Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:10 (continued)

1 John 2:28-3:10, continued

This is a continuation of last week’s study (on 1 John 2:28-3:10). If you have not already done so, I would urge you to read through the discussion last week before proceeding. As previously noted, the passage is comprised of two parallel sections; indeed, the parallelism of the instruction is precise, as each section has the same general outline:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are just, and act justly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

The core of this teaching is actually made up of a pair of dual-statements, with a Christological declaration in between:

    • Statement 1: True believers act justly, while those who sin do not (and are thus not true believers) [2:27-3:4 / 3:7-8a]
    • Christological declaration regarding Jesus’ appearance on earth [3:5 / 3:8b]
    • Statement 2: The true believer cannot sin and the one who sins cannot be a true believer [3:6 / 3:9-10]

We have already noted how Christology is at the center of the instruction, and, in many ways, is the key to a correct interpretation of the passage as a whole. The first three components were examined in the study last week; now, building on those results, we shall proceed to consider the final three.

1 John 3:5 / 3:8B

    • “And you have seen [i.e. known] that this (one) was made to shine forth (so) that he would take away sins, and sin is not in him.” (3:5)
    • “Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth, (so) that he would loose [i.e. dissolve] the works of the Diábolos” (3:8b)

Both statements use the verb form ephanerœ¡th¢, literally “he was made to shine forth”. This verb (phaneróœ) is rather frequent in the Johannine Writings—9 times in the Gospel and 9 in the First Letter—as part of the key (dualistic) imagery of light vs. darkness. It often has the generic meaning of “appear”, but the Johannine context makes preserving the etymological connection with light especially important. Jesus as the Light of God (Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9f; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10) shines for human beings on earth, and the Elect ones (believers) recognize and come to the light. Thus the motif of “shining” relates to the appearance of Jesus on earth—that is, as a human being (i.e. the incarnation), and, in particular, the work that he performed during his earthly life. The purpose of his work and life is made clear in these verses, with the concluding hína-clauses (“so that…”):

    • “he would take away [ár¢] sins” [some manuscripts read “…our sins”]
    • “he would loose [lýs¢] the works of the Diábolos

These are parallel statements which should be understood as generally synonymous—that is to say, “taking away” sins is essentially the same as “loosing” the works of the Devil. The verb lýœ (“loose[n]”), often has the meaning “dissolve”, i.e. “destroy”. The reference to the Diábolos (literally “one throwing over [accusations/insults]” or “one casting [evil] throughout”) continues the thought of the previous statement (v. 8a, discussed in last week’s study), where by the ones “doing the sin” are identified as belonging to (or born of) the Devil (ek tou diabólou), i.e. they are children of the Devil rather than children of God.

This echoes several passages in the Gospel where sin is closely connected with the Evil One. The most notable example comes from chapter 8 of the great Feast of Tabernacles discourse. The statement by Jesus in verse 19 connects acceptance of him with knowledge of God the Father. The dialogue that follows builds on this idea, using dualistic language to identify those who do not accept the Son (Jesus) as belonging to a different Father—children of the Devil, rather than being children of God (vv. 42-47). Their sin is that of unbelief, which reflects their identity as belonging to the Devil, and it is from this sin that others spring out (including hatred, violence, and murder).

In Jn 16:8-11 (also discussed last week), sin is also defined there as failing to trust in Jesus. The context of these verses has to do with the work of the Spirit/Paraclete who makes known the truth to the world—that is, the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. Failing to trust in Jesus means that the person belongs not to God, but to the Devil; and, as verse 11 makes clear, the Devil (here called the Chief/Ruler of the world) has already been judged. It was the life and work of Jesus, culminating in his death and resurrection, which judged both the world (i.e. the current world-order of darkness) and the Devil. All who commit the ultimate sin of unbelief are judged along with their ‘Father’ the Devil.

Sin (and sins) are referred to here as “the works of the Devil”. In Pauline terms, this would be described as the power of sin that held humankind in bondage, with Sin (and Death) personified as a kind of world-ruler generally identified with the figure of the Satan/Devil. Jesus’ sacrificial death (and resurrection) freed humankind, making it possible to escape from this bondage through trust in him. However, the Johannine imagery relates more to the essential identity of human beings—believers belong to God and Christ, while all others (non-believers, i.e. those who sin) belong to the Devil. Believers do the works of God and Christ, non-believers do the works of the Devil.

An important point in the first Christological statement above (v. 5) is that there is no sin in Jesus (“sin is not in him”). Here the singular hamartía (without the definite article) refers to sin in the general sense, and is a declaration of the sinlessness of Jesus. This may be seen as relating to the declaration by Jesus in Jn 14:30 that the Chief of the world “holds nothing on me”. Any sense of the sinlessness of believers, as expressed in 1 John, must be understood in terms of the sinlessness of Jesus.

1 John 3:6a / 3:9

    • “Every one remaining in him does not sin;” (3:6a)
    • “Every one having come to be (born) out of God does not do the sin, (in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him; and he is not able to sin, (in) that [i.e. because] he has come to be (born) out of God.” (3:9)

These statements are similar in meaning (and parallel) to those in 2:29 and 3:7bc (discussed last week). Clearly “doing justice” is related to “not doing sin”; these are flip sides of the same coin. Here we have a more precise formulation in terms of religious identity (“every one…”). Believers—true believers, that is—are described with a pair of participles, so that there is a sense of dynamic (verbal) action that characterizes their essential identity:

    • “the (one) remaining [ménœn] in him”
    • “the (one) coming to be (born) [gegenn¢ménos] out of God”

Both verbs—ménœ (“remain”) and gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”)—are key terms in the Johannine writings. More than half of the occurrences of ménœ in the New Testament are in the Gospel (40) and Letters (27) of John. It is a common verb, but virtually everywhere it is used in the Johannine writings it carries the special theological and spiritual meaning of the union believers share with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. It is reciprocal: Jesus remains in believers, and believers remain in Jesus. The verb gennᜠdefines this identity in a different way, according to the image of being born of God, i.e. as children of God, even as Jesus is the Son. It is our union with the Son (and the Father), through the presence and power of the Spirit, that makes this “birth” possible (see esp. John 3:3-8). The verb occurs 18 times in the Gospel, and 10 in the First Letter; the substantive verbal noun (participle with the definite article) is especially distinctive of 1 John (see also Jn 3:6, 8). Thus, insofar as believers “do not sin”, this is predicated upon two things: (1) being born out of God (as His offspring), and (2) remaining in Jesus.

However, the author explains this a bit further in verse 9b, when he adds the detail that, for the person born out of God, the seed (spérma) of God also remains in him/her. A careful study of the language and thought of Johannine writings leaves little doubt that this “seed” is to be identified with the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we come to be born of God, and it is thus the life-producing seed. What needs to be pointed out, is that this same seed remains in us. The Spirit of God the Father is also the Spirit of the Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers.

The statements regarding sin in these verses are essentially two:

    • “every one remaining in him does not sin [ouch hamartánei]”
      “every one coming to be born out of God does not do (the) sin [hamartían ou poieí]”
    • “…and he is not able to sin [ou dýnatai hamartánein], (in) that he has come to be born out of God”

Are the differing forms of the first statement saying the same thing? The expression “do the sin” was used in verse 4, with the definite article (literally “the sin” (h¢ hamartía). I argued that this use of the singular referred to the fundamental Johannine definition of sin (in Jn 16:9, etc) as unbelief—failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. At the same time, the singular (without the definite article) in v. 5b seems to mean sin in a general sense. There would appear to be three levels of meaning to the noun hamartía and the concept of “sin”:

    1. “the sin” (singular with definite article)—the fundamental sin of unbelief
    2. “sin” (singular without the definite article)—sin in the general or collective sense, and
    3. “sins” (plural)—individual sins committed by human beings

The verb hamartánœ relates to all three of these meanings, but here especially to the first two.

1 John 3:6b / 3:10

    • “every one sinning has not seen him and has not known him” (3:6b)
    • “…every one not doing justice is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the (one) not loving his brother” (3:10)

Again we see the close connection between sin and justice (dikaiosýn¢, or “just-ness, right-ness”). Previously we had the equation doing justice = not sinning; similarly, here we have the reverse of this: sinning = not doing justice. Recall above that the use of the substantive verbal noun (participle with definite article) indicated the essential identity and character of a believer; now the same syntax is used to refer to the non-believer (or false believer). That this characterizes the non-believer is clear from the phrases “has…seen/known him” and “out of God [i.e. belonging to God, born of God]”. This typical Johannine language, used throughout the Gospel and First Letter. Thus the “one sinning” clearly is not (and cannot be) a true believer in Christ.

But is this “sinning” meant in the general sense, or does it have a particular meaning in its context here? The final phrase of verse 10 (and of the passage) confirms that the intended meaning is quite specific, by the identification of the “one sinning / not doing justice” as “the one not loving his brother”. There can be little doubt that the use of “brother” in context means one’s fellow believer. Love (agáp¢) between believers is a fundamental mark of the Christian identity, and central to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It is part of the great command—the only command—under which believers are bound. Actually, the great command is a two-fold command, presented succinctly in 3:23:

“And this is His entol¢¡ [i.e. command]: that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and (that) we should love each other, even as he [i.e. Jesus] gave us the entol¢¡.”

Thus the essential definition of sin must be expanded to include a failure to love one another. That this is primarily in mind for the author is clear enough by the section which follows our passage (3:11-24). Beginning with a statement of the love-command (v. 11), and the key illustration in v. 12 from the story of Cain and Abel, the author’s instruction turns entirely to the demonstration of love as the mark of the true believer. Remember that the issue of those ‘false’ believers who separated from the Community is at the heart of the letter, and informs this section on love, even as it does the prior section on sin. We may thus summarize the teaching regarding sin as follows:

There are four levels of meaning to hamartía and the concept of sin (compare with the list of three above):

    1. “sins” (plural) = individual sins committed by human beings
    2. “sin” (singular, without the definite article) = sin in the general sense
    3. “sin” (singular, with the article) = the fundamental sin of unbelief
    4. “sinning” (verb hamartánœ) = principally, violations of the two-fold command

The main point at issue in 1 John, especially here in 2:28-3:10, is not the first two levels of meaning (as the casual reader might assume), but specifically the last two. For the true believer, it is impossible to sin in the sense of (3.) and (4.); indeed, sin, in either of these senses, marks the distinction between the true and false believer. To see this clearly, let us cite the concluding statement of verse 10 in full:

“In this it is shining [i.e. clear/apparent] (who are) the offspring of God and the offspring of the Diábolos: every one not doing justice [i.e. sinning] is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the one not loving his brother.”

What then of meanings (1.) and (2.) above? The work of Jesus, his sacrificial death and resurrection, frees believers from sin in the general sense (1:7; 2:2), as is indicated in the pair of Christological statements of vv. 5, 8b (see above). This leaves meaning #1, which, I would argue, is the only sense of sin that applies to the true believer in Christ. Believers will (or may) occasionally commit sins, as the author makes quite clear in 1:8-2:2 and 5:16ff. The same power that frees us from sin in the general sense, also cleanses us from individual sins we commit. In that way, believers do take part in the sinlessness of Jesus, and the power that he has over sin.

We will touch on this question of sin (as it relates to the believer) again in these studies on 1 John. Hold on to these past studies, meditating on the line of interpretation I have presented, as there will be occasion to develop it further. However, for next week, I wish to move ahead in the letter, looking at 4:1-6 in detail. In so doing, we will survey again the preceding instruction (on love) in 3:11-24, taking great care in considering how 4:1-6 fits into the overall structure and argument of the letter. I hope to see you here for this study…next Saturday.

September 24: Revelation 5:9-10

Revelation 5:1-14 (continued)

The vision of the Lamb in chapter 5 climaxes with the song in verses 9ff, just as the throne-vision of chapter 4 concludes with a similar song—the parallelism between the two halves of the chap. 4-5 vision were discussed in the previous daily note. The song begins in vv. 9-10, sung by the four Living Beings and twenty-four Elders, before being taken up by the heavenly multitudes in vv. 11-13.

Rev 5:9-10

“and they sang a new song, saying, ‘a&cio$ are you to take the paper-roll and to open up its seals, (in) that [i.e. because] you went to the market-place [i.e. bought] for God in [i.e. with] your blood, (purchasing) out of every offshoot [i.e. tribe] and tongue [i.e. language] and people and nation, and you made them a kingdom and sacred officials [i.e. priests] for our God, and they will rule as king(s) upon the earth’.”

It is worth noting again the opening word of the song, which begins as in 4:11, to be repeated here in 5:11. The adjective a&cio$ is rather difficult to translate literally in English. Fundamentally, the underlying idea is of bringing something into balance (i.e. being weighed/measured on the scales), as, literally, “bringing [vb. a&gw] up” the beam of the scale. The adjective itself signifies something which is thus of an equal, or proper, weight. As an honorific, especially when used in a religious context (in reference to God, etc), it indicates that someone is deserving of honor and praise, etc, and so should be given the appropriate reverence and respect. It is typically translated in such instances as “worthy”. However, in this case, the parallelism between chapters 4 and 5 connotes a deeper theological meaning—that the Lamb (i.e. the exalted Jesus) is of the same “weight” (Heb. db)K*) as God, and, in his divine position/status, shares with God the Father the ruling authority, etc (including effective ownership of the seal on the scroll). It is possible that this is what is signified by the characterization of the song as “new” (kaino/$). A song of praise and worship to God is obvious and natural for any religious person; it is the extension of this song to the Lamb (Jesus) which is new. On the motif of a “new song”, cf. Psalm 40:3; 96:1; Isa 42:10).

The emphasis on the blood of the Lamb helps to clarify the sacrificial image. In the previous note, on verse 6, I outlined three sacrificial motifs with which Jesus’ death is associated in the New Testament: (1) the Passover Lamb, (2) the offering for sin/guilt, and (3) the sacrifice at the establishment of the Covenant. The Last supper scene, before Jesus’ impending death, blends together all three of these:

    • The context of the Passover meal (Mark 14:1, 12ff, 22ff par); in John’s account, Jesus is put to death on the day of Passover eve, identifying him more precisely with the Lamb that is slain (13:1; 18:28; 19:14).
    • The establishment of the (new) Covenant—the wine-cup is identified specifically as “the blood of the [new] covenant” (Mark 14:24 par)
    • A sacrifice for sin (Matt 26:28; cf. also John 1:29)

While the Lamb’s blood features prominently in the Passover narrative (Exod 12:7, 13), symbolizing God’s deliverance of his people and their protection (from death), here there is a more precise connection with the Covenant scene in Exodus 24. The blood thrown upon the people (v. 8), identifies that they are bound to God by the agreement (covenant) that has been established. The blood marks them as His people and consecrates them as “a holy nation” and “a kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6). This is exactly the tradition which is being referenced here, and it is also the primarily meaning of the Last Supper symbolism—”this is my blood of the covenant th(at is) poured out over many“. Only here in Revelation, the “many” (polloi/) have been expanded and given a universal scope: “out of every tribe/race and tongue and people and nation”. According to the tradition of the (old) Covenant, Israel was purchased by God, from among all the other peoples/nations on earth, to be his own chosen people (Exod 15:16, etc). Now, the new people of God (believers in Jesus), have been similarly purchased, but as individuals taken from every conceivable ethnic and racial background. In order to preserve the etymology and concrete sense of the verb a)gora/zw, I have given it an excessively literal translation above. It signifies a person going to the market-place (a)gora/) and purchasing something. In this case, the “market-place” is the entire inhabited world—all peoples and nations, etc.

As mentioned above, verse 10 draws upon the ancient covenant tradition, and especially, the language in Exodus 19:6. The same wording and imagery is used in 1 Peter 1:5, 9—believers in Christ are the true people of God, fulfilling the very characteristics previously applied to Israel under the (old) Covenant. We are a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood” (“kingdom of priests”). This is stated succinctly here in v. 10a, as it was earlier in 1:6. However, special attention must be given to the concluding statement in v. 10b:

“and they will rule as king(s) upon the earth”

First, one should note the variant readings involving the verb basileu/w (“rule/reign as king”). The textual evidence is divided between the present tense (basileu/ousin, “they rule as king[s]”), and the future tense (basileu/sousin, “they will rule as king[s]”)—the difference being a single letter (s). It is an important distinction, since it effects how one should interpret the nature and character of the believers’ reign. The present tense (supported by A 046 1006 1611 and other minuscules and versions), indicating that believers currently rule as kings on earth, would suggest a symbolic, or spiritual reign. By contrast, the future tense (read by a P 1 94 1854 2053 2344 and many other MSS and versions) most likely would be understood in an eschatological sense—in the Age to Come, believers will rule (with Christ). Moreover, the specific phrase “will rule upon the earth” would seem to indicate a concrete manifestation of the Kingdom of God (and Christ) on earth at the end of the current Age. For some commentators, this is readily identified with a (literal) Millennial Kingdom, in light of 20:1-6. Verse 6, in particular, is emphasized, though it should be noted that it applies specifically to those who were put to death for their faith in Jesus—following the resurrection, “they will be sacred officials [i.e. priests] of God and of the Anointed (One), and they will rule as king with him (for) a thousand years”. By contrast, 5:10 indicates that all believers will function as priests and kings. This will be discussed further when we come to 20:1-6; the question of the precise eschatological expectation, in terms of God’s Kingdom being established on earth, will also be addressed at several points as we continue through the book.

In the next daily note, we will look at the concluding song in verses 11-13.

September 12: Revelation 1:17-20

Revelation 1:9-20 (continued)

Revelation 1:17-20

The previous daily note examined the visual details of the initial vision in verses 9-20 (vv. 12-16). There I pointed out that the figure of the vision was depicted and described with both heavenly and divine characteristics. The details (and language used to describe them) are drawn largely from four passages in the Old Testament:

Central to the vision, with its identification of the figure as “(one) like a son of man” (v. 13; Daniel 7:13f), is the description of “the Ancient of Days” in Dan 7:9-10. In this regard, there is an interesting variant reading in the Greek of Dan 7:13, for the Aramaic

“…(one) like a son of man was coming and reached unto [du^] the Ancient of Days”

where the preposition du^ is translated by the corresponding e%w$ (“unto, until”). However, some manuscripts of the LXX instead read the particle w%$ (“as”):

“…(one) as a son of man was coming and came near as [w($] the Ancient of Days”

which could be taken to mean that he had the likeness or appearance of the Ancient of Days.

In the verses which follow (vv. 17-20), the heavenly/divine figure addresses the seer John. It is introduced with a notice of the traditional reaction of fear to seeing a heavenly being (Ezek 1:28; Dan 8:17; 10:9-10; Tob 12:15-16; Mark 16:5 par; Luke 1:12; 24:5, etc), followed by the similarly traditional words of reassurance mh fobou= (“you must not be afraid”, “do not fear”), as in Lk 1:13, 30; 2:10; John 6:20 par; Acts 18:9; 27:24, etc.

The figure makes a declaration (“I am”, e)gw/ ei)mi) which is associated with God (YHWH) and which reflects divine attributes, following the pattern in 1:4, 8 (cf. also 21:6). There are two specific titles involved:

Two points must be noted in relation to this declaration: (1) this heavenly/divine figure is identified (implicitly) with the risen Jesus, and (2) the declaration is defined in terms of Jesus’ resurrection:

“…and I came to be dead, and see! I am living [zw=n] into the Ages of the Ages”

This is important, as it reflects the early Christian mode of thinking which identified Jesus’ deity primarily with his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). This can be seen especially in examples of the earliest Christian preaching and (Gospel) proclamation—e.g., Acts 2:24-36; 3:15-16; 7:55-56; 13:30-37ff; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:9-11, etc. Being exalted to divine/heavenly status, Jesus shares divine attributes and titles, such as “the Living One”. He also shares precisely the eternal Life which God possesses, and, as such, he lives “into the Ages of Ages” (i.e. forever)—cf. Dan 4:34; 6:26; 12:7, etc.

The final phrase of this declaration sharpens the eschatological context, touching upon the idea of the end-time Judgment. The risen Jesus how has authority over death and the dead (i.e. those who are dead):

“…and I hold the keys of Death and of the Unseen world (of the dead)”

Death is depicted primarily as a place—the traditional Hades (a)i+/dh$, or ai%dh$, a%|dh$), the “unseen” realm (below ground) where the dead reside. In figurative (and mythological) language, this realm is ruled over by a figure personifying Death itself. To say that Jesus “holds the keys” is a symbolic way of describing the power/authority he has (cf. Isa 22:22; Rev 3:7), as the living one, over death. In traditional Jewish thought, a heavenly being (Angel) typically had power over Death/Hades (cf. Apocalypse of Abraham 10:11, etc), an idea with a very long history (cf. Exod 12:23ff; Num 22:23ff; 1 Chron 21:12ff; and many other passages). This specific image of Jesus holding the key of Death is repeated in 9:1; 20:1, emphasizing its eschatological significance. The end-time Judgment was often closely connected with the resurrection of humankind, which by the time of the book of Revelation was typically applied to both the righteous and wicked together.

Following this declaration, in verse 19, John is given (again, v. 11) the command to write down the things he sees and hears: “Therefore you must write the (thing)s you see…” The verb ei@de$ is an aorist form, which often indicates past action (“saw”), and might, from the standpoint of the book and its publication, refer to the things which John saw. Along these lines, it is probably better to view the aorist form as referring to the visions taken as a whole, reflecting an “external” view. These visions are qualified here two ways:

    • “the (thing)s which are” (a^ ei)si/n)—present
    • “the (thing)s which are about to come to be” (a^ me/llei gene/sqai)—immediate future

The context makes clear that the “future” events should be understood as occurring (close) after events of the present time (i.e., from the standpoint of the author and his original audience). Note the wording: “…are about to come to be with [i.e. after] these (thing)s”.

Finally, in the concluding words of verse 20, the risen Jesus offers a partial explanation of the first vision, its secret (musth/rion). This is an important aspect of eschatological (and apocalyptic) language—the revealing of something which has been secret, or hidden. In this instance, as in the parables of Jesus (Mark 4:11ff par), it is the specific symbols which are interpreted; two symbols are involved:

    • “the seven stars…upon my right hand”
      = “(the) Messengers of the seven congregations”
    • “the seven gold lamp(stands)
      = “the seven congregations” (contrast this with Zech 4:2ff)

There is a close connection here with the earlier reference to “the seven Spirits” in verse 4, which, as I have previously discussed, are best understood as heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). Note the symmetry:

    • Seven Spirits [Angels] before the throne of God (i.e. the ‘Ancient of Days’)
      —Seven stars (= heavenly Messengers) in the right hand of Jesus
    • Seven Lamps [Believers] surrounding the heavenly/divine figure (i.e. ‘one like a son of man’)

As in the introduction (vv. 1-3), Jesus serves as the intermediary:

    • God gives the message to
      • Jesus Christ, who gives it (through his Messenger[s]) to
        • Believers (through a chosen prophet)

This interplay continues into the “letters” which follow in chapters 2-3, as will be discussed in the next note. In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, Angels are often ‘assigned’ to particular peoples or nations (Dan 10:13, 20-21; 12:1), and also to specific individuals (cf. Tob 12:14-16; 1 Enoch 100:5; Matt 18:10; Acts 12:15, etc). The idea that certain heavenly Messengers are designated to groups of believers (congregations) in various locations is fully in accordance with this line of tradition. As previously noted, the picture of seven Angels is also traditional (1 Enoch 20:1-7; Tob 12:15; 4Q403).

September 9: Revelation 1:7-8

Revelation 1:7-8

The introduction to the epistle-book of Revelation concludes with a pair of statements; the first is a Scriptural citation (by the author), and the second is a divine declaration repeating the triadic formula in verse 4 (cf. the previous note). We begin with the Scripture citation(s) in verse 7:

“See—he comes with the clouds, and every eye will look at him, even the (one)s who stabbed him (through), and they will beat (themselves) over him, all the (people)s arising (together out) of the earth. Yes, Amen.”

Two different Scripture passages are combined here:

    • Daniel 7:13:
      “And see! with the clouds of (the) heavens (one) like a son of man, coming (near), was (present)…”
      LXX: “And see—upon the clouds of heaven (one) as a son of man came…”
    • Zechariah 12:10 (along with v. 12)
      “…and they shall look closely [vb. fb^n`] to me whom they pierced [vb. rq^D*], and they shall wail (in mourning) upon [i.e. over] him, like (one) wailing upon th(eir) only (child)… “
      LXX: “…and they will look (closely) toward me, against [i.e. concerning] the (one) whom they danced over [impl. vb. dq^r*], and they will beat (themselves) over him, as (one) beating (themselves) over a (be)loved (child)…”

The association of these two Scriptures is not original to the book of Revelation; we find it also in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ “Eschatological Discourse” (24:30). Both Scriptures were also connected, in different ways, with Jesus death (Mark 14:62 par; John 19:37), giving the Passion narrative an eschatological dimension, at least in part. It is easy to see how early Christians would have interpreted Zech 12:10 in terms of Jesus’ death, by crucifixion, which would entail the “piercing” of his hands and feet. In the original context, the reference seems to have that of one killed in battle (“pierced” or run through with a sword, etc). In this regard, the use of it in the Gospel of John is somewhat more applicable, as the author associates it with the puncturing of Jesus’ side by a soldier’s spear (19:34).

The precise significance of Zech 12:10 in the Gospel of John is uncertain. It is by no means clear that the author intends it in the same sense as Matt 24:30 or here in Rev 1:7. The purpose of the citation in Jn 19:37 is to show that the puncturing of Jesus’ side, with its release of “blood and water”, was the fulfillment of prophecy. Overall, however, though it is not emphasized in the Gospel of John, an eschatological interpretation of the passage for early Christians remains the most plausible. This is certainly how the author of the book of Revelation understands it. By compressing the citation to include part of verse 12, the author gives special emphasis to the visible appearance of Jesus (in glory) at the end-time. It is somewhat difficult to decide how the symbolism of mourning should be understood. The original context of the passage suggests that it refers to mourning for the death of someone; but this does not fit the application to the return of the risen/exalted Jesus. There are several possibilities:

    • Mourning over sin and wickedness (i.e. the connection of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin)—this entails the idea of repentance.
    • The people mourn over their role/responsibility for Jesus’ death—this may or may not indicate repentance. If the sense is that of mourning for Jesus’ sacrificial death on their behalf, then some measure of true repentance is in view.
    • The nations (“tribes of the earth”, not only the tribes of Israel), in their wickedness, mourn and lament over Jesus’ appearance which signifies the coming of God’s Judgment upon them.

Arguments can be made in favor of each of these, but it is the first (or some combination of the first two) which best seems to fit the context of the book. On the motif of the conversion of the nations, cf. Rev 5:5, 9; 7:9; 11:13; 21:24; 22:2 (Koester, p. 219).

The early Christian use of Daniel 7:13 will be addressed in upcoming articles of the current series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”; I have already dealt with in some detail in an earlier study. Here it follows the Gospel Tradition, going back to the words of Jesus (Mark 13:26; 14:62 par) associating it with the end-time appearance of Jesus (the “Son of Man”).

As indicated above, verse 8 repeats the phrasing in v. 4, though here the three-fold divine title (in italics) is part of a declaration by God Himself:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Alpha [a)] and the w@ [Omega], says the Lord God, the (One) being and the (One who) was and the (One) coming, the All-mighty.”

The use of e)gw/ ei)mi (“I am…”) is a standard component of divine revelation and manifestation (theophany), both in the Old Testament (LXX) and in other Greco-Roman literature. It can be traced back to the fundamental passage, introducing the name YHWH, in Exodus 3 (v. 14), being repeated numerous times in Scripture (e.g., Deut 32:39, etc). Especially noteworthy is the Prophetic usage, particularly in the book of Isaiah—cf. 43:25; 45:22; 46:9; 47:8ff; 51:12. The formula here is reasonably close in sense to that in Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.

The use of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha [a] and omega [w]) functions as a comprehensive symbol—”first and last” (Isa 41:4, etc)—indicating both completeness and, we may assume, transcendence. God transcends all of creation (and time), encompassing and filling all things. It is also possible that there is here a play on the name YHWH (hw`hy+, Yahweh), which, in Greek transliteration, could be rendered Iaw, including both alpha and omega. Cf. Koester, p. 220.

Two other divine names/titles appear in this declaration, and are worth noting:

    • ku/rio$ o( qeo/$ (“[the] Lord God”)—This reflects the Hebrew conjunction of Yahweh (hwhy) and Elohim (<yh!ýa$), first appearing in Gen 2:4b, and subsequently many times in the Old Testament. It establishes the fundamental religious (and theological) principle that the Deity worshiped by Israel (YHWH) is the one true (Creator) God.
    • o( pantokra/twr (“the All-mighty”)—This title, combining pa=$ (“all”) and kra/to$ (“strength, might”), occurs 9 times in the book of Revelation, but only once (2 Cor 6:18) in the rest of the New Testament. It is known in Greek literature, as a divine attribute, essentially meaning (“ruler of all [things]”), and is relatively frequent in the Greek version (LXX) of the Old Testament. There it typically renders the expression toab*x=, part of an ancient (sentence) title, toab*x= hwhy—Yahweh as the one who “causes the (heavenly) armies to be”, i.e. creates all the heavenly bodies and beings.

Thus, the Hebrew background of both titles emphasizes God (YHWH) as the Creator of all things. We will want to keep this background in mind as we proceed to verses 9ff, and the divine attributes and titles which are given to the risen/exalted Jesus in first vision of the book.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout these notes, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:6-8 (conclusion)

1 John 5:6-8 (concluded)

This discussion continues that of the last several notes in this series, focusing specifically on the relation of the Spirit to the “water” and “blood” in verses 6-8. It is possible to treat all three verses as a single sentence, and this is probably the best way to render them:

“This is the (one) coming through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in water only, but in water and in blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness (of this), (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the Truth, (so) that the (one)s giving witness are three—the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are (together) into one.”

The statement as a whole can be divided into two parts:

    • The one coming—Yeshua the Anointed—in water and blood
    • The one giving witness—the Spirit—(together with) water and blood

In the previous note, I explored the initial statement(s) regarding the Spirit in verse 6b. I also pointed out three aspects which needed to be examined:

    • The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus in the Johannine Gospel and Letters
    • The connection between the Spirit and water, especially as a symbol of birth and life for those who trust in Jesus
    • The connection between the Spirit and the death (i.e. blood) of Jesus

We will touch briefly on each of these in turn.

1. The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus

In the Gospel of John, this can be summarized as follows (for more detail on these passages, see the earlier notes in this series):

(An asterisk marks passages which clearly draw upon early Tradition shared by the Synoptics)

    • 1:32-33*—The Spirit comes down (lit. “steps down”) upon Jesus and remains on/in him (cf. Mark 1:10 par)
    • 1:33b (also v. 26)*—It is said that Jesus will dunk (i.e. baptize) people “in the holy Spirit” (cf. Mark 1:8 par)
    • 3:5-8—Those who trust in Jesus “come to be (born) out of the Spirit” (cf. below)
    • 3:34—It is said that Jesus “gives the Spirit” (i.e. to believers); he does not give it “out of (a) measure”, rather, in a new, complete way, different from how the Spirit was given previously to prophets and chosen ones. Verse 35 indicates that the Spirit is given to Jesus (the Son) by the Father.
    • 4:23-24—The context (verses 7-15ff) suggests that the “living water” Jesus gives is associated with the Spirit
    • 6:63—Jesus states that the Spirit gives life (“makes [a]live”), and, again, that he gives the Spirit to his disciples, etc. The Spirit is identified specifically with the words (“utterances”) Jesus speaks (i.e. his life-giving power as the Living Word).
    • 7:39—The Gospel writer explicitly identifies the Spirit with the “living water” of which Jesus is the source for believers (vv. 37-38). It is stated that the Spirit did not come unto the disciples until after Jesus was given honor (‘glorified’), i.e. by the Father, through his death and resurrection.
    • 14:16-17, 25-26—God the Father will send the Spirit (“Spirit of Truth”) to believers, at Jesus’ request and in his name
    • 15:26-27; 16:7ff—Jesus will send the Spirit (“Holy Spirit”, “Spirit of Truth”) to believers from the Father
    • The Spirit continues Jesus’ work with believers, teaching them, speaking Jesus’ own words and giving witness about him (14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15)
    • 19:30—The description of Jesus’ death likely carries a double-meaning in the context of the Gospel, alluding to his giving the Spirit (“…he gave along the pneu=ma [breath/spirit/Spirit]”)
    • 20:22—After his resurrection, Jesus specifically blows/breathes in(to) the disciples; it is clear that he is giving them the Spirit (“Receive the holy Spirit”)

This Johannine portrait thus entails three primary aspects: (a) Jesus receives the Spirit from the Father (indicated specifically [1] at the Baptism and [2] following the Resurrection); (b) Jesus gives the Spirit to believers (described variously); and (c) the Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. This is generally confirmed by the references in 1 John, though the emphasis is on the Spirit as a witness, testifying and declaring the truth about Jesus to (and through) believers (3:24; 4:1-6, 13; and here in 5:6-8).

2. The connection between the Spirit and Water

For a summary of the Gospel passages, cf. the previous note. The primary emphasis is on the symbol of water as a source of life, with life-giving properties and power. This is expressed by two basic motifs:

  • Drinking—i.e. the quenching of thirst and the preservation/restoration of life to the human body and soul. Especially important is the traditional expression “living water” (* below), which, in the ancient semitic idiom, originally referred to the flowing water of a natural spring or stream (note the play on this idea in 4:6-12), but is used by Jesus in a symbolic sense. Here are the relevant references (those which explicitly mention the Spirit are marked in bold):
    • 2:6-9—the drinking of water/wine (note the possible allusions to 6:51-58 and 19:34)
    • 4:7-15ff—water which Jesus gives that results in (eternal) life (vv. 10-11*, reference to the Spirit in vv. 21-24)
    • 6:53-56—drinking Jesus’ “blood” which he gives (eucharistic allusion, reference to the Spirit in v. 63)
    • 7:37-39—the “living water” (v. 38*) which Jesus gives is identified with the Spirit by the Gospel writer (v. 39)
  • Birth—water is naturally associated with the birth process, and this image is utilized by Jesus in the discourse-dialogue with Nicodemus in chapter 3 (vv. 3-8). Here it is applied specifically to the “birth” of believers, a motif which appears elsewhere in the Gospel (1:13) and frequently in the First Letter (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). In these references the expression is “come to be (born) out of God [e)k {tou=} qeou=]”, while in Jn 3:3-8 we find “…out of the Spirit” and “…from above”; for the most part, these expressions are synonymous. The verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), used in this spiritual/symbolic sense, is always related to believers, with the lone exception, it would seem, of the second occurrence in 1 Jn 5:18, where many commentators feel it refers to Jesus (the Son).
    • If we are to recognize the secondary motif of Baptism, it probably should be understood in terms of this same birth-symbolism, at least in the context of the Gospel and letters of John. Birth imagery is embedded in the early Gospel tradition of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11 par; Jn 1:34 MT), i.e. Jesus as God’s “Son”, and is marked by the presence of the Spirit (1:32-33). Also, insofar as Jesus “baptizes” believers in the Spirit (1:33 par), the author(s) of the Gospel and Letters would likely associate this with the idea of being “born of God” or “born of the Spirit”, though it is not clear the extent to which there is an allusion to Baptism in Jn 3:3-8.
3. The connection between the Spirit and the Death (“Blood”) of Jesus

In the Gospel Tradition, there is little, if any, clear relationship between the Spirit and Jesus’ death. The closest we come is the basic idea, expressed both in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, that the Spirit would come to believers only after Jesus’ resurrection and “ascension” to the Father. There is then an implicit (though indirect) association between Jesus’ death and the coming/sending of the Spirit. The Gospel of John, in particular, blends together the two aspects of death and exaltation, joining them into at least three different images: (1) descent/ascent, (2) “lifting up/high”, and (3) “giving/granting honor” (i.e. “glorify”). All three of these Johannine motifs can refer variously (or at the same time) to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension/return to the Father.

It is also possible that there is a more direct association between the Spirit and Jesus’ death in the Gospel of John. I note three verses:

    • 7:39—The Gospel writer states: “For the Spirit was not yet [i.e. had not yet come], (in) that [i.e. because] Yeshua was not yet glorified”. The verb doca/zw, “regard with honor, give/grant honor”, “glorify” is usually understood in reference to Jesus resurrection (and ascension to the Father), but, in the Gospel of John, it applies equally to Jesus’ death. In other words, the statement could be taken to mean, essentially, that it is Jesus’ sacrificial death which makes it possible for the Spirit to come.
    • 19:30—The description of Jesus’ death generally follows the Gospel tradition in Mark 15:37b; Matt 27:50b; Luke 23:46. However, in light of the important Johannine theme of Jesus giving the Spirit, it is possible (even likely) that there is a dual meaning to the words pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma:
      —”…he gave along the [i.e. his] spirit/breath”
      —”…he gave along the Spirit”
      I might note in passing, that there is a fascinating similarity of wording between Luke 23:46 and John 20:22; though coming via different Gospels, this is another interesting (possible) connection between Jesus’ death and the giving of the Spirit.
    • 19:34—Many commentators have interpreted the “blood and water” which come out of Jesus’ side (and the importance the Gospel writer gives to this detail) as containing at least an allusion to the Spirit. The close connection between water and the Spirit, and of Jesus as the direct source of this “living water”, increases the likelihood that such an allusion may be intended. If so, then it is likely that there is an association between the Spirit and Jesus’ blood as well.

It will help to consider the other references to “blood” (ai!ma) in the Gospel and Letters of John:

    • John 1:13—Here blood is set parallel with flesh (specifically “the will of the flesh”), in the context of human birth. Both “blood” and “flesh” signify (ordinary) human life and birth, which is contrasted with being “born out of God” (= “born out of the Spirit“). For a similar parallel between “flesh” and “blood”, cf. 1 Jn 4:2-3 and here in 5:6-8.
    • John 6:51-58 (vv. 53-56)—Here, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse, Jesus, in eucharistic language and imagery that is similar to Mark 14:23-24 par, speaks of drinking his “blood”. The (believer) who “eats” his body and “drinks” his blood holds “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life); this body/blood is the “bread” which Jesus gives, sacrificially, for the life of the world. While there may be a sacramental allusion (to the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist) in these verses, the overall emphasis of the Bread of Life discourse is spiritual. This is confirmed by what follows (esp. verse 63).
    • 1 John 1:7—The author declares “…the blood of Yeshua cleanses us from all sin”. This echoes the sacrificial character (and power) of Jesus’ death—and, specifically, the blood he shed (Jn 19:34)—expressed in the Gospel tradition of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:24 par). In the context of the letter, it is uniquely tied to the Johannine theme of sin/righteousness in terms of obedience to the two-fold command of trust in Jesus and love for one’s fellow believer (3:23-24, etc). There is no direct reference to the Spirit here, but there is a definite allusion in verse 8, “the Truth…in us”.

If the “water” and “blood” in 5:6ff represent two aspects of Jesus’ human life—his birth/life and death, respectively—then, in light of the examination above, in what sense does this water and blood “give witness” along with the Spirit?

Water—Based on the principal themes and associations outline above, it is possible to identify:

    • Drinking—Elsewhere in the New Testament, believers are said to “drink” of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), just Jesus describes in Jn 4:10-14; 7:37-38. This is experienced symbolically, through the sacraments of baptism and the eucharistic cup (cf. the context of 1 Cor 10-12), but not only in this limited way. Rather, through the Spirit, we experience the very presence of Jesus, including his human life which he sacrificed for us. It is a spiritual presence, which Paul likewise associates with the motif of drinking in 1 Cor 10:4.
    • Birth—As a result of trust in Jesus, believers experience a new birth (Jn 3:3-8ff). We come to be born “out of [i.e. from] God” (“from above” vv. 3, 7); this birth is spiritual, taking place through the power and presence of the Spirit, as indicated by the parallel expression “out of the Spirit” (vv. 5-6, 8). Just as ordinary human birth takes place “out of water” or “in/through water”, so this new birth for believers occurs through the “living water” of the Spirit. Certain Baptismal language and imagery preserves this same “new birth” motif.

Blood—This symbolic aspect of Jesus’ death has three important associations:

    • The coming/giving of the Spirit takes place through, and as a result of, Jesus’ sacrificial death (cf. Jn 7:39; 19:30, 34, and the discussion above)
    • Believers “drink” Jesus’ blood in a symbolic and spiritual sense (his life-giving presence), expressed in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
    • According to the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ death, his “blood” cleanses believers of sin (1 Jn 1:7). Similarly, the Spirit (as “water”) cleanses us, as indicating by the baptism and washing imagery in John 1:26ff and 13:5-11. There is also a cleansing aspect associated with the Spirit as the Living Word of God and Christ (cf. 15:3).

If I may summarize. The life-giving power and presence of Jesus is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. This divine and eternal (spiritual) Life which Jesus gives includes his human life which he sacrificed on our behalf, transformed through his resurrection and exaltation (glorification). It is specifically the real human life of Jesus (his birth, life, and death) which the author of 1 John is emphasizing, against the apparent “docetic” view of Jesus held by the separatists (“antichrists”). The Spirit bears witness to us of the human life Jesus sacrificed in order to give us Life, and along with this, the very essence (“water” and “blood”) of this life testifies to us. Through the Spirit, we experience this testimony, not only through symbolic rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but at all times, and in all aspects of our life in Christ.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

In the previous note I examined the context of 1 John 5:6 and began exploring the statements made in the verse itself. I noted the parallel with 4:2-3, especially the two expressions “in the flesh” and “in/through water and blood” which I regard as being closely related in thought. If the expression “come in the flesh [e)n sarki/]” refers to Jesus being born and appearing on earth as a true human being, then it stands to reason that “in/through water and blood” in 5:6 follows this same basic meaning. There appears to be little apparent difference here in the use of the prepositions dia/ (“through water and blood”) and e)n (“in water and…blood”), though it is possible that distinct aspects of Jesus birth/life as a human being are implied. We see the same interchangeability of the prepositions in Hebrews 9:12, 25 and Rom 6:4 / Col 2:12 (Brown, p. 574).

Before proceeding, I should point out that many Greek manuscripts and versions have a different reading of the first phrase in verse 6 (“the one coming through water and blood”), variously adding “and (the) Spirit” (or “and the holy Spirit”), to form a triad. That this reading is secondary, and not original, is strongly indicated by the fact that the reference to the Spirit appears at different points in the phrase; the most widespread of these variant readings is: “through water and blood and (the) Spirit” (a A 104 424c 614 1739c, etc). It may simply reflect the influence of what follows in vv. 6b-8. However, if early Christians understood the verse as referring to Jesus’ birth (cf. below), then the addition of “and (the) Spirit” in 6a could have theological significance (i.e. to safeguard the idea of the virginal conception, and the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ conception); on this, cf. Ehrman, pp. 60-1.

What exactly does the author mean when stating that Jesus came “through (or in) water and blood”? There would seem to be three main possibilities recognized by commentators:

    1. It refers to the birth and death of Jesus, respectively—fundamentally, to his (incarnate) human life on earth
    2. Similar to #1, it refers to the baptism and death of Jesus—to his mission on earth
    3. It refers specifically to Jesus’ death, following Jn 19:34
    4. In relation to #2, the reference is primarily sacramental—to baptism (water) and the eucharist (esp. the cup [blood])

In my view, the last of these can be eliminated. There is little indication anywhere else in the letter that either sacrament (Baptism or the Lord’s Supper) is in view. While it is possible that “water” and “blood” could be shorthand keywords for Baptism and the Eucharist, it seems quite out of place here in the letter, where the emphasis is clearly on the person and identity of Jesus. Otherwise, I can find no other definite Johannine references to (Christian) baptism, despite the emphasis on baptism in the early Gospel traditions recorded in Jn 1:19-34 and 3:22-23ff; there are eucharistic allusions in chapter 6 of the Gospel (esp. vv. 51-58), but the Lord’s Supper (i.e. as a ritual or sacrament introduced by Jesus) is completely absent from the Last Supper scene in John.

The choice, then, is between interpretations #1-3 above. There can be little doubt that “blood” refers to the sacrificial death of Jesus. The statement in 1:7 (“the blood of Yeshua…cleanses us from all sin”) reflects the idea of Jesus’ death (the shedding/pouring of blood) as a sacrificial offering, already found in the Gospel tradition of Mark 14:24 par (recording Jesus’ own words); there are, indeed, two aspects to this sacrificial motif:

    • The blood shed and poured on the altar (and upon the people) at the establishment of God’s covenant with Israel (cf. Exod 24:3-8)
    • The blood of the sin offering poured/sprinkled on the altar (Lev 4:1-5:13, etc)

While the Gospel of John does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper (and the symbolic drinking of Jesus’ “blood”), the language in 6:51-58 is quite similar (esp. vv. 51b, 53). It is only in the Fourth Gospel that the shedding of Jesus’ blood is actually narrated and described (19:34, cf. below).

More difficult is determining exactly what is signified by “water”. There are seven other significant Johannine passages, in the Gospel and Letters, involving water (all from the Gospel):

    • The traditions related to John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus (1:26-34, cf. also 3:22ff)
    • The miracle of turning water into wine (2:6-9ff)
    • The discourse/dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5-8)
    • The “living water” dialogue with the Samaritan woman (4:7-15)
    • The “living water” declaration by Jesus (7:37-38f)
    • The washing of the disciples’ feet during the Last Supper scene (13:5ff)
    • The “blood and water” which came out of Jesus’ side after his death (19:34)

Commentators have sought to associate these passages variously with Baptism (cf. above), but the only instance where such an association can plausibly be made is in 3:3-8, and yet I am not at all convinced that (Christian) baptism is being referred to by Jesus in that passage (except, possibly, in a secondary sense). As far as water being related to the baptism of Jesus, it is noteworthy that the Gospel of John appears to downplay this episode; it is not even narrated directly, but only indirectly, through the testimony of the Baptist. The traditional detail from the Baptism scene which the author emphasizes is two-fold:

    • The presence of the Spirit (1:32-33), and
    • The identification of Jesus as the Son and Chosen (i.e. Anointed) One of God (1:34)

It thus seems unlikely to me that the author of the letter is specifically referring to Jesus’ baptism in 5:6-8. This leaves options #1 and 3 above. In analyzing each of these, it is important to consider the significance of water in the Gospel. I find three distinct themes or aspects:

    • A figure and symbol of the Spirit
    • Symbolic of the new/eternal Life which Jesus gives
    • Association with the sacrificial death of Jesus

The evidence cited above appears to be divided rather equally between these, with the first two being particularly emphasized. I would divide the passages into two primary themes:

    1. Life through the Spirit—1:26 (cf. 32-33); 3:3-8 (birth motif); 4:7-15ff; 7:37-39
    2. Association with Jesus’ death (i.e. blood)—2:6-9ff (cp. 6:51-58); 13:5ff; 19:34

Now, in Johannine thought, Life and the Spirit are closely associated with the idea of birth—especially the motif of believers coming to be born (i.e. a new, spiritual birth). This is expressed most clearly in John 3:3-8, where water and the Spirit are tied together in a manner similar to water and blood in 1 Jn 5:6-8; note the parallelism of logic:

    • born out of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5)—i.e. not out of water alone, but also of the Spirit (cp. the same contrast in 1:26)
    • come in/through water and blood—not only water, but also blood (1 Jn 5:6)

It is important to understand the contrast Jesus establishes in Jn 3:5ff; as verse 6 makes clear, there is a parallel between water and flesh, indicating that the idea of human birth is in view:

    • water = “flesh”—ordinary, physical human birth and life
    • water and Spirit—the new spiritual life (“from above”) given to a human being through trust in Jesus

Based on this thematic logic, I believe that the birth (and human life) of Jesus is primarily in view in 1 John 5:6:

    • coming through/in water = Jesus’ birth and (incarnate) life
    • coming through/in blood = Jesus’ sacrificial death

These reflect the beginning and end points of Jesus’ earthly life and mission, and, significantly, “water and blood” are featured in the two episodes which open and close Jesus’ ministry on earth:

    • The miracle at Cana (2:1-11)—water and wine (= “blood”)
    • The death of Jesus (19:34)—blood and water

Both elements (water and blood) reflect Jesus’ human life which he sacrificed (poured out) for us. The issue for the author of 1 John is that there were would-be believers (“antichrists”, who have separated from the Johannine congregations) who did not correctly believe (and confess) that Jesus “came in the flesh”—that he was born and lived on earth as a true human being (i.e., an early “docetic” view of Christ). Now, if Jesus did not exist as a true flesh-and-blood human being, then neither did he shed real (human) blood on behalf of humankind. For later Christian authors and theologians in the second and third centuries, this was the most serious consequence of a docetic Christology—if Jesus was not a real human being like us, then he could not have truly suffered and died on our behalf, and this effectively nullifies the salvific meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death. In combating the docetic views of “Gnostics” and others at the time, proto-orthodox theologians such as Ignatius, Irenaeus and Tertullian were absolutely clear on this point. The same point, it would seem, was recognized already by the author of First John. Consider the logic:

    • Jesus came “in the flesh“—i.e. incarnation, existence as a real human being
      • = came “in/through water“—a real earthly life on earth, including the period of his ministry (the beginning of which is marked by water-motifs in 1:26-34; 2:1-11)
      • not only a real earthly life (in/through water), but Jesus also
        • came “in/through blood“—a real (human) death and shedding of blood, which has saving power for humankind

Johannine theology is unique in the way that these essential Christological motifs are tied so closely to the presence of the Spirit. The association between the Spirit and water is clear enough from the passages we have studied (and are cited above); however, the precise relationship between the Spirit and blood is not as readily apparent. And yet, the statements in vv. 6b-8 bring all three elements, or aspects, together into a triad. This is the subject which we will be discussing in the next note.

References above marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982). Those marked “Ehrman” are to B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993).

“…Spirit and Life”: John 19:30, 34; 20:22

John 19:30, 34; 20:22

This note looks at three verses in the closing chapters of the Gospel of John (the Passion and Resurrection narratives) which refer, or may allude, to the Spirit. This note is also preparatory for the study of the relevant passages in this series from the Johannine Letters, which will begin with the next study.

John 19:30

This verse records the last words of Jesus, at the moment of his death, one of the traditional “Seven Words” from the Cross. It reads:

“Then, when he (had) taken the sharp [i.e. sour] (wine), Yeshua said ‘It has been completed’, and, bending the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

The description of Jesus’ actual death is similar to that in the Synoptic Gospels, and certainly reflects the wider Gospel Tradition. Compare:

    • Mark 15:37: “And Yeshua, releasing [a)fei\$] a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired]”
    • Matt 27:50: “And Yeshua, crying (out) again with a great voice, released the spirit/breath [a)fh=ken to\ pneu=ma].”
    • Luke 23:46: “And, giving voice [i.e. crying out] with a great voice, Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit [to\ pneu=ma/ mou]’. And, saying this, he breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired].”

It is clear that all three verses derive from a common (Synoptic) tradition; the versions in Mark and Matthew certainly are simple variants of a shared tradition. Luke’s version, however, has interesting points of similarity with John’s account:

    • Both record actual words of Jesus, marking the conclusion of his earthly life and ministry (compared with the wordless “great cry” in the Synoptic tradition)
    • They use a similar expression:
      Luke (Jesus speaking): “I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit
      John (Gospel writer): “He gave along [pare/dwken] the spirit
    • Most surprising of all is the close similarity between the Gospel writer’s words at the end of Lk 23:46 and that in John 20:22:
      Luke: “And, saying this, he breathed out” (tou=to de\ ei)pw\n e)ce/pneusen)
      John: “And, saying this, he blew/breathed in” (kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e)nefu/shsen)

This last similarity increases the likelihood that more than a simple description of Jesus’ death is intended in John 19:30. While, on the basic level of the historical narrative, the expression “he gave along the spirit” could merely mean “he died”, much like the archaic English expression “he gave up the ghost”, or, more commonly in modern idiom, “he expired (i.e. breathed out)” ,”he breathed his last”. Yet, the frequent wordplay in the Gospel of John, along with the important emphasis on the Spirit, makes it likely indeed that there is a double meaning here. Almost certainly there is an allusion to Jesus’ giving the Spirit (cf. 3:34; 15:26; 16:7, etc) to believers. Thus, while it is not the primary meaning, we could also translate (in a secondary sense) as:

“…and, bending the head, he gave along the Spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

John 19:34

The Gospel of John records a famous detail following the death of Jesus. It is tied to the tradition in vv. 31-37, in which the soldiers are directed to break the legs of the crucified victims in order to hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, we read:

“but coming upon Yeshua, as they saw (that) he had already died, they did not break down his legs, but (instead) one of the soldiers nudged in(to) his side with the spear-point, and straightaway water and blood came out [e)ch=lqenai!ma kai\ u%dwr].” (vv. 33-34)

This information, especially the detail in v. 34, is unique to John’s Gospel, though it may still have derived from the wider Gospel Tradition. The fact that a narrative statement akin to v. 34 is found following Matt 27:49 in a number of manuscripts makes this a definite possibility. Yet only the writer of the Fourth Gospel has included it as a significant element of the Passion narrative.

At the historical level, many attempts have been made to give a physiological explanation for the “water and blood” which came out of Jesus’ side. While such speculation is interesting, it is far removed from the Gospel writer’s interest. In the context of the narrative, the main point would seem to be a confirmation that Jesus had experienced a real (human) death. Yet, for the author, both the detail regarding the breaking of Jesus’ legs (spec. that they were not broken), and the pricking/piercing of his side, were also regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 36-37). The citing of the Scriptures (Psalm 34:20 [cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Num 9:12] and Zech 12:10) follows verse 35, in which the author explicitly states the importance of these details:

“And the one having seen (this) clearly has given witness, and his witness is true, and that (one) has seen [i.e. known] that he relates (it) true(ly), (so) that you also might trust.”

While the recognition of the fulfillment of Scripture certainly could lead one to trust in Jesus, there seems to be special importance given to the detail of the “water and blood” coming out—it is this, primarily, which the trustworthy witness has seen and reported. How would this particular detail lead to trust in Jesus? Many commentators feel that there is a deeper theological meaning to the image of water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side.

Certainly, the idea of blood shed (“poured out”) at Jesus’ death was given sacrificial and soteriological significance in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 14:24 par; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16, etc). While there is nothing comparable to Jesus’ words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel of John, there is strong eucharistic language and imagery in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 (esp. verses 51-58); indeed, vv. 53-56 provide the only other reference to Jesus’ blood (and the only other use of the word ai!ma, apart from 1:13) in the Gospel.

As there is nothing unusual about blood coming out from the pierced side, it is likely that the appearance of water, along with the blood, is what makes the event particularly noteworthy. And, if we consider how water—the word (u%dwr) and the image—is used within the discourses of Jesus, we note its close association with the Spirit:

    • John 3:5: “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit…”
    • John 4:10ff: “living water…the water that I will give [v. 14]…in the Spirit and the Truth [vv. 23-24]”
    • John 7:37ff: “come to me and drink…rivers of living water…(He said this about the Spirit)”

The last two passages refer specifically to water which Jesus gives (i.e. to believers), and, elsewhere, that which Jesus so gives is identified with the Spirit (3:34; 6:63; cf. also 15:26; 16:7). There may be an even closer connection between 7:38 and 19:34, if “his belly” refers to Jesus rather than the believer—i.e. it is out of Jesus’ belly/stomach that rivers of living water flow to the believer. Many commentators would interpret 7:38 this way and hold that the Gospel writer has this in mind in 19:34.

It is possible that an association between water and blood may also be found in the Cana miracle scene in 2:1-11 (i.e. wine as symbolic of blood). If so, then there is a parallel between episodes at the very beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; interestingly, Jesus’ mother Mary appears in both episodes (2:1-5; 19:25-27).

That water, blood, and the Spirit are closely connected in the thought of the Gospel writer would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 5:6-8ff. While the Letter may (or may not) have been written by the same author as the Gospel, at the very least the two works draw upon the same language, imagery and theology. This passage will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

John 20:22

Finally, toward the close of the Gospel, we find the actual moment when Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples:

“and, (hav)ing said this, he blew/breathed in(to them) and says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

For Christians accustomed to thinking of the coming/sending of the Spirit in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff), it can be difficult to know what to make of the description in John 20:22. Is this a ‘preliminary’ or ‘partial’ giving of the Spirit, prior to the day of Pentecost? Or perhaps it is a special gifting for Jesus’ closest followers (the Twelve), compared with the wider audience of Acts 1-2? I have discussed these critical and interpretive questions in my earlier four-part article “The Sending of the Spirit”. We must avoid the temptation of comparing John with Luke-Acts, and attempting to judge or harmonize on that basis. If we look simply at the Gospel of John, and how the Gospel writer understood things, and what he intended to convey, the following points become clear:

    • There is nothing in the Gospel to suggest that 20:22 is anything other than the fulfillment of what Jesus described and promised in 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15, and what the author himself refers to in 7:39. Indeed, there is no suggestion of a ‘second’ giving/sending of the Spirit. Not even in the “appendix” of chapter 21 (which might otherwise correspond to Acts 1:3) is there any indication that an event like Acts 2:1-4 is to be expected.
    • Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 suggests that, for the Gospel writer, Jesus “ascends” to the Father prior (logically and/or chronologically) to his appearance to the disciples in vv. 19-23, thus fulfilling his statements in the Last Discourse.
    • This giving of the Spirit in 20:22 is described in terms which almost certainly allude to the Creation narrative—God breathing/blowing life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). As such, there would seem to be a definite connection to the “new birth” which believers experience (3:5-8)—”born from above” and “born out of the Spirit”.
    • The giving of the Spirit is connected with two aspects of Jesus’ “commission” for the disciples (and, by extension, to all believers):
      (1) He is sending them out (i.e. into the world) just as the Father sent him—i.e. the are literally “apostles” (ones sent forth), and function as Jesus’ representatives (in his place). This explains the role and importance of the Spirit, who effectively takes Jesus’ place in and among believers.
      (2) He grants to them the power/authority to “hold” and “release” sins. Again, it would seem that this is a result of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit (cf. 16:8-11, etc).
    • There is nothing to suggest that 20:21-23 applies only to the original disciples (apostles), and not to all believers. The language used throughout the Gospel, including the Last Discourse (addressed specifically Jesus’ closest followers), whom seem to confirm this—Jesus is effectively addressing all believers.

August 20: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:21]

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

“…but we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) put to the stake—for the Yehudeans {Jews}, something (which) trips (them up), and for the nations [v.l. Greeks] (some)thing stupid; but for the ones called (by God), Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks (both), (it is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God…”

In verse 22, Paul has expanded upon the declaration of v. 21 (cf. the prior note) by introducing the distinction, frequent in his letters, between Jews and Greeks (or the “nations”, i.e. non-Jews, Gentiles):

“the Yehudeans {Jews} ask (for) a sign, and the Greeks seek (after) wisdom…”

We can see how this parallel plays out in verses 23-24:

    • Israelites/Jews
      • ask for a sign [shmei=on]
        • the proclamation of the cross is
          • something which trips (them) up [ska/ndalon]
    • Greeks/Nations
      • seek after wisdom
        • the proclamation of the cross is
          • something stupid/foolish [mwri/a]

Here the “sign” (shmei=on) for Jews probably should be understood in relation to their Messianic expectations. As in much eschatological thinking, the coming of the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and the end-time Judgment by God would be marked by various signs, from the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies to various natural phenomena, as well as the appearance of certain figures in history (coinciding with specific historical events). For the use of shmei=on in this context in the New Testament, cf. Mark 13:4, 22 (par Matt 24:3, 24, 30; Lk 21:7, 11, 25); John 6:14; Rev 12:1, 3. On several occasions in the Gospels, people ask Jesus for a sign to demonstrate that he is one chosen by God (as a Prophet, etc), probably also in a specific Messianic sense—Mark 8:11-12 par; Lk 11:16, 29-30 par; 23:8; John 2:18; 6:30 [cf. verse 14]; 12:18 (for more on this subject, cf. my series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Often by shmei=on is meant specifically a miraculous or supernatural event. In this regard, it is interesting that Paul himself refers to a demonstration of (God’s) power as ‘proof’ of the Spirit working/speaking through him (1 Cor 1:24; 4:19-20; 2 Cor 13:3-4).

The “sign”—that Jesus, a crucified man, is actually the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ)—turns out to be a ska/ndalon for Jews, something that “trips them up” (in a figurative sense). That Jews found the identification of Jesus as the Messiah highly problematic is clear enough from the many references in the book of Acts where the apostles and other early missionaries take pains to proclaim and demonstrate this fact (from the Scriptures)—cf. Acts 2:36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:23, and also earlier in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 24:26-27, 44-47). In Paul’s line of argument, this Jewish dynamic (sign vs. ‘stumbling-block’) is parallel to the (main) contrast between wisdom (sofi/a) and “stupidity” (mwri/a). For non-Jews (Greeks/Gentiles), unfamiliar with the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the veneration of a man put to death by crucifixion was simply absurd. Such a death, nailed to the stake (cross), was an agonizing and humiliating punishment, reserved for slaves and the lower classes, as well as for rebels and traitors against the state, and was often inflicted to make a particularly public example of such criminals. Paul, of course, was fully aware of the shameful stigma attached to crucifixion and makes powerful use of the fact, for example, in Galatians 3:10-14.

In verse 24, Paul neatly ties together both strands of his comparison:

“but for the (one)s called (by God), Jews and Greeks (both)…”

This summarizes one his most cherished theological points: that for believers in Christ, the ethnic/religious distinction of Jew vs. non-Jew has been completely eliminated. The doctrine is at the core of his letters to the Galatians and the Romans, especially; though the formula expressed in Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 12:13, and Col 2:12 (with its baptismal context) may have existed earlier. Perhaps the clearest Pauline statement to this effect is found in Ephesians 2:11-22. The second half of v. 24 also expresses a kind of union:

“…the Anointed {Christ} (is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God”

There are two ways to consider this joining of expressions:

1. “power of God” (du/nami$ tou= qeou=) relates to the Jewish strand, while “wisdom of God” (sofi/a tou= qeou=) relates to the Greek strand. The latter point seems clear enough. And, if we understand the “sign” in v. 23 in terms of a supernatural manifestation of God in the person of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), according to Jewish expectation, then the identification fits here as well. From a Christian standpoint the “power of God” is manifest primarily in two respects:

    • In the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, which, in turn, relates to his death (crucifixion) in two ways:
      (a) It defeats/overcomes the power of death, preserving the life of Jesus
      (b) It makes right again (justifies/vindicates) the injustice of Jesus’ suffering and death
    • In the power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) to effect salvation for those who trust in him. This relates to Paul’s idea of believers being “in Christ” (and Christ in the believer), with the symbolic/spiritual participation of the believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

2. The “power of God” and “wisdom of God” are two aspects of the Gospel message which are summed up in the person of Christ. In Romans 1:16, the Gospel (“good message”, eu)agge/lion) is called “the power of God unto salvation [du/nami$ qeou= ei)$ swthri/on]”. The essential identification of the Gospel with the wisdom of God has already been made here in 1 Corinthians, and continues as a central theme of 1:18-2:16. The terms power (du/nami$) and wisdom (sofi/a) are both associated with the Gospel in various ways in this passage.

The force of the declaration in verse 24b should not be missed—it is not the Gospel (or account/proclamation) per se which is the power and wisdom for believers, but Christ himself. This helps to explain Paul’s statement in v. 17, that to rely upon human wisdom in the communication of the Gospel (i.e. how the message is delivered) effectively risks “emptying” the content (and power) of the message—it shifts attention away from the central point of the message: the person of Jesus, who he is, and what God has done for humankind through him. And it is Jesus’ death (by crucifixion) which is the most difficult and challenging part of this message. It may be somewhat hard for us to recognize this last point today, so far removed from the historical and cultural context of crucifixion, and so familiar with the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross; but in Paul’s day, so close in time to the events, and influenced by the vital Messianic and eschatological expectations of the period, it has a very special significance. A Messiah who would be put to death (especially a death by crucifixion) was totally foreign to Jewish thought, as is clear enough from the evidence in the Gospels (and the book of Acts) and contemporary Jewish writings (I have discussed this in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”, cf. the supplemental article on the suffering and death of the Messiah). This meant that, for Christians, Jesus was (and had to be) understood as a very different kind of Savior/Redeemer figure: one who delivered people from bondage (to sin and evil) at a spiritual level, through his sacrificial and atoning death on the cross.

August 19: 1 Corinthians 1:21

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note looked at 1:18, the first statement in the section]

1 Corinthians 1:21

“For thereupon, (since) in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through the wisdom, God considered (it) good, through the ‘stupidity’ of the proclamation, to save the (one)s trusting.”

The basic contrast set in verse 18 (cf. the previous note), and strengthened by the citation of Isa 29:14 in verse 19, culminates in the rhetorical challenge in verse 20:

“…has not God made dull/stupid [e)mw/ranen] the wisdom of the world?”

The verb mwrai/nw is related to the noun mwri/a, and continues the contrast between “wisdom” (swfi/a) and “dullness, stupidity” (mwri/a).

The use of the compound particle e)peidh/ which opens verse 21 is meant to give emphasis to a particular statement or conclusion; in English, we would say something like “now then, since…”. The first half of the verse uses a delightful bit of (elliptical) wordplay which is easily lost in translation:

    • “in the wisdom of God [e)n th=| sofi/a| tou= qeou=]”
      —”the world did not know”
    • “through the wisdom, God [dia\ th=$ sofi/a$ to\n qeo/n]”

The central phrase is important—”the world did not know”, emphasizing ignorance and lack of (true) knowledge. An interesting question involves whether, or to what extent, this refers to the world’s unwillingness to know, as opposed to a natural blindness/ignorance placed on it (by God). I would suggest that both aspects are indicated by the parallel phrases which bracket the statement:

“in the wisdom of God” (e)n th=| sofi/a| tou= qeou=)
“God through the wisdom” (dia\ th=$ sofi/a$ to\n qeo/n)

However, much depends on the exact force of the second use of “the wisdom”; in context, it can be read two ways:

    • “they did not know God through th(is) wisdom [i.e. through the wisdom of God]”, or
    • “they did not know God through the(ir) wisdom [i.e. through their own human wisdom]”

Both make sense, but I feel that the first option better fits the contrast with the second half of the verse (though perhaps only slightly so). Let us examine the basic outline of the sentence:

    • in the wisdom of God
      • the world did not know God
        • through th(is) wisdom
    • God considered it good
      • to save the ones trusting
        • through the stupidity (of the proclamation)

This does not represent the syntax of the Greek so much as the logic of the statement. According to the first interpretation (above), the world was unable (and/or unwilling) to know God by way of God’s own wisdom. It is possible that this assumes or alludes to the Jewish tradition of Wisdom (that is, God’s wisdom personified) looking to find a dwelling place among human beings on earth, and finding no welcome (1 Enoch 42:2; cf. also Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8-12, and the likely influence on John 1:10-12). Jewish (and early Christian) Wisdom traditions would have affirmed a basic sense of what we call “natural revelation”—i.e., the manifestation of God’s nature and character through the works of creation, etc. Paul, in his own way, draws upon such thinking in Romans 1:18-23 (cf. also the speech in Acts 17:22-31 [esp. verses 26-28]). The second interpretation (above) yields a somewhat different emphasis:

    • in the wisdom of God
      • the world did not know God
        • through the wisdom (of the world), i.e. their own wisdom

This is more amenable to modern ways of thinking, and, certainly Paul makes reference to the world’s unwillingness/refusal to recognize God (esp. in Rom 1:18-23ff); however, the emphasis on human responsibility, if you will, is perhaps a bit out of place here. When Paul speaks of human ignorance (being “without knowledge”) prior to the introduction of the Gospel, it tends to be in the context of what God Himself specifically has established or has allowed—cf. Acts 14:16f; 17:30; Rom 14:16. In 1 Cor 2:8, the death of Christ is attributed to human ignorance, due to the fact that God has hidden his wisdom away from them; this will but touched on in a subsequent note (cf. also Acts 3:17). The emphasis of God’s action and purpose is perhaps expressed most forcefully in Galatians 3:22, which has a structure similar to 1 Cor 1:21:

    • he (God, through the Scripture, i.e. the Law)
      • closed all things together under sin
    • so he might give the promise (“it might be given”)
      • to the ones trusting
        • through [lit. out of] trust in Jesus Christ

The phrase “he closed all things together under sin” is parallel to “the world did not know”; similarly, “trust in Jesus Christ” is parallel with “the proclamation”. However one interprets 1 Cor 1:21, priority must be given to the will and purpose of God governing these things (“in the wisdom of God” / “God considered [it] good”). Let me summarize the two main interpretations presented above:

    1. The world did not know God through the wisdom of God, so:
      He chose to save the ones trusting (in Him) through something “stupid/foolish”
      —This expresses a kind of (divine) irony
    2. The world did/could not know God through its own wisdom, so:
      He decided to save the ones trusting through something the world itself considers “stupid/foolish”
      —An example of the popular “reversal of fortune” theme, and likewise ironic in its own way

In some ways, the most striking part of this verse is Paul’s expression “the stupidity of the proclamation”—that is, the proclamation of the Gospel. In what way is this proclamation “stupid”?—in that it has at its core the message of man put to death through the disgraceful punishment of crucifixion. This is made clear by Paul in vv. 23ff, which I will be discussing in the next daily note.

August 18: 1 Corinthians 1:18

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note examined 1:17, the concluding statement of the narratio, which leads into the first main section of the letter]

1 Corinthians 1:18

“For the account of the stake [i.e. cross] is (mere) stupidity to the (one)s being lost/destroyed; but to us the (one)s being saved, it is the power of God.”

This declaration by Paul begins the section 1:18-2:16, the first section of the probatio—the main body of the letter, which presents arguments and illustrations in support of the central proposition (in 1:10ff). It builds immediately off of the closing words in verse 17 (cf. the previous note):

“…the Anointed (One) set me forth…to give the good message, (and) not in (the) wisdom of (the) account, (so) that the stake [i.e. cross] of (the) Anointed (One) should not be emptied.”

The Gospel (“the good message”) is identifying as “the account of the stake” (o( lo/go$ [o(] tou= staurou=)—that is, a declaration or proclamation of the death of Jesus on the cross. We typically translate stauro/$ as “cross”, but it really means a stake or post set in the ground, such as that upon which a prisoner or executed man might be hung or impaled. It graphically signifies the punishment of crucifixion. In verse 17, Paul is stating that the significance is in the message itself, not in the way it is delivered or presented. The preacher ought to declare the fact of Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection), and what it means for humankind, without relying upon the style and technique of the oration, or clever/persuasive reasoning, etc. This Paul refers to by the expression “(the) wisdom of the account”—i.e. the intelligence and cleverness, etc, with which the message is proclaimed. The word lo/go$ (“account”) often means specifically the Gospel message (“the account/word of God”), but can also mean more generally the use of speech itself (“word[s]”)—Paul is playing on both of these meanings in vv. 17-18. According to the statement in v. 17, to rely on “wisdom” (that is, human wisdom) in proclaiming the Gospel risks emptying it of its true significance. One must admit that there is a bit of (rhetorical) exaggeration at work here, since, as any reading of the letters (and the speeches, etc., in the book of Acts) makes clear, Paul was himself a gifted speaker in many respects, and was more than willing to make use of “wisdom” to persuade men and women of the truth of the Gospel. However, the stark contrast has a definite purpose—to focus our attention on the content of the message, to the death (and resurrection) of Christ.

In verse 18, a different kind of contrast is established, with regard to the purpose and effect of the Gospel message (“the account of the cross/stake”), involving two distinct groups or classes of persons:

    • “the ones being lost/destroyed” (oi( a)pollume/noi)
    • “the ones being saved” (oi( swzome/noi)

Each group is identified by a verbal participle:

(1) The verb a)po/llumi (compound of o&llumi + the preposition a)po/ [“from”]) fundamentally means suffering loss from (someone/something). In the intransitive (middle) form, it often has the sense of “perish, be ruined, destroyed”. A strict rendering of the middle voice would indicate “lose/ruin oneself, lose one’s (own life)”, etc, implying that the loss is the fault or responsibility of the one who suffers it.

(2) The form here is a passive participle of sw/zw (“[to] save”)—i.e. “being saved”. Clearly the passive form here is an example of the passivum divinum (“divine passive”), used frequently in the Scriptures, in which God is assumed to be the one who acts. Both participles are present forms, indicating something which occurs generally or is going on at the present.

The message of the death of Christ has a different effect on each group:

    • the ones being lost/destroyed—”it is stupidity [mwri/a]”
    • the ones being saved—”it is (the) power of God [du/nami$ qeou=]”

Conventional Christian thinking associates being saved or lost with the person’s response to the Gospel; however, here Paul sets a different priority—the one (already) being saved/lost responds differently to the Gospel message. Salvation or destruction is realized and confirmed by how a person is affected by the message; the two responses may be compared:

(1) mwri/a—the word fundamentally means “dull(ness)”, which is typically applied to a human being in the sense of being “dim(-witted)”, often in the pejorative sense of “stupid, silly, foolish”, etc. The five occurrences in the the New Testament all come from 1 Cor 1:18-4:21, and are used in tandem (by way of contrast) with sofi/a (“wisdom”).

(2) du/nami$ qeou=—the word du/nami$ (“power”) also appears frequently (7 times) in 1:18-4:21, providing a different kind of contrast with “wisdom [sofi/a]” (that is, human wisdom). It is also a word that may be implied already in verse 17, in Paul’s statement that relying on “(human) wisdom” risks emptying the Gospel message (“the cross/stake of Christ”)—i.e. emptying it of its power. I prefer to understand the verb keno/w in the more ‘literal’ sense of emptying the message of its content; however, in Paul’s mind, the two aspects are probably connected rather closely. Certainly, he writes elsewhere (Rom 1:16) of the Gospel as being “the power of God”, which normally connotes the ability of God to effect a miraculous transformation of (human) nature. In 1 Cor 1:24 (to be discussed), the power of God is identified with the person of Christ himself.

The dualism established in 1:18 provides the basic framework for the line of argument running through this section. It is hard to say how far this was influenced by Isaiah 29:14, which Paul cites in v. 19:

“For it has been written:
‘I will destroy/ruin the wisdom of the wise (one)s,
and the understanding of the understanding (one)s I will unset [i.e. set aside]'”

The quotation follows the LXX—particularly in its substitution of the 1st person for the 3rd (“the wisdom of the wise will perish…”)—but with, it would seem, a free gloss or adaptation in the second half using the verb a)qete/w (“unset, set aside”) in place of kru/ptw (“hide” = Hebrew rt^s*). At any rate, the use of Isa 29:14 is fitting and confirms two basic points in Paul’s argument:

    1. The salvation and destruction are ultimately the result of God’s own will and action, and
    2. It is particularly human wisdom and knowledge which are destroyed or “set aside” in the proclamation of the Gospel

These are important to keep in mind as one reads the verses which follow, especially as Paul begins to play with the various aspects of the word “wisdom” (sofi/a)—alternating between divine and human wisdom—in verse 21, which is the subject of the next daily note.