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

1 John 4:1-6, continued

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

I wish to examine two additional themes this week.

2. Believers “born of [ek] God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. “remain in” (ménœ + en)

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

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

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

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

b. “be in” (eimi + en)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*        *        *        *        *        *        *

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

July 3: 1 John 5:18-20

1 John 5:18, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

June 29: 1 John 5:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also a logical sequence at work:

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

        • is victorious over the world.

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

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

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

This is stated even more clearly in 4:4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:16-18 (continued)

1 John 5:16-18, continued

In the study last week, I noted the close parallel between 1 John 5:18 and 3:9. This strongly suggests that two verses are closely related, and that the later reference (in 5:18) may be used to explain further the meaning and force of the sin-reference in 3:9 (discussed at length in prior studies). The formal parallelism in wording, between the two statements, is readily apparent—the main clause being nearly identical in each:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God…
      pás ho gegenn¢ménos ek toú Theoú

      • …does not do sin” (3:9a)
        hamartían ou poieí
      • …does not sin” (5:18)
        ouk hamartánei

Based on this close similarity, as noted above, it is fair to assume that the explanatory clauses which follow, in each reference, are also related. The hóti-clause in 3:9b is, again:

“…(in) that [hóti] His seed remains [ménei] in him”

This is the stated reason why the one having been born of God (i.e., the true believer) “does not sin”. It is because [hóti] God’s seed “remains” in the believer. The significance of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) in this context, within the Johannine theology, has been discussed extensively throughout these studies. Indeed, it is this distinctive use of the verb which serves as the basis for one of my proposals toward addressing the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John (see last week’s study and the one prior).

Now let us turn to the explanation provided by the author in 5:18:

“…but [allá] the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”

There is an ambiguity here of subject and (pronoun) object, much as there also is in 3:9b. However, the ambiguity in that earlier reference is much easier to decipher. Literally, the clause in 3:9b reads “his seed remains in him”. But, based on the context, and Johannine language, it is clear that this means “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains in him [i.e. the believer]”. The situation is not so straightforward in the case of 5:18, as nearly all commentators recognize. There are two main ways to explain the Greek syntax:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the Son, Jesus] keeps watch (over) him [i.e. the believer]
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

Some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”), rather than the ordinary pronoun autón (“him”). Such a reading would provide confirmation for the second interpretation (above). However, even if the reading autón is regarded as original, the second interpretation is still possible, since the ordinary pronoun (i.e., autós, etc) can be used reflexively.

The parallel with 3:9 strongly favors the first option—namely, that Jesus, the Son (i.e., the one born of God), protects the believer. God’s “seed”, in the Johannine theological context, is best understood as the living Word (Logos) of God, who is the Son, abiding in the believer. God’s eternal Word is manifest, primarily, through the person of His Son. Alternatively, the “seed” may be understood as the Spirit of God; but this would differ little, in terms of the Johannine theology, since the believer’s abiding union with the Son (and the Father) is realized through the Spirit (3:24; 4:13). Moreover, since God Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24), then also His Word is Spirit, and is experienced through the Spirit (cf. Jesus’ statement in Jn 6:63).

The problem with this interpretation of 5:18 is that the idiom “the one coming to be born of God”, using the substantive verbal noun (participle), of the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), followed by the preposition ek (“[out] of”, in the expression “of God” or “of the Spirit”), always refers to believers, not to Christ. The verb gennᜠis applied to Jesus in John 18:37, but in the context of his human birth, not to a Divine/spiritual birth as God’s Son. Moreover, the idea of believers guarding themselves from sin/evil, keeping themselves pure, etc, is not at all out of place in the context of 3:4-9, as the exhortation in 2:28-29 and 3:3 makes clear.

As it turns out, both lines of interpretation are quite valid—both in terms of the Johannine theology and the literary context of 1 John. Overall, the theological focus, along with the immediate parallel in 3:9, favors the first interpretation (i.e., the Son protects the believer), while Johannine usage (vocabulary and syntax) tends to favor the second interpretation (i.e., the believer guards him/herself). A third option is available, by way of a minority reading for the clause in 5:18

“…but the coming to be (born) [i.e., birth, génn¢sis] keeps watch (over) him”

that is to say, it is the very spiritual birth, the coming to be born (as God’s offspring), which protects the believer from sin. In some ways, this provides the closest parallel with 3:9b, since the idea of God’s “seed” being present, in the believer, generally corresponds to the idea of the believer’s birth (as His offspring). However, the textual (manuscript) evidence argues firmly against this reading, and it is adopted by few, if any, commentators today.

Possibly in favor of the first interpretation (that it is the Son who protects the believer) is the use of the aorist tense (for the participle), genn¢theís, rather than the perfect tense (i.e., gegenn¢ménos), which is typically used when referring to the birth of believers as God’s offspring. It has been suggested that the difference in tense here is meant to convey a certain distinction—viz., between the Son and believers. However, though this would make an attractive solution, it is precarious to based one’s interpretation on such slight evidence as the supposed distinction between tenses.

Even so, I am inclined to favor (slightly) the interpretation that understands the second participial expression as a reference to Jesus the Son (“the one born of God”), whose abiding presence protects the believer (“the one born of God” [first participle]) from sin and evil.

Continuing the comparison between 3:9 and 5:18, there is a comparable parallel between 3:9c and the final clause of 5:18. In each instance, the implications of the Divine protection, provided to the believer, are stated boldly. In 3:9c, we have (again) the difficult declaration (discussed previously):

“…and he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God”

Essentially, this restates the declaration of v. 9a, giving a chiastic structure to the verse (cf. the outline in the earlier study). However, what is to be most noted is the absolute character of the declaration—that the true believer, the one “born of God”, is not able to sin. This compares with the corresponding clause in 5:18:

“…and the evil does not touch him”

Indeed, the statement that evil does not (or cannot) touch the believer is comparable to the statement that he/she is not able to sin. One should perhaps understand the substantive adjective (with the definite article) ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) as a personification or personal reference— “the evil one” (compare 2:13-14; 3:12; Jn 17:15), i.e., the Satan/Devil (see 3:8, 10), elsewhere called, in the Johannine writings, “the chief (ruler) [árchœn] of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Whether understood more abstractly, or as a person, this evil fundamentally characterizes “the world” (ho kósmos)—that is, the present world-order (especially at the end of the current Age), which is opposed to God, and is dominated by sin and darkness. The “antichrist” false believers (2:18-27; 4:1-6), the opponents whose views the author combats throughout 1 John, are part of this evil world. The thoroughness of this negative portrait of “the world” is made clear in verse 19, by way of a typical dualistic Johannine contrast:

“We have seen that we are of God [ek tou Theou], and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.”

Again “the evil”, as in v. 18, can be understood as “the evil one”. The expression “of God” is a shorthand for “having been born of God”, but it also implies, more generally, the idea that believers belong to God. In any case, “the world” is so thoroughly dominated by sin and darkness, that only through the abiding presence of God—His Spirit, Son, and Word—can we, as believers, be protected, so that the evil of the world “does not touch” us. It was as a result of the Son’s fulfillment of his mission, for which the Father sent him to earth, that the power of the world (with its sin and evil) has been overcome (Jn 12:31; 16:33; cf. 1 Jn 3:5, 8). Now believers are, and can be, victorious over the world, through the life and truth that the Son, through the Spirit, provides. This is an important emphasis in 1 John and a key part of the author’s exhortation (2:13-14, 15-17; 3:1; 4:4ff; 5:4-5). The contrast between believers and the world is a fundamental theme that runs through the Johannine writings.

Next week, we will bring this series of studies, on the Johannine view of sin, to a close. As part of this conclusion, some final comments on the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John will be offered, along with a review of the pair of approaches to the problem which I have proposed.

 

 

March 22: Hebrews 2:10-18 (continued)

Hebrews 2:10-18, continued

An important aspect of the sonship-of-believers theme in the New Testament is the idea that the sonship of believers is contingent upon on the unique Sonship of Jesus Christ. This is expressed in a number of different ways. Notably, in the Pauline letters, as we have seen (cf. esp. Rom 6:3-10; 8:9-11, 17ff), the identity of believers as the sons/children of God is closely tied to the participation of believers in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a vital component of our union with Christ, as believers. Realized through the presence of the Spirit, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this participation in Jesus’ death (and his subsequent resurrection), enables us to become God’s offspring.

The letter to the Hebrews contains a similar emphasis on the death of Jesus, along with the effect of this sacrificial death for us, as believers. The connection between Jesus’ death and our identity as sons/children of God is less clearly developed, compared with Paul’s theological exposition (in Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans), yet it is certainly established in Hebrews 2:10-18, a passage which we began examining in the previous note.

Interestingly, in certain ways, the author of Hebrews, in developing this sonship-theme, is more closely rooted to the Gospel Tradition than Paul. It is significant, for example, the way that he alludes to the distinctive identification of Jesus with the expression “(the) son of man” —an expression applied by Jesus (to himself) throughout the Gospels. It occurs virtually nowhere else in the New Testament (or comparable early Christian writings), outside of this Tradition. The use of the expression here in 2:5-7ff, quoting from Psalm 8:4-6, captures its range of meaning, as used by Jesus, within the Gospel Tradition.

I will be discussing this expression, “(the) son of man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), in an upcoming exegetical series for Holy Week. Two important aspects of meaning, as applied to Jesus, are present here in the author’s use of Psalm 8:4-6:

    • An emphasis on the human condition, particularly with regard to human suffering, weakness, and mortality.
    • The idea of the exaltation of the human being, which, as applied to Jesus (i.e., the exaltation of Christ) in the Gospel Tradition, is enhanced by the connection with the Son of Man figure (“one like a son of man”) from Daniel 7:13-14.

These two aspects generally correspond with the death (suffering) and resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus; and this correspondence is definitely brought out by the author of Hebrews. Note how the Psalm passage is interpreted and applied, in verse 9:

“But (as) the one having been made less, (for a) short (time), compared with (the) Messengers, we see Yeshua, through the suffering and the death (he endured), having been crowned (now) with splendor and honor, so that, by (the) favor of God, he might taste death over [i.e. on behalf of] every (one).”

Paul’s emphasis, on our participation in Jesus’ death (see above), is here reversed—viz., the focus is on Jesus’ sharing in our experience of death. As a human being (“son of man”), Jesus experienced the same kind of suffering and death that is common to all human beings. The result of this participation, by Jesus in the human condition, is made clear in verse 10:

“It was suitable for Him—for [dia/] whom and through [dia/] whom all (thing)s (come to be)—(in hav)ing led many sons into splendor [do/ca], to make complete through sufferings the chief leader of their salvation.”

It is through the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of His Son that God leads (vb a&gw) “many sons” (i.e., believers) into honor/splendor. As part of this process, the Son himself is “made complete” (vb teleio/w) through the sufferings he experienced. The Son is called the “chief leader” (a)rxhgo/$) of our salvation, implying that he is the one, working at God’s behest, who leads us to salvation. This can be understood in the sense that he leads the way for us, through his death and resurrection. Our future resurrection to glory is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our participation in his resurrection.

At least as important is the recognition that we all—Jesus and we as believers—alike are God’s offspring, His sons. Thus, in leading us to salvation, the Son (Jesus) understands his kinship to us, and the importance of our being brought to the same honor/splendor which he possesses alongside God the Father:

“For both the (one) making holy and the (one)s being made holy (are) out of One—for which reason he is not ashamed to call them (his) brothers” (v. 11)

The expression e)c e(no/$ (“out of one”), in light of this sonship-emphasis, is best understood as a reference to God as our common Father. The Johannine writings make extensive use of the preposition e)k (“out of”) in this context of the birth of believers from God, as His offspring. Also part of the Johannine theology is the idea that the Son (Jesus) makes known the Father’s name to believers (cf. especially in John 17). The author of Hebrews brings out this same emphasis through a quotation of Psalm 22:22:

“…saying, ‘I will give forth (the) message (of) your name to my brothers; in (the) midst of (the) assembly called out [e)kklhsi/a], I will sing (praise) to you.'” (v. 12)

In this context, the motif of making known the Father’s name—that is, making known the Father Himself—must relate to the realization by believers of their/our identity as God’s children. This, indeed, is the point brought out in verse 13, with the quotation from Isaiah 8:17b-18:

“…I will be (one) persuaded [i.e. having trusted] upon Him…see, I and the children which God has given to me.”

This suggests another Johannine theme: namely, the idea that God the Father has given believers to the Son (Jesus). In this context, giving children to a person does not mean that the person gives birth to the children (as his/her own); rather, they are already children (born of God), given over to the Son’s care as his brothers (and sisters). The close kinship, between the Son and his fellow brothers, is developed in vv. 14-18:

“On (the basis), then, (that) the children share in common blood and flesh, (so) also he (him)self held along fully with (us) the same (thing)s, (so) that, through the (experience of) death, he might make the (one) holding the force of death cease operating…” (v. 14)

The Son was able to vanquish the power of death by experiencing death himself, by fully possessing the flesh and blood of human beings (and thus the mortality of the human condition, cf. above). This thematic emphasis on freeing human beings from the power of death—Death personified as an enslaving tyrant (and identified with the Devil)—very much resembles Paul’s emphasis (esp. in Romans, cf. chapters 5-7). Even the use of the verb katarge/w (“make [to be] without work [i.e. stop working]”) is thoroughly Pauline—this is one of just two NT occurrences [27] outside of the Pauline corpus (assuming Hebrews was not written by Paul). The apparent Pauline language continues in verse 15:

“…and (that) he might bring them forth (to a) different (place), those who, in fear of death, through all (the time) of their living were (be)ing held in slavery.”

The identification of believers as the “seed of Abraham” (v. 16), in the context of this sonship-theme, is also reflective of Pauline theology (see the earlier note on Gal 3:26).

Ultimately, at the close of this passage (vv. 17-18), the author departs from the sonship-theme, to introduce the theme which will dominate the rest of the main body of Hebrews—namely, Jesus’ role as the great High Priest, whose sacrificial offering removes the effects of sin from the Community. Even so, the author frames this thematic introduction in terms of the sonship of believers, in v. 17a (“…to be made like his brothers in all [thing]s”), through a reiteration of the kinship motif in v. 18, and again at the beginning of chapter 3 (“holy brothers…”, v. 1).

In the next daily note, we will examine one further sonship-passage in Hebrews—the ethical exhortation in 12:5-11ff.

 

 

March 5: Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28-30

The last of the four sections in Romans 8, dealing with the theme of new life in the Spirit for believers in Christ, combines the thematic emphases of the prior sections—particularly with regard to: (a) the present life of believers in the Spirit, and (b) the future glory that awaits believers. Both of these points of emphasis involve the theme of the sonship of believers. This important theme, featured in vv. 14-17, is continued by Paul in the following sections—both vv. 18-25 (see the previous note) and vv. 26-30. The latter section may be divided into two sub-units, corresponding to the thematic emphases (a & b) highlighted above: (i) the role of the Spirit within and among believers (vv. 26-27), and (ii) the character of the future glory that awaits believers (vv. 28-30). The sonship-theme is developed in this latter unit.

Paul first states the character of the future glory in terms of a principle that all believers can (and should) acknowledge:

“Indeed, we have seen that, for the (one)s loving God, all (thing)s work together unto good, for the (one)s being called according to His pro/qesi$.” (v. 28)

Paul can state this principle on the basis of Christian experience: “we have seen…”. There is an exhortational purpose to this language as well, utilizing the perfect tense in this way—viz., thus you should know/realize… . The principle, as formulated by Paul here, is chiastic, with the central statement itself bracketed by two substantive participial phrases that characterize believers:

    • for the (one)s loving God
      • all (thing)s work together unto good
    • for the (one)s being called…

The principle thus is: for believers in Christ, “all things work together unto good”. Believers are characterized as “the ones loving God” and “the ones being called (by Him)”. The first phrase reflects the situation from the believer’s standpoint—viz., the true believer loves God and responds to Him. The second phrase gives us the situation from God’s standpoint—He calls the believer. The verbal expression “being called” combines a participle of the verb of being (ei)mi) and the adjective klhto/$ (plur. klhtoi/).

This use of the adjective klhto/$, and the idea of believers having been specially called (vb kale/w) by God, came to be common parlance among early Christians. In the New Testament, the terminology is most frequent in the Pauline letters. Of the ten occurrences of klhto/$ in the New Testament, seven are in Paul’s letters (Romans and 1 Corinthians)—1 Cor 1:1-2, 24; Rom 1:1, 6-7, and here—applied exclusively as an attribute and characteristic of believers. There is similar usage in Jude 1 and Revelation 17:14 (compare Matt 22:14). The verb kale/w is far more common in the New Testament, but it is also prominent in Paul’s letters, in the context of believers as those “called” by God—e.g., 1 Thess 2:12; 5:24; 1 Cor 1:9; 7:15ff; Gal 1:15; 5:8; Rom 8:30; 9:24ff.

This idea of calling is certainly related to the proclamation of the Gospel (by which people are called to faith in Christ), but it also carries the nuance of foreordination (or predestination)—that is, even before believers come to trust in Jesus, God calls them/us, as His chosen ones, to become believers. Indeed, this is the aspect of the believer’s “calling” that Paul emphasizes here in vv. 29-30:

“(It is) that, the (one)s whom He knew before(hand) He also marked out before(hand), (to be) formed together with the image of His Son, unto his being the first-produced (offspring) among many brothers” (v. 29)

The verbs proginw/skw (“know before”) and proori/zw (“mark out before”) are compound verbs with the prepositional prefix pro– (“before”), here in the temporal sense of “beforehand”. The same applies to the noun pro/qesi$ at the close of verse 28, which I left untranslated above. This compound noun is derived from the compound verb proti/thmi (“set/place before”); a pro/qesi$ thus denotes a “setting forth”, or something which is set forth, placed before (in front of, etc) another. It can be used figuratively, in the conceptual sense of something “set forth” in one’s mind—implying an intention, purpose, or plan. In light of the verbs in vv. 29, the pro– prefix of pro/qesi$ should be understood as carrying the same temporal aspect—that is, something put forth in God’s mind beforehand.

Paul is very much expressing here the idea of believers being predestined by God, chosen by Him beforehand to become believers. He both knew us beforehand and “marked” us out (as His chosen ones) beforehand. The purpose and goal of this “marking out” (vb o(ri/zw) is stated in v. 29b: that the chosen ones should be “formed together with the image of His Son”. The adjective su/mmorfo$ is used, meaning “formed (or in form) together with (another)”. Given Paul’s repeated use of sun– prefixed verbs and nouns earlier in chapter 8 (vv. 16-17, 22ff; cp. 6:4-9), the force of the preposition su/n (“[together] with”) here should be understood principally in terms of our union with Christ. That is to say, we are formed together with his image—so that we take on the same image, viz., that of being God’s son. However, the sun– prefix likely also alludes to the sense of believers being united together, with each other. Together, we all, as believers, take on the form/image of God’s Son, so that we also may be considered His sons.

In terms of this motif of Divine sonship, there is no difference between Christ and believers—we are all His sons, being “many brothers” together. The distinction Paul makes is that Christ is the first—i.e., the firstborn (lit. first-produced, prwtoto/ko$) Son. This is to be contrasted with the Johannine usage, where the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is reserved for Jesus alone; believers are called God’s “offspring” (te/kna, i.e. children), but never “sons”. Paul is willing to refer to believers both as te/kna and ui(oi/, using the terms interchangeably, though priority, of course, is still given to Jesus as the Son.

Most likely, in using the adjective su/mmorfo$, Paul has the resurrection of believers specifically in mind. This is clearly the emphasis in vv. 18-25 (see also v. 11, cp. 6:4ff), and is also the context for the only other occurrence of the adjective in the New Testament (also by Paul, in Philippians 3:21). Paul also makes important use of the noun ei)kw/n (“image”) elsewhere, with comparable Christological significance. Christ is called the “image of God” in 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15, where this aspect of Divine likeness is understood in terms of Jesus’ Sonship; indeed, the noun protwto/ko$ (in the sense of ‘firstborn’ offspring) is also used in Col 1:15, even as it is here in Rom 8:29.

Similarly close in thought to v. 29 is the idea expressed in 1 Cor 15:49 and 2 Cor 3:18—viz., that believers are (destined) to be conformed to the image of Christ, which means that, in taking on Christ’s image, they/we will also take on God’s own image (as His sons). Our Divine sonship is realized through union with Christ (the Divine Son).

In verse 30, at the close of this section, Paul places the predestination of believers (as God’s sons) within the context of an entire ‘plan of salvation’; this can be presented as a step-outline:

    • “indeed, the (one)s whom He marked out beforehand,
      • those He also called;
      • and the (one)s whom He called,
        • those He also made right;
        • and the (one)s whom He made right,
          • those He also honored.”

There is a definite sequence, as Paul understands it:

    • predestination (“marked out beforehand,” proori/zw)
      • calling (kale/w)—including the proclamation of the Gospel, which leads to trust in Christ
        • making right (dikaio/w)—believers are made right in God’s eyes, freed from the power of sin, made holy through the Spirit, and saved from judgment
          • given honor (doca/zw)—referring to the future glory of believers, which is experienced currently through the Spirit, but will be realized fully with the end-time resurrection.

The next note in this series will turn to chapters 9-11, and Paul’s utilization of the sonship-theme in a somewhat different context.

March 1: Romans 8:19-23

Romans 8:19-23

The sonship-theme presented by Paul in Romans 8:14-17 (see the previous note), and largely repeated from Gal 4:4-6 (discussed earlier), is continued in the next unit (vv. 18-25) of chapter 8. It is worth keeping in mind the outline of this chapter:

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

The theme of vv. 18-25—namely, the believers’ hope of future glory (through the Spirit)—is expounded largely in terms of the sonship emphasis of vv. 14-17. His exposition also develops the contrast, established in v. 17, between present suffering and future glory. In verse 17, this contrast was defined in terms of believers’ participation in the death (i.e., suffering) and resurrection (i.e., honor/glory) of Christ (cf. 6:3-11). We suffer together (vb sumpa/sxw) with him, and so we will also be honored together (vb sundoca/zw, passive) with him. Similar kinds of sun– compound verbs are used in 6:4-6, 8 to emphasize this idea of our union (and participation) with Christ.

The honor/glory aspect is expressed, in vv. 18ff, as an eschatological revelation—that is, something which is about to be revealed (lit. uncovered) at the end-time. The verb a)pokalu/ptw (in v. 18) means “take the cover(ing) from” (i.e., uncover), with the related noun a)poka/luyi$ (in v. 19) referring to a similar “uncovering”. And what is about to be uncovered, or revealed? Paul states the answer quite clearly: the sons of God. The context of vv. 14-17 clearly shows that Paul has in mind that it is believers, in union with Christ, who are the “sons of God”.

However, this identity of believers has yet to be revealed fully, for all to see. Currently, the Divine glory/honor, which we are to inherit from God (v. 17, see the discussion in the previous note), is only partially realized. What we, as believers, experience of this glory now, in the present, is only realized in a ‘hidden’, invisible way, through the Spirit. Only at the end-time, with our resurrection, will the glory of believers become fully manifest. At the same time, our identity as the sons of God, which is currently declared through the Spirit (vv. 15-16, cf. Gal 4:5-6), will be revealed in its full honor and splendor.

Paul frames the present situation in terms of the earthly creation, using the feminine noun kti/si$ (denoting something founded, or ‘formed’), in the traditional sense of that which has been created (by God). Of the 19 New Testament occurrences of this noun, 11 are in Paul’s letters—including 7 in Romans. Apart from the five occurrences in chapter 8 (four in vv. 19-22, and once in v. 39), it is used twice, in 1:20 and 25. Here in vv. 19-22, kti/si$ essentially refers to the current created order, being used, I think, somewhat more abstractly than in other passages.

This created order is characterized by suffering—which certainly includes the death (and mortality) that all created beings must face. Such suffering (and death) was part of the arranged order under which creation was placed; Paul expresses this in verse 20 by the passive of the verb u(pota/ssw (“place under order”, i.e., put in order). The subject of this verb is unspecified, and this has led to some debate among commentators. However, it seems to best to understand it as an example of the Divine passive, with God as the implied actor. It was He who set the current arrangement (of the created order) in place; the reference may be specifically to the Creation narrative, in Genesis 3, and God’s declaration (vv. 14-19) where both the suffering and death of human beings was decreed, along with a curse upon the earth (the land/ground) itself.

Jesus Christ endured this suffering and death, and was raised from it, being exalted to a position of honor and glory. Believers, who have been freed from bondage to suffering (as a result of sin) and death, are likewise able to be raised to glory. It is our participation in Jesus’ suffering and death which enables us to share in his resurrection, as Paul makes clear—6:3-11, and also here in v. 17. He emphasizes the point again in verse 21, but with the added eschatological implication that our resurrection will coincide with a transformation of the entire created order:

“…also the kti/si$ itself will be set free, from the slavery of the decay, unto the freedom of the honor/glory [do/ca] of the offspring [te/kna] of God”

This new creation follows the pattern of believers (the sons/children of God), who already have become a “new creation [kainh\ kti/si$]” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Currently, all of the created order (kti/si$) suffers together, and even believers experience and take part in this (v. 22). The two verbs Paul uses in this regard—sustena/zw (“groan with”) and sunwdi/nw (“be in pain [together] with”)—both are compound verbs with a prepositional sun– (“[together] with”) prefix, just like the verbs in v. 17 (see above). The participation of believers in the present suffering of creation is emphasized specifically by Paul in verse 23:

“And not only (this), but also (we our)selves, (the one)s holding the beginning of (the harvest) [a)parxh/] of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our full) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], the loosing from (bondage) of our body.”

Paul mixes together a number of different images, such as the traditional eschatological image of the (end-time) ‘harvest’. This has added resonance from the context of the suffering of creation (and spec. the ground of the earth). The groaning (vb stena/zw) and pains experienced (vb w)di/nw) suggest the image of a woman in labor (which can also serve as an eschatological motif, e.g., Mark 13:8 par). In the harvest-time, the earth figuratively ‘gives birth’ to offspring, producing its fruit. The noun a)parxh/ refers (literally) to the beginning of the harvest gathering—i.e., the ‘firstfruit(s)’.

As noted above, believers represent the beginning of the “new creation”, and their/our resurrection similarly marks the ‘firstfruits’ of the end-time harvest. With the resurrection of believers, all of the created order will come to be transformed, in a ‘new birth’. For the time being, we (as believers) groan and suffer together with the rest of creation, even though we already possess this transformative power (of the Spirit) within us.

Paul again uses the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son”), echoing its use from verse 15 (and earlier in Gal 4:5). Since believers already are God’s sons, ui(oqesi/a here must carry the implied sense of having our identity as His sons fully realized (and manifest); I have indicated this nuance of meaning through a parenthetical gloss in the above translation. This realization of our Divine sonship will be complete with the resurrection of our body. The hope of this future glory is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the future hope (e)lpi/$, vb e)lpi/zw)—both for believers and for all of creation—in verses 18, 24-25.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the final section of chapter 8 (vv. 26-30), to see how Paul further develops this sonship-of-believers theme.

 

 

February 29: Romans 8:14-17

Romans 8:14-17

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

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

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

Chapter 8, in turn, has the following outline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 1: Galatians 3:26

Galatians 3:26

“For you are all sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

This would seem to be the earliest recorded instance where Paul uses the expression “sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=), as a designation for believers in Christ; it should probably be regarded as the earliest such occurrence in the New Testament. It is unlikely, however, that this use of the expression was original or unique to Paul. It derives from Israelite and Old Testament tradition, whereby the people of Israel—and particularly the righteous ones among them—were called the “sons” of YHWH, in a symbolic religious sense. The notable references, in which the people are referred to as God’s “sons” (or “sons and daughters”), are Deut 32:19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; and Isa 43:6; Israel collectively can be called God’s “son” (singular /B@), as in Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1, while the idea of YHWH as Israel’s “Father” is similarly expressed (e.g., Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8; Jer 31:9). Jewish tradition, through the influence of Wisdom literature, narrowed this designation, so that the righteous person, specifically, was considered to be God’s “son” (cf. Wisd 2:18 [v. 16]; Sirach 4:10). This may be seen as another example of the categorical use of the construct noun /B@ (plur yn@B=), “son of…”, to indicate that a person belongs to a particular group. Faithful Israelites belong to God, as His people, and thus may also be called His “sons”.

Paul quotes from this line of Scriptural tradition in the catena (Scripture-chain) of 2 Cor 6:16-18. Verse 18, echoing references such as Exod 4:22; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 43:6, and Jer 31:9, provides an implicit identification of believers as “sons [and daughters] of God”. The thrust of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is primarily ethical exhortation, as in 1 Thess 5:1-11 (cf. the discussion in the previous note); in fact, the same light-darkness juxtaposition, in an ethical-religious context, is present here (v. 14). The authorship of this section remains much debated by commentators (cf. my earlier study on the subject); but, even if Paul is adapting existing material in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, it accords well with his own thought, and he clearly agrees with its paraenetic emphasis and purpose. Second Corinthians was probably written about the same time as Galatians; Romans was written at least several years later, but in 9:26, Paul quotes from Hos 1:10, alluding again (through this citation) to believers as the “sons of God”.

The line of argument in Romans 9 is significant for the context of Gal 3:26, since it deals with the important principle that both Jews and non-Jews, as believers in Christ, are to be considered the “sons (and daughters) of God”. Indeed, one’s ethnic-religious identity no longer has any bearing on whether one is a “son of God”. Paul argues this point vociferously throughout Galatians and Romans, and states it quite clearly here in Gal 3:26: a person is a son/child of God entirely through trust in Jesus Christ. Faithfulness and righteousness is no longer defined by fulfilling the regulations of the Torah, but is defined only by trust in Jesus.

In chapters 3-4, Paul presents a series of different arguments, by which he defends (and expounds) the central proposition of the letter, 2:15-21. In rhetorical terminology, 2:15ff represents the proposition (propositio), while chapters 3-4 comprise the proving (probatio) of the proposition. While the arguments are of different sorts, they tend to follow a logical sequence, building upon one another. The arguments in chapter 3 are centered around the figure of Abraham (just as in Romans 4), and deal with the idea of sonship. Through the example of Abraham, Paul establishes an important line of argument, relating the new religious identity of believers in Christ to the older identity based on God’s covenant with Abraham. The descendants (i.e., sons/children) of Abraham belong to God, through the covenant; and, as Abraham’s children, they are heirs to the promises God made to him. Paul’s line of argument circumvents the period of the Torah, defining the promise(s) as ultimately referring, not to the Torah, but to the coming of Jesus. Believers in Christ are thus the true descendants (sons) of Abraham, and are heirs to the Divine promises—cf. the statements in vv. 7, 9, and 14.

In verses 15-18, this line of argument is given a more precise logical (and theological) basis. Paul interprets the Scriptural tradition so as to identity Jesus as the “seed” (singular) of Abraham, and thus he is the heir to the promises. The promises were made prior to the institution of the Torah regulations; the Torah remained in place as a kind of guardian, but only until the time of Jesus’ coming (vv. 19-22ff). The illustration in vv. 23-25 compares the time of Jesus’ coming with the moment when the son (and heir) comes of age, and no longer requires a guardian. The precise term is paidagwgo/$, denoting someone who leads (i.e. guides) a child, being responsible for him and giving him certain training (while he is still a minor). According to the illustration, during this period, the Torah functioned (for the heirs of Abraham) as this paidagwgo/$; however, the period reaches its end with the coming of Jesus.

Yet, since it is Jesus who is the sole heir, others can inherit only in relation to him, only through him—that is, through trust in him. This is the rhetorical and theological context of Paul’s statement here in verse 26. Believers in Christ become co-heirs with him, as the true descendants (children) of Abraham, and thus heirs to the promises of God. Verse 29 states this quite clearly:

“And, if you (are) of (the) Anointed, then you are (the) seed of Abraham, and (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs] according to (the) promise [e)paggeli/a].”

The idiom “of Christ” (genitive Xristou=) denotes the idea of belonging to Christ. This implies more than trust in Jesus—it indicates a bond of union with him. This is the new covenant-bond for the people of God, realized in union with the person of Christ, in place of the old covenant. Here, in vv. 27-28, Paul expresses this union in terms of the baptism ritual:

“For, as (many of you) as have been dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]” (v. 27)

This imagery involves two basic, and related, ideas: (1) participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus, and (2) a new identity, by which believers become (and are made) like Jesus. The “dunking” of the baptism ritual symbolizes the former idea—participation in Jesus’ death; going down into the water represents the death, and coming up again out of the water represents the new life (resurrection). The second idea is expressed by the symbolic ‘putting on’ of Christ—almost certainly involving the ritual donning of a new robe or garment. The garment represents a new identity: the believer now belongs to Christ, having been united with him. None of the distinctions that were important to the old identity—i.e., ethnic, social or gender distinctions—have any significance any longer for the new identity. This is the ideal expressed in verse 28, though, admittedly, it is an ideal that Christians, throughout the centuries, have had considerable difficulty in realizing.

As mentioned above, the focus in chapter 3 is on the figure of Abraham, and on believers, through Christ, as being the “sons of Abraham”. In chapter 4, this sonship-motif changes, with the emphasis now on believers as the “sons of God”. While this particular designation was introduced in 3:26, it will be developed further in chapter 4. We will turn our attention to this development in the next daily note, focusing, in particular, on verses 4-7.

November 7: John 15:11

John 15:11

“These (thing)s I have spoken to you, (so) that my joy might be in you, and (that) your joy might be (made) full.”

This statement by Jesus concludes the expository unit vv. 9-11, but it also holds an interesting structural position within the exposition as a whole. Brown (p. 667), following the lead of earlier commentators, notes that verse 11 is transitional between vv. 7-10 and 12-17, joining the two sections thematically. In fact, one may discern a series of inverse parallels within these units:

    • Jesus’ words ‘remaining’ in the disciples, implying their faithfulness in keeping his words (vv. 7a, 17)
    • The promise that the Father will give the disciples what they request (vv. 7b, 16b)
    • The motif of “bearing fruit” (vv. 8, 16)
    • Being disciples (chosen ones) of Jesus (vv. 8, 16a)
    • What Jesus has received (love) from the Father (vv. 9a, 15b)
    • Jesus’ love for the disciples (vv. 9b, 15a)
    • The disciples “remaining” in love and keeping the duties given to them by Jesus (vv. 10, 12/14)

The key motif in verse 11 is joy (xara/). There are three other places where this noun occurs in the Gospel of John. The first is in 3:29, part of John the Baptist’s closing witness concerning Jesus (vv. 27-30)—his Messianic identity and heavenly origin. The Baptist identifies himself as a “dear (friend)” of the bridegroom, rather than the bridegroom (the Messiah) himself:

“The (one) holding the bride is (the) bride-groom; but the dear (friend) of the bride-groom, the (one) having stood (by) and hearing him, rejoices [xai/rei] with (great) joy [xara/] through [i.e. because of] the voice of the bride-groom. So this joy [xara/] of mine has been made full [peplh/rwtai].”

With Jesus having embarked on his ministry, John the Baptist realizes that the time of his own mission has come to an end. He has “heard the voice” of the Messiah (the ‘bridegroom’), and feels complete joy. The Baptist’s own joy, related to his mission and calling by God, is made complete (fulfilled, vb plhro/w) through the coming of the Son (Jesus).

The second passage occurs in the Last Discourse, but in the third Discourse-division (16:4b-28), and following the Vine-illustration. The context is the impending departure of Jesus, which is understood on two levels: (1) his immediate death, and (2) his return to the Father. Both departures will bring feelings of sadness to the disciples (v. 20a), but this will only be temporary, for their sorrow will soon turn to joy (v. 20b). At the first level, this joy relates to the resurrection of Jesus and his immediate return to his disciples; on the second level, the joy refers primarily to the coming of the Spirit (cf. the context of the Paraclete-saying[s] in vv. 7-15), when Jesus will be present with them in a new and abiding way. This is illustrated by the human example of a woman giving birth to a child:

“When the woman would produce (her child), she holds sorrow, (in) that her hour (has) come; but when she should cause to be (born) the little child, she no longer remembers the distress, through [i.e. because of] the joy [xara/] that a man [i.e. human being] has come to be (born) into the world.” (v. 21)

The use of the term “distress” (qli/yi$) tends to have eschatological significance for early Christians, referring to the end-time period of distress, which begins with the passion and death of Jesus. This allows for a further level of meaning to the ‘departure’ of Jesus (back to the Father); the disciples will experience joy with the coming of the Spirit, but they will also find joy with the final return of Jesus. There are thus three ways of understanding the ‘return’ of Jesus, when he will see his disciples again (v. 22): (i) his appearance after the resurrection, (ii) his presence in the Spirit, and (iii) his final/eschatological return. Given the importance of the Spirit-Paraclete statements in the Last Discourse, I would say that the second (ii) of these aspects is primarily in view. Jesus’ abiding presence will be with the disciples (and believers) through the Spirit; and their joy also will abide:

“…your heart will rejoice [xarh/setai], and no one takes (away) your joy [xara/] from you.” (v. 22b)

The final reference is in the chap. 17 Discourse-Prayer that follows the Last Discourse. Again, the impending departure of Jesus is in view, and he (the Son) addresses God the Father in preparation of his exaltation (v. 1)—that is, his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. In verse 11, at the heart of the passage, the ultimate goal of the unity/union of believers, together with the Son and the Father, comes into prominence:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, while I am com(ing) toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name that you have given to me, (so) that they may be one, just as we (are).”

The Son (Jesus) was able to keep watch over the disciples while he has been present on earth (v. 12), but now that he is going away, he asks the Father to take over this role, which ultimately will be fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit. And, indeed, the promise of the Spirit was at the heart of Jesus’ message to the disciples in the Last Discourse, and we should probably understand it as the focus of his words here in v. 13 as well:

“Now I come toward you, and (so) these (thing)s I speak in the world, (so) that they might hold my joy [xara/] made full [vb plhro/w] in themselves.”

The Son’s joy is made complete (lit. made full, fulfilled) when he is reunited with the disciples (and all believers) through the Spirit. The disciples will hold this joy within themselves, through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

The language in 17:13 resembles that of 15:11, with the phrase “these (thing)s I speak…”. It also echoes his earlier statement in 14:25, toward the close of the first division of the Last Discourse (and immediately prior to the second Paraclete-saying, vv. 26-27): “These (thing)s I have spoken to you (while) remaining [vb me/nw] alongside you”. The expression “these things” (the demonstrative neuter plural pronoun tau=ta) can be understood on several levels: (a) all of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples (i.e, his “word” in a general/collective sense), (b) the Last Discourse as a whole, or (c) the immediate Discourse-unit (such as the Vine illustration and exposition). All three ways of understanding the use of the comprehensive pronoun are valid.

We may also mention the contextual association between the joy-motif and the promise of the disciples’ prayers being answered by the Father (v. 7). The same association is found in 16:24:

“Until now you have not asked (for) anything in my name; ask and you shall receive, (so) that your joy may be made full.”

The italicized phrase is similar to the one in 17:13 (cf. above); both use a perfect passive participle of the verb plhro/w (“make full, [ful]fill”) as a qualifying verbal adjective. This syntax is difficult to translate literally in English: “that your joy may be (something) having been [i.e. that has been] made full”.

How should we understand the joy-motif as it is used here in the Vine exposition? There are three phrases in verse 11:

1. “These (thing)s I have spoken to you…” The demonstrative pronoun “these (thing)s” (tau=ta) refers comprehensively to all of Jesus’ teaching during his ministry, but particularly (in the narrative context) to the Last Discourse, and specifically to the instruction he gives to his disciples here in the Vine passage.

2. “…(so) that my joy might be in you” This phrase is quite similar to the statement by Jesus in 17:13 (cf. above), expressing his wish that his joy would be in the disciples. The joy of the Son (Jesus) is best understood in terms of his return to the Father, following the completion of his mission. Recall that in 17:11 (just prior to v. 13), Jesus’ request was that the disciples (and all believers) would be one, just as he and the Father are one; the abiding union the Son has with the Father will be realized in and among believers as well.

3. “…and (that) your joy might be (made) full” As discussed above, the disciples’ joy is experienced when they see Jesus again, and are reunited with him. In the context of the Last Discourse, this refers primarily to the presence of Jesus, in and among believers, through the Spirit. The significance of the verb plhro/w (“make full”) in this regard is an emphasis on the abiding presence of the Spirit, through which the Son remains in believers.

The thrust of the Vine-illustration was the importance of believers remaining (vb me/nw) in the Son, and the Son in believers. Here in verse 11, we see the purpose of his teaching is “so that” (i%na) by “remaining” in Jesus—in his word and in his love—believers will be able to experience an abiding union with the Son, and in so doing, share also in the abiding union between Father and Son.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next unit of the exposition (vv. 12-15), in which Jesus further expounds for his disciples (and for us as believers) the nature of the duty (e)ntolh/) to love.