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

1 John 2:28-3:24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And this is His entol¢¡—that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 15: 1 John 3:1

1 John 3:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textual Note on 3:1

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

June 14: 1 John 2:29

1 John 2:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 13: 1 John 2:28

1 John 2:28-3:10

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

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

Verse 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

June 11: John 8:39-46

John 8:39-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:18-27

1 John 2:18-27

In the previous two studies, we examined the conflict that is at the heart of 2 John, and how it shaped the author’s treatment of the Johannine theology. In particular the key Johannine theme, of the two-fold duty (entol¢¡) required of every true believer—trust and love—is expounded and applied in relation to the conflict surrounding the “antichrist” opponents (v. 7). A genuine trust in Jesus Christ is defined in terms of the opponents’ Christology (and their false trust, vv. 7-9ff), while love for one’s fellow believers involves protecting them from the opponents’ influence (see vv. 10-11).

The same conflict is present in 1 John. This is clear from the similarity in wording between 2 John 7 and 1 John 4:3. The author of 1 John (if he is not the same person who penned 2 John) provides a more extensive and developed treatment of the conflict involving the opponents, whom he also calls antíchristos (antichrist). The central section, or division, of 1 John is 2:28-3:24. In this section, the author offers a presentation of what it means to be a true believer. By contrast, in the flanking sections (2:18-27 & 4:1-6), the focus is on the false believer. The principal theme of the treatise is the contrast between the true and false believer; the opponents are identified as false believers, while, in the author’s rhetorical strategy, his audience is essentially treated as true believers. This approach serves the purpose of both exhorting and warning Johannine Christians to remain faithful to the truth, in the face of the danger posed by the ‘antichrist’ opponents.

At various points throughout 1 John, we can see how this conflict has shaped the Johannine discourse. Various teachings and traditions, the language and manner of expression, have been adapted or interpreted so as to address the conflict involving the opponents. The first ‘antichrist’ section, 2:18-27, provides a number of examples for consideration. We begin with verse 18:

“Little children, it is the last hour. And, just as you (have) heard that (the one) ‘against the Anointed’ [antíchristos] comes, even now there have come to be many (who are) ‘against the Anointed’ [antíchristoi]—(and) from this we know that it is (the) last hour.”

The chiastic parallelism of this statement demonstrates how the author can use certain literary and grammatical-syntactical means in order to apply Johannine tradition to the situation involving the opponents. Note the structure:

    • “Little children, it is the last hour
      • you have heard that antichrist comes
      • even now many antichrists have come to be
    • (thus) we know that it is the last hour.”

The framing statements regarding “the last hour” relate to the eschatological expectation of Johannine Christians. The author, and doubtless many (if not all) of his addressees, held an imminent eschatology, with a strong belief that he/they were living in the time just before the end of the current Age. Part of this expectation, apparently, was that someone (or something) called “against the Anointed” (antíchristos) would come, just before the end, during the end-time period of distress (see Dan 12:1; Mark 13:19, 24 par; Rev 1:9; 7:14, etc). The author uses the term antíchristos (a)nti/xristo$) without explanation, nor does he offer any additional information regarding this expectation, which suggests that we are dealing with a tradition that was familiar to his audience. It is not at all clear whether the term here refers to an individual human being, a spirit-being, or an impersonal (spiritual) force. Possibly all three are involved; cf. the expectation elucidated by Paul in 2 Thess 2:1-12. For more on this subject, see my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition” (the Johannine references are discussed in Part 3).

In any case, the author clearly interprets this eschatological expectation in terms of the opponents. They are manifestations of this antíchristos—indeed, through the presence and activity of the opponents, many ‘antichrists’ have come to be. These antíchristoi are human beings, and yet the author also recognizes that a distinct spirit of ‘antichrist’ is at work.

The author does not immediately explain how (or in what way) the opponents are “against the Anointed”. This is because the main point(s) at issue are only expounded progressively, throughout the three sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:4b-12) that deal most directly with the opponents’ views. What the author initially tells us about these ‘antichrists’ is that they have departed from the Johannine Community—or, at least, what the author regards as the Community of true believers:

“They went out of [ek] us, (in) that they were not of [ek] us; for, if they were of us, they would have remained [vb ménœ] with us—but (this was so) that it would be made to shine forth [i.e., be made apparent] that they are not of us.” (v. 19)

This is an example of how the distinctive Johannine theological language is applied to the situation involving the opponents. Two bits of Johannine vocabulary and style are employed. First, there is the preposition ek (“out of”), used two different ways, with a dual meaning: (a) “out of, [away] from”, in the sense of departing/leaving the group, and (b) “(part) of”, i.e., belonging to, the Community. Even more distinctive is the use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”), an important Johannine keyword that is used (with special theological meaning) many times throughout the Gospel and First Letter. The true believer remains—both in Christ and in the bond of Community—while false believers (such as the opponents) do not remain. The opponents, like Judas in the Gospel narrative, depart from the Community of true believers, going out into the darkness of the world (Jn 13:30; 1 Jn 4:1ff). This could simply refer to their departure from the truth (specifically with regard to their view of Jesus), or it may mean that a more tangible separation/division within the Johannine churches has taken place.

In verses 20-21, and again in verse 27, two additional Johannine features are related to the conflict. First, there is the allusion to the Spirit in verse 20:

“And (yet) you hold an anointing from the Holy (One), and have seen [i.e. know] all (thing)s.”

Though the point has been disputed by some commentators, it is best to understand the noun chrísma (“anointing”) here as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Related to this emphasis on the role of the Spirit, is the use of the noun al¢¡theia (“truth”) in verse 21:

“I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen [i.e. do not know] the truth, but (in) that you have seen [i.e. do know] it, and that every(thing) false is not of [ek] the truth.”

This would seem to reflect a fundamental spiritual (and spiritualistic) principle within the Johannine Community (see the recent article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”). The indwelling presence of the Spirit means that every true believer is able to know and recognize the truth, through the internal witness of the Spirit. However, the presence and activity of the opponents has created a challenge to this principle, since there are certain Johannine Christians (the opponents) who, according to the author, are spreading false teachings. Such false teachings can not come from the same Spirit of God. This is a point that the author develops more clearly in 4:1-6.

A key rhetorical strategy of the author, as noted above, is to address his audience as though they are all true believers. Being true believers, who are taught (internally) by the Spirit (who is the truth, 5:6), they will be able to recognize teaching that is false. The implication is that the readers/hearers should be able to recognize the falseness of the opponents’ teachings.

And it is the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ that is most at issue. The author provides his first summary of the matter here in vv. 22-26. The main principle is that the ‘antichrist’, one who is “against the Anointed”, denies that Jesus is the Anointed (Christ/Messiah). This is another way of saying that the opponents deny Jesus as the Anointed. However, the precise meaning of the author in this regard is not entirely clear, and has been much discussed and debated by commentators. For a relatively in-depth treatment of the issue, see my earlier three-part article “1 Jn 2:22 and the Opponents in 1 John”. I will touch on the matter again in an upcoming study within this series.

What is most important is that, for the author, the opponents’ Christology (their view of Jesus) means that they are not true believers. By effectively denying Jesus, they show that they do not possess the bond of union with either the Son of God (Jesus) or God the Father (vv. 22-23). The presence of the Spirit (i.e., the “anointing”), and its internal witness, is the ultimate source of authority for believers (see again the aforementioned article), to the extent that there is no need to be taught (externally) by another human being (v. 27). But how, then, can individual believers be certain that their understanding is true, guided by the Spirit of God, and has not been led astray by false teachings (coming from other spirits)? The author gives an initial answer to this question in verse 24:

“(As for) you, that which you (have) heard from the beginning must remain in you. If it should remain in you, that which you heard from the beginning, (then) you also shall remain in the Son and in the Father.”

The only way for the believer not to be led astray, is to remain in the true teaching (regarding Jesus Christ). The author uses the key expression “from the beginning” (ap’ arch¢¡s) to summarize the true teaching. It echoes his words in the prologue (1:1-4), which, in turn, seem to be inspired by the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). The implication is that the internal witness/teaching of the Spirit will conform to the established Gospel tradition, regarding the person and work of Jesus. Any teaching which deviates from the truth of the Gospel cannot come from the Spirit of God, but from a different (false/deceiving) spirit. By remaining in the truth of the Gospel tradition, one is sure to remain united (through the Spirit) with the Father and the Son.

It is the Gospel account, rooted in historical tradition, of who Jesus is, and what he said/did during his earthly ministry, that is principally in view. The opponents, in their view of Jesus, have departed from the Gospel tradition. This, at least, is how the author of 1 John understands the matter. Their teaching denies the truth of who Jesus is, and so they are “against the Anointed”. Their teaching is a malevolent reflection of the end-time spirit of Antichrist, capable of leading many believers astray.

Next week, we will continue this study, examining how the author of 1 John further adapts the Johannine tradition and theology to address this vital conflict. We shall turn our attention to the central section of the work (2:28-3:24), isolating a number of key elements that are particularly emphasized and employed by the author.

Saturday Series: 2 John 4-11 (continued)

2 John 4-11, continued

As mentioned in last week’s study, the author of 2 John (“the Elder”) frames his message in terms of the dual-theme of truth (al¢¡theia) and love (agáp¢). These are primary themes in the Johannine writings, occurring throughout the Gospel and First Letter . They are established here in the opening of 2 John (vv. 1-3), and then are subsequently developed/expounded in the body of the letter.

Of particular importance is the positioning of the truth-love thematic pair in relation to the keyword entol¢¡, another important Johannine term that is used throughout the Gospel and First letter. The noun entol¢¡ denotes a duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is then obligated to complete. It is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but this can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine theological context. The term is introduced at the start of the body of the letter (v. 4), with particular reference being made to the entol¢¡ of believers loving one another. For more on how the author establishes this in vv. 4-5, see the discussion in the previous study.

In actuality, the author divides his message (vv. 4-11) in two parts, focusing first on the thematic component of love (vv. 4-6), and then on truth (vv. 7-9ff). The author of First John (if he is not the same person), does much the same thing, alternating between the themes of trust (pístis) and love in the body of his work:

In First John, it is clear that trust and love represent the two components of a single entol¢¡the great duty that all believers are required to fulfill. Indeed, the author states this quite plainly at the end of the central section (3:23f). The author of 2 John would seem to hold a similar outlook, only he utilizes the Johannine keyword al¢¡theia (“truth”) in place of pístis (“trust”). However, the meaning and focus is essentially the same. The Gospel (esp. the Last Discourse of Jesus, 13:31-16:33) likewise affirms a single (two-fold) entol¢¡, defined in terms of remaining in Jesus’ word (lógos/rh¢¡ma) and in his love (agáp¢).

 

As mentioned above, verses 4-6 focus on the entol¢¡ of love. However, in verse 6, the author begins transitioning to the theme of truth/trust. This is done rather cleverly, using an elliptical and illusive style that is typical of the Johannine writings. Keeping in mind that the noun entol¢¡, in this context, refers, not to customary ethical-religious ‘commands’ (such as the Ten Commandments), but specifically to the duty of believers to love each other, the author seems to be using circular language in verse 6:

    • “And this is the love—
      • that we should walk about according to his entolaí;
    • this is the entol¢¡
      • that we should walk about in it [i.e. the love]”

If believers love, then they will live/act (“walk about”) fulfilling the duty required of them; but the duty is that they love. Actually, as mentioned above, love is only one aspect of the two-fold entol¢¡; the second aspect is trust, referenced here in 2 John under the label “truth” (al¢¡theia).

The final phrase of verse 6 (“that we should walk about in it”) is ambiguous, since the feminine pronoun aut¢¡ could refer to any one of three prior nouns, all of which are feminine, also being closely interrelated in Johannine thought: agáp¢ (“love”), al¢¡theia (“truth”), and entol¢¡ (the duty believers are required to fulfill). All three are valid as a referent for the pronoun, and this ambiguity has led to considerable disagreement among commentators as to which is intended. The immediate context of verse 6 suggests that “it” refers to love; however, the overall arc of vv. 4-6, and the transition here to vv. 7-9, argues in favor of a reference to truth. Von Wahlde (p. 223f) effectively illustrates the chiastic framework of vv. 4-6, whereby the initial phrase “walking about in (the) truth” in v. 4 has a natural parallel in the final phrase of v. 6 (“we should walk about in it”).

From a Johannine theological standpoint, the term “truth” covers both components of the great duty—(i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ example. One cannot fulfill this duty without fulfilling both components; moreover, violation of either aspect means violation of the entire command. When the author speaks of the need for believers to love one another, this also entails the affirmation (and confirmation) of genuine trust in Jesus among believers.

The conflict within the Johannine Commmunity involving the “antichrist” opponents forced apostolic leaders and missionaries (such as the “Elder”) to define the great entol¢¡ (trust and love) in relation to this conflict. For the first time in recorded Church history, we find Christians in disagreement over what trust in Jesus specifically entails. In other words, this is the first known Christological controversy. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God? Where is the dividing line between a true confession of faith and one that is false?

For the author(s) of 1 and 2 John, as well as (we may assume) many others in the Johannine churches, the view(s) expressed by the opponents were false, demonstrating that the opponents were actually false believers. By promoting a false view of Christ, they could be considered “against Christ” (antichrist). It is likely that the opponents held the author and his circle in similarly low regard.

While First John gives us an extensive treatment of the conflict, it is presented in a more seminal way here in Second John. This probably means that 2 John was written prior to 1 John, but this is far from certain; indeed, some commentators would argue just the opposite. In any case, the author states the matter quite simply and directly in verse 7:

“(For it is) that many plánoi (have) gone out into the world, the (one)s not giving common account of Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is (the) plános and the antíchristos!”

The author refers to the opponents by two labels. The first (used twice) is plános, which means someone who leads people astray. The second is antíchristos, literally “against (the) Anointed”, where the prefix anti– can connote both opposition and the idea of a (false) replacement. The term antíchristos was used of the opponents in 1 John (2:18, 22; 4:3). While the other term (plános) was not used in 1 John, the basic idea (going astray and leading people astray) is certainly present, through the related noun plán¢ (4:6) and verb planᜠ(1:8; 2:26; 3:7).

The great error of these people, according to the author, is that they do not confess Jesus Christ as “coming in the flesh”. The precise nature of their view of Christ has been the subject of longstanding debate among commentators and historians of doctrine. I have discussed the matter at length in a number of recent articles and series of notes (links to which you will find below). For the purposes of this study I wish to focus, not so much on the nature of the opponents’ Christology, but on the author’s response to it, and how this shapes the message of 2 John.

An important detail of the statement in verse 7 is the notice that a number of these opponents have “gone out into the world”. Given the distinctiveness of the noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) as a Johannine keyword, this phrase can be understood two different ways. First, it can mean that the opponents have left the Community of true believers, and, like Judas (Jn 13:30), have gone out into the darkness of the world (in opposition to God and Christ); cf. 1 Jn 2:19. Second, it can be understood in the neutral sense of traveling about, acting as missionaries, spreading their beliefs into other areas and among other congregations. Both of these aspects of meaning are doubtless intended by the author. Compare the same wording in 1 Jn 4:1.

What follows in vv. 8-11 makes clear that some of the opponents (i.e., people holding their views) are traveling about as missionaries and representatives, and that congregations (such as those of the “Lady”) are likely to encounter them. As false teachers (1 John calls them false prophets, 4:1ff) who would lead people astray, the author perceives a serious threat posed by the opponents traveling among the various Johannine congregations (house-churches), where, as Christian travelers and missionaries, some might be inclined to give them hospitality (and a hearing).

The author’s warning is given in verse 8, and then he proceeds (in verse 9) effectively to declare that the opponents—and all those who follow their view of Jesus—are not true believers in Christ. The author does this with a typically Johannine formulation:

“Every one leading forward and not remaining in the teaching of (the) Anointed, does not have/hold God…” (v. 9a)

The use of a substantive participle (with definite article) preceded by the adjective pás (“all/every”) is typical of Johannine style, and occurs frequently in 1 John. It is a way of describing the essential nature/character of a person or group, i.e., “everyone doing/being {such}”. The verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) is another important Johannine keyword, occurring many times in the Gospel, and with even greater relative frequency in 1 John. The person who remains in Christ (that is, as a true believer) will remain in both his word and his love; conversely, anyone who does not remain in his word or love, does not remain in him (and thus, is not a true believer).

The author expounds this Johannine idea of remaining in Jesus’ word in terms of holding to a true view of Christ (i.e., true faith), one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition (viz., the Discourses and Jesus’ own witness regarding his identity as the Son). By not remaining in the truth, the opponents have left it, leading the way forward (vb proágœ), in a negative sense. Only the person who remains in the true teaching, and who thus possesses true faith/trust in Jesus, is a true believer, holding union with the Son (Jesus) and God the Father (v. 9b). All of this is expressed in traditional Johannine language, applied to the specific context of the conflict involving the opponents.

The body of the letter concludes (vv. 10-11) with instruction on what should be done when encountering the opponents (as travelers/missionaries). Here the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and truth (vv. 7-9) merge together again. The response to the opponents demonstrates fidelity to the truth (i.e., trust in Jesus) but also love for fellow believers, by protecting them from the opponents’ false teaching. The author’s advice is straightforward:

“If any(one) comes to you and does not carry this [i.e. the true] teaching, do not receive him into (the) house, even a ‘glad tidings’ you must not say to him” (v. 10)

In other words, give no hospitality to such people, and do not even offer any good wishes to them. The use of the noun oikía (“house”) could refer to a private home, but probably the congregation (house-church, meeting in a home) is primarily in view. In any case, the purpose of the instruction is clearly to prevent the opponents from further spreading their views throughout the churches. This is the purpose of First John as well, but here we see the instruction (and warning) being addressed to a specific congregation (and/or church leader).

The author concludes by emphasizing again that the opponents must be avoided, as thoroughly as possible. Even to offer such a person words of greeting or well-wishes, in the author’s view, means that you are “…making common bond with his evil deeds” (v. 11).

It is interesting that in 3 John, the same author condemns this practice of refusing hospitality to traveling Christians (v. 10, cf. vv. 5-8). The author’s view of the matter was thoroughly dualistic in this regard: all true believers are to be welcomed, while all false believers are not to be welcomed. In the Johannine writings, love (agáp¢) refers primarily (if not exclusively) to the love between believers (i.e., true believers). As note above, by shunning false believers, other (true) believers are protected, and the unity of the Church (that is, the Community of true believers) as a whole is maintained. In this regard, the shunning of false believers is actually an act of love. This, I am sure, is how the author of 2 John would view the matter.

In our next study, we shall look at this same conflict (involving the “antichrist” opponents) as it is dealt with in First John, and how the author’s response to the conflict shapes the distinctive theological expression of that work.

For discussion on the Christology of the opponents, see my earlier studies on 1 Jn 2:22 (parts 1, 2, 3) and 4:2-3 (parts 1, 2, 3), as well as the article in the series “Spritualism in the New Testament”.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

 

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:16-18

1 John 5:16-17

Last week, I presented two alternative approaches to solving the ‘sin problem’ in 1 John. The term ‘sin problem’, as has been discussed, refers to the apparent contradiction between the author’s statements (regarding sin) in 1:5-2:2 and 3:4-9. In the former passage, it is clear that believer can, and do (at times), commit sin; whereas, in the latter passages, the author boldly states that the true believer does not—and, indeed, can not (“is not able to”)—sin.

I have proposed a pair of solutions—one of which is based on the author’s use of the Johannine key verb ménœ (“remain, abide”), and the other which is based on a dual-layered Johannine understanding of sin (hamartía). As a way of evaluating these proposals, and to give further consideration to the ‘sin problem’, we must turn to the final sin-reference in 1 John.

The final section of the letter is 5:13-20, in which the author sums up his arguments and presents the summary in the context of his causa—that is, his purpose and reason for writing. Verse 13 states this purpose rather clearly:

“I have written these (thing)s to you (so) that you might have seen [i.e. know] that you hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], to (you) the (one)s trusting in the name of the Son of God.”

This differs from the stated purpose of the Gospel (20:31), which was that the readers/hearers would come to trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and thus would have (eternal) life. In 1 John, the author is writing to believers, and so the purpose is that his readers might see/know that they hold this life. The principal theme of 1 John is the contrast between true and false believers. The author addresses his audience as true believers, in contrast with the “antichrist” opponents whose views he combats throughout (esp. in 2:18-27 and 4:1-6). And yet, there is the very real possibility that these believers might be “led astray” by the false teaching of the “antichrists”. If the Johannine Christians remain firm in their trust, in accordance with what the author has outlined in his letter, then they can know that they are, indeed, true believers who possess eternal life.

We saw from the context of 3:4-9 that a person’s relationship with sin is a key factor in defining what it means to be a true believer. The author, in this passage, does not use the idiom “true believer”; rather, the true believer (as opposed to the false) is defined by certain substantive verbal nouns (participles):

    • “every (one) remaining in him” (vb ménœ), v. 6
    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God” (vb gennᜠ+ ek), v. 9
      these then relate to:
    • “the (one) doing the right (thing)”, in contrast to “the (one) doing the sin” (vv. 4, 7)

The true believer, thus, is the person who has come to be born of God (as His offspring), and then remains in Him. One remains in God the Father by remaining in the Son; and one remains in the Son by remaining in his word, and in his love.

My two approaches to the ‘sin problem’ can be summarized as follows:

    • Approach 1:
      If the believer remains in the Son (his word and love), then he/she will not (and cannot) sin; only by falling out of the abiding relationship can one commit sin (in the general sense).
    • Approach 2:
      Sin (hamartía, vb hamartánœ) is understood here in the fundamental (theological) sense of unbelief—particularly, by violating the great two-fold command (or duty, entol¢¡) that is required of all believers (3:23). One may occasionally sin, in the general sense (of ethical-religious failings or wrongdoing), but a true believer cannot sin in this fundamental sense.

As we turn to the final sin-reference in 5:16-18, we see the author does, in fact, distinguish between two kinds of sin: one that is “toward death” (prós thánaton)—that is, which leads to death—and one which does not. The implication is that the believer can, on occasion, commit the kind of sin which does not lead “to death”:

“If any(one) should see his brother sinning a sin not toward death, he shall make request (about it to God), and He will give him life—(that is,) to the (one)s sinning (the sin) not toward death.”

The author continues:

“There is a sin toward death; (but it is) not about that (sin) which I say (that) you should make a request (of God).”

If a fellow believer (“brother”) commits sin, and one becomes aware of it, then one should pray to God on the sinning believer’s behalf; and God will hear this prayer, and will restore the sinning believer to life (“will give him life”). This applies to any sin except the sin that leads “to death”. The point is clarified in verse 17:

“All th(at is) not right [adikía] is sin; and (yet) there is sin (that is) not toward death.”

Sin is here defined as that which is “without right(ness)” (adikía), i.e., “not right”, wrongdoing, etc. Back in 3:4, sin was similarly defined as that which is “without law” (anomía, adj. ánomos), i.e., “lawless, against (God’s) law”. In other words, all wrongdoing and improper conduct is sin, yet there is a kind of sin which leads “to death” that is fundamentally distinct. This sin “to death” is different enough that the author suggests one should not even pray to God about it. This would seem to be best explained on the premise that the person committing the “sin toward death” is not a true believer at all.

Such an explanation would be fully in keeping with the central theme of 1 John—namely, the contrast between the true and false believer. The true believer will not violate the great entol¢¡—of trust and love (3:23)—while the false believer violates both aspects; indeed, the false believer has neither genuine trust in Christ nor possesses the love of Christ.

The false believers which the author has in mind, primarily, throughout his work, are the “antichrist” opponents. These persons, whom the author regards as false prophets of the end-time, espouse a false view of Jesus, and thus do not possess true belief in him as the Son of God. Further, they also violate the second half of the dual-command: the duty to show love to one’s fellow believers. Apparently they demonstrate their lack of love simply by the way that they have separated from the Community (of true believers), 2:19. Possibly, the author’s words regarding the demonstration of love in 3:16-17 are also an indication of ways that (according to him) the opponents violate the command.

In my view, the author’s framing of the matter in 5:16-17, in light of the overarching theme of his letter, means that the “sin toward death” is the sin of the “antichrists”, by which they violate both components of the great command—true faith in Christ and genuine love for others (following Christ’s example). The true believer, on the other hand, will not violate this great command.

If the author’s handling of the ‘sin problem’ here in 5:16-17 provides support for my second proposal, what of the first proposal? Does the author’s teaching here relate to the key idea of the believer remaining in the Son? Verses 16-17 may not be directly on point for this question, but verse 18 that follows does seem to relate:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one hav)ing come to be born of God keeps watch (over) him, and (so) the Evil (one) does not touch him.”

This verse is clearly parallel with 3:9, and helps to explain it. I will be discussing this further next week, as we begin to bring this series of studies to a close.

Saturday Series: 1 John 1:5-2:2 (continued)

1 John 1:5-2:2, continued

We are here continuing from last week’s study with the sin-references in 1 John 1:5-2:2. As previously noted, this first section of the treatise (following the prologue, 1:1-4) is comprised of an initial statement (v. 5), followed by three rhetorical (and expository) units, each of which begins with an orienting clause according to the formula “If we should say…” (eán eípœmen…). Each such clause establishes a declarative statement, making a claim, which the author then proceeds to refute:

    • 1:6-7“If we should say that…”
      • Statement: “we hold common-bond with Him, and (yet) would walk about in the darkness”
      • Refutation: “we are false, and do not do the truth”
    • 1:8-9“If we should say that…”
      • Statement: “we do not hold (any) sin”
      • Refutation: “we lead ourselves astray, and the truth is not in us”
    • 1:10-2:2“If we should say that…”
      • Statement: “we have not sinned”
      • Refutation: “we make Him (out to be) false, and His word is not in us”

Three false claims regarding sin are stated, and then refuted. In some ways, this echoes the thrust of the Paraclete-saying in John 16:7b-11, in which it is promised that the Spirit (Paraclete) will show the world to be wrong (vb eléngchœ) about three things (v. 8), the first of which is sin (hamartía, v. 9). The world’s understanding of sin is wrong, and the Spirit will give witness of this, and of the true nature of sin.

The three claims can properly be divided into two groups. In the first (1:6a), the situation involves Christians who claim to be united with God (who is light, v. 5), and yet who walk in the darkness of the world. In the second (1:8a, 10a), the Christian is claiming to be without sin, presumably implying a state of sinless perfection. In both instances, according to the author, the claim is false, and demonstrates that the one making in the claim is a false believer. This emphasis relates to the central theme of 1 John, as I discern it: the contrast between the true and false believer. The opponents being dealt with in 1 John (especially in the “antichrist” sections of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6), due primarily to their view of Jesus Christ, are regarded by the author as false believers. Many commentators feels that the false claims regarding sin (1:6a, 8a, 10a) represent, in some measure, the actual views of the opponents.

After presenting and refuting each claim, the author proceeds, in each instance, to offer a true assessment regarding sin and the believer. In this week’s study, we will examine these statements.

Statement #1 (1:7)

The false claim:
“we hold common-bond with Him”, and yet, at the same time “we walk about in the darkness”

According to the author, if “we” (that is, any Christian) should make such a claim, then:

“we are false, and do not do the truth”

The true believer does not “walk about in the darkness”. The verb used is peripatéœ (“walk about”), referring to a person’s regular and habitual behavior, which takes place on a daily basis. It is often used in a religious-ethical context, corresponding to the Old Testament use of the Hebrew verb h¹la½ (“walk”) especially in the reflexive (Hithpael) stem. See, for example, Paul’s use of the verb in Rom 6:4; 8:4; 2 Cor 5:7; Gal 5:16.

In the Johannine writings, “darkness” (here, skótos, but skotía in v. 5) fundamentally refers to that which is opposite (and opposed) to God. A dualistic light-darkness contrast is established in the Gospel Prologue (1:5) and runs all through the Johannine writings. The term kósmos (“world-order, world”), in its typical negative Johannine usage, represents the realm of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. Like the figure of Judas in the Gospel narrative (13:30), the opponents have left the Community of true believers, and have gone out into the darkness of the world (4:1ff; 2 Jn 7). Here, “darkness” is a comprehensive term, and should not be limited to sin (in the sense of moral wrongdoing), though certainly its meaning includes all manner of sin.

What then is the true situation regarding the believer? The author declares this in verse 7:

“But, if we should walk about in the light, as He is in the light, (then) we hold common-bond with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

The false believer may claim to hold “common bond” (koinœnía) with God, but it is only the one who “walks about” (same verb, peripatéœ) in the light (and not the darkness) who truly holds this koinœnía. And the bond of unity is not only with God, but believers have a common-bond with each other as well. In so far as we walk about “in the light” —the same light (of truth and holiness, etc) in which God Himself abides—then we are cleansed (vb katharízœ) of all sin.

This cleansing comes through the blood of Yeshua the Son of God, referring to his sacrificial death. This alludes to the same idea of the removal of sin that we saw, for example, in the Lamb of God declaration in Jn 1:29 (see the discussion in the earlier study). Three points may be gleaned from the author’s statement here in v. 7, regarding the relationship of sin to the believer:

    • Cleansing from sin is possible, through participation in the life-giving power of Jesus’ death
    • We are cleansed of all sin (“from all sin,” apó pás¢s hamartías), and
    • The implication is that believers do, in fact, occasionally commit sin.
Statement #2 (1:9)

The false claim:
“we do not hold (any) sin”

According to the author, if “we” (that is, any Christian) should make such a claim, then:

“we lead ourselves astray, and the truth is not in us”

The verb planᜠ(“go/lead astray”), along with the related nouns plán¢ and plános, is a key term in the Johannine writings. The opponents, as false believers, have gone astray, but they also lead people astray with their false views and teachings; they thus function as false prophets, and can be characterized as being “against the Anointed” (antichrist). Their false claims about sin, apparently, may be included among their false teachings.

The claim “we do not have/hold (any) sin” would seem to imply a state of sinless perfection, in which the Christian does not (ever) possess any sin, since it has been removed, cleansed through the work of Christ (v. 7). The author views such a claim as false, even though he himself, elsewhere in 1 John, seems to make comparable statements that are equally bold (a point we will examine in the next study).

In verse 7, the author indicated that believers do, in fact, commit sin, at least on occasion; but such sin will be removed/cleansed through the blood of Jesus. Here, in verse 9, he explains this further:

“If we acknowledge/confess our sins, He is trustworthy and right(eous), (so) that He should release (for) us our sins, and should cleanse us from all (that is) not right.”

The exposition of v. 7 here takes two forms: (a) the removal of sin is tied to public confession/ acknowledgment of it, and (b) it entails two aspects or components—(i) release from sin’s power/force, and (ii) cleansing from its presence.

The verb homologéœ means “give account as one” —that is, to make a statement that is in agreement with what others say or wish; it may be translated “(give) consent, admit, agree”. In the New Testament, it tends to be used in the sense of openly acknowledging something, before others or in their presence. Specifically, it can refer to a confession of faith/belief (see 2:23; 4:2-3, 15; 2 Jn 7; Jn 9:22; 12:42; also Rom 10:9-10, etc) or of sin. Obviously, the latter is intended here (the only such use of the verb in the New Testament). Almost certainly, public confession in a congregational setting (of some sort) is intended.

The removal of sin, following confession, involves its release. The verb aphí¢mi means “send away”, which clearly indicates a removal; however, it sometimes carries the specific nuance of “release”, which is a fitting translation here given the use of the idiom of holding sin (vb échœ) in v. 8a. As discussed in a prior study, the commission-statement by Jesus, to the disciples, regarding sin in 20:23 could conceivably relate to a process of confession/release of sin in a congregational setting. At the very least, it is likely that other believers would have given some public assent to the process, recognizing that forgiveness had taken place.

The second aspect of this removal of sin involves the believer being cleansed (vb katharízœ) from the effect of sin’s presence. This is referred to in a comprehensive sense, corresponding to “all sin” in v. 7 (see above), with the phrase “from all (that is) not right”. The noun adikía literally means “lack of rightness”, but “(what is) not right” is a smoother rendering in English, and gets us closer to the general meaning. Sin carries with it much that is “not right”, but all of this is washed away, being cleansed by Jesus’ blood, when the sin is removed.

In verse 7, the singular of hamartía (“sin”), without the definite article, was used. This refers to sin in a general or collective sense. Here in verse 9, the plural of the noun (“sins”) is used, referring to individual/specific failings, wrongs, misdeeds, etc.

Statement #3 (2:1-2)

The false claim:
“we have not sinned”

According to the author, if “we” (that is, any Christian) should make such a claim, then:

“we make Him (out to be) false, and His word is not in us”

The three refutations by the author build in force, to the point that, here, the one making the false claim regarding sin not only proves him/herself to be a false believer, but also makes God out to be false as well! This seems to foreshadow the idea, to be developed significantly in the remainder of the work, that the opponents are false prophets—they do not speak from the Spirit of God, but from another spirit, one that is false and which leads people astray.

The false claim of v. 10a itself is essentially a restatement of that in v. 8a, emphasizing the specific act (vb hamartánœ) of committing an individual sin. This corresponds with the use of the plural of the noun hamartía in verse 9 (see above).

In 2:1-2, the author gives his fullest exposition (thus far) regarding the relationship between sin and the believer, effectively summarizing and integrating the prior statements from 1:7, 9. He begins with a bit of paraenesis, giving general ethical-religious instruction to his readers and exhorting them:

“My (dear) offspring [i.e. children], I write these (thing)s to you (so) that you should not sin.”

The purpose of the instruction is that they should not sin; the subjunctive voice implies that there is the possibility that they may sin, but that they should not—and, indeed, must not. He continues:

“But if any(one) should sin, we hold (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos], toward the Father, Yeshua (the) Anointed (the) righteous (one)…”

That it is possible for the believer to sin seems to be clearly expressed here. And, if this should happen, then it is still possible for the sin to be removed/cleansed, and for a state of sinless purity to be restored. As stated in 1:7, this is achieved through Jesus Christ the Son of God. The same is expressed here by referring to Jesus as “(one who is) called alongside” —that is, to give help and assistance. The term is parákl¢tos, the same term used of the Spirit in the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15). In the first of these (14:16), the Spirit is referred to as another parákl¢tos, implying that there was one prior, and that Jesus was the first parákl¢tos. There is thus precedent for referring to Jesus by this descriptive title.

He gives help on behalf of believers—specifically, believers who sin—interceding for them before God the Father. The expression here is “toward” (prós) the Father, which literally could mean facing toward Him or coming/moving toward Him. In any case, Jesus is near to the Father, in His presence, functioning as a mediator (between human beings and God), in the manner of a priest. Verse 2 brings out this aspect:

“…and he (himself) is (the) hilasmós over our sins—and not over ours only, but also over (the sin of) the whole world.”

The noun hilasmós is extremely difficult to translate in English. It is ultimately derived from the adjective híleœs, meaning “merciful”. The verb hiláskomai has the basic meaning “be merciful, show mercy”, and is frequently used in religious (and ritual) contexts, whereby the goal (for the worshiper) is for God to be merciful, responding in a gracious, propitious, and beneficial manner. The noun hilasmós essentially refers to the means by which this is achieved. Thus, here, to say that Jesus is the hilasmós “over our sins”, signifies that he is the means by which God shows mercy to us, with regard to our sins—that is, by removing them and cleansing us from their effect. The only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament is in 1 Jn 4:10, where the context is essentially the same, but with a reference to Jesus as God’s Son in salvific language that seems to echo Jn 3:16f.

Through Jesus’ blood—his sacrificial death—the power of sin is removed, even as is declared in Jn 1:29. His death provides the means for removal for all sin, not merely those committed (occasionally) by believers. The closing words of v. 2 share with the Lamb of God declaration in Jn 1:29 the universal focus of the entire world— “the sin of the world”.

In our study next week, we will turn our attention to the important (and difficult) sin-references in 3:4-9, also examining briefly the reference to the forgiveness of sin in 2:12.

Saturday Series: 1 John 1:5-2:2

1 John 1:5-2:2

In these studies on the Johannine view of sin, focusing on the use of the noun hamartía and the related verb hamartánœ, we now turn to the Letters of John. Actually, these words do not occur in 2 or 3 John, so we will be dealing almost exclusively with the evidence from 1 John, referring to the other letters only on occasion. Sin is a prominent subject in 1 John, and the words under consideration occur relatively frequently—the noun 17 times, and the verb 10 times.

The precise relationship between the Gospel and First Letter remains a matter of some debate among scholars. It is clear that both writings come from the same Christian environment, sharing much in the way of vocabulary, style, points of emphasis, and theological outlook. The elements and features which the writings have in common are encompassed by the descriptive label “Johannine”. If the Gospel and First Letter were not written by the same person, they were composed by individuals who shared a similar mode of thinking (denkform) and expression.

Though some commentators would debate the point, I consider it all but certain that at least some form of the Gospel of John was known by the author of 1 John (and his original audience) at the time the latter work was written. The similarities of thought, as well as the likelihood that the Gospel was known among the Johannine churches, justifies our referring to the Gospel when discussing the understanding of sin for the author of 1 John.

On this point, I would summarize some key results from the studies on sin in the Johannine Gospel. Most notably, the two-layer (or dual-aspect) view of sin must be emphasized. Sin can be understood two ways: (1) in the general or conventional sense of ethical-religious failures and misdeeds; and (2) in the special theological sense of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. The first and last sin-references in the Gospel (1:29; 20:23) deal with sin in the general sense—and particularly the idea of the removal of sin comes about as a result of trust in Jesus. In between, in the remainder of the Gospel, the author (and/or Jesus as the speaker) tends to play on the two aspects of meaning, giving priority to the theological/Christological sense of sin as unbelief. Failing or refusing to trust in Jesus represents the great sin.

With this in mind, but without letting the Gospel evidence pre-determine our analysis of 1 John, we shall examine the first sin-references in the letter—these occur in the opening section (following the prologue [1:1-4]), 1:5-2:2. R. E. Brown, in his now-classic commentary (Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 [1982]), provides a convenient visual outline of the structure of this section (p. 191). It is comprised of an initial statement (v. 5), followed by three rhetorical (and expository) units, each of which begins with an orienting clause according to the formula “If we should say…” (eán eípœmen…). Each such clause establishes a declarative statement, making a claim, which the author then proceeds to refute:

    • 1:6-7“If we should say that…”
      • Statement: “we hold common-bond with Him, and (yet) would walk about in the darkness”
      • Refutation: “we are false, and do not do the truth”
    • 1:8-9“If we should say that…”
      • Statement: “we do not hold (any) sin”
      • Refutation: “we lead ourselves astray, and the truth is not in us”
    • 1:10-2:2“If we should say that…”
      • Statement: “we have not sinned”
      • Refutation: “we make Him (out to be) false, and His word is not in us”

The three claims could be made by any religious-minded person, but it is fair to assume that the author has Christians in mind. Many commentators take for granted that the author is addressing specific claims made by the group of opponents that he has firmly in view elsewhere (most notably in the “antichrist” sections, 2:18-27 and 4:1-6). The claims certainly relate to the central theme of the author’s work (as I see it): the contrast between the true and the false believer. If “we” (that is, anyone who claims to be part of the Christian Community) make such claims, then “we” prove ourselves to be false.

Let us briefly consider each claim, and the author’s refutation of it.

Claim #1: “we hold common-bond with Him”, and yet, at the same time “we walk about in the darkness”

These two things are incompatible, as the initial statement in verse 5 makes clear: “God is light, and in Him there is not any darkness”. The first phrase is an essential predicative statement, of the sort which occur frequently throughout the Johannine writings. Such predication gives us essential information about the subject—who or what the subject is. The syntax is extremely simple, being comprised of: (a) the (Divine) subject, (b) the verb of being, and (c) a predicate nominative: “God | is | light”. Since God is light, the one who is united in a common-bond (koinœnía) with Him cannot be in darkness. The dualistic light-darkness contrast is an essential component of the Johannine theology and worldview, being established in the Gospel Prologue (1:4-5).

If a person “walks about” (indicating regular behavior reflecting a way of life) in darkness, then this behavior demonstrates that the words of the claim are false. What such Christians say does not match what they do (and vice versa). The term darkness (skotía) represents the opposite of light, and thus alludes to that which is generally opposed to God (and the things of God). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the idea of this domain of darkness, that is opposed to God, is expressed by the term kósmos (“world-order, world”). The author is here introducing and establishing the central contrast between true and false believers, with the implication that the false believer belongs to the darkness of the world. The refutation specifically establishes the contrast between true and false: “…we are false, and do not do the truth”.

Claim #2: “we do not hold (any) sin”

In this instance, the claim itself is false. The implication, however, is that only the sort of false believer described in v. 6-7 would ever (seriously) make such a claim. The refutation of the claim makes this quite clear: “…we lead ourselves astray, and the truth is not in us”. In Johannine terminology, to say that “the truth is not in” someone, means that such a person is not a true believer.

What of this particular claim, “we do not hold (any) sin”? It probably should be understood in terms of the sinlessness of the believer. In other words, when a person comes to trust in Jesus, and receives the Spirit, all sin is removed, and the believer never again possesses (lit. “holds”) any sin. As we shall see, the Johannine theology tends toward such a conclusion, based on the sinlessness of the Son (Jesus) himself (3:5), with whom the believer is united through the Spirit. It is therefore understandable how some Johannine Christians might make such a claim.

Claim #3: “we have not sinned”

This claim is clearly parallel with #2, representing a variation on the same basic idea:

    • “we do not hold (any) sin” —as believers, we do not (ever) possess any sin
    • “we have not sinned” —as believers, we have not (ever) committed any specific sin

The author refutes this claim just bluntly as the second, and even more forcefully: “…we make Him [i.e. God] (out to be) false, and His word is not in us”. Here, “His word [lógos]” is parallel to (and generally synonymous with) “the truth” —both are not “in” the false believer who makes such claims of sinlessness. Again, the false believer is positioned as being part of the world of darkness that is opposed to God. Not only is the claimant false, but the false claims (presented as the truth of God) make God Himself out to be false!

The author’s refutation of these claims of sinless perfection for the believer in Christ are clear enough. The major problem for the interpreter of 1 John, however, is that the author himself seems to make the very same sorts of claims, elsewhere in his work (3:6ff; 5:18). This may be referred to as the “Sin-Problem” in 1 John, and will be discussed further in the upcoming studies.

Next week, we will continue our study on 1:5-2:2, looking at the author’s positive counter-statements regarding sin. Having refuted each of the three false claims, he offers a true claim in each instance. This rhetorical structure may be outlined as follows:

    • The false claim (“If we should say…”)—1:6a, 8a, 10a
    • The refutation of the false claim—1:6b, 8b, 10b
    • The true counter-statement—1:7, 9; 2:1-2

As we shall see, in each instance, the true statement tacitly admits the possibility that believers may sin, but that such sin can (and will) be removed through our union with Jesus Christ, which involves our participation in the life-giving power of his death.