Saturday Series: John 16:8-9

John 16:8-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Series: John 9:41; 15:22-24

John 9:41; 15:22-24

Last week, we examined the two levels, or aspects, of meaning for the sin word-group (hamartía, vb hamartánœ) in John 9. At the beginning of the episode (vv. 2-3), sin is referenced in the conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs or misdeeds that a person may commit. However, at the conclusion of the narrative (vv. 39-41), the meaning has shifted, to the distinctive Johannine theological understanding of sin as unbelief—a failure/refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God.

A similar kind of dual-meaning applies to the motif of seeing. At the beginning of the episode (vv. 6-7), the blind man receives sight in the ordinary, physical sense (of seeing with his eyes). But at the conclusion (vv. 35-38), he receives sight in the theological (and Christological) sense of trusting in Jesus. The same shift of meaning occurs, naturally enough, for the idea of blindness—i.e., a lack of sight. At the beginning, the blind man has a lack of sight in the ordinary sense, while, at the end of the episode, it is the opponents of Jesus who are shown to be blind, in that they refuse to trust in Jesus. This refusal to trust comes in the form of refusing to acknowledge or accept that the work performed by Jesus (i.e., the healing miracle) comes from God the Father, and thus demonstrates that he is the Son of God.

In the climactic declaration by Jesus (v. 41), there is a play on both aspects of meaning:

“Yeshua said to them [i.e. to his opponents]: If you were blind, you would not hold sin; but now, (since) you say that ‘We see’, your sin remains.”

In the first clause, the motif of sight/blindness occurs in the ordinary (phyiscal/optical) sense. Jesus is telling his opponents that, if they were simply blind in the way that the blind man had been, they would not have sin. This is an echo of Jesus’ earlier statement in verse 3, to the effect that the man’s (physical) blindness was not the result of any sin. There is no sin involved in simply being blind (in the ordinary sense).

The true blindness of his opponents, however, is quite different, and they do not even recognize that they are without sight, for they say “we see”. They think that they understand who Jesus is—namely, a sinful pretender who insults God by claiming to work healing miracles (that come from God). They are actually blind to Jesus’ true identity—the Son of God, sent from heaven by God the Father, who performs the works of the Father. And, because they are blind in this way, they do have sin (“your sin remains”)—indeed, they are guilty of the great sin of unbelief.

At the same time, it is also possible to see both aspects of the sin concept present here in verse 41. Because the opponents of Jesus commit the sin of unbelief, it is not possible for them to be set free from other sins (see 8:34-36, discussed in the earlier study). Trust in Jesus leads to the removal of sin (1:29; see also 1 Jn 1:7; 3:5); without this trust, the removal of sin is not possible, and a person’s sin(s) remain. Thus in a real sense, according to the logic of the Johannine theology, the presence/existence of all other sins is dependent upon the great sin of unbelief.

John 15:22-24

There is a parallel to 9:41 in 15:22-24 which we must consider, and which represents the next sin-reference to be found in the Gospel. These verses occur in the second half (15:18-16:4a) of the second Discourse-division (15:1-16:4a) of the Last Discourse. The principal theme of this Discourse-unit is the persecution of Jesus’ disciples (believers) by the world (or world-order, Greek kósmos). This theme is established in vv. 18-21, within the wider context of the stark juxtaposition contrasting believers and the world.

There is a strong dualistic orientation in the Gospel of John, which is also central to the Johannine theology, defining the very identity of a believer in Christ. A person either belongs to God, or belongs to the world. The noun kósmos in the Johannine writings has, for the most part, a decidedly negative meaning—referring to the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. Human beings are trapped in this darkness, but the Son (Jesus) is sent to earth to bring light into the darkness. Those who belong to God come to the light (3:21), and trust in Jesus, and thus are set free—the light effectively dispelling the darkness.

This Christological significance of the light-motif is closely related to the sight/seeing-motif in chapter 9, as is clear from the declaration by Jesus in vv. 4-5. In terms of the Johannine dualism, the same significance applies to the parallel motifs of darkness and blindness—with the concept of sin (as unbelief) tied to both.

The “world” hates Jesus’ disciples (believers) because it hates him, the Son of God—being, as it is, fundamentally opposed to God. This is the main principle surrounding the persecution motif in 15:18ff. It is part of the wider theme, expressed throughout the Discourses (esp. in chapters 5-9), of the people’s opposition and hostility to Jesus. This hostility is rooted in a lack of knowledge, which, in chapter 9, is expressed by the idiom of blindness. In the Gospel of John, the concepts of seeing (vb eídœ, etc) and knowing (vb ginœ¡skœ) are interchangeable and virtually synonymous—both refer to trust in Jesus, a recognition of his identity as the Son of God. As the Son, Jesus reveals (i.e., makes visible) and makes known the Father; the believer who sees/knows the Son of God also sees/knows God the Father. This is an important thematic emphasis in the Last Discourse, and it very much relates to the world’s hostility toward believers:

“all these (thing)s they will do to you through [i.e. because of] my name, (in) that they have not seen [i.e. known] the (One hav)ing sent me.” (v. 21)

Those who belong to the world do not know God, and cannot see the truth. How this relates to the concept of sin is explained by Jesus in vv. 22-24:

“If I did not come and speak to them, they would not hold sin; but now they do not hold (any) forward showing around their sin.” (v. 22)

The first clause of v. 22 is similar to that of 9:41 (see above). If Jesus had not come (to earth) and spoken to the people (spec. his opponents), it would have been comparable to a condition where these people were simply blind (like the blind man)—and they would not hold (vb échœ) any sin. However, since the Son did come, the people are now in a position where they have to respond to him—either by trusting or by refusing to trust. By refusing to trust, the opponents, those belonging to the world, do now hold sin. And what is this sin which they did not hold before, but do hold now? The great sin of unbelief.

As discussed above, the presence of this fundamental sin means that all other sins are present as well—they remain, and are not removed. The contrast here in verse 22, is interesting. Before the coming of Jesus, the people of the world did not hold/have sin; now they do hold/have sin, but what they do not have is a “forward showing” around their sin. The noun próphasis literally means a “shining before”; the use of the preposition perí (“around”) suggests a shining light that surrounds someone (or something). For lack of any better option in English, I have translated this noun above as “forward showing”. Often próphasis connotes an outward show or pretense that is meant to cover one’s real intent.

A comparable idea is surely present here: that of a false “shining” that covers and masks the true darkness of a person. Almost certainly, there is an allusion to a kind of religious-ethical piety or ‘righteousness’ that masks a person’s unbelief. The religious opponents of Jesus may seem to be ‘shining’ with righteous devotion to God, but they are actually full of the darkness of sin (unbelief); by refusing to trust in God’s Son, they show their true nature—as people belonging to the world, and who are opposed to God. This is stated bluntly by Jesus in verse 23:

“The (one) hating me, also hates my Father.”

The statements of vv. 22-23 are combined together in verse 24, making it abundantly clear that sin is understood here principally in terms of unbelief:

“If I did not do among them the works that no one other (has) done, they would not hold sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.”

Here doing the works of God is parallel (in v. 22) with the idea of speaking the words of God—both represent the Son’s mission on earth, for which he was sent by the Father. In response to seeing and hearing this mission, one either trusts in Jesus as God’s Son or refuses to trust. Sin is defined primarily by this refusal to trust; it leads to expressions of hatred against both the Son (Jesus) and God the Father, and manifests other sins and evils that are characteristic of the darkness of the world.

Next week we will turn to the next sin-reference, which is embedded as part of the Paraclete-saying in 16:8-11. In a number of important ways, this references builds upon the earlier statements by Jesus regarding sin in 15:22-24.

Saturday Series: John 5:14; 9:2-3ff

It will be worth pausing to consider some conclusions that may be drawn from the previous two weeks’ studies (1, 2) regarding the declaration in Jn 1:29:

“See, the lamb of God—the (one) taking up the sin of the world!”

The expression “the lamb of God” (ho amnós toú Theoú) is best understood in relation to the tradition of the Passover lamb. The traditional designation of the Passover lamb as a sacrifice (ze»aµ, see Exod 12:27) likely led early Christians to associate it with other aspects of the sacrificial offerings, including the offerings for sin and, for example, the expiatory offerings related to the Day of Atonement (see Hebrews 8-10). Moreover, it was shown (based on evidence from Josephus’ Antiquities) that there were Jews of the period who attributed to the blood of the Passover lamb the power to purify the devout worshiper. These factors would have fit well with the developing Christian concept of Jesus’ blood cleansing believers from sin (see 1 John 1:7). It is certain that the Gospel writer applied the motif of the Passover lamb particularly to the sacrificial death of Jesus (19:14, 33-36).

The use of the verb aírœ (“take/lift up”) should be understood primarily in the sense of “take away”, referring to the removal of sin. The verb in 1 John 3:5 is used in precisely this context, and is confirmed by the verb’s overall use throughout the Gospel. At the same time, the influence of Isa 53:7ff on the “lamb of God” concept allows for the secondary meaning of “bear, carry”, with the idea that Jesus (the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isa 52:13-53:12, see Acts 8:32-33ff) takes upon himself the burden of the people’s sin, interceding with God on their behalf. The Hebrew verb for this in verse 12 is n¹´¹°, which has a meaning comparable to Greek aírœ, even though the Septuagint (LXX) translates n¹´¹° there with a different verb (anaphérœ, “bring up, bear, carry”).

The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) with a definite article is rather typical of Johannine style, as a way of indicating a vital characteristic of an individual or group. Here the participle aírœn (“taking up”) is presented as a fundamental characteristic of Jesus, under the symbolic motif of the “lamb of God”, declaring him to be “the (one) taking up [ho aírœn] the sin of the world”. As the statement in 1 John 3:5 makes clear, the purpose of Jesus’ appearance on earth, and thus a central function of his earthly ministry (including his death), was to take away sin (see also verse 8b). This same emphasis is expressed in Jn 1:29 by the use of the substantive participle.

The sin that Jesus “takes away” through his death (as the slain “lamb”) is qualified as being “of the world”. This genitive formulation can be explained as adjectival, in two possible ways:

    • Possessive—i.e., the sin is something belonging to the world, which it possesses.
    • Descriptive—referring to an attribute or characteristic, i.e., the world as sinful.

The noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) is used two different, but related, ways in the Johannine writings: (1) in the neutral sense of the inhabited world (i.e., the places on earth where people dwell, and those people themselves), and (2) in the negative sense as a domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. The negative meaning of the word tends to dominate in the Gospel and Letters of John, in a way that is quite distinctive among early Christians. While the negative aspect may be present in 1:29, through the genitival relationship to the head noun “sin” (hamartía), indicating sin as a basic characteristic of the world, primarily the neuter aspect is in view. The “world” here refers to humankind generally—i.e., to all the people in the inhabited world; compare the usage in 3:16-17.

In this regard, it would be natural to explain the use of the singular noun hamartía as referring to sin either in a general or collective sense. That is, it either refers to the sinfulness of the world (i.e., humankind) or to all of its sins taken collectively. I would not wish to make a more precise interpretation until we have examined the remaining sin-references in the Gospel. However, it is worth noting that the sin attributed to the world (or humankind) as a whole finds its counterpart in a number of instances where sins/wrongs committed by individuals are mentioned. Two, in particular, stand out, contained within similar healing-miracle stories—in chapters 5 and 9, respectively.

In the story of the healing of the paralytic man (5:1-9ff), at the conclusion of the narrative (verse 14), Jesus locates the man who was healed and warns him: “you must not sin any (more), (so) that there should not come to be any(thing) worse (happening) to you.” The apparent implication is that the man’s prior disabled condition was the result of sin. And yet, this very connection, so common in the ancient ways of thinking, is explicitly denied by Jesus in the case of the blind man (in the chapter 9 episode):

“And his learners [i.e. disciples] asked him, saying: ‘Rabbi, who sinned—this man or his parents—that he came to be (born) blind?’ Yeshua gave forth (the answer): ‘This man did not sin, nor (did) his parents, but (rather it was so) that the works of God might be made to shine (forth) in him.'” (vv. 2-3)

The theme of sinning runs as a thread throughout this narrative, and I will be examining it in more detail in an upcoming study. However, for the moment, it is important to focus on the traditional-conventional understanding of sin that is reflected in these historical traditions (of the two healing miracles). Two details, in particular, may be highlighted: (i) the verb hamartánœ (“do wrong, err, sin,” lit. “miss [the mark]”) is associated with a common (and expected) standard of ethical and religious behavior; and (ii) that “doing wrong” in this way can have decidedly negative/harmful effects on a person’s life and health. The same conventional use of the verb hamartánœ can be seen in the famous episode of the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11 [vv. 7, 11]), which, though it most likely was not part of the original Johannine Gospel, presumably reflects an historical tradition comparable to that of the healing miracles in chaps. 5 and 9.

This conventional religious-ethical view of sin is important, in large part, because of the backdrop it provides for the deeper understanding expressed elsewhere in the Gospel Discourses of Jesus. Next week, we will begin exploring the passage where the concept of sin (and sin references) are most prominent—the Sukkot Discourse-complex of chapters 7-8 (esp. 8:21-47).

July 13: 1 John 5:16-19 (8)

1 John 5:19

“We have seen that we are of [e)k] God, and (that) the whole world lies in the evil.”

The section 5:13-20 concludes with a series of three exhortative declarations (vv. 18, 19, 20) that each begin with the verb form oi&damen (“we have seen”). The verbal usage reflects the sense of unity and solidarity that the author wishes to establish, between himself and his readers, as members together (“we”) of the Community of true believers. The translation “we have seen” is a literal rendering of oi&damen; however, the verb ei&dw can also mean “know,” being essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw. In English idiom, for the context here, oi&damen would be translated simply as “we know…”.

This use of oi&damen (also in v. 15 [twice]) reflects the author’s declaration of his intent (and purpose of writing) in v. 13, at the beginning of the section:

“These (thing)s I have written to you, that you might have seen [ei)dh=te, i.e. might know] that you hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], to (you) the (one)s trusting in the name of the Son of God.” (cp. the end of the Gospel, 20:31)

It is also appropriate that the author effectively concludes his work emphasizing the fundamental theme of the contrast between true and false believers. This juxtaposition is part of a wider Johannine theme, contrasting believers with the world (o( ko/smo$). The negative sense of the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), as referring to the domain of darkness and evil (in which human beings are enmeshed) that is opposed to God, is distinctly Johannine, and the word tends to have this meaning throughout the Johannine writings. The contrastive relationship, between believers and the world, comes to be a dominant theme in the Gospel Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16), along with the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17 (where ko/smo$ occurs 18 times, vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). The usage in 1 John fully reflects the Johannine theological idiom—2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1, 3-5; 5:4-5; only in 2:2; 3:17 is the more neutral sense of ko/smo$ emphasized (i.e., as the inhabited world of human beings), while both meanings are at work in 4:1, 3, 9, 14, 17.

Believers belong to God (as His offspring), while non-believers (and false believers) belong to the world (as children of the Devil [the “chief of this world”, Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]). That is the contrast being emphasized again here at the close of 1 John. On false believers (spec. the opponents in 1-2 John) as children of the Devil, see 3:8, 10; cp. Jn 8:41 (in the context of vv. 38-47).

Here in v. 19, the idea of believers as the offspring (te/kna) of God is expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of”), in the expression e)k tou= qeou= (“out of [i.e. from] God”), as a shorthand for the phrase “having come to be (born) [vb genna/w] out of God”. For this distinctive Johannine idiom in 1 John, cf. 2:29; 3:8-10; 4:4-7; 5:1, 4, 18; also 2:16ff, 21; 3:12, 19; 4:1-3; in the Gospel, cf. 1:13; 3:5-8, 31; 8:23, 41ff; also 15:19; 17:6, 14-16; 18:36, 37.

The idea that true believers belong to God, and not to the world, is seen most clearly in 4:4-6:

“You are of [e)k] God, (dear) offspring, and have been victorious (over) them [i.e. the ‘antichrists’, vv. 1-3], (in) that [i.e. because] the (One who is) in you is greater than the (one who is) in the world.” (v. 4)

As I have discussed, the expression “the (one) in you” (o( e)n u(mi=n) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. God the Father is present, in and among believers, through His Son, and the Son abides in believers through the presence of the Spirit. By contrast, “the (one) in the world” (o( e)n tw=| ko/smw|) refers to the evil spirit of antichrist (v. 3) that is opposed to the holy Spirit of God. In v. 6, the evil spirit is called “the spirit of going/leading astray [pla/nh]”, in opposition to the “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]”.

If the true believer (“you”) is described in v. 4, it is the false believer (“they”) who is referenced in v. 5:

“They are of [e)k] the world; through this [i.e. for this reason] they speak out of [e)k, i.e. from] the world, and the world hears them.”

In v. 6 (as here in 5:18-20), the author includes himself, together with his readers (“we”), as being among the true believers:

“We are of [e)k] God; the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of [e)k] God does not hear us.”

As noted above, this same language of belonging (using the preposition e)k), contrasting believers and the world, can be found in John 17—esp. verses 14-16, which are quite close in thought with what the author is saying here in 5:18-19 (cf. the previous note).

In v. 19a, the author repeats his declaration from 4:6: “we are of [e)k] God”. The implication, as in the references cited above, is that the author and his readers, correspondingly, are not “of [e)k] the world”. However, here the author states this in more general terms, by referring to the nature and condition of the world:

“…and the whole world lies in the evil”
kai\ o( ko/smo$ o%lo$ e)n tw=| ponhrw=| kei=tai

As in v. 18, as well as 2:13-14, 3:12 [1], and Jn 17:15, the substantive adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”), as a masculine noun with the article (o( ponhro/$, “the evil”), is best understood in a personal sense (i.e. “the evil one”), as a reference to the Satan/Devil. If so, then v. 19b needs to be translated something like:

“…and the whole world lies in (the hand of) the Evil (One)”

That the world, dominated as it is by darkness and evil, is under the control of the Devil (“Evil One”) is confirmed by the expression “the chief/ruler [a&rxwn] of this world” in Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. Because believers do not belong to the world, they/we are not under the power of the Evil One. Indeed, through trust in Jesus, believers have obtained victory over the world (2:13-14; 5:4-5). The victory achieved by Jesus Christ, through his sacrificial death (and exaltation)—cf. 3:8; Jn 12:31; 16:11, 33—is communicated to believers, in union with him, through the presence of the Spirit (4:4).

For this reason, the sin and evil of the world cannot touch the true believer (v. 18; cf. Jn 17:15). Even if we, as believers, may occasionally sin, through confession and forgiveness we are cleansed of all sin, with the result that the (eternal) life we possess from God is preserved/restored (1:7-2:2; 5:16).

In the next daily note, we will turn to examine briefly the author’s concluding statement in verse 20.

June 19: 1 John 4:2-3 (6)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

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

The final component of the confessional statement in verse 2 involves the preposition e)k:

e)k tou= qeou=
“out of God”

The preposition is an important part of the Johannine theological vocabulary. It is used two particular ways, in relation to God—emphasizing the aspects of: (1) origin, and (2) belonging. Here, the first aspect is in focus—that of origin, or source—and thus here e)k tou= qeou= is typically translated “from God”.

In the Gospel, phrases and expressions with e)k are often applied to the person of Jesus, emphasizing his origin as coming “out of heaven” (3:13, 31; 6:32-33, 41-42, 50-51, 58; 8:23 [“from above”]); it may also be said that he comes specifically “out of [i.e. from] God” or “out of the Father” (8:42), or that his teaching, etc, comes from the Father (7:17; 10:32; cf. also 12:49). The opposite of coming “out of” God is to come “out of” (and to belong to) the world (o( ko/smo$). Since Jesus (the Son) comes from God (the Father), he clearly does not come from the world (8:23; 17:14-16; 18:36); he came into the world, to make the Father known, and to bring salvation, to those who would believe, but he does not belong to it (3:16-17; 16:28; 17:18; 18:37, etc). The same is true of believers, who are offspring/children (te/kna) of God, just as Jesus is God’s Son—they neither come from the world, nor belong to it (15:19; 17:6, 14-18); rather, they belong to God, and to the truth (18:37). Indeed, believers come “out of” God, being born out of Him (1:13); this ‘birth’ is spiritual, taking place through His Spirit (3:5-6, 8).

The idiom of believers—true believers—coming to be born “out of” (e)k) God is particularly important in 1 John (2:29; 3:9-10; 4:5-6f; 5:1, 4, 18-19; cf. also 3 Jn 11). Again, the contrast is with coming from (and belonging to) the world (2:16; 4:5; 5:4-5). The world is characterized by evil, and is under the dominion of the “Evil One” (i.e., the Satan/Devil), also called the “chief/ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11); therefore, the one belonging to the world, belongs to evil (and to the Evil One), being ‘children’ of (i.e., born out of) the Devil—cf. Jn 8:41, 44ff; 1 Jn 2:19; 3:8, 10, 12. Since non-believers (and false believers) belong to the world and to the Devil, they belong to that which is false and opposed to the truth; the true believer, by contrast, belongs to the truth (3:19; cf. Jn 18:37). The presence of the Spirit, who is the truth (5:6), confirms to believers that they/we truly belong to God as His children (3:24; 4:13).

This background helps us to understand the specific qualifying expression “out of (e)k) God” here, in relation to the Christological statement of v. 2f. The confessional statement effectively serves as a test, as a way of distinguishing the true believer from the false. The true believer will confess and affirm “Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in the flesh”, while false believers—that is, the opponents—do not. As such, when the opponents speak about Jesus, they do not speak from the holy Spirit of God (i.e. “out of God”), but from the evil “spirit of Antichrist”. They are thus “false prophets”.

As previously noted, the use of the plural “spirits” (pneu/mata), along with the expression “every spirit” (pa=n pneu=ma), in verse 1, might lead one to think that there are many different spirits that come from God. However, this almost certainly is not what the author has in mind. Rather, each person is taught by, and speaks from, either the Spirit of God or the evil (and deceitful) spirit of the world (and of “antichrist”). There are many “spirits” only insofar as there different manifestations of these two spirits—one true and one false—in many different individuals.

In the next daily note, we will continue our study by turning at last to the author’s further statement in v. 3, where a negation (or denial) of the confessional statement is given. With this point of reference, we will begin to examine more closely the Christological view of the opponents (so far as it can be determined).

May 30: 1 John 2:15-17

1 John 2:15-17

In the final portion of 1:5-2:17, the author gives a somewhat more traditional ethical application to his contrastive light-darkness theme. The darkness (skoti/a) represents the world (o( ko/smo$)—that is, the current world-order, dominated by sin and darkness, and fundamentally opposed to God. The author will develop this motif of opposition in the “antichrist” sections, describing certain persons whom (as a group) he treats as opponents, false believers who belong to the darkness rather than the light.

There are two parts to this final ethical section in 2:12-17. First, in vv. 12-14, the author addresses his readers as a group, treating them as if they are true believers. These believers (tekni/a) collectively are divided into two groups—older men (“fathers,” pate/re$) and younger ones (“young [men],” neani/skoi). Formally, the author uses a three-fold address, given twice:

    • “I write to you, little children [tekni/a]
      (in) that [o%ti] the sins have been taken away for you through his name” (v. 12)

      • “I write to you, fathers [pate/re$]
        (in) that [o%ti] you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (v. 13a)

        • “I write to you, young men [neani/skoi]
          (in) that [o%ti] you have been victorious (over) the evil (one)” (v. 13b)
    • “I wrote to you, (dear) little children [paidi/a]
      (in) that [o%ti] you have known the Father” (v. 13c)

      • “I wrote to you, fathers [pate/re$]
        (in) that [o%ti] you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning” (v. 14a)

        • “I wrote to you, young men [neani/skoi]
          (in) that [o%ti] you are strong, and the word [lo/go$] of God remains in you, and you have been victorious (over) the evil (one)” (v. 14b)

This semi-repetitive wording is a bit peculiar, but altogether typical of Johannine style. The author addresses all the believers, collectively, as tekni/a, a diminutive form of te/kna (“offspring, children”), a distinctly Johannine way of referring to believers as the offspring/children of God; in v. 13c the plural paidi/a (“little children”) is used, with identical meaning. Two characteristics of believers (i.e., all true believers) are given:

    • their sins have been removed through Jesus’ name
    • they have known the Father

Within these basic parameters, there are the following characteristics, broken down according to the older-younger division, but which essentially still apply to all believers:

    • they have known the (one who is) from the beginning (a)p’ a)rxh=$)
    • they have been victorious [vb nika/w] over the evil (one)

The two attributes are closely related, with the second following as a natural consequence of the first. In the Johannine theological idiom, knowing the one who is “from the beginning” means having genuine trust in Jesus, recognizing him as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. This trust leads to victory over the evil and darkness of the world (“the evil”) and its Chief, the Devil (“the evil one”); there is an obvious echo of Jesus’ climactic declaration in the Last Discourse (16:33; cf. also 12:31; 16:11). Like Jesus, believers also are victorious over the world, through their/our trust in him (1 Jn 5:4-5). The additional information given in v. 14b helps to explain how this victory is realized and achieved:

    • “you are strong
      and the word [lo/go$] of God remains in you”

The use of the noun lo/go$ along with the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“from [the] beginning”) alludes to the prologue (1:1), and the special Christological significance of this language. As I have discussed, there is an indirect allusion to the Spirit in the prologue, one that is more explicit and clearly  expressed here. The living Word (lo/go$) of God that “remains” in the believer refers to the spiritual presence of the Son (Jesus), being present through the Spirit. This is the idea expressed in 4:4, indicating that the Spirit—and the Son’s presence through the Spirit—is the source of believers’ victory over the world.

After affirming the identity of his readers as true believers, the author gives a warning to them regarding the darkness of “the world” (o( ko/smo$). If they heed this warning, then his readers will demonstrate that, indeed, they are true believers; if they fail the test, then they will make clear that the are “walking about” in the darkness, and are false believers, not true. The warning is simple enough:

“You must not love the world, nor the (thing)s in the world.” (v. 15a)

Here, the word ko/smo$ (“world-order”) carries the strong negative meaning that we see throughout the Johannine writings; cp. this with the more general, neutral sense in, e.g., Jn 3:16, where the idiom of ‘loving the world’ means something quite different in context.

Here in vv. 15ff it is possible to understanding love for the world in two related ways:

    • In the neutral-negative sense of the ordinary components of human daily life (bi/o$, cf. below) and society; when these are loved over and against love of God, such love is evil and to be condemned. The statement by the Gospel writer in 12:43 is a good example of this aspect.
    • In the evil-negative sense of that which is actively opposed and hostile to God. Jesus touches upon this stronger, dualistic aspect in Jn 3:19, where the same light-darkness contrast is employed: “men loved the darkness more than the light”. Cf. also 5:42; 8:42.

In both instances, the negative meaning of ko/smo$—the current world-order and its darkness—is related to a failure (and/or unwillingness) of people to trust in Jesus. The wording of v. 15b, and the thought it expresses, is close to Jesus’ statement in 5:42:

    • “But I have known you, that you do not hold the love of God in yourselves” (Jn 5:42)
    • “If anyone should love the world, (then) the love of the Father is not in him” (v. 15b)

The love of God, abiding within a person, refers principally to one’s trust in Jesus, and the abiding presence of Father and Son (through the Spirit) that results. As I have discussed, in the Johannine theological idiom, sin is understood primarily in terms of failure/unwillingness to trust in Jesus; however, this does not mean that the author denies or disregards the more conventional ethical-religious aspect(s) of sin (cf. 1:7-2:2). Indeed, here in verse 16, the author frames the negative aspect of ‘love for the world’ in traditional ethical terms:

“(for it is) that every(thing) th(at is) in the world—the impulse of the flesh for (things), the impulse of the eyes for (them), the boasting of (one’s) life [bi/o$] (in the world)—(does not come) out of the Father, but out of the world (itself).”

The noun e)piqumi/a means, literally, “(the) impulse [qumo/$] upon [e)pi] (something)”; in English, the idiom would be “set one’s heart (or mind) upon (something)”. In a negative, ethical sense, e)piqumi/a connotes an impulse toward something that is unlawful or sinful. Paul uses the word frequently in his letters (19 times [including 6 in the Pastorals], half of all NT occurrences); it is also relatively common in the Petrine letters (8 times), and cf. also James 1:14-15; Jude 16, 18. It is extremely rare in the Gospels, and is used, in this ethical sense, only in Mark 4:19. The expression “e)piqumi/a of the flesh” more or less corresponds to Paul’s concept of the “flesh” (sa/rc) as the aspect of the human being, which, even after coming to trust in Jesus, is still subject to the impulse toward sin. Even believers experience such impulses, which can lead to sin—where sin is defined in the conventional sense of occasional moral or religious failures. Sometimes what a person sees, in the world, will prompt a worldly/sinful impulse—thus the added expression “e)piqumi/a of the eyes”.

In the Johannine writings, the noun zwh/ (“life”) always is used in the theological sense of Divine/Eternal Life. Here, the world bi/o$ refers to “life” in the sense of a human life (of a certain length and circumstances) lived in the world. The “boasting” of such a life suggests that a person takes delight in worldly riches and honor; in such a way, ‘loving the world’ reflects a mindset that is opposed to God, and will lead one to reject Jesus, even as the Gospel writer describes in 12:43.

Finally, the author reminds his readers that the current world-order (ko/smo$) is only temporary, and will soon pass away (vb para/gw). This is a common thought expressed by early Christians, and is very much tied to the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers. Paul says something quite comparable in 1 Corinthians 7:31. By concluding 1:5-2:17 on this note, the author anticipates the eschatological emphasis of the “antichrist” section that follows in vv. 18-27.

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 12: John 16:9

John 16:9

As discussed in the previous note, verse 8 describes the role of the Spirit (the para/klhto$) as that of exposing/showing (vb e)le/gxw) the world (ko/smo$) to be wrong. He will show the world to be wrong about (peri/) three things in particular, expressed by a triad of nouns:

    • about a(marti/a (v. 9)
    • about dikaiosu/nh (v. 10)
    • about kri/si$ (v. 11)

Of these three, the meaning of the first (a(marti/a) is most straightforward, being understood (and translated) generally as “sin”. Thus the statement in verse 8 reads: “and that (one) will show the world (to be wrong) about sin [peri\ a(marti/a$]…”.

However, sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw) has a very distinct meaning and significance in the Johannine writings. While not ignoring or denying the conventional ethical-religious meaning (cf. 5:14; 9:2-3ff; 20:23), the word (and concept) is very much defined in Christological terms, informed by its use in the Johannine theological context. We can see this most particularly by the explanation given (by Jesus) in verse 9:

“about sin, (on the one hand,) (in) that they do not trust in me

The exposition in vv. 9-11 is governed syntactically by a me\nde/… construction (“on the one hand…on the other…”). Here the particle me/n indicates the first item of the triad—three parts of a witness the Spirit gives against the world.

Sin is clearly identified here with a failure to trust (vb pisteu/w) in Jesus. People (i.e., those belonging to “the world”) are unwilling or unable to recognize the truth about who Jesus is, and thus do not trust in him. The main section in the Gospel dealing with the question of sin is section 8:21-30 of the great Sukkot Discourse-complex in chapters 7-8. In verse 21, Jesus first states the matter in a rather puzzling way:

“I go away, and you will seek me, and (yet) in your sin you will die off—for, (to the place) where I go away, you are not able to come.”

Throughout this discourse, as in the Last Discourse, Jesus plays on a double-meaning of the idea that he is “going away” (vb u(pa/gw). At the level of the world (that is, his hostile audience in the Sukkot Discourse), the reference is simply to Jesus having gone off somewhere (to another geographical location, cf. 7:35-36). However, according to the true meaning of Jesus’ words, he is returning back to the Father, indicating his Divine/heavenly origin as the Son of God. The world cannot find him, because he will not have gone away to another physical place, but to a spiritual place (4:23)—back to the Father.

On the surface, Jesus’ statement that unbelievers will die in their sin suggests that here a(marti/a is being used in its ethical-religious sense. By rejecting Jesus, they will not find forgiveness for their moral and religious failings and wicked behavior. Certainly, the Gospel does indicate that Jesus’ earthly mission, and his sacrificial death, was intended to “take away” the world’s sins (1:29). The author of 1 John makes clear that, by our participation in the death of Jesus, the cleansing power of his “blood”, communicated through the Spirit (cf. Jn 6:51-58, 63), does ‘take away’ our sin (1 Jn 1:7ff, discussed in a recent note).

However, the expression “in your sin”, lit. “in the sin of you” (e)n th=| a(marti/a| u(mw=n), can be understood another way—viz., as referring to the great sin of unbelief. Jesus’ opponents will die in this sin. Verses 23-24 demonstrate, indeed, how the expression is to be understood, within the Johannine theological idiom:

You are out of [i.e. from] the (place) below [ka/tw], I am out of [i.e. from] the (place) above [a&nw]; you are out of [i.e. from] this world, I am not out of [i.e. from] this world. So I said to you that you will die off in your sins; for, if you would not trust that I am [e)gw\ ei)mi], you will die off in your sins.”

The expression “in your sins [plur.]” here is defined in terms of “in your sin [sing.]”. All other sins are secondary to, and ultimately relate back to, the great sin of unbelief. The essential predicative expression “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) is fundamental to the Johannine theology, occurring repeatedly throughout the Gospel. The reason why Jesus’ opponents will die ‘in their sins’ is because they are ‘in the (great) sin’ of unbelief; that is, they refuse to trust in Jesus, recognizing and accepting his identity as the Divine Son (with the attribute of “I Am”) sent by the Father.

The Spirit will expose the true nature of the world’s sin. Showing the world to be wrong “about sin” can be understood on two levels. First, the world’s understanding about the nature of sin (in general) is shown to be wrong. According to the world’s standards, a person may appear to be living in a moral and upright manner—like, to be sure, many of the religious leaders who were hostile to Jesus—and yet still commit the great sin of rejecting God’s Son.

When people encounter the witness as to who Jesus is, their own true identity is exposed and made known. If they belong to God, they will be drawn to the light, and will trust in Jesus; if they belong to the world (which is opposed to God), they will be shown to be hostile to the light, lovers of darkness, and will not trust in him. This witness (of the Spirit) exposes and reveals the world’s sin, and brings it under judgment; Jesus’ own witness, during his earthly ministry, did the same thing (cf. 3:19-21; 15:22ff [cp. 9:41]), and now the Spirit is continuing his work of bearing witness.

Thus, the second meaning of “about sin” relates to the world’s sin. This is the great sin of unbelief—refusing to trust in Jesus—and it shows that those who belong to the world, being lovers of darkness, are steeped in various kinds of sin, which cannot (and will not) be forgiven, because of their unbelief. The cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (1 Jn 1:7, cf. above) is only communicated to believers, those who belong to God, through the abiding presence of the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the second item of the triad— “about rightness” (peri\ dikaiosu/nh$)—and how this is explained in verse 10.

*    *    *    *    *

As an interesting side note, the idea of a person’s true nature, and of the sinfulness of their heart, being exposed by the Spirit is also found in the Jewish Testament of Judah (part of the “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”), chapter 20. It utilizes the same expression, “Spirit of truth”, as the Johannine Paraclete-sayings. As previously noted, the same expression occurs in the Qumran Community Rule text (1QS 3:18-29; 4:21), and the contextual usage in the Testament of Judah is very similar:

“The things of truth and the things of error are written in the affections of man, each one of whom the Lord knows. There is no moment in which man’s works can be concealed, because they are written on the heart in the Lord’s sight. And the spirit of truth testifies to all things and brings all accusations. He who has sinned is consumed in his heart and cannot raise his head to face the judge.” (20:3-5, translation by H. C. Kee, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Charlesworth ed. [Anchor Bible Reference Library]).

May 11: John 16:8 (continued)

John 16:8, continued

Continuing the discussion from the previous note, there are two points related to verse 8 that need to be addressed:

    1. The use of the word ko/smo$ (“world”), specifically in regard to the special Johannine theological usage of the term, and
    2. The parallelism between the prepositional triad (“about sin…”) and the earlier “about me” (i.e., about Jesus, the Son) in the third Paraclete-saying.
1. Use of the word ko/smo$

The noun ko/smo$ is very much a Johannine keyword. It occurs 78 times in the Gospel, 23 times in 1 John, and once in 2 John (as well as 3 in the book of Revelation)—more than half of all New Testament occurrences (186). Beyond this, the word is used in a very distinctive way in the Johannine writings. While ko/smo$ is sometimes used in the ordinary geographic sense—of earth as the place (and plane of existence) where human beings reside—more often it has a pointed ethical-religious meaning. The “world” represents the domain of darkness and evil that is opposed to God. This decidedly negative sense of the word is part of a pronounced dualism in the Johannine writings—light vs. darkness, above vs. below, etc.

In actuality, the two aspects of meaning—geographic (neutral) and ethical-religious (negative)—are closely related. At some points in the Gospel, the two aspects are blended together (e.g., 1:9-10), or the author/speaker makes use of wordplay, shifting between the two meanings (e.g., 3:16-17, 19; 17:13-14ff). The noun ko/smo$ is especially prominent in the Last Discourse, where it occurs 19 times, and the chapter 17 Prayer-discourse where it occurs nearly as often (18 times).

The negative meaning dominates the Last Discourse, especially in 15:18-19 (prior to the third Paraclete-saying [vv. 26-27]), where the emphasis is on the world’s hatred of the disciples (believers), because they represent Jesus, speaking and acting in his name. The Last Discourse assumes an eschatological worldview, anticipating a persecution of believers that is part of the end-time period of distress (cp. Mk 13:9-11 par, and note the reference to the Spirit in v. 11).

The noun ko/smo$ is usually translated “world”, but would perhaps be more accurately rendered “world-order.” The fundamental denotation of ko/smo$ refers to the order and arrangement of the created world. In terms of the negative, dualistic meaning of ko/smo$ in the Johannine writings, this can be understood as referring to the current arrangement of things—the way they function and operate—in a domain and mode of existence dominated by sin and darkness, led by the world’s Chief, the Devil (14:30; 16:11).

This “world” was referenced in the first Paraclete-saying (cf. Part 1), in 14:17, where the point was made that the world cannot see (that is, know and recognize) the Spirit, which means that it also cannot see Jesus—that is, cannot recognize the truth of who he is. There is a bit of conceptual wordplay by Jesus in verse 19. He states that, very soon, the world will no longer see him. This refers, on one level, to his impending death and departure (to the Father); but, on a deeper level, it alludes to the fact that the world cannot recognize and accept his identity as the Son of God. This is why the world also cannot recognize or accept the Spirit. Believers, by contrast, both “see” Jesus and the Spirit; in the latter case, they/we also can recognize the continuing presence and activity of Jesus through the indwelling Spirit.

2. The peri/-prepositional triad in verse 8

In the third Paraclete-saying (15:26f, Part 3), the function of the Spirit is to give witness about (peri/) Jesus. Here, in the final saying, there is a similar (parallel) prepositional expression serving as the indirect object of the verb:

    • “about me” (peri\ e)mou=)
    • “about [peri/] a(marti/a and
      about [peri/] dikaiosu/nh and
      about [peri/] kri/si$

The parallelism strongly indicates that this triad must be understood in terms of the Spirit’s witness about Jesus—that is, the truth about who he is.

The relation between the second and third Paraclete-sayings makes clear that the Spirit’s witness about Jesus is directed to the disciples (believers); and, yet, in a secondary way, it is also directed at the world, since the Spirit’s witness enables believers also to give witness (to the world) regarding the truth of who Jesus is. This shift of focus to the world is expressed here in the final saying, where the Spirit’s function of exposing darkness/evil and showing (people) to be in the wrong, is directed at the world (ko/smo$). This meaning of the verb e)le/gxw was discussed in the previous note.

I have left the three terms of the triad untranslated above. The first noun, a(marti/a, has a straightforward meaning (“sin”); and yet, the Johannine writings present a very distinctive emphasis regarding the true nature and primary significance of sin (a(marti/a). This will be discussed in the next daily note, on verse 9.

The second noun, dikaiosu/nh, is more difficult to translate. Fundamentally, it means something like “right-ness”, but is usually rendered in English as “righteousness”. This is certainly the translation when the noun is used in a religious-ethical context; however, when a social or judicial context is being emphasized, then the translation “justice” is preferred. This creates a problem for translators, since “righteousness” and “justice” have very different significance and points of reference in English. In the note on verse 10, I will discuss how dikaiosu/nh should be understood (and translated) here.

Interestingly, dikaiosu/nh is something of a rare word in the Johannine writings. It occurs only here (vv. 8 and 10) in the Gospel, and just 3 times in the Letters (1 Jn 2:29; 3:7, 10).

The final noun is kri/si$, which is usually translated “judgment”. The fundamental meaning is of a separation that is made, usually in the sense of a person discerning or making a decision (cf. 7:24). It is frequently used in a judicial context, of judging a case and rendering judgment. In the Gospel of John, as in the rest of the New Testament, kri/si$ refers primarily to the end-time (eschatological) Judgment, when God will judge the world. This is certainly the focus in 5:22-30, where kri/si$ occurs 5 times, as also in 12:31. However, the Johannine writings (including the Gospel Discourses) demonstrate a pronounced ‘realized’ eschatology. By this is meant a tendency to view the end-time events as having (in a sense) already taken place for believers, being realized for them now, in the present, through the Spirit. This does not negate the idea of a future fulfillment (cp. 5:24 with vv. 29-30); it only affirms a spiritual fulfillment in the present.

At several points in the Discourses, Jesus alludes to the idea that the Judgment (kri/si$) takes place in the present—believers in Christ have already passed through the Judgment (5:24), while those who are unwilling/unable to believe have, in a sense, already been judged by their unbelief (3:19; cf. 12:31, 48). This Johannine use of the judgment-motif is important for understanding the significance of kri/si$ here in the Paraclete-saying. This will be discussed further in the note on verse 11.

December 22: John 1:10

John 1:10-12a

Verse 10 marks the beginning of the third poetic unit (or strophe) in the Christ-hymn of the Johannine Prologue. The four units expound a Christological development from pre-existence (strophe 1) to incarnation (strophe 4). This third strophe provides the transition between the creation of the universe by the Logos (vv. 3-5) and the incarnation of the Logos in the life of Jesus (vv. 14-16).

Verse 10

“He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
and (yet) the world did not know him.”

These lines form a triad, a poetic triplet/tricolon, with three statements, each involving the relationship between the Logos and the “world” (ko/smo$). The noun ko/smo$ can refer to what we call the universe (cosmos), but it more properly signifies the arrangement of things in the universe, the order of creation; the translation “world-order” is generally accurate, if cumbersome. I have followed the customary rendering of ko/smo$ as “world”, since the English word has a comparable sort of semantic range.

The noun ko/smo$ is an especially distinctive part of the Johannine vocabulary. It occurs 78 times in the Gospel, and another 24 in the Letters—more than half of all the New Testament occurrences (185). Occasionally the word is used in the neutral sense of the universe, or, more precisely, the inhabited world (of human society). However, in the majority of instances, it has a decidedly negative meaning—referring to the world, in the current Age, as it is dominated by the forces of darkness and evil. There is a striking dualism that runs through the Johannine writings, contrasting the “world” (of darkness and evil) with the realm of God and the Spirit (of light and truth). Early Christians in the first century generally shared this worldview, often expressed within an eschatological framework—i.e., the current Age is becoming increasingly wicked, as the end draws near. Paul evinces a similar sort of dualism, emphasizing how the world in the current Age is in bondage to the power of sin. Even so, the specific Johannine dualism that depicts the “world” (ko/smo$) as fundamentally in opposition to God (and, by extension, to His Son Jesus and those who trust in him), defined largely as a contrast of “light vs darkness”, is distinctive.

Let us examine each of the statements of the contrast here in the Prologue, between the “world” and the Logos:

e)n tw=| ko/smw| h@n
“he was in the world”

This simple statement contains two components: the verb (a form of the verb of being) and a predicate prepositional expression (in emphatic [first] position). As previously noted, the verb of being (ei)mi) in the Prologue is reserved for God, and is only used of God the Father and the Logos (= Jesus the Son). Here it is the same imperfect active indicative form (h@n, “was”) that is used elsewhere in the Prologue. Thus the deceptively simple statement “he was in the world” implicitly contains a deeper theological meaning: the pre-existent Wisdom/Word of God was in the world. While this alludes to the earthly life of Jesus, it cannot be limited to that aspect (cf. below).

To say that the Logos was “in” (e)n) the world, is parallel with the idea that the divine/eternal Life was “in” (e)n) him (v. 4a). This Life is communicated to human beings (i.e., those in the world), v. 4b. The Life, under the image of light (i.e., the Light of God), is thus “in” (e)n) the world, under the negative aspect of the ko/smo$ (cf. above)—that is, in the midst of the darkness of the world (e)n th=| skoti/a|, v. 5). This personal presence of the Logos was foreshadowed in the closing words of verse 9, where the Logos is referred to as the “true Light” that is “coming into [ei)$] the world”.

kai\ o( ko/smo$ di’ au)tou= e)ge/neto
“and the world came to be through him”

According to the vocabulary of the Prologue, the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) is used for created beings (in contrast to the verb of being, used only of God). This re-states the declaration in verse 3: “all (thing)s came to be through him [di’ au)tou=]” —God created all things in the universe through the Logos (His Word/Wisdom). As applied to the person of Jesus, this same Wisdom tradition was utilized in the context of other Christ hymns (cf. Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2b-3). The point is emphasized here in order to make a stark contrast with the statement that follows:

kai\ o( ko/smo$ au)to\n ou)k e&gnw
“and the world did not know him”

In light of the prior statement, this is a powerful declaration: human beings (in the world) did not recognize the one who created them. To say that they did not recognize the Logos (the Word/Wisdom) of God essentially means that they did not recognize God Himself. This aspect of recognition is expressed through the verb ginw/skw (“know”)—a common verb, but one which takes on special (theological) meaning in the Johannine writings. It occurs 56 times in the Gospel, and another 26 in the Letters (more than a third of all NT occurrences), where it is used parallel with the verb ei&dw [oi@da] (“see”). The verbs ei&dw and ginw/skw are partially interchangeable in Greek, due the close relationship between “seeing” and “knowing”. The Johannine writings make considerable use of this dual-meaning, which ties in naturally with the light-motif (and its light/darkness dualism). In addition to ei&dw (85 times in the Gospel, 16 in the Letters), the Johannine writings make significant use of the verbs ble/pw, qea/omai, qewre/w, and o(ra/w—all denoting sight/observation/perception (= discernment/understanding).

Based on this Johannine usage, to “know” Jesus means to trust and accept him, recognizing that he is the Son of God. From the standpoint of the Prologue, this also means realizing the identification, established in the Christ hymn, of Jesus with the Word and Wisdom (i.e., the Logos) of God. For this reason, it would be a mistake to interpret the statement here as referring simply to the rejection of Jesus by the population during his earthly life and ministry. While the earthly life of Jesus is certainly in view, it is his identification with the Logos, in particular, that is being emphasized.

The influence of Wisdom tradition is very much present here, as it also is in the “Christ hymns” of Colossians (1:15-20) and Hebrews (1:2b-4). On the combination of Jewish Wisdom tradition with the Logos-concept in Greek philosophy, cf. the earlier note on verse 1. The term lo/go$ was especially useful in this regard, encompassing as it does the idea of both the Wisdom and Word of God. In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, we find the motif of the divine Wisdom dwelling among human beings. This is part of a broader tradition, in which God (YHWH) is said to make His dwelling (Heb. /k*v=m!) among the people Israel (symbolically, in the Tent-shrine or Temple sanctuary, etc). Sirach 24:8ff describes how the Divine Wisdom similarly set up his Tent-dwelling among the people (cf. also the more general reference in Prov 8:31).

The same idea can be expressed in terms of the personified Word of God. In particular, we may note the line of Jewish tradition, represented in the Aramaic Targums, in which the term ar*m=ym@ (mêmr¹°, “the saying, the word”) came to be used as a conceptual intermediary when speaking of the person of God. It developed as a pious circumlocution, a way to avoid attributing to YHWH Himself specific human (i.e., anthropomorphic) characteristics or actions. According to this line of tradition, when God says “I will be with you” (Exod 3:12), it is rendered/interpreted as “My Mêmr¹° will be your support”. Similarly, the concept of YHWH dwelling among His people would be explained in terms of His Word (Mêmr¹°) dwelling among them. Cf. Brown, p. 523-4.

An important part of the Wisdom tradition involves the specific exhortation for God’s people (the righteous) to pursue wisdom, with the understanding that many people (even in Israel) will reject it. Thus, the motif of Wisdom seeking to dwell among the people, when combined with the idea of many people rejecting Wisdom, leads to the natural image of Wisdom failing to find a suitable dwelling-place on earth. In 1 Enoch 42, the story is told of Wisdom finding a home among the angels in heaven; the brief narrative involves an unsuccessful attempt to find a dwelling on earth among human beings:

“Then Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people, but she found no dwelling place” (v. 2, translation E. Isaac in Charlesworth, OTP).

Almost certainly, the Christ hymn here in the Prologue draws upon the same basic line of Wisdom tradition.