Saturday Series: John 8:31-47 (continued)

John 8:31-47, continued

Last week, we examined the sin-reference in 8:34ff, within the context of the Discourse-unit 8:31-47 (part of the great Sukkot Discourse-complex of chapters 7-8). The Disourse-unit actually extends all the they way through to the end of the chapter (v. 59), however we will only be looking at the passage up to v. 47.

In verse 37, Jesus picks up on the Abraham theme that had been introduced by his audience in v. 33, in their response to the foundational saying/statement at the beginning of the discourse (vv. 31-32). In this way, the previous theme of freedom/bondage is developed to include the idea of person’s identity, based on his/her parentage or ancestry.

This line of theological development is actually rather subtle and complex. In the discourse, Jesus contrasts having God as one’s father with having the Devil as one’s father. In between these theological poles is set the ethnic-religious identity of having Abraham as one’s father. All Israelites and Jews have Abraham as their “father” (i.e., principal ancestor) in an ethnic and religious sense; Jesus acknowledges this even of those in his audience who are hostile or opposed to him: “I have seen [i.e. know] that you are (the) seed of Abraham…”. And yet, through their hostile reaction to Jesus, they reveal their true identity:

“…but (yet) you seek to kill me off, (in) that [i.e. because] my word [lógos] does not have space [i.e. a place] in you.” (v. 37)

Throughout the Gospel, there is a reciprocal balance between the twin concepts of being/remaining “in” (en) God (or the Son) and of God (or the Son) being/remaining “in” (en) the person. In verse 31, Jesus emphasized the importance of his word (lógos) remaining in the disciple, implying its presence in the disciple. Now here, in v. 37, Jesus declares that his word is not present in the unbeliever, one who is hostile and refuses to trust in him.

In verse 38, Jesus again highlights his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. Since, as a dutiful Son, he speaks according to what his Father tells him, the word (lógos) he declares is actually the Father’s word. And, since his audience will not accept this word, they cannot possibly belong to God as His children—they cannot have God as their Father. This contrast is sharply formulated:

“The (thing)s which I have seen (from) alongside the Father, I speak; and (so) you, then, do the (thing)s which you (have) heard (from) alongside the father.”

There is no pronoun present in either instance of the articular noun ho pat¢¡r (“the father”), yet such is certainly implied as part of the contrast—i.e., “my Father” vs. “your father”.

In vv. 39-40, the people again take refuge in their ethnic-religious identity of being descendants of Abraham—i.e., having Abraham has their father. But, again, Jesus makes clear that their hostility toward him demonstrates that their true identity is quite different. In response, they finally make the claim that God is their father: “We have one father—God!” (v. 41b).

This sets the stage for the important theological exposition in vv. 42-47, in which a key Johannine theme is expressed and developed. Believers in Christ are the “offspring” (i.e., children) of God, coming to be born from Him (as their Father), and belonging to Him. The non-believer, by contrast, does not (and cannot) belong to God—rather, they belong to the world, and to its ruler, the Devil (cf. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; also 17:15; 1 Jn 5:19). This means, essentially, that the Devil is the ‘father’ of the unbeliever. Moreover, the world’s opposition to the things of God—and especially to His Son—ultimately leads to increasingly evil thoughts and actions. Consider how the sin of unbelief leads to other sins, as Jesus explains the matter:

“Through what [i.e. why] do you not know my speech? (It is) that [i.e. because] you are not able to hear my word [lógos]. You are of [ek] your father the Devil, and the impulses of your father toward (evil) you wish to do. That (one) was a man-killer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, (in) that [i.e. because] there is no truth in him. When he speaks th(at which is) false, out of his own (word)s he speaks, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the false (one) and the father of him.” (vv. 43-44)

The unbeliever follows the evil impulses (toward sin) that belong to the world and its ruler (the Devil). Moreover, unbelievers do not abide in the truth, and the truth is not in them; indeed, they share the nature and character of their ‘father’ the Devil. As a result, like the Devil, they cannot help but speak what is false. Here, truth (al¢¡theia), and its opposite (falseness), is to be understood in a distinctive theological (rather than conventional ethical-religious) sense, according to the Johannine theology. Truth is a fundamental attribute of God, to the point that His Spirit can be identified with truth itself (1 John 5:6). Similarly, His Son is the truth (14:6) and speaks the truth of God, making God the Father known to believers in the world.

This theological understanding of falseness (pseúdos / pseúst¢s) is closely related to the Johannine understanding of sin. The true nature of sin is not ethical-religious, just as the true father of the unbelieving person is not Abraham. In the Johannine worldview, sin is fundamentally defined as unbelief—a refusal to trust in who Jesus is: the Son of God sent to earth by the Father. This emphasis is delineated clearly in verses 45-47:

“But, (in) that [i.e. because] I say the truth, you do not trust in me. Which (one) of you shows me (to be wrong) about sin? If I say (the) truth, through what [i.e. why] do you not trust in me?” (vv. 45-46)

The pronoun egœ¡ (“I”) in verse 45 is emphatic, being in the first position. Jesus contrasts himself with the unbelievers of the world (and their ‘father’ the Devil)—they speak what is false, but he (Jesus) speaks what is true. Indeed, it is because they belong to what is false, that they cannot hear or accept the truth that he speaks. Again, this “truth” is theological and Christological in nature—it is firmly rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, who makes the Father known to the world.

The question Jesus asks in v. 46a has, I think, been somewhat misunderstood by commentators. It is typically translated along the lines of, “Who among you convicts me of sin?” The implication is that the people would be accusing him of being a sinner. The question certainly could be read that way, especially in light of the sin-references that follow in chapter 9 (to be discussed next week). However, the use of the verb eléngchœ suggests a deeper significance to the question.

There are two other occurrences of eléngchœ in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 16:8. The verb has a relatively wide semantic range, but the fundamental meaning is “show, demonstrate”, often in the particular sense of showing someone to be wrong about something. In the context of 3:20, its usage refers to a person’s evil deeds being exposed (i.e., shown for what they are) in the judgment—a judgment that occurs already in the present, based on one’s response to Jesus (whether trusting or refusing to trust). In 16:8, the verb describes the role and activity of the Spirit, which, Jesus promises, will show the world to be wrong about three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. We will discuss the reference to sin (vv. 8-9) in more detail in an upcoming study. Here, it will suffice to point out the parallel with Jesus’ question in 8:46a, and the specific meaning of eléngchœ based on this parallel: “show me (to be wrong) about sin”.

The entire thrust of our passage makes clear that Jesus is essentially defining sin in terms of whether or not one trusts in him and accepts his word. His hostile opponents cannot prove him wrong on this point; on the contrary, they are confirming this understanding of the true nature of sin. Their unbelieving response to Jesus leads them to act out a range of sinful and evil impulses, including the desire to kill Jesus.

The climax of this hostile reaction comes in verse 59, at the close of the Discourse. We, however, shall conclude this study on a somewhat different note, with the theological formulation given (by Jesus) in v. 47:

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

This formulation is fully in the Johannine theological idiom. The verb of being defines the Divine nature of the believer—as one born of, and belonging to, God. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) with the definite article is also distinctively Johannine, as a way of describing the essential character and identity of a person— “the one being [i.e. who is] {such}”. The preposition ek (“out of”), as it is used here, is also a key element of the Johannine theological vocabulary. It has a dual significance: (1) origin, i.e., being “from”, and (2) belonging, i.e., being “of”. Frequently, the preposition alone serves as a shorthand for the fuller idiom involving the verb of becoming (gennáœ), in the specific sense of “coming to be born”, along with the preposition ek. In the Johannine writings this language is used almost exclusively for believers in Christ—i.e., those who have “come to be (born) out of God”. Given the emphasis of the father theme in this passage, there can be little doubt that birth—i.e., believers as offspring born of God—is implied by the use of ek here in v. 47.

If believers “are of God”, then the opposite is true of non-believers: they “are not of God”. As Jesus clearly states, the reason why his unbelieving (and hostile) audience does not hear/accept his words is that these people are “not of God”.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the sin references in chapter 9—the episode of the healing of the Blind Man.

July 13: 1 John 5:16-19 (8)

1 John 5:19

“We have seen that we are of [e)k] God, and (that) the whole world lies in the evil.”

The section 5:13-20 concludes with a series of three exhortative declarations (vv. 18, 19, 20) that each begin with the verb form oi&damen (“we have seen”). The verbal usage reflects the sense of unity and solidarity that the author wishes to establish, between himself and his readers, as members together (“we”) of the Community of true believers. The translation “we have seen” is a literal rendering of oi&damen; however, the verb ei&dw can also mean “know,” being essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw. In English idiom, for the context here, oi&damen would be translated simply as “we know…”.

This use of oi&damen (also in v. 15 [twice]) reflects the author’s declaration of his intent (and purpose of writing) in v. 13, at the beginning of the section:

“These (thing)s I have written to you, that you might have seen [ei)dh=te, i.e. might know] that you hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], to (you) the (one)s trusting in the name of the Son of God.” (cp. the end of the Gospel, 20:31)

It is also appropriate that the author effectively concludes his work emphasizing the fundamental theme of the contrast between true and false believers. This juxtaposition is part of a wider Johannine theme, contrasting believers with the world (o( ko/smo$). The negative sense of the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), as referring to the domain of darkness and evil (in which human beings are enmeshed) that is opposed to God, is distinctly Johannine, and the word tends to have this meaning throughout the Johannine writings. The contrastive relationship, between believers and the world, comes to be a dominant theme in the Gospel Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16), along with the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17 (where ko/smo$ occurs 18 times, vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). The usage in 1 John fully reflects the Johannine theological idiom—2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1, 3-5; 5:4-5; only in 2:2; 3:17 is the more neutral sense of ko/smo$ emphasized (i.e., as the inhabited world of human beings), while both meanings are at work in 4:1, 3, 9, 14, 17.

Believers belong to God (as His offspring), while non-believers (and false believers) belong to the world (as children of the Devil [the “chief of this world”, Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]). That is the contrast being emphasized again here at the close of 1 John. On false believers (spec. the opponents in 1-2 John) as children of the Devil, see 3:8, 10; cp. Jn 8:41 (in the context of vv. 38-47).

Here in v. 19, the idea of believers as the offspring (te/kna) of God is expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of”), in the expression e)k tou= qeou= (“out of [i.e. from] God”), as a shorthand for the phrase “having come to be (born) [vb genna/w] out of God”. For this distinctive Johannine idiom in 1 John, cf. 2:29; 3:8-10; 4:4-7; 5:1, 4, 18; also 2:16ff, 21; 3:12, 19; 4:1-3; in the Gospel, cf. 1:13; 3:5-8, 31; 8:23, 41ff; also 15:19; 17:6, 14-16; 18:36, 37.

The idea that true believers belong to God, and not to the world, is seen most clearly in 4:4-6:

“You are of [e)k] God, (dear) offspring, and have been victorious (over) them [i.e. the ‘antichrists’, vv. 1-3], (in) that [i.e. because] the (One who is) in you is greater than the (one who is) in the world.” (v. 4)

As I have discussed, the expression “the (one) in you” (o( e)n u(mi=n) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. God the Father is present, in and among believers, through His Son, and the Son abides in believers through the presence of the Spirit. By contrast, “the (one) in the world” (o( e)n tw=| ko/smw|) refers to the evil spirit of antichrist (v. 3) that is opposed to the holy Spirit of God. In v. 6, the evil spirit is called “the spirit of going/leading astray [pla/nh]”, in opposition to the “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]”.

If the true believer (“you”) is described in v. 4, it is the false believer (“they”) who is referenced in v. 5:

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

In v. 6 (as here in 5:18-20), the author includes himself, together with his readers (“we”), as being among the true believers:

“We are of [e)k] God; the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of [e)k] God does not hear us.”

As noted above, this same language of belonging (using the preposition e)k), contrasting believers and the world, can be found in John 17—esp. verses 14-16, which are quite close in thought with what the author is saying here in 5:18-19 (cf. the previous note).

In v. 19a, the author repeats his declaration from 4:6: “we are of [e)k] God”. The implication, as in the references cited above, is that the author and his readers, correspondingly, are not “of [e)k] the world”. However, here the author states this in more general terms, by referring to the nature and condition of the world:

“…and the whole world lies in the evil”
kai\ o( ko/smo$ o%lo$ e)n tw=| ponhrw=| kei=tai

As in v. 18, as well as 2:13-14, 3:12 [1], and Jn 17:15, the substantive adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”), as a masculine noun with the article (o( ponhro/$, “the evil”), is best understood in a personal sense (i.e. “the evil one”), as a reference to the Satan/Devil. If so, then v. 19b needs to be translated something like:

“…and the whole world lies in (the hand of) the Evil (One)”

That the world, dominated as it is by darkness and evil, is under the control of the Devil (“Evil One”) is confirmed by the expression “the chief/ruler [a&rxwn] of this world” in Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. Because believers do not belong to the world, they/we are not under the power of the Evil One. Indeed, through trust in Jesus, believers have obtained victory over the world (2:13-14; 5:4-5). The victory achieved by Jesus Christ, through his sacrificial death (and exaltation)—cf. 3:8; Jn 12:31; 16:11, 33—is communicated to believers, in union with him, through the presence of the Spirit (4:4).

For this reason, the sin and evil of the world cannot touch the true believer (v. 18; cf. Jn 17:15). Even if we, as believers, may occasionally sin, through confession and forgiveness we are cleansed of all sin, with the result that the (eternal) life we possess from God is preserved/restored (1:7-2:2; 5:16).

In the next daily note, we will turn to examine briefly the author’s concluding statement in verse 20.

July 12: 1 John 5:16-19 (7)

1 John 5:18, concluded

Before proceeding to the final clause of 1 Jn 5:18 (c), let me summarize the results of the analysis in the previous note, regarding the interpretation of the difficult second clause (b). There would seem to be two options, for each of which a strong argument can be made in its favor:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer] watches (over) him(self)”
      —the believer does this by keeping watch over God’s word that abides within, and by keeping (i.e. fulfilling) the two-fold command or duty (e)ntolh/) that God requires of all believers (3:23); cf. the other occurrences of the verb thre/w in 2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3.
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] watches (over) him”
      —God abides in and among believers through the presence of His Son (Jesus), and the Son is present in the believer through the Spirit; God, through His Son (and the Spirit), protects believers from sin and evil (cf. John 17:11ff).

Let us now turn to the final clause (18c):

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

The adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”) occurs six times in 1 John—in five of which, as a substantive (masculine noun) with the definite article (2:13-14; 3:12 [1], and 5:19). Most commentators understand this expression in a personal sense,  “the evil (one),” referring to the Satan/Devil, called elsewhere “the chief/ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11); the same applies to the occurrence in Jn 17:15, which would seem to be close in meaning to v. 18 here:

“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil (one).”

Jesus’ prayer is that God the Father would protect the disciples (believers) from the evil of the world (and the Devil), once he can no longer be present with them (vv. 11-12). Ultimately, Jesus will continue to be present through the Spirit (14:17ff), and the protection God provides should be understood on that basis.

The verb a%ptw (“touch”) occurs elsewhere in the Johannine writings only (and famously) in Jn 20:17. The corresponding Hebrew verb ug~n` is frequently used in the context of a physical disease or ‘plague’ afflicting a person (whether as judgment from God or directly by an evil spirit); in the New Testament, a%ptw tends to be used (primarily in the Gospels) in the opposite sense—i.e., in the context of the healing (by the touch of Jesus) from disease.

Here the “touch” is not one that results in disease and physical death, but, rather, which leads to sin and evil (and thus to eternal death). The influence of the world (ko/smo$, in the starkly negative sense) and its chief (the Devil) is clearly in view. The wicked (non-believers and false believers) belong to the world, while true believers belong to God, having been born from Him (vv. 18-19). Belonging to the world, moreover, means that a person effectively has the Devil as his/her father, having been born from him (3:8, 10, 12ff; cf. Jn 8:19, 42-47). The world is dominated by darkness and evil (Jn 3:19, etc), a point that is emphasized by the author here in verse 19 (to be discussed in the next daily note).

Is it possible to decide between the two ways of interpreting the central clause in v. 18b (outlined above)? The arguments seem to be equally strong on either side. On the one hand, the usage of the verb genna/w in the Johannine writings strongly favors the idea that the substantive participle (o( gennhqei/$) refers to the believer. On the other hand, the Johannine theology, together with the similar use of the verb thre/w in John 17, is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that it is Jesus the Son who protects the believer.

It would seem appropriate if one could somehow combine these two lines of interpretation. One might do so as follows:

The one born of God [i.e. the believer, as God’s offspring] is kept safe from evil through union with Jesus [God’s Son]. It is his abiding presence, through the Spirit, that allows the believer to be victorious over both the world and the evil one (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4f); and God the Father is Himself present through the Son, and He is ultimately the one protecting believers (Jn 17:11, 15, cf. above). God’s seed, which is best understood in terms of His life-giving Spirit, abiding in believers, keeps them from sin (3:9). The “seed”-concept can apply equally to the person of Jesus Christ—whether in terms of God’s living Word (lo/go$), or as God’s Son—who abides in and among believers through the Spirit. The victory and protection believers have over sin and evil (and the Evil One) comes through the mediation of Jesus Christ (3:8; cf. 1:7ff).


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).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 2:28-3:24

1 John 2:28-3:24

The central theme of 1 John, the contrast between true and false believers, was established in the first section (1:5-2:17), utilizing the dualistic light/darkness motif. The two “antichrist” sections, 2:18-27 (cf. the previous article) and 4:1-6, focus primarily on the presence and activity of the false believers (i.e., the opponents), while the section in between (2:28-3:24)—the central section of the entire work—emphasizes the nature and character of the true believer. This is presented within three thematic subsections, framed by two essential exhortations related to the believer’s identity:

    • Opening exhortation: “remain in him” (2:28)
    • The believer in relation to sin and righteousness (2:29-3:10)
    • The believer in relation to love (3:11-18)
    • The two-fold duty [e)ntolh/] of believers (3:19-24a)
    • Closing assurance: “that he remains in us” (3:24b)

From an interpretative standpoint, the first subsection on sin and righteousness is the most difficult, particularly in 3:6-9, where the author makes statements which seem to contradict what he argued earlier in 1:8-2:2. I address the matter in a set of supplemental notes.

As it happens, sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw) and righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) are two of the three subjects mentioned in the Paraclete-saying of Jn 16:7b-11, of which the Spirit will bear witness, exposing the world and proving it to be wrong. And the exposition there of the true nature of sin (v. 9) and righteousness (v. 10) should be seen as having a bearing on the apparent contradiction between 1 Jn 1:8-2:2 and 3:6-9. The first passage explains how believers do sin, while the second passage explains how they do not sin. And, whatever else one may argue about the relationship of the believer to sin, as expressed in 1 John, one point is absolutely clear: the true believer will not (and cannot) sin in the primary sense of violating the great dual ‘command’ of 3:23-24trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), and love for other believers (following Jesus’ own example).

Important in this regard is the Johannine motif of believers coming to be born of God, as His offspring. This is introduced in 1 John at 2:29-3:1. First, there is the specialized use of the verb of becoming (genna/w) in 2:29:

“If you have seen that He is righteous [di/kaio$], (then) you know that every (one) doing righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of Him.”

Then the use of the plural noun te/kna (“offspring, children”) occurs in 3:1:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—and (so) we are. Through this [i.e. for this reason] the world does not know us, (in) that [i.e. because] it did not know Him.”

From the Johannine theological standpoint, “doing righteousness” essentially means remaining in God’s Son (Jesus), through the Spirit, since righteousness is defined principally in the person of Jesus, who (as God’s Son) manifests the righteousness of God (the Father). For more on this, cf. my recent note on the discussion of righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) in Jn 16:10. The person who does this righteousness shows himself/herself to be a true believer, a child of God who has come to be born out of Him.

As one remains in the Son (through the Spirit), one faithfully fulfills the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) of trust and love. The latter (love, a)ga/ph) is particularly emphasized in this section, with sin defined largely in terms of a failure to love. By contrast, love is a fundamental characteristic of God Himself (4:16, etc), and his offspring will love in a similar manner. God first showed love to believers by giving them/us the ability to become His children (Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8, 16ff, etc). This was achieved through the mission of His Son (v. 8), culminating in his sacrificial death, exaltation, and the sending of the Spirit.

The pairing of the verb genna/w and the noun te/kna is repeated in vv. 9-10:

“Every (one) having come to be (born) [gegennh/meno$] out of God does not do sin, (in) that His seed remains in him, and (so) he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of God.” (v. 9)

The idea of “doing righteousness” (cf. above) is expressed here by its precise opposite, i.e., “not doing sin”. Not only has the believer come to be born out of God, but God’s seed (spe/rma) remains in the believer. This use of spe/rma provides support for commentators who would insist that the Johannine use of genna/w be understood primarily in the male sense of “beget” rather than the female “give birth”. I prefer to render genna/w in the more general (causative) sense of “cause to be (born),” which can be used of either a male or female parent.

Regardless of the specific birth/begetting imagery that is intended, there can be little doubt that the “coming to be” for the believer takes place in a spiritual way, through the Spirit, and that God’s “seed” that remains in the believer should be understood in reference to the Spirit. The usage in the Gospel would seem to make this quite clear. Let us begin with the statement in the Prologue, which follows the wording of 1 John in describing believers as coming to be born “out of God” (e)k qeou=):

“But, as many as received him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—to the (one)s trusting in his name, those who, not out of blood, and not out of the will of (the) flesh, and not out of the will of man, but out of God, came to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].” (Jn 1:12-13)

In the Nicodemus-Discourse, this same language is used (by Jesus), describing believers coming to be born:

“if one should not come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] from above [a&nwqen], he is not able to see the kingdom of God” (3:3, cf. also v. 7)
“if one should not come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God” (3:5)

Coming to be born “from above” means the same as coming to be born “out of water and the Spirit”. As I have discussed elsewhere, I believe the emphasis in the expression in v. 5 is on a contrast between an ordinary human birth (“out of water”) and a spiritual birth (“out of the Spirit”)—i.e., a contrast between ordinary water and the living water of the Spirit (cf. 1:26, 33; 4:10-15; 7:37-39). Thus, from the Johannine theological standpoint, coming to be born “out of God” is the same as coming to be be born “out of the Spirit”. The believer is described as:

“every (one) having come to be (born) out of the Spirit” (3:8)
pa=$ o( gegennhme/no$ e)k tou= pneu/mato$

The accords fully with the usage in 1 John (3:9, first phrase), except that pneu=ma (“Spirit”) substitutes for qeo/$ (“God”), which is hardly surprising, given the theological declaration in Jn 4:24 that “God (is) Spirit” (pneu=ma o( qeo/$). Birth imagery also occurs in the Last Discourse (16:21), in the context of the coming of the Spirit (16:7b-15); and one may certainly interpret the initial giving of the Spirit (20:22) as a ‘new birth’ (a coming to be), in light of the rather clear allusion to Gen 2:7 (LXX e)ge/neto, “he became…”).

Returning to 1 Jn 3:9-10, the birth imagery is particularly emphasized within the syntax of the author’s statements. Consider first in verse 9:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) out of God
      • does not do sin
        • His seed remains in him
      • he is not able to sin
    • he has come to be (born) out of God”

The initial transformation of coming to be born out of God, as his offspring (te/kna), is followed by the abiding presence of God’s seed (spe/rma) that remains in the believer. This abiding “seed” (of God’s holy Spirit) enables the believer to be holy and without sin (“not able to sin”). Again, however, it must be remembered that “sin,” in the Johannine sense, primarily refers to violation of the great dual-command (or duty, e)ntolh/) of trust and love. Principally, the latter component of love (a)ga/ph) is in view for the author, as vv. 10-11ff makes clear. The true believer cannot sin in this sense of hating (= not showing love to) another believer:

“every (one) not doing righteousness [= doing sin] is not [i.e. has not been born] out of God, and (so it is for) the (one) not loving his brother” (v. 10)

In vv. 11-18, the author further discusses this fundamental duty of the believer to love, framing it as a message given by Jesus “from the beginning” (v. 11), as a practical example of “walking in the light”, developing the light-vs-darkness motif of 1:5ff. Believers love each other, while the world hates believers (v. 13; cf. Jn 15:18-25; 17:14; cp. 7:7). In the view of the author, any supposed believer who does not show proper love to other believers (and to the Community of true believers), actually hates them, and thus behaves just like the non-believers and hostile opponents of God in the world. Love is a fundamental sign of the true believer:

“We have seen [i.e. known] that we have stepped across, out of death and into life [cf. Jn 5:24], (in) that we love the brothers; the (one) not loving (them) remains in death.” (v. 14)

True love—that is, the love possessed by the true believer—follows Jesus’ own example, corresponding to the sacrificial love which he showed in “laying down” his soul for believers (v. 16). This love ought to be demonstrated every day, in all sorts of practical ways (vv. 17-18), even as Jesus did for the first disciples. His love, which is God’s own love, remains in the true believer (Jn 15:9-10; 17:26; cf. 5:42; 13:35; 15:13; 1 Jn 2:15; 4:16-18) through the presence of the Spirit. Paul says much the same thing in Romans 5:5, and also describes in Galatians 5 how the practical fulfillment of the ‘love command’ (vv. 6, 13-15) is realized through the guidance of the Spirit (vv. 16ff). Paul’s idea of “walking about in the Spirit” (cp. Rom 6:4; 8:4) is essentially equivalent to the Johannine idiom of “walking about in the light” (1 Jn 1:7).

Finally, as we come to the concluding verses 19-24 of this central section, the author summarizes his discussion regarding the nature (and characteristics) of the true believer:

“[And] in this we shall know that we are out of [i.e. born of, belonging to] the truth, and in front of Him we shall persuade our heart…” (v. 19)

I would argue that the expression “out of the truth” (e)k th=$ a)lhqei/a$) is essentially a shorthand for the fuller phrase “coming to be (born) out of the truth”, in which case “the truth” is more or less synonymous with both “God” and “the Spirit”. The latter identification is confirmed by the bold declaration in 5:6: “the Spirit is the truth”. The idea of believers being ‘born of’ the truth, and belonging to the truth, is very much part of the Johannine theological idiom, with the same wording being used by Jesus in the Gospel:

“unto this [i.e. for this reason] 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] out of the truth [e)k th=$ a)lhqei/a$] hears my voice” (18:37)

The question that follows from Pilate (v. 38)— “What is (the) truth?” —receives its (belated) answer in 1 Jn 5:6: “The Spirit is the truth”. The Spirit, abiding in the (true) believer, teaches all things and guides the believer “in the way of all truth” (Jn 16:13). Through the Spirit, Jesus the Son—who also is the truth (14:6)—and God the Father, the source of all truth, abides in the believer. This assurance is referenced here in verse 20:

“…if our heart show know (something) against (us), (realize) that God is greater than our heart and knows all things”

Believers have this confidence before God, so as to ask of Him whatever we wish (cf. Jn 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24). His answer to our requests depends on our remaining in Him (through the Spirit). Under the Spirit’s guidance and teaching, we fulfill completely the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of us as believers (v. 22). This duty is declared clearly and unmistakably in verse 23:

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

Those who fulfill this duty will remain in God, and He in them:

“And the (one) keeping His e)ntolh/ remains [me/nei] in Him, and He (remains) in him…” (v. 24a)

All of this ultimately is realized through the presence of the Spirit:

“…and in this we know that He remains in us, out of the Spirit which He gave to us.” (v. 24b)

Jesus (the Son) gave believers the Spirit, but God the Father is the ultimate source; the Father gave the Spirit to the Son, so that he might give it, in turn, to believers (His children). Even though there are numerous references and allusions to the Spirit earlier in 1 John (as discussed in the previous notes and articles), this is the first explicit reference and occurrence of the word pneu=ma. It is surely significant the actual word is introduced here at this supremely climactic moment, at the heart of the author’s work, where he declares the nature and identity of the true believer in Christ.

Having gone through this study of the central section of 1 John (2:28-3:24), it should give us deeper insight as we turn to the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6), in the next article. It is here that the author begins to develop his contrast between true and false believers, dealing with the subject more directly in terms of the Johannine spiritualism and the role of the Spirit.

May 30: 1 John 2:15-17

1 John 2:15-17

In the final portion of 1:5-2:17, the author gives a somewhat more traditional ethical application to his contrastive light-darkness theme. The darkness (skoti/a) represents the world (o( ko/smo$)—that is, the current world-order, dominated by sin and darkness, and fundamentally opposed to God. The author will develop this motif of opposition in the “antichrist” sections, describing certain persons whom (as a group) he treats as opponents, false believers who belong to the darkness rather than the light.

There are two parts to this final ethical section in 2:12-17. First, in vv. 12-14, the author addresses his readers as a group, treating them as if they are true believers. These believers (tekni/a) collectively are divided into two groups—older men (“fathers,” pate/re$) and younger ones (“young [men],” neani/skoi). Formally, the author uses a three-fold address, given twice:

    • “I write to you, little children [tekni/a]
      (in) that [o%ti] the sins have been taken away for you through his name” (v. 12)

      • “I write to you, fathers [pate/re$]
        (in) that [o%ti] you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (v. 13a)

        • “I write to you, young men [neani/skoi]
          (in) that [o%ti] you have been victorious (over) the evil (one)” (v. 13b)
    • “I wrote to you, (dear) little children [paidi/a]
      (in) that [o%ti] you have known the Father” (v. 13c)

      • “I wrote to you, fathers [pate/re$]
        (in) that [o%ti] you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (v. 14a)

        • “I wrote to you, young men [neani/skoi]
          (in) that [o%ti] you are strong, and the word [lo/go$] of God remains in you, and you have been victorious (over) the evil (one)” (v. 14b)

This semi-repetitive wording is a bit peculiar, but altogether typical of Johannine style. The author addresses all the believers, collectively, as tekni/a, a diminutive form of te/kna (“offspring, children”), a distinctly Johannine way of referring to believers as the offspring/children of God; in v. 13c the plural paidi/a (“little children”) is used, with identical meaning. Two characteristics of believers (i.e., all true believers) are given:

    • their sins have been removed through Jesus’ name
    • they have known the Father

Within these basic parameters, there are the following characteristics, broken down according to the older-younger division, but which essentially still apply to all believers:

    • they have known the (one who is) from the beginning (a)p’ a)rxh=$)
    • they have been victorious [vb nika/w] over the evil (one)

The two attributes are closely related, with the second following as a natural consequence of the first. In the Johannine theological idiom, knowing the one who is “from the beginning” means having genuine trust in Jesus, recognizing him as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. This trust leads to victory over the evil and darkness of the world (“the evil”) and its Chief, the Devil (“the evil one”); there is an obvious echo of Jesus’ climactic declaration in the Last Discourse (16:33; cf. also 12:31; 16:11). Like Jesus, believers also are victorious over the world, through their/our trust in him (1 Jn 5:4-5). The additional information given in v. 14b helps to explain how this victory is realized and achieved:

    • “you are strong
      and the word [lo/go$] of God remains in you”

The use of the noun lo/go$ along with the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) alludes to the prologue (1:1), and the special Christological significance of this language. As I have discussed, there is an indirect allusion to the Spirit in the prologue, one that is more explicit and clearly  expressed here. The living Word (lo/go$) of God that “remains” in the believer refers to the spiritual presence of the Son (Jesus), being present through the Spirit. This is the idea expressed in 4:4, indicating that the Spirit—and the Son’s presence through the Spirit—is the source of believers’ victory over the world.

After affirming the identity of his readers as true believers, the author gives a warning to them regarding the darkness of “the world” (o( ko/smo$). If they heed this warning, then his readers will demonstrate that, indeed, they are true believers; if they fail the test, then they will make clear that the are “walking about” in the darkness, and are false believers, not true. The warning is simple enough:

“You must not love the world, nor the (thing)s in the world.” (v. 15a)

Here, the word ko/smo$ (“world-order”) carries the strong negative meaning that we see throughout the Johannine writings; cp. this with the more general, neutral sense in, e.g., Jn 3:16, where the idiom of ‘loving the world’ means something quite different in context.

Here in vv. 15ff it is possible to understanding love for the world in two related ways:

    • In the neutral-negative sense of the ordinary components of human daily life (bi/o$, cf. below) and society; when these are loved over and against love of God, such love is evil and to be condemned. The statement by the Gospel writer in 12:43 is a good example of this aspect.
    • In the evil-negative sense of that which is actively opposed and hostile to God. Jesus touches upon this stronger, dualistic aspect in Jn 3:19, where the same light-darkness contrast is employed: “men loved the darkness more than the light”. Cf. also 5:42; 8:42.

In both instances, the negative meaning of ko/smo$—the current world-order and its darkness—is related to a failure (and/or unwillingness) of people to trust in Jesus. The wording of v. 15b, and the thought it expresses, is close to Jesus’ statement in 5:42:

    • “But I have known you, that you do not hold the love of God in yourselves” (Jn 5:42)
    • “If anyone should love the world, (then) the love of the Father is not in him” (v. 15b)

The love of God, abiding within a person, refers principally to one’s trust in Jesus, and the abiding presence of Father and Son (through the Spirit) that results. As I have discussed, in the Johannine theological idiom, sin is understood primarily in terms of failure/unwillingness to trust in Jesus; however, this does not mean that the author denies or disregards the more conventional ethical-religious aspect(s) of sin (cf. 1:7-2:2). Indeed, here in verse 16, the author frames the negative aspect of ‘love for the world’ in traditional ethical terms:

“(for it is) that every(thing) th(at is) in the world—the impulse of the flesh for (things), the impulse of the eyes for (them), the boasting of (one’s) life [bi/o$] (in the world)—(does not come) out of the Father, but out of the world (itself).”

The noun e)piqumi/a means, literally, “(the) impulse [qumo/$] upon [e)pi] (something)”; in English, the idiom would be “set one’s heart (or mind) upon (something)”. In a negative, ethical sense, e)piqumi/a connotes an impulse toward something that is unlawful or sinful. Paul uses the word frequently in his letters (19 times [including 6 in the Pastorals], half of all NT occurrences); it is also relatively common in the Petrine letters (8 times), and cf. also James 1:14-15; Jude 16, 18. It is extremely rare in the Gospels, and is used, in this ethical sense, only in Mark 4:19. The expression “e)piqumi/a of the flesh” more or less corresponds to Paul’s concept of the “flesh” (sa/rc) as the aspect of the human being, which, even after coming to trust in Jesus, is still subject to the impulse toward sin. Even believers experience such impulses, which can lead to sin—where sin is defined in the conventional sense of occasional moral or religious failures. Sometimes what a person sees, in the world, will prompt a worldly/sinful impulse—thus the added expression “e)piqumi/a of the eyes”.

In the Johannine writings, the noun zwh/ (“life”) always is used in the theological sense of Divine/Eternal Life. Here, the world bi/o$ refers to “life” in the sense of a human life (of a certain length and circumstances) lived in the world. The “boasting” of such a life suggests that a person takes delight in worldly riches and honor; in such a way, ‘loving the world’ reflects a mindset that is opposed to God, and will lead one to reject Jesus, even as the Gospel writer describes in 12:43.

Finally, the author reminds his readers that the current world-order (ko/smo$) is only temporary, and will soon pass away (vb para/gw). This is a common thought expressed by early Christians, and is very much tied to the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers. Paul says something quite comparable in 1 Corinthians 7:31. By concluding 1:5-2:17 on this note, the author anticipates the eschatological emphasis of the “antichrist” section that follows in vv. 18-27.

March 24: Romans 8:17

Romans 8:17

“And, if (His) offspring, (then) also (one)s holding the lot—holding the lot of God, and holding the lot together with (the) Anointed; (and) if indeed we suffer with (him), (it is) that also we shall be honored with (him).”

This final verse builds upon the theme of believers as sons of God. Here, as in v. 16 (cf. the previous note), the more general (and inclusive) term te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used; however, the context of inheritance clearly shows that Paul still has the sonship idea in mind. The plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) was used in v. 14, along with the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son,” i.e., adoption) in v. 15. The son-heir theme also features prominently in Galatians 3-4, and the parallels between Gal 4:5-6 and our passage have been noted.

The noun klhrono/mo$ literally means “one holding the lot [klh=ro$]”. A klh=ro$ is a broken piece or small fragment (of wood, stone, etc), used in the casting of lots. From this specific (concrete) usage, the more general idea of a portion or allotment developed. Often this refers specifically to an inherited portion—i.e., an inheritance; and, thus, the klhrono/mo$ is a person holding the right to an inheritance, i.e., an heir.

Here, Paul is declaring that believers hold the right of inheritance, as sons of God. It is indeed, from God Himself that we inherit, as the expression “heirs of God” (klhrono/moi qeou=) indicates. The genitive qeou= (“of God”) is an objective genitive, designating what it is that we inherit—namely, the things belonging to God. However, it is normally the eldest son who inherits; and, in applying such an illustration to a Christian context, this means that Jesus Christ, the Son, is the true heir of God. We, as believers, can be considered heirs only through our union with him. Paul expresses this point here through use of a me\nde/ construction (“on the one hand…on the other…”):

    • me\n:
      klhrono/moi qeou=
      (“heirs of God”)
    • de/:
      sugklhrono/moi xristou=
      (“heirs together with Christ”)

On the one hand (me\n), we are indeed heirs of God; but, on the other hand (de/), this is only true because we are heirs together with Christ. Syntactically, the two expressions are the same, and the translation probably should reflect this:

      • “heirs of God / co-heirs of Christ”

Literally, this would mean that we all, together as believers, are co-heirs to what Christ, first, inherits. However, what follows in v. 17 suggests that the preposition sun– should be understood in relation to Christ (i.e., together with him). This would mean that the noun sugklhrono/moi would be translated “heirs  together with (him)” (lit. [one]s holding the lot with [him])—i.e., we share Christ’s inheritance together with him.

And, how is that we come to share in his inheritance? Paul alludes to this in the remainder of verse 17: it is by way of our union with him, realized through the Spirit. This point is essential to Paul’s spiritualism, and is deserving of special attention. We focus on the nature and significance of this spiritual union in the next daily note.

March 23: Romans 8:16

Romans 8:16

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

In verse 15 (cf.the previous note), Paul refers to the Spirit within believers as “the spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]” —that is to say, through the Spirit we, as believers, acquire the status of sons (i.e., children) of God. We share this sonship with Jesus himself, as is clear from the parallel in Gal 4:6, where Paul refers to “the Spirit of His Son”. Earlier in our passage (v. 9), Paul uses the expression “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably, as a reference to the Spirit. It is thus the Spirit of Jesus (the Son) even as it is the Spirit of God (the Father), the two sharing the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 15:45 combined with 6:17). In a similar way, through union with Christ, believers also share in this Spirit.

Here, in verse 16, Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit as a witness (ma/rtu$) to our identity as God’s children. He uses the compound verb summarture/w, which means “give witness [marture/w] together with [sun] another”. The ‘other’ witness is our own spirit.

The noun pneu=ma is one of several terms that refer generally to the inner aspect of a human being. Paul uses pneu=ma in this sense in Rom 1:9, and also in 1 Cor 2:11; 5:3-5; 7:34; 14:14-16; 2 Cor 7:1; Gal 6:18; 1 Thess 5:23, and in a few other references as well. There is not always a sharp distinction made between pneu=ma (“spirit”), yuxh/ (“soul”), and nou=$ (“mind”)—all three terms variously reflect overlapping aspects of what Paul elsewhere calls the “inner” (e&sw) person (Rom 7:22; 2 Cor 4:16; also Eph 3:16); and note also the inward/outward contrast in Rom 2:29. Paul’s emphasis on the inward aspect of Christian identity and religious (spiritual) experience is a general indication of his spiritualism.

In Rom 8:23, Paul makes clear that we, as believers, hold the Divine sonship within (e)n) ourselves, through the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul gives us a portrait of how the Spirit of God (and Christ) interacts with our own spirit in vv. 26-27; cf. also the discussion on 1 Cor 2:10-14 in the earlier article in this series. Here the Spirit’s interaction (with our spirit) does two things: (1) it confirms for us that we are, indeed, the sons of God; and, (2) it gives us the authority/ability to declare this, by crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father!” —declaring God to be our Father, in the same manner in which Jesus (the Son) addressed the Father (e.g., Mk 14:36). The second aspect was emphasized in v. 15, the first is the focus here in v. 16.

That is to say, here the Spirit functions as a confirming witness. This dual-witness concept is not unique to Paul, as it seems to have been an important component in early Christian thought. Outside of the Pauline letters, it is particularly emphasized in Luke-Acts and the Johannine writings. In the case of Luke-Acts, the dual-witness motif is part of a broader narrative treatment of the role of the Spirit among early believers, and in the inspired (prophetic) nature of the Gospel proclamation; in particular, we may note the wording in Acts 5:32 and 15:28. In the Johannine Gospel, the Spirit clearly functions in a way that parallels the disciples’ own teaching (which they received from Jesus himself)—cf. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13ff. There are closer parallels to our passage in 1 John, where the Spirit’s witness confirms that Jesus Christ (and his sonship) abides in us, and that we, in turn, are also sons/children of God—cf. 3:24; 4:6, 13. The “witness” motif is particularly prominent in the Johannine writings, and the Spirit is the ultimate witness for believers (Jn 15:26; 1 Jn 5:6-8).

Verse 16 begins with the (neuter) personal pronoun au)to/ (“he/it”), in emphatic position. The neuter case agrees with the noun pneu=ma, and the pronoun is used used here in an emphatic/intensive way—i.e., “the Spirit itself.” This could also be translated “th(is) same Spirit” —that is, the “spirit (of sonship)” mentioned in v. 15, which is also the “Spirit of God” (in v. 14). In other words, the very Spirit of God in us, the Spirit that establishes us as His sons, confirms the truth (for us) that we are, indeed, His children.

In v. 14, Paul used the plural ui(oi/ (“sons”), while here the neuter plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used. There is no real difference in meaning, though te/kna is certainly the more general and inclusive term, which makes clear that the statements in vv. 14-15 apply to all believers—male and female. As previously noted, in the Johannine writings, te/kna is always used of believers (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2), never the noun ui(o/$, which is reserved for Jesus. Paul shares this belief in the uniqueness of Jesus’ Sonship, but is not averse to using the noun ui(o/$ when speaking of believers as God’s children. Through our union with Jesus, who is the Son (and heir) of God, we share in the same Sonship, and thus become, ourselves, sons (and co-heirs) with him; cf. the discussion in Galatians 3-4, and here throughout chapter 8. The point is made more explicit in verse 17, which we will examine in the next daily note.

March 22: Romans 8:15 (continued)

Romans 8:15, continued

In the first part of verse 15 (cf. the previous note), Paul makes the seemingly obvious point that believers in Christ, in receiving the Spirit, did not receive a “spirit of slavery”. This continues the slavery-freedom contrast that has run through the probatio of Romans (especially in chaps. 58), and is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters—most notably, in Galatians. His use of the adverb pa/lin (“again”) refers to Christians allowing themselves to go back under a kind of bondage—to the “flesh”, as an echo of their earlier bondage (before faith in Christ) to the power of sin. In Galatians (5:1), he uses the same sort of language with regard to bondage under the Law (i.e., the Torah regulations). These two kinds of bondage are combined together in the expression “the law of sin and death” in Rom 8:2.

In the second part of verse 15, Paul builds upon the declaration in v. 14, modifying the slavery-freedom contrast so as to juxtapose slavery with sonship—i.e., believers as “sons of God”. The implicit idea is that the son of a free person is also free, and not a slave; moreover, the son who is an heir, inherits all that belongs to the father.

“…but (rather), you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'”

This statement is quite similar to that expressed in Gal 4:5-6; and, indeed, throughout chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians, Paul makes extensive use of the sonship motif. In both passages, the noun ui(oqesi/a is used. Literally, this word means “placement as a son [ui(o/$]”; in the Greco-Roman world, it was specifically used as a technical term for what we would call adoption—that is, of establishing the legal status of sonship for a person who was not a natural/biological son. In most translations, ui(oqesi/a is rendered flatly as “adoption”; however, in my view, a literal translation is more appropriate, as it preserves the keyword (ui(o/$, “son”) of this section. Paul uses it again later on in v. 23 and 9:4, and it also occurs in Ephesians 1:5, which is worth citing here:

“…having marked us out beforehand unto [i.e. for] placement as sons, through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Himself, according to the good consideration of His will.”

These five occurrences in the Pauline letters are the only instances of ui(oqesi/a in the New Testament; nor does the word occur in the LXX. It is thus a distinctively Pauline term, particularly as he makes use of it in a theological (and spiritual) sense.

Eph 1:5 makes explicit what is certainly implied here in vv. 14-17—namely, that the sonship we, as believers, receive is realized “through Jesus Christ”. The parallel in Gal 4:5-6, further emphasizes that the presence of Christ is realized through the Spirit:

“…that we should receive from (Him) the placement as sons; and, in that you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying (out) ‘Abba, Father!'”

Paul identifies the (Holy) Spirit both as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, to the point that he is able to use both expressions interchangeably, here in the very context of our passage (v. 9). Christ dwells in us through the presence of the Spirit, and this is the basis of our union with him; it is this union with his Spirit that confers upon us the same status as God’s son. The Sonship of Jesus remains unique, but we, as believers, share in it.

Both in v. 15 and Gal 4:6, Paul uses the same idiom of believers crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father” (a)bba o( path/r). The word a)bba (abba) is a transliteration in Greek of the emphatic Aramaic noun aB*a^, which literally means “the father”, but which is also used as a vocative: “O, father!” Elsewhere in the New Testament, this word (and expression) occurs only in Mark 14:36, and there can be little doubt that Paul has inherited it from the early Gospel tradition, being rooted in Jesus’ own (Aramaic) use of aB*a^ in addressing God (as Father). It is the Spirit (of Christ) in us that allows us, legitimately, to use the same manner of addressing God the Father as Jesus himself used. This further confirms the sonship we share with Jesus.

Paul’s development and application of this sonship-motif are distinctive, but the motif itself is hardly unique to him. The identification of believers as “sons/children of God” seems to have been commonplace among early Christians, ultimately being inherited from Old Testament usage—first, of God’s people Israel as His ‘son(s)’ (cf. the discussion in the prior note); and, secondly, of faithful/righteous Israelites and Jews as His children. The New Testament usage (outside of Paul) is not as frequent as one might expect, but it attested, for example, in Hebrews 2:10; 12:5-8; and Rev 21:7; the Gospels also preserve usage by Jesus (Matt 5:9, 45 par; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc). It is most prominent in the Johannine writings, though the term “son” (ui(o/$) is reserved for Jesus, and te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used exclusively for believers—cf. Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; on the use of the verb genna/w to express the same relationship, cf. Jn 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18.

We will find similar parallels between Pauline and Johannine thought, in this regard, when we turn to v. 16 of our passage, which we will do in the next daily note.


March 20: Romans 8:14

Romans 8:14-17

As part of the recent article on Romans 8:1-17ff (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), I will be presenting a short set of exegetical notes on verses 14-17. These verses are an integral part of Paul’s discussion on the role of the Spirit in chapter 8. They must be understood in light of the main proposition of the chapter, stated in verse 2, and then expounded in the verses that follow:

“The law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (has) set you free from the law of sin and death”

I have summarized the theme of chapter 8 as an announcement of Life in the Spirit; this follows the theme in chapters 67, of the announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin.

Romans 8:14

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

This is perhaps the clearest and most succinct statement by Paul regarding the central place of the Spirit for believers, in terms of their new religious identity as God’s people. In this regard, Paul is drawing upon earlier Old Testament tradition, whereby Israel, as God’s chosen people, was identified as God’s “son(s)” —cf. Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; Isa 1:2; Hos 11:1; Jer 3:19ff; 31:9; Wisd 18:13, etc. It is clear from the context in Romans (e.g., 9:4) that Paul was fully cognizant of this religious background.

The declaration here in v. 14 is parallel with Galatians 4:6a, where Paul states the identity of believers even more bluntly: “you are sons” (e)ste ui(oi/)—that is, sons of God. The role of the Spirit is also emphasized in Gal 4:6, though it must be said that the idea of the Spirit as a witness to the essential identity of believers is not unique to Paul’s thought, since it is found at several points in the Johannine writings (1 Jn 3:24; 4:13; 5:6), where it can also be connected with the idea of believers as “children of God” (cf. Jn 1:12; 3:5-8; 1 Jn 3:1ff; 4:4).

One might be inclined to translate the expression ui(oi\ qeou= here as “children of God,” since Paul does use the more inclusive term te/kna (“offspring, children”) in vv. 16-17. However, in light of the parallel with Gal 4:6, it is better to retain the more literal translation “sons of God” here in v. 14, as it relates to the specific Pauline motif of believers as God’s heirs. The (eldest) son is the heir to the Father, and Paul unquestionably has this concept in mind here, just as he does in Galatians 34. Christ is the Son, but believers through union with him, also receive the same status and identity as sons. This also is very much part of Johannine thought, except that the noun ui(o/$ is explicitly reserved for Jesus, with te/kna always being used for believers.

The demonstrative pronoun ou!toi (“these”) refers back to the first clause, clearly identifying the “sons of God” with those who are “led [a&gontai] by the Spirit of God”. The demonstrative ou!toi is parallel with the correlative pronoun o%soi (“as [many] as”). Essentially this means everyone who is led by the Spirit of God is a son of God. It is a statement of fundamental identity.

The verb a&gw (“lead”), a common verb in narrative, is relatively rare in Paul’s writings, occurring just seven times. In 1 Cor 12:2 (and also 2 Tim 3:6), it is used in a negative sense, of people being “led away/astray” by evil influences. More important for our study are the other instances where God is the actor, leading believers (Rom 2:4; 1 Thes 4:14). The use of the passive in v. 14 also means that God is acting, specifically through the presence of the Spirit. The parallel usage in Gal 5:18 is most relevant:

“if you are led [a&gesqe] by (the) Spirit, you are not under (the) law”

This is precisely the context of Romans 8, emphasizing the freedom of believers from the law (no/mo$), by which is meant (primarily) the Torah regulations of the Old Covenant. In place of the Torah, believers are now guided by a different law (no/mo$)—that of the living and indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. This is what Paul means by the expression “the law of the Spirit of life” (o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$) in verse 2.

However, this guidance of the Spirit does not take place without the willingness of the believer. There is a volitional component—we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. This is central to Paul’s instruction in Galatians 5, where he twice specifically exhorts his readers to “walk” in the Spirit; this exhortation frames the instruction in vv. 1625, where he first uses the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) as an imperative, and then the verb stoixe/w (“walk/move in line”) as a subjunctive (with imperative/cohortative force).

The volitional aspect is perhaps emphasized even more forcefully here, as expressed in the preceding verses 12-13, where believers are exhorted not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka), as though still under bondage to the power of sin (and the law), but instead to “put to death” (vb qanato/w) the “deeds of the body”. This is done by living and ‘walking’ “in/by the Spirit” (pneu/mati)—or, using the language of v. 14 (and Gal 5:18), by letting ourselves be led by the Spirit.

This will be discussed further, in the next daily note (on v. 15).