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.

May 23: 1 John 1:2

1 John 1:2

Much of the syntactical awkwardness of the 1 John prologue (1:1-4) is due to the parenthetical clauses in verse 2. As indicated in the previous note, verse 3 picks up the main line of syntax from verse 1, with its repeated relative phrases (modifying the initial phrase). As a parenthesis, verse 2 is expository, expounding the significance of the expression “the word of life” (o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$) at the close of verse 1. The subject of verse 2 is “the life” (h( zwh/):

“and th(is) life was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh], and we have seen and give witness and give forth as a message to you th(is) life of the age(s) [i.e. eternal life], which was toward the Father, and was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh] to us”

The parallel use of the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) brackets the statement. This verb is something of a Johannine keyword, occurring nine times each in the Gospel and First Letter. As applied to Jesus, it refers to his public appearance on earth, alluding both to the incarnation of the Logos (1:14ff, cf. verse 31) and to Jesus’ earthly ministry with his disciples. One may understand the passive voice in these instances as an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. In the Johannine theological idiom, this is otherwise expressed by the idea of God the Father sending the Son (Jesus) to earth.

The Logos was made to shine forth (on earth), but also specifically “to us” —that is, to believers, beginning with the first disciples (the implied eyewitnesses in verse 1). The same implication is repeated here in verse 2: “we have seen” (e(wra/kamen). In the Johannine Gospel, the motif of seeing has Christological significance—it signifies recognizing who Jesus is (i.e., the Son sent by the Father) and trusting in him.

Believers, from the first disciples to the present (when the author is writing), both “give witness” (vb marture/w) to Jesus and declare the message (vb a)pagge/llw) of who he is (and of what he has said and done, cf. verse 5ff). These two verbs are also part of the Johannine idiom, playing an important role in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse. The Spirit as a witness is specifically emphasized in the third saying (15:26-27), and is indicated again in the final saying(s) (16:7b-11ff). The only other Johannine use of a)pagge/llw (“give forth a message”) occurs in 16:25, where the reference is to Jesus (the Son) communicating the truth to believers “about the Father”; however, the parallel verb a)nagge/llw, which has nearly identical meaning, features prominently in the final Paraclete-saying (16:13-15), and is also used here in 1 Jn 1:5.

The implication of this vocabulary analysis is that the terminology, which applies here to the witness of believers to the truth of Jesus’ identity, is closely tied to the Johannine view of the Spirit’s witness. Indeed, in the third Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the Spirit and the disciples (believers) work together as a witness—the Spirit bears witness to believers, who, in turn, give witness of the truth to others in the world (see esp. 17:18-21).

For this reason, I believe it is proper to find here in the prologue to 1 John a certain indirect allusion to the Spirit. This is confirmed, I think, by the use of the expression “the word of life,” when understood within the Johannine theological idiom—especially as expressed in the Gospel Discourses. An important component of this theology is the idea that Jesus (the Son) is said to give the Spirit to believers, and also to give life to them. On the specific motif of giving life (zwh/, which means Divine/Eternal Life), cf. 5:21ff; 6:27ff, 57; 10:28; 17:2-3, with many other clear allusions, tied to trusting/following Jesus (3:15-16, 36; 5:39-40; 8:12; 10:10ff; 11:25), including the important theological statement in the Prologue (1:4; cp. 14:6). Jesus’ giving of the Spirit brackets (and informs) the entire Gospel narrative (1:33; 19:30/20:22), is implied in 3:34, and features prominently in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7bff). The two motifs of life and Spirit are combined in the image of the “living water” that Jesus gives (4:10-15; 7:37-39).

The wording of Jesus’ famous saying in Jn 6:63 seems especially relevant in this regard (cf. the earlier study on this verse):

“The Spirit is the (thing) making alive [vb zwopoie/w], the flesh is not useful (for) anything; the words [r(h/mata] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life [zwh/].”

The close association of the Spirit with both word and life makes an allusion to the Spirit in 1 Jn 1:1-2 all the more likely. The plural r(h/mata (lit. “utterances”) is used in Jesus’ saying, rather than the singular lo/go$, which means that the reference is to the message (words/teaching) that Jesus speaks to believers, rather than to his own person (as the Logos). Even so, this is one of the three aspects of the meaning of lo/go$ here in 1:1, as I explained in the previous note; the point is confirmed by the context of what immediately follows the prologue in verse 5.

By communicating the Spirit to believers, Jesus gives life to them/us—and, indeed, gives the Divine source of that (eternal) life, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). According to the Gospel tradition and narrative (20:22), the first disciples received the Spirit through the (meta)physical presence of the resurrected Jesus; for all other believers, this same takes place as a result of our trust, having received and accepted the Gospel witness, beginning with the witness of the first disciples (17:20-21, etc; see esp. the important closing statement in 20:29).

It is worth emphasizing again the close relation between the prologue of 1 John and the Gospel Prologue. Of particular theological importance is the essential predication, whereby Jesus is identified with the (pre-existent) Word (lo/go$) and Life (zwh/) of God; if we add to this the attribute of Light (fw=$), introduced in verse 5ff, then all three key Divine attributes from the Prologue (1:1-5ff)—Word, Light, Life—are similarly represented here in 1 John. Jesus is specifically identified with the Word and Life of God, while in verse 5 it is God the Father who is identified as Light; however, there can be no doubt of the Christological significance of the light-motif, with an understanding of Jesus (the Son) manifesting the “true light” (2:8ff), just as we see throughout the Gospel.

Why was the parenthetical statement in verse 2 included with such bold emphasis, so as to contribute to such a noticeably awkward syntax in the prologue? I have to wonder if the emphasis may be tied specifically to the rhetorical purpose and strategy of the author. He seems to out of his way to position both elements of the expression “the word of the life” —the Word and the Life—within a dual-meaning context. As outlined in the previous notes, the two aspects of meaning are: (1) Christological (the person of Jesus), and (2) Evangelistic (the message/traditions about Jesus). This is significant if, as I believe to be the case, the crisis (and the opponents) addressed by the author in 1 John relate to the spiritualism of the Johannine churches. One theory regarding the nature of this crisis is that it involved a tendency to localize the Word and Life of God in the abiding presence of the Spirit, in a way that devalued the importance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. This topic will be discussed in the upcoming articles (on 1 John) in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will conclude our discussion on the prologue, looking specifically at verses 3-4.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: The Paraclete (3)

(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.)

Saying 3: John 15:26-27

Here is a reminder of the structure of the Last Discourse, according to my outline, divided into three distinct discourses (with an introduction and conclusion):

    • 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 third Paraclete-saying occurs the second part of the second discourse (15:1-16:4a). The theme of this discourse I would label as “The Disciples in the World”. Thematically, the two parts of the discourse are

    • Jesus and the Disciples: Illustration of the Vine and Branches (vv. 1-17)
    • The Disciples and the World: Instruction and Exhortation (15:18-16:4a)

The first part emphasizes the union believers have with Jesus, while the second discusses how that union is manifest as believers remain in the world, facing opposition and persecution from the current world-order (ko/smo$). The Instruction/Exhortation in 15:18-16:4a is comprised of three sections:

    • Instruction: The Hatred of the World (15:18-25)
    • Exhortation: The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 26-27)
    • Concluding warning of the coming Persecution (16:1-4a)

The promise of the Spirit (exhortation) is given in the context of a description of the world’s fundamental hatred of believers—a theme that is introduced and stated succinctly in v. 18: “If the world [ko/smo$] hates you, know that it has hated me first, (before) you.” The world’s opposition to believers is rooted in its opposition to Jesus. It is because believers live and act in Jesus’ name, that the world hates them (v. 21). This is important in light of the point made in the prior Paraclete-saying (cf. Part 2), where it is stated that God the Father will send the Spirit in Jesus’ name (“in my name”).

Here is the core Paraclete-saying in v. 26:

“When the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] should come, whom I will send to you (from) alongside [para/] the Father—the Spirit of truth, who travels out (from) alongside the Father—that (one) will give witness [marturh/sei] about me”

As in the first Paraclete-saying (14:17), the “one called alongside” is referred to as the “Spirit of truth”. On this expression, cf. the discussion in Part 1. It only needs to be added that here the motif of truth (a)lh/qeia) relates specifically to the function of the Spirit as a witness (vb marture/w). It means that the Spirit’s witness is true, that the Spirit testifies to the truth. In this case, the truth is fundamentally, and primarily, Christological (cf. below).

In the first two sayings, the Spirit is said to be sent from God the Father; however, here, Jesus says that he will send the Spirit, though the Spirit does ultimately come from the Father. There is a definite progression in these sayings:

    • 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)

The Spirit is “alongside” (para/) the Father, and is called (and sent) to be “alongside” (para/) believers. The Father as the ultimate source of the Spirit is confirmed by the qualifying phrase “who travels out [vb e)kporeu/omai] (from) alongside the Father”. One should not be led astray by later theological debates over this reference (i.e., the so-called Filioque controversy); it must be understood in terms of the Johannine theology and conceptual framework in the Gospel. This theology presents a clear chain of relation: the Father gives the Spirit to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives the Spirit to believers—see, e.g., 3:27, 34-35; 5:21; 6:32, 51, 57; 17:2, 8, 12ff.

We saw that, in the second Paraclete-saying, the function of the Spirit was to teach believers “all things”, and to cause them (esp. the disciples) to remember all the things Jesus’ said and did during his earthly ministry. The function of the Spirit here is further defined as giving witness, fulfilling the role of a witness (ma/rtu$). The noun ma/rtu$ does not occur in the Johannine writings (unless one includes the book of Revelation), but the witness-motif is quite prominent, as is evidenced by the relative frequency with which the related noun marturi/a and verb marture/w are used. The noun marturi/a occurs 14 times in the Gospel, 6 times in 1 John, and once in 3 John—well over half of all NT occurrences (37); the percentage is even higher if one includes the 9 occurrences in Revelation. The verb marture/w occurs 33 times in the Gospel, 6 times in 1 John, 4 in 3 John, which is again (even without counting the 4 in Revelation) more than half of all the NT occurrences.

The emphasis throughout is on bearing witness to the truth of who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. The focus is thus Christological. There are different witnesses, but they all bear witness to the same essential truth. Jesus also serves as a self-witness, his words (and actions) giving testimony about himself. An important point in the Gospel Discourses is how Jesus’ own testimony is confirmed (as true) by these other witnesses (cf. especially 5:31-39; 8:13-19). The greatest confirmation of Jesus’ self-witness, regarding his identity (as the Son), comes from the Father Himself (5:37ff; 8:18ff; 10:25). This same confirming witness will take place through the Spirit, who comes from the Father—he will give further witness about Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”).

We must remember that the role of the Spirit is to be “alongside” believers, giving assistance to them. Thus, this witness of the Spirit relates to the teaching-function (emphasized in 14:26); but it also is tied to the role of the disciples (believers) themselves in continuing Jesus’ mission. This is clear from the continuation of the saying here in v. 27:

“…and you also give witness, (in) that you are with me from (the) beginning.”

The verb form marturei=te is in the present tense, indicating the regular/continual function of the disciples as witnesses, a role that they serve even now (in the present), before the giving of the Spirit to them. It is possible to parse the verb form as an imperative (“you must give witness”), but the indicative is to be preferred; even so, there is little difference in meaning between the two, since being a witness is an essential part of the believer’s duty.

Verse 27 is not to be limited to Jesus’ original disciples, however it does refer primarily to them. They, indeed, are the ones who were “with” Jesus from the beginning. The expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) is theologically charged in the Johannine writings, but here the main focus is on the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (just as it is in 1 John 1:1). Even so, I would contend that there is a deeper Christological allusion here—that is, to the truth of who Jesus is: the pre-existent Son, sent from heaven by God the Father. On the dual-meaning of the expression in the Johannine writings, cf. 8:25; 1 Jn 2:7, 13-14, 24.

The implication is that the Spirit and believers (esp. the disciples) work together in bearing witness about Jesus. Luke-Acts also ties the role of the disciples as witnesses to the (coming) presence of the Spirit (e.g., Lk 24:48-49; Acts 1:8); indeed, the entire early Christian mission is depicted as being empowered and guided by the Spirit (see throughout the book of Acts). A good example of a dual-witness statement, outside of the Johannine writings, is found in Acts 5:32 (cf. Brown, p. 700): “…we are witnesses of these (thing)s, (as) also (is) the holy Spirit which God gave to the (one)s (hav)ing trusted in Him”.

Just as the Father gave the Spirit to the Son (Jesus), empowering him to speak the words of God (cf. 3:27, 31ff, 34-35, etc), so also the Son gives the Spirit to believers, which enables them to speak the words of the Son (which are also the words of the Father). The aspect of prophetic inspiration is also expressed in the famous Synoptic saying in Mark 13:11 par (cp. Matt 10:20; Lk 12:2). That saying shares with the third Paraclete-saying here the context of the persecution of believers (part of the end-time period of distress).

In my view, an emphasis on the (prophetic) inspiration of believers was a fundamental component of Johannine spiritualism, to the point that it was a significant factor in the crisis described by the author of 1 John. In this regard, the second and third Paraclete-sayings are important for a proper understanding of the religious and theological background of 1 John. This will be discussed further in this series, when we come to the important passages in 1 John.

One final point to mention is the legal-judicial connotation of the witness-motif. There is no doubt that the Johannine writings (including the Gospel Discourses) make significant use of this legal-judicial background. The passages where this is expressed most clearly are 5:22-24ff, 30-40 and 8:13-29; but there are numerous other legal-judicial allusions throughout, including several references in the Last Discourse. Some commentators view the judicial aspect as primary for the Paraclete-references; however, in my view, this really only applies to the final saying(s) in 16:7-11ff. These final saying(s) will be examined in Part 4 of this article, along with a set of supplemental daily notes (on vv. 8-11).

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A (1970).

April 22: 1 John 5:9-12

1 John 5:9-12

This note follows up the discussion (yesterday and the day before) on 1 Jn 5:6-8, with a brief examination of the subsequent verses (9-12). Indeed, these verses continue the thought in vv. 6-8 and help us to understand more clearly what the author is saying.

“If we receive the witness [marturi/a] of men, the witness of God is greater; (and it is) that this is the witness of God that He has given witness [memartu/rhken] about His Son.” (v. 9)

The theme of witness continues here; as I discussed in the previous note, this is an important Johannine theme, with the noun marturi/a and verb marture/w serving as important theological keywords in both the Gospel and Letters (also prominent in the book of Revelation). This contrast between human and Divine witnesses also featured in the chapter 5 Discourse in the Gospel (vv. 30-47; see especially in vv. 43-44). The statement there regarding the willingness of people to accept human witnesses is harsher and polemically charged, whereas here it is framed as a simple objective statement, almost certainly with the legal principle of Deut 17:6 in mind (cf. also Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb 10:28). Evidence can be deemed reliable for establishing a legal case if it can be confirmed by two or (especially) three witnesses.

If three human witnesses will confirm the truth, how much more will three Divine witnesses do so—especially since, as v. 9 makes clear, God’s witness is much greater than that of man. This suggests that God’s witness here is to be identified with the three witnesses of vv. 7-8, but most particularly with the Spirit, which ultimately serves to guarantee the truth of the other two witnesses (“water” and “blood”, v. 6). And this witness by God is about (peri/) His Son, confirming the line of interpretation established for vv. 6-8—namely that the three-fold witness is a witness regarding the identity of Jesus, as the Son of God. This is the significance of the witness motif in the Johannine writings.

“The (one) trusting in the Son of God holds [e&xei] th(is) witness in himself, (while) the (one) not trusting in God has made Him (to be) a liar, (in) that he has not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son.” (v. 10)

The repetitive wording is typical of Johannine style, and should not be varied in translation to make for more engaging English. As throughout 1 John, the author presents a stark (dualistic) contrast between the person who trusts in God (i.e., the believer), and one who does not (i.e., the non-believer or ‘false’ believer). The opponents referenced by the author (cf. the discussion in the prior note) are considered by him to be among those who do not trust. Their lack of trust—showing them to be “antichrists” rather than true believers (cf. 2:18-27; 4:1-6)—is evidenced primarily by their false view and teaching regarding Jesus. The author would say about them that they “have not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son”. In particular, they seem to have denied, in some way, the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death; in other words, they do not trust in the witness of the “water” and “blood” that God has given (through the incarnation) declaring the truth about who Jesus is. I will be discussing this in more detail in upcoming notes.

By contrast, the one who truly trusts in Jesus as the Son of God, accepting all three witnesses God has provided, has this three-fold witness abiding within. The literal wording is “he holds [vb e&xw] th(is) witness in himself”. This can only mean that the believer holds the Spirit within; since the witness of the “water” (Jesus’ life) and “blood” (his life-giving death) are united with the Spirit’s witness, and cannot be separated (which is the point of vv. 6-8), the believer also holds the witness of the “water” and “blood” within. We now begin to approach the interpretation of 1:7ff which I offered in the earlier note—namely, that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood is communicated to the believer through the Spirit.

“And this is the witness—that (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life] God (has) given to us, and this life is in His Son.” (v. 11)

The declaration “this is the witness” can be understood two ways. First, the statement that follows in v. 11 represents the substance of what the witness says. The three witnesses—water, blood, and Spirit—all say the same thing, which can be summarized by a two-part theological statement:

    • Part 1: “God has given to us (the) Life of the Age(s)”
    • Part 2: “this Life is in His Son”

The expression “life of the age(s)” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$) is more typically rendered “eternal life”, and, indeed, in the Johannine writings “life” (zwh/) almost always refers to eternal life, in the qualitative (and attributive) sense of the Life which God Himself possesses. The message of the three-fold witness is that God has given us (believers) this Life “in His Son”. There is a comparable theological definition found in the Gospel:

“And this is the Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (17:3)

There are two aspects to the prepositional expression “in [e)n] His Son”. The first is the aspect of trusting in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God). This emphasis on trust is present both in our passage and the corresponding statement of Jn 17:3 (above). However, the more common preposition for trust in Jesus is ei)$ (lit. “into, unto”), and this points to the second aspect, which, in some ways, I think is more prominent here; this second aspect is best expressed by the Johannine idiom of “remaining” (vb me/nw) in Jesus. The believer remains in [e)n] Jesus (the Son), and the Son, in turn, remains in the believer—a unity which is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

Both aspects may be further summarized by the Christological mode of understanding “in His Son” as meaning that the eternal life we hold is based in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And Jesus is personally present in (and among) believers through the Spirit. For more on the association between the Spirit and (eternal) life, see my earlier note on Jn 6:51-58, and the recent articles (on 3:5-8ff, 4:10-15, and 6:63 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”).

“The (one) holding the Son holds th(is) Life, (while) the (one) not holding the Son does not hold the Life.” (v. 12)

This final verse summarizes the thought of vv. 9-11 quite succinctly, repeating the same stark contrast between believer and non-believer from v. 10, and also reiterating the key concept of the believer “holding” (vb e&xw). In light of this context, the idea of “holding” the Son can only refer to the believer “holding” the (three-fold) witness about the Son. The point of contact is obviously the Spirit. The Spirit witnesses about the Son (Jn 15:26, etc), but the Son is also personally present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, by holding the Spirit within (v. 9), the believer also holds the Son within (v. 12). Since (eternal) life comes through the Son, and is communicated (by the Son) through the Spirit, the believer also holds this same life within. This is a fundamental theological premise in the Johannine writings, which is perhaps expressed most concisely in John 6:57.


April 21: 1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

1 John 5:6-8, continued

As I discussed in the previous note, the expression “water and blood” in 1 Jn 5:6 is best understood as referring to Jesus’ human life and sacrificial death, respectively. In my view, “water” signifies specifically Jesus’ birth as a human being, though the majority of commentators would probably associate it with his baptism (marking the beginning of his earthly ministry) instead. In the prior note on 1:7ff, I offered the interpretation that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (i.e., his death) is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Here, however, in 5:6-8, the relation of the Spirit to the “blood” has a somewhat different emphasis. The focus is on the Spirit as a witness (vb marture/w) to the “water and blood”.

The thematic motif of witnessing—noun marturi/a and the verb marture/w—is prominent in the Gospel and Letters of John. The verb occurs more frequently—33 times in the Gospel, 6 in 1 John, and 4 in 3 John (plus another 3 in the book of Revelation); the Johannine instances thus comprise more than half of all NT occurrences (76). The numbers are comparable for the noun marturi/a: 14 in the Gospel, 7 in the Letters, out of 37 NT occurrences; the ratio of Johannine references is even more dominant if one includes the 9 occurrences in the book of Revelation (the related noun ma/rtu$ also occurs 5 times in Revelation).

In the theological context of the Johannine writings, this vocabulary signifies being a witness as to who Jesus is—namely, his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God; the emphasis is thus Christological. In the Gospel, there are a number of different witnesses to Jesus’ identity (see esp. 5:32-39), but it may be said that the witness of the Spirit is most important, being a Divine witness that comes from God Himself (vv. 9-11). Even the human witness of someone like John the Baptist, or the Beloved Disciple, is dependent upon the testimony of the Spirit. This is clear, for example, by the Baptist’s witness in 1:29-34, which depends upon seeing the Spirit descend upon Jesus (vv. 32-33), in accordance with God’s own word; after this, he is able to declare that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 34).

Here in 1 Jn 5:6-8, the focus is upon Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God—that is to say, in relation to his earthly life (“water”) and death (“blood”). How does the Spirit bear witness to the life and death of Jesus? The proper answer would seem to be twofold: the Spirit testifies to (a) the reality of his life and death, and (b) their meaning and significance for humankind. This seems to describe the Spirit’s role as a witness, at least within the first statement in verse 6:

“and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that the Spirit is the truth”

The Spirit is giving witness (present participle, marturou=n) to Jesus’ coming in/through “water and blood”. We can trust that this witness is truthful because the Spirit is the truth. The association of the Spirit with truth (a)lhqei/a) is prominent in the Johannine writings (Jn 4:23-24), primarily through the expression “Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6), for which a comparable expression in Hebrew (tm#a$[h^] j^Wr) is found in the Qumran texts (1QS 3:18-19; 4:21, 23, etc). The Spirit embodies and manifests, in an essential way, the truth of God Himself. The Spirit’s witness is thus God’s own witness about His Son (vv. 9ff).

In verses 7-8, however, the Spirit’s role as a witness is described somewhat differently:

“(For it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are unto the one.”

Here, the Spirit is not witnessing specifically to Jesus’ coming “in water and blood”, but, rather, joins with the water and blood as a three-fold witness to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The expression ei)$ to\ e%n (literally, “into/unto the one [thing]”) indicates that the three witnesses are actually part of a single witness, giving witness to the same thing, and for the same purpose. Jesus’ identity is testified to by: (i) his earthly life (“water”), (ii) his death (“blood”), and (iii) his presence in/through the Spirit.

Regarding the first of these three, it is indicated at various points in the Gospel that both Jesus’ words and his actions (esp. his miracles) serve as a witness to his identity as God’s Son—cf. 3:32; 5:30-36f; 7:16ff; 8:13-19, 28-29; 10:25, 31-38; 11:42. At the same time, his sacrificial death gives unique and definitive testimony to this identity—cf. 3:13-15ff; 6:51-58; 8:28; 10:14-18, 25ff; 12:23-33; 14:19-20. Admittedly, the idea of Jesus’ death as a witness, in this regard, is more subtle, and has to be drawn out of the text with a measure of exposition. However, the idea is expressed clearly enough in 19:34-35, precisely where the image of “blood and water” coming out of Jesus is emphasized. A human being is witness to the appearance of blood and water, but it is the “blood and water” itself that symbolizes—and thus bears witness to—Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by God the Father.

Finally, following Jesus’ exaltation—his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—the Spirit continues to testify to believers regarding who Jesus is (Jn 15:26). Moreover, through the Spirit, Jesus himself continues to be present with believers, and to speak to them, teaching them always. This is fundamental to the ‘Paraclete’ passages in the Last Discourse (14:16-17, 26ff; 15:26; 16:13-14), and is also prominent in 1 John (2:21ff, 27; 3:24; 4:4-6). Perhaps the best explanation for the context of 5:6-8, and its parallel in 4:2 (cf. the discussion in the previous note), is that the “antichrist” opponents referenced in 1-2 John denied (in some way) the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death. They may, I think, have relied more exclusively upon the continuing testimony of the Spirit (cf. above), in the present, rather than upon the past witness of Jesus’ life (and death) in the Gospel tradition.  For the author, however, these are all parts of a single witness, and cannot be separated. This will be discussed further in upcoming notes and articles on 1 John.

For now, we are focusing specifically on the role of the Spirit in 5:6-8, and, in order to gain a full understanding of what the author is saying in these verses, it will be necessary to continue (in the next daily note) with an exposition of vv. 9-12 that follow.

March 28: John 3:31-33

John 3:31c-33

“The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]; what he has seen and heard, (to) this he gives witness, and (yet) his witness no one receives. The (one) receiving his witness (has) sealed that God is true.”

Regardless of whether the words in square brackets are original (cf. the discussion in the previous note), verse 31c syntactically belongs with v. 32f, rather than with v. 31ab. Indeed, the statements in v. 31a & c are parallel and essentially identical:

    • The (one) coming from above is up above all
    • The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]

The expression “out of heaven” (e)k tou= ou)ranou=) has the same meaning as the adverb “from above” (a&nwqen). The prepositional expression, however, forms a more precise contrastive parallel with “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$) in v. 31b.

There is a contrast between the two figures in v. 31ab, whereas in vv. 31c-32 the parallelism is synthetic—that is, the second statement builds upon the first. The same person “coming from heaven” (v. 31c) is described in v. 32f. The point of contrast, rather, is between the descriptions of the one “out of the earth” (31b) and the one “out of heaven” (v. 32). In particular, the contrast involves the way that they speak. The one who is “of the earth” simply speaks (vb lale/w) out of his/her earthly nature (“out of the earth”). By contrast, the one coming “out of heaven” speaks in a heavenly manner, and speaks of heavenly things (cf. verse 12).

This idea of ‘heavenly speaking’ is expressed through the Johannine motif of witness (ma/rtu$/marturi/a). Jesus, as the one coming from heaven, bears witness to the heavenly reality. This is understood primarily in relation to God the Father. Jesus, as the dutiful Son, pays close attention to the Father’s example—everything that he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. This is a fundamental component of the Johannine Christology and portrait of Jesus. The point is made a number of times throughout the Gospel—cf. 1:18; 5:19-20ff, 30-31ff; 6:46; 7:16-18; 8:26, 38, 40ff, 47; 17:8ff.

It is quite likely that the wording in v. 32 continues the thematic contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist (cf. the discussion in the previous note). John and Jesus both bear witness to the Divine truth, testifying to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father. John, however, makes this witness in an “earthly” manner, based on the visionary experience of what he has actually seen and heard through his senses (1:32-34). By contrast, Jesus, having come from the Father in heaven, is a direct witness of God, and his witness is thus heavenly and spiritual in nature. As previously noted, John the Baptist as a witness is a key theme of chapters 1-3, beginning with the prologue (1:6-8).

Jesus gives witness (vb marture/w) to “that which he has seen and heard” (o^ e(w/raken kai\ h&kousen). The wording of this phrase, utilizing the relative (neuter) pronoun, very much reflects the Johannine style and theological idiom. This is clearly illustrated by the opening words of 1 John:

“That which [o^] was from the beginning, which we have seen [o^ a)khko/amen], which we have heard [o^ e(wra/kamen]…about the word [lo/go$] of life” (1:1)

The (Gospel) message, about who Jesus is, is a truthful witness that reflects what Jesus himself manifested to us on earth through his own incarnate person.

The idea that “no one” (ou)dei/$) receives Jesus’ witness is general and categorical, reflecting the basic theme that the “world” (ko/smo$), as a whole, is dominated by darkness and evil, and is unable/unwilling to accept the Divine truth and revelation that Jesus brings from heaven. As is clear from verse 11 earlier in the Discourse, and echoing the foundational statement in the Gospel prologue (1:11), even the most learned and religiously devout among his own people (e.g., Nicodemus) are unable to receive this witness. Indeed, it is not possible to receive it, to “see” the kingdom of God (v. 3), unless one is first “born from above” —that is, born of the Spirit.

The statements here in vv. 32-33 are indeed similar to those in 1:11-12 of the Prologue:

    • “and his witness no one receives [vb lamba/nw]” (v. 32b)
      “and his own (people) did not receive [vb paralamba/nw] him” (v. 11b)
    • “the (one) receiving his witness…” (v. 33a)
      “but as (many) as received him…” (v. 12a)

No one belonging to the world receives his witness, only those belonging to God. Every one belonging to God, who is drawn to the truth (by His Spirit), receives the witness of Jesus (through trust); then, having been born “from above” (i.e., of the Spirit), such a person is able to hear and understand the heavenly witness of Jesus. This recognition by the believer essentially seals the truth (and truthfulness) of God (v. 33b).

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 34, which contains the important Spirit-reference.

March 23: Romans 8:16

Romans 8:16

“The Spirit itself gives witness together with our spirit that we are (the) offspring of God.”

In verse 15 (cf.the previous note), Paul refers to the Spirit within believers as “the spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]” —that is to say, through the Spirit we, as believers, acquire the status of sons (i.e., children) of God. We share this sonship with Jesus himself, as is clear from the parallel in Gal 4:6, where Paul refers to “the Spirit of His Son”. Earlier in our passage (v. 9), Paul uses the expression “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably, as a reference to the Spirit. It is thus the Spirit of Jesus (the Son) even as it is the Spirit of God (the Father), the two sharing the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 15:45 combined with 6:17). In a similar way, through union with Christ, believers also share in this Spirit.

Here, in verse 16, Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit as a witness (ma/rtu$) to our identity as God’s children. He uses the compound verb summarture/w, which means “give witness [marture/w] together with [sun] another”. The ‘other’ witness is our own spirit.

The noun pneu=ma is one of several terms that refer generally to the inner aspect of a human being. Paul uses pneu=ma in this sense in Rom 1:9, and also in 1 Cor 2:11; 5:3-5; 7:34; 14:14-16; 2 Cor 7:1; Gal 6:18; 1 Thess 5:23, and in a few other references as well. There is not always a sharp distinction made between pneu=ma (“spirit”), yuxh/ (“soul”), and nou=$ (“mind”)—all three terms variously reflect overlapping aspects of what Paul elsewhere calls the “inner” (e&sw) person (Rom 7:22; 2 Cor 4:16; also Eph 3:16); and note also the inward/outward contrast in Rom 2:29. Paul’s emphasis on the inward aspect of Christian identity and religious (spiritual) experience is a general indication of his spiritualism.

In Rom 8:23, Paul makes clear that we, as believers, hold the Divine sonship within (e)n) ourselves, through the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul gives us a portrait of how the Spirit of God (and Christ) interacts with our own spirit in vv. 26-27; cf. also the discussion on 1 Cor 2:10-14 in the earlier article in this series. Here the Spirit’s interaction (with our spirit) does two things: (1) it confirms for us that we are, indeed, the sons of God; and, (2) it gives us the authority/ability to declare this, by crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father!” —declaring God to be our Father, in the same manner in which Jesus (the Son) addressed the Father (e.g., Mk 14:36). The second aspect was emphasized in v. 15, the first is the focus here in v. 16.

That is to say, here the Spirit functions as a confirming witness. This dual-witness concept is not unique to Paul, as it seems to have been an important component in early Christian thought. Outside of the Pauline letters, it is particularly emphasized in Luke-Acts and the Johannine writings. In the case of Luke-Acts, the dual-witness motif is part of a broader narrative treatment of the role of the Spirit among early believers, and in the inspired (prophetic) nature of the Gospel proclamation; in particular, we may note the wording in Acts 5:32 and 15:28. In the Johannine Gospel, the Spirit clearly functions in a way that parallels the disciples’ own teaching (which they received from Jesus himself)—cf. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13ff. There are closer parallels to our passage in 1 John, where the Spirit’s witness confirms that Jesus Christ (and his sonship) abides in us, and that we, in turn, are also sons/children of God—cf. 3:24; 4:6, 13. The “witness” motif is particularly prominent in the Johannine writings, and the Spirit is the ultimate witness for believers (Jn 15:26; 1 Jn 5:6-8).

Verse 16 begins with the (neuter) personal pronoun au)to/ (“he/it”), in emphatic position. The neuter case agrees with the noun pneu=ma, and the pronoun is used used here in an emphatic/intensive way—i.e., “the Spirit itself.” This could also be translated “th(is) same Spirit” —that is, the “spirit (of sonship)” mentioned in v. 15, which is also the “Spirit of God” (in v. 14). In other words, the very Spirit of God in us, the Spirit that establishes us as His sons, confirms the truth (for us) that we are, indeed, His children.

In v. 14, Paul used the plural ui(oi/ (“sons”), while here the neuter plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used. There is no real difference in meaning, though te/kna is certainly the more general and inclusive term, which makes clear that the statements in vv. 14-15 apply to all believers—male and female. As previously noted, in the Johannine writings, te/kna is always used of believers (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2), never the noun ui(o/$, which is reserved for Jesus. Paul shares this belief in the uniqueness of Jesus’ Sonship, but is not averse to using the noun ui(o/$ when speaking of believers as God’s children. Through our union with Jesus, who is the Son (and heir) of God, we share in the same Sonship, and thus become, ourselves, sons (and co-heirs) with him; cf. the discussion in Galatians 3-4, and here throughout chapter 8. The point is made more explicit in verse 17, which we will examine in the next daily note.

January 16: John 1:32

John 1:32

In verse 31 (cf. the previous note), the Baptist states that “I had not known him [that is, Jesus].” On the surface, this would simply mean that John was unfamiliar with Jesus, and did not known him personally, prior to his coming forward to be baptized. However, as I have discussed, the terminology of seeing/knowing (here represented by the verb ei&dw, “see”), in the Johannine writings, has special theological meaning. From the standpoint of the Johaninne theology, the Baptist’s statement means that he had not recognized Jesus’ true identity (as the Son of God) before this moment. This Christological awareness applies even more to the context of verse 26, when the Baptist says, of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, that they “have not seen [i.e. known]” who Jesus is: “in your midst has stood (one) whom you have not seen”. The irony in this statement runs deep, since, as repeatedly documented in the Gospel narrative, the Jewish religious leaders refused (or were unable) to acknowledge who Jesus was—the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God. Chapter 9 deals extensively with this special sense of “seeing”.

The tense of the verb in v. 31 is the pluperfect (“I had seen,” h&|dein), used only rarely in the New Testament. The implication is that John had not understood who Jesus was until the present moment. Now he does realize the truth of Jesus’ identity, for it has been revealed to him by God. This is indicated in the remainder of verse 31: “…but (so) that he should be made to shine forth to Israel, through this [i.e. for this purpose] I came dunking in water”. Apparently, John now realizes the purpose of his baptizing ministry: it was to make known the person of Jesus—his identity as the Messiah and Son of God.

In the Gospel Tradition, the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. The core Tradition says virtually nothing of Jesus’ life prior to the baptism. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus’ ministry begins almost immediately after his baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—following a short period of time spent in the desert (Mk 1:12-13 par). Being filled with the Spirit of God (cf. Lk 4:1, 14, 18), Jesus begins to teach and perform healing miracles.

The Johannine account of the Baptism is unusual in that it is presented indirectly, as a narration by the Baptist. Whether this difference is intrinsic to the Johannine tradition, or represents a literary development by the Gospel writer, is difficult to say. For more discussion on such critical questions, consult the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (the Johannine version of the Baptism is treated most extensively in Part 3).

Here is the summary of the Johannine account in verse 32:

“And Yohanan gave witness [e)martu/rhsen], saying that ‘I have looked at [teqe/amai] the Spirit stepping down [katabai=non] as a dove out of heaven, and it remained [e&meinen] upon him’.”

This generally corresponds with the Synoptic narrative, and we can be fairly certain that the Johannine tradition preserved an account of the Baptism that more or less resembled the statement in Mark 1:10 par:

“And, straightaway, stepping up [a)nabai/nwn] out of the water, he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [katabai=non] <upon> him.”
[The Markan version reads “into/unto [ei)$] him”, while Matthew [3:16] has “upon [e)pi] him”, as in the Johannine account]

The two main differences in John’s version are: (a) the event is reported as witnessed by the Baptist, and (b) the verbs, reflecting the distinctive Johannine (theological) vocabulary, that are used in the narration.

(a) The Baptism witnessed by John the Baptist

While this may be part of the underlying Johannine tradition, and rooted in historical tradition, it takes on added meaning in the Gospel context. Its significance is informed by the references to John the Baptist in the Prologue, where the Baptist is described specifically as a witness (marturi/a, vb marture/w) to the Light (vv. 6-9), by which is meant a witness to Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Son of God (v. 15). John the Baptist is the first such witness to Jesus’ true identity, an identity that was revealed to John during the Baptism-event. In the Markan account, it is Jesus who sees and hears the Divine phenomena (descent of the Spirit, voice from Heaven), while Matthew seems to present the phenomena as observable by the wider audience.

The Johannine version certainly departs from the Matthean portrait—the public did not see or hear the heavenly phenomena (a point reinforced by the scene at the close of Jesus’ ministry, in 12:27-30ff). The presence of the Spirit and the voice of God from heaven were witnessed only by John, and it is he who reports them (as a witness) to others. This is of vital importance to the thematic structure of the narrative in 1:19-51.

(b) The Johannine Vocabulary

Four verbs are used in v. 32, and they all have special significance as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary:

1. marture/w (“[give] witness”)—John the Baptist as a witness was emphasized above (cf. verses 6-9, 15 of the Prologue); however, these references are only the first of a considerable number throughout the Gospel. The verb marture/w occurs 33 times in the Gospel of John (compared with just 2 in the Synoptic Gospels combined). In addition, it is used 10 times in the Letters of John, and another 4 in the book of Revelation (1:2; 22:16, 18, 20). In comparison with these 47 Johannine occurrences, the verb occurs just 29 times in the remainder of the New Testament.

The theological meaning of the “witness” is three-fold:

    • Jesus gives witness about himself—i.e., who he is, as Son of God the Father—both through his words and deeds
    • People (believers) give witness about Jesus through their trust in him; others, by contrast, give witness that they are not believers
    • The Spirit will bear witness, continuing the witness of Jesus himself, and will continue working in believers (i.e., their trust and love)

2. qea/omai (“look [closely] at”)—this is one of a number of verbs, used in the Gospel, denoting sight/vision, the others being ei&dw, ble/pw, o(ra/w, and qeore/w. To “see” Jesus, in the theological sense, is to trust in him, recognizing his identity as the Son of God. The verb qea/omai occurs first in the Prologue (v. 14), where this meaning is implied. The context of the Prologue-hymn is the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, by which is meant the birth and life of Jesus on earth. The beginning of his life and ministry is suggested in v. 14, and is certainly indicated in the Baptism scene (cf. above). The verb qea/omai may also allude to the beginning of awareness and understanding (cf. 4:35; 11:45). The full force of the verb, in the context of the Johannine theology, can be seen in 1 Jn 1:1; 4:12, 14.

3. katabai/nw (“step down”)—This is the first occurrence of the verb in the Gospel, which, along with the corresponding a)nabai/nw (“step up”), will be used repeatedly, and almost always with special Christological significance. The verb pair is used in the Synoptic account of the Baptism of Jesus (cf. above), and this important traditional context may well have influenced the Johannine usage. The verbs are used together in 1:51, and then variously, at a number of key points in the Discourses (3:13; 6:33-58, 62, etc). Even when they seem to be used in a simple narrative setting (e.g., of Jesus “going up” to Jerusalem), the theological meaning is doubtless present, at a deeper level, as well. The fundamental significance involves the “descent” (katabai/nw) of the Son from the Father (in heaven), and to his eventual “ascent” (a)nabai/nw) back to Him (20:17).

4. me/nw (“remain”)—The importance of this key verb in the Johannine Gospel can scarcely be overemphasized. It occurs 40 times in the Gospel, and another 27 in the Letters of John—more than half of all NT occurrences (118). It carries a powerful theological meaning, referring at once to the union between God the Father and Jesus (the Son), and between Jesus and believers. Through our trust, we come to “remain” in Jesus, and he “remains” in us—the bond of union being effected (and maintained) through the abiding presence of the Spirit. This idea is expounded by Jesus throughout the Last Discourse, with the verb me/nw occurring 14 times between 14:10 and 15:16, and being especially prominent as part of the Vine illustration in 15:1-3ff.

Here in v. 32, however, there is a difficulty in understanding the precise force of me/nw in the context of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, since the significance of the core Gospel tradition in this regard seems to be at odds with the Christological portrait in the Johannine Gospel. This will be discussed further, along with verse 33, in the next daily note.




February 28: Revelation 22:20-21

Revelation 22:20-21

The concluding words, of the exalted Jesus as a witness (ma/rtu$) to the prophetic message, come now in verse 20a:

“The (one) bearing witness [marturw=n] to these (thing)s says: ‘Yes, I come quickly [taxu/]’.”

To which the author of the book echoes:

“Amen, may you come, Lord Yeshua!” (v. 20b)

This refrain surely expresses the heartfelt desire of believers throughout the years, down to the present day. However, in the context of first-century Christianity, it carries a special significance, due to the nature of the imminent eschatology of early Christians and the profound effect it had on nearly every aspect of their thought. I have discussed the subject at length in these notes, and throughout the wider study series (“Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”). It bears repeating as our examination of the book of Revelation comes to a close. Believers at the time (c. 90 A.D.?) fully expected that they would live to see the events prophesied in the book–the great period of distress, the return of Jesus, and the onset of the Judgment. Indeed, this expectation is made clear all through the book itself, including the final words of 22:20.

Jesus states clearly, and unequivocally, that he is coming “quickly” (taxu/). The adverb taxu/, along with the related expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] speed”), was used to express the widespread belief that Jesus’ return would occur soon (also with the sense of “suddenly”). This language has been used repeatedly, particularly at the beginning and end of the book (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6-7, 12); cf. also Luke 18:8; Rom 16:20, and the discussion in my earlier study on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The Greek e&rxou ku/rie (“may you come, Lord”) reflects an underlying Semitic (Aramaic) expression at* an`r^m* (m¹ranâ tâ), which is preserved transliterated in Greek (mara/na qa/) by Paul at the close of 1 Corinthians (16:22). Indeed, the closing of the book of Revelation (v. 21) resembles that of Paul in a number of his letters (1 Thess 5:28; 1 Cor 16:23; Rom 16:20; also 2 Thess 3:18; Gal 6:18; 2 Cor 13:13; Phil 4:23; Philemon 25), cf. below. Interestingly, Paul also uses the expression “may you come, Lord” (mara/na qa/) in 1 Cor 16:22 directly after a curse-formula, just as here in Revelation (cf. the previous note). The verb form e&rxou is an imperative (“you must come, come!”), but when used to address God (or the exalted Jesus) it is perhaps more fitting to translate it as an exhortation (“may you come”), much as imperatives are typically rendered in a prayer-setting (e.g., in the Lord’s Prayer). In the early Christian writing known as the “Teaching (of the Twelve)”, the Didache, the curse + marana/ qa/ format is used in a eucharistic context (10:6), cp. the reference to Jesus’ return in 1 Cor 11:26.

The final words of the book of Revelation are a benediction, or blessing, quite similar to that used by Paul in his letters, as noted above; the closest examples are in 2 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians:

“(May) the favor of the Lord Yeshua (be) with (you) all” (Rev 22:21)
“(May) the favor of our Lord Yeshua (be) with you all” (2 Thess 3:18)
“(May) the favor of the Lord Yeshua…(be) with you all” (2 Cor 13:13)

This may simply indicate a standard form, commonly used by believers at the time. There are a considerable number of textual variations in v. 21, no doubt reflecting variations in usage of the basic form over time, and preserved by copyists. The absence of the pronoun (u(mw=n, “[with] you”) could be due to the fact that, strictly speaking, the book of Revelation was not written to a specific congregation, but to believers generally, over a wide region. In a very real sense, it was written “to all”, i.e. to all believers.

* * * * * * *

This concludes the series of daily notes on the book of Revelation; however, as a way of summarizing the results of this study, I feel it is important now to deal with certain topics which were left largely unaddressed in the notes. These involve issues regarding the authorship and date of the book, different approaches to interpreting the visions, and application of the eschatology for modern-day Christians. I purposely avoided these issues so as not to detract (and distract) from a careful examination of the text itself. Thus, a short set of supplemental notes will be presented during the upcoming week.

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February 27: Revelation 22:18b-19

Revelation 22:18b-19

The declaration of the truthfulness of the book’s message, as testified formally by the exalted Jesus himself (v. 18a, cf. the previous note), is followed by a curse in vv. 18b-19. Such a “curse” is part of the ancient concept of the binding agreement, which utilized various religious and magical formulae as a way of guaranteeing adherence to the agreement. Quite frequently, deities were called upon as witnesses to the binding agreement, who would, it was thought, punish those who violated the terms of the agreement. Punishment (or “curse”) forms were built into the structure of the agreement, and the description of what would happen if the terms were violated was equally binding.

The exalted Jesus, functioning as God’s witness (1:1, etc), has the power and authority to effect the divine punishment for violating the agreement—which here must be understood in terms of verses 7ff, the expectation that all true and faithful believers will guard the message of the book. Anyone who violates this implicit agreement will face the punishment declared by Jesus in vv. 18b-19:

“If any(one) would set (anything else) upon these (thing)s, God shall set upon him the (thing)s (that will) strike, (those) having been written in this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]; and if any(one) would take (anything) away from the accounts of the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of this foretelling [i.e. prophecy], God shall take away his portion from the tree of life and out of the holy city, (all) the (thing)s having been written in this paper-roll [i.e. scroll].”

This curse-formula follows the ancient lex talionis principle, whereby the punishment matches the nature of the transgression. The violation is two-fold, each part mirroring the other:

    • Violation: Put (anything else) upon [i.e. add to] what is in the book
      Punishment: God will put upon him (same verb, e)piti/qhmi) what is described in the book (i.e. the Judgment on the wicked)
    • Violation: Take (anything) away from what is in the book
      Punishment: God will take away from him (same verb, a)faire/w) what is in the book (i.e. the reward of eternal life for the righteous)

Some commentators would question whether this strictly refers to altering the book itself—its content and text—or if, instead, the primary reference is to faithful observance, etc, of the prophetic message. Certainly, there are examples, both in Greco-Roman and Jewish literature, of warnings given against tampering with a written work, especially one considered to be a sacred text—cf. Epistle of Aristeas 311; Josephus Against Apion 1.42; 1 Enoch 104:10-13; Artemidorus Onirocritica 2.70; Koester, p. 845). However, in this instance, a closer parallel is perhaps to be found in the traditional understanding of adherence to the Torah (the terms of the Covenant between YHWH and Israel), such as expressed in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, etc:

“You shall not add (anything) upon the word that I (have) charged you (to keep), and you shall not shave off (anything) from it (either), (but you are) to guard (the thing)s charged (to you) of [i.e. by] YHWH your God, which (indeed) I have charged (you).” (Deut 4:2)

In the Greek LXX, the verb corresponding to “add upon” (Heb. [s^y` + preposition lu^]) is prosti/qhmi (“set/place toward [i.e. next to]”), which is close to the e)piti/qhmi (“set/place upon”) here in v. 18. The Hebrew “shave off from” (ur^G` + preposition /m!) is translated by the verb a)faire/w (“take [away] from”), just as here in v. 19.

Thus, once again, the book of Revelation draws upon Old Testament tradition, regarding Israel as the people of God (according to the old Covenant), applying it to believers in Christ (in the new Covenant). Just as one who willfully disobeyed or disregarded the Torah could not belong to the true people of God, based on the terms of the old Covenant, so one who similarly disobeyed the inspired message of Revelation’s prophecies could not be part of God’s people (believers) in the new Covenant. Since the message of the visions centered on the need to remain faithful to Jesus during the end-time period of distress, with a clear distinction between those who belong to the Lamb and those who belong to the forces of evil (Dragon and Sea-creature), a true believer would not (and could not) violate this message.

It is also likely that the curse was meant to warn people from tampering with the book itself; if so, I would tend to agree with Koester (p. 858) that this emphasis is secondary. The message, not the text, is primary; and yet, so vital is this message, in the context of the imminent/impending time of distress, that it is to be preserved and transmitted with the utmost care.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout this series, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

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