1 John 1:5-7
A key point of transition between the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) and the first major section of the work (1:5-2:17) is the noun koinwni/a, which I translate as “common-bond”, and which, as a keyword, reflects the ideal of unity among believers (cf. Acts 2:42). It is used at the close of the opening sentence (in verse 3, cf. the previous note), and occurs again in vv. 6-7. Even though the word does not occur in the Gospel of John, nor anywhere else in the Johannine writings, it may be said to express the underlying idea of unity—and of union—both among believers, and between believers and God, which is so important to the Johannine theology.
In the Gospel, these themes feature most prominently in the Last Discourse and the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, and, in this context, relate to the Paraclete-sayings; in other words, this unity/union is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit. I have discussed the (indirect) allusions to the Spirit in the prologue, and will touch on them also here in vv. 5-7. The role of the Spirit is central to the author’s rhetorical approach in 1 John, being a reflection of a distinctive Johannine spiritualism.
The principal thematic emphasis of 1:5-2:17 is established at the beginning, in verse 5:
“And this is the message which we have heard from him, and (which) we give forth as a message to you: that God is light, and there is not (any) darkness in Him, not one (bit).”
The declaration in v. 5b is presented as a message given to his disciples by Jesus (“from him”). This is another element of continuity with the prologue, both in the emphasis on things Jesus said to his disciples (during his earthly ministry), and with the concept of preserving and transmitting that tradition to future believers, utilizing the verb a)nagge/llw (or its parallel, a)pagge/llw).
We do not have any actual saying by Jesus that corresponds to v. 5b; however, it certainly does reflect the teaching in the Gospel, combining two distinctive Johannine themes:
- The identification of Jesus as the light (fw=$) of God, which shines in the darkness of the world—1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; cp. 1 Jn 2:8ff.
- The idea that Jesus (as the Son) reveals God (the Father) to the world (spec. to believers), including His fundamental characteristics and attributes; this theme is particularly prominent in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse—14:7-11, 20-23; 15:8ff; 16:15, 25ff; 17:2ff, 7ff, 12-14ff, 22ff, 26.
The contrast between light and darkness (skoti/a) is an essential component of the Johannine dualism. It is also a most natural and obvious point of contrast, which can be found utilized in many different religious and philosophical systems. One does not need to look much further than the Old Testament and Jewish tradition to find numerous examples (e.g., Gen 1:4-5; Job 12:22; 29:3; 30:26; Psalm 18:28; 139:11-12; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; Amos 5:18ff). The light-darkness juxtaposition is as much a part of the dualism in the Qumran texts, as in the Johannine writings; cf. for example, the ‘Two Spirits’ treatise in the Community Rule text (1QS 3:13-4:26).
From the Johannine standpoint, light characterizes God, while darkness characterizes the world (o( ko/smo$); and these are entirely opposite and opposed to each other—in particular, the world is fundamentally opposed to God and His truth. This means that the world is also opposed to God’s Son (Jesus) and to all of His offspring (believers). There is nothing at all (ou)demi/a) of the darkness in God or in His children.
The author expounds this light-darkness message in vv. 6-7, giving to it a practical (and most pointed) emphasis:
“If we say that we hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with Him, and (yet) should walk about in the darkness, (then) we are false and do not do the truth;” (v. 6)
This is the first, negative side of the instruction, and refers to false believers (vb yeu/domai, “be false, act falsely”)—that is, those who say they hold common-bond with God (i.e., as true believers), but yet “walk about” in the darkness. This contrast almost certainly relates to the ‘opponents’ of whom the author speaks in the “antichrist” sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6). This contrast between true and false believers informs the entirety of 1 John as a treatise.
The positive side of the instruction, describing the true believer, comes in verse 7:
“but, if we should walk about in the light, as He is in the light, (then) we hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with each other, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
False believers walk about in darkness, but true believers walk about in the light. This idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) goes back to Old Testament tradition, with the use of the corresponding Hebrew verb El^h* (“walk, go”, esp. in the reflexive Hithpael stem), to describe a person’s habitual behavior (in an ethical-religious sense). Paul famously uses the verb in Galatians 5:16, where walking about “in the Spirit” is more or less equivalent with the Johannine walking “in the light”; cf. also Romans 6:4; 8:4. The Johannine idiom, using the same verb (in the same sense), is found in 8:12; 11:9-10 and 12:35, which are worth citing (in order):
“I am the light of the world; the (one) following me shall not walk about [peripath/sh|] in the darkness, but shall hold the light of life.”
“if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the day, he will not strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] he sees (by) the light of this world; but if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the night, he does strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] the light is not in [i.e. with] him.”
“(For) yet a little time the light is in [i.e. with] you. You must walk about [peripatei=te] as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; (for) indeed the (one) walking about [peripatw=n] in the darkness has not seen [i.e. does not know] where he leads (himself).”
The relation of the author’s instruction to these (Johannine) statements by Jesus will be discussed in the next daily note.