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.

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.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 8:12

John 8:12

As discussed in the previous note (on 7:37-39), the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) is the setting for a complex discourse-scene that appears to span the entirety of chapters 7-8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). Jn 8:12-59 is the second half of this discourse scene. It is actually made up of three sections, each of which follows the Johannine discourse format, beginning with a saying (declaration) by Jesus, followed by the people’s reaction, and an exposition from Jesus in response. In these three sections, Jesus is engaged in debate/dispute with the religious authorities (Pharisees), as in the chapter 5 discourse. Indeed, 8:12-59 is parallel to 5:30-47, sharing the central themes of Jesus’ words as a witness to his identity, and of his relationship to God the Father. The line of argument in 8:13-18 is quite similar to that of 5:30-47. Each of the three sections concludes with an important declaration by Jesus regarding his relationship to the Father; note the following outline:

    • Part 1—vv. 12-20
      • Narrative introduction: “Then Yeshua again spoke…”
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 12)
      • Reaction by the Jewish leaders (v. 13)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 14-18)
      • Statement on his relationship to the Father (v. 19, picking up from v. 18)
      • Narrative conclusion (v. 20)
    • Part 2—vv. 21-30
      • Narrative introduction: “Then he again said to them…”
      • Saying of Jesus (v. 21)
      • Reaction by the Jewish leaders/people (v. 22)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 23-27)
      • Statement on his relationship to the Father (vv. 28-29, picking up from v. 27)
      • Narrative conclusion (v. 30)
    • Part 3—vv. 31-59
      • Narrative introduction: “Then Yeshua said to the Jews trusting in him…”
      • Saying of Jesus (vv. 31b-32)
      • Reaction by the Jewish leaders/people (v. 33)
      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 34-48)
      • Statement on his relationship to the Father (vv. 49-56, picking up from v. 48)
      • Concluding “I Am” declaration (vv. 57-58)
      • Narrative conclusion (v. 59)

Note here the way that the discourse-episode begins with Jesus in dispute with the Pharisees, and gradually widens to include other “Jews”, at least some of whom begin to trust in him (v. 31). At the literary level, and perhaps at the historical level as well, these three discourses fit together as a running dialogue, building with dramatic tension, until the climactic moments of vv. 31-59.

Today I will be discussing the saying of Jesus which begins this second half of the Sukkoth discourse scene, verse 12:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the light of the world—the (one) following me should not (ever) walk about in darkness, but will hold the light of life.”

This saying is similar in form to the “I am” declarations in the Bread of Life discourse: “I am the Bread of Life…” (6:35, also v. 48), “I am the Living Bread…” (6:51, also v. 41). It begins with a fundamental “I am” statement in which Jesus identifies himself with the true/living form of some image from the natural world or from daily life—indicating that this “living” form comes from God. The statement is then followed by a promise for the one who receives/accepts this “living” form, which is defined as trusting in, or coming to, Jesus. Both aspects are included here in the defining participle following (a)kolouqw=n)—”the one following” = “the one trusting”. The essential promise “he will hold the Light of Life” is precisely parallel to the statement “he will hold the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”, introduced in 3:15-16 and repeated throughout the Gospel (3:36; 5:24, 40; 6:40, etc). Thus the expression “Light of Life” is largely synonymous with the “Life of the Age”, the eternal/divine Life which the righteous were thought to inherit at the end time, and which believers in Jesus possess already in the present.

It is worth examining each of the expressions Jesus uses here.

“Light of the World” (o( fw=$ tou= ko/smou)

In an earlier note, we examined the similar expression “Life of the World”, which was used by Jesus specifically in connection with his sacrificial death: “the bread which I will give is my flesh, (given) over the life of the world“. The basic concept involved reaches back to the Prologue, covering the role of Jesus (the Living Word) in Creation, as well as his coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation). In verse 9 we read:

“(This) was the true Light, which gives light to every man, coming into the world”
which can also be read as:
“The true Light, which gives light to every man, was coming into the world”

In verses 10ff the Word (and Light) is described as being “in the world…and (yet) the world did not know him”; a more concrete reference to Jesus’ life in the world as a human being comes in vv. 14ff. This idea is repeated in 3:19-21, again using the motif of light, and introducing even more clearly the dualistic contrast of light vs. darkness:

“…the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men [i.e. people in the world] loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their works were evil” (v. 19)

Light features repeatedly in the Gospel, both the specific noun fw=$ (23 times), as well as the related verb fwti/zw (“give light”), and words derived from fai/nw (“shine [light]”). The expression “light of the world” appears again in 9:5, and cf. also 11:9; 12:46. In Matthew 5:14 it is Jesus’ disciples (believers) who are called the “light of the world”, much as they are referred to by the title “sons of light” in 12:36 (cf. also Lk 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8).

“Light of Life” (o( fw=$ th=$ zwh=$)

The background for this expression may be found in the Old Testament, in passages such as Job 33:30 (also v. 28) and Psalm 56:13. Ultimately, the association of light with life is fundamental to human experience and religious expression. Even without a modern scientific understanding, ancient peoples intuitively recognized the life-giving quality of light (from the sun’s rays, etc). The introduction of light represents the first stage of creation in the Genesis account, and precedes the formation of life. Light is typically associated with Deity in nearly all religions, and certainly is so in the Old Testament Scriptures—cf. Psalm 18:28; 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; Isa 2:5, et al. It often refers specifically to the manifestation of God—his Presence and action—to his people, especially in the live-giving (and preserving) salvation which he brings (Exod 10:23; 13:21 [the pillar of fire], etc; Psalm 97:11; Isa 9:2; 30:26; 42:6; 60:1ff, et al).

As mentioned above, Light and Life are related in the Johannine Prologue, again in connection both with the presence of God and the work of creation (vv. 4-9). Note the fundamental statement in verse 4:

“In him [i.e. the Word] was Life, and th(is) Life was the Light of men”

On the surface, it may seem that the author, in using the expression “the light of men”, is referring to knowledge and understanding (i.e. illuminating reason) in a general sense. This would fit the context of Creation, but the overall theological context of the Gospel, in which “life” (zwh/) virtually always refers to the divine/eternal Life of God, suggests something deeper. This, too, should be understood by the use of the expression “the Light of Life” in 8:12, with its parallel to “the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”, as discussed above.

The association with the Sukkoth festival

Along with the symbolic use of water (cf. the previous note), light also features in the traditional ceremonies associated with the Sukkoth festival, as described in the Mishnah tractate Sukkah (5:2ff). On the first night of the festival, a ceremonial lighting of four golden candlesticks took place. The parallel with the drawing of water, and the ceremonial libation offering, on the morning of each day, suggests that the lighting might have taken place similarly on each evening. Note the parallelism in relation to the two central statements by Jesus in the Sukkoth discourse-scene:

    • Water
      • Ceremonial drawing of water in a golden pitcher and offering in the Temple
      • Jn 7:37-38—Jesus identifies himself as the source of life-giving water (“Living Water”)
    • Light
      • Ceremonial lighting of four golden candlesticks in the Temple court
      • Jn 8:12—Jesus identifies himself as the source of the “Light of Life”

Both of these motifs are also found in Zech 14:7-8, which also has a Sukkoth setting, and may be in view here in the discourse (cf. the previous note):

    • A day in which there will be light in the evening (v. 7)
    • On that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (v. 8)

The motif of light in the night-time relates to the contrast between light and darkness, for which there is a strong background in the Old Testament. In many of these passages the idea is that God (His presence) gives light to people within the darkness (cf. Exod 13:21; Job 12:22; Psalm 112:4; 139:11-12; Prov 4:18; Isa 9:2; 42:16; 58:8ff; 60:1ff, etc). The light/darkness contrast is a prominent part of the dualistic language and imagery in the Gospel of John, and appears here in verse 12: “the one following me should not (ever) walk in darkness, but will hold the Light of Life”. The same idea is expressed in 12:35, 46, and see also the the First Letter of John, 1:5-7; 2:8-11.

Light and the Spirit?

Unlike the symbolism of water, there is not as much of a direct connection between light and the Spirit, though it certainly can be inferred as part of Johannine theology; consider:

    • “God is Spirit [pneu=ma o( qeo/$]” (Jn 4:24)
    • “God is Light [o( qeo/$ fw=$ e)stin]” (1 Jn 1:5)

Nevertheless, light, as such, is not as common a symbol for the Spirit—fire is much more relevant and specific in this regard. In Old Testament tradition, the light of God is often connected with wisdom and the Law (Torah), as, for example, in Psalm 119:105, 130; Prov 4:18; 6:23, etc. Indeed, in the Qumran text 1QS, both the wisdom and Law of God are described by the very expression “light of life” (3:6-7), which is provided to the members of the Community through instruction and the interpretation of Scripture. It is possible that ancient Wisdom traditions, and those related to the Torah, also underlie the imagery of the Prologue of John (vv. 4ff)—i.e. God’s Word and Light is present in the world, seeking to find a dwelling place among human beings, but they do not receive it (i.e. the Wisdom of God). Jesus, of course, is the living personification of the Wisdom and Word (Torah) of God.