1 John 2:20
Having considered the use of the title “the holy (one) of God” in Jn 6:69 (the confession by Peter, cp. Luke 9:20 par) in the previous note, I wish to examine now the same title (“the holy [one]”) in 1 John 2:20. In the previous discussion, I had mentioned that, within the Johannine theological context, the title “holy one of God” in Jn 6:69 contained an allusion to the important association between the Son (Jesus) and the holy Spirit of God. It is worth giving further consideration to the point by examining the evidence in the Gospel.
First, we have the Paraclete-saying in 14:25-26, in which the Spirit-Paraclete is specifically referred to as “the holy Spirit” (v. 26). In point of fact, the adjective a%gio$ is rather rare in the Gospel of John, occurring just five times. In addition to Peter’s confession (here, 6:69), and one occurrence in the Discourse-Prayer of Jesus (17:11, addressing God the Father), it is only used in three references to the Spirit (with the full, qualifying expression “[the] holy Spirit”, [to\] pneu=ma [to\] a&gion).
It is significant the way that these three Spirit-references frame the Gospel narrative, in relation to the ministry of Jesus (the incarnate Son of God) on earth:
- 1:33—at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, part of the Johannine version (cf. also verse 26) of the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mark 1:8 par), alluding to the promise of Jesus’ giving the Spirit to believers: “(he) is the (one) dunking [i.e. baptizing] in (the) holy Spirit”.
- 14:26—the Johannine narrative of Jesus’ ministry is structured around the great Discourses, culminating in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), in which Jesus gives the final teaching to his close circle of disciples (and true believers); the Paraclete-sayings deal with the coming of the Spirit, following Jesus’ teaching to this effect in the earlier Discourses—cf. the Spirit-references in 3:5-8, 34f; 4:10-15 [7:37-39], 23-24; 6:63.
- 20:22—at the end of Jesus’ ministry, following the fulfillment of his mission (and his exaltation), Jesus finally gives the Spirit to his disciples (the first believers).
It is only natural that holy one of God (Jesus) would give the holy Spirit of God, particularly since the Son (Jesus) possesses the fullness of the Spirit, having received it from the Father (3:34-35). This Christological dynamic makes the use of the title “holy (one)” in 1 John 2:20 particularly intriguing:
“But you hold (the) anointing [xri=sma] from the holy (one) [o( a%gio$], and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s.”
There is some debate among commentators as to whether the title o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) refers specifically to Jesus (the Son) or God the Father. In the previous note, I discussed the use of the title “holy one” (in Hebrew, the use of the substantive adjective vodq* corresponds with a%gio$ in Greek). In the Old Testament Scriptures, almost exclusively it is used as a title for God the Father (YHWH)—particularly in the expression “the Holy One of Israel” (most frequent in the book of Isaiah)—and only very rarely is applied to human or angelic beings as God’s consecrated servants (Num 6:17; Psalm 106:16; Dan 8:13); the same usage is attested in the subsequent Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D.
By contrast, in the New Testament, “[the] holy one” ([o(] a%gio$) is predominantly a title, with Messianic significance, that is applied to Jesus—Mark 1:24 [par Lk 4:34]; Acts 2:27 and 13:35 [citing Ps 16:10]; Rev 3:7, and of course in John 6:69 (cf. also 10:36); the Messianic context of these references was discussed (and established) in the previous note. Only in Rev 16:5 is the title used in its more traditional religious-historical aspect, as an epithet of YHWH. Interestingly, as I had mentioned, the adjective a%gio$ is actually rather rare in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), occurring just five times in the Gospel and once (here) in 1 John. In the Gospel, once it is applied to Jesus the Son (6:69), once to God the Father (17:11), and three times to the Spirit (i.e., “[the] holy Spirit,” 1:33; 14:26; 20:22).
Overall, the New Testament and Johannine usage favors o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) here as a title of Jesus Christ (the Son).
Rather more certain, in my view, is the conclusion that the term xri=sma (“anointing”) here (and in v. 27) refers to the presence of the Spirit. The noun xri=sma occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, so there is little opportunity for comparative examination of word-usage. However, for reasons I detailed in the earlier article on 2:18-27, the anointing which believers received (v. 27) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. Most likely, in common with other early Christians, the Johannine churches viewed the believer’s baptism as representing the moment when he/she received the Spirit (cf. Jn 1:33); to view the baptism as an ‘anointing’ by the Spirit was natural, drawing upon the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism (cf. especially the Lukan emphasis of 4:18ff, in light of 3:22; 4:1, 14). Also significant and influential are the Prophetic passages referring to God ‘pouring out’ the Spirit on His people in the New Age (cf. the Introduction to this series for the key passages).
But does the believer receive the Spirit from Jesus (the Son) or from God (the Father)? The immediate evidence from 1 John (3:24; 4:2ff, 13; 5:6-8ff) indicates the latter—that it is God the Father who gives us the Spirit. However, the Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ role in giving the Spirit (cf. above). According to the framework of the Johannine theology—expressed clearly in the Gospel, and only alluded to in the Letters—the Son (Jesus) receives the Spirit from the Father, and then, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers. The Father is the ultimate source, but the Son is the immediate giver; thus, there is a certain variability and interchangeability with how this is expressed in the Johannine writings (cf. for example, the variation in the Paraclete-sayings, in 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7b, 13-15).
The focus in 2:18-27 is on the person of Jesus—the Anointed One (xristo/$) and Son of God—and this would tend to confirm the point of reference for the title “holy one”. It also corresponds with the Messianic (and Christological) significance of the title in Jn 6:69, as was discussed in the previous note.
Yet in verse 27, the Divine subject, in relation to the anointing (xri=sma), is expressed more ambiguously:
“But (as for) you, the anointing which you received from him, it remains in you, and you do not have a need that any (one) should teach you; but, as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not false, and even as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.”
The phrase “the anointing which you received from him” seems to allude back to verse 20; if the title “the holy one” refers to the Son (Jesus), then it is most likely that the pronoun of the prepositional expression “from him” (a)p’ au)tou=) also refers to Jesus. Turning ahead to verse 28, where Jesus is clearly the implied subject of the second clause, the implication is that the pronoun of the expression “in him” (e)n au)tw=|), at the end of v. 27 and beginning of v. 28, likewise refers to Jesus; certainly, there is no obvious indication of a change of reference. For the same reason, it would be simplest to interpret the qualifying subject “his anointing” (to\ au)tou= xri=sma) as meaning the anointing received from Jesus.
In other words, all the third person singular pronouns in vv. 27-28, refer primarily to Jesus Christ (the Son). It is he who gives the anointing (i.e., the Spirit) to believers, having himself received it from God the Father. As noted above, the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit, but it is given through the mediation of the Son. Just as it was promised that the Jesus would baptize believers in the Spirit, so he anoints them, pouring out the Spirit upon them. Yet the anointing does not simply come from without, like physical liquid poured out on a person, but abides within; this is the clear significance of the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—both here and throughout the Johannine writings. The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) remains within (cf. 3:24; 4:13; Jn 14:17), and is the means by which believers remain in the Son; and, in turn, it is through the presence of the Son that we remain in the Father (and He in us). This is the essence of the Johannine theology; even though it is expressed more clearly and precisely in the Gospel, the theology is equally present, in an implicit and allusive fashion, throughout 1 John.