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

1 John 4:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 4:2-3 and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this supplemental note, I surveyed and evaluated seven interpretative approaches that seek to explain or elucidate the Christology of the opponents in 1 John. Each approach, in particular, offers a comparative explanation regarding the statements in 2:22-23 in 4:2-3:

    • 2:22-23: Jesus is not the Christ
      “Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)”
    • 4:2-3: Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh
      “Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) {not} having come in (the) flesh” (cp. 2 Jn 7)

Here, in Part 3, I will offer a summary exposition, which may also, in its own way, form a working hypothesis for future study.

To begin with, in regard to the statement in 2:22-23, it is necessary to decide between two possibilities:

    • The title o( Xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”) is to be understood in terms of Jewish Messianic expectation(s), just as o( Xristo/$ is used throughout the Gospel of John; i.e., the denial means “Jesus is not the Messiah”.
    • The title is to be understood in a distinctly Christian (and Johannine Christian) sense, with the statement “Yeshua is the Anointed (One)” essentially as a shorthand for the confessional formula in Jn 11:27; 20:31: “Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

I find the first option intriguing, and deserving of further study, particularly in terms of interpretive approach #2 (discussed in Parts 1 & 2). However, the weight of evidence in the Johannine Letters does, I think, favor the second option. The noun xristo/$ in the Letters occurs more frequently in the double-name Ihsou=$ Xristo/$ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed,” Jesus Christ)—1:3; 2:1; 3:23; 4:2; 5:6, 20; 2 Jn 3, 7—with the title o( Xristo/$ only here in 2:22 (par 5:1) and 2 Jn 9. It is perhaps noteworthy that o( Xristo/$ in 2 Jn 9 probably does not refer specifically to the Jewish Messiah, unless tou= Xristou= be regarded as an objective genitive—viz., teaching about Jesus as the Messiah. In the three key Christological references which divide and punctuate 1 John—beginning (1:3), middle (3:23), and end (5:20)—the name Jesus Christ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”) is joined precisely with the title Son of God (“His Son, Yeshua [the] Anointed”).

With this point established, we may now relate 2:22-23 to 4:2-3, understanding the latter to represent, for the author, the essential Christological error of the opponents—viz., not confessing/acknowledging Jesus Christ (the Son of God) to have come in the flesh. Based on the analysis in Parts 1 & 2, there are now three main options from which to choose, regarding the significance of the phrase “having come in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki\ e)lhluqo/ta):

    • “come in the flesh” refers to the reality of Jesus’ human existence—as opposed to a docetic view of Jesus (i.e., he only seemed to be human)
    • “come in the flesh” refers to the incarnation of the (pre-existent) Son of God
    • “come in the flesh” signifies the means by which Jesus Christ acted during his mission on earth, specifically with reference to his sacrificial death.

There is some support for the first option based on the way that the author, in the prologue (1:1-4), emphasizes the actual seeing, hearing, and touching of Jesus by the first disciples. A parallel for this may be found in the Thomas-episode at the end of the Gospel (20:24-29). Moreover, a connection between 4:2-3 and an early docetic view of Jesus is confirmed by the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (esp. his letter to the Smyrneans). Given the proximity of time and (possibly) place between the Johannine and Ignatian letters, the opponents addressed in each could be related.

It is, however, somewhat more likely, in my view, that the Johannine opponents either: (a) denied the incarnation of the Son of God, or (b) denied certain aspects of the incarnation. In the first option (a), they held that the pre-existent Logos/Son of God came upon the man Jesus, through the Spirit, at his baptism, but did not “become flesh” or “come in the flesh”. In the second option (b), the opponents accepted, in general, that the Son of God was incarnate in Jesus, but only in a qualified sense—the principal issue seeming to be the reality of Jesus’ death (5:5-8). If Jesus did not truly suffer and die, as a mortal human being, then he did not fully “come in the flesh”.

The wording of 4:2-3 favors option (a), however, I suspect that option (b) is much closer to the mark. There are several reasons for this conclusion:

    1. The author’s polemic distortion and simplification of the opponents’ view in 2:22f suggests that he may be doing the same here in 4:2f; if so, then it is natural to look to what follows in 5:5-8 as an explanation and elaboration of what he has in mind.
    2. The parallel in wording between 4:2 and 5:6 likewise suggests that the two are conceptually related, and that “in water and blood” (“blood” specifically referring to Jesus’ death) is meant to clarify the expression “in (the) flesh”.
    3. The ‘docetism’ of the opponents of Ignatius is defined largely in terms of Jesus’ suffering and death. This is certainly true in regard to Ignatius’ use of the specific verb doke/w in Smyrneans 2:1 (cp. 4:2); Trallians 10:1. The earlier ‘docetism’ (as such) of the Johannine opponents is likely to have been even more narrowly expressed—that is, primarily, if not exclusively, in terms of Jesus’ death (“blood”).

Thus, while a more generalized docetism or denial of the incarnation cannot be ruled out entirely, I feel that the Christological error of the opponents, according to the author, rested primarily in a denial (in some fashion) of the reality of Jesus’ death—viz., that he did not truly suffer and die like an ordinary human being. Possibly, it was the meaning and importance of Jesus’ death which the opponents denied; however, the language used by the author, and the force of his rhetoric, suggests something even more serious (and fundamental) was at stake.

Once a pre-existence Christology had developed and taken root among believers, it was natural that many Christians would struggle with the idea that the Divine/eternal Son could suffer and die like a normal human being. Among various individuals and groups, in the second century, a number of Christological solutions to this problem developed. Docetic and separationist Christologies were among the earliest of these. In many ways a separationist approach accords much better with the New Testament (Gospel) evidence—i.e., the Divine Presence comes upon Jesus (through the Spirit) at his baptism (Jn 1:32-33 par), and then departs at the moment of his death (19:30 par). Commentators have variously identified the opponents as early docetists or separationists.

I do not know that the Christology of the opponents can be determined with any precision, beyond the author’s statements in 2:22-23, 4:2-3, and 5:5-8. I propose the following interpretation, in line with how I understand the logic of the author’s polemic (against the opponents); it can be outlined as follows:

    • 5:5-8. The opponents deny the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death. They accept that the Son of God came as a human being, “in water” —referring either to Jesus’ birth or to his baptism—but deny that he came “in blood”. Nor do believers participate in the death of Jesus through the Spirit. Perhaps the thought was that the Spirit was released (for believers) prior to Jesus’ death (Jn 19:30).
    • 4:2-3. Because the opponents do not accept that the Son of God came “in water and blood”, they do not truly believe that the Jesus Christ the Son came “in the flesh” (v. 2); as such, they do not confess a true faith in Jesus.
    • 2:22-23. Because of this false view of the incarnation, the opponents do not affirm the fundamental confession that “Yeshua is the Anointed One(, the Son of God)”. By denying the true identity of the Son, they effectively deny the Father as well.

In the upcoming article on 5:5-8, I will develop this analysis further, including giving serious consideration to the question of how the role of the Spirit relates to the opponents’ Christology.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 74 (Part 1)

Psalm 74

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

Psalm 74 is a lament-Psalm, written from the standpoint of the Israelite (Judean) people and nation as a whole. The first half of the composition (vv. 1-11) is a lament over the destruction of the Temple, and thus is likely to have been written in the 6th century B.C., sometime after the Temple’s destruction (in 586), though it would have been applicable as a hymnic prayer all throughout the Exile and into the post-Exilic period. The second half of the Psalm (vv. 12-23) consists of an appeal to YHWH to redeem and deliver His people.

This is the second of a series of eleven Psalms (7383) associated with the figure of Asaph ([s*a*)—on whom, cf. the previous studies on Pss 25 and 73. The composition is designated as a lyK!c=m^ (ma´kîl), a term used also in the headings of Pss 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 78, 88-89, 142. For a discussion of the possible meaning and significance of this term, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 32.

The meter of this Psalm is irregular, but tends to follow a 4-beat (4+4) couplet format.


Verse 1

“For what, O Mightiest, should you be indignant to the end,
(and) your nostril(s) smoke against (the) sheep of your pasture?”

The lament begins, appropriately, with the interrogative expression hm*l*, “for what (reason)…?”, i.e., “why…?” The conquest of Jerusalem, with the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of the population, makes it seem that YHWH has rejected His people (Israel/Judah) completely (lit. “to the end,” jx^n#l*). The verb jn~z` has the basic meaning of being repelled or disgusted by something, which a person then casts aside. I have rendered it above as “be indignant (toward something)”, which well suits the burning/fire motif in the second line.

The noun [a^, often translated flatly as “anger,” should be understood here in the concrete anthropomorphic (and zoomorphic) sense of “nostril(s)”. The smoke (vb /v^u*) coming from YHWH’s nostrils is a vivid sign of his anger; it also evokes the burning destruction of the city (and Temple). Often the specific image is of nostrils burning or ‘flaring’, like the snorting of an angry bull.

Frequently, YHWH is depicted as a shepherd, with His people as the sheep, or flock (/ax)). The shepherd-motif connotes the care, protection, and guidance which God gives to His people (cf. especially the famous Psalm 23).

Verse 2

“Remember your assembled (flock) (that) you acquired (long) before;
may you redeem (with the) staff your inheritance, mount ‚iyyôn,
this (mountain) on which you have dwelt.”

To the relatively regular 4-beat (4+4) couplet format (established in v. 1), an additional 3-beat line has been included here in v. 2, forming a tricolon. The shepherd/sheep motif should be understood as continuing in v. 2; thus the general noun hd*u@ (“crowd, assembly, congregation”) reflects the people as an assembled flock. The religious-cultic connotation of hd*u@, however, should not be missed—viz., the Temple precincts as the principal location where the nation gathers (to worship).

The Psalmist calls on YHWH to remember His people, whom He acquired (vb hn`q*, cf. Exod 15:16; Deut 32:6; the verb can also mean “create” [Gen 14:19, 22]) as His own, long before (<d#q#), in the past. It is thus proper that God should redeem (vb la^G`) His people from their servitude (in exile); I follow Dahood (II, p. 200) in reading the perfect form of the verb as a precative perfect, in parallel with the imperative in the first line. God redeems His people, delivering them out of danger, and leading them (back to pasture) with his shepherd’s staff (fb#v@, cf. Ps 23:4).

The redemption of His people entails restoring and re-establishing Jerusalem (spec. the Temple-Palace locale of Zion) as the “mountain” on which He will once again dwell, with the people, as He did in the past.

Verse 3

“Lift high your (foot)steps, to (the) desolate places far off,
all the evil (the) hostile (one) has done in your Holy (Place).”

The theme of Zion as YHWH’s mountain-dwelling—the local (ritual) representation of His cosmic Mountain—introduced at the end of v. 2, continues here, with the call for God to “bring/lift up high” (vb <Wr, Hiphil) His footsteps (i.e. to mount Zion). The noun <u^P^ refers to the beat of footsteps, probably intended to evoke the military imagery of an army of soldiers on the march. Dahood’s quite different explanation of iymup (II, p. 201) is intriguing, but not entirely convincing.

The Temple precincts, as well as the entire locale of the Zion hilltop-site, has been turned into “places of desolation” (toaV%m^) by the conquering forces (i.e. the Babylonian military) that “did evil” (vb uu^r* Hiphil) in the “Holy (Place)”. The use of vd#q) makes clear that the destruction of the Temple is primarily in mind. The noun jx^n#, denoting an end goal (cf. the expression jx^n#l*, “to the end”, in v. 1), should probably be understood here as something seen from a distance, from far off; as YHWH marches to Jerusalem, to redeem the Zion, the “desolate places” of the destroyed city can be seen on His approach.

Verse 4

“(Those) hostile to you roared in the midst of your place of assembly,
setting (up) their signs (as evil) signs.”

Here the participle rr@x) (plur.) is essentially synonymous with by@oa in v. 3 (cf. above); both mean “one being hostile”. The conquering Babylonians are “hostile” to YHWH in two respects: (1) they were hostile to YHWH’s people (and His holy city), attacking it; and (2) they are idolatrous worshipers of other deities. The “place of assembly”, i.e., where the people assemble (to worship God), refers to the “holy (place)” in v. 3—the Temple and its precincts.

The redundancy in the second line, repeating the plural noun tota) (“signs”), have led to commentators toward various emendations of the text (cf. Dahood’s slight emendation that redivides the MT, II, p. 201f). However, it may be that the Psalmist is simply utilizing a bit of wordplay involving the word toa, which, like the corresponding “sign” in English, can refer to an actual physical/material marker, as well as (conceptually) to the significance of something. I take the meaning of the line to be that the conquering army set up their signs (i.e., banners, etc), which served as signs (indicators) of the evil they were doing.

Verses 5-6

“(This) was made known like (those) bringing up
axes in the thicket of (the) wood;
and (so) {they cut down} (all) her doors at once,
with hatchets and hammers they broke (them) down.”

These lines are highly problematic, as virtually all commentators recognize. The verses are likely corrupt, to some extent, especially in the first line of v. 6. As every proposed emendation is both speculative and far from convincing, the best approach is probably to keep as close as possible, however tentatively, to the MT as it has come down to us. Sadly, the Psalm is not preserved among the Qumran manuscripts, so there is no help to be found from that front.

The basic image seems clear enough: the conquering army broke down the Temple building (its doors, etc) like men who cut down trees (with the axe) in a thick forest. I follow the Greek versions (LXX, Symmachus; cf. Dahood, II, p. 202) in vocalizing hyjwtp as h*yj#t*P= (“her openings”, i.e. her doors) instead of MT h*yj#WTP! (“her carvings”). The many doors and wooden parts of the Temple were “cut down” (?) and “broken down” (vb <l^h*) with hatchets and hammers, etc.

Verse 7

“They cast your Holy Place in the fire, (burning it) to the earth,
(and so) they profaned (the) dwelling-place of your name.”

After the cutting down of the doors, etc, of the Temple building, the conquering army burnt it to the ground “in the fire”; cf. the allusion to this fiery destruction with the reference in v. 1 to the “smoke” coming from YHWH’s nostrils. The use of the verb ll^j* (II) in the second line echoes the earlier expressed idea of the conquerors as “doing evil” in the Temple sanctuary, and also of their being “hostile” to YHWH. The root llj (II) generally seems to denote a violation of what is sacred—in this instance, desecrating and profaning the holy dwelling-place (/K^v=m!) of God. On the Temple sanctuary as specifically the dwelling-place for YHWH’s name, cf. 2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 5:5; 8:16ff, 43ff; 9:3, 7; 2 Kings 23:27; Jer 7:10ff, 30, etc.; on the Deuteronomic origins of this theme, cf. Deut 12:5ff; 14:23-24; 16:2, 6, 11.

Verse 8

“They said in their heart, ‘Let us subdue them as one,
let all (the) assembles of (the) Mighty (One) in the land be burned!'”

This is another difficult couplet, largely due to the difficulty in parsing MT <n`yn] in the first line, and also the form of the verb [r^c* (“burn”) in the second line. They idea seems to be that conquering army has the desire to completely subdue the entire nation, and to destroy every sacred site where people worship (lit. “places of assembly”). This reflects, again, the theme of the Babylonians’ hostility toward both YHWH and His people.

The MT <n`yn] is probably best understood as reflecting a first person plural imperfect (cohortative) form of the verb hn`y` (“oppress”); but cf. Dahood, II, p. 202 for a different approach. I do follow Dahood in vocalizing wprc as a passive form (Wpr*c%), with jussive/precative force, “let them be burned”.

Verse 9

“Signs (among) us we no (longer) see,
there is not any more a spokesman (of YHWH),
and not (among) us (anyone) knowing ‘until wh(en)…'”

There are no longer any great wonders or portents (“signs,” cf. on v. 4b above) among the people, nor is there any ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson or ‘prophet’), i.e., one who speaks as YHWH’s representative, communicating His word and will to the people. There is thus no one who can assure the people how long the exile will last—i.e., when it will end (“until wh[en]”, hm*-du^). All of these things are indications that God is no longer present and active among His (exiled) people, at least not in the way that He once was. It is a restoration of the old way that the Psalmist has in mind when he speaks of YHWH redeeming (v. 2) His people; the restoration entails a return of the people to the land, and a re-establishment of Zion/Jerusalem as the holy city of God.

Verse 10

“Until when, O Mightiest, shall (the) adversary scorn (you)?
Shall (the) hostile (one) despise your name to the end?”

The implicit question (“until wh[en]…?” hm*-du^) at the end of v. 9 is picked up at the beginning of v. 10, more precisely as yt^m*-du^ (“until when…?”). The wicked adversary, the “hostile one” (rx* / by@oa, cf. the same parallel terminology in vv. 3-4), has shown open scorn (vb [r^j*) to YHWH, despising (vb Ja^n`) His name (cf. above on v. 7), particularly in the way that they desecrated and destroyed the Temple. Yet the conquest and destruction was so total, leaving the land desolate, with the people exiled, that one might truly wonder if this situation might indeed last “to the end” (jx^n#l*, cf. verse 1). “Until when (i.e. how long)” will this continue? The very question anticipates the Psalmist’s plea to YHWH in vv. 12-23.

Verse 11

“For what do you turn back (from us) your hand,
(and) your right hand from near your bosom <withold>?”

The lament of vv. 1-11 concludes just as it began (cf. on v. 1 above), with the interrogative hm*l*, “for what (reason)…?” (i.e., “why…?”). The Psalmist asks why YHWH does not give help to his people, acting on their behalf, to restore/redeem them from out of their exile. The dual-image here reflects this idea vividly:

    • God turning back (vb bWv) His hand
    • and of holding back (vb al*K*) His right hand

The parallelism is quite clear, and would seem to require reading the verb al*K*, instead of hl*K* (MT hL@K^) in the second line; this slight emendation of the MT seems justified, and is supported by commentators such as Kraus (p. 96). To this idea of YHWH withholding His hand is added the picturesque detail of keeping it back near His own bosom; we might depict it as keeping His hands folded on His lap.

In the plea that follows in vv. 12-17ff, to be discussed in the next study, the Psalmist hopes to spur God to action on behalf of His people.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

1 John 4:2-3 and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 2)

In Part 1 of this supplemental note, I laid out 4 lines of interpretation, regarding the Christology of the Johannine opponents, according to the statements in 1 John 2:22-23 and 4:2-3:

    • 2:22-23: Jesus is not the Christ
      “Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)”
    • 4:2-3: Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh
      “Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) {not} having come in (the) flesh” (cp. 2 Jn 7)

Within the four lines, there are seven interpretive approaches. Here, I will offer my evaluation regarding each approach.

1. The Jewish Hypothesis maintains that the opponents are Jewish Christians who have abandoned their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. This approach is relatively new, but has some distinguished proponents. It remains a minority view, but has gained somewhat in acceptance with the increasing emphasis among scholars on the Jewish background and context of the Johannine writings. The strongest presentation (and defense) of the Jewish Hypothesis is the dissertation by Daniel R. Streett, published as a lengthy monograph (They went out from us: The Identity of the Opponents in First John [De Gruyter: 2011]). This approach has the major advantage of taking at face value the denial in 2:22-23 (“Yeshua is not the Anointed One”), treating the title o( Xristo/$ in its principal first-century context, viz., as referring to the Messianic expectation(s) of Israelites and Jews, just as, in fact, o( Xristo/$ is used throughout the Gospel of John (cf. the earlier note on 2:22-23).

However, while proponents (like Streett) of the Jewish Hypothesis make many fine points, I have to disagree entirely with the premise. In my view, it is most unlikely that the opponents are simply Jewish Christians who have flatly rejected their faith in Jesus. If this truly were the situation being addressed by the author, I would very much expect to find evidence of some harsh anti-Judaism, anti-Synagogue language, such as we see at various points in the Gospel and also in the book of Revelation (2:9; 3:9). Indeed, I see little or no indication of any Jewish or Judaistic emphasis in the Johannine Letters.

2. Christian rejection of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. I find a much stronger argument to be made that the opponents are non-Jewish (Gentile) believers who reject Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (of Jewish expectation), and who would thus deny (or be inclined not to accept) the title o( Xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”) for Jesus. There are a number of details in 1 John, not least of which being the warning against keeping away from ‘idols’ (at the end of the work, 5:21), which suggest that the author is writing to a primarily non-Jewish audience.

This approach shares the same advantage with the Jewish Hypothesis (1., above)—that of taking at face value the statement in 2:22-23, along with the ordinary meaning of the title o( Xristo/$ (including everywhere it occurs in the Gospel of John; cp. 2 John 9). At the same time, it preserves the correct (in my view) nature of the crisis, as representing a Christological conflict within the Johannine Community of believers. However, at the same time, this approach does not seem to do justice to the centrality of the statement in 4:2-3, nor to the force of the author’s polemic (and language) in the “antichrist” section of 2:18-27 as a whole.

3. A Separationist Christology. As previously noted, this refers to the idea that the man Jesus and the Divine Christ are two separate entities, which were joined together (at the baptism), and then separated again at the moment of Jesus’ death. This explanation of the opponents’ view finds some support in the tradition that associates the apostle John (trad. author of the Letters) with the arch-heretic Cerinthus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.3.4)—a point I mentioned in a prior note. According to Irenaeus (Against Heresies I.26), Cerinthus affirmed an early separationist Christology. This could be taken as evidence that the Johannine Community (symbolized by John) was in conflict with members (symbolized by Cerinthus) who held a separationist view of Christ.

There might be even stronger support for this approach if one were to accept (as some commentators do) the variant reading in 4:3lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (“looses Yeshua”) instead of mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n (“does not give account as one [of] [i.e., does not confess/acknowledge] Yeshua”). I discussed this text-critical issue at length in an earlier note. The manuscript evidence in favor of mh\ o(mologei= is absolutely overwhelming, and it is unlikely that that the reading lu/ei is original.

Yet, if it were original, the use of lu/w (“loose[n]”) with a person (Jesus) as the object might naturally be understood in the sense of “separating” (loosing) Jesus. From what would he be “loosed” if not the bond of union with the Divine Christ (and Son)? The variant reading is, indeed, understood in this way by Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.16.8), in opposition to the separationist Christology of the Valentinians (and other Gnostics). Origen and the historian Socrates (Church History 7:32), also cite the variant reading in a similar sense, in terms of dividing Jesus Christ; Socrates cites it in the specific context of the Nestorian controversy. The Latin witnesses that attest the reading lu/ei to\n Ihosu=n alternate between the translation solvit Iesum (“dissolves [i.e. destroys] Jesus”) and dividere Iesum (“divides Jesus”).

I find the separationist explanation, on the whole, to be rather unconvincing. If the idea of ‘dividing’ Jesus Christ truly were the point at issue, I would expect to find more evidence in 1 John arguing for a union between the man Jesus and the Divine Christ/Son. This does not seem at all to be the emphasis, though admittedly Christians in the 2nd-4th centuries may have understood 1 Jn 4:2-3 in this light (thus explaining the presence of the reading lu/ei in the margin of manuscripts, and its citation by theologians). However, Tertullian cites the same variant (Against Marcion V.16.4) in opposition to the docetic Christology of Marcion, claiming that such a Christology effectively “dissolves” (i.e. destroys) Jesus.

4. 2:22-23 as the author’s interpretation of 4:2-3. There is always the possibility that the statement in 2:22-23 does not actually represent the stated view of the opponents, but, rather, how the author, in his polemic, interprets it. According to this approach, the real point of Christological contention is given in 4:2-3—viz., the opponents denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in [the] flesh”). By denying this, as the author understands the matter, the opponents demonstrate that they do not have true faith/trust in Jesus, thus effectively denying him as both the “Anointed One” (Christ) and the “Son of God”. That the author thinks in these terms is indicated by the extended logic in 2:22f:

    • denying Jesus as the Christ =>
      • denying him as the Son of God,
        and denying him as the Son =>

        • denying the Father as well

Just as the opponents surely would have affirmed belief in God (the Father), so almost certainly they also affirmed Jesus as the Son of God. By the same logic, as Johannine Christians (cf. 3:23; Jn 11:27; 20:31) they may well have also affirmed Jesus’ identity as the Christ; however, for the author, these points all hang together, and we might surmise his polemical logic to be as follows:

    • a false/erroneous view of Jesus Christ =>
      • they deny Jesus as the Christ =>
        • they also deny him as the Son =>
          • they actually deny the Father as well

Even if this assumption about the author’s presentation is correct, it is still necessary to define more clearly the Christological issue addressed in 4:2-3 (par 2 Jn 7). The remaining four approaches (4a-d) represent alternative explanations for this.

4a) A Docetic Christology.—that is, Jesus Christ was not really present on earth as a flesh-and-blood human being, but only seemed (vb doke/w) to be a human being. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this explanation of the opponents’ view comes from the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. As I discussed in a prior note, Ignatius probably wrote his letters not many years after 1 John was written, and to churches in Asia Minor (the region surrounding Ephesus), an area traditionally identified as the geographic locale of the Johannine congregations; indeed, many commentators today would be inclined to accept this identification. In several letters (most notably the letter to the Smyrneans) Ignatius seems rather clearly to be combatting a docetic view of Christ, and refers to 1 Jn 4:2-3 specifically in this context (Smyrneans 5:2). The evidence from Ignatius is convincing enough that numerous commentators have been willing to characterize (however broadly) the Christology of the Johannine opponents as “docetic”.

If one accepts the docetist explanation, it is probably best to construe it more narrowly, placing the emphasis primarily on the death of Jesus. In other words, the principal Christological error involved the denial that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would suffer and die like any other mortal (cf. Ignatius, Smyrneans 2:1, “he [only] seemed [dokei=n] to suffer”). The emphasis in 5:5-8, along with the parallel in wording between 4:2f and 5:6ff, suggests that the reality of Jesus’ death was primarily in view.

4b) Denying the Importance of Jesus’ Earthly Life. According to this view, the opponents did not deny the incarnation per se, but, rather, they denied (or devalued) the importance of Jesus’ earthly life (and, particularly, his death). The opponents, it would seem, were influenced by the high Christology of the Johannine Gospel, as well as by the Johannine spiritualistic emphasis. If Jesus truly is the pre-existent Son of God, and thus fundamentally of a spiritual nature (Jn 4:24), and, if he is continually present in and among believers through the Spirit, teaching them “all things” (2:20, 27; Jn 14:26), it would be natural for Johannine Christians to question the importance of Jesus’ teaching and activity during the limited scope of his earthly life.

Such an interpretation has the added advantage of allowing for harmonization between 2:22-23 and 4:2-3, according to the view of 2:22f outlined in approach #2 (above). If Jesus’ earthly life itself is of limited importance, then of what value is his identification as the Jewish Messiah? However, this approach overall is perhaps better suited to the idea that the author is giving a polemical distortion of 4:2f in 2:22f—viz., by denying the importance of Jesus’ earthly life (and death), the opponents are effectively denying him as the Christ. At issue is one’s understanding of the significance of what Jesus did while “in the flesh”, and, particularly, the saving efficacy and power of his death.

Taken generally, this approach is relatively popular among commentators, and can be found in the distinguished commentaries of Schnackenburg, R. E. Brown, Klauck, and von Wahlde, among others. The chief problem with this approach, as I see it, is that it does not take seriously enough the specific language used by the author in 4:2-3. In a previous note, I analyzed the Johannine use of the noun sa/rc (“flesh”), the particular expression “in [the] flesh” ([e)n th=|] sarki/), along with the contextual use of the verb e&rxomai. The emphasis very much seems to be on Jesus’ existence and life as a human being. This suggests that the incarnation of the Son of God is the principal point at issue; this would, of course, include the reality of his death “in the flesh” (5:6ff).

4c-d) Denial of the Johannine Pre-existence Christology. These two approaches share the basic premise that the opponents were Christians (probably Jewish believers) who denied, or would not affirm, the idea that Divine/eternal Son was incarnate in the person of Jesus. I would delineate two main versions of this approach:

    1. The opponents believed that the Spirit came upon Jesus (at his baptism), who, as God’s chosen representative and “Anointed One” (o( Xristo/$), was able to communicate to believers the things of God (including the Spirit). However, he was not a flesh-and-blood incarnation of the eternal Logos and Son of God.
    2. The opponents fully accepted the identity of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, but in accordance with the exaltation Christology held by believers throughout the first century. That is, Jesus’ status and position as God’s Son was understood as being the transformative result of his resurrection, when he was exalted to God’s ‘right hand’ in heaven, to share in the Divine Spirit, with the ability of communicating it to believers. However, again, according to this view, Jesus was not an earthly incarnation (“come in the flesh”) of the Divine Son.

These two approaches have the advantage of conforming to the contours of first-century Christology, as opposed to docetism, for which there is almost no evidence prior to the second century. Indeed, during the years c. 60-100, there must have been many Christians who were forced to grapple with the developing pre-existence Christology (attested primarily in the Johannine Gospel and Hebrews), and who found it difficult to accept. The Gospel of John itself seems to illustrate something of this difficulty. In the chapter 6 “Bread of Life” Discourse, for example, what seems particularly to “trip up” Jesus’ disciples (vv. 60ff), no less than the rest of his Jewish audience, is the idea that (1) Jesus has come to earth from heaven, and (2) that one must join in his earthly life and death (by ‘eating and drinking’ his “flesh” and “blood”). The disciples who cannot accept this incarnation-teaching, and who thus depart from following Jesus, could well serve as a paradigm for the crisis surrounding the opponents, as described in 1-2 John.

Having thus given some evaluation of the major interpretive approaches which attempt to explain the Christological view of the opponents, in the final part of this supplemental note I will offer a final summary of my own thoughts on the matter. This summary will take the form of a practical working hypothesis.

1 John 4:2-3 and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 1)

1 John 4:2-3, concluded

In the final note of this set on 1 John 4:2-3, I will be surveying the major interpretive theories regarding the Christological view of the Johannine opponents, combining together the evidence from 2:22-23 and 4:2-3. It is worth keeping clearly in view the error of the opponents, as described in each passage:

    • 2:22-23: Jesus is not the Christ
      “Yeshua is not the Anointed (One)”
    • 4:2-3: Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh
      “Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) {not} having come in (the) flesh” (cp. 2 Jn 7)

The author describes each of these denials by the term a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”) [2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7]. But how are the statements related, to what extent do they accurately represent the opponents’ view of Jesus, and how should they be understood precisely? To facilitate discussion and further study on the matter, I present below the major lines of interpretation; the number assigned to each approach is for convenience of reference, and does not in itself indicate any preference on my part.

1. The statement in 4:2-3 is an elaboration of that in 2:22-23, a statement which should be taken at face value, according to the accepted meaning of the title o( Xristo/$, (“the Anointed One”, Heb j^uyv!m*h^) among Jews and Christians in the 1st-century A.D. That is to say, the opponents were Jewish Christians who have rejected their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, returning to the fold of non-Christian Judaism. The controversy surrounding the opponents is thus little different than the conflict-point in the Gospel—viz., regarding Jews who are unwilling or unable ultimately to accept Jesus as the Messiah. According to this view, which I dub the “Jewish Hypothesis”, the statement regarding Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” in 4:2-3, simply means that the “Anointed One” has truly appeared on earth in the person of Jesus.

2. In a variation of the Jewish Hypothesis (1.), the point at issue in 2:22-23 is, in fact, acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah (expected by Israelites and Jews), but from a different perspective. The opponents were Johannine Christians (presumably non-Jewish/Gentile believers), who fully accepted Jesus as the Divine (and pre-existent) Son, but would not accept or admit his identity as the (Jewish) Messiah. They accepted the title “Son of God” for Jesus, but denied the title “Anointed One” (Xristo/$, Christ). Along with this denial, 4:2-3 indicates that they may also have denied the importance or significance of Jesus’ earthly life, or even denied that the Son truly appeared in human “flesh” at all. Cf. 4a and 4b, below.

3. 2:22-23 reflects a separationist Christology. That is, the man Jesus and the Divine Christ (Son of God) were two separate entities. The Divine Christ joined with Jesus (through the Spirit) at his baptism (Jn 1:32-33), and then separated again at the moment of his death (19:30). There are several possible variations or nuances to this approach; cf. 4c below. On the association of Cerinthus, representative of an early separationist Christology, with the apostle John (and thus possibly with the Johannine churches), cf. the previous note.

4. The statement in 2:22-23 (“Jesus is not the Christ”) must be understood in light of the statement in 4:2-3. The formulation in 2:22-23 is the author’s way of saying that, because the opponents deny Jesus Christ “(as) having come in the flesh”, they do not have true faith/trust in Jesus. Thus they essentially (and effectively) deny Jesus as both the “Anointed One” and “Son of God” (3:23; cf. also the fundamental confessional statements in Jn 11:27 and 20:31). There are several further (specific) interpretations within this general approach:

4a) 4:2-3 reflects a docetic Christology—Jesus Christ (the Divine Christ and Son of God) was not incarnate as a real flesh-and-blood human being, but only seemed or appeared (vb doke/w to be human). Cf. my discussion of the docetic Christology opposed by Ignatius of Antioch, not many years after 1 John was written, in the previous note. In a variation of this approach, the opponents were docetists in the narrower sense that they fundamentally denied that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, truly died—including the idea that, in his dying, he genuinely suffered and shed real blood. In this respect, the meaning of 4:2-3 is informed by 5:5-8.

4b) The opponents did not deny the incarnation, or Jesus’ humanity, per se, but, rather, they denied the importance of his earthly life and ministry. This emphasis was likely influenced by the high (pre-existence) Christology of the Johannine Gospel (and theology), but also (perhaps) by Johannine spiritualism. If Jesus’ identity (as the Divine Son) is fundamentally spiritual in nature (Jn 4:24, etc), and if he is now continually present, in and among believers, through the Spirit, teaching us “all things” (cf. 2:20, 27; Jn 14:26), then of what importance is his limited earthly life and teaching, by comparison?

4c) The opponents were (Jewish) Christians who accepted the idea that the Spirit (and Divine Logos) came upon Jesus at his baptism. Jesus was further able, as God’s Anointed representative (o( Xristo/$), to communicate the Spirit (and all the things given to him by God) to believers. The pre-existent/eternal Logos (and Son) of God, however, was not incarnate in the person of Jesus.

4d) The opponents accepted Jesus as both the “Anointed One” and “Son of God”, but only in terms of the exaltation Christology held by all first-century believers. This Christology understood Jesus’ status and position as God’s Son as being the transformative result of his resurrection and exaltation (to God’s ‘right hand’ in heaven). They rejected the Johannine pre-existence Christology, and, with it, the idea of Jesus as the earthly incarnation of the eternal Son (“Jesus Christ [the Son of God] having come in the flesh”).

In the second part of this supplemental note, I will evaluate each of the approaches summarized above, and will also present some concluding comments.

June 22: 1 John 4:2-3 (9)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

In considering the opponents described by the author of 1 John (in 4:1-6), and, in particular, regarding the Christology of the opponents (addressed in vv. 2-3), the earliest interpretative information we have comes from the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. These letters likely were written not many years after 1 John. Moreover, Ignatius was writing to Christians in cities of Asia Minor (Smyrna, Philadelphia, Tralles, Magnesia), in a region centered around Ephesus. This is the same area traditionally identified as the geographical location for the Johannine churches (cf. Rev 1:4; chaps. 2-3); and many commentators would accept this identification. If correct, it raises the likelihood that the opponents with whom Ignatius is dealing (in his letters) may be related to the opponents of 1-2 John.

Before proceeding, it is worth quoting the parallel to vv. 2-3 in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many pla/noi (have) gone out into the world—the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. not confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this is the pla/no$ and the (one who is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$].”

The noun pla/no$ is related to the verb plana/w (1 Jn 2:26; cf. 3:7) and the noun pla/nh (4:6); it refers to a person who goes astray—or, in the causative sense, makes people go astray, i.e., leads them astray (by deceiving them, etc). Here the noun pla/no$ captures the meaning of the verb in 2:26 (cp. Mark 13:5-6 par, and in the book of Revelation, 2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10); the noun pla/nh (in 4:6) refers to the same end-time dynamic—viz. of false prophets and evil spirits leading people astray (cf. 2 Thess 2:11; also 2 Pet 3:17; Jude 11). The opponents are thus characterized as end-time “false prophets” capable of leading even believers astray (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24). They do this primarily through their view (and teaching) regarding the person of Jesus Christ, a view which the author regards as false and inspired by an evil/lying spirit; they are thus said to be “against the Anointed (One)” (a)nti/xristo$), i.e. “against Christ”.

But what exactly was the opponents’ Christological error? In 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 7 it is summarized as denying (or refusing to confess) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in [the] flesh”). But what does this mean precisely? Some light on the question may be found by Ignatius’ use of 4:2-3, and the views of the opponents whom he combats.

In his letter to the Christians of Smyrna (5:2), Ignatius seems to refer to v. 2, describing certain people who do not confess/affirm that Jesus had real human flesh: “not giving account as one [mh\ o(mologw=n] (of) him (as) bearing flesh”. The adjective sarkofo/ro$ (“flesh-bearing”) is used instead of the participial phrase “having come in the flesh”; otherwise, the use of mh/ + the verb o(mologe/w makes it all but certain that Ignatius has 1 Jn 4:2-3 and/or 2 Jn 7 in mind.

At a number of points in his letters, Ignatius is combatting what is commonly referred to as a docetic view of Jesus Christ. The term docetism derives from the Greek verb doke/w (dokéœ), meaning “think, consider,” sometimes in the semi-passive sense of how something seems or appears to be (or how a person imagines it to be). When applied in a Christological context, to the person of Jesus Christ, it refers to a belief that Christ only seemed/appeared to be a real flesh-and-blood human being (i.e., the man Jesus). As a manifestation of the Divine Son/Christ, Jesus’ humanity was essentially a visual illusion.

Ignatius addresses such a view of Jesus, treating it as a dangerous error, from the very beginning of his letter to the Smyrneans (1:1-2). He emphasizes that Christian faith has its basis in both flesh and the Spirit, affirming that Jesus was “truly” (a)lhqw=$)

    • of the genealogical line of David “according to the flesh” (kata\ sarka/, cf. Rom 1:3)
    • born of a virgin and baptized by John
    • nailed to the cross “in the flesh” (e)n sarki/)

In emphasizing the real suffering and death of Jesus, Ignatius specifically mentions certain ‘false’ believers (lit. [those] without trust, a&pistoi) who say that Jesus only seemed [vb doke/w] to suffer (2:1-2; cf. also Trallians 10:1). The specific use of term sa/rc (“flesh”) has particular significance for Ignatius, even as it does for the author of 1 John, since it represents the reality of Jesus’ existence and life (and death) as a human being. He stresses how even after the resurrection, Jesus still had tangible flesh (3:1-2; cf. the Johannine evidence, 19:34ff; 20:17, 20, 25-29; 21:10-13). Again, Ignatius warns his readers against the dangerous false believers (“wild beasts in human form”) who teach that Jesus only seemed [dokei=n] to live and act as a human being (4:1-2; 5:1f [cf. above]; Trallians 9:1-2).

There are other points of similarity between the opponents of Ignatius and those in 1 John. He also emphasizes the opponents’ lack of true love for other believers (6:1-2; 7:1). Their abstaining from the Lord’s Supper rite (6:2) is tied to their denial of Christ’s real human flesh (cf. above), but it may also be related to an exaggerated form of Johannine-style spiritualism (cf. Jn 4:23-24 and 6:63, in connection with 6:51-58). Indeed, it is quite possible that the Johannine opponents would have seen little value in the physical partaking of the Lord’s Supper rite.

Elsewhere in his letters (e.g., Ephesians 7:2; 20:1; Romans 6:1; Trallians 9-11), Ignatius emphasizes the suffering and death of Jesus; in all likelihood, he has the same opponents (referenced in Smyrneans) in mind. Their denial of Jesus’ true humanity (“flesh”), and especially the reality of his death, certainly seems, on the whole, to correspond with the opponents’ view of Jesus in 1-2 John. Writing some years later, Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna), references similar opponents (with a docetic view of Jesus) in his letter to the Christians of Philippi. In 7:1, he quotes 1 John 4:2-3 (and/or 2 Jn 7), in a slight paraphrase:

“For, every (one), who should not give account as one (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed to have come in (the) flesh, is against-the-Anointed [antichrist].”
Pa=$ ga/r o%$ a&n mh\ o(mologh=| Ihsou=n Xristo\n e)n sarki/ e)lhluqe/nai a)nti/xristo$ e)stin

Polycarp was a younger contemporary of Ignatius, and a correspondent with him (cf. Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp; Ephesians 21:1; Magnesians 15:1). On the connection between the churches of Smyrna and the collection of Ignatius’ letters, cf. Philippians 13.

According to Irenaeus, writing no more than 20 years after Polycarp’s death, Polycarp had been a disciple of John the apostle (trad. author of the Johannine Letters). In one famous anecdote (Against Heresies III.3.4), Polycarp tells of John’s encounter with Cerinthus at a bath-house in Ephesus. By the time of Irenaeus, Cerinthus was regarded as an arch-heretic, but one who held, not a docetic view of Jesus Christ, but a separationist view—viz., that the man Jesus and the Divine Christ were two separate entities, who were joined together at Jesus’ baptism and then separated again at the moment of his death (cf. Against Heresies I.26).

This is significant, because there are some commentators who identify the opponents in 1-2 John as early separationists, though this is established more readily from the Christological statement in 1 Jn 2:22-23, rather than the one in 4:2-3. In this regard, the colorful anecdote of the confrontation between John and Cerinthus has been taken as symbolic of the crisis surrounding the Johannine opponents in 1-2 John.

In the next daily note, the final one in this set, I will briefly survey the notable theories regarding the opponents, comparing together the evidence from 1 Jn 2:22-23 and 4:2-3.

June 21: 1 John 4:2-3 (8)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

In our initial discussion of verse 3, in the previous note, we examined the important text-critical question in the verse—namely, regarding the minority reading lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (“looses Jesus”) vs. the majority reading mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n (“does not give account as one [of] Jesus”, i.e., “does not confess/acknowledge Jesus”). I considered briefly what the reading with lu/ei might have meant for the author, if it were original. The best guide to its meaning, in that case, is the use of lu/w in the Johannine Temple-saying of Jesus (Jn 2:19), along with the only certain occurrence of the verb in 1 John (3:8). This comparison raises two possible lines of interpretation: (1) the opponents in 1 John denied the incarnation of the Son, or (2) that they denied the significance of his human life (and death), negating its importance. In either case, the opponents could be said to have, in a sense, “dissolved” Jesus (spec. his body).

The premise of Bart D. Ehrman (pp. 125-35) is that the reading lu/ei made its way into the text through a marginal comment in the manuscript(s), much as we see for the only attested occurrence of the reading in a Greek manuscript (the minuscule 1739). The comment would have been introduced sometime in the 2nd century, primarily for the purpose of combating certain heretical or heterodox Christological views. This certainly corresponds to the context of the reading as it is cited in early Christian writings, beginning in the late-2nd century.

For example, Irenaeus cites it in Against Heresies III.16.8, in opposition to the Valentinians (and other ‘Gnostic’ heretics) “who say that (the man) Jesus was merely a receptacle for (the Divine) Christ, upon whom the Christ descended from above” (16.1). This separation of the man Jesus from the Divine/heavenly Christ—understanding “that Jesus was one (entity), and Christ another” —is commonly referred to as a “separationist” view of Jesus. The possibility that the opponents in 1 John held such a view has been mentioned previously, and will be discussed again in upcoming notes. An early “separationist” Christology is associated with the figure of Cerinthus (Irenaeus, I.26), who was considered an opponent of the apostle John, according to early tradition (cf. Irenaeus, III.3.4).

Tertullian cites the reading lu/ei against the Christology of Marcion (Against Marcion V.16.4). However, Marcion appears to have held a docetic view of Christ—i.e. that Jesus only seemed (vb doke/w) to be a real human being. Tertullian thus understands Marcion to have “dissolved” the humanity of Jesus, citing 1 Jn 4:2-3 in reference to a denial of the reality of the incarnation of Christ. Many commentators believe that the opponents in 1 John represent an early form of docetism. This also will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

Origen, like Tertullian, was aware of both readings, and cites the reading lu/ei (in his Commentary on Matthew), understanding it in the sense of “dividing” the human and Divine parts of Jesus Christ. More than two centuries later, the Church historian Socrates (Church History 7:32) cites the reading in the context of the Nestorian controversy. Nestorius, he says, errs in precisely the way described earlier by Origen—that is, he unwittingly divides Jesus’ humanity from his Deity. Socrates recognizes that, at the time, the reading lu/ei was not commonly known, but that it is attested “in the ancient copies”. Cf. Ehrman, pp. 128, 169. It is noteworthy that the Latin versions and citations alternate between the translation solvit Iesum (“dissolves Jesus”) and dividere Iesum (“divides Jesus”).

The overwhelming manuscript evidence, in favor of the reading mh\ o(mologei=, makes it rather unlikely that the reading lu/ei is original. For a fairly convincing argument on this point, cf. Ehrman, pp. 126-7ff. Christian readers and copyists in the 2nd century, like many of us today, may well have sought to clarify the Christological error of the opponents in 1 John. Marginal comments may have been introduced (as in MS 1739) for this purpose; in particular, there would have been an interest in relating 1 Jn 4:2-3 to the Christological controversies which were then current. Even today, there are commentators who would identify the the opponents in 1 John as early docetists or separationists. The use of the verb lu/w in John 2:19 (and 1 John 3:8) may well have influenced the marginal comment, utilizing Johannine language to explain the reference. On this, cf. the discussion above, and in the previous note.

Now accepting the majority reading (mh\ o(mologei=), but respectful of the variant reading lu/ei (from an interpetive standpoint), let us proceed to examine verse 3 in more detail:

“And every spirit that does not give account as one (of) Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God; indeed, this is the (spirit) of the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], (of) which you (have) heard that it comes, and now is already in the world.”

As mentioned previously, verse 3a simply negates the Christological confession of v. 2—viz., that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in the flesh”). The opponents do not confess or affirm this. Thus, they do not speak from the Spirit of God, but from the spirit of Antichrist. This makes them “false prophets” (v. 1), inspired by a false and lying spirit that leads people astray (pla/nh, vb plana/w, v. 6).

The use of the term a)nti/xristo$ (cf. also 2:18, 22) is particularly significant in this regard, since the literaly meaning is “against [a)nti/] the Anointed (One) [xristo/$]”. By denying the truth of Jesus Christ (v. 2), meaning they deny his identity as the Anointed One (cf. 2:22-23), they effectively speak and teach “against Christ”. For more on the background and use of a)nti/xristo$, cf. the earlier article on the first “antichrist” section (2:18-27) and my 3-part article on the Antichrist Tradition. For a discussion on the nature of the opponents’ view, in relation to 2:22-23, cf. my recent note.

Verse 3b echoes the earlier “antichrist” section (2:18ff), by claiming that the coming “Antichrist” of the end-time is realized already now in the person of the opponents. They fulfill the role of the “false prophets” who lead people astray during the end-time period of distress. Even believers are in danger of being led astray by such people (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24).

It is not entirely clear whether the author understands the traditional “(one who is) against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristo$) as a human being or spirit-being; possibly the latter is intended. Certainly, the focus here in 4:1-6 is on an evil spirit that is opposed (and antithetical) to the holy Spirit of God. This is how the expression to\ tou= a)nti/xristou= should be understood. The neuter article to/ assumes the neuter noun pneu=ma (“spirit”)—i.e., “the spirit of the (one) against the Anointed”.

This emphasis on the true and false believer, defined in terms of the true and false spirit, reflects a fundamental Johannine spiritualism. This will be discussed further in the next daily note, along with further consideration of the Christological view of the opponents, such as it can fairly be determined, by a comparison of 2:22-23 with 4:2-3.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993). His discussion of 1 Jn 4:3 is found on pages 125-35.


June 20: 1 John 4:2-3 (7)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

Having examined verse 2 in detail, it is time now to turn to what follows in v. 3.

To begin with, there is a major text-critical issue in this verse. The Majority Text [MT] reads the verb o(mologe/w (with the negative particle), at the point indicated in bold below, while other witnesses attest the verb lu/w. Here is how the MT reads, according to the NA critical edition:

“And every spirit that does not [mh/] give account as one [o(mologei=] (of) Yeshua is not out of [e)k, i.e. from] God…”

In the MT of verse 3a, the author simply negates the confessional statement in v. 2, by use of the negative particle mh/; in other words, the person who does not confess or affirm the statement in v. 2, does not speak from the Spirit of God, but is inspired by the false/evil spirit of the world (and “Antichrist”) instead. As previously discussed, the verb o(mologe/w (“give account as one”), in context, essentially means agreeing with (and confessing publicly) the view of Jesus expressed in verse 2—viz., that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in the flesh”).

There is, however, an important minority reading that uses the verb lu/w, rather than mh/ + o(mologe/w; comparing the textual difference, we have:

    • pa=n pneu=ma o^ mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n
      “every spirit that does not give account as one (of) Yeshua”
    • pa=n pneu=ma o^ lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n
      “every spirit that looses Yeshua”

It is important to note that mh\ o(mologei= is the reading essentially of every Greek manuscript; lu/ei is found only as a marginal reading in the minuscule MS 1739. The external (Greek) evidence is thus completely overwhelming, in favor of mh\ o(mologei=; yet a good number of commentators (e.g., Bultmann, Schnackenburg, R. E. Brown, von Wahlde) are inclined to regard lu/ei as original. How can this be?

Certain internal considerations would seem to favor lu/ei. It is the more difficult reading, and it has proven difficult to explain how lu/ei ever could have emerged as the reading, attested in the Vulgate (“solvit Iesum”) and other Old Latin MSS (ar c dem div p), and in the writings of a number of Church Fathers (cf. below), if it was not original. By contrast, mh\ o(mologei= can be explained as a harmonization with the wording in v. 2.

However, as many commentators have pointed out, the reading mh\ o(mologei= is difficult and peculiar in its own way. If the author (or a later scribe) had meant simply to negate the statement in v. 2, it would have been preferable (grammatically) to use the negative particle ou)x (rather than mh/) with the indicative verb, though the construction with mh/ is attested on occasion in the New Testament (including elsewhere in the Johannine writings—Jn 3:18; also Acts 15:29 [D]; 1 Tim 6:3; Tit 1:11; 2 Pet 1:9 [cf. Ehrman, p. 168]). Even so, it is rather unlikely that a copyist would have introduced this grammatical peculiarity, mh\ o(mologei=, rather than the reading ou)x o(mologei= (cf. ou)x w(molo/goun in Jn 12:42).

If the reading lu/ei is not original, it is nonetheless known from at least the late 2nd-century, being attested by Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.16.8), Tertullian (Against Marcion V.16.4), and Origen (Commentary on Matthew 65), and may have been known somewhat earlier by Clement of Alexandria (cf. Ehrman, pp. 128, 169, 171). Origen and Tertullian are familiar with both readings. Thus the textual change, in which ever direction it took place, must have occurred by the middle of the 2nd century (at the latest).

Let us, for the moment, consider the possibility that the reading lu/ei to\n Ihou=n is original. What would the author have meant by it? The verb lu/w means “loose(n)” (cf. Jn 1:27, in the sense of untying). When it is used in reference to another person, with the person as the object, it usually means “loose (from a bond),” i.e., “set free”, as, for example, in Jn 11:44. There are two other instances in the Gospel of John where it is used in reference to the Torah regulations, in the sense of violating (or negating) the obligatory requirement—i.e., of “loosing” the binding obligation to obey the Torah (5:18; 7:23); cp. the similar usage with regard to the Scriptures (10:35).

The verb lu/w can sometimes be used in the sense of “dissolve”, or, more generally, “destroy”. This is the meaning in the Temple-saying of Jesus (2:19), where it refers to the dissolving (i.e. destruction) of a building (lit. the “loos[en]ing” of its stones and joints):

“Loose [lu/sate] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (up)”

In the Synoptic version of the Temple-saying, as reported during the narrative of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (Mk 14:58 / Matt 26:61; cp. Acts 6:14), the compound verb katalu/w (“loose[n] down”, i.e. tear/bring down) is used. This usage, specifically in the Johannine Temple-saying, is significant in the way that it applies the verb lu/w to the physical (human) body of Jesus (cf. below).

The only other occurrence of lu/w in the Johannine writings—and the only certain occurrence in 1 John—is in 1 Jn 3:8, where it refers to the purpose of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh]: that he might loose [lu/sh|, i.e. dissolve/destroy] the works of the Devil.”

This context raises the possibility that the phrase lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (“loose Yehsua”) could have a similar meaning—viz., as a kind of shorthand for “dissolve (i.e. destroy) the work of Jesus”, perhaps in the sense of negating or denying the efficacy of his mission as a human being (“come in the flesh”), including his sacrificial death.

Another possibility, along similar lines, relates to the specific use of lu/w in Jn 2:19 (cf. above), applying the verb to the ‘dissolving/destruction’ of Jesus’ physical person, his human body (“the shrine of his body,” v. 21). If the opponents in 1 John denied the incarnation of the Son, or (possibly) denied the significance of his human life (and death), then, in a sense, they could be said to “dissolve” his body.

It should be pointed out that this is not the way that the early Church Fathers seem to have understood the use of lu/w, in the context of 1 Jn 4:3. Rather, by all accounts, they interpreted it in opposition to a separationist Christology—that is, a view of Jesus Christ that separated the man Jesus from the Divine/heavenly Christ, or which separated the human Jesus from God (and the Divine realm) in other ways. This will be discussed further, as we proceed, in the next daily note.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993). His discussion of 1 Jn 4:3 is found on pages 125-35.

June 19: 1 John 4:2-3 (6)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

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

The final component of the confessional statement in verse 2 involves the preposition e)k:

e)k tou= qeou=
“out of God”

The preposition is an important part of the Johannine theological vocabulary. It is used two particular ways, in relation to God—emphasizing the aspects of: (1) origin, and (2) belonging. Here, the first aspect is in focus—that of origin, or source—and thus here e)k tou= qeou= is typically translated “from God”.

In the Gospel, phrases and expressions with e)k are often applied to the person of Jesus, emphasizing his origin as coming “out of heaven” (3:13, 31; 6:32-33, 41-42, 50-51, 58; 8:23 [“from above”]); it may also be said that he comes specifically “out of [i.e. from] God” or “out of the Father” (8:42), or that his teaching, etc, comes from the Father (7:17; 10:32; cf. also 12:49). The opposite of coming “out of” God is to come “out of” (and to belong to) the world (o( ko/smo$). Since Jesus (the Son) comes from God (the Father), he clearly does not come from the world (8:23; 17:14-16; 18:36); he came into the world, to make the Father known, and to bring salvation, to those who would believe, but he does not belong to it (3:16-17; 16:28; 17:18; 18:37, etc). The same is true of believers, who are offspring/children (te/kna) of God, just as Jesus is God’s Son—they neither come from the world, nor belong to it (15:19; 17:6, 14-18); rather, they belong to God, and to the truth (18:37). Indeed, believers come “out of” God, being born out of Him (1:13); this ‘birth’ is spiritual, taking place through His Spirit (3:5-6, 8).

The idiom of believers—true believers—coming to be born “out of” (e)k) God is particularly important in 1 John (2:29; 3:9-10; 4:5-6f; 5:1, 4, 18-19; cf. also 3 Jn 11). Again, the contrast is with coming from (and belonging to) the world (2:16; 4:5; 5:4-5). The world is characterized by evil, and is under the dominion of the “Evil One” (i.e., the Satan/Devil), also called the “chief/ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11); therefore, the one belonging to the world, belongs to evil (and to the Evil One), being ‘children’ of (i.e., born out of) the Devil—cf. Jn 8:41, 44ff; 1 Jn 2:19; 3:8, 10, 12. Since non-believers (and false believers) belong to the world and to the Devil, they belong to that which is false and opposed to the truth; the true believer, by contrast, belongs to the truth (3:19; cf. Jn 18:37). The presence of the Spirit, who is the truth (5:6), confirms to believers that they/we truly belong to God as His children (3:24; 4:13).

This background helps us to understand the specific qualifying expression “out of (e)k) God” here, in relation to the Christological statement of v. 2f. The confessional statement effectively serves as a test, as a way of distinguishing the true believer from the false. The true believer will confess and affirm “Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in the flesh”, while false believers—that is, the opponents—do not. As such, when the opponents speak about Jesus, they do not speak from the holy Spirit of God (i.e. “out of God”), but from the evil “spirit of Antichrist”. They are thus “false prophets”.

As previously noted, the use of the plural “spirits” (pneu/mata), along with the expression “every spirit” (pa=n pneu=ma), in verse 1, might lead one to think that there are many different spirits that come from God. However, this almost certainly is not what the author has in mind. Rather, each person is taught by, and speaks from, either the Spirit of God or the evil (and deceitful) spirit of the world (and of “antichrist”). There are many “spirits” only insofar as there different manifestations of these two spirits—one true and one false—in many different individuals.

In the next daily note, we will continue our study by turning at last to the author’s further statement in v. 3, where a negation (or denial) of the confessional statement is given. With this point of reference, we will begin to examine more closely the Christological view of the opponents (so far as it can be determined).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 73 (Part 2)

Psalm 73, continued

The first section of the Psalm (vv. 1-12) was discussed in the prior study.

VERSES 13-17

Verse 13

“Truly, in vain have I cleansed my heart,
and washed with clear (water) my palms.”

Like the first section of the Psalm (cf. the previous study), this second section begins with the affirmative particle Ea^ (“surely, truly…”). The initial couplet here establishes the protagonist’s struggle with the wisdom-question—viz., as to why God allows injustice to prevail in the world, and the wicked to prosper. He feels that he has devoted himself to righteousness “in vain”; if the wicked can flourish in this life, then what is the value of living in an upright and devout manner? The Psalmist’s active righteousness is described by the parallel idiom of cleansing/washing (vb hk*z` / Jj^r*) one’s heart and hands (lit. “palms”). The idiom draws upon the idea of ritual purity, but is also used in a figurative (ethical-religious) sense—cf. 18:20, 24; 24:4; 26:6; 51:2, 7; Prov 20:9; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14, etc.

There is also a bit of conceptual wordplay in these lines, as both the root qyr (noun qyr!) and hqn (noun /oyQ*n]) denote the idea of emptying. Here the noun qyr! refers to “emptiness” in the negative sense of worthlessness or vanity (“in vain”); while /oyQ*n] captures the idea of something made clear through “pouring out”, specifically here of being made clean/pure through the pouring of water. I have preserved the scope of this imagery by translating /oyQ*n] above as “clear [i.e. pure/purifying] water.”

Verse 14

“For I have been touched all the day (long),
and (then) endure rebuke in the morning.”

Here we have a clear allusion to the suffering of the righteous, which forms the flip-side to the wisdom-problem of the prosperity of the wicked. The Psalmist has been “touched” (vb ug~n`) by misfortune (from YHWH), perhaps in the form of a physical ailment or disease (a frequent motif in the Psalms). After enduring this “all the day (long),” he then has to face accusation and rebuke in the morning. This rebuke (vb jk^y`) can be understood as either coming from God, or from the Psalmist’s wicked adversaries; the latter is a regular theme in the Psalms. On the parsing of ytjkwt as a verb form, cf. Dahood, II, p. 191.

Verse 15

“If I had said ‘I will give account thus,’ see!
I would have betrayed (the) circle of your sons.”

To give voice to his doubts in public (vb rp^s*, “give account, recount”) would be an act of treachery (vb dg~B*) against the covenant bond uniting the children of Israel (as YHWH’s ‘sons’, “your sons”). The root dgb denotes acting in a deceitful or unfaithful manner, sometimes in the harsher or dramatic sense of “treachery” or “betrayal”. The noun roD is typically translated “generation”, but properly means “circle”; here, as often in the Psalms, the assembly of the righteous—whether envisioned literally (in corporate worship) or in a figurative/symbolic sense—is intended. The righteous are God’s faithful children (“sons”).

Verse 16

“And (yet when) I gave thought to know this,
it (seemed like) hard labor in my eyes,”

Rather than express his own doubts publicly, the Psalmist seeks to understand (vb ud^y`, “know”) the matter better. Yet as he began to ponder it (vb bv^j*), it seemed like hard and wearisome labor (lm*u*), suggesting the intractable difficulty of the wisdom-question he faces. Indeed, it is a question (of theodicy) that has long provoked (and perplexed) wise and learned persons throughout the centuries, providing a thematic staple of ancient Near Eastern Wisdom literature.

Verse 17

“until I came to (the) holy place of (the) Mighty (One),
(and) discerned (the thing)s following for them.”

These lines continue the thought from v. 16. It is only when he comes to the “holy place” of God—i.e., the Temple precincts in Jerusalem—that the protagonist is able to find an answer to the wisdom-question that has plagued him. The plural <yv!D*q=m! (lit. “holy places”) may refer to the Temple precincts as a whole, or may indicate a single sanctuary; cf. Dahood, II, pp. 111, 192, on the Canaanite practice of using plural forms for buildings and dwelling-places.

The “holy place” of El-YHWH ultimately refers to His cosmic/heavenly dwelling, after which the local mountain on earth (including the Temple locale on mount Zion) is patterned, serving as its symbolic and ritual representation. There is likely an allusion here to God’s abode in Heaven (cf. Dahood, II, p. 192), which introduces the afterlife Judgment idea that is featured in the final section of the Psalm (cf. below).

The suffix <t*– (“them”) of the final word refers to the wicked. The Psalmist comes to understand (vb /yB!) the things that await (lit. “follow”) for the wicked.

Verses 18-28

Verse 18

“Truly, in the (land of) ruin you set (a place) for them,
you make them fall into (the) place of destruction.”

The parallel plural nouns toql*j& and toaWVm^ are rightly understood as intensive plurals. The first word is typically rendered “smooth [i.e. slippery] place(s)”, i.e., on which the wicked slip and slide down to destruction. However, Dahood (II, p. 192; cf. also I, pp. 35, 207, 211) makes a convincing argument that toqlj here is to be derived from a separate root qlj (III), related to Ugaritic —lq—a root with a relatively wide semantic range (“perish, disappear, be[come] ruined, wear out”). I have thus translated toql*j& here as “(place of) ruin”, which makes a proper parallel with toaWVm^ (“place of destruction”) in the second line. Clearly, the dual-reference is to death (and the grave) as the ultimate fate for the wicked.

As in the first two sections of the Psalm, this final section begins with the affirmative particle Ea^ (“surely, truly”).

Verse 19

“How they are (brought) to ruin in a moment,
swept away and finished by (the) terrors!

The noun hM*v^ (“desolation, ruin”) is more or less synonymous with the two earlier nouns in v. 18 (cf. above); they all refer to the realm of death and the grave. The exclamation Eya@ (“how…!”) reflects a certain wonderment by the Psalmist, as he realizes the terrible fate that awaits the wicked. It is not merely the fact of death, something which every human being faces, but an experience accompanied by frightening “terrors” (tohL*B^); the terrors of death overwhelm them as they perish. The verb pair WMt^ Wps* “(they are) swept away (and are) finished” can also be read as a hendiadys—i.e., “they are completely swept away”. The verb [Ws can mean, generally, “come to an end”, being thus synonymous with <m^T* (“[be] finish[ed]”); however, given the meaning of the related noun hp*Ws (“storm-wind, whirlwind”, cf. Isa 5:28; Hos 8:7), it is proper to translate [Ws here as “(be) swept away”.

Verse 20

“Like a dream from (which) one awakes, O Lord,
in (the) rousing (from it) you despise their shadow.”

The couplet is somewhat awkward, and there have been different attempts re-parsing/vocalizing the second line (cf. Dahood, II, p. 193; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 223). Conceptually, however, it seems possible to retain the MT without emendation. The “shadow” (<l#x#) of the wicked is compared to a dream from which one awakes. YHWH, in being “roused” (i.e. from sleep), casts off the shadow of the wicked, now deceased, as an insubstantial and lifeless ‘dream’. The implication is that there is no real afterlife for the wicked; they exist only as shadows in the realm of the dead.

Verses 21-22

“Then (when) my heart had become sour,
and my kidneys were hit by sharp (pain),
(so) also I (was) brutish and did not know,
(like) a dumb animal was I with you.”

The wisdom and insight gained by the Psalmist in the previous verses, suddenly disappears as he is struck (again) by a physical ailment (i.e., sharp pain inside), which also has emotional and psychological effects (“my heart became sour [vb Jm@j*]”). Cf. verse 14 (above) for an earlier allusion to physical (and emotional) suffering by the protagonist. His understanding is gone and the Psalmist feels like a dumb animal now in the presence of YHWH (“with you”). Apparently, as is often the case for mortal human beings, physical distress overpowers insight and rational thought.

Verse 23

“And (yet) I (am) continually with you,
you grab hold of me by my right hand.”

The Psalmist, in his distress, may feel like a mere animal in God’s presence, but he is still in God’s presence. And the first line is a declaration of faith and trust in YHWH’s abiding presence; the righteous can say: “I am continually [dym!t*] with you”. YHWH gives help and support to the righteous, through the motif of grabbing hold of his (right) hand. The idea of Divine protection and deliverance for the righteous, a frequent theme in the Psalms, is implied.

Verse 24

“With your counsel may you guide me,
and then with honor take me to (you).”

I follow Dahood (II, p. 195) in reading the imperfect verb form in each line as having the force of an imperative. The Psalmist is requesting YHWH to guide him in the remainder of his life (even as death nears), and then to bring him into His presence, in the blessed heavenly afterlife. The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of “worth, value”; when applied to God, it regularly connotes “honor, splendor, glory,” much as I translate it here; the heavenly afterlife context makes the translation “honor” particularly fitting. YHWH will receive the righteous/faithful one with honor, taking him to Himself. This fate for the righteous clearly contrasts with that of the wicked; the righteous-wicked contrast is a common element in Wisdom-tradition, and features notably in many Psalms (famously in Psalm 1, etc).

Verse 25

“Who (else is there) for me in the heavens?
Even with you I desire no(thing else) on earth.

The syntax of this couplet is somewhat cryptic, but the basic idea seems to be that YHWH Himself is the Psalmist’s ultimate delight and desire, in heaven, just as it has been on earth. The blessedness of the afterlife, for the righteous, rests in being continually in the presence of God; this builds upon the earlier thought in vv. 22-23 (cf. above), with the repeated use of the expression ;M=u! (“with you”).

Verse 26

“My flesh and my heart may cease, O Rock,
(but) my heart and my portion, Mightiest, (is) forever.”

This difficult verse makes most sense when divided as a 4-beat (4+4) couplet. By this division, rWx (“rock”) is to be taken as the familiar Divine epithet (“[my] Rock”), parallel here with <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest,” Elohim, ‘God’); cf. Dahood, II, p. 195f). The syntactic structure of the couplet is clear, but complex:

    • “shall cease/end
      • my flesh and my heart
        • O Rock
      • (but) my heart and my portion
        • O Mightiest
    • (shall be) for ever”

The expression <l*oul=, which I here translate (for poetic concision) as “forever”, properly means “for/into (the) distant (future),” i.e., lasting into the distant future. The dual-positioning of the word bb*l@ (“heart”) indicates that here the heart represents the point of contact between the earthly and the heavenly, the mortal (human) and the Divine. The heart paired with “flesh” signifies human life and existence on earth, while heart paired with ql#j@ (“portion”) signifies that which is allotted to the righteous as their heavenly inheritance (in the blessed afterlife).

Verse 27

“For, see! (those who are) far from you shall perish;
you destroy every (one) having intercourse (away) from you!”

The fate of the wicked is reiterated here, in simpler and less colorful terms. They are fundamentally “far away” (qj@r*) from YHWH, in contrast to the righteous who are “with” (<u!) Him (vv. 22-23, 25). The verb hn`z` basically denotes illicit sexual intercourse, for which there is no good English equivalent. Here the verb signifies in what sense the wicked ones have ‘gone away’ from God—viz., off in pursuit of wicked (i.e., immoral) and idolatrous ways (hnz frequently connotes idolatry and/or worship of any deity other than YHWH).

Verse 28

“But I, (the) nearness of (the) Mightiest (is) good for me;
I have set my Lord YHWH (as) my place of refuge,
(so as) to give account of all your works.”

The Psalm concludes with a four-beat (4+4) couplet, in which the Psalmist again expresses his trust and devotion to YHWH. As in verse 25 (cf. above), he declares that being in the presence of God is his greatest (and only real) delight. Here he defines what he considers as the greatest good (bof) for him: “the nearness [hb*r*q=] of God”. The righteous trust in YHWH as their protection and “place of refuge” (hs#j&m^); this is a frequent theme in the Psalms, with the verb hs*j* (and the related noun hs#j&m^) used frequently to express it; the locative noun occurs 12 times in the Psalms, more than half of all OT occurrences (20).

The short final line, with its sudden shift back to second person address, could be viewed as a secondary addition. It is typical of many Psalms that they close with a reference to giving praise to YHWH, declaring the greatness of His deeds, etc, in a public/corporate worship setting. For other examples of a similar shift from third person to second person (direct) address in the same verse, cf. 22:26; 102:16[15] (Dahood, II, p. 197).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).