June 17: 1 John 3:2

1 John 3:2

“(So) loved (one)s, now we are (the) offspring [te/kna] of God; but it (has) not yet been made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh] what we will be—(for) we have seen [i.e. know] that, when he should be made to shine forth [fanerwqh=|], we shall be like him, (in) that we shall see him just as he is.” (3:2)

This is one of the most important—and distinctive—statements in 1 John regarding believers as the “offspring [te/kna] of God”. It gives to the theme an eschatological dimension that tends to be lacking from other occurrences in the Johannine writings. The eschatological context is central to the section as a whole (cf. 2:28-29, and the prior notes on these verses), as it is for the flanking ‘antichrist’ sections of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6. Here, however, it is specifically applied to the birth/offspring theme. It strongly indicates that, while we (as believers) are already the offspring/children of God now (in the present), at the end-time appearance of Jesus, we will become something even more—or, that our identity as God’s offspring will be realized in a greater and more complete way.

The author contrasts the present (e)sme/n, “we are”) and future tenses (e)so/meqa, “we will be”) of the verb of being. As pointed out in the previous note, the verb of being (ei)mi) carries special theological significance in the Johannine writings, tending to be used of a Divine subject, and often in the context of essential predication. Typically, it is the Son (Jesus) or God the Father who is the Divine subject; in the third person, the predicative statement takes the form of “He | is | {such}”, while in the first person it is “I | am | {such}” (as in the famous “I am” sayings of Jesus in the Gospel). It is extremely rare for such essential predication to use the future tense of the verb (“He/I will be…”), but it is particularly appropriate in the case of believers as the Divine subject.

This present-future juxtaposition is significant, too, from the standpoint of the Johannine eschatology. The Gospel tends to emphasize a ‘realized’ eschatology—that is to say, the end-time events (resurrection, last judgment, etc) are realized for human beings already now, in the present. At the same time, there remains a future fulfillment for these events as well. Note, for example, how these two aspects of the eschatology are presented together in John 5:19-29.

Along these same lines, the author here suggests that there is both a present and future aspect to the identity of believers as the “offspring of God”. Currently, we already are God’s offspring, but it has not yet [ou&pw] been revealed what we will be, in the imminent future, when Jesus appears again (viz., his ‘second’ coming to be alongside [parousi/a, v. 28]). Cf. a similar development of the offspring-theme by Paul in Romans 8:18-25ff.

The future aspect is very much tied to the appearance of Jesus, as can be seen by the way the author formulates his point in the Greek:

not yet
ou&pw
has it been made to shine forth (what)
e)fanerw/qh
we will be
e)so/meqa
when
e)a/n
he has been made to shine forth
fanerwqh=|
we will be
e)so/meqa

The “shining forth” (vb fanero/w) of our identity coincides with the “shining forth” (same verb) of Jesus upon his coming, and, indeed, is patterned after it. The syntactical patterning of the author’s words reflects the patterning that will take place in real life. This is also indicated by the expression “like to him” (o%moioi au)tw=|), stating that the (new) identity of believers will be one of Divine likeness. The precise significance of this likeness is a matter of interpretive debate, to be discussed below. However, first, it is worth pointing out how the expression “like to him” functions as the predicate nominative for an essential predicative statement here, using (however rarely) the future tense of the verb of being: “we will be [e)so/meqa] like him [o%moioi au)tw=|]”. Thus, in 3:1-2, there are two such predicative statements (cf. the previous note), with believers as the (divine) subject, using the present and future tense, respectively:

    • “| we are | (the) offspring of God”
    • “| we will be | like to him”

A precise understanding of the second statement hinges upon whether the dative pronoun au)tw=| (“to him”) refers to God the Father or Jesus the Son. There is disagreement among commentators on this point, with strong arguments to be made on both sides. The explanatory clause that follows does not help in this regard, since it is equally ambiguous: “(in) that we shall see him [au)to/n] just as he is [e)stin]” —does this refer to Jesus the Son or God the Father?

Overall, the evidence would seem to favor a reference to the Son of God (Jesus), which does not exclude a subordinate allusion to the beatific idea of seeing God (the Father), since, from the Johannine standpoint, one sees the Father through the Son. It is worth summarizing the basic line of argument in support of the idea that verse 2b refers to the Son, rather than the Father.

In favor of a reference to Son (Jesus) is the immediate context of the preceding verb fanerwqh=| (“[when] he should be made to shine forth”), which almost certainly refers to the end-time appearance of Jesus (cf. 2:28), even though the specified subject earlier in 3:1 is God the Father; first-century Christian readers would understand Jesus as the implicit subject of this verb, without requiring it to be specified. With the Son (Jesus) established, as the implied subject of fanero/w (passive), it is unlikely that a different point of reference should follow, without any further clarification. Thus, the sequence “when he should be made to shine forth, we shall be like him” means, “when the Son (Jesus) appears, we shall be like him [viz., like the Son]”.

From a Johannine theological standpoint, this could be interpreted as follows: Currently we, as believers, are God’s offspring (children) in a spiritual way, inwardly, invisibly, and through the Spirit; however, at the end-time appearance of the Son, we will come to share in that Divine Sonship in a way that is not possible now. By seeing the Son, we become transformed into his likeness (cp. 2 Cor 3:18). The phrase “just as he is” (kaqw/$ e)stin) is probably meant to distinguish the Son’s appearance in full Divine/eternal glory from his earlier incarnate appearance as a human being. The current state of believers (as God’s children) is more comparable to the incarnate appearance of the Son on earth. Indeed, following the Son’s departure, believers effectively have taken his place, as God’s children, carrying on Jesus’ mission in the world. The author essentially makes this point, it would seem, in 4:17, where he states that believers are just like Jesus, but with the important qualifying expression “in this world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw| tou/tw|):

“…just as [kaqw/$] that (one) is [e)stin], (so) even we are [e)sme/n] in this world.”

As believers, we are the offspring of God in the world, but the time will come when we will be transformed, so as to share in the eternal glory of the Divine Sonship, experiencing it in a way that is not possible for us during our limited human existence on earth.

For a good summary of the alternate line of argument—viz., that the pronouns, etc, in 3:2b refer to God the Father, rather than the Son, see the discussion by R. E. Brown (The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 30 [1982]), pp. 392-6.

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:24

1 John 2:28-3:24

In the previous study, as in the two prior, we examined the conflict that is at the heart of both 1 and 2 John, and how it shaped the author’s treatment of the Johannine theology. The section covering 2:28-3:24 represents the central division of First John, in which the author presents, most clearly and directly, the principal theme of his work: namely, the contrast between the true and false believer. This is done through an exposition and application of a number of key Johannine principles. The primary principle expounded by the author is the idea of the two-fold duty (entol¢¡) that is required of every believer.

This key noun was used earlier, in 2:3-8, both in the plural and singular, presented as something which Jesus has given to believers, a duty placed on them, which they are obligated to fulfill. In the Gospel of John, the noun entol¢¡ is used by Jesus in two different ways. First, it refers to the duty (and mission) which God the Father gave him (the Son) to complete, when He sent him to earth—10:18; 12:49-50; 15:10b. Second, it refers to the duty (and mission) that the Son, in turn, gives to his disciples (believers)—13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10a, 12. The two uses are clearly related, and the seeds of the dual-entol¢¡ may be glimpsed from a consideration of the duty/mission given by the Father to the Son. Two aspects of this mission may be ascertained:

    1. A directive, from the Father, regarding what the Son should say (and do), and which may be summarized as representing the word of the Father (12:49-50)
    2. The culmination of his mission is that the Son would lay down his own life, as a self-sacrifice, demonstrating the love and care he has for those (i.e., his disciples/believers) whom he holds dear (10:18; cf. 15:10)

These same two aspects are applied to the entol¢¡ that the Son (Jesus) gives to his disciples (and to all believers). This may be summarized based the teaching of Jesus in 15:4-10, and his use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in his word(s), and to have his word(s) remain in them (15:7; cf. 8:31); similarly, they are to remain in his love, and to have his love remain in them (15:9-10, 12; cf. 14:21). These two aspects define and explain what it means for the believer to remain in Jesus, as can be illustrated by the following simple diagram (which I have used on prior occasions):

The two-fold duty (entol¢¡) for the believer thus may be defined as:

    1. Remain rooted and faithful to Jesus’ words (i.e., teachings), which, in the Gospel relates primarily to the message regarding who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent from heaven by God the Father, and the mission he was sent to fulfill.
    2. Stay faithful to the example of Jesus in showing love (to fellow believers), being willing to lay down one’s own life for the sake of others.

In First John, this same two-fold entol¢¡ applies, as defined in 3:23:

“And this is His entol¢¡—that:

        • that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed,
          and
        • (that) we should love each other, just as he gave (the) entol¢¡ to us.”

In some ways, the duty to show love takes priority, as is indicated by its position in the Last Discourse (13:34-35; see vv. 1, 23), and its prominence in 15:9-17 (see also the closing words of 17:26). Similarly, the aspect of love seems to have priority, both in 1 John (2:5ff, see below) and 2 John (vv. 5-6).

The duty to remain in Jesus’ words is now defined in terms of trusting in Jesus as the Son of God—that is, trusting in the message (word) of who he is, a message that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (see this emphasis at the beginning of 1 John, 1:1-4). In 2 John, this trust-aspect of the entol¢¡ is defined by the Johannine keyword “truth” (al¢¡theia), vv. 3-4ff—that is, the truth of who Jesus is, and what he did (and said).

The Johannine principle of the dual entol¢¡, of trust (or truth) and love, was applied in 2 John to the conflict with the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 7-11), as we discussed in the earlier study. The same is true of the situation in 1 John. Indeed, the dual entol¢¡ is utilized even more comprehensively, as a structuring principle for the entire work. Note the way that the two aspects alternate as guiding thematic emphases, according to the following outline:

The “trust” sections each deal rather directly with the opponents, and their view/teaching regarding Jesus Christ. The “love” sections, at first glance, do not seem as relevant to the conflict, and yet, I would maintain that the author still has the opponents in view throughout. The contrast between the true and false believer is meant, primarily, to address the conflict surrounding the opponents. The important point to observe is that, in the author’s view, the opponents have shown themselves to be false believers, in that they violate both aspects of the great entol¢¡they do not hold a genuine trust in Jesus, nor do they show proper love to those who are believers.

Key to the author’s rhetorical strategy is the way that he utilizes language and wording, theological principles and points of emphases, that likely would have been familiar to many, if not most, of his readers. It is quite possible that even the opponents, as Johannine Christians, would have affirmed many of the author’s statements, even if they were to interpret them in a very different way.

With this framework in place, next week we will undertake a detailed survey of the section (2:28-3:24), with an eye toward examining how the author applies the Johannine language and precepts to the conflict that is at the heart of his work.

 

June 15: 1 John 3:1

1 John 3:1

“See what sort of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that it did not know Him.” (3:1)

The important Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God, introduced in 2:28-29 (see the previous note), continues here. This identity as God’s children (“offspring”) reflects the love God has for us. He is willing to call us His offspring, and, in fact we are His offspring. This juxtaposition between the verb kale/w (“call”) and the verb of being (ei)mi) has important theological implications, which can easily be lost in translation. The identity of believers, as the sons/children of God, is not merely symbolic or figurative, but real. This differs markedly from the use of the sonship motif in the Old Testament Scriptures, applied to the people of Israel as a whole (or limited to the righteous), or to the king, where the usage is figurative. YHWH might call Israel His “son(s)”, from an ethical-religious standpoint, and reflecting the covenant relationship His has with them; but the people are not His offspring in nature and essence.

In the Johannine writings, there is a special theological significance to the verb of being, which tends to be applied to a Divine subject. This is certainly the case for the many instances of essential predication that occur in the Gospel and Letters. These simple predicative statements, which provide essential information regarding the subject, follow a basic pattern: (i) [Divine] subject, (ii) verb of being, (iii) predicate noun (or phrase). The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) statements by Jesus in the Gospel are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication.

Usually these predicative statements have the Son (Jesus) or God the Father as the subject; but, occasionally, the formula can be applied to believers, as it is, to some extent, here. The phrase “that we should be called (the) offspring of God” is followed by the short statement “and we are”, which functions as an example of essential predication. The statement consists of the verb of being, with the subject implied on the basis of context and the form of the verb—e)sme/n (“we are”). The predicate noun/phrase is also implied, referring back to “(the) offspring of God”; thus the predicative statement here can be filled out as: “we [i.e. believers] are the offspring of God”. Because believers are the children of God, it is possible for them/us to be treated as the Divine subject of the essential predication, much as the Son of God (Jesus) is elsewhere in the Johannine writings.

The noun ui(o/$ (“son”) is reserved for Jesus (the Son), but believers are still genuinely the offspring of God. The birth as His offspring is not merely symbolic, but real (as noted above). Believers come to be born (vb genna/w) out of (e)k, “from”) God Himself. The birth is real, though it is spiritual, not physical (see Jn 3:3-8). As believers, we are born from God’s Spirit, and are His offspring through the Spirit.

Another important Johannine theme is introduced at 3:1b—that of the contrast between believers and the world (o( ko/smo$). This lays the groundwork for the development of the principal theme of 1 John, here in the central division (2:28-3:24) of the author’s work, which is: the contrast between the true and false believer. This theme is part of the broader contrast between believers and the world (with false believers belonging to the world). Throughout the Johannine writings, the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), tends to be used in a categorically negative sense, as part of a dualistic mode of thinking and expression. The “world” represents the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God, being located and manifested principally on earth (‘below’), among human beings. This use of ko/smo$ occurs throughout the Gospel, but is most prominent in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33, where the noun occurs 20 times), and the subsequent Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17 (where it is even more frequent: 18 times, in vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). Jesus prepares his disciples—and, by extension, all believers—for the hostility and opposition that they will face from the world during the course of their mission.

The contrast between God and the world was established in 2:15-17, just prior to the first section dealing directly with the ‘antichrist’ opponents (2:18-27). The contrast is then restated, in relation to the opponents, in the second ‘antichrist’ section (4:1-6), making it clear that, from the author’s standpoint, the opponents are false believers who belong to the world, not to God.

The same contrast is developed here in chapter 3, but from the more positive standpoint of what it means to be a true believer—since what is true can be distinguished from what is false, just as what is right (dikaiosu/nh, see the previous note on 2:29) can be seen in contrast to what is sin.

Because believers are the offspring of God, the world does not (and cannot) know them. There is a double meaning to the use of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) here. On the one hand, from the world’s standpoint, the world does not recognize the true believer as belonging to it, as one of its own. At the same time, from the standpoint of the truth, the statement in 3:1b means that the world cannot recognize that believers belong to God. It is precisely because (dia\ tou=to) believers are God’s own offspring that the world does not know them. Since the world does not know God Himself, they cannot know His offspring either.

Textual Note on 3:1

It should be pointed out that the short phrase “and (so) we are” (kai\ e)sme/n) is absent from a number of Greek manuscripts (K L), including most minuscules (which tend to be of later date), and the reading without the words was followed by the ‘Textus Receptus’, thus leading to the absence of the words from the King James Version (and other older English versions). However, the words are almost certainly original, being attested in an extremely wide range of manuscripts and other witnesses (Ë74 vid a A B C 33 81 614 1739 ith, 65 vg al). Possibly the words were omitted by accident, since, in the uncial writing, they would have resembled the previous word (klhqw=men); note the similarity—klhqwmen | kaiesmen. Cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition (1994), p. 642.

June 14: 1 John 2:29

1 John 2:29

As discussed in the previous daily note, the Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God was introduced in 1 John at the beginning the central division of the work (2:28-3:24), as the author addresses his audience tekni/a, “(my) dear offspring…”, or “little children…”. It is in the central division that the author most clearly expounds his primary theme—that of the contrast between true and false believers.

The author’s message also has a strong eschatological orientation, as is clear from the references in 2:28 to Jesus’ being “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), and his “(com)ing to be alongside” (parousi/a). Both of these terms are part of the early Christian eschatological vocabulary, referring to the end-time (second) coming of Jesus. Like virtually all first-century Christians, the author of 1 John held an imminent eschatology, as is clear from the wording throughout—particularly in 2:18: “Little children, this is the last hour…”. The author believed that he and his audience were living at the end of the current Age, a period which traditionally was thought to represent a time of great distress (qli/yi$, Dan 12:1 LXX, Mark 13:19, 24 par; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rev 1:9; 7:14), when the forces of darkness and evil were particularly active and intense. This evil activity includes the presence of false prophets (and false messiahs) who would lead humankind astray (Mk 13:22 par; Matt 24:11; cf. 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1); even believers are not completely safe from their deceptions. The opponents, whose views and teachings are the focus of the author’s warnings, are called “antichrists” (2:18ff; 4:3; 2 Jn 7) and are regarded as false prophets of the end-time (4:1-6), capable of leading other Christians astray.

The exhortations and warnings in 2:28-3:24 have the same eschatological context. The emphasis on remaining in Christ—and in the truth of the Gospel regarding who Jesus is (and what he did)—is particularly urgent, given the malevolent influence of the “antichrist” opponents. The opponents have departed from the truth, holding false views regarding Jesus Christ, and are thus false believers (and also false prophets). The author encourages his audience to remain in the truth; if they do, then they will not be led astray, and will show themselves to be true believers—those who have been ‘born’ of God as His offspring.

This birth/offspring imagery is particularly emphasized in the first section (2:28-3:10), where the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna) and the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”, + e)k “out of”) occur multiple times. Following the use of the diminutive tekni/a in verse 28, the term te/kna (the first occurrence in 1 John) follows in 3:1, being preceded by the genna/w + e)k idiom in v. 29:

“If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (then) you know that also every(one) doing (what is) right [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of [e)k] Him.”

This is the first instance in 1 John where believers in Christ—that is, true believers—are defined as those “having come to be (born) out of God”. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle), with the definite article, reflects a typical Johannine manner of expression. It is a way of describing a person (or group) according to a characteristic attribute or behavior—viz., “the one(s) doing/being {such}…”. When the verb is genna/w, it is typically used in the perfect tense: “the (one[s]) having coming to be (born)”. The perfect tense usually indicates a past action (or state), the effect/results of which continue into the present. This aspect of continuing is reinforced, in the Johannine theological idiom, by use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

Two points are made regarding believers as the offspring of God here in v. 29. The first point is expressed by the first phrase: “If you have seen that he is right(eous)…”. The subject of the verb e)stin (“he is”) is ambiguous, but, given the point of reference in v. 28, it can only refer to Jesus Christ (the Son). Moreover, Jesus was specifically identified by the same adjective (as a substantive title) in 2:1, “(the) Right(eous one)”, an appellation which appears to have been a traditional designation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. Lk 23:47). The true believer sees/knows who Jesus is—namely, that, as the Messiah and Son of God, he is the Righteous One, acting in accordance with what is right (dikaiosu/nh). This is part of what it means to have a genuine trust in Jesus.

If the first phrase sets the condition (protasis, “if…”), the remainder of the verse states the apodosis (“then…”): “then you know that every(one) doing (what is) right…”. The second point thus is: the true believer, following the example of Jesus himself (see v. 6), does what is right. If the Son does what is right, then believers, as the offspring/children of God, will also do what is right.

The noun dikaiosu/nh, with the definite article, denotes “the right (thing)”, or “th(at which) is right”, “what is right”; it should be understood in a collective or comprehensive sense (“right-ness”), rather than referring to a specific right deed. Again, the use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) indicates behavior that is characteristic of the believer: “the (one) doing…” (o( poiw=n). It is characteristic of the true believer that he/she “does what is right”. The author does not here indicate to his readers precisely what it means, in a practical sense, to “do what is right”. Doing right certainly would include the range of traditional religious-ethical conduct (cf. the context of 1:5-2:2ff), but the Johannine writings tend to express this, for believers, in a very particular way. The ethic of the believer in Christ is realized (and expressed) in terms of the Johannine theology—something that the author develops, in particular, throughout 2:28-3:24.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the birth/offspring theme in 2:28-3:10, examining 3:1.

 

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 6:27)

John 6:27, 53, 62

There are three occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the great ‘Bread of Life’ Discourse of chapter 6. Like the chapter 5 Discourse (see the previous study), the Bread of Life Discourse is built upon the historical tradition of a miracle episode—the Miraculous Feeding episode (6:1-14ff), known also from the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10 pars). In many ways, the chapter 6 Discourse is better integrated with the miracle episode than is the chap. 5 Discourse. The manna-theme of “bread from heaven”, featuring in the Exposition sections of the Discourse, provides a natural fit to the feeding miracle (with its multiplication of the bread-loaves).

The Discourse proper (vv. 22-59) may be divided into three parts, each of which further expounds the previous section:

    • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
    • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
      • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
      • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
      • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
      • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
      • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
    • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
      • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
    • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
      • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
    • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)
John 6:27

The principal saying/statement by Jesus that opens the Discourse is in verse 27:

“Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of man will give to you…”

Jesus adds the following statement regarding “the son of man”:

“…for (on) this (one) God the Father (has) set (His) seal.”

There are thus three main points made by Jesus in this saying:

    • There is food, different from ordinary physical food, that remains (vb me/nw) into the (eternal) life to come.
    • The “son of man” gives people this food.
    • God the Father has His seal on this “son of man”

In turn, these points reflect key Johannine theological themes or principles:

    • Use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) to express the Divine (eternal) nature and character of the union between God and the believer, in parallel here with the equally important motif of life (zwh/, i.e. eternal life).
    • The Son (Jesus) gives life to the world, to those who trust in him (i.e., to believers).
    • Jesus (the Son) is the authoritative representative of God the Father, having been sent by Him, and carrying His message.
      The seal-motif, however, is not typically Johannine (cf. 3:33), though it does occur repeatedly (in a different context) in the book of Revelation.

How are we to understand the use of the expression “the son of man” here in verse 27? At the historical level, as a saying of Jesus, apart from the Johannine literary context, it would be most natural to regard it primarily as a self-reference by Jesus, such as in many of the examples we looked at in the Synoptic Gospels. The most natural parallel would be the saying in Mark 10:45 par, which also relates to the three Passion-predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33 pars). Though the initial saying in verse 27 is not clearly connected with Jesus’ death, that association will be developed over the course of the Exposition sections that follow (cf. the next part of this study).

Thus, as a self-reference, the phrase “…which the son of man will give” is essentially equivalent to “…which I will give”. And, indeed, Jesus later uses this formulation with the first person, in verse 51: “…and the bread, indeed, which I [e)gw/] will give”. This is very much in keeping with the distinctive usage of the expression by Jesus, which could perhaps be effectively translated as “th(is) son of man” —i.e., this human being, this person, namely Jesus himself.

However, there can be little doubt that the Gospel writer intended the expression to be understood in light of the earlier occurrences—in 1:51, 3:13-14, and 5:27. Three thematic aspects of that earlier usage would seem to be relevant here:

    • The heavenly origin of the son of man
    • The descent (vb katabai/nw, “step down”) of the son man
    • The authority of the son of man, given to him by God the Father, which includes the authority to give life to those who believe

All three of these explithemes are developed by Jesus (and the Gospel writer) throughout the Discourse. The themes are summarized concisely in the initial exposition by Jesus in verse 29, which reads like a Johannine confessional statement; he defines the “work of God” (v. 28) as: “…that you should trust in the (one) whom that (One) sent forth”. Jesus is the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father, and thus possesses the authority of the Father, to speak and act. In the second exposition (vv. 32-33) of this first portion of the Discourse, Jesus utilizes the Scriptural tradition of the manna as “the bread from heaven”(Exod 16:14; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15), introduced by his audience in v. 31. Through this motif, Jesus identifies himself as the “bread from [e)k] heaven”, though he does not make the identification explicit right away, but instead prepares the groundwork for it through an exposition of the Scripture:

“…(it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you ‘the bread out of heaven’, but (rather) my Father gives to you the true ‘bread out of heaven’; for, the bread of God is the (one) stepping down [katabai/nwn] out of heaven and giving life to the world.”

The perceptive reader/hearer of the Gospel would immediately recognize the Christological use here of the verb katabai/nw, as referring to the descent of the Son of God from heaven, and his incarnation on earth in the person of Jesus. The expression “the son of man” was used in this context in 3:13 (note), and was alluded to earlier in 1:51 (note).

In the next part of this study, we will look at how the Johannine themes, associated with “the son of man”, are developed in the second part (vv. 35-50) of the Discourse, as well as their unique application in the third part (vv. 51-58), including the apparent eucharistic context of the “son of man” saying in verse 53.

June 13: 1 John 2:28

1 John 2:28-3:10

When we examine the Johannine birth/sonship theme as it appears in First John, we notice that there are two main sections where the theme is most prominent—2:28-3:10 and 4:20-5:4a. As we have seen, in the Johannine writings, there are two principal idioms for expressing the idea of believers being ‘born’ as the children of God: (1) the use of the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”), and (2) the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), often used together with the preposition e)k (“out of, from”). Both of these Johannine idioms occur in 2:28-3:10—the noun te/knon, in the expression te/kna [tou=] qeou= (“offspring of God”), is used four times (3:1-2, 10 [twice]); and the verb genna/w (+ e)k) occurs three times (2:29; 3:9 [twice]). Clearly, the theme of believers as the offspring/children of God is fundamental to the message of this section.

The section 2:28-3:10 represents the first portion of the central division (2:28-3:24) of 1 John. In this division, the author most clearly and directly expounds the central theme of his work—namely, the contrast between true and false believers. The true believer is a child born of God, while the false believer is not; indeed, the false believer has a very different parentage (cf. the prior note on John 8:39-47).

Verse 28

“And now, (my) dear offspring [tekni/a, i.e. little children], you must remain [me/nete] in him, (so) that, when he should be made to shine forth, we may hold outspokenness, and not be shamed (away) from him in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a].” (v. 28)

Throughout the work, the author repeatedly addresses his audience as “little children”, using either the plural noun paidi/a (2:13, 18) or tekni/a (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). It is a term of endearment, by which the author also presents himself a parental ‘father-figure’ to the Johannine Christians whom he is addressing. This reflects a certain apostolic mind-set of the author, rather similar, it would seem, to that of Paul, who viewed himself as parent to the congregations he helped to found (1 Cor 4:15; Gal 4:19; 1 Thess 2:7, 11; cf. 2 Tim 1:2; 2:1). The noun tekni/on is a diminutive of te/knon, meaning “little offspring” (i.e., “little child”); Jesus uses it, in a manner similar to the author of 1 John, in addressing his disciples at the beginning of the Last Discourse (13:33).

Given the theological significance of te/knon in the Johannine writings, it is fair to assume that there is an echo of this in the use of tekni/on as well. The author is addressing his readers/hearers, not simply with a term of endearment (“[my] little children”), but as true believers in Christ (tekni/a = te/kna). This is part of the author’s rhetorical strategy. By treating them as true believers, this establishes the expectation that they will behave as true believers, and will reject the false teaching and example of the ‘antichrist’ opponents (cf. the flanking sections 2:18-27 and 4:1-6).

At the beginning of the section (see the translation of verse 28 above), the author addresses his audience as tekni/a, implying that they are (and should be) true believers. However, even if they are, currently, believers in Christ, they must remain in him. The verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) is one of the great Johannine keywords, carrying fundamental theological significance. It has already been used numerous times earlier in 1 John (2:6, 10, 14, 17), but particularly in the prior section (2:18-27) that deals directly with the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 19, 24 [3 times], 27 [twice]). The use here in v. 28 picks up from the climactic occurrence at the end of v. 27:

“…as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not false, and just as it (has) taught you, (so) you remain in him.”

The Spirit remains in the believer, through which the believer is in union with Jesus the Son (and God the Father), and teaches the believer the truth. Yet it is necessary for the believer to remain in this union, which can only happen if he/she remains in the truth. This is the thrust of the author’s exhortation here in verse 28, repeating the exhortation (and warning) at the end of the prior section.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the birth/offspring theme in 2:28-3:10, looking at verse 29 and the eschatological context of the author’s message.

 

 

 

June 12: John 11:52

John 11:52

The Johannine keyword te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”), used in reference to the believers as the children of God, occurs with some frequency in the Letters (nine times, five in 1 John), but only three times in the Gospel. We have already discussed two of the occurrences, in 1:12 (note) and 8:39 (see the previous note). The third is in 11:52; interestingly, however, it is not spoken by Jesus, but by Caiaphas—as an opponent of Jesus. This is an example of the irony that we find in a number of places throughout the Gospel. An opponent of Jesus unwittingly speaks using Johannine theological terminology—regarding Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and believers as the children of God.

We saw something similar in the Discourse-section 8:31-47 of the Sukkot Discourse (chaps. 7-8), discussed in the previous note. In verses 33 and 39a, some in the audience make the claim of being children of Abraham, to which Jesus responds, in v. 39b, using the noun te/kna (“offspring”). His point is, that they cannot truly be the te/kna of Abraham, since they are opposed to him, and even wish to see him put to death—something which Abraham never would do. The implication is that they are actually children of the Devil. To this, Jesus’ opponents respond further by claiming to have God as their Father—drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition that defined the relationship between YHWH and Israel (and especially the righteous ones of Israel) as that of a Father to his son. In doing so, they unwittingly use the Johannine theological idiom genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] of”), implying that they are the offspring (te/kna) of God. This, of course, is not possible, since they do not trust in Jesus as the Son of God, a point made clear by Jesus in the exposition of vv. 40-47.

The episode in 11:45-53 also involves opponents of Jesus. It follows the great Lazarus episode of chapter 11 (vv. 1-44), which is at the center of the entire Gospel narrative (cf. the central confessional statement in verse 27). Largely in reaction to the raising of Lazarus, the religious authorities in Jerusalem—that is, the high Council, or Sanhedrin—gather together, in order to determine what action they should take. Eventually, they decided that Jesus must be put to death, and made plans to achieve that goal (v. 53). As presented in the narrative, key to that decision was the advice given by the high priest Caiaphas (vv. 49-50), advising that “…it bears together (well) for us, that one man should die off over [u(pe/r, i.e. for the sake of] the people, and that the entire nation should not perish”.

Here Caiaphas unwittingly describes the salvific character of Jesus’ death, using terminology found elsewhere in the Gospel. For example, the preposition u(pe/r (“over”, in the sense of “on behalf of, for the sake of”) occurs on a number of occasions in reference to the sacrificial, atoning nature of Jesus’ death—6:51 (cp. Mark 14:24 par); 10:11, 15; 17:19; cf. also 13:37-38; 15:13. Also, the idea that the entire nation “should not perish” echoes the wording in 3:16 (cf. 6:39; 10:28; 17:12).

According to the information provided by the Gospel writer, Caiaphas’ advice is in line with a prophecy he had apparently spoken some time earlier, in which he predicted that:

“…Yeshua was about to die off over [i.e. for the sake of] the nation—and not over the nation only, but (so) that also the offspring [te/kna] of God, having been scattered throughout, might be gathered together into one.” (vv. 51b-52)

This is perhaps the supreme example of Johannine irony, and also of the lack of understanding by Jesus’ opponents (presented so frequently in the Discourses). Here, Jesus’ opponents do not even understand the true meaning of their own words. Caiaphas’ prophecy is an unwitting prophecy of the effect of Jesus’ mission (and his sacrificial death)—that it would unite together all of the “offspring of God”. Caiaphas meant this expression in the manner of Jesus’ opponents in 8:39 (see above), as a reference to the Israelite/Jewish people; however, from the Johannine standpoint, it refers to believers in Christ.

The theme of unity, expressed by Caiaphas’ final words (ei)$ e%n, “into one”), also has an important place in the Johannine theology. It is most prominent in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where the adjective ei!$ (neut. e%n), “one”, occurs five times (vv. 11, 21, 22 [twice], 23). There is also an important occurrence in 10:16, where Jesus similarly uses it in the context of the unity of believers. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the proclamation of the Gospel message—the Christian mission—will result in uniting together all the “offspring of God”. Every one who belongs to God will respond to the Gospel, and through trust in Jesus, will come to be born (1:12-13; 3:3-8) as the offspring/children of God. Through the Spirit, all of these believers are united as one—in union with God the Father and Jesus the Son, but also with each other.

June 11: John 8:39-46

John 8:39-46

In examining the Johannine theme of the spiritual birth of believers, it is worth noting that the idiom of the verb genna/w + the preposition e)k (“come to be [born] out of”) can be applied not only to believers (see the previous notes on 3:3-8 and 1:12-13), but also to their opposite—to non-believers and those who are hostile/opposed to Christ. This reflects a starkly dualistic outlook (and mode of expression) that pervades the Johannine writings. All human beings belong to one of two categories, presented as dualistic opposites—light vs. darkness, above vs. below, believers vs. the world, God and Christ vs. the “chief of this world” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). By this manner of expression, if one is not of God (and His Spirit), then that person must be of the Devil.

This dualistic contrast, of children of God vs. children of the Devil, features prominently in the Sukkot-Discourse complex of chapters 7-8. The theme is developed gradually, throughout the Discourse-sections of 8:12-59. The Johannine message of Jesus as the Son, sent from heaven by God the Father, is expounded in vv. 12-30, with particular emphasis on the word spoken by Jesus, bearing witness to his identity as the Son. The true disciple is one who trusts in this word (see v. 30), but then also remains in it (vv. 31-32).

At this point in the Discourse, some of Jesus’ hearers unwittingly introduce the birth/sonship motif, by referring to themselves (Israelites/Jews) as the “seed of Abraham” (v. 33). Jesus plays upon this self-identification, pointing out that, because they oppose him (and even seek to kill him), they cannot truly be Abraham’s children—since Abraham would not act in such away (vv. 37, 39-40, 56). This logic follows an important Johannine theme—viz., that the Son (Jesus), as a dutiful son, follows the example of his Father, faithfully doing what he sees the Father doing, and saying what he hears the Father saying (v. 38). In this regard, the speech and conduct of a person reveals who his/her father is. By opposing God’s Son, and seeking to have Jesus put to death, these people reveal that the Devil is their true father (vv. 38, 41ff).

Prior to verse 39, the expression “seed [spe/rma] of Abraham” is used; however, now the important Johannine word te/knon (plur. te/kna, “offspring”) is introduced. This shift enables the contrast, between children of God and children of the Devil, to be established and expounded in vv. 39-47. The response of these people to the Son (Jesus) sent by God the Father, and to his words (which are God’s words), shows that they cannot be true offspring (te/kna) of Abraham (v. 40).

In verse 41, there is a further conceptual shift, from being the offspring of Abraham to being the offspring of God. Again, it is Jesus’ opponents who unwittingly introduce the theme, ironically using Johannine theological terminology:

“We have not come to be (born) [gegennh/meqa] out of [e)k] prostitution [i.e. sexual immorality], but we have one Father, God!”

The Johannine idiom of genna/w + e)k is here utilized; in a roundabout way, these people are claiming to be the “offspring [te/kna] of God”, even though they are clearly not believers in Christ. In the remainder of this section (vv. 42-47), the verb genna/w is not used, but the preposition e)k does occur repeatedly. In the Johannine terminology, the preposition alone can stand for genna/w + e)k, as a reference to the birth (of believers) as the offspring of God. Actually, the preposition has a range of theological meaning, with three specific semantic layers or aspects that are in play here:

    • Indicating origin (“from”), specifically of Jesus (the Son) coming from (lit. “out of”) God the Father
    • The idea of birth—of (believers) being born of God
    • The more general idea of “belonging to”, viz., of believers being of God

The first aspect occurs in verse 42, as Jesus affirms his heavenly origin, with the preposition e)k doubled: “for I came out [vb e)ce/rxomai] out of [e)k, i.e. from] God”. By contrast, Jesus’ opponents have their origin (or source, their ‘birth’) from the Devil: “You are out of [e)k] (your) father the Dia/bolo$” (v. 44). As children of the Devil, they think and act and speak as their ‘father’ does. God is the source of truth (a)lh/qeia), while the Devil is the source of that which is false (to\ yeu=do$), vv. 44b-46. The essential contrast is stated concisely, in the climactic verse 47:

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

All three layers of meaning for the preposition e)k (see above) can be applied here:

    • Jesus as the Son who comes from God, and who hears God the Father speaking
    • Believers as those who are ‘born’ of God, and thus are able to hear the words of God (i.e., trusting in them)
    • Moreover, believers are truly of God, belonging to Him as His offspring

There are numerous parallels to this wording in the Johannine writings, most notably the statement by Jesus in Jn 18:37.

While the illustration of unbelievers as ‘children’ of the Devil may be useful, it should not be pressed too far. Unbelievers do not “come to be (born)” (vb genna/w) of the Devil in the manner that believers “come to be (born)” of God. The phrasing here in verse 47 is more proper, from a Johannine theological standpoint: a non-believer (or unbeliever) is, by definition, not born of God. This negation is fundamental to the distinction between a believer and a non-believer.

 

June 10: John 3:3-8

John 3:3-8

In the Johannine writings, the theme of believers as the sons/children of God is especially prominent, and is expressed primarily in two ways: (1) through the use of the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring”; and (2) by the verb genna/w + the preposition e)k. The statement in 1:12b-13, discussed in the previous note, uses both of these elements.

The principal passage in the Gospel for this theme is the first section (vv. 3-8) of the Nicodemus Discourse in chapter 3. In these verses, the verb genna/w occurs eight times, four of which also use the preposition e)k (“out of”).

The verb genna/w is a verb of becoming, related to the more common gi/nomai, and with a comparable meaning. Both verbs can be used in the context of birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, this aspect of meaning is more regularly expressed by genna/w. The verb is relatively rare in the Synoptic Gospels, outside of the Matthean genealogy (1:1-16, where it occurs 40 times). It occurs primarily in the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives, in reference to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:1, 4; Luke 1:35), but also to the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13, 57). Otherwise, it is used only rarely, in the context of an ordinary human birth (Mark 14:21; Matt 19:12; 26:24; Lk 23:29). The idiom of genna/w + e)k (i.e., “come to be born out of”) occurs only in Matt 1:20, in reference to the conception/birth of Jesus from the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in the New Testament, outside of the Johannine writings, genna/w + e)k occurs only in Galatians 4:23 (cf. the earlier note on Gal 4:21-31).

As mentioned above, the verb genna/w occurs eight times in 3:3-8, the first section of the Nicodemus Discourse, in which the theme of birth is emphasized. Following the narrative introduction (vv. 1-2), the central statement by Jesus in verse 3 begins the Discourse:

“If one does not come to be (born) [e)ggenhqh=|] from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.”

The Johannine Discourses of Jesus follow a basic pattern, which is outlined below (applied to the chap. 3 Discourse):

    • Statement by Jesus (v. 3)
    • Response by his hearer(s), reflecting a lack of understanding (v. 4)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true meaning of his words (vv. 5-8)
    • A second response by his hearer(s), again demonstrating a lack of understanding (v. 9)
    • Further exposition by Jesus (here, in two parts: vv. 10-15, 16-21)

In the initial exposition (vv. 5-8), Jesus explains the meaning of his statement in v. 3. Nicodemus, in his initial response (v. 4), has difficulty understanding Jesus’ use of the expression “come to be (born) from above [a&nwqen]”. He understands the adverb a&nwqen in the figurative/temporal sense of “again”, specifically in the context of a person coming to be born “a second time”, repeating his/her physical birth (from the mother’s womb). Jesus, however, explains that the ‘birth’ of which he speaks is a Divine birth, coming from God (“from above”). Since God Himself is Spirit (a point to be made in 4:24), a birth from God must be a spiritual, not a physical, birth. Jesus rephrases his initial statement in verse 5:

“If one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God.”

Being born “from above” is explained as being born “out of [e)k] water and (the) Spirit”, while “seeing” the Kingdom of God is explained in terms of “entering” (“coming into”) the Kingdom. In verses 6-8, the explanation of “from above” (a&nwqen) is further narrowed to “out of the Spirit”, without any mention of water. This has led commentators to debate the significance of “out of water” (e)c u%dato$) in verse 5. There are three lines of interpretation:

    • “water” and “Spirit” are essentially synonymous, perhaps in anticipation of the water-motif in the chapter 4 Discourse (vv. 10, 13-14; cf. vv. 23-24; 7:37-39)
    • “water” and “Spirit” are supplemental, referring (most likely) to the baptism ritual and its symbolism; “Spirit” is primary (vv. 6, 8), but “water” (i.e., baptism) is still essential for the believer (in order to “enter” the Kingdom)
    • the conjunction kai/ (“and”) signifies that in addition to being born out of water (i.e., one’s physical/biological), it is necessary specifically to be born “of the Spirit”.

I am very much inclined toward the third approach, which seems to be more in keeping with the context of vv. 3-4, and the exposition by Jesus in verses 6ff. There is a clear contrast between an ordinary human birth (from the mother’s womb), and a Divine/heavenly birth from the Spirit of God. In this regard, “out of (the) flesh” (v. 6) seems to be parallel with “out of water” in v. 5. Moreover, I would maintain that this line of interpretation is in accord with the Jesus-John contrast that runs through chapters 1-3; in particular, John’s baptism with water is contrasted with Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit (1:26, 31, 33; cf. 3:22-23ff). This thematic contrast is undercut if the wording in verse 5 refers to the (physical) water of the baptism ritual.

The irony is that Nicodemus was not entirely incorrect in his understanding of a&nwqen as connoting “again, a second time”, because a second birth is indeed required.

In his initial exposition, Jesus does not explain how it is that one comes to be born “from above”, that is, “from the Spirit”. This is only expounded subsequently, in vv. 10-21. The final portion (vv. 16-21), in particular, implicitly declares that this spiritual birth takes place only when a person trusts in Jesus as the Son sent to earth by God the Father. The theological (and Christological) basis for this is established in the prior section (vv. 10-15), by way of the Johannine descent-ascent schema. The Son has descended (lit. “stepped down”) to earth from heaven (v. 13), and, when his mission on earth is completed (culminating with his death), he will ascend (“step up”) back to heaven (vv. 13a, 14). Both aspects (descent and ascent of the Son) are necessary for one’s trust in Jesus to be genuine (and full), enabling that person to both see and enter the Kingdom of God.

In comparison with his teaching in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus says very little about the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of John. In fact, there are only two passages where the Kingdom-theme is dealt with to any extent—here in 3:3-8, and the dialogue with Pilate in 18:33-38. Throughout the rest of the Gospel, it is not the Messianic kingship of Jesus that is emphasized, but, rather, his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. Similarly, in place of the Kingdom as an eschatological concept, we find the twin Johannine themes of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) and life (zwh/). And, indeed, these are the two key themes introduced and expounded in the conclusion of the Discourse (vv. 16-21). The one who trusts in Jesus, possesses life, having already passed through the Judgment, while the one who does not trust, has already been judged.

This aspect of what it means to be a believer in Jesus is stated succinctly in verse 15, in relation to the descent-ascent of the Son:

“…(so) that every(one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The parallel between the idiom of “entering the Kingdom” and “entering life”, whereby the two can be regarded as largely synonymous, is reasonably well established in the Gospel Tradition, within the teaching of Jesus (Mark 9:43, 45, 47 par; 10:15, 17 par; Matt 19:17, 23-24 par; cf. also Matt 7:14, 21).

June 7: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

The theme of the sonship of believers is most prominent in the Johannine writings. Indeed, it is a key component of the Johannine theology, as expressed throughout the Gospel and Letters of John. In the Gospel, the theme is introduced within the Prologue (1:1-18), at verses 12-13.

As discussed in my recent study, and in an earlier set of notes, one theory regarding the composition of the Prologue, which has gained wide acceptance among commentators, is that the Gospel writer has adapted an existing Christ-hymn—presumably one which had been in use among the Johannine churches. There have been a number of plausible reconstructions, attempting to isolate the core hymn. While there remain differences of opinion regarding the portions that derive from an original hymn, there is general agreement that verses 6-8, 12-13, and 15 represent expository comments by the Gospel writer. These comments serve to integrate the hymn more fully into the Gospel narrative; in particular, the references to John the Baptist (vv. 6-8, 15) establish the important Jesus-John contrast that runs through chapters 1-3.

Far more essential to the message of the Gospel—and the Johannine theology—as a whole are the comments in vv. 12-13. Some commentators see verse 12a as part of the original hymn. Indeed, it does follow verses 9-11 quite naturally, and seems to provide a necessary climax for this portion of the hymn:

“He came unto his own,
and (yet) his own did not receive him;
but as (many) as did receive him,
to them he gave authority to become offspring of God”
(vv. 11-12a)

In my view, verses 9-11 refer primarily to the presence/activity of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God throughout history—particularly the history of the Israelite/Jewish people. While this section anticipates the incarnation of the Logos (in the person of Jesus), that is not the principal point of reference in these verses. To everyone who receives (i.e., accepts) the Word/Wisdom of God, the Divine Word/Wisdom enables that person to become a child of God. This is a theme of Wisdom literature (e.g., Wisd 2:13, 16-18; Sirach 4:10)—viz., that it is specifically the righteous person who is the true son/child of God.

Even if verse 12a is part of the original hymn, and refers primarily to the presence/activity of the Divine Wisdom generally, what follows in vv. 12b-13 definitely represents a Christological application of this tradition by the Gospel writer. Ahead of the actual reference to the incarnation of Christ (v. 14), the author introduces a key theme regarding believers in Christ—namely, that they/we are to be identified as the children (lit. “offspring,” te/kna) of God, on the basis of our trust in Jesus. The Johannine writings always use the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna) for believers, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) being reserved for Jesus (as the Son); believers are never referred to as the “sons [ui(oi/] of God” (cp. Gal 3:26; Rom 8:14, 19).

The continuation of verse 12 (including v. 13) reads:

“but as (many) as did receive him,
to them he gave authority to become offspring of God,
to the (one)s trusting in his name—
those who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out (the) will of man, but out of God have come to be (born).”

The qualifying phrase “to the (one)s trusting in his name” makes clear that the Gospel writer is interpreting vv. 9-12a specifically in terms of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word/Wisdom of God (v. 14).

An equally important point of interpretation for the Gospel writer is that this ‘birth’ of believers is in no way an ordinary physical/biological birth. This is emphasized by the three-fold denial in v. 13:

    • “not out of blood” —that is, not the result of the biological/chemical processes involving blood; the plural of the noun ai!ma (lit. “bloods”) could be meant to include the contributions from both the father and mother.
    • “not out of (the) will of (the) flesh” —that is, the biological-sexual drive for intercourse and procreation.
    • “not out of (the) will of man” —that is, the human desire and intention (by both father and mother) to have children.

Instead, the birth of a believer is entirely spiritual, coming from God Himself.

There is an interesting (minor) variant reading in v. 13, which is notable for its Christological implications. Instead of the plural (“those who…have come to be be born” [oi^e)gennh/qhsan]), a few textual witnesses read the singular (i.e., “the [one] who…came to be born” [o^e)gennh/qh]). This reading occurs in no surviving Greek manuscript, but is found in one Old Latin manuscript (b), and is attested by several early Christian writings of the 2nd-3rd centuries—the Epistle of the Apostles §3; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16.2, 19.2; and Tertullian On the Flesh of Christ §§19, 24. The singular reading, doubtless influenced by the preceding pronoun (“his [name]”) at the end of v. 12, makes the ‘birth’ in v. 13 that of Jesus himself—i.e., the incarnation, or, more specifically, his virginal conception and birth. There have been a few commentators, going back to Harnack and Schmid (cf. also Zahn, Blass, Loissey, Boismard, and others; for a thorough treatment, see Vellanickal, pp. 112-32), who have argued that the singular reading is original; however, the vast majority of scholars accept the overwhelming external evidence for the plural. On the significance of the singular reading in the context of the Christological debates of the 2nd-3rd centuries, see the discussion by Ehrman (pp. 26-27, 59).

The plural is certainly more in keeping with the Johannine theological idiom. And, indeed, the language in vv. 12b-13 is thoroughly Johannine—particularly the use of the substantive participle (with definite article), as a way of referring to believers, and the specific idiom of the preposition e)k (“out of”) + the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”). Apart from the second occurrence (possibly) of the verb in 1 John 5:18, this theological use of genna/w always refers to believers. The verb is used of Jesus in Jn 18:37, but in reference to his human birth, not a Divine birth from God.

Verse 13 contains the first occurrence of this important genna/w + e)k (“come to be born out of”) idiom, referring to the spiritual birth of believers (and to the opposite, for unbelievers). It occurs nine more times in the Gospel (eight of which are in 3:3-8), and ten times in 1 John. The idiom is distinctively Johannine, reflecting the Johannine theology, and is virtually non-existent in the rest of the New Testament. In the next daily note, we will examine how this idiom is used to express the sonship-theme in 3:3-8.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993).
“Vellanickal” refers to Matthew Vellanickal, The Divine Sonship of Christians in the Johannine Writings (Rome: Biblical Institute Press: 1977).