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).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Prologue, part 4

“…and we looked upon his splendor”
kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n do/can au)tou=

This is the third of the three main phrases in Jn 1:14, which, as I have discussed, are best understood as referring to three stages in the human life of the Logos (in the person of Jesus):

    • “became flesh” —his birth, coming into existence as a human being
    • “set up his tent among us” —a summary expression for his life among other human beings, emphasizing the establishment of it
    • “we looked upon his splendor” —refers to the period of the public ministry of Jesus, his words and deeds, and the response of people (particular believers) to them.

The verb qea/omai is the key element of this phrase, corresponding to the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), and the verb skhno/w (indicating dwelling), in the previous two phrases. Only, instead of the Logos being the subject of the verb, here an otherwise unidentified “we” is the subject: “we looked upon” (e)qeasa/meqa), alluding back to the indirect object of the second phrase, in the prepositional expression “among us” (e)n h(mi=n). To whom does this “we/us” refer? I believe that it has three levels of meaning, which must be recognized within the context of the Prologue:

    • human beings and humankind generally
    • the people of Israel—that is, Israelites and Jews, esp. those dwelling in Israel/Judea
    • believers in Christ—the disciples of Jesus and early believers in the first century

The first two aspects relate back to vv. 10-11 (and v. 12), with the idea that the Logos—the personified Word/Wisdom of God—had dwelt in/among human beings. This refers to human beings generally (v. 10, cf. also in v. 4), but also, and more specifically, to God’s people Israel throughout their history (v. 11, “[his] own”). Neither amongst humankind at large, nor among God’s own people, could the Logos find welcome or acceptance. Only a precious few were able/willing to receive God’s Word/Wisdom (v. 12a).

However, an important point is that, throughout the earlier history, the Divine Word/Wisdom (Logos), while present, could not be seen. Something truly new and revelatory occurs now, at v. 14, with the incarnation of the Logos, when it “came to be flesh” —that is, present on earth as a flesh-and-blood human being (Jesus). Now human beings could truly see the Logos of God. As will be discussed in the next division of this study, the Gospel of John strongly emphasizes this idiom of sight/seeing, utilizing a range of verbs and other terms to express it. One of these verbs is qea/omai, which basically means “look/gaze with wonder [qau=ma]”, closely related to qa/omai (“[to] wonder”). The verb can be used for seeing more generally, but typically connotes at least a sense of careful observation, contemplation, admiration, etc. Sometimes there is a sense of vividness or spectacle that is implied (our word “theater” is a transliteration of the noun qe/atron, which is derived from qea/omai).

The use of qea/omai here thus implies that something quite special and wonderful is being seen. Moreover, within the Johannine theological idiom (as we will discuss), the language of sight/seeing has a double meaning—the ordinary sense of physical sight (with the eyes), but also the theological sense of recognizing and acknowledging who Jesus is (that is, trusting in him). Both aspects of meaning are present here. Trust in Jesus is certainly implied, but it is also being emphasized that human beings could, for the first time, see the Divine Logos with their eyes.

How does this phrase relate to the structure of the Prologue? The relation of verse 14 to vv. 10-12a has been discussed above; but the focus can be widened to include the remainder of the Prologue (and its underlying ‘Logos-poem’). The key term in this regard is the noun do/ca. Unfortunately, this noun is difficult to translate in English. Its fundamental meaning, derived from the verb doke/w (“think, suppose, consider”), is “thought” —that is, what a person thinks about something (or someone), an opinion or estimation, etc. It came to be used often in the sense of a favorable thought/opinion, from which derived the secondary meaning of a favorable reputation of a person (i.e., how he/she is thought of), including accompanying praise, honor, etc. These aspects of meaning for do/ca are probably best captured in English by the words “estimation” or “esteem”.

In the LXX, do/ca typically translates Hebrew dobK*, which literally means “weight”, but often in the sense of “worth, value”, and thus, more abstractly, “honor,” and the like. It is often appropriate to translate do/ca as “honor”. However, when dobK*/do/ca is applied to God (or the Divine), in a religious context, often something more is being expressed. The terminology refers to that which makes God worthy of such great honor and esteem, something which is intrinsic to God’s own nature and character, and which is manifest by the wondrous things that He has done (as Creator, etc). In such a context, do/ca often takes on the meaning “splendor” or “glory”, as a way of capturing (in a general way) all that makes God worthy of honor and praise.

This enhanced religious-theological meaning of do/ca certainly applies to the figure of the Divine Logos in the Prologue, especially here in the expression “his do/ca,” which implies something which the Logos possesses, or which characterizes him. This is best understood as reflecting the Divine nature/character of the Logos—that is, he is the Word/Wisdom of God, and thus possesses the do/ca (“splendor, glory”) of God. The noun do/ca, along with the related verb doca/zw, has this special theological meaning throughout the Gospel of John, and is introduced here in the Prologue.

Particularly important is the visible aspect of this “splendor” (do/ca). The do/ca (or dobK*) of God is often conceived of (and/or described) as a brilliant aura of light that surrounds Him, as when He is observed manifest to human beings in a theophany or a revelatory vision. This connotation of light-imagery unquestionably alludes back to verses 4-9 of the Prologue. Verses 4-5, at least, would seem to be part of the original Logos-poem, and provide a clear point of connection (and transition) between the role of the Logos in creation and his presence in/among human beings during their history. These two aspects are represented by vv. 4 and 5, respectively:

“In him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men;
and the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not take it down [kate/laben]”
Note: the verb katalamba/nw (“take down”) can either mean “defeat, overcome”, or “comprehend”; quite possibly both aspects of meaning are intended.

The Logos is that which gives both life (zwh/) and light (fw=$) to human beings. The Johannine writings use both of these terms in a special theological sense; this meaning is present here, but also a naturalistic meaning applies, related to the creation of the world. Here, the terms thus would seem to have a double meaning:

    • zwh/—(i) the physical life of human beings, but also (ii) the eternal life of God that becomes available (through the Logos) to humans
    • fw=$—(i) the natural light of reason and wisdom given to all human beings, but also (ii) the light of the eternal truth, knowledge, and wisdom of God that is available (through the Logos) to humans

As a number of commentators have pointed out, the Logos-poem of the Prologue, especially in vv. 1-5, seems to represent an exposition of the Genesis Creation account (Gen 1:1-5), influenced by Hellenistic Jewish expository traditions, such as we find in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. Central to such an exposition is the identification of the Logos with the light introduced by God at the very beginning of creation. Verse 4 would seem to relate to Gen 1:3, while verse 5 (with its contrastive juxtaposition of light/darkness) relates to Gen 1:4f.

There have been two particularly fine studies on this subject—by Peder Borgen, “Logos was the True Light” (originally published in Novum Testamentum 14 [1972], pp. 115-30), and George H. van Kooten, “The ‘True Light Which Enlightens Everyone’ (John 1:9): John, Genesis, the Platonic Notion of the ‘True, Noetic Light,’ and the Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic” (in The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretations of Genesis 1 in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics, ed. George H. van Kooten [Brill: 2005]). Such analysis provides convincing evidence that both Philo and the Logos-poem of the Johannine Prologue draw upon Hellenistic-Jewish interpretation of the Creation account, a line of interpretation which casts the Genesis account in Greek philosophical (and theological) terms. The use of the word lo/go$ is an important component of this re-casting. Three different aspects of lo/go$ are involved:

    • Lo/go$ as word/speech, which obviously relates to God’s fundamental activity in the Creation, by which He creates through the spoken word (“And God said…”, Gen 1:3ff).
    • The identification of the Logos with the personification of God’s Wisdom (Heb hm*k=j*), which, according to the Prov 8:22-31 tradition, was present with God at the beginning of Creation and took part in the creating process.
    • The Greek philosophical (and metaphysical) use of lo/go$, going back to at least the pre-Socratic Heraklitos, whereby Logos refer to the divine power/presence that binds the universe together, giving it order and holding its different components and aspects in balance; in the later Stoic metaphysics, the Logos is understood as representing the mind of God that penetrates creation, ordering and controlling all things. Cf. the earlier discussion in part 2 of this article.

Philo of Alexandria, in particular, combines these three aspects of lo/go$ in his writings; because his use of lo/go$ provides the closest parallel to that of the Johannine Prologue, it is worth examining the matter in more detail. This is provided in a supplemental article (part of the Ancient Parallels feature).

The manifest presence of the Logos on earth, in and among human beings, is framed in terms of the identification with light, in verse 9, immediately prior to vv. 10-11:

“He was [h@n] the true Light, which gives light (to) every man, coming into the world.”

In verse 5, the Light was said to shine (vb fai/nw) “in the darkness”; the parallel here in verse 9 is “in the world”, foreshadowing the regular Johannine use of the noun ko/smo$ as expressing the concept of the “world” as the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. It may be debated whether, or to what extent, verse 9 was part of the original Logos-poem. Certainly, in the full context of the Prologue, it relates to vv. 6-8, verses best understood as expository comments (along with v. 15) by the Gospel writer, serving to integrate the Prologue with the narrative in chapters 1-3. In this context, verse 9 is meant to contrast the incarnate Logos (Jesus) with John the Baptist: John was not the Light (v. 8), since only Jesus is the Light, the true light.

The incarnation of the Logos is indicated here, prior to the explicit reference in v. 14, through the framing syntax “He was…coming into the world”. The use of the verb of being (imperfect tense, h@n) indicates the Divine nature of the Logos (as in vv. 1-2, 4), while the verb e&rxomai (“come”) alludes to the human life of Jesus. Some commentators would explain the participle e)rxo/menon as modifying “every man”, but this is unlikely, both on grammatical and theological grounds. The phrase “which gives light to every man” should be viewed as subordinate and parenthetical; the main clause is “he was the true light…coming into the world”.

Human beings are able to see the light and glory/splendor (do/ca) of God in the person of the incarnate Logos. This is true of all people, insofar as when someone sees Jesus (during his human life), he/she sees the Logos. However, it is especially so with regard to believers—those who trust in Jesus—for it is only they who truly see the Logos, in the full sense of the Johannine theological idiom (of sight/seeing). The Prologue concludes with a further emphasis on this ability of human beings (esp. believers) to see the light and splendor/glory of God in the Logos:

“No one has looked at God (with their eyes) at any time; (but the) only-born Son, the (one) being in the lap of the Father, this (one) has led (Him) out (to us)!” (v. 18)

This verse will be discussed further in an upcoming part of this study, but we will be preparing for it in next part (5) of the current article, as we examine the qualifying phrase (modifying the third main phrase), “(the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside the Father” (do/can w($ monogenou=$ para\ patro/$). It is here that the concept of the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God blends with the far more typical Johannine concept of Jesus as the Son of God.

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 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.

February 21: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note continued the discussion on verse 18; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Returning from the discourse in 3:7-18 to his main line of argument, Paul picks up at 4:1-2 from where he left off (in 3:6a). He returns to his primary discussion of the apostolic ministry, and of his relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthian believers. He defends the boldness with which he speaks, and of his personal integrity as a minister. Unlike some of his apostolic rivals (so it is implied), Paul claims to preach the Gospel openly and honestly, not promoting himself (and his own interests), but rather working always in the service of God and for the good of those to whom he ministers (v. 5).

In verse 3, however, he folds back into the discussion some of the key themes and motifs introduced in the discourse. He utilizes again the motif of the “covering” (ka/lumma, vb kalu/ptw) from the Moses tradition (Exod 34:29-35); previously, it was applied to the Israelite/Jewish people, those who remained self-bound under the old covenant, not realizing that the old covenant has come to an end in the person of Christ. Now, he extends the metaphor to all people, adapting it to the earlier language of 2:15:

“But if, indeed, our good message is covered [kekalumme/non], it is covered in/among the (one)s perishing [a)pollume/noi$]” (4:3)

The “covering” motif is thus applied now to everyone who is unwilling (or unable) to accept the Gospel of Christ. All of humankind is under bondage to the power of sin (and death)—a point Paul expounds in some detail in Romans—and, thus, they are perishing. Only through acceptance of the Gospel and trusting in Jesus Christ, are people saved from perishing. This bondage is implied by Paul’s reference in verse 4 to “the god of this age” (o( qeo\$ tou= ai)w=no$)—cf. also 1 Cor 2:6ff; Gal 1:4; cp. John 12:31; 14:30; 1 Jn 5:19. The language reflects the eschatological dualism of early Christians, which was typical of the period and similar, in many respects, to what we find in the Qumran texts.

Unbelievers are literally those “without trust” (a&pisto$); God has allowed them to remain “blinded” by the world’s covering, the purpose of which is:

“…(so) as not to beam (forth) the (en)lightenment of the good message of the splendor of the Anointed…”

This simply means that the covering (that blinds the unbelievers) does not allow them to see the shining light of the Gospel. Three different words are used here related to the specific idiom of seeing (cf. the discussion on 3:18 in the previous two notes):

    • au)ga/zw—this verb denotes rays of (sun)light (sing. au)gh/) beaming forth, sometimes referring specifically to the sunrise at dawn (i.e., light shining through the darkness); the verb au)ge/w refers more simply to the shining of light, while au)ga/zw includes the idea of the illumination that comes from the radiating light, allowing people to see clearly.
    • fwtismo/$—derived from fw=$ (“light”) and the verb fwti/zw (“give light”), this noun refers specifically to the “illumination” that comes from the light; the translation “enlightenment” is accurate enough, and conveys the important noetic aspect of the light/seeing motif.
    • do/ca—in the context of the Sinai theophany and the Moses tradition, this noun (properly, “esteem, honor”) is best rendered “splendor,” or (more commonly) “glory,” as also in 3:18 (cp. its use in vv. 7-11); the Divine splendor is often understood (and visualized) in terms of a shining aura of brilliant light.

Paul uses a chain of genitives, but the main expression is “the (en)lightenment of the good message” (to\ fwtismo\$ tou= eu)agge/liou)—that is to say, the Gospel brings light (vb au)ga/zw) and enlightenment (fwtismo/$) to the person who receives it. The qualifying genitives that follow (“of the splendor of the Anointed”) can be understood two ways: (1) as a simple objective genitive (or genitive of content), referring to the content of the Gospel; or (2) as what we might call a genitive of destination. In the first instance, the Gospel message is fundamentally about the splendor of Christ—his death and resurrection, exaltation, and divine status/position as Son of God, etc. In the second instance, the Gospel leads the believer to the splendor of Christ (cp. the expression “way of salvation,” etc).

Both ways of reading the expression are valid; however, the idea of removing the covering, along with the tradition of Moses entering the Tent of Meeting (or the rock on mount Sinai) to encounter God, strongly suggests that, upon receiving the Gospel, believers are led/brought into an encounter with the “splendor of God,” which we experience through the “splendor of Christ.”

Indeed, Paul goes on to declare that the Anointed (Christ) is “(the) image [ei)kw/n] of God”, much as he does in Colossians 1:15 (cf. also Romans 8:29). This helps to explain what he means by the expression “the same image” in 3:18 (cf. the previous notes). As the very “image” of God, it stands to reason that Christ would display the same glory. This is expounded in more detail, further developing the light motif (and its association with Jesus), in verse 6:

“For (it is) God, the (One hav)ing said ‘Out of (the) darkness light shall shine,’ who shone (light) in our hearts toward (the en)lightenment of the knowledge of the splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

To the three light-terms listed above, Paul here adds the verb la/mpw (“shine”), which has more or less the same meaning as au)ga/zw above. Indeed, the two constructions are similar, with comparable chains of genitives. Here in verse 6, the noun gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) holds the same place as eu)agge/lion (“good message,” Gospel) in v. 4. Because of this, many commentators would treat gnw=si$ here as synonymous with eu)agge/lion. In my view, this is incorrect. The parallelism in v. 6 is meant to convey a deeper level of meaning, which may be illustrated as follows:

    • Through the minister (as God’s) servant
      • the Gospel shines forth [vb au)ga/zw] light
        • which leads the believer =>
          • to the splendor of Christ
    • Through the action of God Himself
      • the Knowledge shines forth [la/mpw] light
        • which leads the believer =>
          • to the splendor of God

This Knowledge (gnw=si$) goes beyond the Gospel message, to the believer’s encounter with the image/face of Christ within, in the ‘heart’, at the level of the Spirit. This relates to the question posed in the previous note: how do believers “see” God, when the encounter takes place spiritually, inwardly and invisibly, through Spirit? A key to the answer is found in two details Paul introduces here at the conclusion of the passage: (1) the word gnw=si$ (“knowledge”), and (2) the motif of the “face” (pro/swpon). I will discuss the significance of these 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 20: John 1:6-8

John 1:6-8

The lines referring to John the Baptist (vv. 6-8, 15) are considered by many commentators to be secondary additions to the Christ-hymn which otherwise forms the core of the Johannine Prologue. Their inclusion is seen as either the work of an editor (to the initial version of the Gospel), or by the Gospel writer himself (to an existing hymn). The verses are prosaic and explanatory, generally lacking the poetic rhythm and style that characterizes the rest of the Prologue (examined in the previous notes on vv. 1-5). Functionally, their purpose in the Prologue is two-fold:

First, they serve to connect the Prologue with the opening sections of the Gospel narrative, in which John the Baptist is featured (1:19-35ff, also 3:22-30ff). This is especially important if the Gospel is adapting an existing Christ-hymn, which likely would have made no mention of the Baptist.

Second, they introduce an important theme of the opening sections—the relationship between John and Jesus, with emphasis on the superiority of Jesus and his definitive identity as the Anointed One (Messiah). This theme is not unique to the Gospel of John, but was part of the early Christian and Gospel tradition. In the Synoptic tradition (as in the Gospel of John), the Gospel narrative begins with the appearance of John the Baptist, along with a summary of his preaching and baptizing ministry. The central event of this tradition is the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11 par, cp. Jn 1:29-34), but it relates to important questions regarding the relationship between John and Jesus, questions which were of Messianic significance. As the Gospels themselves make clear, there were at least some Jews at the time who considered that John the Baptist might be the Messiah (Lk  3:15ff; Jn 1:19-23ff; cf. Mk 6:14-16 par; 8:28 par). Early Christians would have had no motivation to record these details if they did not stem from authentic tradition.

In speaking of the “Anointed One” (Messiah), it is important to keep in mind that there were a number of Messianic figure-types within Jewish thought in the first centuries B.C./A.D. The royal Messiah (i.e., the Davidic ruler figure-type) is the most familiar, but there were other figure-types, including several Messianic Prophet types. The two main prophetic types were based on the figures of Elijah and Moses, respectively; in addition, we have the anointed herald figure of Isa 61:1ff, echoed in a number of other (Deutero-)Isaian passages (such as 40:1-5). It is hard to see how people at the time could have viewed John as the Davidic Messiah, if the Gospel portrait of him and his ministry is accurate. However, he certainly might have been considered to be a Messianic Prophet, either of the Elijah, Moses, or Isaian herald type. Early Christian tradition ultimately came to interpret John as the “Elijah” who would ‘prepare the way’ for Jesus as the true Messiah, and this already is reflected at several points in the Synoptic narrative.

However, in the Fourth Gospel (1:19-23), John denies being this figure at all—any form of the Messianic Prophet, apart from a fulfillment of the herald figure of Isa 40:3ff. The implication is that Jesus is the Messianic Prophet (both the Moses and Elijah types), and much of the early Gospel tradition seems to evince the same belief. Indeed, during Jesus’ Galilean ministry, he appears to fulfill the role of “Elijah” (and note his identification with both Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene), though the Anointed Herald of Isaiah 61 provides a closer fit for his ministry as it is described in the Synoptic narrative. Jesus identifies himself with the Isaian figure-type in at least two different strands of tradition (Matt 11:4-5 par [Q], and Lk 4:16-21ff). For more on this subject, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (articles on the Baptism of Jesus).

In the earliest tradition, the “Anointed One” (Messiah) mentioned in Jn 1:20ff most likely referred to a Messianic Prophet, as noted above. However, by the time that the Gospel of John was written, Christians almost certainly would have understood the term in its more customary sense of the Davidic Ruler type. In any case, by the end of the New Testament period, the concept of Messiah (= Christ) had broadened among early Christians to encompass most, if not all, of the Messianic figure-types—with all of them being applied to the person of Jesus. This is unquestionably how Johannine Christians of the late-1st century would have understood the matter, reflecting the clear belief that Jesus was the Messiah, in every sense. For a full discussion, cf. the articles in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

But the Gospel of John goes even further than this, as the opening lines of the Prologue make clear. Not only is Jesus to be identified as the Messiah, but with the pre-existent Word and Wisdom of God as well.

Let us briefly examine verses 6-8 in more detail.

“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.”

The first thing to note is the way that these verses continue the distinction (in the Prologue) between the verb of being (ei)mi) and becoming (gi/nomai). The verb of becoming is used for created beings, while the verb of being is reserved for God. Therefore, in speaking of John the Baptist, gi/nomai is used: “There came to be [e)ge/neto] a man…” —that is, a certain human being came to be born and live on earth. The verb of being (ei)mi, imperfect h@n, “was”) is used in verse 8, but only by way of negation: “that (one) [i.e. John] was not [ou)k h@n]…”. In Johannine theological terminology, this means that the Baptist was simply a human being, unlike Jesus, who has/had divine existence as the Logos.

Note also other parallels in terminology, as if the comparison (between John and Jesus) was being introduced here in linguistic terms:

    • John was “sent forth” from God, even as Jesus (the Son) was sent—cp. 3:17, 34, etc (same vb a)poste/llw)
    • John was sent from “alongside” (para/) God (meaning the command came from God), while the Son had his pre-existent dwelling “alongside” God, being truly sent from Him (v. 14, 17:5, etc; in vv. 1-2 the preposition is pro/$ [“toward”], rather than para/, but with much the same meaning)
    • John is identified as the one sent by God with the designation “this one” (ou!to$), using the demonstrative pronoun, much as Jesus (“this one”) is identified with the Logos in v. 2.
    • “All things” in the universe come into being “through” Jesus the Logos (“through him,” di’ au)tou=), while “all (people)” were able to trust in Jesus (as the Messiah) through the witness of John (“through him”).

The most important point of comparison is that, while John functioned as a light (cf. 5:35, where he is called a ‘lamp’ [lu/xno$] that shines light), but he is not the light (to\ fw=$)—that is, the Light of God, which Jesus, the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God possesses. John’s light is secondary, since he merely functions as a witness (marturi/a, vb marture/w) to the Light. Jesus also is a witness to the Light, but in a different way, since he manifests and embodies the Divine Light in his very person. This light-motif, or characteristic, will be discussed further in the next daily note (on verse 9).