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.

 

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27, cont.)

John 5:27, continued

In the first part of this study, we examined the context of the “son of man” reference in verse 27. As part of this analysis, we noted the parallelism between vv. 21-24 and 25-29 in the first expository section of the chap. 5 Discourse. We may narrow the focus to the parallel units of vv. 21-22 and 26-27, in which the thematic emphasis is on the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. Here, again, is how this is expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

And, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind.

Throughout the first division of the Discourse, vv. 19-30, the principal theme is how Jesus, as the Son (of God), does the work of God his Father. The broader thematic focus is on the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Because of this central theme that runs through the entire Gospel, Jesus regularly refers to himself (in the Discourses) as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$), by which is meant “God’s Son” (i.e., “the Son of God”). This is typical of the Johannine Gospel, compared with the relatively rare use of the unqualified expression “the Son” in the Synoptics. And, not surprisingly, given the thematic emphasis in 5:19-30, the expression “the Son” occurs quite often (9 times) in these verses. This makes the singular use of the expression “(the) son of man” in v. 27 quite significant.

Why does Jesus (and the Gospel writer) use “(the) son of man” in verse 27 (and only there)? The precise wording of the phrase containing the expression is important: “(in) that [i.e. because] he is (the) Son of man” (o%ti ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou e)stin). This explicative use of the o%ti-clause offers the reason why God the Father has given the Son (Jesus) authority to judge humankind: it is because he is “(the) son of man”.

From a syntactical standpoint, the statement “he is (the) son of man” is an example of the sort of essential predication that occurs throughout the Gospel (and Letters) of John. These simple predicative statements contain three elements: (1) Divine subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate noun or phrase. The statements give essential information about who the subject is. The formulation is basically limited to a Divine subject—usually Jesus Christ (the Son), but occasionally God the Father, while, in at least one instance (1 Jn 5:6), the Spirit is the subject. In a secondary application, the formula can also be applied to believers in Christ (viz., believers, the children/offspring of God, as the divine subject).

The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) declarations by Jesus are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication. Indeed, when Jesus, as both Divine subject and speaker, makes such statements, it is most natural that he would use a first person pronoun to express the subject. Here, however, he speaks in the third person (“he is”), as he typically does whenever he uses the expression “the son of man”, using it as a self-reference. The pronoun is not present in the Greek, but only implied (based on the form of the verb). The specific formulation is unusual (and unprecedented): Jesus uses one self-reference (“the Son”, i.e., “he”) to identify himself with another self-reference (“the son of man”). That is, “the Son is the Son of man”.

How is this essential information to be understood? There are two main lines of interpretation that commentators tend to follow. The first line of interpretation understands the expression “(the) son of man” here as a title, referring (principally) to the heavenly figure (“[one] like a son of man”) in Daniel 7:13-14. Thus, Jesus would be identifying himself (“the Son”) with this heavenly figure. The most relevant parallel, and perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this line of interpretation, is the fact that, in Dan 7:13-14, God gives to the “(one) like a son of man” a ruling authority over humankind:

“…and to him was given dominion [/f*l=v*] and glory [rq*y+] and kingship [Wkl=m^], and all the peoples, nations, and tongues shall give (diligent) service to him” (v. 14)
While Theodotion translates all three Hebrew terms, the LXX renders them under the single word e)cousi/a, as in Jn 5:27:
“…and authority [e)cousi/a] was given to him”

It is not specifically stated that the heavenly figure was given authority to judge; however, this would certainly be part of the ruling authority given to him, and the eschatological judgment (of the nations) certainly features in the passage (vv. 10ff, 22, 26-27). Moreover, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, called by the title “th(e) Son of Man”, is more directly associated with the Judgment (46:2-4ff; chap. 62; 63:11; 69:27ff), the Danielic figure having been blended together with the figure of the Davidic Messiah. For more on the Jewish eschatological/Messianic background of this “Son of Man” figure, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second line of interpretation understands the expression in a qualitative sense—that is, “son of man” (without the definite article [see below]) means a human being. In other words, Jesus (the Son) is given the authority to judge humankind because he himself is a human being. In the Johannine theological context, this would refer specifically to the incarnation of the Son (1:14ff). It is as the incarnate Son that Jesus has the authority to act as judge over humankind and to render judgment.

On the whole, this second line of interpretation is to be preferred, particularly in the overall context of the Johannine Gospel (and its theology). Before developing this further, a word should be said about the lack of definite articles for the expression here (i.e., uio\$ a)nqrw/pou instead of o( uio\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou)—the only such anarthrous occurrence of the expression in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of the definite article, the expression can still be definite. Indeed, in the case of the word order here, on purely syntactical grounds, a predicate nominative (noun) that precedes the verb should probably be understood in a definite sense*.
* On this point, see the study by E. C. Colwell back in 1933 (Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 52, pp. 12-31; Jn 5:27 is discussed on on p. 14); cf. Moloney, pp. 82ff.
At the same time, anarthrous predicate nouns often carry a qualitative sense (cf. the article by P. B. Harner in Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 92 [1973], pp. 75-87). If both of these aspects of the predicate noun are present here in v. 27, then it would mean that the expression is particularly emphasizing that the Son is the human being with the authority to exercise judgment over humankind (cp. the expression in Mk 2:10 par, also 2:28 par). In terms of the Johannine theology, as noted above, this would refer to the incarnation of the Son—viz., the pre-existent (heavenly) Son who has come to earth as a human being. We have seen how the twin Johannine themes of the heavenly origin of the Son, and of his descent to earth, featured prominently in the prior “son of man” sayings (1:51 [study]; 3:13-14 [study]).

Of particular importance is how the thematic motif of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) is presented in the Gospel of John. Most relevant for consideration is the statement in 3:19, coming as it does in the expository section (of that earlier Discourse), vv. 16-21, immediate following the “son of man” references (vv. 13-14). The end-time Judgment is explained in terms of the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Gospel (see the discussion in the first part of this study). That is to say, the Judgment occurs now, in the present; and, specifically, those would fail or refuse to trust in Jesus are already judged:

“The (one) trusting in him is not judged; but the (one) not trusting has already [h&dh] been judged, (in) that he has not trusted in the name of the only [monogenh/$] Son of God.” (v. 18)

The nature of the Judgment, in this regard, is further explained in verse 19:

“And this is the judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds are evil.”

This corresponds to what Jesus says about the Judgment here in verse 24, and clearly relates to the idea that this judgment has been given to the Son (v. 22). Interestingly, in 3:17, Jesus seems to say the opposite—viz., that he has not come (as the incarnate Son) to render judgment:

“For God did not send forth the Son into the world (so) that he should judge the world, but (rather) that the world might be saved through him.” (cp. 8:15-16; 12:47)

The locus of the Judgment is whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the incarnate Son). In that sense, the incarnate Son (Jesus) does not fill the role of end-time Judge as it might traditionally be understood. Instead, the Judgment occurs based on how a person responds to the message of the incarnate Son—the truth of who he is and what he has done. Compare the Judgment-references in 9:39 and 12:47-48. Later on in the Gospel, this aspect of the Judgment is tied more directly to the Son’s fulfillment of his earthly mission—that is, his exaltation (“being lifted up”), beginning with his sacrificial death (see the previous study on the saying in 3:14). This thematic development is expressed by the declaration in 12:31:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast outside!”

The implication is that Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death) initiates the Judgment of the world; this Judgment involves the punishment (expulsion) of the “ruler of this world” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). Much the same is stated in 16:11 (see my earlier study on the Paraclete saying[s] in 16:8-11ff). Again, this Judgment is tied to the world’s failure/refusal to trust in Jesus, defined (in Johannine terms) as the great sin (vv. 8-9).

How does all of this relate to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” in verse 27? Though there are definite allusions to Daniel 7:13-14 (see above) here in the passage, it would seem that Jesus (and the Gospel writer) has reinterpreted the traditional Judgment-association in light of the Johannine theology (and Christology). In particular, the whole theme of judgment has been radically interpreted in the Johannine writings. The Judgment is now defined primarily in terms of trust in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. The one who trusts has already passed through the Judgment (v. 24), while the one who does not trust has already been judged (3:18-19, etc). The trust in Jesus specifically relates to his death (viz., the beginning of his exaltation), the fulfillment of the mission for which the Father sent the Son (from heaven to earth).

We may expand our understanding of the Johannine “son of man” references, based on the sayings we have examined thus far, to include the following points:

    • The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus)
    • His descent to earth—entailing his incarnation as a human being (“son of man”)
    • The promise of his ascent (back to heaven), following the completion of his mission
    • This ascent (exaltation, “lifting up”) begins with his sacrificial death (3:14)—whereby the use of the expression “the son of man” has definite parallels to the Synoptic Passion predictions (and similar sayings)
    • The end-time Judgment, traditionally associated with the “son of man” (Dan 7:13-14; Mk 13:26 par, etc), is defined primarily in terms of how one responds to this Christological message of the Son’s descent/ascent.

In the next study, we shall turn to the “son of man” references in the chapter 6 (Bread of Life) Discourse.

References above (and throughout these studies) marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

January 24: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

For the remainder of January (and into February), the daily notes will feature a series on the theme of believers as the children of God. The starting point for this series is John 1:12-13, which provides a thematic corollary to the verse that follows (14). In John 1:14, the focus of our recent exegetical study series, we find reference to the idea that the Divine Word (Logos) came to be born as a human being. The same birth-motif prevails in vv. 12-13—believers in Christ, through trust in the incarnate Logos, are able to be born as the children (“offspring”) of God. The parallelism is clear: the Son of God is born as a human being, and human beings (believers) are then born as children of God.

Verses 12-13 are an integral part of the Johannine Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). The vocabulary, phrasing, and theological emphasis clearly are in accordance with the Gospel (and the Johannine writings) as a whole. However, as was discussed in the series on verse 14, many commentators are convinced that the Gospel writer has made use of an existing ‘Logos-poem’, adapting it for use in the Gospel, particularly within the context of chapters 13. This theory, on the whole, would seem to be correct; evidence in support of it was presented in the articles of the aforementioned series.

The main question, with regard to verses 12-13, is whether v. 12, in whole or part, should be included as part of the underlying Logos-poem. Verse 12a would seem to represent a natural continuation of the poem in vv. 9-11; note, in particular, how v. 12a flows naturally from v. 11:

“Unto his own (thing)s he came, and (yet) his own (people) did not receive him alongside. But as (many) as did receive him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring of God”

In the context of the Logos-poem up to this point (esp. in vv. 4-5, 9-11), the focus has been on the presence and activity of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings, throughout human history (esp. the history of Israel). All through history, most people have rejected the Word and Wisdom of God; however, there have always been some who were willing (and able) to receive and accept it. Beginning in verse 14, the Word/Wisdom is manifest among human beings in an entirely new way—as a flesh-and-blood human being, in the person of Jesus. Believers who receive and accept Jesus—trusting in him (as the incarnate Word of God)—are akin to those individuals who accepted the Word in prior periods of human history.

In the context of vv. 14ff, the statement in v. 12a refers specifically to trust in Jesus as the Son (and Word) of God. Verses 12b-13, which likely represent expository comments by the Gospel writer (added to the Logos-poem), make this quite clear:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name” (12b)

The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) to characterize a group—and believers, specifically—is very much typical of Johannine style. Believers are defined as “the (one)s trusting” (oi( pisteu/ousin), or, in the singular, “the (one) trusting” (o( pisteu/wn)—3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47, 64; 7:38-39; 8:31; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 14:12; 17:20; 1 Jn 5:1, 5, 10, 13. There is a strong confessional aspect to these references. In First John, in particular, the author’s primary focus is on defining the true believer, in contrast to the false believer, and the nature of one’s confession of Jesus is at the heart of this definition.

Also fundamental to the Johannine theology is the use of the birth-motif, applied to believers, which we find here in verse 12b. The verb of becoming (gi/nomai, or, more commonly, the related genna/w) is used to express this, often including the qualifying prepositional expression e)k qeou= (“out of God”)—viz., one is born of, or from, God, as His offspring. The plural noun te/kna is occasionally used to express the same idea, as it is here—though it occurs more often in the Letters (e.g., 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2) than in the Gospel. A te/knon denotes something that is “produced” or “brought forth”, the noun being derived from the verb ti/ktw—such as, for example, a child being produced (brought forth) from its mother.

Verses 12b-13 introduce this theological birth-motif, which the Gospel (and the Letters) further develop. It is expounded initially, by the Gospel writer, in verse 13:

“…the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man—but (rather) out of God—have come to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].”

In v. 12b, the verb gi/nomai was used, while, here in v. 13, it is the related genna/w. Both verbs essentially mean “come to be, become”, and can refer to a birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, the use of genna/w more properly, and clearly, indicates a birth. The believer’s birth “out of God” —that is, a Divine birth—is contrasted with three similar prepositional phrases, each of which represents a particular aspect of the ordinary birth-process for human beings:

    • “out of blood” (e)c ai(ma/twn)—the noun is plural and literally reads “out of bloods”, with the plural possibly alluding to the male (father) and female (mother) contributions to the embryo; in any case, the biological and physiological aspect of childbirth would seem to be emphasized here.
    • “out of (the) will of (the) flesh” (e)k qelh/mato$ sarko/$)—throughout the Gospel of John, as in much of the New Testament, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to human life and existence, in a general or comprehensive way; here the expression probably refers, in a roundabout way, to the sexual drive, and/or to other natural impulses which prompt human beings toward childbirth.
    • “out of (the) will of man” (e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro/$)—that is, the wish and/or decision of the individual (principally, the man, or would-be father) to produce a child.

None of these natural aspects, related to human childbirth, are involved in the birth of believers as the offspring of God. That is to say, it is not an ordinary human birth at all, since the person is born from God.

Before we proceed to examine other such birth-references in the Johannine writings, the next notes in this series will focus instead on such motifs—the birth of believers, as children/offspring of God, the Divine sonship of believers, etc—as they occur in the rest of the New Testament. We will begin, roughly in chronological order, with the relevant occurrences in the Pauline Letters.

Saturday Series: John 16:8-9

John 16:8-9

In this continuing study on sin in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters of John), we turn now to the Paraclete saying in 16:7-15. This is the fourth (and final) such saying in the Last Discourse, the prior three coming in 14:16-17, 25-26, and 15:26-27. I have recently discussed these in some detail in a set of notes and articles, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The term “Paraclete” is an anglicized transliteration of the descriptive title parákl¢tos (para/klhto$), which means “(one) called alongside” —that is, to give help or assistance. It is a title of the Spirit, which Jesus promises will come to the disciples, after he has been exalted and has returned to the Father in heaven.

In 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of parákl¢tos in the New Testament, it is Jesus himself who is referred to as “(one) called alongside”, to give help to believers, specifically through the act of interceding before God the Father on believers’ behalf (in matters related to sin). In 14:16, the first Paraclete-saying in the Gospel, the Spirit is referred to as “another parákl¢tos“, implying that Jesus was the first. Indeed, in many ways, the Spirit-Paraclete continues the work of Jesus in and among his disciples (believers). Jesus continues to be present, speaking to believers through the Spirit, teaching them. For more on this, see the articles on the Paraclete-sayings (1, 2, 3, 4).

The final Paraclete-saying (16:7-15) occurs in the last of the three Discourse-divisions (16:4b-28), which has the following general outline:

    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)

The promise of the coming of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15) is thus tied to the departure of Jesus (back to the Father in heaven). He speaks as he does to his disciples because he soon will no longer be with them, at least in a physical sense. And he still has many things he must yet say to his disciples (and all believers), v. 12. For this reason, it is necessary for the Spirit to come, to be present with (“alongside”) believers, and to remain in/among them:

“But I say the truth to you: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away from (you). For, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos] will not come to you; but, if I do travel (away), I will send him to you.” (v. 7)

It is actually beneficial to the disciples (and to future believers) that Jesus should go away (back to the Father). Though he will no longer be present with them physically, as a human being, he can still be present spiritually, through the Spirit. In each of the Paraclete-sayings, Jesus explains certain aspects of the Spirit’s role. He continues that teaching here in verses 8ff:

“And, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about sin, and about righteousness, and about judgment” (v. 8)

In the previous Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the emphasis was on the Spirit as a witness—specifically, a witness to the truth of who Jesus is (v. 26). The Spirit will give witness of this to the disciples, but also to the world, through the disciples. The essence of this witness is further explained here, utilizing the verb eléngchœ. The basic meaning of this verb is to show someone to be wrong. It occurs two other places in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 8:46. The first occurrence is close in context to the use here: it refers to a person’s evil deeds being shown to be evil, exposed as such by the light of Jesus Christ—and by the Gospel witness to the truth of his identity as the Son of God. The reference in 8:46, where the verb is used, as it is here, specifically in connection with sin, was discussed in an earlier study.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular: sin (hamartía), righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), and judgment (krísis). In the verses that follow (vv. 9-11), Jesus explains the basis upon which the Spirit shows the world to be wrong about each topic. The first topic he addresses is sin; his explanation is short and to the point:

“about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me” (v. 9)

In the prior studies, we have seen how the Johannine understanding of sin entails two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. First, there is sin as understood in the general or conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs/misdeeds that a person commits. And, second, there is sin in the theological sense, defined as the great sin of unbelief—that is, of failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. Here, the truth regarding sin is clearly defined in terms of the latter (“they do not trust in me”).

Many commentators take the verb eléngchœ here to mean that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, of showing the people of the world to be sinful. While this aspect of meaning is not entirely absent, I do not consider it to be primary here. To be sure, the world (kósmos), dominated as it is by darkness and evil, and being opposed to God, is characteristically sinful. However, what the Spirit does, specifically, is to show the world to be wrong about sin. The world’s view and understanding of sin—that is, the nature and reality of sin—is fundamentally wrong. People may accept the conventional meaning of sin, and even seek to live in a righteous manner, avoiding sin, without realizing the true nature of sin. Even the seemingly righteous people—such as religious Jews in Jesus’ own time, who followed the precepts of the Torah—were sinful, if they refused to trust in Jesus. Indeed, such people commit sin in its truest sense, since they commit the great sin of unbelief.

The explanation regarding the true nature of the judgment (krísis) alludes to this same theological-Christological understanding of sin. According to the conventional view, the judgment occurs at the end of the Age, at some point in the future, when all people will be judged for their deeds (i.e., sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense). However, according to Jesus, and the theology of the Gospel, the world (and its ruler) has already been judged:

“about judgment, (in) that the chief [i.e. ruler] of this world has been judged” (v. 11)

This judgment is based entirely on whether or not a person, when confronted with the Gospel witness, the truth about Jesus, trusts in him. The one who trusts in Jesus, has already passed through the judgment and holds eternal life, while the one who does not trust, has already been condemned. For the key references elsewhere in the Gospel, see 3:19-21; 5:22-24 (v. 24); 8:51; 12:31, 46-50. The subject was also discussed in the previous studies on 8:21ff and 9:39-41 / 15:22-24.

The judgment is realized through the exaltation of Jesus the Son of God. In the Johannine Gospel, the exaltation of Jesus is not limited to his resurrection or ascension; rather, it covers a process that begins with his Passion (suffering and death). This is particularly clear from the setting of the declaration in 12:31. The Son’s mission on earth, and the witness to his identity as the Son, reaches its climax with his death on the cross (19:30). Through his death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the Son is “lifted up”, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is manifest to anyone who would believe. This helps us to understand the second of the topics about which the Spirit will show the world to be wrong. In verse 10, Jesus explains the true nature of righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), as being defined in terms of the Son’s return to the Father. In other words, true righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ exaltation and his eternal identity as the Son. Believers experience righteousness only in relation to the Son.

For more detailed discussion on vv. 8-11, see my earlier article and set of notes.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the final two sin-references in the Gospel.

Saturday Series: John 9:2-3ff

John 9:2-3ff

In the prior studies, it was discussed how the Johannine view of sin involves two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. The first defines sin in conventional ethical-religious terms—that is, as misdeeds or wrongs done by people during the course of their daily life. The second defines sin in terms of the great sin of unbelief—of a failure or refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. These two aspects give to the sin-terminology of the noun hamartía, and the related verb hamartánœ, a dual meaning.

Such dual-meaning is not at all uncommon in the Gospel of John; indeed, it is part of the Johannine style, and can be seen throughout both the Gospel Discourses and narrative passages. Many examples could be cited, such as the use of the common verb ménœ (“remain”) or the verb pair anabaínœ / katabaínœ (“step up / step down”). These verbs can be used in the ordinary sense, in a narrative context. For example, the disciples might “remain” with Jesus (1:39), in the sense of staying in the same dwelling-place, or Jesus may be said to “go up” (lit. “step up”) to Jerusalem, in the ordinary sense of journeying/traveling there (2:13, etc); but these verbs are also used in a special theological (and Christological) sense throughout the Gospel.

Another piece of thematic vocabulary with a dual-meaning is the sight/seeing motif, along with its opposite (privative) aspect of lack of sight (i.e., blindness). A person can see with the eyes, in the ordinary physical sense; but ‘seeing’ in the Gospel also refers to trust/belief in Jesus as the Son of God, with the knowledge of God (the Father) that this brings. Similarly, lack of sight, or a failure to see, can mean a failure to trust in Jesus. The light-darkness thematic pair functions the same way in the Johannine writings, with a comparable dual meaning.

Both the seeing/sight and light motifs feature in the chapter 9 episode of Jesus’ healing of the Blind Man, and both motifs have a dual-meaning within the narrative. Chapter 9 does not contain a Discourse, per se, but the narrative features a number of Discourse-elements. The dual-meaning of these motifs, along with the inability of the audience to understand the true and deeper meaning of them, are elements that feature prominently in the Johannine Discourses.

Sin is also a significant thematic and conceptual reference-point throughout the chapter 9 episode, and it involves both of the aspects/levels of meaning highlighted above. The conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin is emphasized at the beginning of the episode, as the disciples ask Jesus about the relation of the blind man’s disability to wrongs (i.e., sins) that may have been done:

“Rabbi, who sinned [h¢¡marten]—this (man) or his parents—that he should (have) come to be (born) blind?” (v. 2)

Jesus makes clear that, at least in this instance (compare 5:14), the man’s blindness was not the result of any particular wrongdoing (sin):

“This (man) did not sin [h¢¡marten], nor (did) his parents, but (it was so) that the works of God should be made to shine forth in him.” (v. 3)

In other words, as in the case of Lazarus’ illness (and death), the ailment was allowed to exist so that the power and glory of God would be manifest through the healing miracle (“work”) performed by Jesus (see 11:4). Through the miracle, it would be clear (to those who would believe) that Jesus is the Son of God who performs the works of God.

The sight/seeing motif is obviously present in the figure of the blind man himself, but the parallel light motif is introduced, also at the beginning of the episode, in the declaration by Jesus in verses 4-5:

“It is necessary for us to work the works of the (One hav)ing sent me as long as it is day, (for) night (soon) comes, when no one is able to work. When I should be in the world, I am (the) light [fœ¡s] of the world.”

Verse 5 is, of course, one of the famous “I am” (egœ eimi) sayings by Jesus in the Gospel of John. This vocabulary and syntax clearly reveals that sight/seeing motif—like the related light motif—has a special theological meaning that is not immediately apparent at the surface-level of the narrative. At the surface-level, Jesus heals the blind man, allowing him to see (vv. 6-7). This is the ordinary physical/optical sight of the eyes.

It is just at this point, as the people begin to react to the healing, that the sin motif starts to be developed within the narrative. At first, it is the neighbors who react to the blind man’s healing (vv. 8-12), but then the Pharisees, functioning (in the narrative) as a collective group of religious authorities, enter the scene (vv. 13ff). Their role is essentially identical with that of “the Jews” in the earlier healing episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-17). In both episodes, the healing occurs on a Sabbath (5:9b; 9:14), and it is this fact that initially spurs the people’s hostility and opposition to Jesus’ healing work. The Johannine tradition corresponds generally with the Synoptic tradition in this regard (see my earlier articles on the Sabbath Controversy episodes, Parts 45 of the series “Jesus and the Law”).

The religious claim is made that Jesus’ healing work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah regulations prohibiting work on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10-11, etc). If such a claim were to be admitted as valid, it would be an example of religious wrongdoing (i.e., sin)—violating the Divine regulations of the Torah—and would make Jesus a sinner (hamartœlós), one who commits sin (hamartía). This, of course, would be sin as defined in the traditional and customary ethical-religious sense (see above). The Pharisees imply that Jesus is a sinner, as one who violates the Torah regulations. This, as other people in the audience recognize, would seem to be at odds with Jesus’ ability to work miracles:

“How is a sinful [hamartœlós] man able to do such signs?” (v. 16)

When the blind man himself is asked about this (“What do you say about him, [this man] that opened up your eyes?”), he responds that Jesus must be a prophet (v. 17). This is significant, in the context of the Johannine theology, since Jesus’ Messianic identity as an Anointed Prophet was established earlier in the Gospel (1:20-21ff; 4:19, 25, 29; 6:14; 7:40). In the Johannine writings, the titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God” go hand in hand; any true confession of faith will affirm Jesus’ identity as both the Messiah and Son of God (11:27; 20:31; 1 Jn 1:3; 2:22; 3:23; 5:20). However, according to the developed Johannine Christology, it is not enough to believe that Jesus is the Messiah; one must also trust that he is the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, sent from heaven to earth by God the Father.

At this juncture, about halfway through the narrative, the focus shifts from a conventional ethical-religious understanding of sin (aspect/level 1) to the distinctive Johannine theological/Christological understanding (aspect/level 2). This is expressed in a subtle way at the beginning of verse 18:

“The Jehudeans [i.e. Jews] then did not trust [ouk epísteusan] concerning him…”

In the immediate narrative context, this refers to an unwillingness to believe that the blind man had actually been blind. Yet this response actually reflects an unwillingness to believe in the miracle performed by Jesus, as a work of God, performed by the Son of God. Thus, there is implicit here a clear reference to a lack of trust in Jesus (in the Johannine theological sense). Their lack of trust is demonstrated further by the blunt declaration that Jesus is a sinner: “Give honor to God, for we have seen that this (man) is a sinner [hamartœlós]” (v. 24). Now apparently admitting the reality of the healing, the people (“the Jews”) recognize that God must be responsible for it. They thus essentially confess that the healing was a work of God, but that Jesus could not have been responsible, since he “is a sinner”.

The Johannine theology creates a profound irony here. In claiming that Jesus is a sinner, the people are actually showing themselves to be sinners, committing the great sin of unbelief. It is this theological aspect of sin that dominates the remainder of the narrative; at the same time, the true and deeper meaning of the sight/seeing motif also comes to the fore. True sight means trusting in Jesus as the Son of God; and true blindness (lack of sight) is the lack of such trust.

The climax of the narrative (vv. 35-41) demonstrates this Christological emphasis most vividly. Having been given sight in the ordinary physical sense, the man now begins to see in the true and deeper sense of trusting in Jesus. The question Jesus poses in verse 35 is:

“Do you trust in the Son of Man?”
sý pisteúeis eis tón huión toú anthrœ¡pou

Some manuscripts read “Son of God” rather than “Son of Man”, presumably because (quite rightly) “Son of God” is the more appropriate title for a confession of faith. However, two points must be kept in mind. First, in the Gospel tradition, the expression “son of man” often functions as a self-reference by Jesus, as a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”; thus, the question in verse 35 can be taken as essentially meaning “Do you trust in me?”. Secondly, in a number of the “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel, Jesus is clearly identified (or identifies himself) with a heavenly being, who is sent to earth as a representative of God, to act in His name. In the Gospel of John, in particular, the title “Son of Man” refers specifically to Jesus’ heavenly origin, as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (1:51; 3:13f; 5:27; 6:27, 53 [in light of vv. 33, 38, 41ff, 51], 62; 12:23; 13:31). In any case, the manuscript evidence overwhelmingly favors the reading “Son of Man” as original here in v. 35.

The true/deeper meaning of the sight-motif is made explicit in verse 37: “Indeed you have seen [heœ¡rakas] him…”. The man’s confession of faith comes in verse 38 (“I trust, Lord”), indicating that now he truly does see. By contrast, those who do not trust in Jesus are truly blind. They are also sinners since they commit the great sin of unbelief; and, indeed, they face judgment from God on the basis of this sin:

“(It is) unto [i.e. for] judgment (that) I came into this world: (so) that the (one)s not seeing should see, and (that) the (one)s seeing should become blind!” (v. 39)

The Pharisees, still thinking of blindness in the ordinary (physical) sense, respond with puzzlement to Jesus’ declaration, asking, “(Surely) we are not also blind?” (v. 40). The episode concludes with a final expository declaration by Jesus, in which he identifies the true meaning of both sin and blindness as being a refusal to trust in him (i.e., unbelief):

“If you were blind, you would not have sin; but (since) now you say that ‘we see’, your sin remains.” (v. 41)

This statement is a rich trove of wordplay, utilizing the Johannine theological vocabulary. Next week, we will examine verse 41 in more detail, along with 15:22-24, in which a similar message is expressed. This follow-up study will demonstrate the way in which the theological/Christological understanding of sin is emphasized in the second half of the Gospel.

Saturday Series: John 8:31-47 (continued)

John 8:31-47, continued

Last week, we examined the sin-reference in 8:34ff, within the context of the Discourse-unit 8:31-47 (part of the great Sukkot Discourse-complex of chapters 7-8). The Disourse-unit actually extends all the they way through to the end of the chapter (v. 59), however we will only be looking at the passage up to v. 47.

In verse 37, Jesus picks up on the Abraham theme that had been introduced by his audience in v. 33, in their response to the foundational saying/statement at the beginning of the discourse (vv. 31-32). In this way, the previous theme of freedom/bondage is developed to include the idea of person’s identity, based on his/her parentage or ancestry.

This line of theological development is actually rather subtle and complex. In the discourse, Jesus contrasts having God as one’s father with having the Devil as one’s father. In between these theological poles is set the ethnic-religious identity of having Abraham as one’s father. All Israelites and Jews have Abraham as their “father” (i.e., principal ancestor) in an ethnic and religious sense; Jesus acknowledges this even of those in his audience who are hostile or opposed to him: “I have seen [i.e. know] that you are (the) seed of Abraham…”. And yet, through their hostile reaction to Jesus, they reveal their true identity:

“…but (yet) you seek to kill me off, (in) that [i.e. because] my word [lógos] does not have space [i.e. a place] in you.” (v. 37)

Throughout the Gospel, there is a reciprocal balance between the twin concepts of being/remaining “in” (en) God (or the Son) and of God (or the Son) being/remaining “in” (en) the person. In verse 31, Jesus emphasized the importance of his word (lógos) remaining in the disciple, implying its presence in the disciple. Now here, in v. 37, Jesus declares that his word is not present in the unbeliever, one who is hostile and refuses to trust in him.

In verse 38, Jesus again highlights his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. Since, as a dutiful Son, he speaks according to what his Father tells him, the word (lógos) he declares is actually the Father’s word. And, since his audience will not accept this word, they cannot possibly belong to God as His children—they cannot have God as their Father. This contrast is sharply formulated:

“The (thing)s which I have seen (from) alongside the Father, I speak; and (so) you, then, do the (thing)s which you (have) heard (from) alongside the father.”

There is no pronoun present in either instance of the articular noun ho pat¢¡r (“the father”), yet such is certainly implied as part of the contrast—i.e., “my Father” vs. “your father”.

In vv. 39-40, the people again take refuge in their ethnic-religious identity of being descendants of Abraham—i.e., having Abraham has their father. But, again, Jesus makes clear that their hostility toward him demonstrates that their true identity is quite different. In response, they finally make the claim that God is their father: “We have one father—God!” (v. 41b).

This sets the stage for the important theological exposition in vv. 42-47, in which a key Johannine theme is expressed and developed. Believers in Christ are the “offspring” (i.e., children) of God, coming to be born from Him (as their Father), and belonging to Him. The non-believer, by contrast, does not (and cannot) belong to God—rather, they belong to the world, and to its ruler, the Devil (cf. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; also 17:15; 1 Jn 5:19). This means, essentially, that the Devil is the ‘father’ of the unbeliever. Moreover, the world’s opposition to the things of God—and especially to His Son—ultimately leads to increasingly evil thoughts and actions. Consider how the sin of unbelief leads to other sins, as Jesus explains the matter:

“Through what [i.e. why] do you not know my speech? (It is) that [i.e. because] you are not able to hear my word [lógos]. You are of [ek] your father the Devil, and the impulses of your father toward (evil) you wish to do. That (one) was a man-killer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, (in) that [i.e. because] there is no truth in him. When he speaks th(at which is) false, out of his own (word)s he speaks, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the false (one) and the father of him.” (vv. 43-44)

The unbeliever follows the evil impulses (toward sin) that belong to the world and its ruler (the Devil). Moreover, unbelievers do not abide in the truth, and the truth is not in them; indeed, they share the nature and character of their ‘father’ the Devil. As a result, like the Devil, they cannot help but speak what is false. Here, truth (al¢¡theia), and its opposite (falseness), is to be understood in a distinctive theological (rather than conventional ethical-religious) sense, according to the Johannine theology. Truth is a fundamental attribute of God, to the point that His Spirit can be identified with truth itself (1 John 5:6). Similarly, His Son is the truth (14:6) and speaks the truth of God, making God the Father known to believers in the world.

This theological understanding of falseness (pseúdos / pseúst¢s) is closely related to the Johannine understanding of sin. The true nature of sin is not ethical-religious, just as the true father of the unbelieving person is not Abraham. In the Johannine worldview, sin is fundamentally defined as unbelief—a refusal to trust in who Jesus is: the Son of God sent to earth by the Father. This emphasis is delineated clearly in verses 45-47:

“But, (in) that [i.e. because] I say the truth, you do not trust in me. Which (one) of you shows me (to be wrong) about sin? If I say (the) truth, through what [i.e. why] do you not trust in me?” (vv. 45-46)

The pronoun egœ¡ (“I”) in verse 45 is emphatic, being in the first position. Jesus contrasts himself with the unbelievers of the world (and their ‘father’ the Devil)—they speak what is false, but he (Jesus) speaks what is true. Indeed, it is because they belong to what is false, that they cannot hear or accept the truth that he speaks. Again, this “truth” is theological and Christological in nature—it is firmly rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, who makes the Father known to the world.

The question Jesus asks in v. 46a has, I think, been somewhat misunderstood by commentators. It is typically translated along the lines of, “Who among you convicts me of sin?” The implication is that the people would be accusing him of being a sinner. The question certainly could be read that way, especially in light of the sin-references that follow in chapter 9 (to be discussed next week). However, the use of the verb eléngchœ suggests a deeper significance to the question.

There are two other occurrences of eléngchœ in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 16:8. The verb has a relatively wide semantic range, but the fundamental meaning is “show, demonstrate”, often in the particular sense of showing someone to be wrong about something. In the context of 3:20, its usage refers to a person’s evil deeds being exposed (i.e., shown for what they are) in the judgment—a judgment that occurs already in the present, based on one’s response to Jesus (whether trusting or refusing to trust). In 16:8, the verb describes the role and activity of the Spirit, which, Jesus promises, will show the world to be wrong about three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. We will discuss the reference to sin (vv. 8-9) in more detail in an upcoming study. Here, it will suffice to point out the parallel with Jesus’ question in 8:46a, and the specific meaning of eléngchœ based on this parallel: “show me (to be wrong) about sin”.

The entire thrust of our passage makes clear that Jesus is essentially defining sin in terms of whether or not one trusts in him and accepts his word. His hostile opponents cannot prove him wrong on this point; on the contrary, they are confirming this understanding of the true nature of sin. Their unbelieving response to Jesus leads them to act out a range of sinful and evil impulses, including the desire to kill Jesus.

The climax of this hostile reaction comes in verse 59, at the close of the Discourse. We, however, shall conclude this study on a somewhat different note, with the theological formulation given (by Jesus) in v. 47:

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

This formulation is fully in the Johannine theological idiom. The verb of being defines the Divine nature of the believer—as one born of, and belonging to, God. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) with the definite article is also distinctively Johannine, as a way of describing the essential character and identity of a person— “the one being [i.e. who is] {such}”. The preposition ek (“out of”), as it is used here, is also a key element of the Johannine theological vocabulary. It has a dual significance: (1) origin, i.e., being “from”, and (2) belonging, i.e., being “of”. Frequently, the preposition alone serves as a shorthand for the fuller idiom involving the verb of becoming (gennáœ), in the specific sense of “coming to be born”, along with the preposition ek. In the Johannine writings this language is used almost exclusively for believers in Christ—i.e., those who have “come to be (born) out of God”. Given the emphasis of the father theme in this passage, there can be little doubt that birth—i.e., believers as offspring born of God—is implied by the use of ek here in v. 47.

If believers “are of God”, then the opposite is true of non-believers: they “are not of God”. As Jesus clearly states, the reason why his unbelieving (and hostile) audience does not hear/accept his words is that these people are “not of God”.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the sin references in chapter 9—the episode of the healing of the Blind Man.

Saturday Series: John 8:31-47

John 8:31-47

The next sin-reference in the Gospel of John comes in the next section (8:31-47) of the Sukkot Discourse of chapters 7-8 (see last week’s study on 8:21-30). As I have previously mentioned, the Sukkot Discourse (excluding 7:53-8:11) actually is comprised of a series of interrelated discourses—or, we may say, discourse-units. Each of these follows the basic pattern of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus:

    • Saying/statement by Jesus
    • Response by his hearers (often in the form of a question), indicating that they have misunderstood the true/deeper meaning of his words
    • Exposition by Jesus
    • [Sometimes the Question/Exposition pattern is repeated, forming a longer exchange between Jesus and his hearers]

Here, in this section (and discourse-unit) we are examining, the principal statement by Jesus is:

“If you remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples], and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (vv. 31-32)

This declaration emphasizes the theme of freedom, and of being set/made free (vb eleutheróœ); however, this idea of freedom represents the climax of a chain of relation and causality:

    • “If you remain in my word, (then) =>
      • you will know the truth, and (then) =>
        • the truth will set you free.”

Remaining in Jesus’ “word” (lógos) is a fundamental characteristic demonstrating that one is a true disciple of Jesus (i.e., a believer in Christ). The common verb ménœ (“remain”) is an important Johannine keyword; in the Gospel and Letters, where it occurs with great frequency, it is almost always used in a special theological sense—that is, of the believer abiding in God, and God in the believer. One abides/remains in God (the Father) through Jesus (the Son), and one abides/remains in the Son through the presence of the Spirit. This is the essence of the Johannine theology.

The idea of remaining (or abiding) in Jesus’ word also has special theological (and Christological) meaning, related to the specific use of the noun lógos (see especially the Prologue, 1:1ff, and compare 1 John 1:1ff). Since Jesus the Son is the incarnate Word (Logos) of God, to abide in this Word means abiding in the Son (i.e., the person of Christ) himself. At the same time, lógos also refers to the words spoken by Jesus—that is, his teaching and proclamation. In the Johannine writings, these two aspects of the word lógos cannot be separated.

Clearly, the Jews hearing Jesus at the time could not possibly have understood the true meaning of his statement, with all its theological implications. Naturally, and in the pattern of the Discourses, his audience would respond with a question or statement indicating their misunderstanding. Interestingly, what they latch onto is the freedom-motif. They understand well enough the implications of this motif in context: those who are Jesus’ disciples will be set free; and, since most of the Jews in the audience were not his disciples, they therefore were not free (meaning they were in some kind of slavery or bondage). There is clearly a measure of resentment in their response:

“We are (the) seed of Abraham, and not to any one have we been enslaved at any time; how (then) can you say that ‘You shall be made free’?” (v. 33)

Though the people misunderstand the full meaning of Jesus’ words, they do recognize that he is talking about freedom (eleuthería) in something of a religious sense. This is the only way to explain their appeal to being the descendants (lit. “seed”) of Abraham. Much as Paul, in Galatians and Romans, also utilizes the figure of Abraham, the Jews responding to Jesus seem to use Abraham as a shorthand way of referring to their position as God’s chosen people, entailing a unique relationship to God the Father (YHWH) sealed by a covenant bond; this bond ultimately goes back to YHWH’s promise(s) to Abraham (cf. my earlier studies on the Covenant in the series “The People of God”).

In Jesus’ own response that follows, he explains further what he means when he speaks of freedom and slavery, defining those concepts in terms of sin (hamartía):

“Every (one) doing sin is a slave of sin.” (v. 34)

The implication is that the people (i.e., Jesus’ hearers) are slaves to sin, and the indication of this state of slavery is the fact that they are doing (poiœ¡n) sin. The Johannine writings frequently make use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) as a way of referencing the fundamental (and defining) characteristic of a person—i.e., “the one doing {such}”; distinctly Johannine is the use of the adjective pás (“all, every”) to amplify this attribution, giving it a universal scope: “every one doing {such}”. This idiom, with its syntax, is made to apply particularly to the contrast between those belonging to God (i.e., believers) and those belonging to the world.

Thus, in Johannine theological terms, the phrase “every one doing sin” should be taken as characteristic of non-believers or unbelievers—those who refuse (or are unable) to trust in Jesus. But how is the term “sin” (hamartía) to be understood here? In last week’s study, I proposed that the concept of sin in the Johannine writings has two aspects or levels of meaning: (1) sin in the general or conventional sense of ethical-religious wrongs and misdeeds; and (2) sin in specific (theological) sense of unbelief (i.e., failing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God). Here, in verse 34, Jesus seems, on the surface, to be speaking of sin in the former aspect, i.e., the general sense of moral wrongs and misdeeds, etc; however, the latter (theological) aspect suddenly comes into view if we translate the verse literally, rendering precisely the singular noun with the definite article:

“Every (one) doing the sin is a slave of the sin.”

On a practical level, there must have been a number of Jews in Jesus’ audience who generally lived and acted in a moral and upright way, so that one could not have realistically referred to them as being “slaves of sin”. However, in at least one respect, they were unquestionably enslaved—with regard to the great sin of unbelief. By doing this sin, i.e., rejecting Jesus and failing/refusing to trust in him, these people show themselves to be slaves to their unbelief, to the point that they would even act with violence against Jesus. The hostility of Jesus’ audience toward him throughout most of the Sukkot Discourse is clear enough; the discourse-units all contain some mention of the desire of people to arrest and/or kill him (7:19-20, 30, 44ff; 8:20, 40, 59). While some did respond with trust to Jesus’ teaching (8:30, and the statement in v. 31 is directed to them), the overall reaction of the crowd was hostility and rejection.

The Christological orientation of the concept of sin, suggested above, would seem to be confirmed by Jesus’ words as he continues his exposition:

“And the slave does not remain in the house into the Age, (but) the Son (does) remain into the Age.” (v. 35)

On the surface, Jesus is simply making an illustration based on the distinction between a household slave/servant and a son (compare Paul’s illustration in Gal 4:1-7). However, according to the true/deeper meaning of his words, Jesus is making a theological point: “the Son (of God) remains into the Age”. It is a Christological declaration of the Son’s (i.e., Jesus’ own) Divine and eternal status. The Son (and those who “remain” in him, v. 31; i.e., believers) are contrasted with the “slave” (i.e., unbelievers). The “slave” does not trust in the Son, and thus is enslaved to sin. Consider how Jesus expresses this in the statement that follows:

“Therefore, if the Son should make you free, (then) being free you shall be” (v. 36)

I have translated this verse quite literally, as a careful rendering of the words being used is particularly important here. The verb eleutheróœ (“make/set free”) is used in the first clause, as it is in verse 31 (see above). It is the Son (Jesus) who makes a person free. Given the sin-context in v. 34, we are perhaps justified in reading this statement in light of the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29 (see the earlier study). Through trust in Jesus as the Son, which includes trust in his sacrificial death (as the slain Lamb) with its life-giving power, a person’s sin is “taken away”, and the person is thus set free.

The second clause of v. 36 describes the condition of the believer who has been set free (from sin). There are three components to this clause, the first two of which should be taken together:

    • being [óntœs] free [eleútheroi]”
    • you shall be [ésesthe]”

The first word is a participle of the verb of being. At many points in the Gospel of John, the verb of being has a distinctly theological significance, reflecting the very being and essential attributes, etc, of God. Its use here suggests that the freedom (adjective eleútheros) possessed by the believer has a Divine character; its Divine source was already indicated in the first clause (see above). It also connotes the reality of the believer’s freedom; this is a true and complete freedom from sin (and the effects of sin), but its reality is also rooted in the believer’s abiding union with God (see above on the Johannine use of the verb ménœ, “remain”).

The verb of being also occurs, in the future tense (“you shall be”), as the third component of the second clause. The future tense here may be explained in terms of the Johannine eschatology. The promise of true freedom for the believer has two eschatological aspects: (1) the believer will be free from the end-time Judgment and the death it brings; but also (2) this freedom is also realized now, in the present, through the presence of the Spirit (compare the association of the Spirit with freedom in 2 Cor 3:17). The power of sin is undone and removed (1:29) by trust in Jesus (the Son); trust itself eliminates the great sin of unbelief, and the life-giving power of Jesus’ death cleanses us from (i.e., removes) all other sin.

Next week, we will continue this study, looking at the remainder of the Discourse-unit, including the further sin-reference in verse 46.

Saturday Series: John 8:21-30 (continued)

John 8:21-30, continued

In picking up from last week’s discussion on the references to sin in Jn 8:21-30, there are two questions which need to be addressed: (1) how does this passage relate to the earlier sin-reference in 1:29, and (2) what is the significance of the parallel versions of the statements in vv. 21 and 24, using the singular and plural forms, respectively, of the noun hamartía?

With regard to the first question, the statement in verse 24 is key:

“if you do not trust that I am, you will die off in your sins”

The fate of dying in one’s sin(s) thus is tied directly to whether or not the person trusts (vb pisteúœ) in Jesus. This trust is defined in terms of the essential predication (“I am,” egœ¡ eimi), that is characteristic of God (the Father), being applied to Jesus (the Son). This is a roundabout (and distinctly Johannine) way of affirming Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In other words, unless a person trusts that Jesus is the eternal/pre-existent Son sent by the Father, that person will die in his/her sin(s). This fate of dying, lost in sin, must be contrasted with the salvation and eternal life that comes through trust in Jesus.

The famous declaration in 3:16-17 brings this out with particular clarity, and it helps us to understand the significance of the earlier Lamb of God declaration (1:29) in this regard. In each instance, the relationship between Jesus and the world (ho kósmos) is at issue:

    • “See, the Lamb of God—the (one) taking (away) the sin of the world.” (1:29)
    • “God sent forth the Son into the world…(so) that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17)

As previously discussed, in these passages, the noun kósmos is not (primarily) used in the negative sense that is so distinctive and typical of the Johannine writings. Instead, the principal meaning here is of humankind generally—i.e., of all the people on earth, in the inhabited world. The idiom of the world “being saved” is parallel, and essentially synonymous in meaning, with its sin being “taken away”. In the earlier study on 1:29, I discussed the use of the verb aírœ (“take up”) in that verse, and determined that the primary meaning there is “take away” (i.e., remove). Thus, the Lamb of God takes away (removes) sin, which is central to the idea of people (in the world) being saved.

As in 8:24, the statement in 3:16 makes clear that one is saved through trust in Jesus; combining this with the declaration in 1:29 leads to the conclusion that the Lamb of God “takes away” sin when one trusts in Jesus as the Lamb. As I discussed, the Passover lamb is the principal figure that informs the “Lamb of God” concept, and, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified with the Passover lamb primarily in the context of his death on the cross. The lamb is “lifted up” on the cross, in a way that is comparable to the application of the bronze-serpent tradition (Num 21:9) in 3:14-15:

“And, just as Moshe lifted high the serpent in the desolate (land), so also it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of (the) Age [i.e. eternal life].”

These words occur immediately prior to the salvation-statement(s) in 3:16-17, and clearly frame the concept of one’s trust in Jesus in terms of trusting in his exaltation (i.e., being “lifted up”). In the Gospel of John, the exaltation of Jesus represents a process that includes: his death, resurrection, and return to the Father in heaven. The exaltation begins with his sacrificial death—as the Passover lamb who is slain, and whose blood protects (i.e., saves) people from death and judgment. When one trusts in Jesus the Son, this necessarily entails trusting in the sacrificial nature of his death and its life-giving power (represented by the image of blood). It is not enough to trust that Jesus is the Son of God, if that trust does not include this understanding and belief regarding the cleansing (i.e., sin-removing) and life-giving power of his death. This is a point that the author of 1 John argues vigorously against certain ‘opponents’ who apparently hold a rather different view of Christ’s death.

But what of the second question mentioned above? Is there any particular significance to the author’s use of both the singular and plural forms of the noun hamartía in 8:21 and 24?

    • “…you shall seek me, and (yet) you shall die off in your sin [hamartía]; for the (place) to which I go away, you are not able to come (there)” (v. 21)
    • “…if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in your sins [hamartíais]” (v. 24)

In 1:29, the singular hamartía (“sin”) was used in a general or collective sense—that is, for the sin(s) that the people in the world possess, and the condition of sin(fulness) that controls and dominates the world of humankind. It is possible that the variation between singular and plural in 8:21, 24 simply expresses this same general/collective sense of sin. However, I believe that the author (and Jesus as the speaker) is utilizing a clever bit of wordplay (something that occurs frequently in the Johannine Discourses), bringing out two important and distinct aspects of sin. The plural refers to sin in the general/conventional sense, as wrongs, errors, and misdeeds committed by people; however the singular refers to sin in a specific sense—which, I would argue, is the primary sense of sin in the Johannine writings.

If we translate the genitive expressions in 8:21, 24 in an ultraliteral way, it may help us to perceive the distinction:

    • “you will seek me, and (yet) you will die off in the sin of you”
    • “if you do not trust that I am, (the) you will die off in the sins of you”

In v. 21, Jesus tells his audience that they will not be able to follow him, and so will die off in their sin (“the sin”). What is this sin? It is the great sin—the sin of unbelief, of not trusting in Jesus. As v. 24 makes clear, when a person possesses this great sin, it means that all other sins remain and cannot be removed; thus the person will die in “the(se) sins”. R. E. Brown, in his famous commentary on the Gospel (Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29, p. 350) states the matter this way:

We note that “sin” is in the singular in vs. 21, for in Johannine thought there is only one radical sin of which man’s many sins (plural in vs. 24) are but reflections. This radical sin is to refuse to believe in Jesus and thus to refuse life itself.

I generally concur with Brown’s analysis in this regard, though I am perhaps not so quick as he to connect this idea of one great sin with the Synoptic tradition of the unforgivable sin (of blaspheming the Holy Spirit).

In any case, I would maintain that the Johannine writings understand two distinct levels, or aspects, of sin, which can be distinguished here in 8:21, 24 by the use of the singular and plural, respectively:

    • Singularthe great sin of not trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)
    • Plural—sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense of wrongs and misdeeds that a person commits.

As we proceed through the remaining sin-references in the Johannine writings, this important distinction will come more clearly into view, along with certain theological, Christological, and spiritual implications.

Next week, we will examine the next section of the Sukkot Discourse in chaps. 7-88:31-47, with the statement regarding sin in verse 34. This passage defines sin through thematic idiom of slavery and bondage/freedom. The further reference in verse 46 will also be discussed.

 

August 15: Psalm 78:17-22

Because of the length of Psalm 78, the exegesis of its couplets and verses will be presented over a series of daily notes. The previous note examined vv. 9-16; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:17-31

Verse 17

“And (yet) they continued still to sin against Him,
to defy (the) Most High (there) in the dry land.”

The theme of the people’s faithless disobedience, betraying the covenant with YHWH, was introduced in verse 8, and then becomes a key refrain in each of the main sections of the Psalm, emphasizing a repeated and continual pattern of disobedience. This is particularly indicated by the combination of the verb [s^y` (“add [to something]”, often in the sense of “repeat, do again”) with the adverb dou (indicating a repetition or return to something).

The people’s lack of trust, and breaking of the covenant bond with YHWH, is expressed here through two different idioms: (1) sinning (vb af*j*) against YHWH, and (2) stubbornly defying (vb hr*m*) Him. The verb hr*m* can carry the more forceful (and dramatic) connotation of rebelling against someone, provoking an intense anger.

In verse 15, the locative noun rB*d=m! was used; it is typically translated “wilderness” or “desert”, but properly means something like “place out back” (i.e., “outback”). Here, the specific idea of a desert region is intended, through the use of hY`x! (“dry/parched [land]”).

Verse 18

“And they tested (the) Mighty (One) in their heart,
(so as) to request something to eat for their throat.”

This couplet, which expounds the statement in v. 17, refers in a comprehensive way to the various traditions regarding the people’s grumbling over the lack of food and water in the desert (e.g., Exod 16:3; Num 11:4; 20:3; 21:5). On the motif of the people “testing” (vb hs*n`) God in their heart, cf. Psalm 106:14; also 95:9; Deut 6:16; and the reference by Paul in 1 Cor 10:9. This “testing” reflects a lack of faith and trust in YHWH.

The noun vp#n# is difficult to translate in the second line. Usually rendered “soul”, which makes a fine parallel here with “heart”, it can sometimes refer to a person’s desire or appetite (i.e., longing of the soul). On other rare occasions (and always in poetry), vp#n# has the more concrete (and physiological) meaning of “throat”. Here the specific juxtaposition of “heart” (one’s inward intent and desire) and “throat” (i.e., the physical longing of the body for something to eat) seems most appropriate.

Verse 19

“And they spoke out
against (the) Mightiest and said:
‘Is the Mighty (One) able
to arrange a table-spread
(here) in the outback?'”

The meter and structure of this verse is irregular and uneven, prompting Kraus (p. 121) to recommend eliminating the initial two words; admittedly, this would instantly produce a proper 3-beat (3+3) couplet, consistent with the metrical pattern of the Psalm:

“And they said: ‘Is (the) Mighty (One) able
to arrange a table-spread in the outback?'”

However, this also eliminates the clever bit of wordplay that frames the verse, by which the Psalmist may be playing on the different meanings of the two rbd roots—one meaning “speak”, and the other denoting “be in back”. As noted above, the locative noun rB*d=m!, though typically translated “wilderness” (or “desert”), properly means something like “place out back”. I have tried to capture this wordplay in English: i.e., the people “spoke out” (against God) regarding their being “in the outback”.

Verse 20

“‘See, He did strike (the) rock,
and (the) waters flowed,
and torrents poured down;
but is He also able to give bread,
or provide meat for His people?'”

The people’s expression of faithless questioning continues here from v. 19. It indicates that they saw the dramatic scene of copious water-streams pouring out of the rock, and understood its significance (as a miraculous act by YHWH); yet they could still doubt whether God was also (<g~) able to provide bread and meat for them to eat.

Verse 21

“So then—
(when) YHWH heard this, He boiled over,
and fire blazed (up) against Ya’aqob,
yes, even His anger came up against Yisrael;”

Structurally, this verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon, to which is added an initial beat for dramatic effect. YHWH’s initial reaction to hearing the people’s skeptical questioning was to “boil over” (or cross over, be overcome, vb rb^u*) with anger. This causes a “fire” to ignite and ‘blaze’ (vb qc^n`) within Him; the fire (va@) is specifically identified emotionally with His anger, rising up (vb hl*u*) against His people. The noun [a^ typically heightens this sort of anthropomorphic imagery, by including the concrete (and vivid) motif of a person’s nostrils burning or flaring (i.e., like the snorting of an angry bull). More abstractly, the sense can be of the burning of a person’s face (as a sign of his anger). Here, however, it is the specific emotion of anger, expressed by YHWH, that best reflects the meaning of [a^.

For the corresponding reference in the tradition to this reaction by YHWH, cf. Numbers 11:1ff, where it seems that a real (physical) fire breaks out in the camp—i.e., the internal fire (of YHWH’s anger) is expressed naturalistically through an actual, destructive fire.

Verse 22

“because they did not set (their heart) firmly on (the) Mightiest,
and did not put (their) trust in His saving (power)!”

The parallel verbs /m^a* (Hiphil stem) and jf^b* both express the idea of having faith/trust in someone. The latter specifically refers to seeking refuge or protection, and is used frequently in the Psalms (46 out of 120 OT occurrences). The former verb (/m^a*) in the Hiphil (causative) stem denotes making something firm, or causing it to stand firm, etc; it is often used in the more abstract religious-ethical sense of having faith or trust—indicating that one’s heart is firm.

The remainder of this section (vv. 23-31) will be discussed in the next note.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

June 15: 1 John 4:2-3 (3)

1 John 4:2, continued

“In this [i.e. by this] you (can) know the Spirit of God: every spirit that gives account as one (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed having come in (the) flesh is out of [i.e. from] God”

The next two components of the confessional statement in v. 2 (cf. the previous note) will be discussed together. The true Spirit (of God) is that “spirit” which [o%]

gives account as one | (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed
o(mologei= | Ihsou=n Xristo/n

“Yeshua (the) Anointed” (Jesus Christ) is the object of the verb o(mologe/w. This compound verb is derived from the adverb o(mou= (“as one”) and the common verb le/gw (in the sense of “give account,” i.e., “say”), by way of the noun o(molo/go$. I have rendered it quite literally above as “give account as one”; in simpler English idiom, it could be rendered “say the same (thing)”. It implies being in agreement or accord with other people—in particular, it denotes agreeing to a statement, i.e., something that is said. The verb is frequently used in the technical (legal) sense of making (public) confession or affirmation to a statement. And this very much the meaning of o(mologe/w in the religious context of early Christian life and worship.

In particular, the verb is used in the context of confessing/affirming one’s faith in Jesus Christ, very much as we find it used here in v. 2[f]. It has this meaning in the Gospel tradition, where it occurs in one saying of Jesus (“Q” material, Matt 10:32 / Lk 12:8 [cp. Rev 3:5]), and Paul clearly confirms this usage in Rom 10:9-10 (cf. also 1 Tim 6:12). The verb occurs four times in the Gospel of John, notably in 9:22 where it refers to belief in Jesus as the Messiah (o( Xristo/$); this is also the context in 1:20 (twice), where John the Baptist confesses that he (John) is not the Messiah. Presumably, the same Messianic significance applies to reference in 12:42, though it is possible to understand the latter more generally in terms of faith/trust in the person of Jesus. The specific wording in 12:42, with the use of the negative particle, is particularly relevant for our passage:

“…even among the chief (men) [i.e. Jewish leaders] many trusted in him, but, through (fear) of the Pharisees, they did not [ou)x] give account as one [w(molo/goun], (so) that they might not come to be (removed) from the synagogue.”

In other words, these believers would not publicly affirm or confess their faith/trust in Jesus (as the Messiah). From the standpoint of the author of 1 John, this would make them false believers.

The verb o(mologe/w occurs five times in 1 John. In 1:9, the verb is used in the specific context of public acknowledgement and confession of sin; however, the remaining references relate to the fundamental religious aspect of the believer’s trust in Jesus. In 2:23 and 4:15, the confession/affirmation is in Jesus as the Son of God, as the author spells out in the latter statement:

“Who ever should give account as one [o(mologh/sh|] that Yeshua is the Son of God, God remains in him and he (remains) in God.”

As I have discussed repeatedly, the verb me/nw (“remain”) is a special Johannine keyword that signifies the union of the believer with God the Father and Jesus the Son, realized through the Spirit; it is a fundamental characteristic and religious dynamic that applies only to the true believer. Thus, the person who affirms that Jesus is the Son of God is a true believer, and is united with Father and Son through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

What is interesting for our purpose, in our examination of the Christological statements in 2:22-23 and 4:2-3, in relation to the crisis posed by the opponents, is how the title o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed [One]”) relates to the title “Son of God”. The issue in 2:22f was that the opponents denied—that is, would not confess/affirm—that Jesus is “the Anointed (One)” (o( Xristo/$). The implication in that reference seems to be that, by denying Jesus as the “Anointed (One)”, the opponents effectively deny his identity as the “Son of God”. At least, this is how the author would view the matter.

In the next daily note, we will examine two points as they apply to the author’s discussion here in vv. 1-2:

    • The Christological significance of the double-name “Yeshua (the) Anointed” (Jesus Christ) in v. 2, and
    • The idea of speaking the confessional statement, understood in terms of inspired prophecy and the activity of the indwelling Spirit.