January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

January 30: 1 Thessalonians 5:5

1 Thessalonians 5:5

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night nor of darkness.”

In this series of notes on the theme of believers in Christ as “children of God” (cf. the initial note on John 1:12-13), we turn to the earliest reference in the Pauline letters—Paul’s declaration in 1 Thess 5:5 that believers are “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$) and “sons of (the) day” (ui(oi\ h(me/ra$). Neither of the expressions “sons of God” or “children of God” occur in this verse (nor anywhere else in the Thessalonian letters); however, the designation “sons of light” is related conceptually, even it is drawn from an entirely different line of tradition.

The significance of the expression (as a designation for believers) is rooted in the contrastive distinction between light and darkness. The contrast is a natural and obvious one, and can be found in many cultures and religious traditions. Paul’s usage, however, is derived primarily from a light-darkness contrast found in the Old Testament Scriptures, where the opposing motifs of “light” and “darkness” are utilized in an ethical-religious sense. Apart from the idea of the separation of light and darkness that is part of the natural order (as described in the Creation account, Gen 1:4-5, 18), the juxtaposition of light and darkness, in an ethical-religious sense, occurs most frequently in the Wisdom literature (esp. the book of Job, e.g., 3:4; 10:22; 12:22; 17:12; 18:18; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; cf. also Eccl 2:13), the Psalms (18:28; 112:4; 139:11-12, etc), and the book of Isaiah (cf. 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 45:7; 50:10; 58:10; 59:9). Light is associated with the Divine, as an attribute of God Himself, but more particularly characteristic of His Word, Wisdom, and Instruction (Torah). It comes from God, serving as a blessing for humankind (Num 6:25; Psalm 89:15, etc), and even as a symbol of life itself (Psalm 49:9; 56:13, etc). Those who follow God’s Instruction receive illumination from the Divine light (Psalm 36:9; 43:3; 119:105, 130; Prov 6:23, etc).

Based on this ethical-religious usage, particularly as expressed within the Wisdom literature, the righteous—that is, those who are faithful to God and who follow His Instruction—are characterized as belonging to the light, possessing the light (a reflection or portion of the Divine light) as an attribute (cf. Psalm 37:6; 97:11; Prov 4:18; 13:9; Isa 2:5, etc). In the first centuries B.C./A.D., the Community of the Qumran texts developed this line of tradition. A number of texts feature this light-darkness contrast, but expressed from a more pronounced dualistic worldview. Indeed, the Qumran texts even make use of the specific expression “sons of light” (roa yn@B=) as a designation for the righteous ones of Israel—that is, members of the Community—while all others (i.e., the wicked) belong to the “sons of darkness” (Ev#oj yn@B=); see the key references in the Community Rule document (1QS) 1:9-10; 3:13, 24-25 and the War Scroll (1QM) 1:1, 3. Thus, the faithful members of the Qumran Community are designated as “sons of light”, much as believers in Christ (i.e., faithful members of the Christian Community) are by Paul (here), and elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 16:8; John 12:36).

The idiom “sons of” also reflects Hebrew usage (going back to the Scriptures). The noun /B@ (“son”) is often used in a general (and more abstract) sense, indicating a person who belongs to a particular group, and, as such, possesses (or exhibits) a certain set of attributes or characteristics. Thus, the expression “son of light”, refers to someone who belongs to the light—that is, light as a Divine characteristic. Such a person exhibits an affinity for the Divine light, particularly by showing devotion to God’s Instruction (Torah)—he/she is faithful to God and to his Word and Wisdom (cf. the Scriptural references above). Belonging to the light essentially means that the person belongs to God; thus, a “son of light” is also a “son of God”.

A comparable light-darkness contrast occurs in a number of New Testament texts; it features most prominently in the Johannine writings, but is found as an important idiom in the Pauline letters as well. Paul’s use of the contrast is similar to the Johannine, though without the pronounced and pervasive dualistic orientation that characterizes much of the Johannine writings. Paul uses the light-darkness motif two primary ways: (1) in terms of the Divine illumination that comes through the Gospel (e.g., 2 Cor 4:4-6; cf. 2 Tim 1:10; Eph 3:9), and (2) as an ethical paradigm. The latter emphasis is found here in 1 Thess 5:5, and similarly in 2 Cor 6:14; Rom 13:12 (cf. also Eph 5:8-9ff).

In Rom 13:12, as perhaps also in Eph 5:8ff, we find a similar eschatological orientation to Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation. Eschatology certainly dominates the two Thessalonian letters, and provides the immediate context for the declaration here in 5:5. The reason for this emphasis is that Paul, like virtually every first-century Christian, held an imminent eschatology, expecting the end to come very soon (presumably within the lifetime of he and his readers). There is thus a special urgency to his exhortation: the “day of the Lord” surely will come very soon, and could arrive at any moment (vv. 2-3). Paul makes use of a play on the word “day” (h(me/ra)—referring at once to both the coming “day of the Lord” and the ethical-religious “light”-motif.

In the next daily note, we will continue this examination of verse 5, with a brief exegetical analysis of the surrounding passage (vv. 1-11).

May 29: 1 John 2:8-11

 1 John 2:8-11

The contrastive light-darkness theme in 1:5-2:2 is further developed in the next subsection (2:3-11). Again, the principal point of the contrast is to demonstrate the difference between true and false believers. Two points are made about the false believers in 1:5-2:2:

    • They claim to have union (lit. common-bond, koinwni/a) with God, and yet “walk about” in the darkness (of the world), rather than the light of God (1:6-7)
    • They claim to be without sin, failing to acknowledge the existence/reality of their sin, without which it cannot be removed/cleansed by the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”) (1:8-2:2)

In all probability, the author is aiming these comments specifically at the opponents he mentions in the “antichrist” passages of 2:18-27; 4:1-6. As discussed in the previous note, the ethical-religious orientation of the idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) refers primarily to the great dual-commandment in 3:23-24. That is to say, whether one “walks about” in light or in darkness depends on whether one is obedient to the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is placed upon believers. Here in 2:3-11 it becomes clear that this, indeed, is the author’s focus and point of reference.

As he states in verse 3, the true believer is one who keeps the e)ntolai/:

“And in this we know that we have known Him: if we keep/guard [vb thre/w] His e)ntolai.”

The noun e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, but more properly refers to a duty that is placed upon a person to complete. In the Johannine Gospel it refers specifically to the duty/mission which God the Father gave the Son (Jesus) to complete on earth (10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; cf. 19:30). However, in the Last Discourse, the focus shifts to the duty which falls upon the disciples (believers), according to the instruction which the Son, in turn, gives to them (13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10-12, 14, 17); principally, this refers to the duty to love one another, following the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love.

This Johannine usage informs completely the use of e)ntolh/ in 1 John, the only real difference being that there is an expanded emphasis that encompasses both components of the great dual-e)ntolh/ (as defined in 3:23-24): (a) trust in Jesus as the Son of God (according to the truth), and (b) love for one another, according to Jesus’ own example. In the Johannine writings, the noun can be used in the singular (e)ntolh/) or plural (e)ntolai/), interchangeably, with no apparent difference in meaning. This is, perhaps, best explained by the fact that the great two-fold duty (of trust and love) can be viewed as either one command or as two.

The similarity of expression between verse 4 and the earlier declarations in 1:6 and 8 would seem to make clear that, for the author of 1 John, sin (= “walking in darkness”) is defined principally in terms of violating the great dual-e)ntolh/:

“The (one) saying that ‘I have known Him,’ and (yet) not keeping His e)ntolai/, is a liar [yeu/sth$], and the truth is not in him”

In other words, the one who does not fulfill the great two-fold duty (3:23-24), required of every believer, is not a true believer. Such a person, indeed, sins most egregiously, even if they would think themselves otherwise to be without sin (1:8-2:2). This is an understanding of sin (a(marti/a [vb a(marta/nw]) that is quite different from how the world typically understands it (cf. the earlier note on Jn 16:9).

True believers complete the duty (to love), demonstrating that they are truly united with God, and so God’s own love is completed [tetelei/wtai] in them (v. 5). And, in so doing, the believer is following (“walking about” according to) Jesus’ own example (v. 6; Jn 13:34; 15:12ff). The author makes clear that this duty is nothing new, but corresponds to what believers have held (as their duty) from the beginning (v. 7).

The use of the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”), along with the noun lo/go$ (“word”), is a direct echo of the prologue (1:1). As I have previously discussed, there is a dual meaning to this wording. Primarily it is Christological, referring to Jesus as Son who was with God “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1ff); secondarily, it is evangelistic, referring to the message about Jesus, going back to the “beginning” —the time of first disciples and the earthly ministry of Jesus.

To say that true believers hold (vb e&xw) this lo/go$ “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$) has a similar two-fold meaning: (1) they have the living Word abiding in them (through the Spirit), and (2) they receive and accept the historical Gospel Tradition about the Word, preserved and transmitted from the first disciples.

The only way that one can speak of this duty for believers as being “new” is in the eschatological context of the light-darkness contrast (v. 8). The mission of Jesus (the Son), culminating in his exaltation and return to the Father, marks the beginning of a New Age. This is a view held by virtually all first-century Christians. The coming of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the eschatological expectation, implementing a “new covenant” for God’s people (believers). The Johannine writings evince a particularly strong sense of ‘realized’ eschatology—meaning that, for believers, the future events of the end-time are realized in the present, through the Spirit. This sense is expressed here in verse 8:

“…the darkness has led (itself) along [i.e. has passed along], and the true light already shines”

Though the world remains under the dominion of darkness and evil, this is not so for believers, who already experience the reality of Jesus’ victory over the world (Jn 16:33).

The general ethical language of 1:6-7 is now made more precise, with the idiom of “walking about” in the darkness defined specifically in terms of a false believer who hates (vb mise/w) his “brother” (i.e., another believer):

“The (one) counting (himself) to be in the light, and (yet) hating his brother, is (actually) in the darkness until now.” (v. 9)

This clearly refers to a false believer (cf. the use of yeu/sth$ in v. 4), who considers him/herself to be “in the light” and yet is actually “in the darkness” (and has been so all this time “until now”). The author further explains that “hate” really means a lack of love, a failure to show love; this is the opposite of what characterizes the true believer:

“The (one) loving his brother remains [me/nei] in the light, and there is not (any thing) in him tripping (him up);” (v. 10)

As throughout the Johannine writings, the verb me/nw (“remain”) has special theological (and Christological) significance. It refers to the abiding presence of God the Father (and the Son) in the believer, and of the believer in the Father (and Son); this abiding union is spiritual, being realized through the presence of the Spirit. In contrast, there is no such abiding for the false believer; rather, he/she is simply lost in the darkness, wandering about blindly:

“but the (one) hating his brother is in the darkness, and walks about [peripatei=] in the darkness, and has not seen where he leads (himself), (in) that the darkness (has) blinded his eyes.” (v. 11)

The language and imagery in this verse echoes the words of Jesus in Jn 12:35 (cf. the discussion in the prior note). The motif of blindness is a natural extension of the Johannine sight/seeing theme, and also features prominently in the Gospel (chap. 9), drawing upon historical tradition(s) regarding Jesus’ healing miracles (cf. Mk 8:22-23; 10:46ff pars; Matt 11:5 par; 12:22; 15:30-31; Lk 4:18).

The false believer is thus one who fails to show proper love to other believers; in this way, he/she may be said to “hate” them. This way of framing the matter is crucial to the author’s rhetorical purpose and strategy, especially when he comes to deal with the ‘opponents,’ and the crisis (within the Community) which he feels compelled to address. However, it is noteworthy that, here in the opening section (1:5-2:17), he couches his introduction to the crisis within a more general ethical-religious instruction. In the next daily note, I will explore this aspect a bit further, looking at his instruction to believers, regarding the world (o( ko/smo$), vv. 15-17.

 

May 27: 1 John 1:8-10ff

1 John 1:8-10

As discussed in the previous note, the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) in vv. 6-7 has a traditional ethical-religious significance, as we see clearly by Paul’s use of the same verb in Galatians 5:16. There Paul establishes a most memorable contrast between sinful “works of the flesh” and holy “fruit of the Spirit”. The overall context of 1:5-2:17 certainly shows that the author has sin (a(marti/a) in mind; and the light-darkness contrast in Old Testament and Jewish tradition often has a similar ethical orientation (e.g., Job 30:26; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20).

It may be instructive to consider briefly the other occurrences of peripate/w in the Johannine Letters, to gain a better sense of the ethical-religious focus here in vv. 6-7ff:

    • 2:6: The true believer will follow Jesus’ example, “walking about” as he did; that is, the conduct/behavior of believers should correspond to the reality of their/our abiding in Christ, and of his abiding in us (through the Spirit).
    • 2:11: The image of “walking about” in darkness is explained in terms of hating one’s brother (i.e. a fellow believer); no true believer will hate (i.e., fail to demonstrate proper love to) another believer.
    • 2 Jn 4 / 3 Jn 3-4: It is indicated that a characteristic of believers is “walking about” in the truth; in a Johannine context, this refers primarily to the truth about who Jesus is, such as is revealed and confirmed through the witness of the Spirit; in a secondary sense, it refers to the conduct/behavior of believers, i.e., acting in a way that corresponds with the truth.
    • 2 Jn 6: The emphasis is on “walking about” in obedience to the duty (e)ntolh/) placed on believers (1 Jn 3:23-24)—most notably, the duty to love one’s fellow believers (cf. on 1 Jn 2:11, above).

Thus, while the general ethical component of following (on a regular, daily basis) the example of Jesus (during his life and ministry) is important (1 Jn 2:6), the primary focus is on obedience to the two-fold ‘command,’ or duty (e)ntolh/) placed on believers (3:23-24), namely—(1) a genuine trust in Jesus (as the Son of God), according to the truth; and (2) showing love to fellow believers. In actuality, the ethical component is subsumed under the ‘love command’, as we see expressed elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; cf. Mk 12:31-33 par). Believers are most following Jesus’ example when they/we show love in the way that he did (Jn 13:1, 34-35; 15:9-10ff, etc).

With this emphasis in mind, let us consider briefly the author’s discussion of sin in vv. 8-10ff. In terms of the thematic structure of the passage, note the following outline:

    • Statement that believers are not without sin [noun, a(marti/a] (v. 8)
      • Promise that believers will be cleansed of sin (v. 9)
    • Statement that believers are not without sin [vb, a(marta/nw] (v. 10)
      • Promise that believers will be cleansed of sin (2:1-2)

The two statements declaring that believers are not entirely without sin may be compared next to each other:

    • “If we say that we do not hold (any) sin [a(marti/a],
      we lead ourselves astray
      and the truth is not in us.” (1:8)
    • “If we say that we have not sinned [vb a(marta/nw],
      we make Him (to be) a liar
      and His word [lo/go$] is not in us.” (1:10)

There is a clear parallel structure to these two statements, with three components to each statement. The first component is a conditional clause (protasis)  that sets the condition (“if [e)an]…”). The second component states what results if/when the condition is fulfilled (apodosis), i.e, “if… then…”. The final component states the consequence of what can be shown or inferred as a result of meeting the condition.

The condition involves the thought or claim that believers are without sin—that they (currently) have no sin, and/or that they have not (or, possibly, have never) sinned. If one thinks this way, he or she is clearly wrong, according to the author, and demonstrates a perverse mindset, in two ways: (1) such people lead themselves astray (vb plana/w), and (2) they make out God to be someone who speaks/acts falsely (yeu/sth$, i.e., a ‘liar’). The last point is probably to be implied from the fact that, throughout the Scriptures, God repeatedly has testified to the reality and existence of human sin. That all human beings are prone to such tendencies, even after coming to trust in Jesus, is also evident throughout the New Testament (and other early Christian) writings.

The implication of the third component in the author’s statement(s) is even more forceful, as it suggests quite strongly that anyone who would make such claims of sinlessness is not, in fact, a true believer:

    • “the truth is not in” (such people)
    • “His word is not in” (such people)

Since truth (a)lhqei/a) and word (lo/go$), in the Johannine writings, are fundamental Divine attributes, and are also ways of referring to the presence of God’s Spirit, the rather clear implication is that the Spirit is not in people who would make such claims, even if they claimed to be (or were thought of) as believers.

Many commentators think that the author here is referring specifically to his ‘opponents’, of whom he speaks more directly in the “antichrist” passages of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6. If so, then it is possible that some of these Christians were claiming to be free from sin, presumably as a result of the abiding presence of the Spirit in them. The author would, in a roundabout way, be saying the very opposite of them. Indeed, according to the author’s view, these opponents sin in the most egregious (and unforgivable) way, violating the great dual-commandment of 3:23-24.

The reality is, according to the author, that believers will, at times, sin, in the traditional/conventional sense of moral or religious failure. All such sins will be removed and cleansed (vb kaqari/zw) through the spiritual power of Jesus’ sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”). The declaration in v. 7 is reaffirmed in the parallel statements of v. 9 and 2:1-2 (cf. above). According to verse 9, all that is required to effect cleansing is an acknowledgement of the sin, expressed by the verb o(mologe/w, which means “give account as one”, i.e., in common, together with others. In an early Christian context, the verb connotes public confession or acknowledgement, in front of other believers, implying a solidarity and common consent of what is believed and felt by the congregation.

In 2:1-2, the sacrificial character of Jesus’ death is again affirmed. Instead of reference to his death as “blood,” it is called a i(lasmo/$, a word that is difficult to translate, but, in a religious context, it refers to a (ritual) means of seeking/gaining God’s favor. In this case, the favor involves the removal of sin (and its guilt). The word i(lasmo/$, in its derivation, carries the connotation of appeasing God’s anger, of soothing it and causing Him to be gentle again. The universal aspect of the sin(s) of the entire world (i.e., of all human beings) may allude to the famous Lamb of God declaration by John the Baptist in Jn 1:29.

It is clear from the author’s words in 2:1 that, even though believers may (and will) occasionally sin, the goal is that they/we should not sin. This, indeed, is a primary goal of all early Christian ethical-religious instruction. There is no indication that the author of 1 John thought about this aspect of Christian life and identity any differently than the other New Testament authors. However, the Johannine theology—and spiritualism—which he inherited gave a very distinctive shape and emphasis to his instruction. This is all the more so if, as I believe, the Johannine spiritualism was an important factor in the crisis which the author addresses. I will begin discussing the question at length in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament” (the first of a set of articles on 1 John).

The next daily note will touch briefly upon the reprisal of the light-darkness contrast in 2:8-11.

May 26: 1 John 1:5-7 (continued)

1 John 1:5-7, continued

In the previous note, the Gospel parallels to vv. 5-7 were noted—particularly the statements by Jesus in 8:12; 11:9-10 and 12:35, all of which utilize the same verb peripate/w (“walk about”) in the context of the same light-darkness contrast:

“I am the light of the world; the (one) following me shall not walk about [peripath/sh|] in the darkness, but shall hold the light of life.” (8:12)

“if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the day, he will not strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] he sees (by) the light of this world; but if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the night, he does strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] the light is not in [i.e. with] him.” (11:9-10)

“(For) yet a little time the light is in [i.e. with] you. You must walk about [peripatei=te] as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; (for) indeed the (one) walking about [peripatw=n] in the darkness has not seen [i.e. does not know] where he leads (himself).” (12:35)

In many ways, Jesus’ saying in 8:12 is closest to vv. 5-7, particularly in regard to:

    • The essential predication of light as a Divine characteristic, identifying God the Father (and Christ the Son) with the Light:
      “God is [e)stin] light…” [v. 5]
      “I am [ei)mi] the light…” [8:12]
    • The use of the verb e&xw (“hold”), indicating what the true believer holds:
      koinwni/a [“common-bond”], with God and with other believers [vv. 6-7]
      — “the light of life” (to\ fw=$ th=$ zwh=$) [8:12]
    • In the context of the prologue, we may note the formal parallel between the expression “the word [lo/go$] of life” (v. 1) and “the light [fw=$] of life” (8:12)

On the last point, I have previously discussed how, in a Johannine theological context, the noun koinwni/a and the expression “the word of life” both allude, however indirectly, to the presence of the Spirit. The same may be said of the expression “the light of life” in Jn 8:12. The Spirit is the basis of believers’ union with God (and with each other), and the Spirit is also the living (and life-giving) Word which the Son (Jesus) communicates to believers. Primarily, of course, the expressions “word of life” and “light of life” refer to the person of Jesus (the Son), but this person is ultimately present in and among believers through the Spirit. For more on this, cf. the recent articles and notes on the Paraclete-sayings in the  Last Discourse.

Turning briefly to the Gospel sayings in 11:9-10 and 12:35, the formal contrast between light and darkness is more focused, just as it is here in vv. 5-7. One may also note the specific wording of the light being in (e)n) believers, with the implied contrast, namely that the light is not in non-believers. On the surface, in Jesus’ illustrations, the preposition e)n would more naturally be translated “with” —since the basic image is of a person having a light at hand by which to walk. But I would take these as yet further instances of Johannine double-meaning in the discourse: viz., according to the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, believers have the light in them, while it is absent in non-believers. Again, the abiding presence of this Divine Light is realized through the presence of the Spirit. To this point, there is little fundamental difference between Paul’s idea of believers walking about (same verb, peripate/w) “in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16; cf. Rom 6:4; 8:4) and the Johannine image of walking about “in the light”.

The final Gospel saying (in 12:35f), shares with 8:12 the idiom of “holding” (vb e&xw) the light. In the Johannine writings, this common verb repeatedly carries special theological significance, referring to the dynamic of believers holding (eternal) life within them, given to them by the Son (Jesus) through the Spirit—cf. 3:15-16, 36; 4:11, 32; 5:24, 26, 38-40; 6:40, 47, 53-54; 10:12; 14:21; 16:15, 33; 17:13; 20:31. In most of these references an association with the Spirit is either clearly indicated (by the context) or implied. Just as believers hold life, so they/we also hold all the attributes and characteristics of God—love, word, truth, etc.—indeed, believers hold God Himself (along with Jesus the Son) within themselves. The range of this thematic concept is expressed, repeatedly, by the use of the verb e&xw in 1 John: e.g., 2:1, 7, 20, 23; 3:3, 15; 4:16, 21; 5:10, 12-13; cf. also 2 John 9.

The statement in Jn 12:35 is punctuated by Jesus’ further declaration in v. 36a:

“As you hold the light, you must trust in the light, (so) that you may come to be sons of light.”

This introduces the familiar idea, in its distinctly Johannine form, of believers—those who trust in Jesus (“the light”)—being identified as children of God. In the common mode of expression, believers “come to be (born)” out of God, utilizing the verb of coming-to-be, genna/w. Here, the related verb of becoming, gi/nomai, is used, with little difference in meaning. The Johannine writings always use the neuter plural noun te/kna (“offspring,” i.e., children) in reference to believers, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”), in the singular, reserved for Jesus. This is the only instance in the Johannine writings where believers are referred to as ui(oi/ (“sons”), cp. Rom 8:14-15ff; Gal 3:26; 4:5-6; cf. also Heb 2:10; Matt 5:9, 45; Lk 6:35; indeed, this is the only Johannine occurrence of ui(o/$ in the plural. The discrepancy is no doubt to be explained as the result of the Gospel writer inheriting (in established sayings of Jesus) a traditional expression (cf. Luke 16:8, and frequently in the Qumran texts, 1QS 1:9; 2:16; 3:13, 20-21, 24-25; 4:11; 1QM 1:1, 3, 9, 11, 13).

In any case, the wording in 12:36 is significant for the author’s thematic emphasis in 1 John, as he discusses the characteristics of true and false believers. The true believer manifests the light of God, while the false believer displays the darkness of the world which is opposed to God (and to His Son). As true believers “walk about in the light [e)n tw=| fwti/]” it is an indication that they are “in God” (in His light). The idiom itself is traditional, and likely alludes to Scripture passages such as Psalm 36:9; 56:13; 89:15, etc. The specific idea of God being “in light” may simply allude to the familiar imagery of the Divine Presence being surrounded by a luminous/shining aura of glory; or, possibly, a Scripture reference such as Psalm 104:2 may be in mind; of YHWH Himself as light, see esp. Isa 60:19-20. In terms of the Johannine theology, believers abide in God and God abides in them. God’s abiding presence is realized through the presence of His Son (“the true light,” 2:8), which, in turn, is realized through the Spirit. Thus, to say that believers are “in the light” implies that they/we are “in the Spirit” and are “in Christ” (to use the Pauline expression).

How does the author of 1 John understand what it means to “walk about” in light and in darkness, respectively? It seems clear, from the content of 1:5-2:17 as a whole, that he understands the verb peripate/w in much the same ethical-religious sense as Paul does, e.g., in Gal 5:16ff, with that memorable contrast between sinful “works of the flesh” and the holy “fruit of the Spirit”. However, the Johannine writings also have a very distinctive way of defining sin, and this informs the author’s use of the noun a(marti/a (and verb a(marta/nw) throughout. The difficulties surrounding this usage in 1:8-10, when compared with other passages in 1 John, continues to be much discussed and debated among commentators. What is most important, however, and what takes first position in the author’s line of argument, is the statement in verse 7b that

“…the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Whatever the precise relationship between the (true) believer and sin (a(marti/a), as understood by the author, believers are cleansed “from all sin” by the “blood” of Jesus—that is, as a result of his sacrificial death (cf. Jn 1:29). The cleansing power of Jesus’ “blood” is communicated to believers spiritually, through the presence of the Spirit; in an earlier note, I argued for this line of interpretation of 1:7, in light of certain passages in the Gospel—most notably, the ‘eucharistic’ portion of the Bread of Life Discourse (6:51-58, in relation to v. 63), and in the distinctive Johannine presentation of (traditional) details surrounding Jesus’ death (19:30, 34); cf. also the traditional idea of Jesus baptizing believers “in the Spirit” (1:33), with its obvious connotation of cleansing (from sin).

In the next daily note, I will explore in a bit more detail what the author says regarding sin in vv. 8-10ff.

May 25: 1 John 1:5-7

1 John 1:5-7

A key point of transition between the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) and the first major section of the work (1:5-2:17) is the noun koinwni/a, which I translate as “common-bond”, and which, as a keyword, reflects the ideal of unity among believers (cf. Acts 2:42). It is used at the close of the opening sentence (in verse 3, cf. the previous note), and occurs again in vv. 6-7. Even though the word does not occur in the Gospel of John, nor anywhere else in the Johannine writings, it may be said to express the underlying idea of unity—and of union—both among believers, and between believers and God, which is so important to the Johannine theology.

In the Gospel, these themes feature most prominently in the Last Discourse and the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, and, in this context, relate to the Paraclete-sayings; in other words, this unity/union is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit. I have discussed the (indirect) allusions to the Spirit in the prologue, and will touch on them also here in vv. 5-7. The role of the Spirit is central to the author’s rhetorical approach in 1 John, being a reflection of a distinctive Johannine spiritualism.

The principal thematic emphasis of 1:5-2:17 is established at the beginning, in verse 5:

“And this is the message which we have heard from him, and (which) we give forth as a message to you: that God is light, and there is not (any) darkness in Him, not one (bit).”

The declaration in v. 5b is presented as a message given to his disciples by Jesus (“from him”). This is another element of continuity with the prologue, both in the emphasis on things Jesus said to his disciples (during his earthly ministry), and with the concept of preserving and transmitting that tradition to future believers, utilizing the verb a)nagge/llw (or its parallel, a)pagge/llw).

We do not have any actual saying by Jesus that corresponds to v. 5b; however, it certainly does reflect the teaching in the Gospel, combining two distinctive Johannine themes:

    • The identification of Jesus as the light (fw=$) of God, which shines in the darkness of the world—1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; cp. 1 Jn 2:8ff.
    • The idea that Jesus (as the Son) reveals God (the Father) to the world (spec. to believers), including His fundamental characteristics and attributes; this theme is particularly prominent in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse—14:7-11, 20-23; 15:8ff; 16:15, 25ff; 17:2ff, 7ff, 12-14ff, 22ff, 26.

The contrast between light and darkness (skoti/a) is an essential component of the Johannine dualism. It is also a most natural and obvious point of contrast, which can be found utilized in many different religious and philosophical systems. One does not need to look much further than the Old Testament and Jewish tradition to find numerous examples (e.g., Gen 1:4-5; Job 12:22; 29:3; 30:26; Psalm 18:28; 139:11-12; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; Amos 5:18ff). The light-darkness juxtaposition is as much a part of the dualism in the Qumran texts, as in the Johannine writings; cf. for example, the ‘Two Spirits’ treatise in the Community Rule text (1QS 3:13-4:26).

From the Johannine standpoint, light characterizes God, while darkness characterizes the world (o( ko/smo$); and these are entirely opposite and opposed to each other—in particular, the world is fundamentally opposed to God and His truth. This means that the world is also opposed to God’s Son (Jesus) and to all of His offspring (believers). There is nothing at all (ou)demi/a) of the darkness in God or in His children.

The author expounds this light-darkness message in vv. 6-7, giving to it a practical (and most pointed) emphasis:

“If we say that we hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with Him, and (yet) should walk about in the darkness, (then) we are false and do not do the truth;” (v. 6)

This is the first, negative side of the instruction, and refers to false believers (vb yeu/domai, “be false, act falsely”)—that is, those who say they hold common-bond with God (i.e., as true believers), but yet “walk about” in the darkness. This contrast almost certainly relates to the ‘opponents’ of whom the author speaks in the “antichrist” sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6). This contrast between true and false believers informs the entirety of 1 John as a treatise.

The positive side of the instruction, describing the true believer, comes in verse 7:

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

False believers walk about in darkness, but true believers walk about in the light. This idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) goes back to Old Testament tradition, with the use of the corresponding Hebrew verb El^h* (“walk, go”, esp. in the reflexive Hithpael stem), to describe a person’s habitual behavior (in an ethical-religious sense). Paul famously uses the verb in Galatians 5:16, where walking about “in the Spirit” is more or less equivalent with the Johannine walking “in the light”; cf. also Romans 6:4; 8:4. The Johannine idiom, using the same verb (in the same sense), is found in 8:12; 11:9-10 and 12:35, which are worth citing (in order):

“I am the light of the world; the (one) following me shall not walk about [peripath/sh|] in the darkness, but shall hold the light of life.”

“if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the day, he will not strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] he sees (by) the light of this world; but if one should walk about [peripath=|] in the night, he does strike (his foot) against (a stone), (in) that [i.e. because] the light is not in [i.e. with] him.”

“(For) yet a little time the light is in [i.e. with] you. You must walk about [peripatei=te] as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; (for) indeed the (one) walking about [peripatw=n] in the darkness has not seen [i.e. does not know] where he leads (himself).”

The relation of the author’s instruction to these (Johannine) statements by Jesus will be discussed in the next daily note.

January 3: Isaiah 9:1-2

Isaiah 9:1-2 [2-3]

Verses 1-6 [2-7] comprise a prophetic poem that brings the section 6:1-9:6 to a close. On the introductory verse in 8:23 [9:1], cf. the previous note; this verse establishes the context for the poem, framing it as a message of hope for the conquered Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Verse 1 [2]

“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
(for those) sitting in a land of death’s shadow
a light has shone upon them.”

The poem begins with a pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets, which are clearly in parallel (synonymous parallelism). The darkness/light motif was established in the introductory verse (8:23 [9:1], cf. the previous note), as well as at the conclusion of the prior oracle (8:22). In this respect, 8:23 is transitional between the oracle in 8:19-22 and the poem in 9:1ff. In the poem, the darkness of the earlier judgment-oracle gives way to a new message of hope. The people “walking in darkness,” based on the context of the section (and specified in 8:23), are the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Parts of Israel were annexed by Assyria, following the conquests of 734-732 B.C., and turned into Assyrian provinces. A ‘remnant’ of this kingdom persisted for another decade, until the fall of Samaria in 722/721.

The dual motif of “walking” (vb El^h*) and “sitting” (bv^y`, i.e. dwelling, remaining) in darkness is all too appropriate as a figurative description of the Israelite survivors and exiles. In the second couplet, the general image of “darkness” (Ev#j)) is described even more dramatically (and tragically) as “death’s shadow” (“shadow of death,” tw#m*l=x^). The contrast with darkness, naturally enough, is light (roa). Light shines (vb Hg^n`) on this devastated people, bringing hope of salvation and restoration. This Isaian light-theme (2:5; 10:17; 13:10; 26:19; 30:26, etc) will be developed further in the Deutero- (and Trito-)Isaian poems, applying the message of the 8th century oracles to the situation of Judah’s exile (and eventual return) in the 6th century—cf. 42:6, 16; 49:6; 51:4; 58:8ff; 60:1-3ff, 19-20, etc.

Verse 2 [3]

“You multiplied the(ir) rejoicing,
you made great the(ir) joy—
they have joy before you,
as (the) joy in the harvest,
as when (men) circle (in joy)
in their dividing (the) plunder!”

Textual Note: With most commentators, I read hl*yG!h^ (“the rejoicing”) in line 1, rather than MT (also in 1QIsaa) al) yoGh^ (“the nation / not…”).

The meter in verse 3 shifts, from a pair of 3-beat couplets, to a trio of 2-beat (2+2) couplets.

The light that shines upon the people produces an experience of joy. Two parallel roots are used to express this. The first (lines 1 and 5) is lyG], which literally means “to (move in a) circle”, i.e., to dance and circle around joyfully. The second (lines 2-4) is jm^c*, which refers more generally to a feeling of gladness and joy. Two illustrative images are then used to depict the joy that these people feel: (a) the joy experienced with the coming of the harvest, and (b) the military imagery of victorious soldiers rejoicing when they receive a share of booty/plunder (ll^v*) after the battle.

The perfect tenses of the verb refer to the coming restoration as some which has already taken place; this is not uncommon in Old Testament prophecy, but should be distinguished from use of the precative perfect, more common in the Psalms, where one expresses what one wishes (or expects) to happen as though it has already occurred.

December 21: John 1:9

John 1:9

“He was the true Light, that which gives light (to) all men, coming into the world.”

The opinion of critical commentators is divided as to whether verse 9 of the Prologue should be considered as part of the excursus in vv. 6-8 (discussed in the previous note), or as an integral part of the underlying hymn. In my view, the former it to be preferred. I would include v. 9 as the climactic point of the statement in vv. 6ff, perhaps best rendered as an epexegetical clause rather than an independent sentence:

“There came to be a man, having been se(n)t forth from alongside God, (and the) name (given) to him (was) Yohanan. This (one) came unto [i.e. to be] a witness, (so) that he should give witness about the Light, (so) that all might trust through him. That (one) was not the Light, but (came so) that he might give witness about the Light—(he who) was the true Light, which gives light (to) every man, coming into the world.”

It is possible to read to\ fw=$ (“the light”) in v. 9 as the true subject, but I think it preferable to treat it as a nominative predicate (which still functions as the subject = the Logos). There are three component phrases to the statement in verse 9, and each of these should be examined.

1. h@n to\ fw=$ to\ a)lhqino/n (“[he who] was the true light”)

As I interpret this phrase, the subject is implicit, related to the clause in v. 8 and its final words to\ fw=$ (“the light”). As part of the comparison between John the Baptist and Jesus, built into vv. 6-9, it is clearly stated that John was not (ou)k h@n) the Light—which means that Jesus was (h@n) the Light. This continues the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue, where it is reserved for God. By definition, a human being (“man”) like John the Baptist cannot be in the way that God (or the Logos) is. Here, of course, the Prologue assumes the Gospel narrative, regarding the way that John the Baptist gave witness to Jesus (1:19ff, 29-34, 35ff; 3:22-30[ff]). Early Christians would understand vv. 6-8 as alluding to this, and so the rather abrupt syntactical transition, between verse 8 and 9, causes no real problem for the development of the thought. John gave witness to Jesus, the light, who was, indeed, the true Light (of God).

The adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”) is very much a Johannine keyword, along with the related adjective a)lhqh/$ and noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”). The noun a)lh/qeia occurs 25 times in the Gospel and another 20 in the Letters of John; the adjective a)lhqh/$ occurs 14 times in the Gospel and 3 in the Letters, while a)lhqino/$ is used 9 times in the Gospel and 4 in the Letters. Taken together, these three words occur 85 times in the Gospel and Letters (more than half of all NT occurrences [163]). The adjective a)lhqino/$ is even more distinctively Johannine; apart from the 23 occurrences in the Gospel and Letters, it occurs 10 times in the book of Revelation (often considered a Johannine writing), and just 5 times elsewhere in the New Testament.

As an adjective, a)lhqino/$ is used as a divine characteristic, as the statements in 17:3 and 1 Jn 5:20 make clear. Thus, when used in an illustrative context—e.g., “true light”, “true bread” (6:32), “true vine” (15:1)—the illustrations are meant to convey a sense of the divine substance that underlies the metaphor. Such an expository purpose is central to the form and function of the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, whereby Jesus, through the discourse process, explains the true/deeper meaning of his words. The specific light-metaphor occurs several more times in the Gospel, at key points in the narrative—3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5ff; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46—including at least one “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement by Jesus (8:12; 9:5). In all of these passages, Jesus clearly identifies himself as the “true light”, the Light of God. The expression “the true light” occurs again in 1 John 2:8, echoing the language and thought of the Prologue: “…the darkness leads (the way) along [i.e. passes by], and the true Light now shines”.

2. o^ fwti/zei pa/nta a&qrwpon (“which gives light [to] every man”)

This phrase essentially restates the thought expressed in verse 4b, where it was declared that the life (i.e., the Divine Life) in the Logos also “was the Light of men” (h@n to\ fw=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn). The only real difference here is that humankind is treated individually (“every man”) rather than collectively (“[all] men”). As previously discussed, this “light” is not the natural light of reason or intelligence, but the Light of God Himself. The pre-existent Logos possesses this same Divine Light, and it is through the Logos that God gives this Light to human beings. The verb fwti/zw is an active (transitive) verb derived from the root word fw=$ (“light”); the principal meaning is thus “give light”. Both noun and verb are fundamental to the Johannine theological vocabulary, and so their introduction here in the Prologue, as I indicated previously, is of some significance.

3. e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“coming into the world”)

It is not entirely clear whether the participle e)rxo/menon (“coming”) refers to the effective subject fw=$ (“light” = the Logos) or the object in the preceding phrase (“man”). Grammatically, the participle could be parsed as either nominative or accusative. If it modifies the object “man”, then the verse would read “…every man coming into the world”. However, in my view, the context overwhelmingly favors reading e)rxo/menon in the nominative case, referring back to “the true light”. It is thus the Light, represented by the Logos of God, that is “coming into the world”. This statement foreshadows what follows in verses 10-11ff, which we will begin discussing in the next daily note.

As a concluding thought, it is worth pointing out the traditional Messianic association with light. In particular, there are several passages in the book of Isaiah, which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense, where the motif of light is prominent—cf. especially, 9:2ff; 42:6; and 60:1-2ff. The Deutero-Isaian passages seem to have influenced the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:78-79; 2:32), where the light-motif is applied to Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew similarly cites Isa 9:2 to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:14-16).

December 18: John 1:4-5

John 1:4-5

Verses 4 and 5 are interrelated, combining in their lines the themes of life (zwh/) and light (fw=$). Both of these themes, apart from their value each as a natural religious (and theological) metaphor, are specifically associated with the divine Wisdom in Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Verse 4 emphasizes life, while verse 5 focuses on the theme of light.

Life (zwh/), verse 4

“In him was life,
and th(is) life was the light of men”

There are many references to life in the Wisdom literature, associated with the Wisdom of God. These tend to emphasize natural life (i.e., long life) as much as the divine/eternal life, but there is a clear association between Wisdom and the life-giving power of God. Of the many verses that could be cited, see Prov 3:16, 18; 4:13, 22-23; 8:32-35; 13:14; 15:24; 16:22; Sirach 4:12f; Wisdom 6:18-19; Baruch 3:14; 4:1.

The term lo/go$, and the Logos-concept, blends the idea of Wisdom together with the Word of God. YHWH spoke the universe into existence through His life-giving Word (Gen 1:1ff), the same Word which spoke the Torah to Moses, the oracles to the Prophets, and wisdom for the righteous. The term “instruction” similarly encompasses both aspects—word and wisdom—and, indeed, the Instruction (Torah) came to be personified in Jewish tradition, much like the Word and Wisdom of God. The Old Testament basis for this, associating the Torah with the life-giving Word of YHWH, can be seen in passages such as the Song of Moses (Deut 32:47), the great Psalm 119 (vv. 17, 25, 107), and other references as well. Baruch 4:1 is a good example of how closely the personified Torah and Wisdom were connected in Jewish thought.

Here in the Prologue, eternal life, the life of God is said to be “in” (e)n) the Logos. This goes well beyond the idea that God created all things through the Logos (thus giving them life), as expressed in verse 3. In verse 4, the focus is on the life that God Himself possesses, and which the Logos shares. This is the special (theological) meaning of the noun zwh/ as it is used throughout the Johannine writings. The noun occurs 36 times in the Gospel and 13 more in the Letters; if we add in the 17 occurrences in the book of Revelation (counting it as a Johannine work), that comes to nearly half of all the New Testament occurrences of the word (66 out of 135). Clearly “life” is an important keyword in the Johannine writings, and the way it is introduced here in the Prologue is significant indeed.

The second line of the verse (“and the life was the light of men”) is a bit more difficult to explain. Again, it would be easy to interpret this in a natural sense—i.e., the wisdom of God that enlightens human beings (esp. the righteous). This is certainly a fundamental theme of Wisdom literature, as there are many passages which associate Wisdom (and, similarly the Word and Torah of God) with light—cf. Psalm 36:9; 119:105, 130; Prov 4:18; 6:23; Eccl 2:13; Wisdom 7:10, 26ff; 18:4; Sirach 32:16; Baruch 3:14; 4:1-2.

However, it must be emphasized here that, just as zwh/ refers to the life of God (i.e., divine/eternal Life), so also fw=$ in the Gospel of John refers to divine Light—the light of God that is manifest in the person of Jesus (the Son). It is another way that Jesus is identified with the Logos—the Word and Wisdom of God—in the Prologue (cf. the prior note on v. 2).

Light (fw=$), verse 5

“and the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not take it down.”

While the term “light” (fw=$) was introduced in verse 4, it is featured here in v. 5, establishing the important dualistic contrast between light and darkness (skoti/a). This light-vs-darkness contrast is natural, and occurs quite frequently as a religious and ethical motif in many traditions worldwide. It is used by a number of New Testament authors (and speakers), but is particularly prominent in the Johannine writings, being featured at several important points in the discourses: at the climax of the Nicodemus discourse (3:19), as part of the Light-theme in the Tabernacles discourses (8:12), the entire chapter 9 episode (healing the blind man, see v. 4), and at the conclusion of the first half of the Gospel (the ‘Book of Signs’, 12:35, 46; cp. 11:10). There also several key allusions within the traditional narrative, which take on added meaning in a Johannine context (cf. 3:2; 6:17; 13:30; 19:39; 20:1; 21:3). The “world” (ko/smo$) is dominated by darkness, while light belongs to the domain of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and those who trust in him.

The verbs used here in verse 5 are worth noting. The first, fai/nw, means “shine”. It is, of course, a natural verb to use in reference to light; however, like the related noun fw=$, it has special meaning as part of the Johannine vocabulary. Admittedly, the verb fai/nw occurs just three times (here, and in 5:35; 1 Jn 2:8); but when we combine these with the 29 occurrences of fw=$ (23 in the Gospel, 6 in the Letters), along with the related verb fanero/w (“make [to] shine forth”), an extensive thematic portrait emerges. Jesus, the Son and Logos of God, possesses the divine Light of God, and, in his own person and work, makes this Light “shine forth” to others.

The second verb, in the second line of v. 5, is katalamba/nw, which literally means “take down”. It can be understood in a negative, positive, or neutral sense; the parallel in 12:35 strongly suggests a negative meaning here—i.e., of a person who attempts to take someone down, with hostile or evil intent. The opposition of darkness to light means that darkness will attempt to “take down” (i.e., bring down, cover over, extinguish) the light. This dualism is fundamental to the Johannine theology and Christian worldview, as noted above. The world is opposed to God the Father—and thus also is hostile to Jesus the Son, and to the believers who trust in him. This thematic emphasis runs through all the Discourses, and is developed in a number of important ways.

Elsewhere, in the Johannine Letters, the same dualism is present. Jesus is the “true light” of God that has shone forth in the darkness of the world (cf. 1 Jn 1:5-7ff; 2:8-11). Light and darkness are fundamentally opposed and cannot co-exist. Ultimately, the light of God dispels the darkness completely.

In concluding our study on this part of the Prologue, it is worth presenting again verses 3-5 as a poetic unit:

“All (thing)s came to be through him,
and apart (from) him came to be
not even one (thing) that has come to be.
In him was life,
and th(is) life was the light of men;
and the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not take it down.”

A pair of 3-line (tricolon) sub-units surround the central declaration “in him was life”. The first three lines (v. 3) refer to the original creation of the world, while the last three lines (in v. 4) describe the origins of the new creation that is introduced through the person and work of Jesus (identified with the Logos). Like the eternal Wisdom and Word of God, the Son brings life and light to all things. In particular, it is to the chosen ones (believers), who are able to experience the divine Life and Light in a way that the world simply cannot. Since the world has come to be dominated by darkness, it is only the believers, currently living in the world, who are able to embrace the light.

March 27: John 12:35-36

John 12:35-36

“Then Yeshua said to them: ‘Yet a little time the light is among you. You must walk about as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; and the (one) walking about in darkness has not seen [i.e. known] where he leads (himself) under. As you hold the light, you must trust in the light, (so) that you would come to be sons of (the) light.’ Yeshua spoke these (thing)s, and (then), going away from (there), he hid (himself) from them.”

From the literary standpoint of the discourse, Jesus’ words in vv. 35-36 represent his response to the misunderstanding (and question) of the crowd in v. 34 (cf. the previous note). Yet it is not at all clear how this response answer’s the crowd’s question, or relates to their misunderstanding. Possibly, vv. 35-36 was originally an independent tradition, uttered by Jesus on a separate occasion; however, even if this were so, we still have to deal with these verses in their current literary context. In terms of the discourse format, Jesus’ statement in vv. 35-36 is part of the exposition—the explanation of the true and deeper meaning of his initial saying (in v. 23); each exchange with his audience serves to build and develop this exposition.

The initial words in verse 23 refer to the hour in which the Son of Man will be given honor; much the same is said in verse 32, only Jesus there uses the pronoun “I” instead of the title “Son of Man” (cp. 3:14; 8:28). Clearly the crowd around him, including his followers and other interested hearers, has difficulty understanding this self-use of the expression “Son of Man”, and they ultimately ask the question in v. 34: “Who is this Son of Man?” How does Jesus’ response address this question? Fundamentally it is a Christological question, regarding the identity of Jesus, and his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.

If we consider the three prior references to the expression “Son of Man” in the Gospel, two essentially restate the Son of Man saying cited by the crowd in verse 34—8:28 and 12:23. The third occurs at the climax of the healing episode in chapter 9, when Jesus asks the former blind man “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (v. 35). Some manuscripts read “…Son of God” but this likely is a correction to the more conventional title among early Christians, being more appropriate to a confession of faith (cf. 20:31, etc). Almost certainly, “Son of Man” is the correct original reading. The theme of the episode is that of seeing, with the establishment of sight tied to the idea of Jesus as light (fw=$)—the true light of God—even as he declares in 9:5, “I am the light of the world” (repeated from 8:12), an identification that is found again in 11:9f:

“…if any (one) should walk about in the day, he does not strike (his foot) against (anything) [i.e. does not trip/stumble], (in) that [i.e. because] he looks (by) the light of this world…”

An ordinary illustration is infused with theological meaning, and this infused imagery is recaptured here in 12:35-36—Jesus, the Son of God, is the light that shines in this world, so that people (believers) may see it and walk by it. The expression “this world” is the current world-order, the current Age of darkness and evil—darkness in which the light of God shines. This light/darkness motif is part of the theological vocabulary of the Johannine Gospel, going back to the Prologue (1:4-9), in which the Son (Jesus) is described as the “true light” (v. 9), the eternal life of God that gives light to people in the world (vv. 4, 9); the wording in verse 5 of the Prologue is especially significant here:

“…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not take it down [kate/laben]”

The same verb katalamba/nw is used here in 12:35, and, literally, it means “take down”, but can be understood in a positive, neutral, or negative sense; the latter is primarily intended in both passages, but certainly so in the saying here—emphasizing the danger of the person being “taken down” (or “overtaken”) by the darkness of the world. The dualistic light/darkness imagery also occurs in the chapter 3 discourse (vv. 19-20).

Thus, even if Jesus’ response might be obscure, from the standpoint of the audience (the crowd) in the discourse, it would be understandable for readers of the Gospel, who would recognize the earlier motifs. Who is this Messianic “Son of Man”? It is the Son of God, the true/eternal Light that shines in the darkness of this world. Here, the Gospel may well be redirecting traditional Messianic expectations of the time toward the unique Johannine Christology—revealing the true, deeper meaning of these titles and expressions as applied to Jesus. Like the healed blind man of chapter 9, believers see Jesus and come to him, responding with a declaration of trust. This refers specifically to the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (in the world), a brief period of time (xro/no$) that is now coming to an end. The Light is “among” the people, and, as such, they “hold” it—but only believers will truly see and walk (“walk about”) by it (cp. 1 John 1:7).

The imperatives in verse 35 are a call for believers to come to him, and those who belong to God will respond in trust: “you must walk about as you hold the light…as you hold the light you must trust in the light”. Here the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) captures the discipleship-theme from earlier in the discourse—the believer comes toward Jesus and follows him, i.e. walks about with him; this, in turn, leads to trust (pi/sti$) and the believer remains with Jesus. This remaining involves union with Jesus (the Son) and with God the Father, and means that the believer has the same divine/eternal character as Father and Son. Thus, believers in Christ can properly be called “sons [i.e. children] of Light”, a title more or less synonymous with being called “children [lit. offspring] of God” (cf. 1:12; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2). The expression “sons of light” is traditional, being used, for example, by the Community of the Qumran texts, and comparable usage is found elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8); however, it has a deeper significance in the Johannine context, corresponding with the Christological light-imagery of the Gospel (cf. above).

The message of vv. 35-36 provides a suitable conclusion to the discourse, and to Jesus’ teaching in the first half of the Gospel; it completes the idea foreshadowed in the opening of the discourse—the Greeks (i.e. believers from the nations) who wish to come and see Jesus. In its own way, this is entirely a Messianic theme, prefigured, for example, in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah (e.g., 42:6; 49:5-6; 52:10; 60:3). Early Christians would apply such (Messianic) imagery to the first-century mission to the Gentiles. The Johannine outlook in this regard is somewhat broader—the universal ideal of all believers in Christ, united together through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 17:20-26).

Verse 36 brings the narrative of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12) to a close, with the notice that Jesus went away and “hid himself” from the people. The same is stated in 8:59, at the end of the great chap. 7-8 Discourse (cf. also 10:40); apart from historical concerns, it is essentially a literary device, closing the curtain on a particular narrative (episode), and preparing readers for the next (the Last Supper scene and the Passion Narrative). Even so, chapter 12 only reaches it final close with two additional summary sections, in vv. 37-43 and 44-50. The last of these provides a kind of summary of all Jesus’ teaching from the great Discourses in chaps. 2-12, emphasizing, in particular, his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. The light theme (of vv. 35-36, etc) is reprised here as well, in verse 46:

“I have come (as) light into the world, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain in the darkness.”

This is the last occurrence of the noun fw=$ (“light”) in the Gospel, after serving as a key-word in the first half (23 times in chaps. 1-12). Implicit in this shift may be the idea of a time of darkness surrounding the Passion of Christ (cp. Lk 22:53 and Mk 15:33 par, and note Jn 13:30, “And it was night”), along with the promise that the light, even in the midst of the darkness, cannot be overcome (1:5).