Saturday Series: 1 John 4:1-6

This study continues our series examining how conflicts within the early Christianity shaped the theology and religious worldview of the New Testament. The initial set of studies has focused on the Letters of John (see the prior studies on 2 John 4-11 and 1 John 2:18-27, as well as the previous study exploring the central section of 1 John). We will be looking at 1 John 4:1-6, focusing on several important Johannine themes, which the author has adapted, as a way of confronting and addressing the conflict involving the “antichrist” opponents. In so doing, we will also consider briefly some of the themes and points emphasized in the central section (2:28-3:24).

1 John 4:1-6

This passage must be considered in the context of the entire central bloc of material spanning 2:18-4:6. In 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, the author deals directly with the conflict involving a group of ‘opponents’ whom he refers to as antíchristoi, people “against [antí] the Anointed [Christós]” (i.e., against Christ)—2:18, 22; 4:3 (see also 2 John 7). These two “antichrist” sections flank the central division of the treatise (2:28-3:24), which expounds the author’s central theme: the contrast between the true and false believer.

By all accounts, the opponents, no less that the author and his adherents, were Johannine Christians who were rooted in the Johannine Tradition. Both groups likely knew (and used) some version of the Gospel of John, and would have shared a common religious tradition, theological vocabulary, and mode of expression. For this reason, in order to combat what the author regards as the false teaching (and example) of the opponents, it was necessary for the author to develop, adapt, and apply certain aspects of the Johannine Tradition. I wish to examine several of these here.

1. “The Spirit of Truth”

In both the Gospel and 1 John there is a strong emphasis on truth. The noun al¢¡theia occurs quite frequently in the Johannine writings (45 out of 109 NT occurrences); it occurs 25 times in the Johannine Gospel, compared with just 7 in the Synoptic Gospels. Also the related adjectives al¢th¢¡s and al¢thinós occur with some frequency—17 out of 26 for al¢th¢¡s, and 13 out of 28 for al¢thinós (23 out of 28 if one includes the book of Revelation as Johannine). Truth, of course, is a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God, and naturally applies to the Son (Jesus) and his teaching, etc, as well. However, in the Johannine writings, there is also a distinctive association with the Spirit. The expression “the Spirit of truth” (to pneúma t¢¡s al¢theías) occurs three times in the Gospel (in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse), 14:17; 15:26; 16:13, and also here in 1 John 4:6 (see below). A close association between the Spirit and truth, as a fundamental Divine attribute, is expressed famously in Jn 4:23-24, and the author of 1 John goes so far as to identify the Spirit with truth itself (5:6; compare a similar identification of the Son [Jesus] with truth in Jn 14:6).

According to the Johannine theology, which is rooted in the broader early Christian tradition, believers in Christ receive the Spirit of God (Jn 4:10ff/7:37-39; 6:63; 20:22; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13), and are also born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8). It is through the Spirit that believers, as God’s offspring, are united with both the Son of God (Jesus) and God the Father. That is to say, our abiding union as believers, in the Son and in the Father, is realized through the Spirit. As a theological point, this is not stated explicitly in the Johannine writings, but it may be plainly inferred from a number of passages. First, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24), any union with Him must take place in a spiritual manner, at the level of the Spirit. Secondly, there are the statements regarding the Spirit-Paraclete by Jesus in the Last Discourse (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:8-15) where it is clear that, even after his departure back to the Father, the Son (Jesus) will continue to be present in and among believers through the Spirit. The context of these statements, in the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, well establishes the principle that the abiding union of believers with the Son and the Father is realized through the Spirit. This theology is confirmed by the author’s words in 3:24 and 4:13 as well.

Through the Spirit, Jesus continues to be present within believers—all believers—and continues to teach them the truth of God. In light of this role of the Spirit, as it is described in the Paraclete-sayings, there would seem to have been a notable spiritualistic emphasis, or tendency, within the Johannine congregations. The teaching that comes through the internal witness of the Spirit takes priority over the external teaching (by other human beings), since this witness of the Spirit is that of God Himself (and His Son, Jesus).

Such an emphasis on the teaching of the Spirit was a basic component of early Christian identity, rooted in Old Testament prophetic and eschatological tradition. The early Christians viewed their experience (of receiving the Spirit) as the fulfillment of a number of key prophecies (Joel 2:28-32; Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:26-27; 39:29, etc) regarding the restoration of God’s people in the New Age. God will ‘pour out’ His Spirit upon His people in a new way, with the result that the Instruction (Torah) of God will be written within, on their hearts (cp. 2 Corinthians 3:6-18). Of particular importance is the “new covenant” prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which indicates that, in the New Age, God’s people will no longer need to be taught the Torah, because it will be written in their hearts.

This prophecy had enormous influence on early Christians, but it seems to have been taken particularly seriously by the Johannine Community. There is an allusion to Jer 31:33-34 (by way of Isa 54:13) in Jn 6:45, and I believe that it informs the Paraclete-sayings as well (see above on the teaching role of the Spirit). The priority of the internal witness of the Spirit is also expressed in 1 John, featuring prominently in all three sections—2:18-27, 4:1-6, and 5:4b-12—that deal most directly with the “antichrist” opponents. Particularly in 2:21ff and 27, the author emphasizes that believers are taught by the Spirit; I take the references to “the anointing” as referring to the Spirit, though not all commentators agree on this point. The witness of the Spirit is sufficient; believers do not need any other human being to teach them regarding the truth—specifically the truth of who Jesus is (Messiah and Son of God), and what was accomplished through his earthly ministry.

But this creates a problem. If all believers are taught the truth by the Spirit, how can Christians such as the opponents espouse a false view of Jesus? Indeed, from the author’s standpoint, these opponents have a false belief in Jesus, and thus cannot be true believers at all; rather, they are false believers, and also false prophets. This is how the author characterizes them in 4:1: “…many false prophets [pseudoproph¢¡tai] have gone out into the world”. The noun proph¢¡t¢s means “foreteller”, but this does not always mean telling the future (i.e., beforehand); rather, the corresponding Hebrew term n¹»î° properly means a “speaker” (spokesperson), one who speaks as God’s representative, communicating His word and will to others. According to the early Christian ideal, all believers function as prophets in this way, and the Johannine churches seem particularly to have emphasized an egalitarian approach to prophecy.

If the opponents (as “false prophets”) are speaking a false word regarding Jesus, then they cannot be inspired by the Spirit of God (the Spirit of truth); instead, they must be speaking from a different spirit. Throughout 4:1-6, the author contrasts this ‘spirit’ with the Spirit of God, beginning here in verse 1:

“Loved (one)s, you must not trust every spirit; but (instead) examine the spirits, (to see) if it is of God.”

There is, of course, only one Spirit that is from God; however, the plural here refers to the idea that each person, who would speak about God, as a prophet, speaks under the influence of a spirit. If they are not inspired by God’s Spirit, then they speak by a different spirit that is not from God. The author puts forward a test, by which believers may examine the prophetic word, and this test is Christological (vv. 2-3). More to the point, the Christological significance is related to the controversy surrounding the opponents (and their understanding of the person of Christ). Unfortunately, from our standpoint, the defining phrase “having come in (the) flesh” does not tell us as much about the opponents’ Christology as we might like to know. Did they deny the reality of the incarnation, holding to an early docetic view of Christ? Or did they, in some way, deny or minimize the importance of the life and ministry of Jesus? The parallel confessional statement in 5:6 suggests that it was the death of Jesus, and/or its significance, that was particularly at issue. For further discussion on the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ, see my earlier notes and articles on the subject, especially the sets of notes on 2:22 and 4:2-3.

Two Johannine themes are thus brought together here in 4:1-6, in an attempt to combat the views of the opponents: (1) the Johannine principle of the internal witness of the Spirit (in teaching the truth), and (2) the eschatological aspect of prophecy (and false prophecy). The opponents are false prophets of the end-time; their view of Jesus, which they speak and teach, being false, does not come from the Spirit of God, but from a different spirit—a false and deceiving spirit. It is a spirit that is opposed to God, and is “against Christ” (antichrist). Indeed, the spirit that does not confess the truth of Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” (v. 2), is a “spirit of antichrist” (v. 3), a deceiving spirit of false prophecy that is at work in the world. It is a spirit that belongs to “the world” (in the thoroughly negative Johannine sense of the term kósmos); those who speak from this spirit (i.e., the opponents) belong to the world, and only others who belong to the world (i.e., false believers) will listen to and accept what they say (v. 5).

The true believer, however, belongs to God (as His offspring), and not to the world. The Spirit of God dwells within every true believer, and this Spirit is far greater than the false/deceiving spirit of “antichrist” that is in the world (v. 4). Because the Son (Jesus) was victorious over the world (Jn 16:33), believers, who are united with him, share this same victory (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5). In this immediate context, “victory” (vb nikáœ) refers specifically to rejecting the false teaching of the opponents and resisting their influence. The true believer should not—and will not—let himself/herself be led astray by the false teaching and example of the opponents. Here again, the author draws upon early Christian eschatological tradition, regarding the ‘false prophets’ of the end-time who lead people astray (vb planáœ)—see Mark 13:6, 22 par; 2 Tim 3:13; 2 Pet 2:15; Rev 2:20; 12:9; 13:14, etc).

The author offers an exhortation (and warning) to his readers not to be led astray by these particular “false prophets” (2:26; cf. also 1:8; 3:7). At the close of this section (v. 6), the author establishes a stark contrast, between “the Spirit of truth” and “the spirit of going/leading astray [plán¢]”. The noun plán¢ is derived from the verb planáœ, and carries the same eschatological significance—see 2 Thess 2:11; 2 Pet 2:18; 3:17; Jude 11. True believers possess the Spirit of truth, are guided and taught by it, and speak from it; false believers, by contrast, are guided by a false spirit, being led astray by it, and also leading others astray. Just as the true believer will not listen to the false spirit, so the false believer cannot (and will not) hear the Spirit of truth. Note the way that the author frames this in terms of “us” (i.e., true believers) vs. “them” (false believers, viz. the opponents):

“We are of God, (and) the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of God does not hear us. Out of this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of going/leading astray.” (v. 6)

Next week, we shall examine several other Johannine themes, which the author employs in his effort to deal with the conflict surrounding the opponents.

July 5: 1 John 5:20, continued

1 John 5:20, continued

(see the previous note)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Series: 2 John 4-11 (continued)

2 John 4-11, continued

As mentioned in last week’s study, the author of 2 John (“the Elder”) frames his message in terms of the dual-theme of truth (al¢¡theia) and love (agáp¢). These are primary themes in the Johannine writings, occurring throughout the Gospel and First Letter . They are established here in the opening of 2 John (vv. 1-3), and then are subsequently developed/expounded in the body of the letter.

Of particular importance is the positioning of the truth-love thematic pair in relation to the keyword entol¢¡, another important Johannine term that is used throughout the Gospel and First letter. The noun entol¢¡ denotes a duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is then obligated to complete. It is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but this can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine theological context. The term is introduced at the start of the body of the letter (v. 4), with particular reference being made to the entol¢¡ of believers loving one another. For more on how the author establishes this in vv. 4-5, see the discussion in the previous study.

In actuality, the author divides his message (vv. 4-11) in two parts, focusing first on the thematic component of love (vv. 4-6), and then on truth (vv. 7-9ff). The author of First John (if he is not the same person), does much the same thing, alternating between the themes of trust (pístis) and love in the body of his work:

In First John, it is clear that trust and love represent the two components of a single entol¢¡the great duty that all believers are required to fulfill. Indeed, the author states this quite plainly at the end of the central section (3:23f). The author of 2 John would seem to hold a similar outlook, only he utilizes the Johannine keyword al¢¡theia (“truth”) in place of pístis (“trust”). However, the meaning and focus is essentially the same. The Gospel (esp. the Last Discourse of Jesus, 13:31-16:33) likewise affirms a single (two-fold) entol¢¡, defined in terms of remaining in Jesus’ word (lógos/rh¢¡ma) and in his love (agáp¢).

 

As mentioned above, verses 4-6 focus on the entol¢¡ of love. However, in verse 6, the author begins transitioning to the theme of truth/trust. This is done rather cleverly, using an elliptical and illusive style that is typical of the Johannine writings. Keeping in mind that the noun entol¢¡, in this context, refers, not to customary ethical-religious ‘commands’ (such as the Ten Commandments), but specifically to the duty of believers to love each other, the author seems to be using circular language in verse 6:

    • “And this is the love—
      • that we should walk about according to his entolaí;
    • this is the entol¢¡
      • that we should walk about in it [i.e. the love]”

If believers love, then they will live/act (“walk about”) fulfilling the duty required of them; but the duty is that they love. Actually, as mentioned above, love is only one aspect of the two-fold entol¢¡; the second aspect is trust, referenced here in 2 John under the label “truth” (al¢¡theia).

The final phrase of verse 6 (“that we should walk about in it”) is ambiguous, since the feminine pronoun aut¢¡ could refer to any one of three prior nouns, all of which are feminine, also being closely interrelated in Johannine thought: agáp¢ (“love”), al¢¡theia (“truth”), and entol¢¡ (the duty believers are required to fulfill). All three are valid as a referent for the pronoun, and this ambiguity has led to considerable disagreement among commentators as to which is intended. The immediate context of verse 6 suggests that “it” refers to love; however, the overall arc of vv. 4-6, and the transition here to vv. 7-9, argues in favor of a reference to truth. Von Wahlde (p. 223f) effectively illustrates the chiastic framework of vv. 4-6, whereby the initial phrase “walking about in (the) truth” in v. 4 has a natural parallel in the final phrase of v. 6 (“we should walk about in it”).

From a Johannine theological standpoint, the term “truth” covers both components of the great duty—(i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ example. One cannot fulfill this duty without fulfilling both components; moreover, violation of either aspect means violation of the entire command. When the author speaks of the need for believers to love one another, this also entails the affirmation (and confirmation) of genuine trust in Jesus among believers.

The conflict within the Johannine Commmunity involving the “antichrist” opponents forced apostolic leaders and missionaries (such as the “Elder”) to define the great entol¢¡ (trust and love) in relation to this conflict. For the first time in recorded Church history, we find Christians in disagreement over what trust in Jesus specifically entails. In other words, this is the first known Christological controversy. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God? Where is the dividing line between a true confession of faith and one that is false?

For the author(s) of 1 and 2 John, as well as (we may assume) many others in the Johannine churches, the view(s) expressed by the opponents were false, demonstrating that the opponents were actually false believers. By promoting a false view of Christ, they could be considered “against Christ” (antichrist). It is likely that the opponents held the author and his circle in similarly low regard.

While First John gives us an extensive treatment of the conflict, it is presented in a more seminal way here in Second John. This probably means that 2 John was written prior to 1 John, but this is far from certain; indeed, some commentators would argue just the opposite. In any case, the author states the matter quite simply and directly in verse 7:

“(For it is) that many plánoi (have) gone out into the world, the (one)s not giving common account of Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is (the) plános and the antíchristos!”

The author refers to the opponents by two labels. The first (used twice) is plános, which means someone who leads people astray. The second is antíchristos, literally “against (the) Anointed”, where the prefix anti– can connote both opposition and the idea of a (false) replacement. The term antíchristos was used of the opponents in 1 John (2:18, 22; 4:3). While the other term (plános) was not used in 1 John, the basic idea (going astray and leading people astray) is certainly present, through the related noun plán¢ (4:6) and verb planᜠ(1:8; 2:26; 3:7).

The great error of these people, according to the author, is that they do not confess Jesus Christ as “coming in the flesh”. The precise nature of their view of Christ has been the subject of longstanding debate among commentators and historians of doctrine. I have discussed the matter at length in a number of recent articles and series of notes (links to which you will find below). For the purposes of this study I wish to focus, not so much on the nature of the opponents’ Christology, but on the author’s response to it, and how this shapes the message of 2 John.

An important detail of the statement in verse 7 is the notice that a number of these opponents have “gone out into the world”. Given the distinctiveness of the noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) as a Johannine keyword, this phrase can be understood two different ways. First, it can mean that the opponents have left the Community of true believers, and, like Judas (Jn 13:30), have gone out into the darkness of the world (in opposition to God and Christ); cf. 1 Jn 2:19. Second, it can be understood in the neutral sense of traveling about, acting as missionaries, spreading their beliefs into other areas and among other congregations. Both of these aspects of meaning are doubtless intended by the author. Compare the same wording in 1 Jn 4:1.

What follows in vv. 8-11 makes clear that some of the opponents (i.e., people holding their views) are traveling about as missionaries and representatives, and that congregations (such as those of the “Lady”) are likely to encounter them. As false teachers (1 John calls them false prophets, 4:1ff) who would lead people astray, the author perceives a serious threat posed by the opponents traveling among the various Johannine congregations (house-churches), where, as Christian travelers and missionaries, some might be inclined to give them hospitality (and a hearing).

The author’s warning is given in verse 8, and then he proceeds (in verse 9) effectively to declare that the opponents—and all those who follow their view of Jesus—are not true believers in Christ. The author does this with a typically Johannine formulation:

“Every one leading forward and not remaining in the teaching of (the) Anointed, does not have/hold God…” (v. 9a)

The use of a substantive participle (with definite article) preceded by the adjective pás (“all/every”) is typical of Johannine style, and occurs frequently in 1 John. It is a way of describing the essential nature/character of a person or group, i.e., “everyone doing/being {such}”. The verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) is another important Johannine keyword, occurring many times in the Gospel, and with even greater relative frequency in 1 John. The person who remains in Christ (that is, as a true believer) will remain in both his word and his love; conversely, anyone who does not remain in his word or love, does not remain in him (and thus, is not a true believer).

The author expounds this Johannine idea of remaining in Jesus’ word in terms of holding to a true view of Christ (i.e., true faith), one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition (viz., the Discourses and Jesus’ own witness regarding his identity as the Son). By not remaining in the truth, the opponents have left it, leading the way forward (vb proágœ), in a negative sense. Only the person who remains in the true teaching, and who thus possesses true faith/trust in Jesus, is a true believer, holding union with the Son (Jesus) and God the Father (v. 9b). All of this is expressed in traditional Johannine language, applied to the specific context of the conflict involving the opponents.

The body of the letter concludes (vv. 10-11) with instruction on what should be done when encountering the opponents (as travelers/missionaries). Here the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and truth (vv. 7-9) merge together again. The response to the opponents demonstrates fidelity to the truth (i.e., trust in Jesus) but also love for fellow believers, by protecting them from the opponents’ false teaching. The author’s advice is straightforward:

“If any(one) comes to you and does not carry this [i.e. the true] teaching, do not receive him into (the) house, even a ‘glad tidings’ you must not say to him” (v. 10)

In other words, give no hospitality to such people, and do not even offer any good wishes to them. The use of the noun oikía (“house”) could refer to a private home, but probably the congregation (house-church, meeting in a home) is primarily in view. In any case, the purpose of the instruction is clearly to prevent the opponents from further spreading their views throughout the churches. This is the purpose of First John as well, but here we see the instruction (and warning) being addressed to a specific congregation (and/or church leader).

The author concludes by emphasizing again that the opponents must be avoided, as thoroughly as possible. Even to offer such a person words of greeting or well-wishes, in the author’s view, means that you are “…making common bond with his evil deeds” (v. 11).

It is interesting that in 3 John, the same author condemns this practice of refusing hospitality to traveling Christians (v. 10, cf. vv. 5-8). The author’s view of the matter was thoroughly dualistic in this regard: all true believers are to be welcomed, while all false believers are not to be welcomed. In the Johannine writings, love (agáp¢) refers primarily (if not exclusively) to the love between believers (i.e., true believers). As note above, by shunning false believers, other (true) believers are protected, and the unity of the Church (that is, the Community of true believers) as a whole is maintained. In this regard, the shunning of false believers is actually an act of love. This, I am sure, is how the author of 2 John would view the matter.

In our next study, we shall look at this same conflict (involving the “antichrist” opponents) as it is dealt with in First John, and how the author’s response to the conflict shapes the distinctive theological expression of that work.

For discussion on the Christology of the opponents, see my earlier studies on 1 Jn 2:22 (parts 1, 2, 3) and 4:2-3 (parts 1, 2, 3), as well as the article in the series “Spritualism in the New Testament”.

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

 

Saturday Series: 2 John 4-11

Beginning in May, and continuing through the Summer, the Saturday Series will focus on the role that cultural-religious conflict has played in shaping early Christian belief and practice, as expressed in the New Testament Scriptures. This involves historical criticism—examining the historical background of the texts—but also various aspects of literary criticism, including rhetorical criticism—analyzing the author’s purpose in writing, the central proposition(s), the arguments and literary-rhetorical devices used in support, and so forth.

We will begin with the conflict that is at the heart of the Letters of John (esp. 1-2 John). These writings attest to the existence and activity of a group of opponents, whom the author considers antíchristoi, people who are “against the Anointed”, i.e., “antichrists”. In recent notes and articles—including the Saturday Series studies on the subject of sin in the Johannine Writings—the views of these opponents have been discussed. It is my contention that the conflict involving these “antichrist” opponents is central to First John, and represents the principal reason and purpose for the author writing as he does.

The same is true of Second John, though, in some ways, the brevity and relative simplicity of the letter allows us to obtain a clearer glimpse of the situation. Second John also provides an excellent test case for a study on the influence of religious conflict on early Christian thought and practice. For this reason, our studies will begin with 2 John.

It is quite possible that the same author who penned 2 and 3 John (“the Elder”) also wrote 1 John. However, even if he did not, 1 and 2 John clearly derive from the same religious and theological setting—Christians with a shared culture, language, and belief system. It is generally assumed that this involved a number of congregations throughout a particular geographical region (usually identified with Asia Minor, and the area centered around Ephesus), and which is typically referred to by scholars as the Johannine Community—the Community within which the Johannine Writings (Gospel, Letters, and [probably] the book of Revelation) were first produced and distributed.

More than this, the authors of 1 and 2 John, if they are not the same person, also share a distinctive language, style, and manner of expression, utilizing a common vocabulary, syntax, and so forth. The two letters also clearly are addressing issues related to a common group of opponents. That is to say, the same basic historical, cultural, and religious conflict is at the heart of both writings.

The Conflict in 2 John

Because of how short 2 John is, it is very easy to outline its structure:

    • Epistolary Prescript (Introduction/Greeting), vv. 1-3
    • Body of the Letter, vv. 4-11
    • Epistolary Postscript (Conclusion), vv. 12-13

Two aspects of the Introduction are important to note, as they relate to the body of the letter and the author’s purpose (causa) in writing. The first of these is the addressee of the letter: “the chosen Lady and her offspring”. The adjective eklektós (lit. “gathered out”) identifies this “Lady” as a believer (or group of believers). The denotation (of being “selected out, elect, chosen”) reflects early Christian usage and the distinctive religious identity of believers in Christ—see Rom 16:13; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:4ff; Rev 17:14; cf. also Mark 13:20, 27 par.

It seems clear that the author is writing to a Christian congregation, though there remains uncertainty as to whether the “Lady” refers to a specific individual, or is figurative for the congregation itself. In the former instance, she would to be regarded as a prominent figure in congregation, perhaps the host of a house-church. Similarly, her “offspring” could refer to the actual children of a particular woman, but, more likely, the term “offspring” is a way of designating the members of the congregation/community. The same term (tékna, “offspring, children”) is used in such a figurative sense by the author of 1 John (3:1-2, 10; 5:2; cf. also 3 John 4).

The congregation of the “Lady” would seem to be some distance removed from the author and his circle, but still closely aligned with it in thought and practice. The idea of a “sister-church” may be appropriate. In any case, it suggests a network of relations between Johannine congregations, across a particular geographic area. In this regard, the “Elder” is functioning in the manner of an apostolic missionary, similar to Paul, for example. Like Paul, he seems to be concerned with establishing and maintaining a sense of unity among the congregations. First John likely reflects a similar purpose—that is, uniting the Johannine churches, exhorting them in their identity as believers in Christ, and warning them against the opponents.

Such a network of churches would have to be maintained through a combination of letters and personal visits (see v. 12). The letters themselves would be delivered by traveling missionaries (or other trusted believers). Paul’s letters reflect this dynamic in vivid detail, and we can see it clearly in 2 and 3 John as well. The opponents also would have written and traveled to many of the churches as well, something which the author regarded as representing a dangerous (and nefarious) influence on the Johannine churches. His own efforts are meant to counteract the opponents’ influence.

The second important feature in the Introduction is the author’s use of the words love (agáp¢, vb agapáœ) and truth (al¢¡theia). These are key Johannine terms, which occur extensively throughout the Gospel and First Letter. Though common terms, they take on a special theological (and Christological) significance within the Johannine writings. This vocabulary is fundamental for defining what it means to be true believer in Christ. The author’s use of the terminology in the Introduction effectively positions the “Lady” congregation, along with himself (and his own circle/congregation), as true believers:

“…to the gathered out [i.e. chosen/elect] Lady and her offspring, whom I love in (the) truth—and not only I, but also all th(ose) having known the truth—through the truth th(at) remains in us, and (which) shall be with us into the Age” (vv. 1-2)

He concludes with a blessing (v. 3) that ends, emphatically, with the expression “…in truth and love”.

This terminology is especially important since, in the author’s view, the opponents do not manifest either truth or love—indeed, they fundamentally violate the duty of the believer, that duty which defines a person as a genuine believer: viz., to remain in the truth (i.e., true faith) and in love.

The Johannine language used by the author existed prior to the conflict with the opponents, and is used to address that conflict; but, in the process, the theological meaning and significance of the language would develop and be further clarified. In the body of 2 John, we are able to see something of this interaction between the Johannine theology and the conflict that surrounded the Johannine opponents.

2 John 4-11

The author’s rhetoric is carefully crafted, built up through several short discourse-units, each of which reflect the Johannine language and style, especially as one sees it expressed in 1 John. He begins by praising the members of the “Lady” congregation, effectively identifying them as true believers:

“I was very glad that I have found your offspring walking about in (the) truth [peripatoúntas en al¢theía], just as we received the (charge) laid on (us) to fulfill, (from) alongside the Father.” (v. 4)

The phrase “offspring walking about in the truth” is Johannine language that clearly identifies people as true believers. The very expression “in the truth” (en al¢theía) serves this purpose—i.e., referring to believers as those who are, and who remain, “in the truth”. At the same time, the use of the verb peripatéœ (“walk about”) reflects a traditional ethical-religious idiom for the regular/habitual behavior of people. The one who “walks about” in the truth, fulfills the Christian identity throughout his/her daily life (see 1 John 1:6-7; 2:6, 11). The substantive use of a participle, to express the essential identity and character of a person—here, for example, one “walking about in the truth” —is typical of Johannine style.

The author of 1 John similarly treats his audience as if they are, effectively, true believers—as opposed to false believers, such as the opponents. This is an important aspect of the author’s rhetoric, both in 1 and 2 John.

Another important Johannine keyword is the noun entol¢¡, which is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but which properly refers to a duty placed on (en-) someone which they are obligated to complete (the component –tol¢¡ is related to the noun télos and the verb téllomai, “complete, fulfill”). The true believer fulfills the duty that God has placed on us. The characteristic conduct of “walking in the truth” is defined specifically in terms of fulfilling this duty (entol¢¡) that we have received from God.

In verse 5, the author’s tone shifts from praise to exhortation:

“And now, I would ask (of) you, (dear) Lady, not as a new entol¢¡ being written to you, but (as one) which we hold from (the) beginning: that we would love (each) other.”

The duty required of the (true) believer is to love one another. In the Johannine tradition, this duty (entol¢¡) goes back to the words of Jesus himself (Jn 13:34-35; 15:9-13, 17) and is emphasized extensively throughout 1 John. There are actually two components to the great duty (or ‘command’, entol¢¡) required of every believer: (i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, following the example of Jesus. The author of 1 John expresses this quite clearly in 3:23-24, and the alternation of themes trust-love-trust-love-trust is an organizing principle for the main body of his treatise (2:18-5:12). Much the same is true, though on a smaller scale, for the author of 2 John. He divides the body of his letter between the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and trust (vv. 7-9ff). The theme of truth covers both components of the entol¢¡, but applies more directly, in 2 John, to the aspect of trust in Jesus.

Next week, as we continue this study, we shall see how the author of 2 John positions the conflict with the opponents in this love-truth / love-trust matrix. This will also allow us to glimpse ways in which such conflicts worked to shape and develop the early Christian theology.

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 5

“…the splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth”
do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$ plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

We now turn to an examination of the final two phrases of 1:14 in the light of the Johannine Gospel (and First Letter) as a whole, just as was done for the three main phrases (in parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). These last two phrases qualify the third main phrase: “and we looked upon his splendor” (discussed in part 4), describing the nature of this Divine splendor (do/ca) that is manifest in the person of the incarnate Logos (Jesus). I wish to examine briefly three aspects of these two phrases, in the context of the Johannine theology:

    • The identity of Jesus as the “only Son” of God
    • His relation to God the Father, and
    • The (Divine) attributes and characteristics that are manifested in him
1. Jesus as the “only Son” of God

In verse 14, this identification is made using the adjective monogenh/$, which literally means something like “(the) only one who has come to be”, preserving the full etymological force of the components mo/no$ (“only, alone, sole”) and ge/no$, the latter derived from the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”). This verb of becoming can refer specifically to birth (i.e., coming to be born), and, in this regard, the noun ge/no$ typically has a familial aspect to its meaning—viz., referring to a person’s offspring, a family or ethnic line, etc.

Sometimes this idea of a “family” can be understood in a more general or abstract sense—as a group with common members (class, kind, sort, etc). Thus, monogenh/$ can simply mean “only one of its kind” (i.e., unique); however, in the New Testament, the adjective is always used in the context of someone who has been born—that is, an “only child”. Outside of the Johannine writings, monogenh/$ refers generally to an “only” child, either adding the specification of a “son” (Luke 7:12; 9:38), “daughter” (Lk 8:42), or using the adjective by itself to designate an “only son” (Heb 11:17). Only in the Johannine writings, is the adjective applied to Jesus, in a theological sense, identifying him as the “only Son” of God: 1:18; 3:16-18; 1 Jn 4:9.

The Divine Sonship of Jesus is, of course, a central tenet of early Christian belief, whether expressed by the specific title “(the) Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=), the shorter “(the) Son” ([o(] ui(o/$), or indirectly. In the Synoptic Gospels, the title “(the) Son”, when spoken by Jesus himself, can also represent an abbreviated version of the title “(the) Son of Man”. The Gospel of John follows the early Christian usage, employing all three of these titles: “Son,” “Son of God,” and “Son of Man”.

The full title “Son of God” is relatively infrequent in the Johannine Gospel, at least within the traditional material itself (1:49; 19:7); it occurs four times in the Discourses, spoken by Jesus (3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). Elsewhere, it functions as part of Johannine confessional statements (1:34 [also v. 49]; 11:27; 20:31)—a point that becomes even clearer when we consider the usage in 1 John (3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20). Central to the Johannine tradition was the confession of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (though, as the Letters attest, Johannine Christians could be in disagreement over precisely what this entailed).

More commonly, in the Gospel Discourses, Jesus refers to himself either as “(the) Son of Man”, or (more frequently) “(the) Son”. The title “Son of Man” tends to be reserved for statements dealing with either the heavenly origin of the Son, or, more fully, the idea of the Son’s descent from heaven (and his ascent back to heaven [beginning with his death on the cross])—1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:34; 13:31. When referring to his relationship to God the Father, Jesus refers to himself simply as “(the) Son”, a usage that pervades the Discourses—3:16-17f, 35-36; 5:19-27; 6:40; 8:35-36; 14:13; 17:1. Even when the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is not explicitly used, and Jesus speaks of God as (his) Father, the same relationship is clearly intended.

It is noteworthy that, while the idea of believers as the children of God is central to the Johannine theology, the noun ui(o/$ is never used in this context. The relationship between believers and God (as their/our Father) is expressed through the plural of the noun te/knon (te/kna, “offspring”). By contrast, the noun ui(o/$ is consciously reserved for Jesus (as the Son). This differs, for example, from Paul’s usage, since he is willing to apply the sonship motif to believers, calling them “sons [ui(oi/] of God” (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26); though he is careful to frame such references either in terms of adoption (ui(oqesi/a, “placement as a son”, Rom 8:15, 23; Gal 4:5), or in relation to the Sonship of Jesus (e.g., Rom 8:29; cf. Eph 1:5). Within the Johannine theology, however, Jesus is quite literally the only Son.

2. The Son’s relation to God the Father

In 1:14, the glory of the incarnate Logos (Jesus) is said to be that of an only Son “alongside [para/]” the Father. Early Christians were quite clear on the Divine status/position of Jesus as God’s Son. Within the early exaltation Christology, after the resurrection, Jesus was exalted to heaven, where he (now) stands at the “right hand” of God the Father (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the subsequent pre-existence Christology that developed, this same relational idea was applied to the Son’s pre-existence—viz., even in the beginning, he stood alongside the Father, sharing in His glory and splendor.

Though this theological view is only suggested or indicated briefly elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Phil 2:6; Heb 1:2-3), it stated more fully and directly in the Gospel of John. The heavenly origin of the Son (implying Divine pre-existence) is repeatedly mentioned throughout the Gospel (see the “Son” and “Son of Man” references, above), along with the idea of his impending return (back to the Father). Outside of the Prologue, an emphasis on the pre-existent glory (do/ca), which the Son shares with the Father, is most clear in chapter 17 (see esp. verses 5, 22, 24).

At least as important, for the Johannine theology, is the Son’s relationship to the Father, which is expressed in various ways; two themes are particularly notable: (1) the Father gives all things (that are His) to the Son, and (2) like a dutiful Son, Jesus follows his Father’s example and instruction, saying and doing all that he hears and sees his Father saying/doing. For the first theme, the key references are: 3:34-35; 5:21-22ff, 26-27, 36; 6:32-33, 37ff, 57; 10:28-29; 17:2, 8-12, 22-24; what the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. For the second theme, cf. 5:19-20, 30, 36; 6:46; 8:26, 28-29, 38ff; 12:49-50; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

3. The Divine attributes and characteristics manifested in the Son

The incarnate Logos, and God’s “only Son”, with his splendor/glory (do/ca), is said to be “full of favor and truth”. There are three terms contained in this qualifying phrase; let us briefly consider each of them.

a. plh/rh$ (“full, filled”)

The adjective plh/rh$ occurs only here in the Gospel of John, nor does it tend to be used in a theological context, the way it is here, elsewhere in the New Testament. It is most commonly used in Luke-Acts, occasionally in the context of believers being filled with the Spirit (Acts 6:3ff; 7:55; 11:24); in Lk 4:1, the same is said of Jesus himself. It is possible that a similar association, between Jesus and the Spirit of God, is intended here. One is reminded of the statements in 3:34-35:

    • V. 34—Jesus receives the fullness of the Spirit (“it is not out of a measure that He [i.e. the Father] gives the Spirit”)
    • V. 35— “The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s into his hand.”
b. xa/ri$ (“favor”)

One of the things, of which the incarnate Logos’ splendor is “full”, is xa/ri$, “favor” —that is, the favor given/shown by God. The noun xa/ri$ is by no means a Johannine term; outside of the Prologue (vv. 16-17), it does not occur in the rest of the Gospel, and only once in the Letters (2 John 3). This may be compared, by contrast, with the extensive use of the word in Luke-Acts and the Pauline writings.

Translated into the Johannine idiom, xa/ri$ should probably be understood here in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) that the Father has for the Son, expressed principally by what the Father gives to him (3:35, etc, cf. above). It has been suggested (cf. Brown, p. 14) that xa/ri$ is related here to the Hebrew ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”), specifically in the latter’s connotation of faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. In this regard, xa/ri$ is, indeed, an important aspect of the Son’s do/ca—that is, the honor shown/given to him by the Father. The following term a)lh/qeia (cf. below) could similarly be associated with Hebrew tm#a# (rel. hn`Wma$), which connotes faithfulness (lit. “firmness”).

c. a)lh/qeia (“truth”)

Unlike xa/ri$, which virtually is never used elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) is an important Johannine keyword. It occurs 25 times in the Gospel (compared with 7 in the Synoptic combined) and 20 more times in the Letters (9 in 1 Jn, 5 in 2 Jn, 6 in 3 Jn). The related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$ (“true”) also occur rather frequently. In the Johannine theological idiom, “truth” (a)lh/qeia) is a fundamental Divine attribute which the Son possesses (from the Father), and which he communicates to believers in the world. In so doing, the Son makes the Father known (in His fundamental nature as Truth). This Divine truth is specifically associated with the Spirit (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6).

A comparative study of the use of xa/ri$ and a)lh/qeia, along with the usage of the adjective plh/rh$ elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke-Acts), strongly suggests that this final phrase of v. 14 refers to the incarnate Logos’ possession of the Spirit of God, and of the Father’s giving the Spirit to him. The following verses of the Prologue (vv. 16-18) emphasize how this “favor and truth” is given by the Son, in turn, to believers; again, in the context of the Gospel (and the Johannine theology), this would be understood primarily in terms of his giving the Spirit to believers, by which they/we come to be born as the children of God.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 6

“…full of favor and truth”
plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

The final phrase of John 1:14 further modifies the third main phrase (“and we looked upon his splendor”), building upon the prior modifying phrase qualifying the “splendor” (do/ca) of the Logos, discussed in part 5: “(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father”. This final phrase clarifies the nature of this do/ca, as being “full of favor and truth”.

The adjective plh/rh$ means “full, filled”. Here, it is in the masculine gender, which suggests that it does not directly modify do/ca (which is feminine)*, but either the original subject-noun lo/go$ or the substantive adjective monogenh/$ (“only[-born]”). The form plh/rh$ can be read either as being in the nominative or genitive case; the latter would agree with the case of monogenh/$ (monogenou=$). Thus, it is not merely the “splendor” of the Logos that is filled, but the Logos itself, in its character as an only Son of God.

* It has been noted (Blass-Debrunner-Funk [BDF] §1371) that this adjective can be treated as indeclinable, so it conceivably could be understood as modifying do/ca; cf. Brown, p. 14.

But with what is the Logos said to be “filled”? This is explained by a pair of nouns in the genitive (“of…”), indicating what the Logos, as God’s Son, is full of. The first noun is xa/ri$, which is often translated “grace”, but properly means “favor”. In the context of the image of the Logos as God’s Son, this certainly refers to favor shown to him by the Father, just as a human father tends to show great favor to an only (and much beloved, cf. 3:16) son.

In earlier portions of this study, it was discussed how the “splendor” (do/ca) of the Logos relates to its Divine nature and position in the presence of God. In vv. 1-2, this nearness to God is expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), while here in v. 14 the preposition para/ (“alongside”) is used. In verse 18, a more colorful idiom is used, referring to the Logos as an only Son (again, the adjective monogenh/$) who resides “in the lap [or ‘bosom’]” (ei)$ to\n ko/lpon) of the Father; cp. the same basic image of intimacy in 13:23.

Thus, the Logos shares God’s own splendor, having possessed it “in the beginning” (v. 1); cf. the same idea in 17:5. Yet the relationship between God and the Logos, compared to that between a Father and an only/beloved Son, also contains the idea that God the Father gives from Himself (and His own) to the Logos/Son, an idea that is developed throughout the Gospel (and which we will examine in the next division of our study); cf. especially 3:34-35. This giving by the Father, to the Son (the Logos), is covered here by the noun xa/ri$ (“favor”).

The fullness of the Logos, and the nature of his splendor, is also defined by the second noun of the pair—a)lh/qeia (“truth”). This is a major Johannine keyword; the noun, along with the related adjectives a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$, occurs with great frequency in the Gospel and Letters of John (the noun itself occurs 25 times in the Gospel), and is of considerable theological importance. It is a fundamental attribute of God, one which ties back to the use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue, emphasizing the ultimate being and reality of God (the adjective a)lhqino/$ can be translated “real”).

There is also a religious-ethical aspect to God’s truth (a)lh/qeia), as it applies to human beings. The ontological and religious-ethical aspects of truth can be combined in the motif of light (fw=$), introduced earlier in the Prologue (vv. 4-5ff). Light is a sign (and source) of life, but it also represents the truth—in its clarity and purity, etc—especially the truth of God which is conveyed to human beings by the light of revelation.

That which God (the Father) gives to the Logos (the Son), is meant to be given, in turn, to human beings. This intermediary role of the Logos was established earlier in the Prologue, with the reference to the Logos’ role in Creation (vv. 3ff), but particularly its role as the source of life and light (enlightenment) for humankind (vv. 4-5, 9). The closing words of the Prologue’s underlying Logos-poem emphasize again the role of the Logos in communicating the Divine light, etc, to human beings:

“…and of his fullness [plh/rwma] we all (have) received, even favor upon favor.” (v. 16)

The noun plh/rwma means “fullness”, and is obviously related to the adjective plh/rh$ in v. 14. Earlier in the Prologue, the first person plural (“we / us”) carried multiple levels of meaning: all rational human beings, the people of Israel, and believers in Christ. However, following the reference to the incarnation of the Logos in v. 14, this “we” now refers unquestionably to believers. All people who encountered the incarnate Logos (in the person of Jesus) “looked on” his splendor, but only the believers truly saw it and comprehended its significance. This also means that they truly “received” his splendor, and, in so doing (through trust in Jesus), they also received from his fullness—that fullness of favor (xa/ri$) which God gave to the Logos, like a Father to His only Son.

The precise meaning of the expression xa/ri$ a)nti\ xa/rito$, in v. 16, is not immediately clear. The preposition a)nti/ means “against”, but sometimes in the sense of “in place of, instead of”, and so it has been explained here by some commentators. Anticipating the contrast in vv. 17-18, the expression has been interpreted as referring to the xa/ri$ of Christ (in the New Covenant) replacing the xa/ri$ of Moses (i.e., the Torah of the Old Covenant). Commentators uncomfortable with a replacement emphasis may prefer to explain a)nti/ in the sense of “added to” —i.e., the grace that comes through Christ being in addition to the grace that came through the Torah, etc.

The sense of “addition” for the preposition a)nti/ in v. 16 is doubtless correct, though the more concrete translation “upon” better preserves the fundamental meaning (“against”)—i.e., one thing laid against another, as we might image objects being piled up upon one another. This is almost certainly the proper meaning of the expression in v. 16—viz., a ‘piling up’ of favor, following along the motif of fullness. Believers receive an abundance of favor (from God) through the Logos (the Son, Jesus).

Verses 17-18 continue this theme; it is here that the contrast, between Jesus and Moses, is specifically introduced. Recognizing the likelihood that vv. 17-18 represent expository comments (by the Gospel writer), added to the end of the adapted Logos-poem (and commenting specifically upon v. 16), we can see the Moses theme—which the author develops throughout the Gospel—being introduced here.

However, there were earlier allusions to this theme in the Prologue (and the Logos-poem). Most notably, as was discussed in previous portions of our study, the motif of seeing God—and, specifically, of “looking upon” His glory (do/ca)—likely draw upon the Moses traditions in Exodus 19-20ff, 33-34 (see esp. Moses’ famous request in 33:18). The Gospel writer doubtless recognized this, and was inspired by it to include the expository comments of vv. 17-18. The contrast in v. 17, in particular, builds upon the wording of our phrase in v. 14:

“(For it is) that the law was given through Moshe, but the favor and the truth came to be through Yeshua the Anointed.”

The same pair of nouns—favor (xa/ri$) and truth (a)lh/qeia)—is used, being juxtaposed (in contrast) to the law (no/mo$, i.e., the Torah, or Law of Moses). Another key point of the contrast involves the two verbs that are used:

    • di/dwmi (“give”)—the law was given (e)do/qh) through Moses
    • gi/nomai (“come to be”)—the favor and truth came to be (e)ge/neto) through Jesus

The use of the same aorist form (e)ge/neto) of the verb of becoming as that in v. 14 almost certainly entails an allusion to the incarnation of the Logos (“came to be flesh”), being now explicitly identified with the person of Jesus. Moses and Jesus are both mediators, through (dia/) whom God’s revelatory truth and presence is communicated. But they are very different in kind, with Jesus far surpassing (and replacing) Moses as a mediator for God’s people (and all humankind).

Jesus is the incarnate Logos, the only/beloved Son of God, himself sharing in God’s glory, possessing the fullness of Divine favor and truth. As the Son of God, he manifests not only God’s splendor (do/ca), but God Himself. This is clear from the climactic words of the Prologue in v. 18:

“No one has looked at God (with their eyes) at any time; (but) the only-born Son, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, this (one has) led (Him) out (to us).”

Having examined verse 14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue, it is now time to consider it in the wider context of the Johannine Gospel itself. This we will do, beginning with Part 1 of the next (second) division of our study. Within this context, we will be looking again at each word and phrase in the verse, but also the central idea of the incarnation of the Logos, to see how this specific Christological concept (of the underlying Logos-poem) relates to the overall theology of the Gospel.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

October 12: John 15:1a (continued)

John 15:1, continued
Verse 1a

“I am the true vine”
e)gw/ ei)mi h( a&mpelo$ h( a)lhqinh/

In the previous note, I discussed the position of this “I am” saying of Jesus as the central statement of the Discourse-unit 15:1-16:4a. The background and theological significance of the “I am” formulation was also examined, in relation to the phenomenon in the Johannine writings that I call essential predication. These simple predicative statements, made up of three elements, utilizing the verb of being (ei)mi), declare what the subject is—i.e., stating the subject’s essential identity and attributes.

In the Johannine writings, essential predication is reserved (almost exclusively) for a Divine subject—that is, God, or Jesus as the Son of God. Thus Jesus, in making these predicative “I am…” statements, is effectively declaring his identity as the Son of God, and, with it, his relationship to God the Father. This is particularly clear here in 15:1, where Jesus’ self-declaration as the Son (“I am…”) is paired with a predicative statement about God the Father (“my Father is…”).

In one major class of “I am” sayings, Jesus identifies himself with an object or feature of the natural world—e.g., bread, light, shepherd, or, in this case, a vine (a&mpelo$). First, let us outline again the three elements of this predicative statement:

    • Divine subject: “I” (e)gw/)
    • Verb of being: “am” (ei)mi)
    • Predicate: “the true vine” (h( a&mpelo$ h( a)lhqinh/)

The first two elements, in combination (“I am,” e)gw/ ei)mi), were discussed in the previous note. It remains to analyze the third element (the predicate). It consists of an arthrous (i.e., with the definite article) noun and a modifying adjective (also with the article).

h( a&mpelo$ (“the vine”)—Jesus thus identifies himself as a vine, with the word a&mpelo$ denoting specifically the coiling and clinging tendrils of the grape-vine. The related noun a(mpelw/n refers to a place where vines are grown (i.e., vineyard). In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus told several parables with a vineyard setting (Mark 12:1-19 par; Matt 20:1-16; 21:28-32; Luke 13:6-9), but the only other specific use of a vine-motif occurs in his saying at the last supper (Mk 14:25 par). The association between the fruit of the vine and Jesus’ death is significant, and is due to the obvious similarity between the juice of the red grape and blood (cf. Rev 14:18-19). This point will be discussed later on in our notes.

Since it makes little sense for a person to identify him/herself with an actual growing vine, it is quite clear that the use of the vine-image is figurative, serving as a metaphor. There is ample precedence for this in Old Testament tradition, most notably in the use of the vine/vineyard to represent the people/nation of Israel—cf. Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Jer 2:21; 6:9; 12:10; Ezek 19:10ff; Hosea 10:1. The vine/vineyard motif features prominently throughout the Song of Songs; this is imagery inherited from ancient Near Eastern love poetry, but, as the Song came to be interpreted allegorically by Jews and Christians (i.e., of God’s love for His people, etc), it relates to the prophetic passages cited above. In Wisdom tradition, the vine (or its fruit, wine) occasionally serves as a figure for wisdom (e.g., Sirach 24:17ff), though, more commonly, there are negative associations with the image of wine (as a symbol of sin and its judgment).

h( a)lhqinh/ (“the true”)—The figurative and symbolic character of the vine in 15:1 is clarified by the use of the modifying adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”). The fundamental meaning of this adjective is “unhidden, unconcealed”, but it tends to be used in the more general sense of “true”, as also the similar adjective a)lhqh/$. The distinction between a)lhqh/$ and a)lhqino/$ is fine; but the latter, particularly as it is used in the Johannine writings, tends to connote something real, in contrast to that which one might consider to be real (but is not).

The a)lhq– word-group is especially important and prominent in the Johannine writings. The noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) occurs 25 times in the Gospel (compared with 7 in the Synoptics combined), and another 20 times in the letters, making 45 in all (nearly half of the 109 NT occurrences). The adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel (compared with 2 in the Synoptics), and 3 times in the letters—more than half (17) of all NT occurrences (26). The adjective a)lhqino/$ occurs 9 times in the Gospel (and only once in the Synoptics), and 4 times in the letters; if one adds the 10 occurrences in the book of Revelation (considered as a Johannine work), then nearly all of the NT occurrences (23 out of 28) are Johannine.

The adjective a)lhqino/$ is somewhat less common than a)lhqh/$ in the Gospel (9 occurrences compared with 14). However, it’s usage is of particular importance, particularly given the closeness in meaning to a)lhqh/$; if the one adjective is used rather than the other, it likely is intended to convey something specific or distinctive. The other eight occurrences of a)lhqino/$ are:

    • 1:9— “He was the true light, that gives light to every man, coming into the world.”
    • 4:23— “…the true worshipers will worship the Father in (the) Spirit and (in) truth”
    • 4:37— “…the saying is true, that…”
    • 6:32— “…but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven”
    • 7:28— “…I have not come from myself; but the (One) (hav)ing sent me is true, whom you have not seen [i.e. do not know]”
    • 8:16— “…and yet, if I should judge, my judging is true, (in) that I am not alone, but (it is) I and the (One) (hav)ing sent me, (the) Father”
    • 17:3— “And this is eternal life: that you should know the only true God, and the (one) whom He sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”
    • 19:35— “and the (one) having seen has given witness, and his witness is true…”

We may isolate three important theological themes related to this usage of a)lhqino/$:

    • Truth is a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God Himself—17:3; also 7:28, and implied in 8:16 and 4:23
    • The words and actions of Jesus (the Son) are true, because of his relationship to God the Father (the One who sent him to earth)—7:28; 8:16; the theme of the truthfulness of a witness is also present in 19:35
    • An essential association between the Spirit and truth—4:23f; cf. also 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; and 1 John 4:6; 5:6.

As we proceed through these notes, we will consider how all three of these points of emphasis apply to Jesus as “the true vine”.

The closest formal parallels to 15:1a are in 1:9 and 6:32, where Jesus is identified with the true form/version of a natural object or feature—viz., the “true light [fw=$]” and the “true bread [a&rto$] out of heaven”. The distinction “true” (a)lhqino/$) is applied in contrast to the ordinary physical/material thing (light, bread). In other words, a physical loaf of bread may seem to be real/true, but it is not so; the real (i.e. true) bread is eternal and spiritual, and is found in/with the person of Jesus (the Son). In the chapter 6 (Bread of Life) Discourse, the point of reference is the tradition of the “bread from heaven” (i.e., the manna) in the Exodus narratives (Exod 16:31ff; Psalm 78:24, etc). The manna was an actual physical substance, but it was not the true bread from heaven. Similarly, the ordinary light by which we see (with our physical eyes) is not the true light (cf. 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5ff; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10).

Applying this same logic to our passage, an ordinary grape-vine is not the true vine—for that is found only in the person of Jesus the Son.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the second half of the verse 1 saying.

July 17: 1 John 5:20 (cont.)

1 John 5:20, continued

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

The first two clauses of verse 20 (a) were discussed in the previous note; we now turn to the next two clauses (b).

Verse 20b:
    • “(so) that we might know the (One who is) true,
      and (that) we are in the (One who is) true,”

The i%na-clause, which I believe covers both statements of v. 20b, expresses the purpose (and expected result) of the understanding (dia/noia) that the Son, in his abiding presence (through the Spirit), gives to believers. The i%na conjunction thus is to be rendered “so that…”.

In the first statement here (clause three), the expressed purpose for the dia/noia that the Son gives is so that (i%na)…

“we [i.e. believers] might know [ginw/skwmen] the (One who is) true [to\n a)lhqino/n]”

The substantive adjective (with the article), o( a)lhqino/$, is a title for God the Father. The theme of truth is fundamental for the Johannine writings:

    • the noun a)lh/qeia occurs 25 times in the Gospel and 20 in the Letters (45 out of 109 NT occurrences)
    • the adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel and 3 times in the Letters (17 out of 26 NT occurrences)
    • the adjective a)lhqino/$ occurs 9 times in the Gospel and 4 in 1 John (13 out of 28 NT occurrences); if we count (as Johannine) the 10 occurrences of a)lhqino/$ in the book of Revelation, then all but five of the NT occurrences are in the Johannine writings, making it very much a distinctive keyword.

Drawing upon Old Testament tradition (e.g., Psalm 18:30; 19:9; 25:5; 43:3; 86:11; 119:142, 160; Prov 30:5; Isa 45:19; 65:16; Jer 10:10, etc), truth is viewed as a fundamental attribute of God—for this use of the adjective a)lhqino/$ (and a)lhqh/$), cf. Jn 3:33; 7:28; 8:26; 17:3 (cf. also 4:23; 5:32). Somewhat more commonly, in the Johannine writings, it is applied to Jesus—as the “true light” (Jn 1:9; 1 Jn 2:8), the “true bread from heaven” (6:32, cp. v. 55), and the “true vine” (15:1); cf. also 7:18; 8:16. It is used of believers (as true worshipers of God) in Jn 4:23 (cp. 18:37).

In addition to being an attribute of God, reflecting His nature and character, the adjective “true” also reflects the Israelite religious tradition of El-YHWH as the (only) true God (e.g., Jer 10:10; 2 Chron 15:3). With regard to this monotheistic orientation (and polemic), as inherited by early Christians, cf. here the author’s closing warning against ‘idols’ in verse 21.

The statement in clause three encapsulates the Johannine theology, expressed more fully in the Gospel (17:3):

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

The i%na-clause (in bold above) is virtually identical with the clause here in v. 20.

As noted above, in the Johannine writings, truth is an essential attribute of Jesus, God’s Son. It is expressed by way of essential predication (by Jesus Himself) in Jn 14:6: “I am…the truth” —one of the famous “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) declarations by Jesus in the Gospel; cf. also 1:14, 17. However, it is equally associated with the Spirit—including the specific title “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6); cf. also Jn 4:23-24. The idea that the Spirit will lead/guide believers in the way of “all truth” (Jn 16:13), teaching them the truth, is present also in 1 John (2:21, 27), and is reflective of a Johannine spiritualism. In 1:6-8 and 2 Jn 2, 4; 3 Jn 3-4, 12, truth seems to be identified with the abiding presence of the Spirit; similarly, being “of the truth” (belonging to it, and ‘born’ of it), 3:19 (cf. Jn 18:37), is comparable to (and largely synonymous with) the Johannine idea of believers being born “of the Spirit” (Jn 3:5-8). Truth is an essential predicate of the Spirit, just as it is of Jesus:

    • Jesus: “I am…the truth” (Jn 14:6)
    • “the Spirit is the truth” (1 Jn 5:6; cp. with Pilate’s question in Jn 18:38)

This brings us to the fourth clause, which I regard as being governed by the same i%na purpose-clause:

“(so that we might know that) we are in the (One who is) true”

This is another fundamental Johannine theological belief—viz., that believers abide in God the Father, in union with Him. This union takes place through the Son (Jesus), which, in turn, is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This is the idea expressed here, in shorthand form. The presence of the Son (through the Spirit) makes the Father known to us, and allows us to abide/remain in Him. It also gives us the knowledge that we abide in Him (and He in us)—a point expressed more clearly by the author in 3:24

“…and in this we know that He remains in us—out of [i.e. from] the Spirit which He gave to us”

and similarly in 4:13:

“In this we know that we remain in Him, and He in us: (in) that He has given of His Spirit to us.”

In the next daily note, we will examine the last two clauses of verse 20.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 4:1-6

1 John 4:1-6

This is the second of the two “antichrist” sections in 1 John (cf. the prior study on the first, 2:18-27); in between the two sections is the major unit of 2:28-3:24 (cf. the previous study), the central section of the work. In the “antichrist” sections, the focus is on the false believers (i.e. the opponents), while the central section deals primarily with the nature and characteristics of true believers (i.e., the author and those who agree with his position). This distinction between the true and false believer is a principal theme of 1 John.

While the role of the Spirit was emphasized in the first “antichrist” section, this spiritual (and spiritualistic) aspect of the author’s teaching is made more explicit in the second section—the actual word “spirit” (pneu=ma) occurring for the first time at the climax of the central section (3:24; cf. the discussion in the previous study).

Because of the author’s understanding, regarding the role of the Spirit, in 2:18-27—viz., that believers are taught (directly) by the indwelling Spirit (referred to as the “anointing,” xri=sma, vv. 20-21, 27)—it is of particular importance the way he begins the section here:

“Loved (ones), you must not trust every spirit, but consider the spirits, (to see) if (the spirit) is out of [i.e. from] God, (for it is) that many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (v. 1)

The author’s use of the plural pneu/mata (“spirits”), along with the expression “every spirit” (pa=n pneu=ma), suggests that he has in mind the existence (and activity) of many different spirit-beings—both good and bad—such as we find attested in a number of the Qumran texts. However, while the author presumably did accept the reality of multiple evil spirits, such a belief is almost certainly not his emphasis here. Rather, as becomes clear in vv. 2-6, there are really only two “spirits,” which are opposed to each other, and only one of them comes from God (being His holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth,” 4:6; 5:6).

Every person is influenced and inspired by one or the other of these two spirits, being dominated by it, much as we see, for example, in the “Treatise of the Two Spirits” portion (3:13-4:26) of the Community Rule text (1QS) from Qumran. That text essentially juxtaposes the same two “spirits” as our author does here in 1 Jn 4:6: “the Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]” vs. “the Spirit of going astray [pla/nh]”. The noun pla/nh here (as elsewhere in the New Testament) is used primarily in a causative sense, i.e., leading people astray, and connotes the idea of deception. Cf. the author’s use of the related verb plana/w in 2:26 (also 1:8; 3:7). In the Qumran “Two Spirits” treatise (1QS 3:18-19), the corresponding Hebrew expressions are tm#a$h^ j^Wr (“the spirit of truth”) and lw#u*h^ j^Wr (“the spirit of injustice”).

God’s holy Spirit leads believers into truth (cf. Jn 16:13), while the evil spirit (of injustice) leads other people into falsehood and error. This role of the Spirit within believers is emphasized by the author in 2:20-21, 27, echoing, it seems, the Paraclete-saying of Jesus in Jn 16:13 (cf. the earlier study and note on this saying). The point applies, of course, only to true believers; the false believer is not taught by God’s Spirit, but, rather, is influenced by the evil spirit that leads people astray (pla/nh, vb plana/w).

In verse 1, the author specifically refers to the opponents as “false prophets” (yeudoprofh=tai), drawing rather clearly upon the eschatological tradition that deceiving false prophets will be increasingly active (and prevalent) during the end-time period of distress. This is expressed, for example, in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mk 13:6, 22; par Matt 24:11, 24); cf. also Matt 7:15; 2 Pet 2:1; Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10. The noun pla/nh and verb plana/w are used in similar eschatological contexts in Mark 13:5-6 par; 2 Thess 2:11; 2 Tim 3:13; 2 Pet 2:15; 3:17; Jude 11; Rev 2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10.

Some commentators have thought that the author has a special prophetic gifting in mind, such as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 1114; cf. also Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9-10; Eph 4:11. However, I do not think that this is the case. While it is possible that the opponents (or at least some of their leaders/teachers) may have claimed special inspiration (cp. Rev 2:20), I feel the author has something more basic in mind, which is very much related, as I see it, to the spiritualistic tendencies within the Johannine Community.

The implicit logic of the author goes something like this: All (true) believers are taught and led by the indwelling Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth, and which thus cannot teach anything that is false. Thus if any supposed believer speaks something that is false, and claims (or takes for granted) that it was derived from the Spirit’s teaching, such a person is, in fact, a false believer. He/she speaks, not from God’s holy Spirit, but from an evil and deceiving spirit. Every true believer, possessing the Spirit, functions as a prophet (cf. Joel 2:28-29 in Acts 2:17-18; cp. 1 Jn 2:27, in light of Jer 31:34, cf. also Jn 6:45 [Isa 54:13]), which means the false believer is, by definition, a false prophet. The opponents are false prophets because they are taught and speak by a false/deceiving spirit, rather than by the Spirit of God.

Yet how can one discern between the true believer, speaking from the Holy Spirit (2:20-21, 27), and the false believer speaking from another spirit? The author provides at least one clear test in verse 2:

“In this you (can) know the Spirit of God: every spirit that gives account as one [o(mologei=] (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed having come in (the) flesh is out of [i.e. from] God…”

Evidence of the false/lying spirit, by contrast, is given in v. 3:

“…and every spirit that does not give account as one (of) Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God”

The test is Christological, regarding a one’s public confession regarding the person of Jesus Christ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”). I have discussed verses 2-3 at length in a recent set of exegetical notes, which are supplemental to this article; for a detailed study of the many critical and exegetical issues in these verses, you should consult those notes. The verb o(mologe/w, which literally means “give account as one”, here refers to being in agreement with (and publicly affirming/confessing) a particular statement—viz., that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed having come in [the] flesh”). According to the author, the opponents denied or refused to affirm this statement (v. 3).

The precise Christology of the opponents has been much debated over the years, and there is as yet no consensus among commentators; a particular problem complicating the interpretation is how the confessional statement in 4:2f relates to the earlier one in 2:22f. I have discussed the matter at length in recent supplemental notes on each passage—i.e., on the opponents’ view as expressed in 2:22f (Pts 1, 2 & 3) and 4:2f (Pts 1, 2 & 3), respectively.

The main point for our study here is that the opponents’ false view of Jesus is a sign that they do not possess the Spirit of truth, but speak from a false/deceiving spirit, and are thus false believers. In verse 3b, the author again refers to them by the term a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos), which literally means “against [a)nti/] the Anointed [Xristo/$]”. This term, used earlier in 2:18, 22 (cf. also 2 Jn 7), draws upon the eschatological tradition of false Messiahs who will appear at the end-time (Mk 13:6, 21-22 par; cf.  2 Thess 2:1-12); on the tradition of end-time false prophets, cf. above. For a detailed study on the significance and background of the term a)nti/xristo$, cf. my earlier article “The Antichrist Tradition” (Pt 1, 2, 3). Here, as in 2:18-27, the description “against the Anointed” is particularly appropriate, since the false view of Jesus by the opponents, according to the author, truly is “against Christ”. Moreover, it is inspired by the spirit of Antichrist:

“…and this is the (spirit) of (the one) against the Anointed, (of) which you (have) heard that it comes, and now is already in the world.” (v. 3b)

This echoes what the author said earlier in 2:18, and indicates that, from the author’s standpoint, the presence and activity of these false believers is a particular sign that the end is near (“it is [the] last hour”). The word “spirit” (pneu=ma) is not actually used here in v. 3b, but the neuter noun is implied by the neuter article to/, and can be glossed in translation (i.e., “the [spirit] of…”).

Verses 4ff emphasize the opposition (indicated by the prefix a)nti-, “against”) between the true and false believers. It is reflected specifically by the conflict and crisis involving these ‘opponents’ who have separated, according to the author, from the Community (of true believers). This conflict is very much part of the end-time period of distress which believers face (cf. Mk 13:9-13 par, etc); in particular, there is the real danger that even believers may be led astray by these “false prophets” (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24). In spite of this danger, the author assures his readers that the Spirit within them (believers) is greater than the false/lying spirit(s) at work in the world:

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

In the Johannine writings, the pronouns and verbal subjects are often ambiguous or unspecified, as is the case here. We may thus ask to whom precisely does the first relative pronoun o% (“the [one] who”) refer? The context of our passage, which contrasts the Spirit of God with the spirit of Antichrist strongly suggests that God (the Father) is the principal reference. However, from the Johannine theological standpoint, God the Father is present in believers through the Son (Jesus), and the Son, in turn, is present through the Spirit. Thus God, who is Spirit (Jn 4:24), is present in believers (“in you” [e)n u(mi=n]) through the Spirit (cf. 3:24). By contrast, the one “in the world” is Antichrist, and, specifically, the false/lying spirit of Antichrist (“that is now already in the world,” v. 3). That the false believers have gone out “into the world” (v. 1) is an indication of the evil spirit at work “in the world”.

The “world” (o( ko/smo$), in the Johannine writings, fundamentally represents the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. Jesus was sent “into” the world, but does not belong to (i.e. is not “of”) the world; the same is true of believers; on this important theme, see especially the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse in the Gospel (vv. 6, 9-11, 13-16, 18, 20-21, 23-25), also 15:18-19; 18:36-37. The Johannine writings regularly use the pronoun e)k (“out of”) with a special dual-significance: (a) origin, i.e., born out of [i.e. from]; and (b) belonging, i.e. being of someone/something. Thus, when the author here says that his readers (as true believers) are “out of [e)k] God” it means that they belong to God, and have come to be born (vb genna/w) from Him, as His offspring (te/kna); on the latter, cf. Jn 1:13; 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18. They belong to God, not to the world; it also means they belong to the truth (Jn 18:37; 1 Jn 3:19), since they have been born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5-6, 8; cf. 4:24) who is the truth (1 Jn 5:6).

By saying that the opponents have gone out “into the world”, the author means this in a double-sense. First, as “false prophets,” they are engaged in a missionary effort, which is a false and antithetical version of the mission of believers (and of Jesus himself), cf. above. Based on the information in 2 Jn 7-11, we can say that the conflict between the opponents and the author’s circle reflects, in an early Christian milieu, the missionary work (of visits and letters) involved in sustaining a unified network of congregations over a geographical region. Second, by leaving the Community (of true believers), the opponents have truly gone into the world, in the decidedly negative (Johannine) meaning of the term ko/smo$ (cf. above). The departure of Judas in the Gospel narrative (13:21-30, see esp. verse 30) may be said to symbolize false believers such as the opponents. As false believers, they belong to the world, not to God; cf. how the author explains this in 2:19.

Because true believers belong to God, and abide in Him through the Spirit, being children of God, in union with Jesus the Son, they are victorious over the world, and need not be led astray by those who belong to the world (i.e., the opponents). The verb nika/w (“be victorious [over someone/something”) is practically a Johannine keyword; of the 28 NT occurrences, all but 4 are in the traditional Johannine writings—once in the Gospel (16:33), 6 in 1 John, and 17 in the book of Revelation. The use of the perfect tense here (nenikh/kate, “you have been victorious [over]”) reflects the earlier use in 2:13-14: “you have been victorious (over) the evil”. The object to\n ponhro/n, as a substantive (“the evil”), is understood by most commentators in a personal sense—the evil one, i.e., the Satan/Devil, referred to elsewhere in the Gospel as “the chief/ruler of this world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou tou/tou), 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. If this reading is correct, then in 2:13-14, the author is effectively saying that the (true) believers have been victorious over the world and its “chief” (i.e., the Devil). This reflects precisely the wording of Jesus at the climactic moment of the Last Discourse (16:33):

“In the world you have distress, but take courage—I have been victorious (over) the world [e)gw\ neni/khka to\n ko/smon]!”

The perfect tense typically refers to a past action (or condition), the effect of which continues into the present. In this context, the past action is the mission of Jesus (spec. his sacrificial death) and believers’ trust in it. Through his death and exaltation, the power of the “chief of this world” was overcome and destroyed (Jn 12:31; 16:11; 1 Jn 3:8); the effect of this continues in the present because of believers’ union with Jesus through the Spirit. The life-giving power and efficacy of Jesus’ death is communicated to us spiritually, through the Spirit (cf. 1:7; and the context of Jn 6:51-58, 63; 19:30, 34). However, this victory is realized only for true believers, who have a true and genuine trust in Jesus Christ. This emphasis, with regard to the occurrence of the verb nika/w, in 5:4-5, will be discussed in the next article in this series.

Here, in verse 5, the author makes clear again that the opponents (as false believers) do not belong to God, but to the world:

“(But) they are of [e)k] the world, (and) through this [i.e. for this reason] they speak out of [e)k, i.e. from] the world, and the world hears them.”

This wording very much resembles Jesus’ statement to Pilate in Jn 18:37, where he summarizes his mission, which is also essentially the mission of believers:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world: that I should give witness to the truth; every (one) being [i.e. who is] of [e)k] the truth hears my voice.”

Cf. also the theological propositions in Jn 3:31, 34:

“…The (one) being of [e)k] the earth is out of [e)k, i.e. belongs to] the earth and speaks out of [e)k, i.e. from] the earth.”
“For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the words of God.”

The same kind of language features prominently in the Sukkot Discourse (chaps. 78); cf. especially 8:47:

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

True believers both hear and speak the truth, which comes from God and His Spirit (which is the truth, 5:6); the false believers who belong to the world (and not to God) do not hear/speak the truth, but only the false/deceiving word, which is opposed to the truth and comes from the world. According to the author’s reasoning, the true believer will accept the truth as spoken by other true believers, which comes from the teaching of the Spirit. The author, in his rhetorical strategy, has positioned both himself and his audience as true believers, with the implicit assumption that they, as true believers, will agree with his view (of Jesus Christ), rather than that of the opponents:

We are of [e)k] God, (and) the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) that is not of [e)k] God does not hear us. Out of [i.e. from] this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of going/leading astray [pla/nh].” (v. 6)

The author’s view of Jesus, as he presents it, corresponds with the earliest Gospel tradition, going back to the first disciples and the time of Jesus himself (cf. the prologue, 1:1-4). An important principle in his line of argument is that the inner teaching of the Spirit will, and must, correspond with the truth of this historical tradition (as preserved in the Gospel). If we read between the lines, we can see that, in the author’s view, the opponents have departed from this established tradition—regarding the reality, and the significance, of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Their Christological understanding thus cannot be true, and cannot represent the teaching of the Spirit.

In the next article, on 5:5-12, we will develop this interpretation further, considering in more detail how Christology and pneumatology are related for the author of 1 John. It is my contention that, for the author, the opponents not only have an erroneous Christology, but have distorted the Johannine spiritualism as well.

May 10: John 16:8

John 16:8-11

This set of daily notes, on John 16:8-11, is supplemental to the current articles on the Paraclete-sayings in the Johannine Last Discourse, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament,” focusing on the Johannine writings. Verses 8-11 are part of the final Paraclete-saying (vv. 7b-15), which comprises the first section of the third (and final) discourse division (16:4b-28) of the Last Discourse.

The para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos), literally “(one) called alongside,” is referred to by the title “Spirit of truth,” as also in the first (14:17) and third (15:26) sayings. As I have discussed, in the Johannine theological context, “truth” (a)lh/qeia) refers principally, and most specifically, to the truth about who Jesus is. This Christological emphasis came out clearly in the third saying (cf. the discussion in Part 3), where the role of the Spirit is as a witness (vb marture/w) about (peri/) Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”). This witness-motif, with the emphasis on the Spirit as a witness, is further expounded here in the final saying, where the key statement regarding the Spirit’s role is given in verse 8.

John 16:8

“…and, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world [ko/smo$] (to be wrong), about a(marti/a, and about dikaiosu/nh, and about kri/si$.”

The Spirit’s witness here is described by the verb e)le/gxw, which has a relatively wide semantic range and can be difficult to translate with precision. The original denotation of this verb is something like “bring into contempt, expose to shame”. In the LXX and the New Testament, however, two specific contextual aspects of meaning are emphasized: (1) the judicial aspect of proving someone to be wrong (or guilty), in the sense of convicting and judging/condemning, etc; and (2) the disciplinary aspect of rebuking or chastising a person for their wrongdoing, or ‘convicting’ someone of sin, etc, with the hopes of bringing the person to repentance.

All of these aspects relate generally to the idea of exposing a person, and/or showing them to be in the wrong. In translating e)le/gxw here in verse 8, I have kept to this general meaning, which, I believe, also best captures the sense of the verb as it is used in context. This would seem to be confirmed by the other occurrences of e)le/gxw in the Johannine writings (here in the Gospel, 3:20; 8:46).

Thus, the Spirit will expose the world, and show it to be in the wrong. Jesus’ words in 3:20 are instructive in this regard:

“For every (one) doing base (thing)s hates the light, and does not come toward the light, (so) that his works should not be shown (to be evil) [e)legxqh=|].”

Jesus’ use of the light-motif clearly indicates that the idea of exposing evil (i.e., of it being exposed by the light) is in mind with the use of e)le/gxw. Since the “light”, in this case, is the truth about who Jesus is—viz., the pre-existent Son (and Light) sent into the world by the Father (v. 19; cf. also 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46)—the usage of e)le/gxw in 3:20 is contextually very close to that of 16:8. In both discourse-passages, the world is exposed and shown to be wrong by the truth of who Jesus is.

The other occurrence of e)le/gxw is found in 8:46, in a statement by Jesus that is part of a long and complex discourse-sequence, spanning chapters 7-8. It comes toward the conclusion of that sequence. In 8:12-20, a number of the earlier themes expressed in 3:16-21 (cf. above) are reprised, including a number of points of emphasis that are specifically relevant to the Paraclete sayings:

    • Jesus as the light, which reveals the truth and exposes the evil in the darkness
    • God the Father as a witness to Jesus’ identity (as the Son)
    • The judgment that comes about for those who reject this witness

Then, in vv. 21-30, we find several key themes and motifs which take on prominence in the Last Discourse:

    • The idea of Jesus going away (i.e., his impending departure)
    • The witness of who Jesus is “from the beginning” (v. 25)
    • The theme of the Father sending Jesus to declare the truth
    • The idea that Jesus still has much to say, to his followers and to the world (v. 26)

In verses 31-38  that follow, we find the key theme of disciples abiding (vb me/nw) in Jesus’ word, and in the truth; this is a theme that features prominently in the Last Discourse. This abiding results in freedom from sin (vv. 34-35).

Finally, verses 39-47 allude to the idea, so important in the Last Discourse (and the chapter 17 Prayer-discourse), that believers belong (as children) to God the Father. The world, by contrast, does not belong to God, but has the Devil as its father. It is the truth of the witness (regarding who Jesus is) that reveals this identity for the world, and for believers. In v. 45, Jesus states that the world—represented by his hostile public audience in the discourse—does not trust in him specifically because he speaks the truth. He follows this with a rhetorical challenge in verse 46:

“Which one of you shows [e)le/gxei] me (to be wrong) about [i.e. regarding] sin? If I relate the truth (to you), for what (reason) do you not trust in me?”

The use of the verb e)le/gxei with the indirect object peri\ a(marti/a$ (“about sin”) is precisely parallel with the usage in 16:8-9.

Before proceeding to discuss verse 9, it is first necessary to address two further points of interpretation in verse 8:

    1. The use of the word ko/smo$ (“world”), specifically in regard to the special Johannine theological usage of the term, and
    2. The parallelism between the prepositional triad (“about sin…”) and the earlier “about me” (i.e., about Jesus, the Son) in the third Paraclete-saying.

These will be addressed in the next daily note.