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 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).

June 27: 1 John 4:7, continued

1 John 4:7, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. “and knows God” (kai\ ginw/skei)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 18: 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 middle two clauses of verse 20 (b) were discussed in the previous note, and the first two clauses (a) in the note prior; we now turn to the final two clauses (c).

Verse 20c:
    • “in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—
      this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The first phrase here in v. 20c (the fifth clause, or phrase, of the verse), is epexegetical—that is, it explains or qualifies the previous statement: “we are in the (One who is) true”. This theological statement (cf. the discussion in the previous note) means that believers are “in” (e)n) God the Father (“the [One who is] true”). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, this idea of being “in” God is expressed more fully by the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

This is a fundamental Johannine theological idiom, which occurs in 1 John some 20 times. It is used to express the idea of the believer abiding in God (2:6, 10, 28; 3:6), or of God abiding in the believer (2:14; 3:9, 15, 17; 4:12), or both (2:24, 27; 3:24; 4:13, 15-16). Sometimes the idiom is expressed specifically in terms of the word/life/light/love, etc., of God, rather than God Himself, but these are simply specifications of the general theological principle, drawing upon particular attributes or characteristics related to the dynamic of the relationship between God and the believer.

The use of the verb of being (ei)mi) can substitute for the verb me/nw, whereby the union between the believer and God takes on a more essential quality, emphasizing its reality (or lack thereof) in the present. For the usage (ei)mi + e)n) in 1 John, cf. 1:8, 10; 2:4-5, 8, etc. The verb of being is used here in v. 20c: “we are [e)sme/n] in [e)n] (Him)”.

A central element of the Johannine theology is that God the Father abides in the believer (and the believer in God) through the presence of His Son (Jesus). And this quite clearly expressed by the author here; the statements (4&5) are parallel, with one building upon (and explaining) the other:

    • “we are in the One who is true [i.e. God the Father]” (because) =>
      • “(we are) in His Son Jesus Christ”

The Son makes the Father known to believers (cf. statements 1-3, v. 20ab), and is the means by which they/we are united with Him, coming to abide/remain “in Him”.

Verse 20 concludes with a final statement (6) that summarizes the entire Johannine theology:

“this is the true God and eternal Life”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$

There is debate as to the specific force of the initial demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this,” or “this one”). Commentators are divided as to whether the pronoun refers to God the Father or Jesus the Son. Given that Jesus (“His Son Yeshua…”) is the nearest antecedent, it would seem most natural that ou!to$ refers to him. However, as Brown (p. 625) notes, the pronoun can sometimes refer to an earlier subject; and there is a clear (Johannine) example of this in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have come into the world, the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this (one) [ou!to$] is the (one) leading (people) astray and the (one) against the Anointed [i.e. antichrist].”

Even though Yeshua is the noun preceding the demonstrative pronoun, the pronoun clearly refers back to the false believer(s), called [oi(] pla/noi (“[the one]s going/leading astray”). This grammatical parallel suggests that the demonstrative pronoun here in v. 20c refers back to God the Father, rather than Jesus. The use of the expression “the true God” (o( a)lhqino\$ qeo/$) would seem to confirm this (cp. Jer 10:10; 2 Chron 15:3; 1 Thess 1:9). Beyond this, the parallel declaration in the Gospel (17:3) is decisive:

“And this [au%th] is eternal Life: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

In the literary context of chap. 17, Jesus is addressing God the Father, referring to Him (El-YHWH), in traditional Israelite-Jewish religious terms, as “the only true God”. Almost certainly, then, the expression “the true God” here in v. 20c likewise refers to God the Father.

However, the close parallel in thought and vocabulary between v. 20c and Jn 17:3 is instructive, in that it suggests that the author has a dual reference in mind. In other words, the demonstrative pronoun (“this”) refers to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The Father is the primary point of reference, but He, as the Father, cannot be separated from His Son. Indeed, the two are inseparable, especially given the Johannine theological principle (discussed above) that believers experience the God the Father through His Son.

If God the Father is the primary referent for the expression “the true God”, then it is the Son of God (Jesus) who is primarily being referred to by the expression “[the] Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal Life]” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$). Even though God the Father is the ultimate source of life (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:57; 12:50, etc), the Father gives this life to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers (4:14; 5:39-40; 6:27, 33, 51ff, 63; 10:28; 17:2). Life is predicated of the Son as an essential attribute (Jn 1:4; 6:48; 11:25; 14:6), and believers come to possess (“hold,” vb e&xw) this life through trust in Jesus (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 8:12; 11:25; 20:31).

In 1 John, the author ties the possession of this eternal life, as a defining characteristic of the true believer, specifically to the fulfillment of the great dual-command (or two-fold duty [e)ntolh/]) as stated in 3:23: genuine trust in Jesus Christ (as the Son of God), and love for one’s fellow believers (according to Jesus’ own example). True believers fulfill this e)ntolh/, while false believers (like the opponents) disregard and violate it. Their false view of Jesus Christ (as the author sees it) means that they do not truly trust in him, and thus cannot hold eternal life in themselves.

The author establishes this logic at the very beginning of his work (1:1-2), and the references to “life” (zwh/) throughout the rest of 1 John (2:25; 3:14-15; 5:11-13ff) follow this same line of argument. In 5:11-13, at the close of the third and (final) section (5:5-12) dealing with trust in Jesus (in opposition to the false view of Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents), the author clearly and emphatically restates the Johannine definition of eternal life as the result of trust in Jesus. Through this trust, believers are united with God’s Son, coming to abide/remain in him; as noted above, it is through the presence of the Son that we, as believers, abide in the Father (and He in us).

Ultimately, our union with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit, though that particular theological point is only stated implicitly here in v. 20 (cf. the previous notes on 20a and 20b). The Spirit is the foremost of the things which the Son receives from the Father (cf. Jn 3:34-35), and which he then gives to believers. The association between the Spirit and the Life of God is so close as to almost be synonymous (cf. Jn 3:5-8ff; 4:10-15 [7:37-39]; 6:63). As the author of 1 John makes clear (3:24; 4:13), the presence of the Spirit is the ultimate evidence that we, as believers, abide/remain in God and thus possess eternal life.

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

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.

May 29: 1 John 2:8-11

 1 John 2:8-11

The contrastive light-darkness theme in 1:5-2:2 is further developed in the next subsection (2:3-11). Again, the principal point of the contrast is to demonstrate the difference between true and false believers. Two points are made about the false believers in 1:5-2:2:

    • They claim to have union (lit. common-bond, koinwni/a) with God, and yet “walk about” in the darkness (of the world), rather than the light of God (1:6-7)
    • They claim to be without sin, failing to acknowledge the existence/reality of their sin, without which it cannot be removed/cleansed by the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”) (1:8-2:2)

In all probability, the author is aiming these comments specifically at the opponents he mentions in the “antichrist” passages of 2:18-27; 4:1-6. As discussed in the previous note, the ethical-religious orientation of the idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) refers primarily to the great dual-commandment in 3:23-24. That is to say, whether one “walks about” in light or in darkness depends on whether one is obedient to the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is placed upon believers. Here in 2:3-11 it becomes clear that this, indeed, is the author’s focus and point of reference.

As he states in verse 3, the true believer is one who keeps the e)ntolai/:

“And in this we know that we have known Him: if we keep/guard [vb thre/w] His e)ntolai.”

The noun e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, but more properly refers to a duty that is placed upon a person to complete. In the Johannine Gospel it refers specifically to the duty/mission which God the Father gave the Son (Jesus) to complete on earth (10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; cf. 19:30). However, in the Last Discourse, the focus shifts to the duty which falls upon the disciples (believers), according to the instruction which the Son, in turn, gives to them (13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10-12, 14, 17); principally, this refers to the duty to love one another, following the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love.

This Johannine usage informs completely the use of e)ntolh/ in 1 John, the only real difference being that there is an expanded emphasis that encompasses both components of the great dual-e)ntolh/ (as defined in 3:23-24): (a) trust in Jesus as the Son of God (according to the truth), and (b) love for one another, according to Jesus’ own example. In the Johannine writings, the noun can be used in the singular (e)ntolh/) or plural (e)ntolai/), interchangeably, with no apparent difference in meaning. This is, perhaps, best explained by the fact that the great two-fold duty (of trust and love) can be viewed as either one command or as two.

The similarity of expression between verse 4 and the earlier declarations in 1:6 and 8 would seem to make clear that, for the author of 1 John, sin (= “walking in darkness”) is defined principally in terms of violating the great dual-e)ntolh/:

“The (one) saying that ‘I have known Him,’ and (yet) not keeping His e)ntolai/, is a liar [yeu/sth$], and the truth is not in him”

In other words, the one who does not fulfill the great two-fold duty (3:23-24), required of every believer, is not a true believer. Such a person, indeed, sins most egregiously, even if they would think themselves otherwise to be without sin (1:8-2:2). This is an understanding of sin (a(marti/a [vb a(marta/nw]) that is quite different from how the world typically understands it (cf. the earlier note on Jn 16:9).

True believers complete the duty (to love), demonstrating that they are truly united with God, and so God’s own love is completed [tetelei/wtai] in them (v. 5). And, in so doing, the believer is following (“walking about” according to) Jesus’ own example (v. 6; Jn 13:34; 15:12ff). The author makes clear that this duty is nothing new, but corresponds to what believers have held (as their duty) from the beginning (v. 7).

The use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), along with the noun lo/go$ (“word”), is a direct echo of the prologue (1:1). As I have previously discussed, there is a dual meaning to this wording. Primarily it is Christological, referring to Jesus as Son who was with God “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1ff); secondarily, it is evangelistic, referring to the message about Jesus, going back to the “beginning” —the time of first disciples and the earthly ministry of Jesus.

To say that true believers hold (vb e&xw) this lo/go$ “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$) has a similar two-fold meaning: (1) they have the living Word abiding in them (through the Spirit), and (2) they receive and accept the historical Gospel Tradition about the Word, preserved and transmitted from the first disciples.

The only way that one can speak of this duty for believers as being “new” is in the eschatological context of the light-darkness contrast (v. 8). The mission of Jesus (the Son), culminating in his exaltation and return to the Father, marks the beginning of a New Age. This is a view held by virtually all first-century Christians. The coming of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the eschatological expectation, implementing a “new covenant” for God’s people (believers). The Johannine writings evince a particularly strong sense of ‘realized’ eschatology—meaning that, for believers, the future events of the end-time are realized in the present, through the Spirit. This sense is expressed here in verse 8:

“…the darkness has led (itself) along [i.e. has passed along], and the true light already shines”

Though the world remains under the dominion of darkness and evil, this is not so for believers, who already experience the reality of Jesus’ victory over the world (Jn 16:33).

The general ethical language of 1:6-7 is now made more precise, with the idiom of “walking about” in the darkness defined specifically in terms of a false believer who hates (vb mise/w) his “brother” (i.e., another believer):

“The (one) counting (himself) to be in the light, and (yet) hating his brother, is (actually) in the darkness until now.” (v. 9)

This clearly refers to a false believer (cf. the use of yeu/sth$ in v. 4), who considers him/herself to be “in the light” and yet is actually “in the darkness” (and has been so all this time “until now”). The author further explains that “hate” really means a lack of love, a failure to show love; this is the opposite of what characterizes the true believer:

“The (one) loving his brother remains [me/nei] in the light, and there is not (any thing) in him tripping (him up);” (v. 10)

As throughout the Johannine writings, the verb me/nw (“remain”) has special theological (and Christological) significance. It refers to the abiding presence of God the Father (and the Son) in the believer, and of the believer in the Father (and Son); this abiding union is spiritual, being realized through the presence of the Spirit. In contrast, there is no such abiding for the false believer; rather, he/she is simply lost in the darkness, wandering about blindly:

“but the (one) hating his brother is in the darkness, and walks about [peripatei=] in the darkness, and has not seen where he leads (himself), (in) that the darkness (has) blinded his eyes.” (v. 11)

The language and imagery in this verse echoes the words of Jesus in Jn 12:35 (cf. the discussion in the prior note). The motif of blindness is a natural extension of the Johannine sight/seeing theme, and also features prominently in the Gospel (chap. 9), drawing upon historical tradition(s) regarding Jesus’ healing miracles (cf. Mk 8:22-23; 10:46ff pars; Matt 11:5 par; 12:22; 15:30-31; Lk 4:18).

The false believer is thus one who fails to show proper love to other believers; in this way, he/she may be said to “hate” them. This way of framing the matter is crucial to the author’s rhetorical purpose and strategy, especially when he comes to deal with the ‘opponents,’ and the crisis (within the Community) which he feels compelled to address. However, it is noteworthy that, here in the opening section (1:5-2:17), he couches his introduction to the crisis within a more general ethical-religious instruction. In the next daily note, I will explore this aspect a bit further, looking at his instruction to believers, regarding the world (o( ko/smo$), vv. 15-17.

 

Notes on Prayer: John 15:7, 16 (continued)

John 15:7-17, continued

The condition for the promise of answered prayer is stated two ways—in verses 7 and 16, respectively. The first involves the verb me/nw (“remain”), which is used repeatedly throughout the Vine illustration and its exposition (vv. 1-16). The importance (and significance) of this Johannine keyword was discussed in last week’s study. The condition requires that the believer “remains” connected and united with Jesus, by a bond that runs in two directions:

    • The believer “remains” in Jesus— “if you would remain in me…”
    • Jesus’ words “remain” in the believer— “…and my words [r(h/mata] would remain in you”

The conditional aspect of this two-fold clause is indicated by the use of the subjunctive, along with the governing particle e)a/n (“if”)— “if you would…”. On the surface, the idea that Jesus’ words remain in the believer would seem to refer, rather simply, to observance of Jesus’ various teachings, keeping them in one’s mind and heart. However, while not entirely invalid, such an interpretation is off the mark in terms of the Johannine theology and the context of Last Discourse. It might seem to be confirmed by the parallel, in the central exposition of vv. 9-14, with the statements regarding the ‘commandments’ (e)ntolai/) of Jesus, as though this referred to specific teachings given by Jesus to his disciples. But, again, I would maintain that this is incorrect.

The disciple will, of course, pay special attention to all that Jesus said and did, following both his teaching and his example. But the emphasis here in the Last Discourse is actually quite different. A proper understanding depends on the significance of the term e)ntolh/, as it is used in the Johannine writings. As I have previously discussed, while e)ntolh/ is typically translated as “command(ment)”, it more properly denotes a duty placed on a person—something that the person is obligated to fulfill or complete. While it can be used in reference to the requirements and regulations in the Torah, it gradually ceased to have this meaning for believers. Some early Christians sought to substitute a collection of teachings by Jesus (such as in the Sermon on the Mount), resulting in a new kind of Torah, but even this came to be at odds with the early Christian religious worldview—at least as it is expressed at key points in the New Testament Scriptures.

To understand the Johannine view of the term e)ntolh/, our best (and clearest) guide is the declaration in 1 John 3:23-24:

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

It is a single duty (or ‘command’), which is also two-fold—that is, it has two components (trust and love), each of which is binding for believers. It may be said fairly that this dual charge is the only binding ‘commandment’ for believers in Christ—and that all other right moral and religious behavior stems from this one dual command. The interchangeability of the singular e)ntolh/ and plural e)ntolai/ in the Johannine writings tends to confirm this point.

The Love Command

Here in the Last Discourse, it is the love-component that is emphasized, reflecting a view of the so-called “love command” that was widely held among early Christians. This “love command” derives primarily from Jesus’ own teaching, exemplified in the Synoptic tradition by the famous saying of Jesus in Mark 12:30-31 par (cp. the ‘Golden Rule’ in Matt 7:12 par). Early Christians came to view this “love command” as effectively summarizing the entirety of the Old Testament Law (Torah), with the single command, as an expression of the way in which believers are committed to following the teaching and example of Jesus himself, coming to take the place of the myriad of Torah regulations. We see this tendency (and principle) stated in several different lines of early Christian tradition: in the writings of Paul (Gal 5:6, 13-14; Rom 13:8-10; 1 Cor 13; 16:14, etc), the letter of James (2:8ff, cf. also 1:25ff), and in the Johannine writings.

In the Gospel of John, the “love command” is presented as a direct, precise command (e)ntolh/) given by Jesus to his disciples—it introduces the Last Discourse (13:34-35), and runs throughout the Discourse as a central theme. Consider how it is emphasized here in 15:7-17, especially in the middle expository portion covering vv. 9-15:

    • Verses 9-12: Love (a)ga/ph), the significance of the “love command” —as the bond between believers and Jesus (and with God the Father)
    • Verse 13: The example of love in the person of Jesus
    • Verses 14-15: Those who follow Jesus’ example are beloved (“dear ones,” filoi) to him (and to God the Father)

The fundamental importance of the “love command” is illustrated by the careful thematic structure found in verses 9-10, which takes the form of a chiastic outline:

    • The Father has loved me (Jesus, the Son)
      • I have loved you (believers) in turn
        • e)ntolh/: “remain in my love”
          • you will remain in my love if
        • you keep my e)ntolai/ (love)
      • as I have kept my Father’s e)ntolai/ (love)
    • I remain in His (the Father’s) love

The ‘command’ —indeed, the ‘commandments’ [plural], and the “words” of Jesus (v. 7)—are all contained and embodied in the single comprehensive dynamic of love. This is not simply a command to love, though it may be expressed that way; rather, it is the very love that unites Jesus (the Son) with God the Father. The Father loves the Son, and the Son, in turn, loves the other “offspring” (children) of God—those believers who come to trust in Jesus as God’s Son. It is through the bond of love that we are united with Jesus, abiding and “remaining” in him, even as he “remains” in us. Since Jesus, as the Son, also abides in the bond of love with God the Father, when we “remain” in the Son, we “remain” in the Father as well (and He in us). This is the essence of the Johannine theology, particularly as it is expressed and expounded in the Last Discourse.

The Spirit

If the bond that unites with Father and Son is defined in terms of love, it may equally be understood in terms of the Spirit—the presence of the Holy Spirit in and among believers. It may be better to keep the idea of a bond associated specifically with love, since love (a)ga/ph) is expressed repeatedly as a binding requirement (e)ntolh/) in a way that the Spirit is not. The Spirit instead is a presence—the abiding presence of Jesus the Son, and, through the Son, the presence of God the Father as well. Through the Spirit, Jesus continues to speak and instruct his disciples. This is another way to understand the words of Jesus “remaining” in his disciples: through the Spirit who “remains” (that is, abides) in us (14:17). It is not simply a matter of the Spirit enabling Jesus’ disciples to recall and retain the things he said during his earthly ministry, though that is part of the picture (14:26). Rather,—and this must be emphasized—Jesus continues to speak to believers through the Spirit. Insofar as the Spirit “remains” in us, Jesus’ words—especially the ‘command’ to love—remain in us as well.

The identification of Jesus’ words with the Spirit of God is made clearly, and directly, in the statement of 6:63b: “the words [r(h/mata] that I have spoken to you are (the) Spirit and are (the) Life”. The term used here, as in 15:7, is r(h=ma, which properly means “utterance” (i.e., something spoken). However, it can also be used in a more general sense, and, in the Johannine writings, the noun r(h=ma is largely interchangeable with lo/go$. The “utterances” (r(h/mata) of Jesus cannot be reduced simply to a specific set of teachings, things he said during his earthly ministry; they are also a living word (r(h=ma), even as Jesus himself is the living Word (lo/go$) of God. And it is this living Word—which includes all of his “words” —that “remains” in us through the presence of the Spirit.

The role of the Spirit, in terms of the references to prayer in the Last Discourse, will be discussed further in the concluding study in this set. Next week, our study will cover three areas:

    • An examination of the closing reference to prayer here in verse 16
    • A survey of the remaining references to prayer in the Last Discourse, and
    • A consideration of how the various conditional statements relate to the promise of our requests (prayers) being answered by God

(For further study on the New Testament view of the Old Testament Law [Torah], and its significance for believers in Christ, you may wish to consult my earlier series “The Law and the New Testament” —especially the articles and notes on “Jesus and the Law” and “Paul’s View of the Law”.)

December 31: John 1:16 (continued)

John 1:16, continued

kai\ xa/rin a)nti\ xa/rito$
“and favor in place of favor”

This is the last of the three phrases in verse 16:

“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor

It modifies and supplements the first two lines, and is thus epexegetical. The explanatory force of the line rather depends on how the initial conjunction kai/ is to be understood. There are two possibilities:

    • In addition to receiving from the fullness of the Son, believers receive the “favor a)nti/ favor” expressed in the third line
    • The expression “favor a)nti/ favor” further defines what it is that we we receive from the fullness of the Son

The second option is to be preferred; in this light, the conjunction kai/ could also be translated as “even”:

“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
even favor in place of favor”

There are two other components to the line: (1) the noun xa/ri$, and (2) the preposition a)nti/. We will examine each of these, and then see how they function in their combination.

xa/ri$

The noun xa/ri$ essentially means “favor” —that is, the favor that one person shows to another. Frequently in the New Testament, it refers to the favor that God shows to His people—particularly, to believers, in saving them from sin and Judgment. It is a common early Christian term, but, rather surprisingly, hardly occurs at all in the Johannine writings. Apart from the occurrences here in the Prologue (4 times in vv. 14, 16, 17), the only other instance is in 2 John 3, where it is used as part of a greeting. Thus, unlike many of the featured words in the Prologue, xa/ri$ is not a distinctly Johannine term.

It is thus necessary to consider carefully how the word is used here in the Prologue. The word describes the do/ca (“honor, splendor, glory”) of the pre-existent Logos (and Son) of God, and refers to the filling of the Son by the Father. Both this aspect of “filling” (adj. plh/rh$, noun plh/rwma), and the pairing of xa/ri$ with “truth” (a)lh/qeia), suggests strongly that it is the Spirit of God that is primarily in view. A careful examination of the Johannine theology and the context in the Prologue would seem to confirm this point (cf. also the discussion in the previous notes, on vv. 14, 16). God the Father shows favor to the Son by giving to him His own Spirit. An identification with the Spirit also fits the idea in the first two lines of v. 16—namely, that we, as believers, share this same fullness. We are united, through the Spirit, with both the Father and Son (cf. below).

The other occurrence of xa/ri$ is in the following verse 17, which will be discussed in turn; however, it is worth at least giving some consideration to it here, in terms of the meaning of the term xa/ri$. The point being made is a contrast between the Torah of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant realized (for believers) through the person of Jesus Christ. It thus represents a special kind of favor, whereby the Covenant relationship, between God and His people, is no longer established through sacrificial offerings, nor governed through the regulations of the Torah. Instead, it was established through the sacrificial death of Jesus, and is now governed through the presence and power of the Spirit.

Paul expresses this point in more traditional religious and theological terminology, in his letters, compared with the Johannine writings. However, the idea is certainly present in the Johannine Gospel (the Discourses). At a number of points, Jesus identifies himself with a particular aspect of the religious ritual and tradition. From an Israelite and Jewish standpoint, such tradition had largely been defined within the parameters of the Old Testament Torah. For more on this subject, cf. my earlier articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

a)nti/

The fundamental meaning of this preposition is “against”. While this meaning may be understood in the negative sense of opposition, there are many other instances where we have the more general idea of two people (or objects) facing each other. A face-to-face position may indicate antagonism or opposition, but can just as well signify a friendly encounter or exchange. The idea of an exchange is frequent with a)nti/, either in the sense of replacement, or as indicating a mutual relationship.

Let us now consider the meaning of the expression “favor a)nti/ favor”. Two questions must be asked. First, what are the two favors? and, second, how are they related (through the preposition a)nti/)? These questions are interconnected, and cannot be addressed separately. In the analysis that follows here, they will be discussed together.

To begin with, the identity of the two “favors” depends on the force of the preposition a)nti/ (“against”); and there are three options (cf. Brown, p. 16): (a) replacement, (b) exchange, or (c) accumulation. Unfortunately, the preposition only rarely occurs elsewhere in the Johannine writings, and never in its independent, unprefixed form, so there is little opportunity for comparison.

Some commentators (e.g., Brown, pp. 16, 33-35) take their cue from the verse that follows (17), understanding in this line a similar contrast between the Old and New Covenants. In which case, the preposition a)nti/ would have the sense of replacement—i.e., the New Covenant in Christ (and the Spirit) taking the place of the Old Covenant and the Torah. Two factors lead me to consider this interpretation to be incorrect. First, there seems little basis for applying the word xa/ri$ (“favor”) to the Old Covenant. That would tend to contradict the regular use of xa/ri$ among early Christians, as seen throughout the New Testament. But, more importantly, it is invalidated by the very contrast made in verse 17; there, the word xa/ri$ is decidedly not used in reference to the Old Covenant, but only to the New.

The idea of accumulation—i.e., a)nti/ in the sense of one thing stacked up against another—also seems to require an identification of the first xa/ri$ with the Old Covenant (i.e., in addition to the first covenant, we now have the greater New Covenant). If so, I would have to consider that line of interpretation to be incorrect as well. However, it may be that what is being expressed is the idea that, for believers, life in Christ, in the Spirit, is defined as the experience of one blessing after another. That would be more tenable as an explanation, though, in my view, still off the mark.

I would maintain that only the sense of an exchange properly captures the meaning of a)nti/ in context. The only question is whether it is a mutual exchange, or signifies a chain of transmission. Both are possible, but the latter option seems better to fit the Johannine context. There is a strong hierarchical emphasis in the Gospel: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to believers (3:34-35; 5:20-21ff, 26ff; 6:27ff, 57; 12:49-50; 14:6-10ff, 21ff; 15:9, 15, 26; 16:15; 17:2, 7ff, 12, 14, 18, 22-23ff; 20:21).

According to this pattern, the favor the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. It is the same favor, essentially identified with the Spirit of God (cf. above), and the exchange proceeds from Father to Son to believers. However, there is also an aspect of mutuality that is tied with the idea of union through the presence of the Spirit. Through the Spirit, we, as believers, are united with both the Father and the Son. I like to illustrate this with the following simple diagram:

Nowhere in the Gospel of John are the two aspects of hierarchy and mutuality more beautifully combined than in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, especially the closing section (vv. 20-26):

“That they all should be one, even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you—that they also should be in us… And the honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me, I have given to them, so that they should be one, even as we (are) one—I in them and you in me, (so) that they should be (one)s having been made complete(ly) into one…” (vv. 21-23a)

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

July 13: Ephesians 4:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-6

The same theme of Christian unity in the first half of Ephesians (chaps. 1-3) continues in the second half (chaps. 4-6), but with the theological emphasis giving way to the practical. The theological (and Christological) exposition concludes with the praise declaration of 3:20-21, which itself recapitulates the message of chaps. 1-3, through the unifying expressions “in the e)kklhsi/a” and “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” —that is to say, God’s presence and power is manifest among believers (the e)kklhsi/a, those “called out” to assemble as one), who are united together “in Christ”. The central point of unity in all this is the Spirit, as discussed in the previous notes on 2:18-22.

Chapter 4 is written with the message of chaps. 1-3 clearly in view; here is how Paul (or the author) begins:

“(So) then, I call you alongside—I, (the one) held bound in (the) Lord—(urging you) to walk about (in a way that is) brought (in balance with) the calling with which you were called”

The ethical orientation is clear enough, repeating a line of instruction that was widespread among early Christians—to the effect that believers should live and behave in a manner that reflects their identity as holy ones, united with God in Jesus Christ. Such instruction is largely traditional, and doubtless has its origins in the baptism ritual. As baptism symbolized the death of the old, and the beginning of new life in Christ, characterized by the holiness of the Spirit, so believers should continue to live in a like manner. Here the point of reference extends beyond baptism to the calling (klh=si$) of believers, related to the noun e)kklhsi/a in 3:21 (cf. above). God “calls out” his people (believers) to gather together in the bond of the Spirit—a process that begins with the moment a person comes to trust in Jesus, and continues throughout one’s life. The verb peripate/w (“walk about”) is the idiom signifying a person’s daily activity and behavior.

Verse 2 describes the character of this walk, utilizing a simple ‘virtue-list’ format—the Christian attributes (of humility, meekness, and patient endurance) all encompassed under the fundamental principle of love (a)ga/ph). The goal of the believer’s faithful walk is expressed in verse 3:

“…making haste to keep watch (over) the oneness [e(no/th$] of the Spirit, in the bond of peace (we hold) together”

The term e(no/th$ literally means “oneness”, and the expression e(no/th$ tou= pneu/mato$ (“oneness of the Spirit”) effectively summarizes the theme of believers’ unity in the Spirit. The author (Paul) speaks in v. 1 of his being held bound as a prisoner (a de/smio$); now he plays on this terminology to affirm the common bond (desmo/$) believers share in the Spirit—this bond holds us together (su/n, i.e. su/ndesmo$). It is also a bond of peace (ei)rh/nh); on this theme of peace in Christ, cf. 2:14-17 and the prior note on 2:18-22. The ethical instruction of vv. 1ff is framed here in terms of “keeping watch” over (vb thre/w) or guarding this bond we share in the Spirit. As indicated in verse 30, it is possible for believers to bring sorrow (vb lupe/w) to the Spirit through their conduct or attitude. A Spirit-guided life does not happen automatically, but requires faithful attention and devotion from each believer.

This “oneness” or unity of the Spirit is expounded further in verse 4:

“…one [e%n] body and one [e%n] Spirit, even as you also were called in (the) single [mi/a] hope of your calling”

The hope (e)lpi/$) of the believer is the ultimate salvation one will experience after death (or at the end-time), when the new life we experience now, in the Spirit, will transform our entire person and being. The term is fundamentally eschatological for early Christians, and refers primarily to the resurrection that will take place at the future return of Jesus. The presence and work of the Spirit represents the “realized” aspect of this eschatological hope for believers—i.e., it is realized now, in the present, but will be fulfilled and made complete in the future.

The body (sw=ma) that we share in common (“one body”) must be understood in terms of our union with Christ—in Christ all believers form a single body, the “body of Christ”. This is very much a Pauline theme, drawn from the theological principle of being united with Christ’s body—participating in his death and resurrection (cf. Rom 6:6ff; 7:4; 8:10; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:24ff; 15:44-49; 2 Cor 4:10; Gal 2:19-20; 6:17; Phil 3:21; Col 1:22). From this thought developed the ecclesiological principle of believers, collectively, forming Christ’s ‘body’ —Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:17; 12:12-27ff; Col 1:18, 24. The two principles are closely connected, and go hand in hand, as the juxtaposition in 1 Cor 10:16-17 and Col 1:18-22 makes clear; they are also both realized for believers in the Spirit (rather than sacramentally or through ecclesiastical organization). That is also why “one body” and “one Spirit” occur in tandem here—the expressions are inseparable.

This exposition on unity continues in verses 5-6:

“…one [ei!$] Lord, a single [mi/a] trust, one [e%n] dunking,
one [ei!$] God and Father of all (thing)s—the (One who is) above all (thing)s, and through all (thing)s, and in all (thing)s.”

If verse 4 begins with unity viewed from the standpoint of the bond believers share together in the Spirit, it expands outward in vv. 5-6 based on the identification of the Spirit as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. Verse 5 makes clear that the “one Spirit” refers to the “one Lord” (ei!$ ku/rio$), and, in this instance, the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) unquestionably means Jesus Christ. Our unity is thus “in Christ” (a popular Pauline expression), and the realization of this union with him is two-fold, through (a) our trust in him, and (b) the symbolism of the baptism ritual.

For the Christian, however, union with Jesus (the Son) also means union with God the Father, whose nature as Creator and Sovereign Lord encompasses “all things”. The plural form of pa=$ (“all”) is not neuter, but a masculine form, which could be understood as “all people”; however, the cosmic sense of “all things” is to be preferred, supported by the context that follows in vv. 8-9 (cp. Col 1:15-17ff; 1 Cor 15:27-28). The expression “one God”, of course, is a statement of (absolute) monotheism, which early Christians inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

April 23: John 17:26

John 17:26

“…and I made known to them your name, and will make (it) known, (so) that the love by which you loved me would be in them, and I in them.”

In the previous note (on v. 25), we discussed the important Johannine theme of Jesus as the Son who makes the Father known to believers. This idea of knowledge (vb ginw/skw) is central to the Gospel—we come to know the Father through the Son. With the Son’s departure (return) back to the Father, this process of revelation—of making known (vb gnwri/zw) the Father—occurs through the presence of the Holy Spirit, operating in Jesus’ place. It is the related verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) that is used here, and the Father is made known by way of His name (o&noma). Both of these are key points of emphasis in the Gospel, and especially here in the Prayer-Discourse.

Jesus speaks in the name of His Father (5:43)—that is, as His chosen representative, and more, as His beloved Son. Similarly, he works in that name (10:25), referring to the entirety of his mission (e)ntolh/) on earth—the signs and miracles, etc—culminating in his sacrificial death. In so doing, he makes the Father’s name known to his disciples. In verse 6 of the Prayer-Discourse, this is expressed through the verb fanero/w—literally, “make (to) shine (forth)”. This blends together the motifs of knowing (ginw/skw), and seeing (ei&dw, and other verbs), expressing knowledge (and revelation) in visual terms. The verb fanero/w occurs 8 other times in the Gospel (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; 21:1 [twice], 14), and 9 more in 1 John (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). Here is how Jesus’ statement reads in 17:6a:

“I made your name shine forth to the men that you gave to me out of the world.”

The emphasis on the name of the Father continues in vv. 11-12:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are (still) in the world, and I come toward you. Father (most) holy, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they would be one, just as we (are). When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded (them), and not one out of them went to ruin, if not [i.e. except] the ‘son of ruin’, (so) that the Writing might be fulfilled.”

Two points are clear: (1) the Father has given His name to Jesus (the Son), and (2) believers are protected and kept united in this name. As previously noted, in the ancient world, a person’s name was thought to embody and represent the essential nature and character of the person, often in a quasi-magical manner (cf. my earlier notes and articles on this point in the series “You shall call his name…”). Thus, in giving and making known the Father’s name, the Son is revealing the Father Himself (14:6-11, etc). Ultimately this is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit, by which we are united with Father and Son, and in the bond of love that the two share.

Indeed, here in 17:26, the name of the Father and the divine love are closely connected, and both are fulfilled through the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that Jesus can continue to make known the Father (His name)—note the use of the future tense, “and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw]”. Moreover, it is only through the uniting bond of the Spirit that both God’s love, and the presence of His Son (Jesus), can be in us. God is Spirit, and union with Him can only occur in the Spirit (4:24). The abiding presence of this love—the Father’s love, given to us, as His children, through (and as part of) His love for His own Son—has been emphasized at a number of points throughout the Last Discourse, and again here in verse 23 (cf. the prior note). The same structural idiom is used: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives the same to those who trust in him.

This indeed makes for a powerful and fitting end to the Last Discourse, and to the Johannine Discourses as a whole. All of the key themes and theological points are distilled, in these few verses, into a poetic description of our union with God. It follows the chain of relationship—Father-Son-Believers—but is ultimately resolved into a triadic unity, which I like to represent (however inadequately) through the following simple diagram: