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.

Spiritualism and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 2)

Having summarized (in Part 1) my understanding of the evidence regarding both the opponents in 1-2 John and of the Johannine spiritualism, I will now attempt to bring together the results of my analysis, synthesizing it, to see in what ways the opponents (and the conflict surrounding them) may relate to this spiritualism.

Spiritualism and the Opponents: Synthesizing the Evidence

I will present three specific lines of interpretation, expounding and arguing them as far as the evidence may allow:

    1. The priority of the Spirit in teaching/guiding believers
    2. The abiding presence of Jesus through the Spirit, and
    3. Spiritualistic aspects of the Johannine Christology (i.e., regarding the person of Christ)
1. The Priority of the Spirit in Teaching/Guiding Believers

The key evidence for this particular aspect of Johannine spiritualism is: (a) the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and (b) the xri=sma-statements in 1 Jn 2:20, 27. These statements emphasize the role of the Spirit in teaching and guiding believers. This role is suggested by the very title “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:12; 1 Jn 4:6, cf. also 5:6), obviously implying the truthfulness of the Spirit’s teaching and witness, but even more particularly by the promises in 14:26 and 16:13:

    • “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will teach you all (thing)s”
    • “when that (one) should come…he will lead you on the way in all truth”

In 1 John 2:20f, 27, the “anointing” (xri=sma) that abides/remains in the believer functions in much the same way:

“…you hold (the) anointing from the Holy (One), and you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s” (v. 20)
“…the anointing that you received from Him remains in you, and you do not have (any) need that any(one) should teach you…the anointing teaches you about all (thing)s” (v. 27)

The term xri=sma (“anointing”) here is best understood as a reference to the abiding presence of the Spirit, as I discuss in the article on this passage.

The opponents almost certainly shared this Johannine belief with the author of 1 John (and with the Community at large). If so, then it is fair to assume that the opponents, who would have regarded themselves as true believers, understood that they possessed God’s Spirit, and that the Spirit was the primary (and sufficient) source for Divine teaching and instruction. Moreover, they presumably believed also that Jesus (the Son) was himself teaching them through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 16:12-15).

On this basis, with the presumption that the Spirit of Truth (and Jesus through the Spirit) would not (and could not) teach them anything false, the opponents likely regarded their Christology, their understanding of Jesus Christ, to be true, confirmed by the internal witness of the Spirit.

The problem, then, for the Johannine Community, which apparently was experiencing a significant Christological division, was how to reconcile two contrasting (and opposing) views of Jesus with the one Spirit of truth. Significantly, the author does not deny the primacy of the Spirit as the guiding (and authoritative) source of truth, though this might have been useful as a way of combating the opponents. Instead of relying, for example, upon a personal apostolic authority (the noun a)po/stolo$ is essentially absent from the Johannine writings [cf. Jn 13:16]), the author seems to maintain the priority of the abiding (internal) presence of the Spirit, which is available to all believers. I tend to take seriously the author’s statements in 2:20, 27 as representing fundamental declarations of Johannine belief, doubtless understood as a fulfillment of the ‘new covenant’ prophecy in Jer 31:31-34 (vv. 33-34). The same focus on the (internal) witness of the Spirit is found in 3:24 [par 4:13], 4:4, and 5:6-8.

How, then, does the author combat the opponents? He does this two ways. First, in addressing his readers, he effectively treats them as true believers, assuming that they will thus be in agreement with the Community (of true believers)—with whom he also identifies himself. The underlying assumption, thus, is that, as true believers, the readers can trust that the indwelling Spirit will convince them of the truth, and that they will accept the Christology of the author (as representing the view of the Community), rather than that of the opponents.

Along with this rhetorical strategy, the author adds the implicit test that the witness of the Spirit will affirm, and will not contradict, the established witness of the historical (Gospel) tradition—regarding the person and work of Jesus. The author introduces this theme at the very beginning of his treatise, in the prologue (1:1-4), and it continues to run as an underlying thread throughout. In particular, the reality (and significance) of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being) is emphasized—especially his sacrificial death (i.e., his “blood”, 1:7; 5:6-8, cf. Jn 6:53-56; 19:30). I have previously noted how the opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch (see esp. his letter to the Smyrneans) seem to have similarly denied/devalued Jesus’ death, and how they resemble the Johannine opponents in certain respects.

Ultimately, the author summarizes the Gospel tradition by way of a trio of Christological confessional statements—in 2:22-23; 4:2-3 [par 2 Jn 7]; 5:5-6f—which he presents as a litmus test to distinguish between the true believers and the opponents.

2. The Abiding Presence of Jesus through the Spirit

A fundamental component of the Johannine theology is that Jesus (God’s Son) abides/remains (vb me/nw) in and among believers through the Spirit. God the Father, present in the Son, also abides in believers (and believers in Him)—cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, etc. Thus, even after his departure/return to the Father (in heaven), Jesus continues to remain with believers, teaching and guiding them. This is the principal message of the Gospel Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and it can be inferred from the other Spirit-references in the Gospel as well.

As I discuss above, there is little reason to doubt that the opponents shared this Johannine belief with the author of 1 John (along with the wider Community). This may help to explain how they might come to devalue or relativize the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. After all, if he continues to remain with believers, continuing to teach and guide, then why should one place such importance on the things he said and did during the short span of his earthly ministry. Moreover, is not his presence in the Spirit greater that his limited presence in the flesh, as a matter of principle (cf. Jn 4:24; 6:63), far surpassing it in importance?

Again, the author does not in any way deny the fundamental Johannine belief—viz., of the Son’s abiding presence through the Spirit. However, as discussed above, he very much gives emphasis to Jesus’ earthly life (and death) as a human being. The idea of Jesus’ coming “in the flesh” (4:2f; 2 Jn 7) clearly refers to his life and existence as a (real) human being. Whether or not the opponents’ Christology was docetic, they do seem at least to have denied (or devalued) the significance of Jesus’ earthly life. Their denial, according to the author, was focused principally upon Jesus’ human death (“blood”)—its reality and/or importance. In my view, as I have discussed (cf. the article and supplemental notes), the confessional statement in 5:5-6ff informs the earlier ones in 4:2-3 and 2:22-23. In other words, the opponents’ false Christology (according to the author) was rooted in their understanding of his death.

One can see how a strongly spiritualistic view of Jesus (cf below) might tend to avoid emphasizing his death. After all, if “the flesh is not useful (for) anything” (Jn 6:63), how could this not include a person’s death in the flesh? By contrast, the author gives particular emphasis to Jesus’ death, especially in 5:6-8. This passage toward the end of the treatise is matched by the earlier reference in 1:7ff (cf. the earlier note), focusing on the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. The implication is that this life-giving (and preserving/restoring) power is communicated to the believer through the Spirit. This idea is brought out more directly, it seems, by two passages in the Gospel: (1) the eucharistic language in 6:51-58, read in light of the statement of v. 63; and (2) the allusion to Jesus’ giving of the Spirit in 19:30 (also v. 34) at the moment of his death.

3. Spiritualistic Aspects of the Johannine Christology

It is reasonable to posit that the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ is rooted in the wider Johannine Christology, and represents a particular variation, or development, of it. As such, it is worth considering if there are any spiritualistic aspects of this Christology which may, in some respect, inform the opponents’ view. Here three lines of exploration will be considered briefly:

    1. Pre-existence Christology
    2. The Priority of the Spirit in the Gospel Narrative
    3. Jesus’ Role in the Outpouring of the Spirit
a. Pre-existence Christology

If, as would seem to be the case, the Gospel of John is representative of the Christology of the Johannine churches (when the Letters were written), then this was a pre-existence Christology—that is, characterized by a fundamental belief that identified Jesus Christ as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, existing as such even prior to his earthly life. Once such a Christology had taken root throughout the Community, it created certain difficulties for the understanding of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being). In particular, it became hard to explain Jesus’ death—indeed, how could the eternal Son of God die like any other ordinary human being?

Two relatively influential Christological trends—which are attested throughout the second and third centuries, but which likely originated sometime near the end of the first century—the Docetic and the Separatist, offered different explanations to navigate around this problem. In the various forms of the Docetic view, Jesus Christ only seemed (or appeared, vb doke/w) to be human, and thus only seemed to suffer an ordinary human death. Alternately, according to the Separationist view, the Divine Son/Christ and the man Jesus were two separate entities, who were joined together at the baptism and then separated at the moment of his death; this can be represented by the coming and departure of the Spirit, respectively (cf. Jn 1:26, 33; 19:30, [34]). Based on the evidence from the Ignatian letters (cf. throughout Smyrneans, also Trallians 10, etc), it is quite possible that the Johannine opponents held a rudimentary docetic view of Jesus, though a separationist view would accord better with the Johannine Gospel itself (cf. below).

The consequences of a pre-existence Christology to the Johannine spiritualism may be even more fundamental. One practical result of this Christology is to shift the focus from Jesus’ human nature to his Divine nature as Spirit (Jn 4:24); the Son receives the fullness of the Father’s Spirit (3:34-35). This is not simply the product of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation (cp. 1 Cor 15:45; 6:17), it is intrinsic to his eternal identity as the Son (and he returns to it after the resurrection, Jn 17:1-5, etc). Thus the essential spiritual nature of Jesus may be seen as an important component of the Johannine Christology, even though (admittedly) this aspect is not particularly developed in the writings. It would, however, imply that the presence of Jesus (in believers) through the Spirit is the principal way that believers understand and experience him. The Gospel record of Jesus’ limited earthly life (and death), by comparison, could be seen as of only secondary importance. Possibly the opponents’ denial of Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” is rooted in this basic Christological preference for Jesus as Spirit, rather than as flesh (cf. Jn 6:63).

b. The Priority of the Spirit in the Gospel Narrative

References to the Spirit frame the Johannine Gospel narrative, with the Spirit coming upon Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (1:32-34), and then being released (by Jesus) at the end (19:30, [34]; 20:22). The emphasis on Jesus ‘baptizing’ people in the Spirit (i.e., living water [cf. 4:10-15; 7:37-39], instead of with ordinary water), following the tradition of the Baptist’s saying (1:26, 33; cp. Mark 1:8 par), is a theme that dominates chapters 1-3. The statements about being born of the Spirit (instead of an ordinary human birth [out of ordinary water]) in 3:3-8 (cp. 1:12-13) is part of this thematic development. In the following Discourses of chaps. 4-8, the idea of Jesus giving the Spirit—through the idiom of giving living water/bread—also features as an important theme (cf. 4:10-15, 32ff; 6:35ff, 48ff, 51-58, 63; 7:37-39). Finally, the promise of the Spirit, as the abiding presence of Jesus the Son (and God the Father) with believers, is central to the Last Discourse (particularly in the Paraclete-sayings, 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15), and is also alluded to in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse.

All of these theological (and Christological) points of reference strongly suggest that believers experience the presence and power of Jesus Christ (the Son of God) primarily, and directly, through the indwelling Spirit. This spiritual primacy of believers’ relationship with God (the Father, and Jesus the Son) is an essential component of Christian spiritualism. It would very much seem to reflect the understanding of the Spirit within the Johannine Community, and likely was influential in shaping the views of the opponents as well.

c. Jesus’ Role in the Outpouring of the Spirit

The Gospel references related to Jesus’ giving the Spirit are documented in section (b.) above, including the idiom of baptizing people in/with the Spirit and the motif of living water—both of which involve the image of pouring out water. There can be no doubt as to the eschatological significance of this imagery, drawn as it is from Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon His people in the New Age of Israel’s restoration (see the passages cited, with links to detailed notes, in the Introduction to this series). The end-time outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people (believers) is ushered in by the work of Jesus the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), culminating in his death, resurrection, and exaltation.

The Johannine churches shared this basic belief with all other early Christians. However, the particular emphasis on the Spirit—and on Jesus giving the Spirit to believers—has a special prominence in the Johannine tradition (and its Gospel, cf. above). It may be said that, for most Johannine Christians, the primary role of Jesus—and the purpose of his incarnate mission on earth—was as the giver of God’s Spirit to His people. Though Jesus (the Son) possessed the fullness of God the Father’s Spirit (cf. above), his giving of the Spirit to believers was made possible only after the fulfillment of his earthly mission—culminating in his sacrificial death. This would seem to be expressed clearly enough in the Gospel, and yet the opponents apparently did not recognize the significance of Jesus’ death in this regard. Even if they acknowledged the reality of his human death, they may have denied its importance (and salvific power).

How does this relate to Johannine spiritualism? It is possible that the opponents held that the Spirit was communicated to believers by Jesus apart from his death. This is one way of understanding the significance of the author’s distinction between Jesus’ coming “in/through water” and “in/through blood” (1 Jn 5:6ff). If “water” here refers to Jesus’ baptism, then this was the moment when the Spirit came upon Jesus. Typically early Christians saw a believer’s baptism as the moment when, similarly, the believer received the Spirit (from Jesus). Thus, it is the baptism that holds the significance for receiving the Spirit, not Jesus’ death (“blood”). Again, it is possible that this way of thinking informed, to some extent, the opponents’ view. I am more inclined to think that “in/through water” refers rather to Jesus’ birth as a human being (and “in/through blood” to his death), but I will admit that the water-baptism connection represents a plausible interpretation that must be seriously considered.

Some final thoughts regarding the opponents, and their relation to Johannine spiritualism, will be given in the conclusion to the studies (in this series) on the Johannine writings.

July 14: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

The author closes the section 5:13-20 with the last of three successive declarations that each begin with oi&damen (“we have seen [that]…”, i.e., “we know…”); cf. the previous notes on vv. 18 and 19. These statements reflect the author’s declaration of his intent and purpose for writing in v. 13 (cp. Jn 20:31). Verse 20 serves an effective summary of the Johannine theology:

“And we have seen that the Son of God is here, and (that) he has given to us dia/noia, (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (that) we are in the (One who is) true, in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed—this is the true God and Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life].”

This relatively long theological statement is comprised of six clauses or phrases. It may be helpful to look at these, two at a time, dividing the verse into three parts (a-c).

Verse 20a:
    • “And we have seen that the Son of God is here,
      and (that) he has given to us dia/noia,”

The first clause, beginning (like vv. 18 and 19) with the verb form oi&damen (“we have seen”), emphasizes again the unity and solidarity between the author and his readers, representing (together) members of the Community of true believers (cf. the previous note). The three oi&damen-statements may be compared:

    • “We have seen that the (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin…” (v. 18)
    • “We have seen that we are of God…” (v. 19)
    • “We have seen that the Son of God is here…” (v. 20)

The identity of believers as those born of God (v. 19), and thus protected from sin (v. 18), is realized through the abiding presence of Jesus Christ (God’s Son). The verb h%kw here in v. 20 could be understood in terms of Jesus having come here—viz., as a reference either to the incarnation and/or to the coming of the Spirit. However, I think that the present tense of the verb (h%kei, lit. “comes here”) properly reflects the idea of the Son being present here, in and among believers—that is, his abiding presence through the Spirit (cf. Jn 14:17ff, etc).

The second, following clause in v. 20a is:

“he has given to us dia/noia

The subject (“he”), based on the first clause, must be the Son of God—i.e., Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The Son, through his abiding presence in believers, gives to them dia/noia. The noun dia/noia is a bit difficult to translate literally into English, and I have left it untranslated above. Fundamentally, it denotes the ability (and/or the process) of thinking things through (vb dianoe/omai, dia/ + noe/w mid.). For lack of a better option, the noun can be translated generally in English as understanding— “he has given to us understanding”.

According to the Johannine theology, as expressed principally in the Gospel Discourses, the Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives to believers (see esp. Jn 3:34-35; 5:21; 6:27, 32ff, 57; 10:28-29; 17:8-9ff). The noun dia/noia is not mentioned elsewhere as one of the things that is given (indeed, the word occurs only here in the Johannine writings); however, the idea that the Son (Jesus) gives knowledge and understanding to believers is present at a number of points (e.g., 8:32; 10:38; 14:4ff; 16:30; 18:37). In particular, Jesus, as the Son, makes the Father known—cf. 8:19, 28f, 38ff; 10:14-15, 38; 12:50; 14:6-7ff, 20ff; 15:15; 17:3, 6-8ff, 26. And is certainly the principal focus of the understanding (dia/noia) the Son gives to believers, here in v. 20a—viz., the ability to understand about God the Father, the True God.

This understanding comes as the Son is present here, in and among believers. Based on the famous Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel Last Discourse, and confirmed here by the author in 1 John, we must regard this understanding (dia/noia) to be the product of the Spirit teaching believers “all things” (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-13ff; 1 Jn 2:20, 27). The teaching ministry of the Son, making the Father known to us, continues through the abiding presence of the Spirit. A particularly important point, however, for the author of 1 John, is that this continued teaching (through the Spirit) does not—and will not—contradict the historical tradition (in the Gospel) of the teaching of Jesus when he was present on earth (in the past) with his disciples. In an upcoming article, I will be exploring how the spiritualism of the Johannine Community may have been realized differently, by the author and the opponents [in 1-2 John], respectively.

In the next daily note, we will look at the next two clauses, in v. 20b.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 5:5-12

1 John 5:5-12

An important structuring principle of 1 John is the thematic alternation between the subjects of trust (pi/sti$) and love (a)ga/ph), respectively. These represent the two branches of the great dual-command, the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers, as summarized by the author of 1 John in 3:23. Trust is the dominant theme in 2:18-27, then love in 2:28-3:24, then trust again in 4:1-6, and love again in 4:7-5:4. The dual-command is essentially restated by the author in 5:1:

    • Trust (v. 1a):
      “Every (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) [cf. 2:22f] has come to be (born) out of God”
    • Love (v. 1b):
      “and every (one) loving the (One) causing to be (born) [also] loves the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

Both aspects of the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) for believers here are particularly expressed in the distinctive Johannine (theological) idiom, using the verb of becoming (genna/w), along with the preposition e)k (“out of”), in the context of the begetting/birth of a child (i.e., believers as the offspring [te/kna] of God). The one who fulfills the great two-fold duty is shown to be a true believer and a genuine child of God. Those who do not fulfill (or who violate) the command, are, by contrast, false believers, who belong to the world and show themselves to be children of the Devil. The opponents, according to the author, are such false believers who violate both parts of the e)ntolh/.

Here in the next section (5:5-12), the  focus shifts back to the believer’s trust. It has much in common with the previous two sections on trust (2:18-27; 4:1-6), referred to as the “antichrist” sections because of the distinctive use of the term a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos, “against the Anointed”)—2:18, 22; 4:3 [par 2 Jn 7]. The term is applied to the opponents, because of what the author regards as their false view of Jesus Christ. The interpretive question regarding the nature of the opponents’ Christology has been discussed extensively in supplemental notes on 2:22f and 4:2f, respectively. The author seems to have the opponents’ view in mind here in 5:5-8ff as well (cf. below).

At the close of the previous section (5:4), the author reiterates his exhortation from 4:4, assuring his readers that they (if indeed they are true believers) are victorious over the world. This verb (nika/w), was also used earlier in 2:13-14. As discussed in the previous article, the verb is something of a Johannine keyword, being especially prominent in the book of Revelation (17 of the 28 NT occurrences). The theme of being victorious over the world (o( ko/smo$), in the negative Johannine meaning of the term, echoes the climactic declaration by Jesus in the Last Discourse (Jn 16:33). It is one’s trust in Christ that allows the believer to share in Jesus’ victory over the world:

“(For it is) that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world; and this is the victory [ni/kh] that made (us) victorious [nikh/sasa] (over) the world—our trust [pi/sti$].”

This statement prepares the way for the author’s discussion on pi/sti$ in 5:5ff, as he expounds the nature of genuine trust—the trust that marks a person as a true believer:

“[And] who is the (one) being victorious [nikw=n] (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting [pisteu/wn] that Yeshua is the Son of God?” (v. 5)

Trust and victory are essentially synonymous, as the parallel use of the participles of the verbs nika/w and pisteu/w makes clear; i.e., trusting (pisteu/wn) in Jesus means being victorious (nikw=n). The Christological statement here (“Jesus is the Son of God”) matches the fundamental Johannine confessional statements in the Gospel (11:27; 20:31), which are reaffirmed by the author throughout 1 John (1:3; 3:23; 5:20)—viz., that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ), the Son of God. While the precise nature of the opponents’ view of Jesus remains disputed, it is clear that the author regarded it as false, representing a dangerous error. According to him, the opponents did not have a genuine trust in Jesus (as the Anointed One and Son of God).

In verse 6, the author gives us, I think, a better idea of the opponents’ error as he begins to expound in more detail the true view (as he sees it) of Jesus Christ:

“This is the (one hav)ing come through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in water only, but in water and in blood…”

The demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this [one]”) is epexegetical, giving us more information about this person Jesus (Yeshua) who we, as believers, understand to be the Son of God. Here in v. 6, as earlier in the confessional statements of 2:22f and 4:2f, the focus is specifically on Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Christ). In other words, when we speak of “Yeshua (the) Anointed”, specifically, as the Son of God, what is meant?

In my view, the author here is further elaborating the Christological statement in 4:2, as can be seen by a comparison of the parallel wording:

    • “Yeshua (the) Anointed having come [e)lhluqo/ta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/]” (4:2)
    • “(Yehsua the Anointed), the (one) (hav)ing come [e)lqw/n]…in water and in blood [e)n tw=| u%dati kai\ e)n tw=| ai%mati]” (5:6)

Initially, the author uses the preposition dia/ (“having come through [dia/]…”), but then switches to the preposition e)n (“in”), which matches the expression in 4:2:

    • “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/)
    • “in water and in blood” (e)n tw=| u%dati kai\ e)n tw=| ai%mati)

Thus it would seem that the expression “in water and blood” is meant to clarify the earlier expression “in (the) flesh”; that is, Jesus Christ (the Son of God) coming in the flesh means that he came in water and blood (lit., “in the water and in the blood”). In previous notes examining the Johannine use of the noun sa/rc, as well as the specific expression “in (the) flesh” ([e)n th=|] sarki/), it was determined that the principal idea in these Christological statements involved Jesus existence and life as a human being. It is thus fair to assume that the expression “in water and in blood” should be understood in this light.

Most commentators explain the noun ai!ma (“blood”) here as referring to the death of Jesus; this corresponds with the Johannine usage elsewhere (Jn 6:53-56; 19:34; 1 Jn 1:7), and also reflects a widespread early Christian manner of expression regarding Jesus’ death (Mk 14:24 par; Matt 27:24-25; Acts 5:28; 20:28; Rom 3:25; Col 1:20; Heb 9:12-14ff; 10:19; 13:12; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; Rev 1:5; 5:9, etc). But what of the term u%dwr (“water”)? Given the required context (viz., Jesus’ existence and life as a human being), and the juxtaposition with Jesus’ death, there would seem to be two possible explanations:

    • A reference to Jesus’ human birth, in contrast to his death
    • A reference to his baptism—as marking the beginning of his earthly mission, with his death marking its end

The majority of commentators prefer the second option, often simply taking it for granted. There are, indeed, very few I have found who would explain “water” here as a reference to Jesus’ birth. And yet, in my view, the evidence from the Gospel (u%dwr occurs nowhere else in 1-3 John, outside of vv. 6, 8 here) favors the birth motif—including, we might say, the more generalized concept of birth as the beginning of life.

In the Gospel, the noun u%dwr is used principally in connection with the Spirit, contrasting ordinary physical/material water with the living water of God’s Spirit. This contrast is most explicit in 4:10-15 and 7:37-39; elsewhere, it is expressed in two important ways:

    • The contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist, drawing upon the traditional saying by the Baptist (1:26, 33; cf, Mark 1:8 par)—i.e., baptizing in water vs. baptizing in the Spirit.
    • The birth imagery of 3:3-8, in the Nicodemus Discourse

In each of these instances, “water” (u%dwr) refers to ordinary physical water, in contrast to the Spirit. Because of this marked contrast, and because Jesus’ own baptism is so closely connected with the presence of the Spirit, I feel it is rather more appropriate that the author (in 5:6ff) uses “water” as a way of referring to Jesus’ birth. In this regard, the usage in Jn 3:3-8 is directly applicable, since it contrasts a normal human birth “out of water” with a divine/spiritual birth “out of the Spirit” (v. 5ff); that this is the meaning of “out of water” in Jn 3:5 is clear from the parallel “out of the flesh” in v. 6. Indeed, this is precisely the same parallel we find in 1 Jn 4:2 / 5:6—i.e., “having come in the flesh” / “having come in water…”.

If “water” thus symbolizes Jesus’ human birth (and earthly life), it also alludes to his sacrificial death. This is indicated by the symbolic use of water (by Jesus) in the Last Supper narrative (13:5ff), and is represented even more clearly by the historical detail noted in 19:34f—the “blood and water” that came out of Jesus’ side after his death. In light of the wording in 19:30, it is likely that the water in v. 34 is meant to allude specifically to the “living water” of the Spirit that Jesus gives. The gift of the Spirit is only possible after Jesus’ death, with the life-giving power and efficacy of his sacrificial death being communicated to believers through the Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 1:7 and Jn 6:51-58 [in light of v. 63]).

The similarity of motif between water and wine in the Cana miracle episode (2:1-11) and water and blood in 19:34, is not, in my view, a coincidence. The two episodes mark the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and symbolize, in different ways, the power of his life and death, respectively. The Spirit is associated closely with Jesus’ earthly life (from at least his baptism, cf. above), and also with his death. It is thus significant that the author emphasizes the same association here in vv. 6ff:

“…and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the truth.”

The Spirit gives witness (vb marture/w) to Jesus Christ “having come…in water and in blood”. This rather clearly refers back to 4:1-6 (cf. the previous article), and the fundamental idea that the indwelling Spirit teaches the truth to believers, while false believers are not inspired by the Spirit of God, but by a different (lying/deceiving) spirit. In particular, the Spirit teaches the truth about Jesus Christ; thus, the true believer, guided by the Spirit, will affirm (and confess) the true view of Jesus, while false believers (like the opponents) will not. In 4:6, the Spirit was referred to by the traditional expression “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; cp. 1QS 3:18-19, etc); here, however, the author goes a step further and declares that the Spirit is the truth, forming a kind of belated answer to the question posed by Pilate in Jn 18:38.

The Christological issue, and the point of conflict between the author and the opponents, involves the reality and/or significance of Jesus’ death. The opponents apparently accepted the reality of Jesus’ human birth, but were unwilling to embrace his death. Or, following the more common line of interpretation (cf. above), they understood the importance of Jesus’ baptism (when the Spirit descended upon him), but denied the significance of his sacrificial death. The Spirit, as the author emphasizes, bears witness to the reality (and importance) of both Jesus’ birth/baptism and his death. For more on this aspect of the opponents’ Christology, cf. the recent 3-part supplemental note on 4:2-3 (pts 1, 2 & 3).

In verses 7-8, the author’s emphasis shifts slightly:

“(And it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and the three are unto/into [ei)$] the one.”

In v. 6, the Spirit was a witness of the water and blood; now, the Spirit is a witness along with the water and blood, witnessing to the truth of who Jesus is—viz., the Anointed One and Son of God. If Jesus thus came through the water (i.e., a human birth and earthly life), and through the blood (i.e., his sacrificial death), he also has come now through the Spirit, abiding in and among believers through the Spirit. The internal testimony of the Spirit will agree with the historical tradition (preserved in the Gospel) regarding Jesus’ birth/life and death—i.e., the three will affirm the same truth about Jesus, functioning “as one (witness)”.

Being God’s own Spirit, the witness of the Spirit is the witness given by God the Father Himself, as the author declares in verse 9:

“If we receive [i.e. accept] the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, (in) that this is the witness of God that He has given as a witness about His Son.”

The idea of giving witness, utilizing the noun marturi/a and the verb marture/w, is an important Johannine theme, recurring throughout the Gospel and Letters—cf. Jn 1:7-8, 15, 19, 32, 34; 3:11, 26ff, 32-33; 4:39; 5:31-39; 7:7; 8:13-14ff; 10:25; 15:26-27; 18:37; 19:35; 21:24; here in 1 Jn 5:6-11; 3 Jn 12; it also features prominently in the book of Revelation (1:2, 9; 6:9; 12:11, 17; 20:4; 22:16ff, etc). God gives witness about His Son, not only through the Spirit, but through the reality of Jesus’ incarnate (human) birth/life and death, as preserved in the historical tradition(s) of the Gospel. The record of Jesus’ life and death goes back to the first disciples who were first-hand witnesses (1:1-4). The point must be stressed again, from the author’s standpoint, that the witness of the indwelling Spirit (about Jesus) will agree with the Gospel record of his earthly life and death (“water and blood”). The emphasis on the role of the Spirit is given again in verse 10:

“The (one) trusting in the Son holds th(is) witness in himself; (but) the (one) not trusting God has made Him (to be) false [i.e. a liar], (in) that [i.e. because] he has not trusted in the witness which God has given as a witness about His Son.”

Two key points, and fundamental theological principles in 1 John, are again stressed: (1) the contrast between the true and false believer; and (2) the indwelling/abiding presence of God’s Spirit as a witness to the truth. The reason why the opponents espouse a false view of Jesus is that they are false believers, and thus do not possess God’s Spirit.

The author concludes the section with a fine summary of the Johannine theology:

“And this is the witness: that God gave to us (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and this Life is in His Son. The (one) holding the Son holds th(is) Life, (while) the (one) not holding the Son of God does not hold the Life.” (vv. 11-12)

The emphasis, in the context of the author’s argument, is two-fold: (a) the witness regards the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God; and (b) the implicit teaching that the Divine/eternal life which God gives to believers (i.e., those trusting in His Son) comes through the reality of the Son’s incarnate life and death. In particular, the emphasis is on Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death (“blood”), which communicates life to believers. The opponents’ great error, apparently, was in their denial of the reality (and/or importance) of Jesus’ death; for this reason, they, unlike all true believers, do not have access to this eternal life. As noted above, the life-giving power of Jesus’ death is communicated to believers through the Spirit (on this, cf. my earlier note on 1:7); believers “hold” eternal life within them through the abiding presence of the Spirit (3:24).

These articles on 1 John will be brought to a close with a supplemental article that specifically addresses the relation of the opponents to the spiritualism of the Johannine Community (and its writings).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 2:18-27

1 John 2:18-27

In these articles, dealing with the spiritualism in the Johannine Writings, we now turn to the Letters of John, with special attention to the First Letter, the work known as 1 John. As virtually all commentators recognize, there is a close relationship between the Johannine Gospel and the Letters. The Gospel writer and the author of 1 John, if not the same person, share a similar literary style, mode of expression, thought-world, and theological vocabulary. The precise relationship between the Gospel and First Letter, in terms of the sequence and when each was composed, continues to be debated, with no consensus having yet been achieved. However, in my view, there is relatively strong evidence that at least a first edition of the Gospel had been completed and distributed (within the Johannine churches) prior to the writing of 1 John.

The closeness of thought and expression, between the Gospel and First Letter, means that there is methodological validity in turning to the Gospel for elucidation of passages in 1 John, and vice versa. Throughout these upcoming articles, I will be making frequent mention of the prior notes and studies on the Johannine Gospel. The discussion of spiritualism, and the role of the Spirit, in the Gospel is, in my view, entirely applicable to our study on 1 John.

The recent daily notes, covering significant portions of 1 John 1:1-2:17, are, in many ways, preliminary and supplemental to these articles. I will be referencing them at numerous points below. Our initial article here is focused upon 2:18-27, the first of the two “antichrist” passages. It is worth summarizing the structure of the Letter leading up to this passage:

    • Prologue (1:1-4)
    • First Section: Contrast of the Light of God vs. the Darkness of the World (1:5-2:17)
      • “Walking about” in light or in darkness: Sin and the Believer (1:5-2:2)
      • “Walking” in light/darkness defined in terms of the (two-fold) duty (e)ntolh/) believers are required to complete (2:3-11)
      • Believers have overcome the darkness of evil, and should not be drawn to the world (in its darkness) (2:12-17)

The dualistic light/darkness theme developed in 1:5-2:17 is used by the author as a way of contrasting the true believer with the false believer. The ‘opponents’ of 1 John are specifically characterized as false believers (cf. below).

It is generally considered by commentators that the author is referring to his opponents, alluding to their beliefs and positions, throughout 1:5-2:17. However, in the “antichrist” section of 2:18-27, he begins to discuss them more directly. He does so by placing the crisis, posed by these opponents, in an eschatological context:

“Little children, the last hour is (here), and, just as you (have) heard that (one) ‘against-the-Anointed’ [a)nti/xristo$] comes, (so) even now there have come to be many ‘against-the-Anointed’ [a)nti/xristoi], from which we know that the last hour is (here).” (v. 18)

The author clearly believes that he and his readers are living in the “last hour”, and that the end of the current Age is very near; cf. my earlier article on the imminent eschatology of first-century Christians. A basic premise of Jewish and early Christian eschatology was that, just before the end, things would get much worse in the world, with sin and evil becoming more prevalent and pervasive, including an intensive (and increasing) persecution of the righteous. This worldview is clearly reflected, for example, in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13 par). The presence of false prophets and false Messiahs was one feature of this end-time period of distress (cf. Mk 13:5-6, 21-22 par); the false Messiahs (i.e., false Christs), in particular, could properly be referred to as “anti-Christ” (cp. 2 Thess 2:7-12).

The specific word a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos) occurs only in the Letters of John (here, and also v. 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). It likely was coined by early Christians, patterned after the comparable a)nti/qeo$ (antítheos), when used in the (admittedly rare) sense of a rival God (qeo/$) or something imitating the Deity. The fundamental meaning of the preposition a)nti/ is “against”, but it can also mean “in place of”, and both of these aspects apply to the Antichrist Tradition as it was developed. And, indeed, the author does appear to be drawing upon an established eschatological tradition involving the use of a)nti/xristo$. He refers to an expectation that (one) “against the Anointed” (anti/xristo$, singular) will come in the “last hour”; whether this refers to an evil human leader or a spirit-being is not entirely clear, but probably the author has the latter in mind (cf. 4:3). For more on the background and development of the Antichrist Tradition, cf. my earlier three-part article (Part 1, 2, 3) on the subject.

Whatever tradition the author is referencing, he clearly interprets it in a new way, applying it specifically to the presence and activity of the ‘opponents’, considering them to be “many (who are) against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristoi polloi/). He continues in verse 19:

“Out of us they went out, but they were not out of us; for, if they were out of us, they would have remained with us; but (this happened so) that it might be made to shine forth [i.e. be made apparent] that they were not all out of us.”

The author plays with a dual-meaning of the preposition e)k (“out of”). In the opening phrase, it is used in the spatial sense of leaving, of going away from a group of people. However, in the remainder of the verse, it used in the sense of belonging to a group, being “of” a group of people. Thus, at one and the same time, the opponents are “out of” the Community, and also not “out of” it. Moreover, that they went “out of” it shows that they were never really “part of” it.

The author identifies himself (and his readers) with this Community, characterized as the Community of true believers. The opponents, having left the Community, show themselves to have been false believers. In all likelihood we are dealing with a genuine separatist movement, and a factional split within the Johannine churches. In this regard, the use of the preposition e)k and the verb e)ce/rxomai (“go/come out”) refers to a concrete division, and not simply a conceptual departure in terms of the opponents’ beliefs.

In verses 20-27, the author applies this crisis-situation to his readers, continuing the true-vs-false believer contrast established in 1:5-2:17. These verses may be divided into three subsections, each of which begins with an emphatic use of the pronoun u(mei=$ (“you [plur.]”)

    • Vv. 20-23: Kai\ u(mei=$… (“But you…”)
    • Vv. 24-26 (Umei=$… (“[But as for] you…”)
    • Verse 27: Kai\ u(mei=$… (“And [as for] you…”)

In each unit, the author addresses his readers as true believers, to be distinguished from the opponents (false believers and “antichrists”), and fully able to recognize the truth of the matter. This is expressed thematically through a chiastic structure:

    • The anointing (xri=sma) which believers hold within them (vv. 20-23)
      • That which is “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$) remains in them (vv. 24-26)
    • The anointing (xri=sma) remains in them (v. 27)

The discussion is thus framed by a pair of references to the “anointing” (xri=sma) which is present in believers; in between, we find the expression o^ a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“that which [is]…from [the] beginning”), with which the author began his work (in the prologue, 1:1; cf. also 2:7, 13-14). A clear sense of the author’s use of these keywords is vital for an understanding of his entire line of argument.

For my part, I have no real doubt that the noun xri=sma here refers to the presence of the Spirit. It is worth noting, however, that these three instances (in vv. 20, 27) are the only occurrences of xri=sma in the New Testament. It occurs 10 times in the LXX, primarily in the Pentateuch (Exod 29:7; 30:25; 35:12, 19, etc), where it refers to the oil used for the consecrated anointing of people and objects. Quite possibly, its use here in 1 John alludes to the practice of anointing with oil as part of the baptism ritual. However, we cannot be entirely certain of this practice in the first-century; the earliest attestation is found in Tertullian, On Baptism 7, cf. also Cyprian Epistle 70[69].2, and the Apostolic Constitutions 7:27.

Even so, it is likely that the oil/anointing symbolism was part of the ritual from very early times. Its association with the Spirit would follow naturally from the common idea that it was in connection with baptism that a believer first received the Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:12-13ff; 9:17-18; 10:45-48; 19:5-6, etc). The association goes back to early Gospel tradition, in both the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:10 par) and the saying by the Baptist about Jesus (Mk 1:8 par). In Luke-Acts, this coming of the Spirit upon Jesus (at his baptism) is clearly understood as an anointing (Lk 4:18ff; Acts 10:38; cf. also the quotation of Ps 2:7 in Lk 3:22 v.l.). This is no mere Lukan invention, since the idea relates to the early application of Isa 61:1ff to Jesus as the Anointed One [Messiah] of God; on the similar idea of God placing his Spirit upon Jesus (as His chosen Servant), cf. Isa 11:2 and 42:1 (and the use of the latter in the Gospel tradition).

This Messianic concept of being anointed by the Spirit is part of a wider Prophetic tradition describing the activity of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. Of special significance is the motif of the Spirit being poured out, as liquid (water, oil, etc) upon God’s people—cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29 [cited in Acts 2:17-18].

For all of these reasons, we may safely assume that xri=sma in 1 John 2:20, 27 is a more or less direct allusion to the presence of the Spirit in believers. Believers hold (vb e&xw) this anointing in them (v. 20), and it remains (vb me/nw) in them. Both of these verbs have special theological meaning in the Johannine writings, and refer here to the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son), along with God (the Father), through the Spirit.

What are the consequences of this abiding presence of the Spirit (the xri=sma) in believers? The author explains this, to some extent, in each portion of his discussion:

    • “…and you know all (thing)s. I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen [i.e. known] the truth, but (in) that you have seen it, and (also) that every false (thing) is not out of [i.e. does come from] the truth.” (vv. 20b-21)
    • “…and you do not have need that any(one) should teach you, but, as His anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and not (something) false, and, just as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.” (v. 27)

The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) teaches believers “all things”, and so there is no need for anyone (else) to teach them. This touches to the heart of the Johannine spiritualism. It reflects the promised role of the Spirit in the Paraclete-sayings of Jesus in the Last Discourse (14:26; 16:13ff; cf. also 15:26). Through the Spirit, Jesus will continue to be present with believers, and to teach them. It is this emphasis on the spiritual presence of Jesus which may have led to the opponents devaluing the earthly life and ministry of Jesus (including his death).

This is particularly important, it seems, for the author’s rhetorical strategy here. On the one hand, he fully accepts and affirms the Johannine spiritualistic principle of the primacy of the Spirit—it is, indeed, the Spirit who teaches believers “all things,” and the true believer has no need to rely on any other human teacher. This apparently radical concept is actually inspired by the Prophetic tradition (cf. above) regarding the role of God’s Spirit among His people in the New Age. In this time of a New Covenant, the Spirit will lead all people to serve as prophets (Joel 2:28f), effectively fulfilling the wish expressed by Moses in Num 11:29; moreover, because God will write his Law upon the heart of each person, they will all know Him, without the need for anyone else to teach them (Jer 31:34). In this regard, the Johannine emphasis simply reflects an early Christian version of this Prophetic ideal, an eschatological hope for God’s people that is realized among believers in Christ.

The Spirit, being the Spirit of Truth (4:6; 5:6; Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), will always teach believers what is true, and will never say anything that is false. As a result, with the Spirit’s guidance, the true believer will be able to recognize any false teaching, including the false teaching of the opponents (v. 22, cf. below). If the Spirit teaches believers “all things,” with no need for anyone else to teach them, then why is the author bothering to give the instruction that he does? Even though the Spirit may be primary, there is still value in human instruction and exhortation. The guidance of the Spirit does not happen automatically, but requires a measure of faithfulness and cooperation by the believer. There is thus a place for human teaching and exhortation within the congregation, such as the kind that the author gives here. He expresses the contingency in two ways:

    • “I have written these (thing)s to you (warning you) about the (one)s leading you astray.” (v. 26)
    • “…just as he/it has taught you, you must remain in him” (v. 27)

The first point indicates the real danger, in the mind of the author, that the false teaching of the opponents could lead some believers astray (vb plana/w). How could this possibly happen to a believer? The concluding words in v. 27 make this clear: the believer must consciously and willingly remain in the Spirit, in order for the Spirit to continue guiding him/her in the truth.

The verb me/nw is a fundamental Johannine keyword, as I have noted above. The form used here, me/nete, could be read as an indicative or an imperative; in my view, the author intends an imperative, even as he does in the following v. 28. The Spirit teaching believers the truth depends upon the believer remaining in the Spirit. The actual phrase is “you must remain in him [e)n au)tw=|]”, and it is not entirely clear whether the pronoun (“him”) refers specifically to God the Father, Jesus, or the Spirit. In terms of the Johannine theology, the latter two—Jesus and the Spirit—would be principally in view, since a person remains in the Father through the Son (Jesus), and, in turn, remains in the Son through the Spirit. Much the same is expressed in the Last Discourse, cf. especially the illustration of the Vine (15:4-9).

The author tells us something about the false belief of the opponents in verse 22; I have discussed this at length in a set of three supplemental notes (1, 2, 3). The title o( xristo/$, as used in the Gospel of John, indicates that it refers specifically to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Another possibility, however, is that it functions here as a shorthand for the fuller Christological statement in 4:2—viz., regarding Jesus Christ as having “come in the flesh,” usually understood specifically in terms of his earthly life. Either way, it seems likely that the opponents of 1 John, in some fashion, denied or devalued the importance of Jesus’ earthly life (and death). This may have extended to a denial of Jesus’ identity as the Jewish Messiah.

A devaluation of Jesus’ earthly life could be explained on the basis of both the Johannine Christology and its spiritualism. The high Christology of the Gospel, emphasizing Jesus’ identity as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, could easily have led some Johannine Christians to question the importance of his earthly life and ministry. Moreover, if Jesus continues to be present with believers in the Spirit, continuing to teach “all things”, then of what value are the traditions of the things that Jesus said and did in the past?

In the prologue (1:1-4), the author clearly establishes the importance of the historical Gospel tradition—of the things Jesus said and did, preserved and transmitted to future generations by the first disciples (functioning as eye/ear-witnesses). It is no coincidence that the author essentially repeats the opening phrase—o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“that which was from [the] beginning”)—here in the central unit of his exposition (vv. 24-26). In between the two references to the teaching of the Spirit, he includes this reference to the Gospel tradition: “that which you heard from (the) beginning”.

In an earlier note on 1:1ff, I discussed how there are two aspects to the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ in 1 John: (1) Christological, referring to Jesus as the one who was with God “from the beginning” (Jn 1:1, etc); and (2) Evangelistic, referring to the message about Jesus, which believers have heard “from the beginning”, i.e., from the time of the first disciples. The Christological aspect is primary, but it cannot be separated from the Gospel witness. This is essentially the message of the author of 1 John, and he states it again here in vv. 24ff:

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

According to the Johannine mode of expression, the person of Jesus (“the one from the beginning”) must remain in the believer; but this is not possible if the truth of the message about Jesus does not also remain in the believer. Here is a key sign distinguishing the true and false believer, in the context of the crisis caused by the opponents. The true believer remains faithful to the authoritative Gospel tradition(s) about Jesus, preserved from the first disciples, while the false believer has forsaken or has distorted those traditions. Put another way, the internal teaching of the Spirit will (and must) conform to the Gospel tradition; and any such teaching which contradicts that tradition, and is thus false, cannot come from the Spirit.

This will be discussed further, along with a further examination of the nature and beliefs of the opponents of 1-2 John, in the upcoming study on the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6). However, first I will consider the spiritualism of 1 John as expressed in the central section (2:28-3:24), where the marks of the true believer are most clearly enunciated.

May 24: 1 John 1:3-4

1 John 1:3-4

Following the parenthesis of verse 2 (cf. the previous note), the main syntactical line of verse 1 is picked up in verse 3, repeating the relative clause/phrasing from verse 1: “…that which [o%] we have seen and heard…”, referring to the witness of the first disciples to the person of Jesus (the Son sent to earth by God the Father). The author includes himself as one of these witnesses (“we have seen…”). This has led some commentators to claim that the author was, indeed, one of the first disciples (early tradition identified him with John son of Zebedee).

However, it is more likely that this is part of the author’s conscious rhetorical and apologetic strategy; he aligns himself with the historical (and authoritative) Gospel tradition that goes back to the first disciples (as eye/ear-witnesses) and the earthly ministry of Jesus. At the same time, it is possible that he has the ‘Beloved Disciple’ in mind, who, apparently, had an unusually long life-span, and may have outlived the other early disciples (cf. the tradition in the Gospel appendix, 21:20-23). If the implications of this traditional information is correct, the elders in the Johannine Community (such as the author[s] of 1-3 John) likely would have known the ‘Beloved Disciple,’ prior to his death.

What follows in verse 3 marks the principal clause of the prologue, to which the preceding relative phrases (with their accusative relative pronouns) are subordinate:

“…we even give (it) forth as a message [vb a)pagge/llw] to you…”

If we were to rearrange the phrasing to make a more conventional statement, it would read:

“We give forth that which was from the beginning…as a message to you”
or, alternately:
“We give forth…(this) about the word of life…as a message to you”

What believers give now, in the present, is an authoritative message about the Son (Jesus), identified as the Divine “word of life”. They/we bear witness to Jesus’ identity and to the life that he gives. In the previous note, I discussed the strong reasons for seeing an indirect allusion here to the Spirit in the expression “the word of life”. But what believers give (to others) is not the living Word, or the Life itself, but a message and witness about (peri/) this Life. It is a message that corresponds with the witness of the first disciples, who saw what Jesus did, and heard what he said, during his earthly life.

In the subordinate i%na-clause that follows, and which brings the sentence of vv. 1-3 to a close, the purpose of this witness-message is stated:

“…(so) that [i%na] you also might hold common-bond [koinwni/a] with us; and, indeed, our common-bond (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The purpose thus is that the author’s readers would be joined, holding things in common, with him (and his circle of adherents). The author clearly identifies his community with the community of true believers, by adding that “our common-bond” is with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This is important for understanding the author’s overall purpose in writing, which he establishes here in the prologue.

The noun koinwni/a is relatively rare in the New Testament, being used primarily (12 of 19 occurrences) in the letters of Paul (e.g., 1 Cor 1:9; 10:16; 2 Cor 6:14; Phil 3:10). It is often translated “fellowship,” but this seems rather too tepid a translation; nor does it properly capture the essential meaning of the word, which denotes something that people hold in common (koino/$). I feel that “common-bond” is a more appropriate rendering, especially since it also touches upon the idea of a covenant (Heb tyr!B=, a binding agreement) between believers and God, just as we see expressed here.

The noun koinwni/a occurs in Acts 2:42, as a characteristic of the first believers (in Jerusalem), reflecting their unity, as well as their sense of community and shared purpose (o(moqumado/n). However, somewhat surprisingly, the word is used nowhere else in the Gospels or Acts, and is not at all part of the vocabulary of Jesus in his teaching (as it was preserved and translated into Greek). It does not occur in the Gospel of John, even where we might most expect it, in the Last Discourse and the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17. The strong emphasis on unity in the Prayer-Discourse is similar to what we find here in verse 3 of the prologue; even though koinwni/a is not used in the Gospel, the underlying thought is very much present (esp. in chaps 13-17).

A strong argument can be made that, in the Gospel, the unity between believers and God, and among believers, is realized through the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that both God the Father and the Son (Jesus) are present in and among believers. Indeed, God’s abiding presence depends upon the Spirit, since He Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24). Foremost of what Jesus gives to believers is the Spirit (1:33; 3:34; 4:10-15; 7:37-39; 15:26f; 16:7b-11ff; 19:30/20:22), and he continues to be present, communicating to them/us through the Spirit (6:63; 16:12-15; cf. also the other Paraclete-sayings).

In terms of the author’s rhetorical purpose, if his readers will join (in agreement) with him, as he hopes, then they will demonstrate that they share this common-bond, sharing in the Spirit of truth, and are to be considered part of the Community of true believers. Knowing that those who receive and respond to his writing are to be counted among the true believers, possessing a true faith in Christ and the true witness of the Spirit, will bring great joy to the author and his circle:

“And we write these (thing)s (to you), (so) that our joy might be made full.” (v. 4)
Some MSS read u(mw=n (“your”) instead of h(mw=n (“our”), but the first person plural is more likely to be original, and is certainly more appropriate to the context.

The author may have in mind something of the theology of the Gospel Prayer-Discourse (chap. 17), with the idea that unity—the full community of believers—will only be realized once the full number of the elect/chosen ones come to trust in Jesus through the (apostolic) mission of believers (cf. vv. 20-26). However, as will be discussed in the upcoming notes and articles on 1 John (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), the author’s mission also has the specific focus of achieving (and/or restoring) a certain kind of orthodox unity among the Johannine churches.

Along these lines, in the next daily note, I will be looking at the other occurrences of koinwni/a, in verses 6-7.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: The Paraclete (4)

(The first Paraclete-saying [14:16-17] was discussed in the part 1 of this article; the second saying [14:25-26] in part 2.; the third [15:26-27] in part 3.)

Saying 4-5: John 16:7-15

The final Paraclete-saying(s) are found in the third (and final) discourse-division of the Last Discourse; on which, cf. again my outline:

    • 3:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 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)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The theme of the third discourse, as I define it, is the departure of Jesus and his farewell to his disciples. In many ways, this has been the theme of the Last Discourse as a whole, but is especially emphasized here. In the central section of the discourse (vv. 16-24), Jesus discusses his departure and return. The context of the preceding vv.4b-15, which contain the Paraclete-saying(s), makes clear that he is referring to his ultimate departure (back to the Father) and subsequent (eschatological) return. During this period, he will be present with the disciples (and all other believers) through the Spirit.

Some commentators would demarcate two distinct sayings in vv. 7-15 (in which case, these would be sayings # 4 and 5); however, in my view, it is better to treat vv. 7-15 here as a single unit—treating it as a more complex and expansive single Paraclete-saying. Even so, structurally, we may divine this section of the discourse into three parts:

    • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 4b-7a)
      • The Coming of the Spirit (vv. 7b-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-15)

The Paraclete-saying covers the final two parts, anchored by the central reference (vv. 7b-11) to the coming of the Spirit (Paraclete). These verses have proven to be the most difficult to interpret of all the Paraclete-sayings, and among the most difficult portions of the Last Discourse as a whole. For this reason, I discuss vv. 7b-11 in detail through a set of supplemental (exegetical) daily notes.

As noted above, the Paraclete-saying must be understood in the immediate context of Jesus’ impending departure (back to the Father), vv. 4b-6. Because Jesus will no longer be physically present with the disciples, his continued presence must be spiritual—realized through the Spirit. In this regard, Jesus declares in v. 7 that it is actually beneficial for the disciples that he leaves them (physically):

“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away; for, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you…”

The verb sumfe/rw literally means “bear together”; in English idiom, we might say, things “come together” for a person’s advantage, suggesting a convergence of beneficial circumstances. Jesus will be able to minister to believers, in perpetuity, through the Spirit, in ways that he simply could not do within the limited scope of his earthly ministry. And, indeed, his departure (back to the Father) is required for the coming of the Spirit:

“…but if I (do) travel (off), I will send him toward you.”

The Spirit comes from God the Father, and Jesus (the Son) must request and receive the Spirit from the Father so as to be able to send it along to the disciples (and other believers). Verse 7 here continues the progression of the prior sayings in this regard (note the shift of focus from the Father to the Son):

    • The Father gives the Spirit, at Jesus’ request (14:16)
      • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
        • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26)
          • Jesus (the Son) sends the Spirit (16:7b)

Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is clearly indicated (or alluded to) that Jesus gives the Spirit to believers (1:33; 7:37-39, cp. 4:10-15; 6:51, 63; 19:30, [34]; 20:22), even though the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:24; 6:32; 17:8ff).

As in the first and third Paraclete-sayings, the “one called alongside” (para/klhto$) is referred to by the title “the Spirit of truth”. In discussing the third saying (cf. Part 3), I mentioned that here “truth” (a)lh/qeia) refers principally, and most specifically, to the truth about who Jesus is. This Christological emphasis continues here in the final saying. However, the emphasis is expressed in a curious way, especially in comparison to the rather straightforward reference in 15:26 to the Spirit as a witness about (peri/) Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”). Here is how the matter is stated in v. 8:

“and, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about a(marti/a, and about dikaiosu/nh, and about kri/si$.”

I have discussed this verse in a recent note, which I would recommend reading before continuing with this article.

The verb e)le/gxw has the basic meaning of “expose, show (to be wrong)”. The Spirit will show the world (o ( ko/smo$)—that is, the current world-order, dominated by sin and darkness—to be wrong about (peri/) three things in particular:

    • a(marti/a (“sin”) [v. 9, note]
    • dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness”) [v. 10, note]
    • kri/si$ (“judgment”) [v. 11, note]

As the parallel with 15:26 suggests, the Spirit’s witness “about” (peri/) these things is fundamentally Christological—that is, it relates to, and is defined by, the witness about Jesus (“about me”). This is expounded in vv. 9-11, where the Spirit’s role in relation to each of the three terms of the triad in v. 8 is explained. I have discussed these verses in detail in the supplemental notes (cf. the links above), so I will be giving only a summary of that analysis here.

    • a(marti/a (“sin”)Sin is defined, not as the world understands it, in a conventional ethical-religious sense, but principally in terms of trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus. From the Johannine theological standpoint, the great (and unforgivable) sin, of which the “world” is guilty, is an unwillingness to trust in Jesus as the Son of God.
    • dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness”)—Again, true righteousness is not as the world understands or realizes it, but defined entirely by the righteousness of God (the Father) Himself, which is shared by, and manifest in, the person of the Son (Jesus). This righteousness follows the Son, in his exaltation and return to the Father, being otherwise invisible and hidden to the world. Only through the Spirit is this righteousness (of Father and Son) manifest, to believers.
    • kri/si$ (“judgment”)—The world also fails to understand the true nature of God’s judgment, in two main respects: (1) it is not limited to a future time, but is realized in the present; and (2) one experiences judgment based on whether one trusts and accepts the witness of who Jesus is. Those who trust in Jesus have already passed through the Judgment, while those who do not trust have, in a sense, already been judged (and condemned). Jesus may seem himself to have been judged by the world, under its authority, through his suffering and death; however, in reality, it is the world and its “Chief” (the Devil) that have been judged.

This witness by the Spirit, though it shows the world to be wrong, is directed primarily to the disciples (and other believers). This is clear from what follows in verses 12-15 (cf. the recent note). The theme of the Spirit’s teaching role is brought back into focus, from the earlier saying in 14:25-26 (cf. Part 2). The Spirit will continue Jesus’ role as teacher, continuing to teach believers (v. 12). The title “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]” is particularly significant here, as Jesus declares that the Spirit with lead believers on the way [vb o(dhge/w] “in all the truth” (e)n th=| a)lhqei/a| pa/sh|). This association between the Spirit and truth reflects an important Johannine theme; indeed, the author of 1 John goes so far as to declare that “the Spirit is the truth” (5:6).

On the one hand, the Spirit becomes an additional link in the chain of relation: Father-Son-Believers. The Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives to believers. He gives the Spirit to believers, and then, through the Spirit, he continues to give to believers. Thus, he gives the Spirit the words to speak, and the Spirit speaks, in Jesus’ name and on his behalf, to believers. This continues an important Johannine theme regarding the Son speaking the words of the Father (cf. the references in the supplemental note on vv. 12-15). The Son speaks only the words which he hears, and is given, by the Father. Jesus responds as a dutiful son, following his father’s example—he says (and does) what he hears (and sees) the Father saying (and doing).

At the same time, the Son (Jesus) is personally present with (and within) believers through the Spirit. It is truly he who speaks in and among believers. In this way, Jesus is able to continue teaching believers, as he still has “many (thing)s” to speak. Some commentators would limit this dynamic, applying it only to the original disciples. However, in my view, such a restriction distorts the message of the Last Discourse as a whole, and would contradict the thrust of the Johannine theology. In 1 John 2:20, 27, for example, which will be discussed in the next article of this series, it is rather clearly expressed that the Spirit continues to teach believers. This is an important aspect of Johannine spiritualism, and it will be explored further, and in considerable detail, in the studies on 1 John.

In verses 14-15, the Paraclete-sayings reach their theological (and Christological) conclusion, restating several fundamental Johannine themes. First, there is the contextual theme (in v. 14) relating to the exaltation of Jesus, utilizing the key-verb doca/zw (“show/give honor”). The “lifting up” and honoring of Jesus begins with his Passion (12:23, 28; 13:31-32; 17:1) and concludes with his receiving of the Spirit to give/send to believers. This entire process of exaltation, as expressed in the Johannine Gospel narrative, is characterized by the verb doca/zw (cf. 7:39; 12:16).

Second, the exaltation of Jesus is part of a more fundamental (and essential) dynamic relationship between Father and Son (on the use of doca/zw in this context, cf. 8:54; 14:13; 15:8; 17:1, 4-5). As noted above, the Spirit now becomes part of the fundamental chain of relation: the Father gives to the Son, who then gives to the Spirit, and the Spirit, in turn, now gives to believers.

Finally, the climactic verse 15 summarizes the core Johannine theological-Christological message (cf. especially 13:34-35; 17:7ff). As the Son sent to earth by God the Father, Jesus receives “all things” from the Father, so that he is able to give them, in turn, to believers. The Spirit is the foremost of what the Father gives to the Son, and which also the Son gives to believers. Through the Spirit, the Son will continue to give to believers. The focus is principally on Jesus’ words, his teaching, that he gives to believers; however, the theological formulation of the statement in v. 15 is more comprehensive than that. The Spirit receives from that which belongs to the Son—from the “all things” that the Father gives to the Son.

As a last point, the thematic emphasis of the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 is also foreshadowed here, with an allusion to the unity between Father and Son: “all (thing)s, as (many) as the Father holds, are mine…”. In the Father’s giving to the Son, the Son shares in what belongs to the Father. Similarly, there is an allusion to believers’ unity with the Son (and the Father), since, through the Spirit, we (as believers) come to share in the things that belong to the Son. We must, however, emphasize again here that the communication of this to us takes place through the idiom of speaking and witnessing. The Spirit receives from what belongs to the Son and gives it forth as a message (vb a)nagge/llw) to us. The verbal aspect of this spiritual witness remains prominent throughout the Johannine writings, and is central to the Johannine spiritualism.

In the next article of this series, we shall begin to examine how the Johannine beliefs regarding the Spirit, as expressed in the Gospel, were realized in the wider Community. For this, we turn to the Johannine Letters, especially the work known as 1 John.

May 18: John 16:12ff

John 16:12-15

The Paraclete-saying in vv. 8-11 (discussed in the previous notes) continues in verses 12-15. Some commentators would treat these as two distinct units, however I prefer to consider vv. 7b-15 as a single Paraclete-unit. The main reason is that, in the prior three sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27), the statement on the coming of the “one called alongside” (para/klhto$) is followed by a reference to the parákl¢tos as “the Spirit of truth” (or “the holy Spirit”). Here, the parákl¢tos is called the “Spirit of truth” in verse 12, which strongly indicates that vv. 12-15 represents a continuation of the saying in vv. 7b-11, and that vv. 7b-15 constitutes a single saying, albeit expanded and more complex, according to the pattern in the Last Discourse.

The Spirit’s role and function was described in vv. 8-11: he will expose the world (o( ko/smo$), showing it to be wrong; this is fundamental meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, as previously discussed. The Spirit will show the world to be wrong on three points, each of which was discussed in some detail in the prior notes: (1) about “sin” (a(marti/a, note), (2) about “right[eous]ness” (dikaiosu/nh, note), and (3) about “judgment” (kri/si$, note). That the Spirit’s witness is aimed primarily at the disciples (believers), rather than directed at the world, is indicated by what follows in vv. 12-15. The world’s understanding of sin, righteous, and judgment is shown to be wrong, mainly for the benefit of believers. At the same time, believers (esp. the disciples) give witness toward the world, and the Spirit’s witness enables and guides them in this mission (cp. the Synoptic tradition in Mark 13:9-13 par, and throughout the book of Acts).

Thus it is that in vv. 12-15 the focus shifts back to the teaching function of the Spirit, emphasized in the second Paraclete-saying (14:25-26), an emphasis that is also reflected in the third saying (15:26f). In the articles on those sayings, I brought out the important point that the Spirit continues the mission of Jesus with his disciples (and future believers), and that Jesus is present, in and among believers, through the Spirit, continuing to speak and teach. This aspect of the Paraclete’s role is made particularly clear here in vv. 12ff, where Jesus begins:

“I have yet many (thing)s to relate to you, but you are not able to bear (them) now”

The verb he uses is basta/zw, which has the basic meaning of lifting something up and holding/supporting it. The disciples’ inability to “bear” Jesus’ teaching means that they are not yet ready to hear and understand what he has to say. The failure of the disciples to understand during the Last Discourse (e.g., 14:5, 8, 22) is part of a wider misunderstanding-motif that features throughout the Johannine Discourses. Jesus’ hearers are unable to understand the true and deeper meaning of his words. Only after the disciples have received the Spirit, will they be able to understand. Jesus still has “many (thing)s” to tell them, and he will communicate this further teaching through the Spirit:

“…but when that (one) should come, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you on the way in all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but (rather), as many (thing)s as he hears, he will speak, and the(se) coming (thing)s he will give forth as a message to you.” (v. 13)

The statement that the Spirit will guide believers “in all truth” corresponds to the claim  that the Spirit will teach them “all things”. In this regard, the identification of the Spirit-Paraclete by the title “the Spirit of truth” is particularly significant. The author of 1 John would take the connection a step further, declaring that the Spirit is the truth (5:6). For more on the expression “Spirit of truth,” cf. the article on the first Paraclete-saying.

Some commentators would limit these Paraclete-sayings in application to the original disciples, but such a restriction runs counter to the overall thrust of the Last Discourse, as well as to the Johannine theological-spiritual understanding. The Spirit continues to teach believers “all things”, as is clear from 1 Jn 2:20, 27 (to be discussed in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”). The focus in the narrative is, however, primarily upon the original disciples of Jesus, who are the first believers to receive the Spirit and to continue Jesus’ mission on earth.

The (correlative) neuter plural pronoun o%sa (“as many [thing]s as”) relates back to the neuter plural adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”) in v. 12. The Spirit will hear the “many (thing)s” that Jesus has to say to believers, and will then speak them, on Jesus’ behalf; effectively, Jesus will be speaking through the Spirit, even as he will be present alongside believers through the Spirit. Interestingly, the statement in v. 12 (cf. above) seems, on the surface, to contradict what Jesus said in 14:30; note the formal similarity in expression:

    • not yet [ou)ke/ti] many (thing)s [polla/] will I speak [lalh/sw] with/to you” (14:30)
    • “yet [e&ti] many (thing)s [polla/] I have to say [le/gein] to you” (16:12)

This is another example of double-meaning in the Johannine discourses—where Jesus’ words can be understood on two different levels, or in two different ways. On the one hand, Jesus will not yet speak “many things” to his disciples, since he will not be present with them (on earth) much longer; but, on the other hand, he will yet say “many things” to them through the Spirit.

This chain of relation, between the Son (Jesus) and the Spirit, is given in verse 14, expressed very much in the Johannine theological idiom:

“That (one) will show me honor, (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”

The Spirit receives the words from Jesus, and gives them along to believers. This corresponds to the relationship between Father and Son, whereby the Son (Jesus) receives from the Father, and then gives it, in turn, to believers. The Spirit represents, in one sense, a further link in this chain; at the same time, Jesus himself is manifest in the Spirit, just as the Father is personally manifest in him (the Son). An important emphasis throughout the Gospel is how Jesus speaks the words he receives from the Father; in this regard, he is functioning as a dutiful son learning from his father and following the father’s example—i.e., the Son says (and does) what he hears (and sees) the Father saying (and doing). On this important theme, see esp. 3:31-34; 5:19ff, 30ff; 7:17-18; 8:26, 28, 38ff; 12:49f; 14:10; 15:15; 17:8, 14.

The Son speaks only what he hears from the Father; similarly, the Spirit speaks only what he hears from the Son. The precise expression is that he will receive “out [i.e. from] of th(at which is) mine” (e)k tou= e)mou=). Since the Father has given “all things” to the Son (3:35; 17:7, etc), the words of God which the Spirit receives come from the Son, and belong to him. In my view, the neuter plural participle (verbal noun) ta\ e)rxo/mena (“the coming [thing]s”) in v. 13 refers, not to news of future events, but simply to the words/teachings that are “coming” to the Spirit from the Son (the verb e&rxomai tends to have this Christological focus in the Gospel of John). The neuter plural has a general and comprehensive meaning, corresponding to the plural adjective poll/a (“all things”) in v. 12 (cf. above).

The disciples’ receiving of the Spirit marks the final stage of Jesus’ exaltation. The process of the Son being honored (vb doca/zw), which began with his Passion (cf. 12:23, 28), culminates in his receiving the Spirit from the Father to give to believers. The entire narrative of exaltation, from Jesus’ earthly suffering to communicating the Spirit from heaven, is characterized by the verb doca/zw (cf. 7:39; 12:16, etc).

“All (thing)s [pa/nta], as many as [o%sa] the Father holds, are mine; through this [i.e. for this reason] I said that he receives out of th(at which is) mine and will give (it) forth as a message to you.” (v. 15)

Verse 15 summarizes the theological message of the passage, stating quite clearly the key points of the Johannine theology which I have noted above. The neuter plural adjective pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) corresponds to the polla/ (“many [thing]s”) in v. 12, and the (correlative) neuter plural pronoun o%sa (“as many [thing]s as”) is repeated from v. 13. The adjective pa=$ (“all, every”) plays an important theological role in the Gospel; special attention should be given to other occurrences of the neuter (“every [thing], all [thing]s”)—cf. 1:3; 3:31, 35; 5:20; 6:37, 39; 10:4; 14:26; 16:30; 17:2, 7, 10; 18:4; 19:28.

May 15: John 16:11

John 16:11

In verse 11, we have the third (and final) item of the triad in the Paraclete-saying of v. 8:

“that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about judgment [kri/si$]”

In the previous notes on v. 9 and 10, two key points were established: (1) the Spirit will show the world to be wrong in its understanding (of sin and righteousness), and that (2) the true nature of sin and righteousness is to be understood in Christological terms—that is, in relation to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father. The same two points apply to the final statement regarding judgment (kri/si$).

The noun kri/si$ fundamentally refers to a separation, often in the sense of discerning or making a decision about something. It is typically translated “judgment”, either in this general sense, or within the specific legal-judicial context of a decision rendered in a court of law (by a judge). For the most part, in the Gospel of John, as throughout the New Testament, kri/si$ specifically refers to the coming end-time (eschatological) Judgment, when God will judge the world, punishing humankind for its wickedness.

The noun occurs 11 times in the Gospel (out of 47 NT occurrences), and once in 1 John (4:17); the related verb (kri/nw) occurs 19 times in the Gospel, but not in the Letters. Occasionally, the more general sense of judgment is intended (cf. 7:24), or kri/si$/kri/nw is used in an ordinary legal-judicial context (7:51; 18:31); however, as noted above, primarily the reference is to the coming end-time Judgment (see esp. 5:29-30; 12:31, 48; 1 Jn 4:17).

Even though the eschatological context is primary, this is presented in a very distinctive way in the Gospel Discourses. At several points, we find signs of what is called “realized” eschatology—that is, the idea that end-time events, such as the resurrection and the Last Judgment, are understood as having, in a sense, already occurred, being realized in the present. This does not mean that the Gospel writer (or Jesus as the speaker) denies a future fulfillment, but only affirms that it is also fulfilled in the present. This is seen most clearly in the chapter 5 Discourse, where the resurrection is defined, not simply as a future event, but as realized in the present, through the presence of the Son of God (Jesus)—vv. 25ff; cp. 11:25-26. In terms of salvation from the coming Judgment, this is realized for believers (in the present), through their/our trust in Jesus:

“the (one) hearing my word, and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over, out of death, (and) into life.” (5:24)

If believers are saved from judgment in the present, through trust, then unbelievers correspondingly come under God’s judgment, having the judgment (already) passed against them (in the present), through their lack of trust. The key passage alluding to this is 3:19-21; cf. also 9:41; 15:22-24. In the wider Gospel tradition, the end-time period of distress, seen as the beginnings of the Judgment, commences with the suffering and death of Jesus (see, e.g., Mark 14:38-41 par, and the context of the “Eschatological Discourse” [chap. 13 par]). The Johannine tradition evinces the same basic eschatological view, and this is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 12:31, and is strongly implied throughout the Last Discourse.

The explanation of the Paraclete-saying in v. 8 concludes with the words of Jesus in v. 11:

“…and about judgment, (in) that the Chief of this world has been judged”

The perfect tense of the verb kri/nw (ke/kritai, passive, “he has been judged”) indicates a past event, the effect of which continues in the present. The implication is that the “chief of this world” has already been judged, just as believers have already passed through [perfect form of the vb metabai/nw] the Judgment (5:24, cf. above).

The expression “the chief of this world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou tou=tou) occurred earlier the 12:31 declaration:

“Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the Chief of this world shall be cast out!”

The idea expressed is very close to that here in v. 11: “shall be cast out” (future tense) is parallel with “has been judged” (perfect tense). Essentially the same expression was used earlier in the Last Discourse, at the close of the first discourse (14:30f):

“Not much more shall I speak with you, for the Chief of the world comes, and he does not hold anything on me, but (this is so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and, just as He laid on me (a duty) to complete, so I do (it).”

This is a rather complicated way for Jesus to refer to his impending suffering (and death). The approach of the “Chief of the world” signifies the world’s role, under the dominion of its “Chief”, in putting Jesus to death. The point is strongly made that this does not mean that the world (or its Chief) has any power over Jesus, or has anything incriminating on him (deserving of death)—cf. Jesus’ words to Pilate in 19:11, and note the emphasis in 10:18. In his own way, Pilate is one of the world’s “chiefs”, though ultimately subservient to the dominion/control of its main Chief (the Devil). Jesus’ suffering and death will happen so that everyone (“the world,” in a more generic sense) will know of the love between Father and Son, and that the Son (Jesus) is simply fulfilling the duty and mission given to him by the Father.

In speaking of the “coming” of the world’s Chief, coinciding with the onset of Jesus’ Passion, one is reminded of the Synoptic Garden scene, when Jesus announces to his close disciples that “the hour (has) come [h@lqen h( w%ra]” (Mark 14:41 par; cp. Jn 12:23, 27 in connection with v. 31). In the Lukan version (22:53), this declaration is given more vivid and personal form:

“…but this is your hour, and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness”

In many ways, this language approaches the Johannine theme of the world’s opposition to Jesus; the plural “you” essentially refers to those people, hostile to Jesus, who belong to the current world-order (ko/smo$) of darkness and evil. Functionally, they are servants of the Devil, the “Chief” of the world.

According to the world’s view of things, Jesus was judged and punished by the world’s authority; yet this view of judgment (kri/si$) is decidedly wrong. Jesus’ suffering and death actually marks the beginning of his exaltation—of his being “lifted up” (as the Son of God) in glory. While it might appear as though Jesus was judged, it was actually the world (and its Chief) that underwent judgment. This is the true nature of judgment that the Spirit will bring to light, exposing the false understanding of the world. Jesus himself declared the true situation at the close of the Last Discourse (16:33):

“…in the world you have distress, but you must take courage, (for) I have been victorious (over) the world!”

Again a perfect tense form (neni/khka, “I have been victorious”) shows how the future (eschatological) event of the Judgment is realized in the present. That Jesus’ victory over the world includes the “Chief of the world” —something already alluded to in 12:31—is confirmed by the author of 1 John:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [i.e. appear on earth], that he should dissolve [i.e. destroy] the works of the {Devil}.” (3:8)

The mission of the Son on earth, culminating in his death, had the purpose (and effect) of destroying the ‘works’ (implying dominion/control) of the Devil. This is another way of stating that, with the death of Jesus, the “Chief of the world” has been judged.

Another way that the world is wrong about judgment relates to the future expectation of the end-time (Last) Judgment. The conventional religious view was that only at the end time, in the future (however immediate or far off), would God judge the world—judging human beings for their ethical and religious behavior. In two respects, the Gospel of John presents a very different perspective on the great Judgment: (1) the Judgment is effectively realized in the present, based on whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the Son of God), and (2) people are judged ultimately, and principally, on their response to the witness regarding Jesus identity (as the Son). This ‘realized’ eschatological emphasis in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel) was discussed above, but it is worth mentioning again here. Point (2) has already been addressed in the prior notes (on v. 9 and 10), but, in this regard, the Christological emphasis of the Paraclete-saying cannot be overstated.

In the next daily note, our analysis of vv. 8-11 will be summarized, along with some exegetical comments on the following vv. 12-15.

May 13: John 16:10

John 16:10

Verse 10 highlights the second noun of the triad in v. 8 (cf. the prior note)—dikaiosu/nh:

“and that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about dikaiosu/nh…”

On the contextual meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, here translated as “show (to be wrong)”, cf. the prior note.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about dikaiosu/nh. This noun literally means “right-ness”, the closest approximation for which in English is “righteousness”, though in certain instances “justice” is perhaps a more appropriate translation. The noun is relatively rare in the Johannine writings; it occurs only here (vv. 8, 10) in the Gospel, and three times in 1 John.

The usage in 1 John may help to elucidate the meaning of the word in the Gospel. The context within the statements of 2:29, 3:7 and 10 is very similar:

“If you have seen that He is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (the) you know also that every (one) doing right(eous)ness [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be born out of Him.” [2:29]
“(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray: the (one) doing right(eous)ness is right(eous), just as that (One) is right(eous).” [3:7]
“In this is made to shine forth the offspring of God and the offspring of the {Devil}: every (one) not doing right(eous)ness is not out of God…” [3:10]

Righteousness is clearly related to the characteristic of God the Father as righteous (di/kaio$), an attribute that is also shared by the Son (Jesus), cf. 1:9; 2:1. Believers who are united with the Son (and thus also the Father) through the Spirit, likewise share this characteristic. And so, they will do what is right, following the example of Jesus (and of God the Father). In so doing, they will demonstrate that they have been ‘born’ of God.

This strong theological usage, within the Johannine idiom, informs the use of dikaiosu/nh here in the Paraclete saying (16:8): “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit] will show the world (to be wrong) about right(eous)ness [peri\ dikaiosu/nh$]”. Jesus expounds what is meant by this in verse 10:

“…and about right(eous)ness, (in) that I lead (myself) under toward the Father and not any (more) do you look at me”

On the surface, Jesus simply re-states what he has been saying throughout the Last Discourse—that he will soon be going away, back to the Father. This is most frequently expressed by the verb u(pa/gw, which literally means something like “lead (oneself) under,” i.e., going ‘undercover,’ disappearing, often used in the more general sense of “go away, go back”. It occurs quite often in the Gospel of John (32 times out of 79 NT occurrences), where it typically is used, by Jesus, to refer to his departure back to the Father. Properly construed, this ‘going away’ is part of the process of Jesus’ exaltation, of his being “lifted up” —a process that begins with his death, and ends with his return to the Father. The references to Jesus’ departure have a dual-meaning in the Last Discourse, referring to both ends of that spectrum.

The verb qewre/w, one of several key verbs in the Gospel expressing the idea of seeing, also has a double-meaning. It denotes “looking (closely) at” something (or someone), and occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences). Theologically it can signify seeing Jesus, in the sense of recognizing his true identity (as the Son sent by the Father), cf. 12:45, etc; yet, it also can refer to simple (physical) sight. Throughout the Last Discourse, there is conceptual wordplay between both of these meanings, and, not coincidentally, the references relate contextually to the Paraclete-sayings—14:17, 19; 16:16-17, 19. Here, qewre/w refers principally to the idea that Jesus will no longer be visible to the disciples, because he will no longer be physically present with them.

The context of the Spirit’s witness against the world here makes the similar language in 14:19 quite relevant:

“Yet a little (longer), and the world will not look at [qewrei=] me any (more); but you will look at [qewrei=te] me, (and in) that I live, you also shall live.”

Jesus seems to be alluding to his resurrection (and return to the disciples) after his death, when people will (for a time) not see him. However, the theological meaning of qewre/w is also prevalent—i.e., the “world” will not see Jesus (especially in his death) for who he truly is, the Son of God; but the disciples will recognize and trust in him.

This brings us to the statement in 16:10, which has always been something of a puzzle. Commentators have found difficulty in explaining how Jesus’ explanation relates to the Paraclete saying. How does the Spirit show the world to be wrong about righteousness specifically because (o%ti) Jesus departs to the Father (and the disciples can no longer see him)?

In the previous note (on v. 9), I mentioned how the Spirit’s role in exposing (vb e)le/gxw) the world “about sin”, refers, not only to the world’s actual sin (of unbelief), but to its understanding of the nature of sin. As I have discussed, in the Johannine writings sin refers principally to the great sin of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus, of not recognizing his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. I would argue that the nature of righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) has a similarly Christological orientation in the Johannine writings.

This would seem to be confirmed by the references in 1 John, discussed above. Jesus (the Son) is righteous (di/kaio$), just as the Father is righteous—he shares the same attribute with the Father. True righteousness, thus, is not as the world understands it—in conventional ethical and religious terms—but, rather, in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son, who manifests and embodies the truth of the Father. Thus, the emphasis here in v. 10—as, indeed, it is throughout the Last Discourse—is on Jesus’ return to the Father. His return, to his heavenly/eternal place of origin, provides the ultimate confirmation of his identity as the Son (and Righteous One) of God.

It is also possible that there is an allusion here to a ‘false’ righteousness possessed (and valued) by the world, which corresponds precisely with their great sin (of unbelief). In this regard, it is worth noting several instances in the LXX and NT, where dikaiosu/nh is used in a negative sense, or where such is implied—Isa 64:6; Dan 9:18; Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:6-9; one may also mention the implicit contrast between the righteousness of the “scribes and Pharisees” and that of Jesus’ faithful disciples (Matt 5:20). Cf. the article by D. A. Carson, “The Function of the Paraclete in John 16.7-11”, Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 98 (1979), pp. 547-66 [esp. 558-60].

It is fair to say that the Spirit will both prove the world to be wrong in its understanding of true righteousness, and will expose the false righteousness that it holds. The connection with the disciples not being able to see Jesus—meaning Jesus will no longer be present alongside them physically—may be intended, in a subtle way, to emphasize the invisible nature of true righteousness. It is hidden to the world, and to people at large, since it is manifest principally through the Spirit. Only true believers can participate in this righteousness, through spiritual union with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. The effect and evidence of righteousness may be visible to all (cp. the saying in 3:8), but its true nature is invisible, being spiritual in nature, just as God Himself is Spirit (4:23).