 13:4; Joel 2:27; cf. the summary in Brown, pp. 533-8)—a point that Jesus’ opponents clearly recognized, based on their response (v. 59, compare 5:18). It is therefore strange that so many commentators are unwilling (or reluctant) to read the simple e)gw/ ei)mi here in v. 24 (and 28) the same way. This will be discussed further on verse 28, below.

Another exchange, between Jesus and his hearers, occurs in vv. 25-26. Jesus’ claim that he belongs to “the (thing)s above”, and that he is “not of this world”, leads them to ask “who are you? [su\ ti/$ ei@]”. Again, the use of the verb of being here is significant, even if the speakers do not understand its significance (in the Johannine context). The question represents the very essence of the Johannine Gospel—the identity of Jesus, who he is. As direct as the question might be, Jesus will not give to them a direct answer—at least, not in wording that they would clearly understand. Indeed, the Greek phrasing Jesus employs is suitably ambiguous; in answer to the question “who are you”, he replies:

“The beginning, that which even I speak to you.”
th\n a)rxh\n o% ti kai\ lalw= u(mi=n

For a concise summary of the various ways this line has been interpreted, see Brown, pp. 347-8; von Wahlde, p. 382. The most plausible explanation is (to paraphrase): “What I have been saying to you from the beginning”. However, it is possible to read it in an even more banal way, as an expression of frustration by Jesus: “Why do I even speak to you at all?”. Whatever the intended surface meaning to be conveyed by Jesus, there can be no real doubt that the statement contains a much deeper theological meaning—one which echoes the opening words of the Prologue—identifying Jesus as “the beginning”, i.e., as the Word/Wisdom (and Son) of God who was with the Father “in the beginning”. On this theological use of a)rxh/, couched in the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), cf. 1 John 1:1 and 2:13-14 (cp. 2:7, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 Jn 5-6).

The message regarding his identity is central to his mission, the purpose for which God the Father sent Jesus (the Son) to earth. Having come from God the Father, having been with Him from the beginning, Jesus naturally speaks the very words of God (v. 26):

“I hold many (thing)s about you to speak and to judge, but the (One hav)ing sent me is true, and I speak to the world the (thing)s that I (have) heard alongside Him.”

Not surprisingly, Jesus’ ambiguous and provocative answer leads to another response by his hearers (v. 27), presented by the Gospel writer as a simple summary, to the effect that “they did not know that he said (this) to them (about God) the Father”. This expression of their lack of understanding prompts Jesus to offer a further exposition of his words:

“When you would lift up high [u(ywshte] the son of man, then you will know that I am [e)gw/ ei)mi], and (that) from myself I do nothing—but (rather), just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these (thing)s.” (v. 28)

The initial statement of verse 28 is a “son of man” saying that resembles (and echoes) the earlier one in 3:14:

“And, just as Moshe lifted high [u%ywmen] the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the son of man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai].”

This saying informs the use of the expression “the son of man” here, and so the earlier study (on 3:14) must be consulted.

As noted above, commentators have been strangely unwilling to recognize the ‘absolute’ use of “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) here in verse 28 (and in v. 24, cf. above), in spite of its clear use in v. 58. Many translators render e)gw/ ei)mi here as “I am he”, either as a reference to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, or as “the Son of Man”. According to this line of interpretation, Jesus is using the expression “the son of man” here as a Divine (or Messianic) title, referring to the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14. The translation of the first part of the verse, then would be:

“When you lift up high the Son of Man, (then) you will know that I am he…”

In my view, such a reading is wholly incorrect and thoroughly distorts the Johannine theological (and Christological) message here in the Gospel. The expression “the son of man” is, principally, a self-reference by Jesus, as if he were to say: “When you lift me up high, (then) you will know that I am…” —that is, you will know that I am the Son of God, who was with the Father (in heaven) from the beginning. The remainder of the verse clearly confirms that Jesus’ identity as the Son is being emphasized, essentially reiterating the point made in v. 26 (cf. above).
The possible influence of Dan 7:13f on the use of the expression “the son of man” (by Jesus) in the Gospel Tradition has been discussed in the earlier studies on the Synoptic sayings (esp. Mk 13:26; 14:62 par). It will be treated in more detail as this series comes to a close.

While the expression “the son of man” is principally used as a self-reference by Jesus here in v. 28, it certainly carries with it the Johannine theological associations we have discerned from the prior studies:

    • The heavenly origin of the son of man
    • The descent (vb katabai/nw, “step down”) of the son man
    • The authority of the son of man, given to him by God the Father, which includes the authority to give life to those who believe
    • The incarnation of the Son, whose mission on earth culminates in his sacrificial death, which serves to confer life to those who believe

On the latter point, in particular, I think that one may admit an allusion to the incarnation (and Jesus’ impending death) in the concluding verse 29:

“And the (One hav)ing sent me is with me; He did not set me forth alone, (in) that I do the (thing)s pleasing to Him at all times.”

The “sending” (vb pe/mpw) and “setting forth” (or “sending away”, a)fi/hmi) of the Son certainly involves his incarnation (1:14) in the person of Jesus. But the incarnate mission of the Son on earth is not done alone, apart from God the Father; rather, the Father remains with (meta/) him. This may allude to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism (1:32-33), suggesting that the Father’s presence is realized for Jesus through the Spirit. However, the Johannine writings say surprisingly little about how the Son’s relation to the Father was realized, in the incarnate ‘state,’ during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

In any case, the Son’s earthly mission culminates in the death of Jesus, and his death is certainly to be included as a principal component of the “lifting up high” (vb u(yo/w) of the Son. The verb u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”) is a principal Johannine verb for the exaltation of Jesus. This exaltation encompasses his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. It does, however, begin with Jesus’ death, and that is the primary point of reference both in 3:14 and here in 8:28. In this regard, the verb u(yo/w is specifically associated with the expression “the son of man”, occurring also in 12:32, 34 (to be discussed). This is not surprising, since, in the wider Gospel Tradition, the expression was frequently used in the context of Jesus’ suffering and death, as we saw in our study on the Synoptic Sayings (esp. the three Passion predictions, Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par). The formulation using the verbal particle dei= (“it is necessary [for]…”) is very much reminiscent of the Synoptic Passion predictions.

In 3:14 and 12:32, 34, the verb u(yo/w occurs in a passive form, but here in 8:28, it is active (“when you lift up high…”). It indicates the people’s role in putting Jesus to death. The passive form, by contrast, could be read as an example of the so-called Divine passive (passivum divinum), with God the Father as the implied actor. This would tend to emphasize the aspect of giving honor to the Son, parallel to the use of the verb doca/zw for the exaltation of Jesus.

The Discourse-section 8:21-30 concludes with the narrative summary in v. 30: “(With) his speaking these (thing)s, many (people) trusted in him”. This concurrence of the use of the expression “the son of man” with an emphasis on trusting in Jesus is significant, both in relation to the earlier use of the expression in the Bread of Life Discourse (cf. parts 1, 2, and 3 of the previous study), and to the next occurrence, in 9:35. It is this reference which will be examined in our next study.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29 (1966).
Those marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 2: Commentary on the Gospel of John, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

 

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 6:62)

John 6:62

The third occurrence of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in chapter 6 is the saying by Jesus in verse 62. The first two occurrences (in vv. 27 and 53) were discussed in parts 1 and 2 of this study. Verses 60-71 are an integral component of the ‘Bread of Life’ Discourse, even though they are outside of the Discourse proper (vv. 22-59).

The relationship of vv. 60-71 to the main sections of the Discourse can be debated, on historical-critical and source-critical grounds. However, from a literary standpoint, there is no question that they are connected with the Discourse proper. This means that the ‘grumbling’ response by the disciples in verse 60f, refers back to Jesus’ words and teaching in the Discourse. The lo/go$ (“account, word”) they speak of—viz., “this lo/go$ is harsh, who is able to hear it?” —must refer to the sayings by Jesus in the Discourse (and their exposition).

In this regard, the response by the disciples mirrors the earlier responses by Jesus’ hearers (in vv. 28 [also 30-31], 41-42, and 52). This follows the typical pattern for the Johannine Discourses:

    • Principal saying/statement by Jesus
    • Response by his hearers, indicating that they have misunderstood the true meaning of his words
    • Exposition by Jesus

Sometimes, in the longer Discourses, the Response/Exposition portion of the pattern is repeated.

Which aspect of Jesus’ saying(s) are the disciples responding to when they call it “harsh” (or “hard, tough,” sklhro/$)? It is worth comparing their response to that of Jesus’ hearers in the Discourse. The sayings in Parts 2 and 3 of the Discourse, each of which relates back to the principal statement in v. 27, are “I am” sayings of Jesus:

    • I am the bread of life
      the (one) coming toward me shall not (ever) hunger,
      and the (one) trusting in me shall at no time thirst.” (v. 35)
    • I am the living bread (hav)ing stepped down out of heaven—
      if any(one) should eat of this bread, he shall live into the Age…” (v. 51)

The saying in verse 51 contains both points of objection raised by Jesus’ hearers:

    • Jesus has “stepped down” (i.e., come down) from heaven
      “…(they) muttered about him that he said ‘I am the bread having stepped down out of heaven’ … how can he say (this)…?” (vv. 41-42)
    • It is necessary to “eat” Jesus—specifically, his “flesh”
      “How is this man able to give (us) [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52)

Since the third section (vv. 51-58) immediately precedes v. 60, it would be natural that the “harsh” word be identified with the saying in v. 51, and with the idea that one must “eat” Jesus’ flesh (and “drink” his blood). However, what follows in vv. 61-62 suggests rather that it is the idea of Jesus’ heavenly origin that is the main point of difficulty for the disciples. Here is how Jesus responds to them:

But Yeshua, having seen that his learners [i.e. disciples] muttered about this, said to them: “Does this trip you up? Then, if you could view the son of man stepping (back) up to where he was (at) the first…?” (vv. 61-62)

Syntactically, the question posed by Jesus is incomplete, containing only the conditional clause (the “if” portion), but missing the apodosis (i.e., the “then” portion). He asks, “if you could view the son of man stepping (back) up to where he was (at) first…?” Most translators and commentators attempt to fill out the question, but there is some uncertainty regarding how Jesus intends it. I am inclined to interpret the question as a rebuke to the disciples, along the lines of:

“Then, if you could view the son of man stepping (back) up to where he was at first, would that help you to trust in my word?”

The point at issue is the heavenly origin of Jesus, as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. This is the fundamental Christological point of the entire Gospel, and it can only be grasped through trust, not by physical sight. Throughout the Gospel, these two levels of sight/seeing are juxtaposed: physical sight (i.e., ordinary seeing with the eyes) vs. spiritual sight. In the Johannine theological idiom, the latter represents the true meaning of the various sight/seeing verbs used in the Gospel. Through the eyes of faith, given to the believer by God Himself, one is able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is—viz., the Son of God, sent from heaven by the Father. Seeing Jesus in the ordinary sense (with one’s eyes) is meaningless if it does not lead to trust in him. This is the thrust of Jesus’ famous rebuke to Thomas in 20:27ff (see esp. verse 29). The juxtaposition of these two levels of seeing is perhaps most clear in chapter 9, the episode of the Blind Man. At the beginning of the narrative, the focus is on physical sight (and blindness); however, by the end of the episode (vv. 35-41), the focus has shifted to trust in Jesus. The one who sees, trusts in Jesus, while the one who is truly blind is unable/unwilling to trust.

The sight/seeing verb used in verse 62 is qewre/w, meaning “look (closely) at, view, observe, perceive”. It occurs quite frequently in the Gospel of John—24 times (out of 58 NT occurrences), compared with 16 in the Synoptics. It was used earlier in the Bread of Life Discourse (v. 40), where it is parallel (and synonymous) with the verb pisteu/w (“trust”), referring to trust in Jesus (as the Son). That is also the meaning, for example, in 12:45. In the Last Discourse, Jesus (and the Gospel writer) plays on the dual-meaning of the verb—that is, the two levels of “seeing” (cf. above)—14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17ff.

The force of Jesus’ rebuke here in v. 62 is that his disciples should not need to see him go back up to heaven in order to trust in his heavenly origin. Their response in v. 61 suggests that, at least at this point in the narrative, they are not yet able to recognize the full truth of who Jesus is. It is only at the end of the Last Discourse (cf. 16:30ff) that they truly begin to understand. The confession by Peter here in vv. 68-69, like the fuller declaration by Martha in 11:27, anticipates the moment when Jesus’ disciples will finally recognize the truth regarding his identity.

How, then, shall we explain the use of the expression “the son of man” in this context? First, it is clearly used by Jesus as a self-reference. He could just as well have asked, “what if you were to see me stepping (back) up to where I was at first…?”. More important is the use of the expression earlier in the Discourse (vv. 27, 53)—particularly, in the initial saying of verse 27. Throughout the Discourse, Jesus identifies himself as the “bread from heaven”; and when he (“th[is] son of man”) gives the bread, he is actually giving himself. Thus, the emphasis is on the fact that he has come down from heaven.

The important Johannine verb katabai/nw (“step down”, i.e., come down) occurs seven times in the Discourse (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 51-52, 58), while the corresponding verb a)nabai/nw (“step up,” i.e., go up, ascend) is used here in v. 62. Both of these verbs were used in the “son of man” sayings of 1:51 [study] and 3:13-14 [study], and thus reflect important thematic associations for the expression within the Gospel of John:

    • The heavenly origin of Jesus
    • That Jesus (the Son) came down to earth, sent by the Father

A third, related theme, is the incarnation of the Son in the person of Jesus. This was discussed in the second part of this study (on verse 53, in the context of vv. 51-58), and is alluded to again in verse 63 (see below). The idea of the Son’s incarnation (as human flesh [and blood]) cannot be separated from the motif of the Son’s descent from heaven. Moreover, both the Son’s incarnation, and the mission for which he sent down to earth (by the Father), relate specifically to Jesus’ death. This, indeed, is the emphasis in vv. 51-58, and must be regarded as part of the “harsh word” that the disciples find difficult to accept. Jesus’ teaching in the Discourse entails a double difficulty—stemming from the very expression “the bread out of heaven”:

    • “out of heaven” —the heavenly origin of Jesus
    • “bread” —that it is necessary to “eat” Jesus (that is, his “flesh”)

If Jesus’ question in verse 62 addresses the first difficulty, his words in verse 63 would seem to address the second:

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

It is inconceivable that this statement, in the context of the chapter 6 Discourse, does not refer back to vv. 51-58, and to the apparent eucharistic language used in those verses. If so, then the noun sa/rc (“flesh”) here must refer to the use of the same noun (six times) in vv. 51-56. Just as one cannot recognize the truth of who Jesus is through ordinary (physical) sight, so also one cannot receive life through the ordinary (physical) eating of bread/flesh. The nature of both the seeing and eating is spiritual. Moreover, the Spirit is the source of the Divine (eternal) life, which one receives (and experiences) through trust in Jesus. By trusting in his word (“the utterances which I have spoken”)—the message regarding who he is—one both “sees” and “eats”. The emphasis in vv. 51-58 is not ritualistic (sacramental), but spiritual. For a more detailed study of verse 63, see my recent article and notes in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

Returning to the use of the expression “the son of man”, there is, in v. 62, a two-fold emphasis—emphasizing two particular thematic associations which we have already highlighted:

    • As a self-reference by Jesus (viz., “th[is] son of man”), since the emphasis is on the identity of Jesus himself as the incarnate Son who has come down from heaven
    • That he has, indeed, come down from heaven—a Christological principle that entails both the incarnation of the Son, and the life that he is able to give as a result of his mission on earth

In the next study, we will turn to the next occurrence of the expression “the son of man”, in 8:28.

July 5: 1 John 5:20, continued

1 John 5:20, continued

(see the previous note)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 4: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2: 1 John 5:18, continued

1 John 5:18, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1: 1 John 5:18

1 John 5:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serious difficulties arise in the second clause:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 29: 1 John 5:4

1 John 5:1-4, continued
Verse 4f

“(Indeed, it is) that every(thing) having come to be (born) of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world” (v. 4a)

As a follow-up to the previous note, on 5:1-4a, it will be helpful to look in detail at verse 4a, along with in the transitional sub-unit vv. 4b-5. First, there is the clear parallel with verse 1a; indeed, the two short statements effectively bracket the unit (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note):

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God”
    • “every(thing) having come to (be) born of God is victorious (over) the world”

The parallelism is even more precise (with a clear thematic chiasm) if we include vv. 4b-5:

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed
      • has come to be (born) of God
      • every(thing) having come to be (born) of God
        is victorious (over) the world…
    • the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God.”

There is also a logical sequence at work:

    • Everyone trusting in Yeshua =>
      • has come to be born of God
        and, everyone born of God =>

        • is victorious over the world.

Through our trust in Jesus Christ we (as believers) become the offspring (te/kna) of God, sharing the presence and power of the Son of God. And, since the Son (Jesus) has been victorious over the world, so are we, the other offspring of God, who are united with him. This idiom of being victorious (vb nika/w) over “the world” (o( ko/smo$) represents a key Johannine theme, attested in both the Gospel and First Letter. Though rare in the Gospel, it occurs in the climactic declaration by Jesus at the end of the Last Discourse (16:33): “…I have been victorious (over) the world!”. This refers, principally, to the Son’s completion of his mission (viz., his death and exaltation), for which the Father sent him to earth. This is alluded to in 1 Jn 3:5a and 8b, though without use of the verb nika/w.

In the Johannine theological idiom (and mode of expression) “the world” (o( ko/smo$) refers to the domain of darkness and evil—on earth, among human beings—that is fundamentally opposed to God. Throughout the Johannine writings, there is a stark contrast between God and “the world”, as also between believers and “the world”. Since true believers are the children of God, the world has the same opposition and hostility toward them that it does to God the Father (and Jesus the Son)—cf. Jn 15:18-19; 16:20; 17:14ff. The contrastive juxtaposition, between believers and the world, runs throughout the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (where the noun ko/smo$ occurs 18 times).

As the offspring/children of God, believers share in the Son’s victory over the world (Jn 16:33). The author of 1 John mentions this on several occasions—first, in 2:13-14, when he states, in particular, that the “young (one)s” (neani/skoi) “have been victorious (over) the Evil” (nenikh/kate to\n ponhro/n). Probably the articular substantive adjective o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) should be translated “the Evil one”, in reference to the Satan/Devil (cf. 3:8). Being victorious over the Devil is essentially the same as being victorious over the world (cf. 5:19), since the Devil is “the chief (ruler) of the world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The ‘defeat’ and “casting out” of the Devil is part of the Son’s victory over the world (cf. 12:31; 16:11, in relation to 16:33), which occurred with the completion of his earthly mission (1 Jn 3:8).

This is stated even more clearly in 4:4:

“You are of God, (dear) offspring [tekni/a], and (so) have been victorious (over) them…”

The reference is specifically to the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 1ff), who are false believers belonging to the world, and not to God. Thus, true believers are (already) victorious over these “antichrists”, since they share in the Son’s victory over the world. A theological basis for the statement in v. 4a is provided in v. 4b:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] the (One) in you is greater than the (one) in the world.”

The expression “the (one) in you” refers to the Spirit of God, which is also the Spirit of the Son (viz., his abiding presence), in contrast to the false/evil “spirit of antichrist” that is present and at work throughout the world. As the offspring of God, they/we are born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and enter into an abiding union with God through the Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, and the Paraclete-sayings in their Gospel context). Since this birth comes about as a result of our trust in Jesus, and we (as believers) abide/remain in that trust, the author can say, in all truth, that our victory over the world lies in our trust. This the message of 5:4-5 (as a unit):

“(So it is) that every(one) having come to be (born) of God is victorious (over) the world—and this is the victory (hav)ing been victorious (over) the world: our trust. [Indeed,] who is the (one) being victorious (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God?”

As previously mentioned, vv. 4b-5 are transitional, serving both as the conclusion of 4:7-5:4 and the introduction of 5:5-12, where the theme of trust in Jesus again becomes the primary focus. The section 5:4b-12 shares with 2:18-27 and 4:1-6 an emphasis on the false view of Jesus Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents (thus their designation as a)nti/xristo$, lit., “against the Anointed”). From a rhetorical standpoint, the author’s declarations, to the effect that his readers have (already) been victorious over these opponents, are meant to exhort the Johannine Christians to reject the opponents’ teachings, and thus to protect the congregations from the malevolent influence of these ‘false believers’.

Interestingly, as a variation of his usual manner of expression, the author, at the beginning of verse 4, uses the neuter— “every(thing) [pa=n to/] having come to be (born) of God”, rather than “every(one) [pa=$ o(] having come to be (born) of God”. Probably this switch anticipates the use of the feminine subjects “victory” (ni/kh) and “trust” (pi/sti$) in v. 4b, and thus allows for a generalizing of the reference. Our trust, like our love, ultimately comes from God as its source, and thus, in its own way, can be said to be ‘born’ of God.

At some point, in a later study, I intend to analyze the many instances of Johannine essential predication that pervade these passages (cf. the examples discussed in prior notes, e.g., on 3:1, 2, 3, 7, 8; 4:7). They are fundamental to the Johannine theological idiom and mode/manner of expression, and are utilized extensively by the author of 1 John.

In the next daily note, however, we will examine the final birth/offspring reference in the Johannine writings—the author’s climactic declaration in 1 Jn 5:18.

June 27: 1 John 4:7, continued

1 John 4:7, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. “and knows God” (kai\ ginw/skei)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 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.