“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).

 

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 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.

 

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:24

1 John 2:28-3:24

In the previous study, as in the two prior, we examined the conflict that is at the heart of both 1 and 2 John, and how it shaped the author’s treatment of the Johannine theology. The section covering 2:28-3:24 represents the central division of First John, in which the author presents, most clearly and directly, the principal theme of his work: namely, the contrast between the true and false believer. This is done through an exposition and application of a number of key Johannine principles. The primary principle expounded by the author is the idea of the two-fold duty (entol¢¡) that is required of every believer.

This key noun was used earlier, in 2:3-8, both in the plural and singular, presented as something which Jesus has given to believers, a duty placed on them, which they are obligated to fulfill. In the Gospel of John, the noun entol¢¡ is used by Jesus in two different ways. First, it refers to the duty (and mission) which God the Father gave him (the Son) to complete, when He sent him to earth—10:18; 12:49-50; 15:10b. Second, it refers to the duty (and mission) that the Son, in turn, gives to his disciples (believers)—13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10a, 12. The two uses are clearly related, and the seeds of the dual-entol¢¡ may be glimpsed from a consideration of the duty/mission given by the Father to the Son. Two aspects of this mission may be ascertained:

    1. A directive, from the Father, regarding what the Son should say (and do), and which may be summarized as representing the word of the Father (12:49-50)
    2. The culmination of his mission is that the Son would lay down his own life, as a self-sacrifice, demonstrating the love and care he has for those (i.e., his disciples/believers) whom he holds dear (10:18; cf. 15:10)

These same two aspects are applied to the entol¢¡ that the Son (Jesus) gives to his disciples (and to all believers). This may be summarized based the teaching of Jesus in 15:4-10, and his use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in his word(s), and to have his word(s) remain in them (15:7; cf. 8:31); similarly, they are to remain in his love, and to have his love remain in them (15:9-10, 12; cf. 14:21). These two aspects define and explain what it means for the believer to remain in Jesus, as can be illustrated by the following simple diagram (which I have used on prior occasions):

The two-fold duty (entol¢¡) for the believer thus may be defined as:

    1. Remain rooted and faithful to Jesus’ words (i.e., teachings), which, in the Gospel relates primarily to the message regarding who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent from heaven by God the Father, and the mission he was sent to fulfill.
    2. Stay faithful to the example of Jesus in showing love (to fellow believers), being willing to lay down one’s own life for the sake of others.

In First John, this same two-fold entol¢¡ applies, as defined in 3:23:

“And this is His entol¢¡—that:

        • that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed,
          and
        • (that) we should love each other, just as he gave (the) entol¢¡ to us.”

In some ways, the duty to show love takes priority, as is indicated by its position in the Last Discourse (13:34-35; see vv. 1, 23), and its prominence in 15:9-17 (see also the closing words of 17:26). Similarly, the aspect of love seems to have priority, both in 1 John (2:5ff, see below) and 2 John (vv. 5-6).

The duty to remain in Jesus’ words is now defined in terms of trusting in Jesus as the Son of God—that is, trusting in the message (word) of who he is, a message that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (see this emphasis at the beginning of 1 John, 1:1-4). In 2 John, this trust-aspect of the entol¢¡ is defined by the Johannine keyword “truth” (al¢¡theia), vv. 3-4ff—that is, the truth of who Jesus is, and what he did (and said).

The Johannine principle of the dual entol¢¡, of trust (or truth) and love, was applied in 2 John to the conflict with the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 7-11), as we discussed in the earlier study. The same is true of the situation in 1 John. Indeed, the dual entol¢¡ is utilized even more comprehensively, as a structuring principle for the entire work. Note the way that the two aspects alternate as guiding thematic emphases, according to the following outline:

The “trust” sections each deal rather directly with the opponents, and their view/teaching regarding Jesus Christ. The “love” sections, at first glance, do not seem as relevant to the conflict, and yet, I would maintain that the author still has the opponents in view throughout. The contrast between the true and false believer is meant, primarily, to address the conflict surrounding the opponents. The important point to observe is that, in the author’s view, the opponents have shown themselves to be false believers, in that they violate both aspects of the great entol¢¡they do not hold a genuine trust in Jesus, nor do they show proper love to those who are believers.

Key to the author’s rhetorical strategy is the way that he utilizes language and wording, theological principles and points of emphases, that likely would have been familiar to many, if not most, of his readers. It is quite possible that even the opponents, as Johannine Christians, would have affirmed many of the author’s statements, even if they were to interpret them in a very different way.

With this framework in place, next week we will undertake a detailed survey of the section (2:28-3:24), with an eye toward examining how the author applies the Johannine language and precepts to the conflict that is at the heart of his work.

 

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27, cont.)

John 5:27, continued

In the first part of this study, we examined the context of the “son of man” reference in verse 27. As part of this analysis, we noted the parallelism between vv. 21-24 and 25-29 in the first expository section of the chap. 5 Discourse. We may narrow the focus to the parallel units of vv. 21-22 and 26-27, in which the thematic emphasis is on the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. Here, again, is how this is expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

And, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind.

Throughout the first division of the Discourse, vv. 19-30, the principal theme is how Jesus, as the Son (of God), does the work of God his Father. The broader thematic focus is on the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Because of this central theme that runs through the entire Gospel, Jesus regularly refers to himself (in the Discourses) as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$), by which is meant “God’s Son” (i.e., “the Son of God”). This is typical of the Johannine Gospel, compared with the relatively rare use of the unqualified expression “the Son” in the Synoptics. And, not surprisingly, given the thematic emphasis in 5:19-30, the expression “the Son” occurs quite often (9 times) in these verses. This makes the singular use of the expression “(the) son of man” in v. 27 quite significant.

Why does Jesus (and the Gospel writer) use “(the) son of man” in verse 27 (and only there)? The precise wording of the phrase containing the expression is important: “(in) that [i.e. because] he is (the) Son of man” (o%ti ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou e)stin). This explicative use of the o%ti-clause offers the reason why God the Father has given the Son (Jesus) authority to judge humankind: it is because he is “(the) son of man”.

From a syntactical standpoint, the statement “he is (the) son of man” is an example of the sort of essential predication that occurs throughout the Gospel (and Letters) of John. These simple predicative statements contain three elements: (1) Divine subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate noun or phrase. The statements give essential information about who the subject is. The formulation is basically limited to a Divine subject—usually Jesus Christ (the Son), but occasionally God the Father, while, in at least one instance (1 Jn 5:6), the Spirit is the subject. In a secondary application, the formula can also be applied to believers in Christ (viz., believers, the children/offspring of God, as the divine subject).

The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) declarations by Jesus are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication. Indeed, when Jesus, as both Divine subject and speaker, makes such statements, it is most natural that he would use a first person pronoun to express the subject. Here, however, he speaks in the third person (“he is”), as he typically does whenever he uses the expression “the son of man”, using it as a self-reference. The pronoun is not present in the Greek, but only implied (based on the form of the verb). The specific formulation is unusual (and unprecedented): Jesus uses one self-reference (“the Son”, i.e., “he”) to identify himself with another self-reference (“the son of man”). That is, “the Son is the Son of man”.

How is this essential information to be understood? There are two main lines of interpretation that commentators tend to follow. The first line of interpretation understands the expression “(the) son of man” here as a title, referring (principally) to the heavenly figure (“[one] like a son of man”) in Daniel 7:13-14. Thus, Jesus would be identifying himself (“the Son”) with this heavenly figure. The most relevant parallel, and perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this line of interpretation, is the fact that, in Dan 7:13-14, God gives to the “(one) like a son of man” a ruling authority over humankind:

“…and to him was given dominion [/f*l=v*] and glory [rq*y+] and kingship [Wkl=m^], and all the peoples, nations, and tongues shall give (diligent) service to him” (v. 14)
While Theodotion translates all three Hebrew terms, the LXX renders them under the single word e)cousi/a, as in Jn 5:27:
“…and authority [e)cousi/a] was given to him”

It is not specifically stated that the heavenly figure was given authority to judge; however, this would certainly be part of the ruling authority given to him, and the eschatological judgment (of the nations) certainly features in the passage (vv. 10ff, 22, 26-27). Moreover, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, called by the title “th(e) Son of Man”, is more directly associated with the Judgment (46:2-4ff; chap. 62; 63:11; 69:27ff), the Danielic figure having been blended together with the figure of the Davidic Messiah. For more on the Jewish eschatological/Messianic background of this “Son of Man” figure, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second line of interpretation understands the expression in a qualitative sense—that is, “son of man” (without the definite article [see below]) means a human being. In other words, Jesus (the Son) is given the authority to judge humankind because he himself is a human being. In the Johannine theological context, this would refer specifically to the incarnation of the Son (1:14ff). It is as the incarnate Son that Jesus has the authority to act as judge over humankind and to render judgment.

On the whole, this second line of interpretation is to be preferred, particularly in the overall context of the Johannine Gospel (and its theology). Before developing this further, a word should be said about the lack of definite articles for the expression here (i.e., uio\$ a)nqrw/pou instead of o( uio\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou)—the only such anarthrous occurrence of the expression in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of the definite article, the expression can still be definite. Indeed, in the case of the word order here, on purely syntactical grounds, a predicate nominative (noun) that precedes the verb should probably be understood in a definite sense*.
* On this point, see the study by E. C. Colwell back in 1933 (Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 52, pp. 12-31; Jn 5:27 is discussed on on p. 14); cf. Moloney, pp. 82ff.
At the same time, anarthrous predicate nouns often carry a qualitative sense (cf. the article by P. B. Harner in Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 92 [1973], pp. 75-87). If both of these aspects of the predicate noun are present here in v. 27, then it would mean that the expression is particularly emphasizing that the Son is the human being with the authority to exercise judgment over humankind (cp. the expression in Mk 2:10 par, also 2:28 par). In terms of the Johannine theology, as noted above, this would refer to the incarnation of the Son—viz., the pre-existent (heavenly) Son who has come to earth as a human being. We have seen how the twin Johannine themes of the heavenly origin of the Son, and of his descent to earth, featured prominently in the prior “son of man” sayings (1:51 [study]; 3:13-14 [study]).

Of particular importance is how the thematic motif of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) is presented in the Gospel of John. Most relevant for consideration is the statement in 3:19, coming as it does in the expository section (of that earlier Discourse), vv. 16-21, immediate following the “son of man” references (vv. 13-14). The end-time Judgment is explained in terms of the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Gospel (see the discussion in the first part of this study). That is to say, the Judgment occurs now, in the present; and, specifically, those would fail or refuse to trust in Jesus are already judged:

“The (one) trusting in him is not judged; but the (one) not trusting has already [h&dh] been judged, (in) that he has not trusted in the name of the only [monogenh/$] Son of God.” (v. 18)

The nature of the Judgment, in this regard, is further explained in verse 19:

“And this is the judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds are evil.”

This corresponds to what Jesus says about the Judgment here in verse 24, and clearly relates to the idea that this judgment has been given to the Son (v. 22). Interestingly, in 3:17, Jesus seems to say the opposite—viz., that he has not come (as the incarnate Son) to render judgment:

“For God did not send forth the Son into the world (so) that he should judge the world, but (rather) that the world might be saved through him.” (cp. 8:15-16; 12:47)

The locus of the Judgment is whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the incarnate Son). In that sense, the incarnate Son (Jesus) does not fill the role of end-time Judge as it might traditionally be understood. Instead, the Judgment occurs based on how a person responds to the message of the incarnate Son—the truth of who he is and what he has done. Compare the Judgment-references in 9:39 and 12:47-48. Later on in the Gospel, this aspect of the Judgment is tied more directly to the Son’s fulfillment of his earthly mission—that is, his exaltation (“being lifted up”), beginning with his sacrificial death (see the previous study on the saying in 3:14). This thematic development is expressed by the declaration in 12:31:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast outside!”

The implication is that Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death) initiates the Judgment of the world; this Judgment involves the punishment (expulsion) of the “ruler of this world” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). Much the same is stated in 16:11 (see my earlier study on the Paraclete saying[s] in 16:8-11ff). Again, this Judgment is tied to the world’s failure/refusal to trust in Jesus, defined (in Johannine terms) as the great sin (vv. 8-9).

How does all of this relate to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” in verse 27? Though there are definite allusions to Daniel 7:13-14 (see above) here in the passage, it would seem that Jesus (and the Gospel writer) has reinterpreted the traditional Judgment-association in light of the Johannine theology (and Christology). In particular, the whole theme of judgment has been radically interpreted in the Johannine writings. The Judgment is now defined primarily in terms of trust in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. The one who trusts has already passed through the Judgment (v. 24), while the one who does not trust has already been judged (3:18-19, etc). The trust in Jesus specifically relates to his death (viz., the beginning of his exaltation), the fulfillment of the mission for which the Father sent the Son (from heaven to earth).

We may expand our understanding of the Johannine “son of man” references, based on the sayings we have examined thus far, to include the following points:

    • The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus)
    • His descent to earth—entailing his incarnation as a human being (“son of man”)
    • The promise of his ascent (back to heaven), following the completion of his mission
    • This ascent (exaltation, “lifting up”) begins with his sacrificial death (3:14)—whereby the use of the expression “the son of man” has definite parallels to the Synoptic Passion predictions (and similar sayings)
    • The end-time Judgment, traditionally associated with the “son of man” (Dan 7:13-14; Mk 13:26 par, etc), is defined primarily in terms of how one responds to this Christological message of the Son’s descent/ascent.

In the next study, we shall turn to the “son of man” references in the chapter 6 (Bread of Life) Discourse.

References above (and throughout these studies) marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

January 24: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

For the remainder of January (and into February), the daily notes will feature a series on the theme of believers as the children of God. The starting point for this series is John 1:12-13, which provides a thematic corollary to the verse that follows (14). In John 1:14, the focus of our recent exegetical study series, we find reference to the idea that the Divine Word (Logos) came to be born as a human being. The same birth-motif prevails in vv. 12-13—believers in Christ, through trust in the incarnate Logos, are able to be born as the children (“offspring”) of God. The parallelism is clear: the Son of God is born as a human being, and human beings (believers) are then born as children of God.

Verses 12-13 are an integral part of the Johannine Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). The vocabulary, phrasing, and theological emphasis clearly are in accordance with the Gospel (and the Johannine writings) as a whole. However, as was discussed in the series on verse 14, many commentators are convinced that the Gospel writer has made use of an existing ‘Logos-poem’, adapting it for use in the Gospel, particularly within the context of chapters 13. This theory, on the whole, would seem to be correct; evidence in support of it was presented in the articles of the aforementioned series.

The main question, with regard to verses 12-13, is whether v. 12, in whole or part, should be included as part of the underlying Logos-poem. Verse 12a would seem to represent a natural continuation of the poem in vv. 9-11; note, in particular, how v. 12a flows naturally from v. 11:

“Unto his own (thing)s he came, and (yet) his own (people) did not receive him alongside. But as (many) as did receive him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring of God”

In the context of the Logos-poem up to this point (esp. in vv. 4-5, 9-11), the focus has been on the presence and activity of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings, throughout human history (esp. the history of Israel). All through history, most people have rejected the Word and Wisdom of God; however, there have always been some who were willing (and able) to receive and accept it. Beginning in verse 14, the Word/Wisdom is manifest among human beings in an entirely new way—as a flesh-and-blood human being, in the person of Jesus. Believers who receive and accept Jesus—trusting in him (as the incarnate Word of God)—are akin to those individuals who accepted the Word in prior periods of human history.

In the context of vv. 14ff, the statement in v. 12a refers specifically to trust in Jesus as the Son (and Word) of God. Verses 12b-13, which likely represent expository comments by the Gospel writer (added to the Logos-poem), make this quite clear:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name” (12b)

The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) to characterize a group—and believers, specifically—is very much typical of Johannine style. Believers are defined as “the (one)s trusting” (oi( pisteu/ousin), or, in the singular, “the (one) trusting” (o( pisteu/wn)—3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47, 64; 7:38-39; 8:31; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 14:12; 17:20; 1 Jn 5:1, 5, 10, 13. There is a strong confessional aspect to these references. In First John, in particular, the author’s primary focus is on defining the true believer, in contrast to the false believer, and the nature of one’s confession of Jesus is at the heart of this definition.

Also fundamental to the Johannine theology is the use of the birth-motif, applied to believers, which we find here in verse 12b. The verb of becoming (gi/nomai, or, more commonly, the related genna/w) is used to express this, often including the qualifying prepositional expression e)k qeou= (“out of God”)—viz., one is born of, or from, God, as His offspring. The plural noun te/kna is occasionally used to express the same idea, as it is here—though it occurs more often in the Letters (e.g., 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2) than in the Gospel. A te/knon denotes something that is “produced” or “brought forth”, the noun being derived from the verb ti/ktw—such as, for example, a child being produced (brought forth) from its mother.

Verses 12b-13 introduce this theological birth-motif, which the Gospel (and the Letters) further develop. It is expounded initially, by the Gospel writer, in verse 13:

“…the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man—but (rather) out of God—have come to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].”

In v. 12b, the verb gi/nomai was used, while, here in v. 13, it is the related genna/w. Both verbs essentially mean “come to be, become”, and can refer to a birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, the use of genna/w more properly, and clearly, indicates a birth. The believer’s birth “out of God” —that is, a Divine birth—is contrasted with three similar prepositional phrases, each of which represents a particular aspect of the ordinary birth-process for human beings:

    • “out of blood” (e)c ai(ma/twn)—the noun is plural and literally reads “out of bloods”, with the plural possibly alluding to the male (father) and female (mother) contributions to the embryo; in any case, the biological and physiological aspect of childbirth would seem to be emphasized here.
    • “out of (the) will of (the) flesh” (e)k qelh/mato$ sarko/$)—throughout the Gospel of John, as in much of the New Testament, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to human life and existence, in a general or comprehensive way; here the expression probably refers, in a roundabout way, to the sexual drive, and/or to other natural impulses which prompt human beings toward childbirth.
    • “out of (the) will of man” (e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro/$)—that is, the wish and/or decision of the individual (principally, the man, or would-be father) to produce a child.

None of these natural aspects, related to human childbirth, are involved in the birth of believers as the offspring of God. That is to say, it is not an ordinary human birth at all, since the person is born from God.

Before we proceed to examine other such birth-references in the Johannine writings, the next notes in this series will focus instead on such motifs—the birth of believers, as children/offspring of God, the Divine sonship of believers, etc—as they occur in the rest of the New Testament. We will begin, roughly in chronological order, with the relevant occurrences in the Pauline Letters.

Saturday Series: John 16:8-9

John 16:8-9

In this continuing study on sin in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters of John), we turn now to the Paraclete saying in 16:7-15. This is the fourth (and final) such saying in the Last Discourse, the prior three coming in 14:16-17, 25-26, and 15:26-27. I have recently discussed these in some detail in a set of notes and articles, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The term “Paraclete” is an anglicized transliteration of the descriptive title parákl¢tos (para/klhto$), which means “(one) called alongside” —that is, to give help or assistance. It is a title of the Spirit, which Jesus promises will come to the disciples, after he has been exalted and has returned to the Father in heaven.

In 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of parákl¢tos in the New Testament, it is Jesus himself who is referred to as “(one) called alongside”, to give help to believers, specifically through the act of interceding before God the Father on believers’ behalf (in matters related to sin). In 14:16, the first Paraclete-saying in the Gospel, the Spirit is referred to as “another parákl¢tos“, implying that Jesus was the first. Indeed, in many ways, the Spirit-Paraclete continues the work of Jesus in and among his disciples (believers). Jesus continues to be present, speaking to believers through the Spirit, teaching them. For more on this, see the articles on the Paraclete-sayings (1, 2, 3, 4).

The final Paraclete-saying (16:7-15) occurs in the last of the three Discourse-divisions (16:4b-28), which has the following general outline:

    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)

The promise of the coming of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15) is thus tied to the departure of Jesus (back to the Father in heaven). He speaks as he does to his disciples because he soon will no longer be with them, at least in a physical sense. And he still has many things he must yet say to his disciples (and all believers), v. 12. For this reason, it is necessary for the Spirit to come, to be present with (“alongside”) believers, and to remain in/among them:

“But I say the truth to you: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away from (you). For, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos] will not come to you; but, if I do travel (away), I will send him to you.” (v. 7)

It is actually beneficial to the disciples (and to future believers) that Jesus should go away (back to the Father). Though he will no longer be present with them physically, as a human being, he can still be present spiritually, through the Spirit. In each of the Paraclete-sayings, Jesus explains certain aspects of the Spirit’s role. He continues that teaching here in verses 8ff:

“And, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about sin, and about righteousness, and about judgment” (v. 8)

In the previous Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the emphasis was on the Spirit as a witness—specifically, a witness to the truth of who Jesus is (v. 26). The Spirit will give witness of this to the disciples, but also to the world, through the disciples. The essence of this witness is further explained here, utilizing the verb eléngchœ. The basic meaning of this verb is to show someone to be wrong. It occurs two other places in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 8:46. The first occurrence is close in context to the use here: it refers to a person’s evil deeds being shown to be evil, exposed as such by the light of Jesus Christ—and by the Gospel witness to the truth of his identity as the Son of God. The reference in 8:46, where the verb is used, as it is here, specifically in connection with sin, was discussed in an earlier study.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular: sin (hamartía), righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), and judgment (krísis). In the verses that follow (vv. 9-11), Jesus explains the basis upon which the Spirit shows the world to be wrong about each topic. The first topic he addresses is sin; his explanation is short and to the point:

“about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me” (v. 9)

In the prior studies, we have seen how the Johannine understanding of sin entails two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. First, there is sin as understood in the general or conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs/misdeeds that a person commits. And, second, there is sin in the theological sense, defined as the great sin of unbelief—that is, of failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. Here, the truth regarding sin is clearly defined in terms of the latter (“they do not trust in me”).

Many commentators take the verb eléngchœ here to mean that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, of showing the people of the world to be sinful. While this aspect of meaning is not entirely absent, I do not consider it to be primary here. To be sure, the world (kósmos), dominated as it is by darkness and evil, and being opposed to God, is characteristically sinful. However, what the Spirit does, specifically, is to show the world to be wrong about sin. The world’s view and understanding of sin—that is, the nature and reality of sin—is fundamentally wrong. People may accept the conventional meaning of sin, and even seek to live in a righteous manner, avoiding sin, without realizing the true nature of sin. Even the seemingly righteous people—such as religious Jews in Jesus’ own time, who followed the precepts of the Torah—were sinful, if they refused to trust in Jesus. Indeed, such people commit sin in its truest sense, since they commit the great sin of unbelief.

The explanation regarding the true nature of the judgment (krísis) alludes to this same theological-Christological understanding of sin. According to the conventional view, the judgment occurs at the end of the Age, at some point in the future, when all people will be judged for their deeds (i.e., sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense). However, according to Jesus, and the theology of the Gospel, the world (and its ruler) has already been judged:

“about judgment, (in) that the chief [i.e. ruler] of this world has been judged” (v. 11)

This judgment is based entirely on whether or not a person, when confronted with the Gospel witness, the truth about Jesus, trusts in him. The one who trusts in Jesus, has already passed through the judgment and holds eternal life, while the one who does not trust, has already been condemned. For the key references elsewhere in the Gospel, see 3:19-21; 5:22-24 (v. 24); 8:51; 12:31, 46-50. The subject was also discussed in the previous studies on 8:21ff and 9:39-41 / 15:22-24.

The judgment is realized through the exaltation of Jesus the Son of God. In the Johannine Gospel, the exaltation of Jesus is not limited to his resurrection or ascension; rather, it covers a process that begins with his Passion (suffering and death). This is particularly clear from the setting of the declaration in 12:31. The Son’s mission on earth, and the witness to his identity as the Son, reaches its climax with his death on the cross (19:30). Through his death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the Son is “lifted up”, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is manifest to anyone who would believe. This helps us to understand the second of the topics about which the Spirit will show the world to be wrong. In verse 10, Jesus explains the true nature of righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), as being defined in terms of the Son’s return to the Father. In other words, true righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ exaltation and his eternal identity as the Son. Believers experience righteousness only in relation to the Son.

For more detailed discussion on vv. 8-11, see my earlier article and set of notes.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the final two sin-references in the Gospel.

Saturday Series: John 9:2-3ff

John 9:2-3ff

In the prior studies, it was discussed how the Johannine view of sin involves two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. The first defines sin in conventional ethical-religious terms—that is, as misdeeds or wrongs done by people during the course of their daily life. The second defines sin in terms of the great sin of unbelief—of a failure or refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. These two aspects give to the sin-terminology of the noun hamartía, and the related verb hamartánœ, a dual meaning.

Such dual-meaning is not at all uncommon in the Gospel of John; indeed, it is part of the Johannine style, and can be seen throughout both the Gospel Discourses and narrative passages. Many examples could be cited, such as the use of the common verb ménœ (“remain”) or the verb pair anabaínœ / katabaínœ (“step up / step down”). These verbs can be used in the ordinary sense, in a narrative context. For example, the disciples might “remain” with Jesus (1:39), in the sense of staying in the same dwelling-place, or Jesus may be said to “go up” (lit. “step up”) to Jerusalem, in the ordinary sense of journeying/traveling there (2:13, etc); but these verbs are also used in a special theological (and Christological) sense throughout the Gospel.

Another piece of thematic vocabulary with a dual-meaning is the sight/seeing motif, along with its opposite (privative) aspect of lack of sight (i.e., blindness). A person can see with the eyes, in the ordinary physical sense; but ‘seeing’ in the Gospel also refers to trust/belief in Jesus as the Son of God, with the knowledge of God (the Father) that this brings. Similarly, lack of sight, or a failure to see, can mean a failure to trust in Jesus. The light-darkness thematic pair functions the same way in the Johannine writings, with a comparable dual meaning.

Both the seeing/sight and light motifs feature in the chapter 9 episode of Jesus’ healing of the Blind Man, and both motifs have a dual-meaning within the narrative. Chapter 9 does not contain a Discourse, per se, but the narrative features a number of Discourse-elements. The dual-meaning of these motifs, along with the inability of the audience to understand the true and deeper meaning of them, are elements that feature prominently in the Johannine Discourses.

Sin is also a significant thematic and conceptual reference-point throughout the chapter 9 episode, and it involves both of the aspects/levels of meaning highlighted above. The conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin is emphasized at the beginning of the episode, as the disciples ask Jesus about the relation of the blind man’s disability to wrongs (i.e., sins) that may have been done:

“Rabbi, who sinned [h¢¡marten]—this (man) or his parents—that he should (have) come to be (born) blind?” (v. 2)

Jesus makes clear that, at least in this instance (compare 5:14), the man’s blindness was not the result of any particular wrongdoing (sin):

“This (man) did not sin [h¢¡marten], nor (did) his parents, but (it was so) that the works of God should be made to shine forth in him.” (v. 3)

In other words, as in the case of Lazarus’ illness (and death), the ailment was allowed to exist so that the power and glory of God would be manifest through the healing miracle (“work”) performed by Jesus (see 11:4). Through the miracle, it would be clear (to those who would believe) that Jesus is the Son of God who performs the works of God.

The sight/seeing motif is obviously present in the figure of the blind man himself, but the parallel light motif is introduced, also at the beginning of the episode, in the declaration by Jesus in verses 4-5:

“It is necessary for us to work the works of the (One hav)ing sent me as long as it is day, (for) night (soon) comes, when no one is able to work. When I should be in the world, I am (the) light [fœ¡s] of the world.”

Verse 5 is, of course, one of the famous “I am” (egœ eimi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel of John. This vocabulary and syntax clearly reveals that sight/seeing motif—like the related light motif—has a special theological meaning that is not immediately apparent at the surface-level of the narrative. At the surface-level, Jesus heals the blind man, allowing him to see (vv. 6-7). This is the ordinary physical/optical sight of the eyes.

It is just at this point, as the people begin to react to the healing, that the sin motif starts to be developed within the narrative. At first, it is the neighbors who react to the blind man’s healing (vv. 8-12), but then the Pharisees, functioning (in the narrative) as a collective group of religious authorities, enter the scene (vv. 13ff). Their role is essentially identical with that of “the Jews” in the earlier healing episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-17). In both episodes, the healing occurs on a Sabbath (5:9b; 9:14), and it is this fact that initially spurs the people’s hostility and opposition to Jesus’ healing work. The Johannine tradition corresponds generally with the Synoptic tradition in this regard (see my earlier articles on the Sabbath Controversy episodes, Parts 45 of the series “Jesus and the Law”).

The religious claim is made that Jesus’ healing work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah regulations prohibiting work on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10-11, etc). If such a claim were to be admitted as valid, it would be an example of religious wrongdoing (i.e., sin)—violating the Divine regulations of the Torah—and would make Jesus a sinner (hamartœlós), one who commits sin (hamartía). This, of course, would be sin as defined in the traditional and customary ethical-religious sense (see above). The Pharisees imply that Jesus is a sinner, as one who violates the Torah regulations. This, as other people in the audience recognize, would seem to be at odds with Jesus’ ability to work miracles:

“How is a sinful [hamartœlós] man able to do such signs?” (v. 16)

When the blind man himself is asked about this (“What do you say about him, [this man] that opened up your eyes?”), he responds that Jesus must be a prophet (v. 17). This is significant, in the context of the Johannine theology, since Jesus’ Messianic identity as an Anointed Prophet was established earlier in the Gospel (1:20-21ff; 4:19, 25, 29; 6:14; 7:40). In the Johannine writings, the titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God” go hand in hand; any true confession of faith will affirm Jesus’ identity as both the Messiah and Son of God (11:27; 20:31; 1 Jn 1:3; 2:22; 3:23; 5:20). However, according to the developed Johannine Christology, it is not enough to believe that Jesus is the Messiah; one must also trust that he is the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, sent from heaven to earth by God the Father.

At this juncture, about halfway through the narrative, the focus shifts from a conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin (aspect/level 1) to the distinctive Johannine theological/Christological understanding (aspect/level 2). This is expressed in a subtle way at the beginning of verse 18:

“The Jehudeans [i.e. Jews] then did not trust [ouk epísteusan] concerning him…”

In the immediate narrative context, this refers to an unwillingness to believe that the blind man had actually been blind. Yet this response actually reflects an unwillingness to believe in the miracle performed by Jesus, as a work of God, performed by the Son of God. Thus, there is implicit here a clear reference to a lack of trust in Jesus (in the Johannine theological sense). Their lack of trust is demonstrated further by the blunt declaration that Jesus is a sinner: “Give honor to God, for we have seen that this (man) is a sinner [hamartœlós]” (v. 24). Now apparently admitting the reality of the healing, the people (“the Jews”) recognize that God must be responsible for it. They thus essentially confess that the healing was a work of God, but that Jesus could not have been responsible, since he “is a sinner”.

The Johannine theology creates a profound irony here. In claiming that Jesus is a sinner, the people are actually showing themselves to be sinners, committing the great sin of unbelief. It is this theological aspect of sin that dominates the remainder of the narrative; at the same time, the true and deeper meaning of the sight/seeing motif also comes to the fore. True sight means trusting in Jesus as the Son of God; and true blindness (lack of sight) is the lack of such trust.

The climax of the narrative (vv. 35-41) demonstrates this Christological emphasis most vividly. Having been given sight in the ordinary physical sense, the man now begins to see in the true and deeper sense of trusting in Jesus. The question Jesus poses in verse 35 is:

“Do you trust in the Son of Man?”
sý pisteúeis eis tón huión toú anthrœ¡pou

Some manuscripts read “Son of God” rather than “Son of Man”, presumably because (quite rightly) “Son of God” is the more appropriate title for a confession of faith. However, two points must be kept in mind. First, in the Gospel tradition, the expression “son of man” often functions as a self-reference by Jesus, as a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”; thus, the question in verse 35 can be taken as essentially meaning “Do you trust in me?”. Secondly, in a number of the “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel, Jesus is clearly identified (or identifies himself) with a heavenly being, who is sent to earth as a representative of God, to act in His name. In the Gospel of John, in particular, the title “Son of Man” refers specifically to Jesus’ heavenly origin, as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (1:51; 3:13f; 5:27; 6:27, 53 [in light of vv. 33, 38, 41ff, 51], 62; 12:23; 13:31). In any case, the manuscript evidence overwhelmingly favors the reading “Son of Man” as original here in v. 35.

The true/deeper meaning of the sight-motif is made explicit in verse 37: “Indeed you have seen [heœ¡rakas] him…”. The man’s confession of faith comes in verse 38 (“I trust, Lord”), indicating that now he truly does see. By contrast, those who do not trust in Jesus are truly blind. They are also sinners since they commit the great sin of unbelief; and, indeed, they face judgment from God on the basis of this sin:

“(It is) unto [i.e. for] judgment (that) I came into this world: (so) that the (one)s not seeing should see, and (that) the (one)s seeing should become blind!” (v. 39)

The Pharisees, still thinking of blindness in the ordinary (physical) sense, respond with puzzlement to Jesus’ declaration, asking, “(Surely) we are not also blind?” (v. 40). The episode concludes with a final expository declaration by Jesus, in which he identifies the true meaning of both sin and blindness as being a refusal to trust in him (i.e., unbelief):

“If you were blind, you would not have sin; but (since) now you say that ‘we see’, your sin remains.” (v. 41)

This statement is a rich trove of wordplay, utilizing the Johannine theological vocabulary. Next week, we will examine verse 41 in more detail, along with 15:22-24, in which a similar message is expressed. This follow-up study will demonstrate the way in which the theological/Christological understanding of sin is emphasized in the second half of the Gospel.

Saturday Series: John 8:31-47 (continued)

John 8:31-47, continued

Last week, we examined the sin-reference in 8:34ff, within the context of the Discourse-unit 8:31-47 (part of the great Sukkot Discourse-complex of chapters 7-8). The Disourse-unit actually extends all the they way through to the end of the chapter (v. 59), however we will only be looking at the passage up to v. 47.

In verse 37, Jesus picks up on the Abraham theme that had been introduced by his audience in v. 33, in their response to the foundational saying/statement at the beginning of the discourse (vv. 31-32). In this way, the previous theme of freedom/bondage is developed to include the idea of person’s identity, based on his/her parentage or ancestry.

This line of theological development is actually rather subtle and complex. In the discourse, Jesus contrasts having God as one’s father with having the Devil as one’s father. In between these theological poles is set the ethnic-religious identity of having Abraham as one’s father. All Israelites and Jews have Abraham as their “father” (i.e., principal ancestor) in an ethnic and religious sense; Jesus acknowledges this even of those in his audience who are hostile or opposed to him: “I have seen [i.e. know] that you are (the) seed of Abraham…”. And yet, through their hostile reaction to Jesus, they reveal their true identity:

“…but (yet) you seek to kill me off, (in) that [i.e. because] my word [lógos] does not have space [i.e. a place] in you.” (v. 37)

Throughout the Gospel, there is a reciprocal balance between the twin concepts of being/remaining “in” (en) God (or the Son) and of God (or the Son) being/remaining “in” (en) the person. In verse 31, Jesus emphasized the importance of his word (lógos) remaining in the disciple, implying its presence in the disciple. Now here, in v. 37, Jesus declares that his word is not present in the unbeliever, one who is hostile and refuses to trust in him.

In verse 38, Jesus again highlights his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. Since, as a dutiful Son, he speaks according to what his Father tells him, the word (lógos) he declares is actually the Father’s word. And, since his audience will not accept this word, they cannot possibly belong to God as His children—they cannot have God as their Father. This contrast is sharply formulated:

“The (thing)s which I have seen (from) alongside the Father, I speak; and (so) you, then, do the (thing)s which you (have) heard (from) alongside the father.”

There is no pronoun present in either instance of the articular noun ho pat¢¡r (“the father”), yet such is certainly implied as part of the contrast—i.e., “my Father” vs. “your father”.

In vv. 39-40, the people again take refuge in their ethnic-religious identity of being descendants of Abraham—i.e., having Abraham has their father. But, again, Jesus makes clear that their hostility toward him demonstrates that their true identity is quite different. In response, they finally make the claim that God is their father: “We have one father—God!” (v. 41b).

This sets the stage for the important theological exposition in vv. 42-47, in which a key Johannine theme is expressed and developed. Believers in Christ are the “offspring” (i.e., children) of God, coming to be born from Him (as their Father), and belonging to Him. The non-believer, by contrast, does not (and cannot) belong to God—rather, they belong to the world, and to its ruler, the Devil (cf. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; also 17:15; 1 Jn 5:19). This means, essentially, that the Devil is the ‘father’ of the unbeliever. Moreover, the world’s opposition to the things of God—and especially to His Son—ultimately leads to increasingly evil thoughts and actions. Consider how the sin of unbelief leads to other sins, as Jesus explains the matter:

“Through what [i.e. why] do you not know my speech? (It is) that [i.e. because] you are not able to hear my word [lógos]. You are of [ek] your father the Devil, and the impulses of your father toward (evil) you wish to do. That (one) was a man-killer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, (in) that [i.e. because] there is no truth in him. When he speaks th(at which is) false, out of his own (word)s he speaks, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the false (one) and the father of him.” (vv. 43-44)

The unbeliever follows the evil impulses (toward sin) that belong to the world and its ruler (the Devil). Moreover, unbelievers do not abide in the truth, and the truth is not in them; indeed, they share the nature and character of their ‘father’ the Devil. As a result, like the Devil, they cannot help but speak what is false. Here, truth (al¢¡theia), and its opposite (falseness), is to be understood in a distinctive theological (rather than conventional ethical-religious) sense, according to the Johannine theology. Truth is a fundamental attribute of God, to the point that His Spirit can be identified with truth itself (1 John 5:6). Similarly, His Son is the truth (14:6) and speaks the truth of God, making God the Father known to believers in the world.

This theological understanding of falseness (pseúdos / pseúst¢s) is closely related to the Johannine understanding of sin. The true nature of sin is not ethical-religious, just as the true father of the unbelieving person is not Abraham. In the Johannine worldview, sin is fundamentally defined as unbelief—a refusal to trust in who Jesus is: the Son of God sent to earth by the Father. This emphasis is delineated clearly in verses 45-47:

“But, (in) that [i.e. because] I say the truth, you do not trust in me. Which (one) of you shows me (to be wrong) about sin? If I say (the) truth, through what [i.e. why] do you not trust in me?” (vv. 45-46)

The pronoun egœ¡ (“I”) in verse 45 is emphatic, being in the first position. Jesus contrasts himself with the unbelievers of the world (and their ‘father’ the Devil)—they speak what is false, but he (Jesus) speaks what is true. Indeed, it is because they belong to what is false, that they cannot hear or accept the truth that he speaks. Again, this “truth” is theological and Christological in nature—it is firmly rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, who makes the Father known to the world.

The question Jesus asks in v. 46a has, I think, been somewhat misunderstood by commentators. It is typically translated along the lines of, “Who among you convicts me of sin?” The implication is that the people would be accusing him of being a sinner. The question certainly could be read that way, especially in light of the sin-references that follow in chapter 9 (to be discussed next week). However, the use of the verb eléngchœ suggests a deeper significance to the question.

There are two other occurrences of eléngchœ in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 16:8. The verb has a relatively wide semantic range, but the fundamental meaning is “show, demonstrate”, often in the particular sense of showing someone to be wrong about something. In the context of 3:20, its usage refers to a person’s evil deeds being exposed (i.e., shown for what they are) in the judgment—a judgment that occurs already in the present, based on one’s response to Jesus (whether trusting or refusing to trust). In 16:8, the verb describes the role and activity of the Spirit, which, Jesus promises, will show the world to be wrong about three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. We will discuss the reference to sin (vv. 8-9) in more detail in an upcoming study. Here, it will suffice to point out the parallel with Jesus’ question in 8:46a, and the specific meaning of eléngchœ based on this parallel: “show me (to be wrong) about sin”.

The entire thrust of our passage makes clear that Jesus is essentially defining sin in terms of whether or not one trusts in him and accepts his word. His hostile opponents cannot prove him wrong on this point; on the contrary, they are confirming this understanding of the true nature of sin. Their unbelieving response to Jesus leads them to act out a range of sinful and evil impulses, including the desire to kill Jesus.

The climax of this hostile reaction comes in verse 59, at the close of the Discourse. We, however, shall conclude this study on a somewhat different note, with the theological formulation given (by Jesus) in v. 47:

“The (one) being of [ek] God hears the words of God; through [i.e. because of] this, you do not hear, (in) that [i.e. because] you are not of [ek] God.”

This formulation is fully in the Johannine theological idiom. The verb of being defines the Divine nature of the believer—as one born of, and belonging to, God. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) with the definite article is also distinctively Johannine, as a way of describing the essential character and identity of a person— “the one being [i.e. who is] {such}”. The preposition ek (“out of”), as it is used here, is also a key element of the Johannine theological vocabulary. It has a dual significance: (1) origin, i.e., being “from”, and (2) belonging, i.e., being “of”. Frequently, the preposition alone serves as a shorthand for the fuller idiom involving the verb of becoming (gennáœ), in the specific sense of “coming to be born”, along with the preposition ek. In the Johannine writings this language is used almost exclusively for believers in Christ—i.e., those who have “come to be (born) out of God”. Given the emphasis of the father theme in this passage, there can be little doubt that birth—i.e., believers as offspring born of God—is implied by the use of ek here in v. 47.

If believers “are of God”, then the opposite is true of non-believers: they “are not of God”. As Jesus clearly states, the reason why his unbelieving (and hostile) audience does not hear/accept his words is that these people are “not of God”.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the sin references in chapter 9—the episode of the healing of the Blind Man.

Saturday Series: John 8:31-47

John 8:31-47

The next sin-reference in the Gospel of John comes in the next section (8:31-47) of the Sukkot Discourse of chapters 7-8 (see last week’s study on 8:21-30). As I have previously mentioned, the Sukkot Discourse (excluding 7:53-8:11) actually is comprised of a series of interrelated discourses—or, we may say, discourse-units. Each of these follows the basic pattern of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus:

    • Saying/statement by Jesus
    • Response by his hearers (often in the form of a question), indicating that they have misunderstood the true/deeper meaning of his words
    • Exposition by Jesus
    • [Sometimes the Question/Exposition pattern is repeated, forming a longer exchange between Jesus and his hearers]

Here, in this section (and discourse-unit) we are examining, the principal statement by Jesus is:

“If you remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples], and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (vv. 31-32)

This declaration emphasizes the theme of freedom, and of being set/made free (vb eleutheróœ); however, this idea of freedom represents the climax of a chain of relation and causality:

    • “If you remain in my word, (then) =>
      • you will know the truth, and (then) =>
        • the truth will set you free.”

Remaining in Jesus’ “word” (lógos) is a fundamental characteristic demonstrating that one is a true disciple of Jesus (i.e., a believer in Christ). The common verb ménœ (“remain”) is an important Johannine keyword; in the Gospel and Letters, where it occurs with great frequency, it is almost always used in a special theological sense—that is, of the believer abiding in God, and God in the believer. One abides/remains in God (the Father) through Jesus (the Son), and one abides/remains in the Son through the presence of the Spirit. This is the essence of the Johannine theology.

The idea of remaining (or abiding) in Jesus’ word also has special theological (and Christological) meaning, related to the specific use of the noun lógos (see especially the Prologue, 1:1ff, and compare 1 John 1:1ff). Since Jesus the Son is the incarnate Word (Logos) of God, to abide in this Word means abiding in the Son (i.e., the person of Christ) himself. At the same time, lógos also refers to the words spoken by Jesus—that is, his teaching and proclamation. In the Johannine writings, these two aspects of the word lógos cannot be separated.

Clearly, the Jews hearing Jesus at the time could not possibly have understood the true meaning of his statement, with all its theological implications. Naturally, and in the pattern of the Discourses, his audience would respond with a question or statement indicating their misunderstanding. Interestingly, what they latch onto is the freedom-motif. They understand well enough the implications of this motif in context: those who are Jesus’ disciples will be set free; and, since most of the Jews in the audience were not his disciples, they therefore were not free (meaning they were in some kind of slavery or bondage). There is clearly a measure of resentment in their response:

“We are (the) seed of Abraham, and not to any one have we been enslaved at any time; how (then) can you say that ‘You shall be made free’?” (v. 33)

Though the people misunderstand the full meaning of Jesus’ words, they do recognize that he is talking about freedom (eleuthería) in something of a religious sense. This is the only way to explain their appeal to being the descendants (lit. “seed”) of Abraham. Much as Paul, in Galatians and Romans, also utilizes the figure of Abraham, the Jews responding to Jesus seem to use Abraham as a shorthand way of referring to their position as God’s chosen people, entailing a unique relationship to God the Father (YHWH) sealed by a covenant bond; this bond ultimately goes back to YHWH’s promise(s) to Abraham (cf. my earlier studies on the Covenant in the series “The People of God”).

In Jesus’ own response that follows, he explains further what he means when he speaks of freedom and slavery, defining those concepts in terms of sin (hamartía):

“Every (one) doing sin is a slave of sin.” (v. 34)

The implication is that the people (i.e., Jesus’ hearers) are slaves to sin, and the indication of this state of slavery is the fact that they are doing (poiœ¡n) sin. The Johannine writings frequently make use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) as a way of referencing the fundamental (and defining) characteristic of a person—i.e., “the one doing {such}”; distinctly Johannine is the use of the adjective pás (“all, every”) to amplify this attribution, giving it a universal scope: “every one doing {such}”. This idiom, with its syntax, is made to apply particularly to the contrast between those belonging to God (i.e., believers) and those belonging to the world.

Thus, in Johannine theological terms, the phrase “every one doing sin” should be taken as characteristic of non-believers or unbelievers—those who refuse (or are unable) to trust in Jesus. But how is the term “sin” (hamartía) to be understood here? In last week’s study, I proposed that the concept of sin in the Johannine writings has two aspects or levels of meaning: (1) sin in the general or conventional sense of ethical-religious wrongs and misdeeds; and (2) sin in specific (theological) sense of unbelief (i.e., failing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God). Here, in verse 34, Jesus seems, on the surface, to be speaking of sin in the former aspect, i.e., the general sense of moral wrongs and misdeeds, etc; however, the latter (theological) aspect suddenly comes into view if we translate the verse literally, rendering precisely the singular noun with the definite article:

“Every (one) doing the sin is a slave of the sin.”

On a practical level, there must have been a number of Jews in Jesus’ audience who generally lived and acted in a moral and upright way, so that one could not have realistically referred to them as being “slaves of sin”. However, in at least one respect, they were unquestionably enslaved—with regard to the great sin of unbelief. By doing this sin, i.e., rejecting Jesus and failing/refusing to trust in him, these people show themselves to be slaves to their unbelief, to the point that they would even act with violence against Jesus. The hostility of Jesus’ audience toward him throughout most of the Sukkot Discourse is clear enough; the discourse-units all contain some mention of the desire of people to arrest and/or kill him (7:19-20, 30, 44ff; 8:20, 40, 59). While some did respond with trust to Jesus’ teaching (8:30, and the statement in v. 31 is directed to them), the overall reaction of the crowd was hostility and rejection.

The Christological orientation of the concept of sin, suggested above, would seem to be confirmed by Jesus’ words as he continues his exposition:

“And the slave does not remain in the house into the Age, (but) the Son (does) remain into the Age.” (v. 35)

On the surface, Jesus is simply making an illustration based on the distinction between a household slave/servant and a son (compare Paul’s illustration in Gal 4:1-7). However, according to the true/deeper meaning of his words, Jesus is making a theological point: “the Son (of God) remains into the Age”. It is a Christological declaration of the Son’s (i.e., Jesus’ own) Divine and eternal status. The Son (and those who “remain” in him, v. 31; i.e., believers) are contrasted with the “slave” (i.e., unbelievers). The “slave” does not trust in the Son, and thus is enslaved to sin. Consider how Jesus expresses this in the statement that follows:

“Therefore, if the Son should make you free, (then) being free you shall be” (v. 36)

I have translated this verse quite literally, as a careful rendering of the words being used is particularly important here. The verb eleutheróœ (“make/set free”) is used in the first clause, as it is in verse 31 (see above). It is the Son (Jesus) who makes a person free. Given the sin-context in v. 34, we are perhaps justified in reading this statement in light of the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29 (see the earlier study). Through trust in Jesus as the Son, which includes trust in his sacrificial death (as the slain Lamb) with its life-giving power, a person’s sin is “taken away”, and the person is thus set free.

The second clause of v. 36 describes the condition of the believer who has been set free (from sin). There are three components to this clause, the first two of which should be taken together:

    • being [óntœs] free [eleútheroi]”
    • you shall be [ésesthe]”

The first word is a participle of the verb of being. At many points in the Gospel of John, the verb of being has a distinctly theological significance, reflecting the very being and essential attributes, etc, of God. Its use here suggests that the freedom (adjective eleútheros) possessed by the believer has a Divine character; its Divine source was already indicated in the first clause (see above). It also connotes the reality of the believer’s freedom; this is a true and complete freedom from sin (and the effects of sin), but its reality is also rooted in the believer’s abiding union with God (see above on the Johannine use of the verb ménœ, “remain”).

The verb of being also occurs, in the future tense (“you shall be”), as the third component of the second clause. The future tense here may be explained in terms of the Johannine eschatology. The promise of true freedom for the believer has two eschatological aspects: (1) the believer will be free from the end-time Judgment and the death it brings; but also (2) this freedom is also realized now, in the present, through the presence of the Spirit (compare the association of the Spirit with freedom in 2 Cor 3:17). The power of sin is undone and removed (1:29) by trust in Jesus (the Son); trust itself eliminates the great sin of unbelief, and the life-giving power of Jesus’ death cleanses us from (i.e., removes) all other sin.

Next week, we will continue this study, looking at the remainder of the Discourse-unit, including the further sin-reference in verse 46.