October 19: John 15:3

John 15:3

“Already you are clean [kaqaroi/], through the word that I have spoken to you.”

This is the final statement of the initial illustration (vv. 1-3), but it is also transitional, as Jesus begins his exposition (and application) of the illustration for his disciples. Before we proceed with a detailed exegesis of verse 3, let us examine a bit further the relationship of the verse to the prior v. 2, in its development of the thematic motif of cleansing. Verse 2 used the verb kaqai/rw (“[make] clean”), while here we have the related adjective kaqaro/$ (“clean, clear, pure”). There are three other occurrences of this adjective in the Johannine writings—all in Jn 13:10-11, in the foot-washing episode of the Last Supper scene, which establishes the narrative setting for the Last Discourse.

These occurrences were discussed briefly in the previous note; let us now examine them in more detail:

    • “If I should not wash you, (then) you have no part with me.” (v. 8b)
    • “The (one) having bathed has no business washing, if not (only) his feet; but (his) whole (body) is clean [kaqaro/$]” (v. 10a)
    • “and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)” (v. 10b) /
      “not all (of you) are clean [kaqaroi/]” (v. 11b)

The important symbolism of this episode is conveyed in a subtle fashion, with the true meaning only hinted at. The weight of the symbolism is indicated by Jesus’ warning to Peter in verse 8:

“If I should not wash [ni/yw] you, (then) you have no part [me/ro$] with me.”

It is necessary for Peter to be washed (vb ni/ptw) by Jesus; this is certainly true for all of the disciples, but Peter is particularly singled out in the narrative. There are various reasons for this, including, I believe, an important contrastive parallel between Peter’s (temporary) denial of Jesus and the (complete) defection by Judas. Note, in particular, how this is developed throughout chapter 13 (up to verse 30, following the departure of Judas), and compare the similar contrast in 6:66-71.

Many commentators see in the washing motif of this episode a primary reference to baptism. I find this line of interpretation to be quite off the mark; at best, there is only a loose secondary allusion to baptism. The principal significance of the washing theme/motif is two-fold: (1) the cleansing of the disciple/believer (from sin), and (2) participation in the sacrificial death of Jesus. In order to have a part or share (me/ro$) with Jesus, these two aspects, as symbolized by the foot-washing, must be applied (by Jesus) to the disciple.

The statement in verse 10a gives us the important distinction that only the feet must be cleansed. It is only the feet that accumulate dirt, during the normal activity of moving/traveling about, to the extent that washing is required or desirable. If a person has otherwise bathed (vb lou/w), then the whole (o%lo$) rest of the body is clean, and only the feet need to be washed. In v. 10b, Jesus declares that the disciples are fully clean (kaqaroi/, plur.) in this way, and need only for their feet to be cleansed. The dirt that naturally accumulates on the feet represents the sin of the disciple/believer, which needs to be cleansed (by Jesus). Such occasional sins are quite different from the fundamental sin of unbelief. Even Peter’s denial of Jesus can be forgiven, in contrast to the betrayal and defection of Judas; Peter’s (implicit) restoration represents the repentance and forgiveness of the believer, while Judas’ departure into the darkness (vv. 29-30) represents the sin of unbelief.

Along these lines, it is possible to read the body/feet juxtaposition as symbolic of the collective body of the disciples. Judas represents the portion (feet) that is unclean, while the rest of disciples (who remain with Jesus to hear the Last Discourse) represent the remainder of the body that is clean. The wording and emphasis in vv. 10-11 tends to support such an interpretation.

The association of the foot-washing with Jesus’ death is also key to the episode’s meaning. In addition to the location of this episode, at the Last Supper and at the beginning of the Passion narrative (cf. verses 1-3), the symbolism of the act undertaken by Jesus (vv. 4-5) seems to allude to the self-sacrificial character of his death. It is this aspect that Jesus emphasizes in the short explanation he gives in vv. 12-17. The washing by the disciples of each other’s feet (vv. 14-15) must be viewed as a demonstration of the sacrificial love that believers are commanded to show to one another, following the example of their Lord Jesus (vv. 13-14, 34-35). Believers must follow even to death, being willing to lay down their lives in love for one another, just as Jesus has done (15:12-13; cp. 10:11, 15, 17-18). Jesus’ words to Peter in vv. 37-38 (cp. 21:18-19) confirm this thematic emphasis.

The two aspects of the foot-washing motif—cleansing from sin and participation in the death of Jesus—are combined together in the two Johannine occurrences of the verb kaqari/zw (“make clean, cleanse”), which is so close in meaning to kaqai/rw (in v. 2). These are found in 1 John 1:7, 9, in a passage (1:5-2:2) dealing specifically with sins committed by the believer. Contrary to the claims of some Christians (1:8, 10), believers do, on occasion, sin, but they/we are cleansed of all such sin through the “blood” (i.e., the sacrificial death) of Jesus. This is stated generally in verse 7:

“If we would walk about in the light, as He is in the light, (then) we hold common-bond with each other, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses [kaqari/zei] us from all sin.”

The actual process is described, somewhat cursorily, in verse 9:

“If we would give account (of) [i.e. confess/acknowledge] our sins, he is trustworthy and right(eous), (so) that he should put away [i.e. remove/forgive] the sins for us, and should cleanse [kaqari/sh|] us from all (that is) not right.”

Here sin is defined by the parallel term a)diki/a, literally a “lack of what is right,” i.e., “what is not right”. As noted above, this a)diki/a for the believer is symbolized by the dirt that can accumulate on one’s feet during the daily activity of moving/traveling about. Following repentance and confession of such a)diki/a, the believer is cleansed from it. The role of Jesus (the Son) in this process is elucidated in 2:1-2; the use of the noun i(lasmo/$ alludes again to the sacrificial character of Jesus’ death, and the efficacy of the cleansing “blood”. It should be emphasized again that Jesus is the one who cleanses the disciples/believer in the symbolism of the foot-washing: “If I should not wash you…” (13:8).

Before proceeding to an examination of 15:3, let us first note the general parallel between this statement and the declaration in 13:10 (cf. above):

Already you are clean [kaqaroi/], through the word that I have spoken to you.”
and (so) you are clean [kaqaroi/], but not all (of you)”

In the next daily note will look at v. 3, examining each word in some detail.

August 13: 1 John 2:20

1 John 2:20

Having considered the use of the title “the holy (one) of God” in Jn 6:69 (the confession by Peter, cp. Luke 9:20 par) in the previous note, I wish to examine now the same title (“the holy [one]”) in 1 John 2:20. In the previous discussion, I had mentioned that, within the Johannine theological context, the title “holy one of God” in Jn 6:69 contained an allusion to the important association between the Son (Jesus) and the holy Spirit of God. It is worth giving further consideration to the point by examining the evidence in the Gospel.

First, we have the Paraclete-saying in 14:25-26, in which the Spirit-Paraclete is specifically referred to as “the holy Spirit” (v. 26). In point of fact, the adjective a%gio$ is rather rare in the Gospel of John, occurring just five times. In addition to Peter’s confession (here, 6:69), and one occurrence in the Discourse-Prayer of Jesus (17:11, addressing God the Father), it is only used in three references to the Spirit (with the full, qualifying expression “[the] holy Spirit”, [to\] pneu=ma [to\] a&gion).

It is significant the way that these three Spirit-references frame the Gospel narrative, in relation to the ministry of Jesus (the incarnate Son of God) on earth:

    • 1:33—at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, part of the Johannine version (cf. also verse 26) of the saying by the Baptist (cp. Mark 1:8 par), alluding to the promise of Jesus’ giving the Spirit to believers: “(he) is the (one) dunking [i.e. baptizing] in (the) holy Spirit”.
    • 14:26—the Johannine narrative of Jesus’ ministry is structured around the great Discourses, culminating in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), in which Jesus gives the final teaching to his close circle of disciples (and true believers); the Paraclete-sayings deal with the coming of the Spirit, following Jesus’ teaching to this effect in the earlier Discourses—cf. the Spirit-references in 3:5-8, 34f; 4:10-15 [7:37-39], 23-24; 6:63.
    • 20:22—at the end of Jesus’ ministry, following the fulfillment of his mission (and his exaltation), Jesus finally gives the Spirit to his disciples (the first believers).

It is only natural that holy one of God (Jesus) would give the holy Spirit of God, particularly since the Son (Jesus) possesses the fullness of the Spirit, having received it from the Father (3:34-35). This Christological dynamic makes the use of the title “holy (one)” in 1 John 2:20 particularly intriguing:

“But you hold (the) anointing [xri=sma] from the holy (one) [o( a%gio$], and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s.”

There is some debate among commentators as to whether the title o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) refers specifically to Jesus (the Son) or God the Father. In the previous note, I discussed the use of the title “holy one” (in Hebrew, the use of the substantive adjective vodq* corresponds with a%gio$ in Greek). In the Old Testament Scriptures, almost exclusively it is used as a title for God the Father (YHWH)—particularly in the expression “the Holy One of Israel” (most frequent in the book of Isaiah)—and only very rarely is applied to human or angelic beings as God’s consecrated servants (Num 6:17; Psalm 106:16; Dan 8:13); the same usage is attested in the subsequent Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D.

By contrast, in the New Testament, “[the] holy one” ([o(] a%gio$) is predominantly a title, with Messianic significance, that is applied to JesusMark 1:24 [par Lk 4:34]; Acts 2:27 and 13:35 [citing Ps 16:10]; Rev 3:7, and of course in John 6:69 (cf. also 10:36); the Messianic context of these references was discussed (and established) in the previous note. Only in Rev 16:5 is the title used in its more traditional religious-historical aspect, as an epithet of YHWH. Interestingly, as I had mentioned, the adjective a%gio$ is actually rather rare in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), occurring just five times in the Gospel and once (here) in 1 John. In the Gospel, once it is applied to Jesus the Son (6:69), once to God the Father (17:11), and three times to the Spirit (i.e., “[the] holy Spirit,” 1:33; 14:26; 20:22).

Overall, the New Testament and Johannine usage favors o( a%gio$ (“the holy [one]”) here as a title of Jesus Christ (the Son).

Rather more certain, in my view, is the conclusion that the term xri=sma (“anointing”) here (and in v. 27) refers to the presence of the Spirit. The noun xri=sma occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, so there is little opportunity for comparative examination of word-usage. However, for reasons I detailed in the earlier article on 2:18-27, the anointing which believers received (v. 27) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. Most likely, in common with other early Christians, the Johannine churches viewed the believer’s baptism as representing the moment when he/she received the Spirit (cf. Jn 1:33); to view the baptism as an ‘anointing’ by the Spirit was natural, drawing upon the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism (cf. especially the Lukan emphasis of 4:18ff, in light of 3:22; 4:1, 14). Also significant and influential are the Prophetic passages referring to God ‘pouring out’ the Spirit on His people in the New Age (cf. the Introduction to this series for the key passages).

But does the believer receive the Spirit from Jesus (the Son) or from God (the Father)? The immediate evidence from 1 John (3:24; 4:2ff, 13; 5:6-8ff) indicates the latter—that it is God the Father who gives us the Spirit. However, the Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ role in giving the Spirit (cf. above). According to the framework of the Johannine theology—expressed clearly in the Gospel, and only alluded to in the Letters—the Son (Jesus) receives the Spirit from the Father, and then, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers. The Father is the ultimate source, but the Son is the immediate giver; thus, there is a certain variability and interchangeability with how this is expressed in the Johannine writings (cf. for example, the variation in the Paraclete-sayings, in 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7b, 13-15).

The focus in 2:18-27 is on the person of Jesus—the Anointed One (xristo/$) and Son of God—and this would tend to confirm the point of reference for the title “holy one”. It also corresponds with the Messianic (and Christological) significance of the title in Jn 6:69, as was discussed in the previous note.

Yet in verse 27, the Divine subject, in relation to the anointing (xri=sma), is expressed more ambiguously:

“But (as for) you, the anointing which you received from him, it remains in you, and you do not have a need that any (one) should teach you; but, as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not false, and even as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.”

The phrase “the anointing which you received from him” seems to allude back to verse 20; if the title “the holy one” refers to the Son (Jesus), then it is most likely that the pronoun of the prepositional expression “from him” (a)p’ au)tou=) also refers to Jesus. Turning ahead to verse 28, where Jesus is clearly the implied subject of the second clause, the implication is that the pronoun of the expression “in him” (e)n au)tw=|), at the end of v. 27 and beginning of v. 28, likewise refers to Jesus; certainly, there is no obvious indication of a change of reference. For the same reason, it would be simplest to interpret the qualifying subject “his anointing” (to\ au)tou= xri=sma) as meaning the anointing received from Jesus.

In other words, all the third person singular pronouns in vv. 27-28, refer primarily to Jesus Christ (the Son). It is he who gives the anointing (i.e., the Spirit) to believers, having himself received it from God the Father. As noted above, the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit, but it is given through the mediation of the Son. Just as it was promised that the Jesus would baptize believers in the Spirit, so he anoints them, pouring out the Spirit upon them. Yet the anointing does not simply come from without, like physical liquid poured out on a person, but abides within; this is the clear significance of the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—both here and throughout the Johannine writings. The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) remains within (cf. 3:24; 4:13; Jn 14:17), and is the means by which believers remain in the Son; and, in turn, it is through the presence of the Son that we remain in the Father (and He in us). This is the essence of the Johannine theology; even though it is expressed more clearly and precisely in the Gospel, the theology is equally present, in an implicit and allusive fashion, throughout 1 John.


Spiritualism and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 2)

Having summarized (in Part 1) my understanding of the evidence regarding both the opponents in 1-2 John and of the Johannine spiritualism, I will now attempt to bring together the results of my analysis, synthesizing it, to see in what ways the opponents (and the conflict surrounding them) may relate to this spiritualism.

Spiritualism and the Opponents: Synthesizing the Evidence

I will present three specific lines of interpretation, expounding and arguing them as far as the evidence may allow:

    1. The priority of the Spirit in teaching/guiding believers
    2. The abiding presence of Jesus through the Spirit, and
    3. Spiritualistic aspects of the Johannine Christology (i.e., regarding the person of Christ)
1. The Priority of the Spirit in Teaching/Guiding Believers

The key evidence for this particular aspect of Johannine spiritualism is: (a) the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and (b) the xri=sma-statements in 1 Jn 2:20, 27. These statements emphasize the role of the Spirit in teaching and guiding believers. This role is suggested by the very title “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:12; 1 Jn 4:6, cf. also 5:6), obviously implying the truthfulness of the Spirit’s teaching and witness, but even more particularly by the promises in 14:26 and 16:13:

    • “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will teach you all (thing)s”
    • “when that (one) should come…he will lead you on the way in all truth”

In 1 John 2:20f, 27, the “anointing” (xri=sma) that abides/remains in the believer functions in much the same way:

“…you hold (the) anointing from the Holy (One), and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s” (v. 20)
“…the anointing that you received from Him remains in you, and you do not have (any) need that any(one) should teach you…the anointing teaches you about all (thing)s” (v. 27)

The term xri=sma (“anointing”) here is best understood as a reference to the abiding presence of the Spirit, as I discuss in the article on this passage.

The opponents almost certainly shared this Johannine belief with the author of 1 John (and with the Community at large). If so, then it is fair to assume that the opponents, who would have regarded themselves as true believers, understood that they possessed God’s Spirit, and that the Spirit was the primary (and sufficient) source for Divine teaching and instruction. Moreover, they presumably believed also that Jesus (the Son) was himself teaching them through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 16:12-15).

On this basis, with the presumption that the Spirit of Truth (and Jesus through the Spirit) would not (and could not) teach them anything false, the opponents likely regarded their Christology, their understanding of Jesus Christ, to be true, confirmed by the internal witness of the Spirit.

The problem, then, for the Johannine Community, which apparently was experiencing a significant Christological division, was how to reconcile two contrasting (and opposing) views of Jesus with the one Spirit of truth. Significantly, the author does not deny the primacy of the Spirit as the guiding (and authoritative) source of truth, though this might have been useful as a way of combating the opponents. Instead of relying, for example, upon a personal apostolic authority (the noun a)po/stolo$ is essentially absent from the Johannine writings [cf. Jn 13:16]), the author seems to maintain the priority of the abiding (internal) presence of the Spirit, which is available to all believers. I tend to take seriously the author’s statements in 2:20, 27 as representing fundamental declarations of Johannine belief, doubtless understood as a fulfillment of the ‘new covenant’ prophecy in Jer 31:31-34 (vv. 33-34). The same focus on the (internal) witness of the Spirit is found in 3:24 [par 4:13], 4:4, and 5:6-8.

How, then, does the author combat the opponents? He does this two ways. First, in addressing his readers, he effectively treats them as true believers, assuming that they will thus be in agreement with the Community (of true believers)—with whom he also identifies himself. The underlying assumption, thus, is that, as true believers, the readers can trust that the indwelling Spirit will convince them of the truth, and that they will accept the Christology of the author (as representing the view of the Community), rather than that of the opponents.

Along with this rhetorical strategy, the author adds the implicit test that the witness of the Spirit will affirm, and will not contradict, the established witness of the historical (Gospel) tradition—regarding the person and work of Jesus. The author introduces this theme at the very beginning of his treatise, in the prologue (1:1-4), and it continues to run as an underlying thread throughout. In particular, the reality (and significance) of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being) is emphasized—especially his sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”, 1:7; 5:6-8, cf. Jn 6:53-56; 19:30). I have previously noted how the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch (see esp. his letter to the Smyrneans) seem to have similarly denied/devalued Jesus’ death, and how they resemble the Johannine opponents in certain respects.

Ultimately, the author summarizes the Gospel tradition by way of a trio of Christological confessional statements—in 2:22-23; 4:2-3 [par 2 Jn 7]; 5:5-6f—which he presents as a litmus test to distinguish between the true believers and the opponents.

2. The Abiding Presence of Jesus through the Spirit

A fundamental component of the Johannine theology is that Jesus (God’s Son) abides/remains (vb me/nw) in and among believers through the Spirit. God the Father, present in the Son, also abides in believers (and believers in Him)—cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, etc. Thus, even after his departure/return to the Father (in heaven), Jesus continues to remain with believers, teaching and guiding them. This is the principal message of the Gospel Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and it can be inferred from the other Spirit-references in the Gospel as well.

As I discuss above, there is little reason to doubt that the opponents shared this Johannine belief with the author of 1 John (along with the wider Community). This may help to explain how they might come to devalue or relativize the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. After all, if he continues to remain with believers, continuing to teach and guide, then why should one place such importance on the things he said and did during the short span of his earthly ministry. Moreover, is not his presence in the Spirit greater that his limited presence in the flesh, as a matter of principle (cf. Jn 4:24; 6:63), far surpassing it in importance?

Again, the author does not in any way deny the fundamental Johannine belief—viz., of the Son’s abiding presence through the Spirit. However, as discussed above, he very much gives emphasis to Jesus’ earthly life (and death) as a human being. The idea of Jesus’ coming “in the flesh” (4:2f; 2 Jn 7) clearly refers to his life and existence as a (real) human being. Whether or not the opponents’ Christology was docetic, they do seem at least to have denied (or devalued) the significance of Jesus’ earthly life. Their denial, according to the author, was focused principally upon Jesus’ human death (“blood”)—its reality and/or importance. In my view, as I have discussed (cf. the article and supplemental notes), the confessional statement in 5:5-6ff informs the earlier ones in 4:2-3 and 2:22-23. In other words, the opponents’ false Christology (according to the author) was rooted in their understanding of his death.

One can see how a strongly spiritualistic view of Jesus (cf below) might tend to avoid emphasizing his death. After all, if “the flesh is not useful (for) anything” (Jn 6:63), how could this not include a person’s death in the flesh? By contrast, the author gives particular emphasis to Jesus’ death, especially in 5:6-8. This passage toward the end of the treatise is matched by the earlier reference in 1:7ff (cf. the earlier note), focusing on the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. The implication is that this life-giving (and preserving/restoring) power is communicated to the believer through the Spirit. This idea is brought out more directly, it seems, by two passages in the Gospel: (1) the eucharistic language in 6:51-58, read in light of the statement of v. 63; and (2) the allusion to Jesus’ giving of the Spirit in 19:30 (also v. 34) at the moment of his death.

3. Spiritualistic Aspects of the Johannine Christology

It is reasonable to posit that the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ is rooted in the wider Johannine Christology, and represents a particular variation, or development, of it. As such, it is worth considering if there are any spiritualistic aspects of this Christology which may, in some respect, inform the opponents’ view. Here three lines of exploration will be considered briefly:

    1. Pre-existence Christology
    2. The Priority of the Spirit in the Gospel Narrative
    3. Jesus’ Role in the Outpouring of the Spirit
a. Pre-existence Christology

If, as would seem to be the case, the Gospel of John is representative of the Christology of the Johannine churches (when the Letters were written), then this was a pre-existence Christology—that is, characterized by a fundamental belief that identified Jesus Christ as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, existing as such even prior to his earthly life. Once such a Christology had taken root throughout the Community, it created certain difficulties for the understanding of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being). In particular, it became hard to explain Jesus’ death—indeed, how could the eternal Son of God die like any other ordinary human being?

Two relatively influential Christological trends—which are attested throughout the second and third centuries, but which likely originated sometime near the end of the first century—the Docetic and the Separatist, offered different explanations to navigate around this problem. In the various forms of the Docetic view, Jesus Christ only seemed (or appeared, vb doke/w) to be human, and thus only seemed to suffer an ordinary human death. Alternately, according to the Separationist view, the Divine Son/Christ and the man Jesus were two separate entities, who were joined together at the baptism and then separated at the moment of his death; this can be represented by the coming and departure of the Spirit, respectively (cf. Jn 1:26, 33; 19:30, [34]). Based on the evidence from the Ignatian letters (cf. throughout Smyrneans, also Trallians 10, etc), it is quite possible that the Johannine opponents held a rudimentary docetic view of Jesus, though a separationist view would accord better with the Johannine Gospel itself (cf. below).

The consequences of a pre-existence Christology to the Johannine spiritualism may be even more fundamental. One practical result of this Christology is to shift the focus from Jesus’ human nature to his Divine nature as Spirit (Jn 4:24); the Son receives the fullness of the Father’s Spirit (3:34-35). This is not simply the product of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation (cp. 1 Cor 15:45; 6:17), it is intrinsic to his eternal identity as the Son (and he returns to it after the resurrection, Jn 17:1-5, etc). Thus the essential spiritual nature of Jesus may be seen as an important component of the Johannine Christology, even though (admittedly) this aspect is not particularly developed in the writings. It would, however, imply that the presence of Jesus (in believers) through the Spirit is the principal way that believers understand and experience him. The Gospel record of Jesus’ limited earthly life (and death), by comparison, could be seen as of only secondary importance. Possibly the opponents’ denial of Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” is rooted in this basic Christological preference for Jesus as Spirit, rather than as flesh (cf. Jn 6:63).

b. The Priority of the Spirit in the Gospel Narrative

References to the Spirit frame the Johannine Gospel narrative, with the Spirit coming upon Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (1:32-34), and then being released (by Jesus) at the end (19:30, [34]; 20:22). The emphasis on Jesus ‘baptizing’ people in the Spirit (i.e., living water [cf. 4:10-15; 7:37-39], instead of with ordinary water), following the tradition of the Baptist’s saying (1:26, 33; cp. Mark 1:8 par), is a theme that dominates chapters 1-3. The statements about being born of the Spirit (instead of an ordinary human birth [out of ordinary water]) in 3:3-8 (cp. 1:12-13) is part of this thematic development. In the following Discourses of chaps. 4-8, the idea of Jesus giving the Spirit—through the idiom of giving living water/bread—also features as an important theme (cf. 4:10-15, 32ff; 6:35ff, 48ff, 51-58, 63; 7:37-39). Finally, the promise of the Spirit, as the abiding presence of Jesus the Son (and God the Father) with believers, is central to the Last Discourse (particularly in the Paraclete-sayings, 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and is also alluded to in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse.

All of these theological (and Christological) points of reference strongly suggest that believers experience the presence and power of Jesus Christ (the Son of God) primarily, and directly, through the indwelling Spirit. This spiritual primacy of believers’ relationship with God (the Father, and Jesus the Son) is an essential component of Christian spiritualism. It would very much seem to reflect the understanding of the Spirit within the Johannine Community, and likely was influential in shaping the views of the opponents as well.

c. Jesus’ Role in the Outpouring of the Spirit

The Gospel references related to Jesus’ giving the Spirit are documented in section (b.) above, including the idiom of baptizing people in/with the Spirit and the motif of living water—both of which involve the image of pouring out water. There can be no doubt as to the eschatological significance of this imagery, drawn as it is from Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon His people in the New Age of Israel’s restoration (see the passages cited, with links to detailed notes, in the Introduction to this series). The end-time outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people (believers) is ushered in by the work of Jesus the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), culminating in his death, resurrection, and exaltation.

The Johannine churches shared this basic belief with all other early Christians. However, the particular emphasis on the Spirit—and on Jesus giving the Spirit to believers—has a special prominence in the Johannine tradition (and its Gospel, cf. above). It may be said that, for most Johannine Christians, the primary role of Jesus—and the purpose of his incarnate mission on earth—was as the giver of God’s Spirit to His people. Though Jesus (the Son) possessed the fullness of God the Father’s Spirit (cf. above), his giving of the Spirit to believers was made possible only after the fulfillment of his earthly mission—culminating in his sacrificial death. This would seem to be expressed clearly enough in the Gospel, and yet the opponents apparently did not recognize the significance of Jesus’ death in this regard. Even if they acknowledged the reality of his human death, they may have denied its importance (and salvific power).

How does this relate to Johannine spiritualism? It is possible that the opponents held that the Spirit was communicated to believers by Jesus apart from his death. This is one way of understanding the significance of the author’s distinction between Jesus’ coming “in/through water” and “in/through blood” (1 Jn 5:6ff). If “water” here refers to Jesus’ baptism, then this was the moment when the Spirit came upon Jesus. Typically early Christians saw a believer’s baptism as the moment when, similarly, the believer received the Spirit (from Jesus). Thus, it is the baptism that holds the significance for receiving the Spirit, not Jesus’ death (“blood”). Again, it is possible that this way of thinking informed, to some extent, the opponents’ view. I am more inclined to think that “in/through water” refers rather to Jesus’ birth as a human being (and “in/through blood” to his death), but I will admit that the water-baptism connection represents a plausible interpretation that must be seriously considered.

Some final thoughts regarding the opponents, and their relation to Johannine spiritualism, will be given in the conclusion to the studies (in this series) on the Johannine writings.

Spiritualism and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 1)

Having discussed the Johannine ‘opponents’ targeted by the author in 1-2 John, throughout these recent notes and articles, it is now time to consider the possible relationship of these opponents to the Johannine spiritualism, such as it may be discerned in the Johannine writings. It will be helpful first (here in Part 1) to summarize both the views of the opponents and the spiritualistic tendencies of the Johannine Christians (as evidenced by the Gospel and First Letter). Then the data will be applied and synthesized (Part 2), to see what conclusions we might draw.

For a more detailed examination and appraisal of the evidence referenced below, consult the various notes and articles, some of which are cited (with links) below.

The Opponents

In this context, the term “opponents” refers to certain Johannine Christians, whom the author of 1 and 2 John opposes, and whom he regards as false believers. He certainly considers them to be in opposition to the truth—and even to God Himself—calling them by the term a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”, i.e. antichrist), see 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7. Through their false view of Jesus Christ, they effectively deny the Son of God, thus denying the God the Father as well (1 Jn 2:22-23).

What we can reasonably know (and reconstruct) about the opponents is summarized by the following points. The information comes entirely from the author(s) of 1 and 2 John, and must be judged as having been presented from the standpoint of a hostile witness. Here is what I believe can be established regarding the opponents:

    • The author has in mind a single and distinct group of Christians.
    • They are/were part of the wider Johannine Community—that is, the congregations within which the Gospel and Letters of John were produced and distributed. This involves a (loose) network of churches over a geographical area; if the traditional location turns out to be correct, this is the region of Asia (Minor), centered around Ephesus.
    • The author treats this group as having separated from the main Community (1 Jn 2:19; cf. also 4:1). This is often regarded as a genuine secession and schism within the Johannine churches—the first such recorded in Church History.
    • It is likely that the opponents were engaged in their own missionary activity, spreading their views and beliefs throughout the network of Johannine congregations, presumably with the hope of converting other believers to their cause (cf. 1 Jn 2:26; 4:1ff; 2 Jn 7ff).
    • The author certainly regarded this missionary work as a dangerous rival to his own, urging his readers (in 2 Jn 8-11) not to support or give hospitality to the opponents; it is likely that the opponents did much the same, responding in a similar manner.
    • The author’s chief objection to the opponents involves their Christology, their view of the person of Jesus Christ, which the author references in 2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12, and 2 Jn 7ff.
    • The opponents almost certainly affirmed the fundamental Johannine confession (Jn 11:27; 20:31, etc)—viz., that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ) and Son of God—in spite of the author’s polemical presentation of the matter. However, it is possible that they denied (the importance of) Jesus’ specific identity as the Jewish Messiah (cf. the supplemental notes on 1 Jn 2:22-23).
    • The opponents seem to have denied (or downplayed) the significance of Jesus’ earthly life as a human being. This may have centered on a rudimentary docetic Christology, effectively denying the incarnation of the Son/Logos of God and the reality of his human/earthly life (“in the flesh”); however, the extent of the opponents’ docetism (if such it may be called) remains unclear.
    • What the opponents principally denied (or downplayed) was the reality (and significance) of Jesus’ death. They may have accepted his birth as a human being (i.e., coming “in/through water”), but not his death (“in/through blood”). Alternately, “in/through water” could allude to Jesus’ baptism, focusing on his receiving of the Spirit from God.
    • The emphasis on the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death would seem to be confirmed by the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (esp. to the Smyrneans); the opponents he combats resemble, in certain respects, the opponents in 1-2 John. The Ignatian ‘docetic’ opponents avoided partaking in the Lord’s Supper rite, apparently considering it to be of little or no importance. Cf. my discussion of the Ignatian evidence in an earlier note, and in the supplemental study on 1 Jn 4:2-3.
    • The author accuses the opponents of failing/refusing to show proper love to other believers (and thus violating the second branch of the great dual-command [1 Jn 3:23]). Their main crime, in this regard, simply involves their departure from the Community (2:19); however, based on 3:16-18, it is possible that the author also considered the opponents to have been neglectful of the material needs of other believers.
    • The claims of Christian sinlessness, which the author refutes in 1:7-2:2 (1:8, 10), may reflect the view of the opponents. If so, it can be difficult to discern the difference between their claims and the author’s own declarations regarding the ‘sinlessness’ of believers (cf. 3:9; 5:18). Cf. my recent discussion on this question.

The evidence for spiritualism (or spiritualistic tendencies) in the Johannine writings has been discussed and analyzed extensively in the articles of this series. Here I will merely summarize the key results of this analysis.

The Johannine view of the Spirit, on the whole, represent a distinct development of the early Christian understanding. The first-century Christian view, in turn, was rooted in Old Testament tradition—particularly the Spirit references in the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophetic books. For a list of the key references, with links to detailed notes, see the Introduction to this series. Two aspects of this Prophetic tradition are especially significant, presented in terms of two distinct (but related) ideas which characterize the New Age of Israel’s restoration:

    • God’s Spirit will come upon all of His people, rather than upon specially chosen/gifted individuals alone.
    • Through the abiding presence of the Spirit, God’s Law (Torah) will be written within each person, on the heart/mind; this will ensure that all people will faithfully fulfill the covenant and never again violate God’s Instruction. For this reason, essentially there is no longer any need for a written Torah (since is now ‘written on the heart’), nor for anyone to teach the people about the Torah (and how to observe it).

These are key principles that inform early Christian spiritualism, such as it can be discerned in the New Testament. The principles are applied to the person of Jesus Christ, identified as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the end-time. Through his presence and work on earth (culminating in his death, resurrection, and exaltation), Jesus has ushered in the New Age, in which God’s holy Spirit is poured out on His people (believers), in fulfillment of the Spirit-prophecies.

The Johannine spiritualism, it would seem, was shaped primarily by the Johannine Christology. Of the numerous distinctive points of emphasis, I would isolate three that are fundamental:

    • Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, with his unique relationship to God the Father; while this is common to the broader early Christology, it receives particular emphasis, reflecting a definite theological development, in the Johannine writings. Part of this development involves the shift to a pre-existence Christology, emphasizing Jesus’ existence as God’s Son (in heaven) even prior to his life on earth (see esp. the Gospel Prologue [1:1-18]).
    • Jesus (the Son) continues to remain with believers even after his return to the Father in heaven. His abiding presence (expressed primarily by the use of the verb me/nw) is realized for believers through the Spirit. The Johannine theological expression of this belief (and the basis for it) is best seen in the Paraclete-sayings of Jesus in the Gospel Last Discourse (cf. the detailed notes on 14:16-17, 26-27; 15:26-27; 16:7b-11, and 12-15).
    • Believers are regarded as the offspring (te/kna) or children of God; their/our relationship with God the Father is thus parallel with, and a continuation of, Jesus’ own relationship as God’s eternal Son. The main Johannine idiom used to express this dynamic is the verb of becoming (genna/w), in the specific sense of coming to be born, along with the preposition e)k (“out of, from”); sometimes the preposition alone is used, with the verb implied. This ‘birth’ for believers occurs through the Spirit, as is clear from the famous statements by Jesus in Jn 3:5-8.

All three of these points help to emphasize the priority of the Spirit, in a way that is distinctive to Johannine Christianity. In addition to the Paraclete-sayings, and the statements on being born of the Spirit in 3:5-8 (part of the Nicodemus Discourse), there are two other key passages in the Gospel which are indicative of spiritualism:

    • The Samaritan Woman Discourse (4:1-42), especially to the “living water” statements by Jesus in vv. 10-15, which, based on the parallel in 7:37-39, were certainly understood by the Gospel writer as referring to the Spirit. In addition, we find the statements in vv. 23-24, with their strong emphasis on the priority of the Spirit (cf. the earlier article).
    • The Bread of Life Discourse (6:22-59), which is followed by an exchange, between Jesus and his disciples (vv. 60-71), that includes the spiritualistic declaration of v. 63.

In both Discourses, Jesus speaks of his giving living water/bread for people to drink/eat. In each instance, the context clearly indicates the spiritual nature of what Jesus offers. In the case of the Bread of Life Discourse, it is himself that he offers, alluding to his own presence in believers, and the spiritual nature of this presence (i.e., through the Spirit). This is especially telling, considering the strong eucharistic language in vv. 51-58; a reading of vv. 51-58, in context, and in light of v. 63 (cf. the earlier article), suggests a spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Supper rite. A non-sacramental understanding of the Supper tradition is very much characteristic of Christian spiritualism. I discuss this possibility of such spiritualistic tendencies, in regard to public worship and the sacraments, for the Johannine Community in an earlier note.

In First John, the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned (by the word pneu=ma) until 3:24, but the central (and climactic) position of this reference (cf. also 4:13) is most significant. It occurs at the very end of the central section of 1 John (2:28-3:24), dealing with the nature of the true believer (in contrast to the false believer, i.e., the opponents). The identity of the true believer is realized, and confirmed, by the abiding presence of the Spirit. Moreover, the three key Johannine points of emphasis, outlined above, can be found running (abundantly) all through the author’s work.

The other important references to the Spirit are found in the three trust-sections—2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12—that is, the sections dealing with the first branch of the great dual-command, the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) required of all believers (3:23). The true believer has genuine (and correct) trust/faith in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, while false believers (i.e., the opponents) do not. In all three of these passages it is stated (or indicated) that the internal presence of the Spirit confirms the true view of Jesus Christ held by the true believer. This is most explicit in 5:6-8, but is also alluded to in 2:20-21ff, 27 and 4:2, 4ff. The references in 2:20f and 27, in particular, seem to be reflective of Johannine spiritualism, emphasizing the priority (and sufficiency) of the Spirit, as a source of knowledge and teaching (and religious authority) for the believer. For more on this point, and on the interpretation of the noun xri=sma (“anointing”) as a reference to the Spirit, cf. the article on 2:18-27.

In Part 2, I will attempt to bring together the evidence assembled above, synthesizing the results, to see how the Johannine Spiritualism may relate, specifically, to the views of the opponents, and to the way that the author (of 1-2 John) addresses them.

July 19: 1 John 5:21

1 John 5:21

As we come to the close of these notes and articles on 1 John—related to the current series “Spiritualism and the New Testament” (see the most recent article) —it is worth considering the author’s closing words in verse 21:

“Dear offspring, you must guard yourselves from the (false) images.”

This short injunction, with the author apparently warning his readers against ‘idols’ (lit. “images”), has long puzzled commentators. It seems like an afterthought, without any clear connection with the preceding sections. On the surface, of course, it is the kind of traditional-religious instruction that early Christians would have commonly given, particularly for those (non-Jewish) believers living in the midst of a thoroughly polytheistic Greco-Roman culture.

The term ei&dwlon (“[visual] appearance,” i.e., something that can be seen, an “image”) is rather rare in the New Testament (11 occurrences), used most frequently by Paul in his letters (7 times). It reflects the monotheistic tradition of the Old Testament, which, especially in the anti-polytheistic polemic of the Prophetic writings, tended to treat the deities worshiped by the surrounding peoples as having no real existence beyond the images used to represent them. Thus “images” (ei&dwla) came to serve as a short-hand designation, among Jews and Christians, for all false/foreign deities other than the one true God (El-YHWH).

The danger to early Christians posed by Greco-Roman polytheism is seen clearly in the apostolic letter (Acts 15:22-29ff), sent to believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, which included an instruction to avoid anything (spec. food/meat) that had been offered to “images” (vv. 20, 29; cf. 7:41). Paul treats the subject more extensively (without any reference to the Acts 15 letter) in 1 Corinthians 8-10 (the word ei&dwlon occurs in 8:4, 7; 10:19; cp. Rev 9:20). As an apostolic missionary to non-Jews in the Greco-Roman world, many of the Christian converts Paul would have encountered came out of a thoroughly polytheistic environment (cf. 1 Thess 1:9; 1 Cor 12:2). Worship of false/foreign deities (‘idols’) was seen as fundamentally incompatible with the new Christian religious identity (2 Cor 6:16), a mindset shared by Israelites and Jews as well (Rom 2:22). Cf. Paul’s penetrating early Christian appraisal of the nature (and origin) of polytheistic ‘idolatry’ in Rom 1:18-32.

What are we to make of the author’s warning against idols at the end of 1 John? Is it simply an example of conventional Christian ethical-religious instruction that the author has tacked on to the end of his treatise? Or is there something more involved? Commentators are somewhat divided on this point, but one’s interpretation of 5:21 tends to be colored by the prominence accorded to the conflict (with the opponents) in 1 John—is it just one among a number of issues and points of instruction offered by the author, or is it the central concern that governs the entire work?

The answer to this question likely will determine how one explains 5:21. There are two main lines of interpretation which can be labeled:

    • The ethical-religious explanation, and
    • The polemical explanation

According to this view, the warning in 5:21 is a piece of conventional religious instruction, along the lines of the other New Testament references (in Paul and Acts; cf. also Rev 9:20)—i.e. warning Johannine Christians to guard themselves against the idolatrous polytheism of the Greco-Roman world. A simple and straightforward reading of the language in 5:21 would tend to support this view. Moreover, while there is relatively little traditional ethical-religious instruction in 1 John, it is not entirely absent from the author’s work (e.g., 2:15-17; 4:17-18). Every other instance of the word ei&dwlon in the New Testament refers, more or less generally, to the idea of a pagan/polytheistic false deity (represented by its “image”).


A second, alternative, line of interpretation explains the author’s warning as part of the overall polemic against his opponents (i.e., the “antichrists” of 2:18-27; 4:1-6 [cf. also 2 Jn 7-11]). It seems proper to work under the assumption that, within the context of author’s central theme—that of a contrast between true and false believers—the opponents clearly are intended to represent the false believers. Primarily because of their false/erroneous view of Jesus Christ (referenced in the three trust-sections [2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12], and also 2 Jn 7ff), the opponents are regarded by the author as false believers (and deceiving false prophets)— “antichrists” of the end-time.

Since the opponents’ view of Christ is false, by which they effectively deny God’s Son, their view of God (the Father) is also false. By espousing a false deity, the opponents are thus no different from non-believers, and even pagan (polytheistic) idolators. This would be the logic of the author, according to his polemic.

We see a comparable example of polemical exaggeration by the author in 3:11-15, where he compares the opponents’ lack of love with Cain’s murder of his brother. In terms of the opponents’ violation of the command/duty to love one’s fellow believers, the author gives no indication of any immoral, oppressive, or violent behavior on their part. The only specific information he alludes to, in vv. 16-18, could be taken to mean that the author considers the opponents to have been neglectful in caring for the material needs of other believers. Beyond this, the worst one might say of the opponents, is that they may have followed the author’s example in 2 Jn 10-11, refusing to show hospitality to their own Johannine ‘opponents’.

The real demonstration of the opponents’ failure to show love simply involves their separation (according to the author) from the other Johannine Christians. Yet this violation of the second branch of the dual-command (3:23) is enough for the author to equate the opponents’ behavior with murder. Given this harsh polemical distortion, it would not be at all surprising if the author were to have equated the opponents’ violation of the first part of the dual command (i.e., trust in Jesus Christ) with idolatry. Clearly, their false view of Jesus (as the Son of God) would be tantamount to a false view of God the Father (El-YHWH), which (as noted above) would make them little different from polytheistic idolators.


Which line of interpretation for 5:21 is most likely to be correct? I suspect that this may be yet another example of Johannine double-meaning. The author may well have both ways of understanding his words—traditional ethical-religious and also polemical (against the opponents)—in mind. On the one hand, the readers can take the injunction at face value, remembering the importance of “guarding themselves” from the idolatrous polytheistic culture around them.

On the other hand, the author, throughout his work, has been warning his readers against the false views and teaching of the opponents—teaching which can lead them astray from the truth, with potentially dire consequences (2:18ff, 26f; 4:1-6). Such false teaching, characteristic of the “antichrists” and false prophets of the end-time, carries the same evil and seductive influence as the demonically-inspired “images” of paganism. Compare, for example, the way false (Christian) teaching is associated with pagan idolatry in the book of Revelation (2:14-15, 20ff).

A final possibility to consider, in light of the examples from the book of Revelation (above), is that the opponents might have downplayed the need to avoid things (i.e., food) that had been sacrificed to “images”, perhaps thinking, as some Christians at Corinth apparently did, that, since the deities represented by the images have no real existence, the images themselves cannot have any harmful effect on believers. This would be typical, in certain respects, of the spiritualistic tendencies that seem to have been characteristic of the Johannine churches; and the opponents may represent a more extreme example of such tendencies. However, if they were actually indifferent regarding the ‘things sacrificed to idols’, I would expect the author to deal with the issue more directly (like Paul and the author of Revelation), rather than in such a cursory fashion at the end of his work.

‘Idols’ (i.e., false/foreign deities) are to be contrasted with the one true God (v. 20; Jn 17:3). There is a similar contrast in 1 John between true and false belief—and the Christians who exhibit such belief (the opponents representing the false believers). I think it probable that the author is at least alluding again to the conflict involving the opponents here at the end of his treatise, expressing his exhortation in traditional ethical-religious language. This is all the more likely, given the precedent (attested in Jewish writings of the period) for speaking of ‘idols’ in a figurative sense—i.e., in reference to sins or evil inclinations of the heart (see e.g., Testament of Reuben 4:5-6; 1QS 2:10-11ff; 1QH 4.9-11ff; CD 20:8-10); cf. Brown, p. 628; von Wahlde [3], p. 207-8.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 (1982).
Those marked “von Wahlde [3]” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary series (Eerdmans: 2010).


July 18: 1 John 5:20 (cont.)

1 John 5:20, continued

“And we have seen that the Son of God is here, and (that) he has given to us dia/noia, (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (that) we are in the (One who is) true, in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The middle two clauses of verse 20 (b) were discussed in the previous note, and the first two clauses (a) in the note prior; we now turn to the final two clauses (c).

Verse 20c:
    • “in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—
      this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The first phrase here in v. 20c (the fifth clause, or phrase, of the verse), is epexegetical—that is, it explains or qualifies the previous statement: “we are in the (One who is) true”. This theological statement (cf. the discussion in the previous note) means that believers are “in” (e)n) God the Father (“the [One who is] true”). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, this idea of being “in” God is expressed more fully by the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

This is a fundamental Johannine theological idiom, which occurs in 1 John some 20 times. It is used to express the idea of the believer abiding in God (2:6, 10, 28; 3:6), or of God abiding in the believer (2:14; 3:9, 15, 17; 4:12), or both (2:24, 27; 3:24; 4:13, 15-16). Sometimes the idiom is expressed specifically in terms of the word/life/light/love, etc., of God, rather than God Himself, but these are simply specifications of the general theological principle, drawing upon particular attributes or characteristics related to the dynamic of the relationship between God and the believer.

The use of the verb of being (ei)mi) can substitute for the verb me/nw, whereby the union between the believer and God takes on a more essential quality, emphasizing its reality (or lack thereof) in the present. For the usage (ei)mi + e)n) in 1 John, cf. 1:8, 10; 2:4-5, 8, etc. The verb of being is used here in v. 20c: “we are [e)sme/n] in [e)n] (Him)”.

A central element of the Johannine theology is that God the Father abides in the believer (and the believer in God) through the presence of His Son (Jesus). And this quite clearly expressed by the author here; the statements (4&5) are parallel, with one building upon (and explaining) the other:

    • “we are in the One who is true [i.e. God the Father]” (because) =>
      • “(we are) in His Son Jesus Christ”

The Son makes the Father known to believers (cf. statements 1-3, v. 20ab), and is the means by which they/we are united with Him, coming to abide/remain “in Him”.

Verse 20 concludes with a final statement (6) that summarizes the entire Johannine theology:

“this is the true God and eternal Life”
ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$

There is debate as to the specific force of the initial demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this,” or “this one”). Commentators are divided as to whether the pronoun refers to God the Father or Jesus the Son. Given that Jesus (“His Son Yeshua…”) is the nearest antecedent, it would seem most natural that ou!to$ refers to him. However, as Brown (p. 625) notes, the pronoun can sometimes refer to an earlier subject; and there is a clear (Johannine) example of this in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have come into the world, the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this (one) [ou!to$] is the (one) leading (people) astray and the (one) against the Anointed [i.e. antichrist].”

Even though Yeshua is the noun preceding the demonstrative pronoun, the pronoun clearly refers back to the false believer(s), called [oi(] pla/noi (“[the one]s going/leading astray”). This grammatical parallel suggests that the demonstrative pronoun here in v. 20c refers back to God the Father, rather than Jesus. The use of the expression “the true God” (o( a)lhqino\$ qeo/$) would seem to confirm this (cp. Jer 10:10; 2 Chron 15:3; 1 Thess 1:9). Beyond this, the parallel declaration in the Gospel (17:3) is decisive:

“And this [au%th] is eternal Life: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

In the literary context of chap. 17, Jesus is addressing God the Father, referring to Him (El-YHWH), in traditional Israelite-Jewish religious terms, as “the only true God”. Almost certainly, then, the expression “the true God” here in v. 20c likewise refers to God the Father.

However, the close parallel in thought and vocabulary between v. 20c and Jn 17:3 is instructive, in that it suggests that the author has a dual reference in mind. In other words, the demonstrative pronoun (“this”) refers to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The Father is the primary point of reference, but He, as the Father, cannot be separated from His Son. Indeed, the two are inseparable, especially given the Johannine theological principle (discussed above) that believers experience the God the Father through His Son.

If God the Father is the primary referent for the expression “the true God”, then it is the Son of God (Jesus) who is primarily being referred to by the expression “[the] Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal Life]” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$). Even though God the Father is the ultimate source of life (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:57; 12:50, etc), the Father gives this life to the Son, who, in turn, is able to give it to believers (4:14; 5:39-40; 6:27, 33, 51ff, 63; 10:28; 17:2). Life is predicated of the Son as an essential attribute (Jn 1:4; 6:48; 11:25; 14:6), and believers come to possess (“hold,” vb e&xw) this life through trust in Jesus (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 8:12; 11:25; 20:31).

In 1 John, the author ties the possession of this eternal life, as a defining characteristic of the true believer, specifically to the fulfillment of the great dual-command (or two-fold duty [e)ntolh/]) as stated in 3:23: genuine trust in Jesus Christ (as the Son of God), and love for one’s fellow believers (according to Jesus’ own example). True believers fulfill this e)ntolh/, while false believers (like the opponents) disregard and violate it. Their false view of Jesus Christ (as the author sees it) means that they do not truly trust in him, and thus cannot hold eternal life in themselves.

The author establishes this logic at the very beginning of his work (1:1-2), and the references to “life” (zwh/) throughout the rest of 1 John (2:25; 3:14-15; 5:11-13ff) follow this same line of argument. In 5:11-13, at the close of the third and (final) section (5:5-12) dealing with trust in Jesus (in opposition to the false view of Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents), the author clearly and emphatically restates the Johannine definition of eternal life as the result of trust in Jesus. Through this trust, believers are united with God’s Son, coming to abide/remain in him; as noted above, it is through the presence of the Son that we, as believers, abide in the Father (and He in us).

Ultimately, our union with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit, though that particular theological point is only stated implicitly here in v. 20 (cf. the previous notes on 20a and 20b). The Spirit is the foremost of the things which the Son receives from the Father (cf. Jn 3:34-35), and which he then gives to believers. The association between the Spirit and the Life of God is so close as to almost be synonymous (cf. Jn 3:5-8ff; 4:10-15 [7:37-39]; 6:63). As the author of 1 John makes clear (3:24; 4:13), the presence of the Spirit is the ultimate evidence that we, as believers, abide/remain in God and thus possess eternal life.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 (1982).

July 17: 1 John 5:20 (cont.)

1 John 5:20, continued

“And we have seen that the Son of God is here, and (that) he has given to us dia/noia, (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (that) we are in the (One who is) true, in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

The first two clauses of verse 20 (a) were discussed in the previous note; we now turn to the next two clauses (b).

Verse 20b:
    • “(so) that we might know the (One who is) true,
      and (that) we are in the (One who is) true,”

The i%na-clause, which I believe covers both statements of v. 20b, expresses the purpose (and expected result) of the understanding (dia/noia) that the Son, in his abiding presence (through the Spirit), gives to believers. The i%na conjunction thus is to be rendered “so that…”.

In the first statement here (clause three), the expressed purpose for the dia/noia that the Son gives is so that (i%na)…

“we [i.e. believers] might know [ginw/skwmen] the (One who is) true [to\n a)lhqino/n]”

The substantive adjective (with the article), o( a)lhqino/$, is a title for God the Father. The theme of truth is fundamental for the Johannine writings:

    • the noun a)lh/qeia occurs 25 times in the Gospel and 20 in the Letters (45 out of 109 NT occurrences)
    • the adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel and 3 times in the Letters (17 out of 26 NT occurrences)
    • the adjective a)lhqino/$ occurs 9 times in the Gospel and 4 in 1 John (13 out of 28 NT occurrences); if we count (as Johannine) the 10 occurrences of a)lhqino/$ in the book of Revelation, then all but five of the NT occurrences are in the Johannine writings, making it very much a distinctive keyword.

Drawing upon Old Testament tradition (e.g., Psalm 18:30; 19:9; 25:5; 43:3; 86:11; 119:142, 160; Prov 30:5; Isa 45:19; 65:16; Jer 10:10, etc), truth is viewed as a fundamental attribute of God—for this use of the adjective a)lhqino/$ (and a)lhqh/$), cf. Jn 3:33; 7:28; 8:26; 17:3 (cf. also 4:23; 5:32). Somewhat more commonly, in the Johannine writings, it is applied to Jesus—as the “true light” (Jn 1:9; 1 Jn 2:8), the “true bread from heaven” (6:32, cp. v. 55), and the “true vine” (15:1); cf. also 7:18; 8:16. It is used of believers (as true worshipers of God) in Jn 4:23 (cp. 18:37).

In addition to being an attribute of God, reflecting His nature and character, the adjective “true” also reflects the Israelite religious tradition of El-YHWH as the (only) true God (e.g., Jer 10:10; 2 Chron 15:3). With regard to this monotheistic orientation (and polemic), as inherited by early Christians, cf. here the author’s closing warning against ‘idols’ in verse 21.

The statement in clause three encapsulates the Johannine theology, expressed more fully in the Gospel (17:3):

“And this is the Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The i%na-clause (in bold above) is virtually identical with the clause here in v. 20.

As noted above, in the Johannine writings, truth is an essential attribute of Jesus, God’s Son. It is expressed by way of essential predication (by Jesus Himself) in Jn 14:6: “I am…the truth” —one of the famous “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) declarations by Jesus in the Gospel; cf. also 1:14, 17. However, it is equally associated with the Spirit—including the specific title “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6); cf. also Jn 4:23-24. The idea that the Spirit will lead/guide believers in the way of “all truth” (Jn 16:13), teaching them the truth, is present also in 1 John (2:21, 27), and is reflective of a Johannine spiritualism. In 1:6-8 and 2 Jn 2, 4; 3 Jn 3-4, 12, truth seems to be identified with the abiding presence of the Spirit; similarly, being “of the truth” (belonging to it, and ‘born’ of it), 3:19 (cf. Jn 18:37), is comparable to (and largely synonymous with) the Johannine idea of believers being born “of the Spirit” (Jn 3:5-8). Truth is an essential predicate of the Spirit, just as it is of Jesus:

    • Jesus: “I am…the truth” (Jn 14:6)
    • “the Spirit is the truth” (1 Jn 5:6; cp. with Pilate’s question in Jn 18:38)

This brings us to the fourth clause, which I regard as being governed by the same i%na purpose-clause:

“(so that we might know that) we are in the (One who is) true”

This is another fundamental Johannine theological belief—viz., that believers abide in God the Father, in union with Him. This union takes place through the Son (Jesus), which, in turn, is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This is the idea expressed here, in shorthand form. The presence of the Son (through the Spirit) makes the Father known to us, and allows us to abide/remain in Him. It also gives us the knowledge that we abide in Him (and He in us)—a point expressed more clearly by the author in 3:24

“…and in this we know that He remains in us—out of [i.e. from] the Spirit which He gave to us”

and similarly in 4:13:

“In this we know that we remain in Him, and He in us: (in) that He has given of His Spirit to us.”

In the next daily note, we will examine the last two clauses of verse 20.

July 14: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

The author closes the section 5:13-20 with the last of three successive declarations that each begin with oi&damen (“we have seen [that]…”, i.e., “we know…”); cf. the previous notes on vv. 18 and 19. These statements reflect the author’s declaration of his intent and purpose for writing in v. 13 (cp. Jn 20:31). Verse 20 serves an effective summary of the Johannine theology:

“And we have seen that the Son of God is here, and (that) he has given to us dia/noia, (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (that) we are in the (One who is) true, in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

This relatively long theological statement is comprised of six clauses or phrases. It may be helpful to look at these, two at a time, dividing the verse into three parts (a-c).

Verse 20a:
    • “And we have seen that the Son of God is here,
      and (that) he has given to us dia/noia,”

The first clause, beginning (like vv. 18 and 19) with the verb form oi&damen (“we have seen”), emphasizes again the unity and solidarity between the author and his readers, representing (together) members of the Community of true believers (cf. the previous note). The three oi&damen-statements may be compared:

    • “We have seen that the (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin…” (v. 18)
    • “We have seen that we are of God…” (v. 19)
    • “We have seen that the Son of God is here…” (v. 20)

The identity of believers as those born of God (v. 19), and thus protected from sin (v. 18), is realized through the abiding presence of Jesus Christ (God’s Son). The verb h%kw here in v. 20 could be understood in terms of Jesus having come here—viz., as a reference either to the incarnation and/or to the coming of the Spirit. However, I think that the present tense of the verb (h%kei, lit. “comes here”) properly reflects the idea of the Son being present here, in and among believers—that is, his abiding presence through the Spirit (cf. Jn 14:17ff, etc).

The second, following clause in v. 20a is:

“he has given to us dia/noia

The subject (“he”), based on the first clause, must be the Son of God—i.e., Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The Son, through his abiding presence in believers, gives to them dia/noia. The noun dia/noia is a bit difficult to translate literally into English, and I have left it untranslated above. Fundamentally, it denotes the ability (and/or the process) of thinking things through (vb dianoe/omai, dia/ + noe/w mid.). For lack of a better option, the noun can be translated generally in English as understanding— “he has given to us understanding”.

According to the Johannine theology, as expressed principally in the Gospel Discourses, the Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives to believers (see esp. Jn 3:34-35; 5:21; 6:27, 32ff, 57; 10:28-29; 17:8-9ff). The noun dia/noia is not mentioned elsewhere as one of the things that is given (indeed, the word occurs only here in the Johannine writings); however, the idea that the Son (Jesus) gives knowledge and understanding to believers is present at a number of points (e.g., 8:32; 10:38; 14:4ff; 16:30; 18:37). In particular, Jesus, as the Son, makes the Father known—cf. 8:19, 28f, 38ff; 10:14-15, 38; 12:50; 14:6-7ff, 20ff; 15:15; 17:3, 6-8ff, 26. And is certainly the principal focus of the understanding (dia/noia) the Son gives to believers, here in v. 20a—viz., the ability to understand about God the Father, the True God.

This understanding comes as the Son is present here, in and among believers. Based on the famous Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel Last Discourse, and confirmed here by the author in 1 John, we must regard this understanding (dia/noia) to be the product of the Spirit teaching believers “all things” (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-13ff; 1 Jn 2:20, 27). The teaching ministry of the Son, making the Father known to us, continues through the abiding presence of the Spirit. A particularly important point, however, for the author of 1 John, is that this continued teaching (through the Spirit) does not—and will not—contradict the historical tradition (in the Gospel) of the teaching of Jesus when he was present on earth (in the past) with his disciples. In an upcoming article, I will be exploring how the spiritualism of the Johannine Community may have been realized differently, by the author and the opponents [in 1-2 John], respectively.

In the next daily note, we will look at the next two clauses, in v. 20b.

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).