1, 2, 3 John Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis

An Exegetical Commentary on the Letters of John

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The Authorship of 1 John

It is important to begin with a discussion of authorship, in light of the christological controversy which permeates the three Johannine letters. It makes a significant difference if the author (particularly of 1 John) was in fact an eyewitness to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (as he appears to claim in 1 John 1:1-4) and if he stands along with other apostolic eyewitnesses against the innovative christology of the secessionist opponents mentioned in 1 John 2:18-19.

It should be noted that the problem of determining the author of 1 John is a somewhat different one from the determination of the authorship of 2 and 3 John, because in the case of 1 John the letter is anonymous – no author is specified within the work itself. The only other New Testament letter which makes no reference to the author’s name is the Epistle to the Hebrews. The second and third letters, however, designate the author as “the Elder,” and it has been long debated whether this individual is or is not to be identified with the author of the first letter and/or the Apostle John.

It is also important to remember that the exegesis of 1 John would not be greatly affected by our conclusions concerning who wrote it. Yet our understanding of its relationship to the other Johannine material in the New Testament would be greatly aided if we could arrive at some determination of who wrote it consistent with both the external (i.e., historical) evidence and internal evidence (contained in the letter itself). This is particularly true in terms of the relationship between 1 John and the Gospel of John, where many similarities of style and wording have long been noted.

Historical Evidence concerning the Author of 1 John

      Early allusions to the Johannine letters

Some scholars have suggested allusions to 1 John and/or 2 and 3 John in a number of non-canonical Christian works dating mostly from the second century a.d. These possible allusions have been grouped into categories according to the probability that they actually reflect some knowledge of the Johannine Epistles.

Unlikely allusions: These are works which some have suggested may contain allusions to the Johannine Epistles, but which probably show similarities only because they come from the same general background of early Christian thought. These works include the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (ca. a.d. 96), the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians (ca. a.d. 110-115), and the Didache (now dated by most as late first century a.d.).

Possible allusions: These are works which may indeed contain allusions or indirect references to 1 John and/or 2 and 3 John. They include the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. a.d. 130), the Shepherd of Hermas (before a.d. 150), the Second Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (ca. a.d. 150), both the Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho of Justin Martyr (ca. a.d. 150), and another early apologetic work of uncertain authorship, the Epistle to Diognetus (probably best dated in the late second century a.d., assuming the recipient referred to was Claudius Diogenes, procurator of Alexandria at the end of the second /beginning of the third century a.d. This identification of the recipient is not universally accepted, however).

Probable allusions: These are the earliest works which in the opinion of many New Testament scholars probably do reflect some degree of knowledge of one or more of the Johannine Epistles. The first of these is Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (before a.d. 140), where Epist. to the Phil. 7 is compared to 1 John 4:2.3 The second probable allusion is found in the testimony of Papias (a contemporary of Polycarp), which survives only in quotation by Eusebius. According to Eusebius, Papias “uses testimonies from the first [or former] Epistle of John.”4 This statement should not be taken to mean that Papias knew of more than one of the Johannine letters, however, since it may only reflect Eusebius’ knowledge of other Johannine letters in his own time (fourth century a.d.). In general when ancient authors cited earlier works, it was common to “update” such references to then-current standards.

      Early direct quotations from the Johannine letters

These works contain the first clear and generally undisputed direct quotations from the Johannine letters. They are:

(1) Irenaeus’ Adversus haereses (“Against Heresies,” ca. a.d. 180), which includes in three passages direct citations of 1 and 2 John. Adv. haer. 1.16.3 is a quotation of 2 John 11 in which Irenaeus adds that the Epistle was written by the Lord’s disciple John, who was also the author of the Fourth Gospel. Adv. haer. 3.16.5 is a quotation of 1 John 2:18-19 and 21-22, and 3.16.8 is quoted from 2 John 7-8 which also appears in 1 John 4:1-2 and 5:1. All of these are part of Irenaeus’ arguments against the Gnostics.

(2) The Muratorian Canon (sometimes referred to as the Muratorian Fragment, ca. a.d. 200, a fragment of an early Latin list of books which were considered canonical), thought to be associated with the church of Rome, is somewhat convoluted in its account of the Letters of John. The Muratorian Canon tells of John writing the Fourth Gospel and then refers to his “letters,” although the number of letters mentioned is disputed. Later the work adds, “Certainly the Epistle of Jude and two of the previously mentioned John are accepted in the catholic church,” although the meaning of this statement is disputed. R. Brown takes this as a reference to 1 and 2 John.5 It has also been argued that the Muratorian Canon would have placed 1 John with the Gospel and thus the two letters mentioned must refer not to 1 and 2 John, but to 2 and 3 John. P. Katz wanted to see a reference to all three letters by taking “catholic” to refer not to the church but to the “catholic epistle” of John, namely 1 John.6 My own suspicion (however difficult to prove) is somewhat different than either of these suggestions, namely, that 2 John may have been considered part of 1 John in the West. Irenaeus quotes 2 John 7-8 in Adv. haer. 3.16.8 as coming from the epistle he has already quoted, which has to be 1 John, quoted in 3.16.5. If so, the Muratorian Canon may well be referring to 1 and 2 John combined, plus 3 John as a separate letter. But this is far from certain, given the sparse evidence available.

(3) Tertullian (died a.d. 215) quotes 1 John numerous times, referring to it as the work of John the Apostle.7

(4) Clement of Alexandria (died ca. a.d. 220) not only quotes 1 John a number of times8 but attributes this to John the Apostle and speaks of it as “the greater epistle,”9 which indicates he knew at least one more of the Johannine letters (2 or 3 John) and considered them to come from the same author. It appears that the other Johannine letter Clement knew was 2 John, since his Hypotyposes apparently contained a commentary on 2 John.10

(5) Origen (died a.d. 253) quoted frequently from 1 John and referred to it as by John the Apostle. Eusebius claimed Origen knew of both 2 and 3 John, although he was aware that the latter two letters were not regarded as genuine by everyone.11 But Origen never actually quotes 2 or 3 John in any of his surviving works; the only firsthand evidence that he knew more than one Johannine letter rests on the use of a plural in the Latin translation (the Greek original is no longer extant) of his Homilies on Joshua (7.1) where he refers to the “epistles” of John. This is somewhat questionable because later in the same work (7.4) he speaks in the singular of “his epistle.”

(6) According to Eusebius, Dionysius of Alexandria (died a.d. 265), who studied under Origen, regarded 1 John to be written by the same author as the Fourth Gospel, although he distinguished both 1 John and the Fourth Gospel in style from Revelation, which he therefore attributed to a different author.12

      Conclusions

It can be seen from the external (historical) evidence we have examined above that 1 John, at least, was being quoted without question as to its authenticity or authority well before the end of the second century in both the West and the East. It also appears that the author was accepted to be John the Apostle, who was understood to be the author of the Fourth Gospel as well.

Internal Evidence concerning the Author of 1 John

Only 1 John and Hebrews among the letters of the New Testament mention no one by name as the author. This does not mean, however, that 1 John contains no information whatsoever about its author.

      (1) The author as eyewitness to Christ:

The introduction or prologue to the letter, 1 John 1:1-4, repeatedly emphasizes the eyewitness nature of the testimony the letter contains. 1 John 1:1, in particular, places special emphasis on what the writer himself has heard, seen, gazed upon, and touched. It is sometimes pointed out that the use of the first person plural in the introduction does not conclusively prove the author to be an eyewitness participant in the events to which he alludes, since first person plurals occur later in the letter with reference to the common experience of all Christians (e.g., 1 John 4:13). But if all the writer is doing in the prologue is alluding to general Christian experience (i.e., knowledge of the incarnation) it is hard to see how this could serve as any authentication of his message, which seems to be the point of the prologue. Another approach has been to claim that the statements in 1:1-4 which appear to claim eyewitness testimony are nothing more than a rhetorical device intended to boost the credibility of what follows in the letter. In response to this it is worth noting, however, that if the eyewitness claims are merely rhetorical, and yet are being put forward by the author of 1 John in the face of a serious christological schism brought on by the departure of the opponents (1 John 2:18-19), it would be obvious both to the recipients of the letter and to the opponents that the author’s claims to eyewitness testimony were merely rhetorical and those claims would carry no weight in the debate with the opponents for this reason.

It appears, rather, that the author intends by his statements in the prologue to indicate that he was one of the original eyewitnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus on earth, and that he intends to associate himself with the other original eyewitnesses.13 It should be noted that this is completely consistent with the traditional ascription of the letter to John the Apostle, as reflected in the external evidence we have already examined.

      (2) The authoritative tone of the letter:

In addition to the specific eyewitness claim of the prologue to 1 John, the remainder of the letter appears to be written with an attitude of assumed authority. Obedience to what the author has written is clearly assumed (1 John 4:6). There is to be no compromise with the error of the adversaries, which is condemned outright (2:18-19, 4:1-3). The tone set by the epistle as a whole is certainly one of apostolic authority, and this would be consistent with the assignment of authorship to John the Apostle.

      (3) The assumed familiarity with the readers:

It is clear from the author’s repeated use of terms of endearment like tekniva (teknia, “little children”) to refer to his readers (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21) that he is well known to them, and this may well explain the omission of the author’s name: he was so well known to the readers that no introduction was necessary.

      (4) The relationship of 1 John to the Fourth Gospel:

The relationship between 1 John and the Fourth Gospel will be discussed at greater length elsewhere. Here it should simply be noted that there are significant similarities in style, vocabulary, theological emphases, and perhaps even structure between the two works. The point of introducing this into a discussion of authorship is to serve as a reminder that to some extent discussions of authorship of 1 John are inextricably linked to discussions of authorship of the Fourth Gospel.

      Conclusions:

Although the author’s name is not specifically mentioned in 1 John, the indications within the letter (eyewitness of the life of Jesus, apostolic authority, someone well-known to the readers, and similarities to the Fourth Gospel) are certainly consistent with the traditional ascription of authorship to John the Apostle.

Alternative Proposals for Authorship of 1 John

As we have just seen, there is good evidence, both historical and internal, which supports the traditional ascription of authorship of 1 John to John the Apostle. This has not, of course, met with universal approval, and in light of the lack of specific mention of the author in the letter itself we should look at several of the more prominent alternatives proposed.

      (1) John the Elder:

Clearly the most widespread alternative to authorship of 1 John by John the Apostle is authorship by a second person whose name is John, usually designated John the Elder (or Presbyter, from the Greek word). Support for this is found in 2 and 3 John, which both introduce their author as “the elder” although no name is mentioned in connection with either. Support is also claimed from a much-debated passage attributed to Papias and quoted in Eusebius which may possibly refer to a person distinct from the Apostle John.

Papias is quoted by Eusebius as saying:

    And again, if anyone came who had been a follower of the elders, I used to enquire about the sayings of the elders – what Andrew, or Peter, or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John, or Matthew, or any other of the Lord’s disciples said (eijpen, eipen [aorist]) and what Aristion and the elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say (legousin, legousin [present]). For I did not think that I could get so much profit from the contents of books as from the utterances of a living and abiding voice.14

The problem, quite simply stated, is the interpretation of Papias’ words. Who are the “elders”? Are they to be identified with the “disciples” also named, or are they a separate group? C. K. Barrett was convinced the “sayings of the elders” consisted of reports of what the named disciples (i.e. apostles) had already said, and Papias only heard these second hand. There would be no question of Papias being a hearer of the apostle John and companion of Polycarp. Thus Papias would be referring to three groups: the apostles (Disciples), their followers the elders, and the other disciples.15

If, however, Papias is describing the apostles as elders, then there are only two groups (apostles and disciples), and Papias used to enquire directly from the followers of the apostles what the apostles had said. His testimony is therefore closer to that of Irenaeus. But if Papias is describing the apostles as ‘elders,’ then it is possible that the “elder John” is also the Apostle John mentioned earlier. In this case, Papias is distinguishing between what John said in the past and what he was still saying at the time of Papias’ enquiry.

At the same time, the possibility that there may have been two men with the name John cannot be ruled out. It is supported by Eusebius’ interpretation of Papias’ words. (But since Eusebius wished to attribute the Book of Revelation to a different John than the author of the gospel, his interpretation may not have been impartial.)16

In any case, the only other evidence for the existance for an ‘elder’ John appears to be the introduction to 2 and 3 John, where the author calls himself by this title. But even if there was a second John, the ‘elder’, Papias gives no location and no hint of any writings. He merely happens to possess a name which is identical to the person to which the Fourth Gospel is traditionally ascribed, and this makes the ‘confusion’ theory possible.

But if the later Church mixed up apostles and elders in this way, might not Papias have done so himself? And after all, it is still possible that he was originally referring to only one person himself, and Papias’ words were confused by Eusebius. The ambiguity of Papias’ testimony as Eusebius records it makes it impossible to draw any firm conclusions based on that testimony.

      (2) A disciple of John the Apostle:

Those who hold the view that a disciple of John the Apostle wrote the Johannine letters usually link it to their theory of authorship of the Fourth Gospel, because of the evidently close relationship between the Fourth Gospel and 1 John (mentioned briefly above). In moderately critical circles it is becoming common to ascribe authorship of the Gospel to a follower of the Apostle John (or the Beloved Disciple), which allows one to say that the witness behind the Fourth Gospel was apostolic or near-apostolic, while the actual author who recorded the testimony was not. Some would go on to see this individual as the same one who then wrote either 1 John or all three of the Johannine letters.17

      (3) A Christian leader in the Johannine community:

Many today think the author of 1 John (and possibly 2 and 3 John as well) was a Christian leader who was neither a personal acquaintance of John the Apostle nor the author of the Fourth Gospel. This is currently the leading theory in Johannine scholarship, expressed (for example) by R. Brown and S. Smalley.18 It is based primarily on the assumptions that (1) after the essential composition of the Gospel, development has taken place in the situation to which the letters are addressed, and (2) there are sufficient differences in emphasis, theology, style, etc. to warrant the conclusion that the same individual was not the author of both the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine letters. Both Brown and Smalley hold, however, that the same author wrote 1, 2, and 3 John, although Smalley is less certain on common authorship for 1 John.

Another recent proposal by J. Kügler is that 1 John reflects both a real author and an implied author (as well as real readers and implied readers). Having made this distinction, he holds that the implied author of 1 John is an eyewitness, but the real author is not – in other words, the real author employs a fictional device (taking the stance of an eyewitness) to gain a hearing from the real readers who otherwise would not pay attention to him.19 While Kügler’s approach does not dismiss the force of the eyewitness language in the prologue to 1 John, it is still questionable whether such a literary technique was in use in the ancient world. Reluctance to accept pseudepigraphal writings as canonical by early Christians would seem to mitigate against a view like Kügler’s. In addition, since 1 John assumes throughout that the author is well known to the readers, it is difficult to see how the pretense of being an eyewitness (when the real readers knew very well that the real author was not an eyewitness) would carry any polemical or persuasive weight against the opponents, who apparently claimed the authority of the Spirit for their innovative revelation about who Jesus was.

      Conclusions:

In response to all of the above suggestions we may refer to the historical and internal evidence cited above which points to John the Apostle as the author of 1, 2, and 3 John (as well as the Fourth Gospel, although this is something of a separate issue). We refer to the statement regarding the three epistles and the Gospel of John by B. H. Streeter, with which we agree:

    We are forced to conclude that all four documents are by the same hand. And few people, I would add, with any feeling for literary style or for the finer nuance of character and feeling, would hesitate to affirm this, but for the implications which seem to be involved.20

There is nothing in the evidence put forward by Brown or Smalley which demands authorship by a person other than the Apostle John. It is certainly possible to agree that development has taken place in the situation within the Johannine community between the composition of the Gospel and 1 John while still holding to apostolic authorship for both Gospel and letters. Such a conclusion appears to me to best explain all the available evidence.

Additional Bibliography: Authorship, Date, Relationship to the Fourth Gospel

Bauer, Walter. “Johannesevangelium und Johannesbriefe.” Theologische Rundschau n.s. 1 (1929): 135-60.

Brown, Raymond E. The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.

Dodd, C. H. “The First Epistle of John and the Fourth Gospel.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 21 (1937): 129-56.

Feuillet, A. “The Structure of First John: Comparison with the 4th Gospel.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 3 (1973): 194-216.

Holtzmann, H. J. “Das Problem des ersten johanneischen Briefes in seinem Verhältniss zum Evangelium.” Jahrbuch für protestantische Theologie 7 (1881): 690-712; 8 (1882): 128-52, 316-42, 460-85.

Howard, W. F. “The Common Authorship of the Johannine Gospel and Epistles.” Journal of Theological Studies 48 (1947): 12-25.

Katz, P. “The Johannine Epistles in the Muratorian Canon.” Journal of Theological Studies 8 (1957): 273-74.

Kügler, Joachim. “Die Belehrung der Unbelehrbaren: Zur Funktion des Traditionsarguments in 1 Joh.” BZ 32 (1988): 249-54.

Manson, T. W. “Additional Note: The Johannine Epistles and the Canon of the New Testament.” Attached to “Entry into the Membership of the Early Church.” Journal of Theological Studies 48 (1947): 32-33.

O’Neill, J. C. The Puzzle of 1 John: A New Examination of Origins. London: SPCK, 1966.

Soltau, Wilhelm. “Die Verwandtschaft zwischen Evangelium Johannis und dem 1. Johannesbrief.” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 89 (1916): 229-33.

Strecker, Georg. “Die Anfänge der johanneischen Schule.” New Testament Studies 32 (1986): 31-47.

Wilson, W. G. “An Examination of the Linguistic Evidence Adduced against the Unity of Authorship of the First Epistle of John and the Fourth Gospel.” Journal of Theological Studies 49 (1948): 147-56.


3 A. E. Brooke also considers 1 John 3:8; 2:18, 22; and 2 John 7 to be partial parallels (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912] liii).

4 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.16-17. In recent translations of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesia the Greek phrase ajpoV th' =Iwannou' protevra ejpistolh' is almost always translated as “the first epistle.”

5 Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (Anchor Bible 30; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982) 10. Brown’s view on the number and identification of the Johannine letters mentioned in the the Muratorian Canon is the most widely accepted one.

6 P. Katz, “The Johannine Epistles in the Muratorian Canon,” JTS 8 (1957): 273-74. Katz thought it unlikely that 2 John and 3 John would be thus separated, and so wanted to emend the Muratorian Canon to read “two in addition to the catholic [one],” with “catholic” being a reference to the “catholic epistle” of 1 John.

7 See especially Adversus Marcionem 5.16; Adversus Praxeam 15, 28; Adversus Gnosticos Scorpiace 12.

8 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 2.15.66; 3.4.32; 3.5.42, 44 and 3.6.45 (which quotes 1 John 2:4, 18-19); 4.16.100; Quis dives salvetur 37.6 (which quotes 1 John 3:15).

9 Stromata 2.15.66.

10 This work survives only in fragments. Part of the Hypotyposes (no longer extant in Greek) appears to be included in the Adumbrationes, a Latin version from sometime in the sixth century a.d.

11 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.25.10.

12 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 7.25.6–7.25.11. It is important to note, however, that Dionysius’ arguments about differing style were based on his own (third century a.d.) observations, not on earlier historical evidence.

13 I.e., the apostles (and possibly others) mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor 15:5-7.

14 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.4. The same fragment of Papias is quoted by Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men 13, who like Eusebius felt that the appearance of the name “John” twice in Papias’ list indicated the existence of an “Elder John” who was distinct from John the Apostle. How much or to what extent Jerome depended on Eusebius for this opinion is uncertain.

15 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel according to John, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978) 106-109.

16 Eusebius, an anti-chiliast (i.e., anti-millennialist), wanted to attribute the book of Revelation to a non-apostolic author (since he did not approve of its teaching of a millennium in chap. 20). Thus he read Papias’ words in such a way as to find another individual named John who was not an apostle and not the author of the Fourth Gospel to be the author of Revelation. The point is, Eusebius can hardly be considered to be neutral when it comes to the interpretation of Papias’ testimony.

17 Schnackenburg, for example, suggests that the author of 1 John (if not an eyewitness himself) was a pupil of the fourth evangelist or a member of the close circle of believers gathered around him (The Johannine Epistles: Introduction and Commentary [trans. R. and I. Fuller; New York: Crossroad, 1992], 38, 41)

18 Brown, The Epistles of John, 69-71; Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, WBC 51 (Waco: Word, 1984) xxii.

19 Joachim Kügler, “Die Belehrung der Unbelehrbaren: Zur Funktion des Traditionsarguments in 1 Joh,” BZ 32 (1988): 249-54.

20 B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1930) 460 [italics his].

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Background and Setting of 1 John

1 John itself contains no hint of the identity of the Christian community to which it was addressed, nor does it give any specific clue to the identification of the locale involved where these believers lived. The only thing that can be said for certain about the intended readers based on the content of the letter itself is that (1) they were Christians, (2) they appear to have been well-known to the author (and he to them), and (3) they were facing a threat from false teaching, a threat which was both serious and which appears to have arisen from within their Christian community(1 John 2:18-19).

Because of this lack of specific information in the letter itself, the attempt to understand something of the background and setting of the Johannine letters is related to two other areas which also require discussion: (1) authorship and (2) the identity of the adversaries (i.e., the false teachers against which the author of 1 John is writing). In other words, what we can say about the identity of the recipients of 1 John (and the other two Johannine letters as well) is inextricably linked to what we can say about the author of the letters and about his adversaries whom he was writing against.

We have already concluded in our discussion of authorship that there are no compelling reasons for rejecting the traditional ascription of authorship to the Apostle John. Before we go on to examine the internal evidence in the letters themselves for clues concerning the opponents and their views, we need to look briefly at the external evidence relating to the background and setting of the Johannine letters.

Location:

Most of the surviving firsthand evidence about the locale of the Johannine letters comes from the following sources:

      Justin Martyr

Justin, who was at Ephesus himself ca. a.d. 135, speaks of John, one of the apostles of Christ, as having lived there previously.21 This evidence is important because (a) it is so early and (b) it also comes from the same city.

      Irenaeus of Lyon

Irenaeus (writing ca. a.d. 180) says that after the writing of the other Gospels, John, the disciple of the Lord who reclined on his bosom (an allusion to John 13:23, 21:20), published his Gospel at Ephesus.22

      Eusebius

Eusebius also records that John the Apostle lived at Ephesus.23

      The apocryphal work known as the Acts of John

The apocryphal Acts of John, written by Leucius Charinus (supposedly a companion of John) ca. a.d. 150, tells of the ministry of the Apostle John at Ephesus. Two separate journeys of John to Ephesus are described, filled with various miraculous events such as the collapse of the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; the temple is mentioned in Acts 19:27).

      Polycrates

Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, writing to Pope Victor of Rome about a.d. 190, claims that John the Apostle was buried at Ephesus. His statements are preserved by Eusebius.24

      Archaeological evidence from Selçuk, Turkey

Excavations on Ayasoluk Hill at Selçuk, about 3.5 km (2 mi) from the archaeological site of ancient Ephesus (located in modern Turkey), beneath the basilica built later in honor of St. John, have shown the existence of a mausoleum dating from the third century. F.-M. Braun thinks this confirms the testimony of Polycrates (see above).25 In any case this is the traditional site of the grave of the Apostle John, still visited by tourists today, in the ruins of the magnificent basilica built by the Emperor Justinian that bears his name.

      The Syriac work known as the History of John

One further ancient work, the Syriac History of John, places the arrival of John at Ephesus quite early (adding that his banishment took place under Nero). He was supposedly still a youth when he came to Ephesus, and for a long interval, after the other gospels had been written, hesitated to write until he was prevailed upon by Peter and Paul, who visited him in Ephesus before going on to see James in Jerusalem. Although this account states that the Apostle John lived to the age of one hundred and twenty, it places the composition of the Fourth Gospel much earlier, before the deaths of Peter and Paul (the latter of whom, it agrees with other traditions, was martyred by Nero). Unfortunately, however, this work is of very dubious historical value since it dates to the fourth century and contains fanciful accounts of miracles worked by the Apostle John at Ephesus where he purportedly worked as an assistant attendant at the public baths.

      The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians

Against all this it is sometimes pointed out that Ignatius of Antioch, whose own letters are dated to ca. a.d. 110-15, wrote a letter of his own to the Ephesian Christians, which alludes to the ministry of Paul among the Ephesians but says nothing of the Apostle John. Certainly Ignatius’ writings are closer in time to the composition of the Johannine letters than any of the other evidence, but any argument on the basis of his failure to mention the Apostle John at Ephesus is an argument from silence and must be balanced against the actual statements found in the other sources.

      Augustines Commentary on 1 John

The only other suggestion for the locale to which the Johannine Epistles were addressed comes primarily from the Latin tradition with little Greek manuscript support. St. Augustine’s commentary on 1 John has the Latin title “On the Epistle of John to the Parthians” (ad Parthos). This commentary was written at the beginning of the fifth century a.d. Since “Parthia” referred to territory including Babylon in Mesopotamia, some have suggested that 1 John may originally have been written to Jewish Christians living in Babylon sometime toward the end of the first century.26

What are we to make of this? Evidence for such a destination for 1 John is very slim, and a reason for the author of the Johannine letters to address one or more of them to a region in Mesopotamia so far removed from Ephesus, where John the Apostle traditionally lived and ministered in the latter part of the first century a.d., is difficult to discern. The English theologian and historian Bede, writing in the early eighth century a.d., said in the prologue to his exposition of the catholic epistles that the Greek bishop Athanasius of Alexander believed 1 John to have been written to the Parthians. There appear to be only three medieval Greek manuscripts in existance that carry such a designation for one of the Johannine letters, and it is 2 John, not 1 John, that each of the three designate as “to the Parthians.”27

Although it has occasionally been suggested that there really was a Christian community in Babylon to which John wrote, it seems more likely that the Latin designation ad Parthos to which Augustine made reference probably resulted from a confused reading of something else. One suggestion (although it cannot be proven) is that 1 John was somewhere designated *Iwannou tou parqenou (Iwannou tou parqenou, “[The Epistle] of John the Virgin”) and this was misread or corrupted into *Iwannou tou Parqou (Iwannou tous Parqous, “[The Epistle] of John to the Parthians”).28

Wherever the designation “To the Parthians” came from, it is so late and based on such slim evidence that it appears to me highly unlikely that there is any historical basis behind it. It stands against the much earlier and far more widespread evidence connecting the Johannine letters with Ephesus and vicinity.

      Conclusions:

This brief survey of the primary sources concerning the locale in which the Johannine letters were written leads me to conclude that the best and earliest evidence points to Ephesus. The traditional site associated with the publication of the Fourth Gospel by the Apostle John appears as the most likely location from which the letters were written as well. (Whether they were composed before or after the Fourth Gospel is a complicated and difficult question that I will discuss at a later point.)

Setting:

Even more important than the location of the congregation(s) addressed by 1, 2, and 3 John is the setting (often called by New Testament scholars the Sitz im Leben, a German term meaning “situation in life”) which gave rise to this correspondence. The interpretation of 1 John, in particular, has suffered considerably from its association with the so called “general” or “catholic” epistles. This designation probably resulted originally from the fact that no specific destination was given in any of the three Johannine letters (e.g., as in Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2, etc.). In the popular imagination, however, the effect has been to create the impression that 1, 2, and 3 John were written to the church at large rather than a specific congregation (or group of congregations) with specific issues and problems. This in turn has had a significant effect on the interpretation of the letters themselves. For example, the repeated exhortation to “love one another” gets reduced to a platitude which should be true of all Christians everywhere in every time (which is certainly true), but what gets lost in this “generalized” interpretation is the use by the author of 1 John of love for fellow members of the community as a diagnostic tool for determining who has held fast to the apostolic teaching about who Jesus is, versus who has departed and followed the teaching of the secessionist opponents (cf. 1 John 2:18-19). What we can say about the setting which produced these letters thus becomes vitally important for their accurate interpretation, but also for our understanding of how their teaching can be applied to situations in which we find ourselves today.

What can be said about the setting of 1 John and the two shorter Johannine Epistles must be gleaned from hints in the text itself. No explicit statements are made within the Epistles themselves concerning the life-situation to which these writings were addressed, but there are some important clues:

      (1) Familiarity with the recipients

Since the author does not introduce himself to the readers in 1 John, we may assume that he was well known to them and needed no introduction. He obviously felt no need either to identify himself or invoke his position in the early church in order to strengthen his authority. In passing, it is worth noting that this reticence on the part of the author to mention his name or position is also a characteristic of the Gospel of John.

      (2) Authoritativeness

As I have already observed in the discussion of authorship, the author writes with an air of authority. He evidently expects his opinions to carry weight with the readers. It is likely that this comes from personal contact the author has had with the recipients, and it cannot be ruled out that he himself is in fact a member of the Christian community to which he is writing. The first person plural pronouns which characterize the prologue (1 John 1:1-4) have been understood by some scholars as nothing more than a literary device to identify the author with the original apostles. If taken at face value, however, they make a significant contribution to the authority with which the author speaks.

      (3) The presence of false teachers

It soon becomes clear that false teachers are causing trouble in the community to which the author is writing (1 John 2:27; 4:1). These the author labels as “antichrists” (2:18) and “false prophets” (4:1). The strength of these labels for the author’s opponents indicates both the depth of his feeling about them and also the seriousness of their departure from the apostolic teaching about Jesus.

      (4) A controversy in progress

The controversy caused by the false teachers appears to be currently in progress, rather than something that has happened in the past, or something that might happen in the future. The purpose of 1 John would then involve an attempt on the author’s part to strengthen and encourage his followers (Christians who hold faithfully to the apostolic teaching about Jesus) against these false teachers. (I will have more to say about the purpose of 1 John later.) Thus 1 John alternates between pastoral encouragement and exhortation on the one hand, and polemic directed against the opponents on the other hand.29

      (5) Schism in the Christian community to which the author writes

1 John 2:19, if taken at face value, strongly suggests that the false teachers were originally members of the Christian community to which the author is writing. They appear to have “gone out” from among this community “into the world” (4:1). Thus the author is addressing a community which has undergone a schism or split in which a substantial part of the community – maybe even a numerical majority – has withdrawn from fellowship. This is a key point which affects the interpretation of almost every part of 1, 2, and 3 John.30

      (6) A doctrinal controversy

The root of this split or division appears to be a doctrinal controversy, although there are ethical issues involved too (i.e., attitude toward sin, love for the brethren). The prologue (1 John 1:1-4) reminds the readers of the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is, and lays down adherence to this testimony as a condition for “fellowship” (1:4). Presumably those who have departed from the apostolic teaching about Jesus (2:18-19) would not share this “fellowship.” (There will be more to say about the views of the opponents later.)

      (7) An adversarial stance

In writing 1 John the author adopts a “we–they” stance (cf. the pronoun switches [“you – they – we”] in 4:4-6), which implies that the people to whom he is writing have not yet embraced the teaching of the schismatics (who have withdrawn from the community but are still seeking to influence it from outside, perhaps to win adherents for their own views). However, some of the recipients of 1 John may be under pressure to side with the opponents, and one major reason for the letter would be to convince them not to do so.

      (8) The relationship of 2 John to 1 John

2 John, at least, appears to be related to the controversy which has split the community to which the author of 1 John is writing. Just as in 1 John 2:18-19, reference is made in 2 John 7 to the schismatics who have withdrawn from the community and “gone out into the world.” At the center of the doctrinal controversy are “people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” (2 John 7), a confession virtually identical with one found in 1 John 4:2 (“every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh”). This strongly suggests that the same situation produced both letters.

      (9) A further warning

In 2 John 8-9 the Christians to whom the author is writing are warned against adopting the teaching of the opponents. Reference is made to losing “the things we have worked for” and to receiving “a full reward” (v. 8). It would be premature and naïve to associate these statements about rewards with other New Testament teaching on the subject without careful comparison of the individual contexts. Whether the loss of reward refers to the one who embraces the teaching of the opponents (as opposed to merely permitting their teaching to promulgate [v. 11]), the author of 2 John makes it clear that “everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching about Christ does not have God” (v. 9). This is serious business indeed.

      (10) Itinerant false teachers

2 John 10-11 appears to indicate that the opponents have sent out traveling “missionaries,” or teachers, who are attempting to “convert” members of the recipients’ community. This the author wishes to prevent, so he warns the recipients against welcoming such false teachers into their homes or giving public greetings (which might be understood as tacit endorsements of the opponents’ views).

      Conclusions:

What we can discern about the setting of the Johannine Epistles from the letters themselves is limited and fragmentary, but it appears that 1 and 2 John, at least, are rooted in controversy.31 The author of 1 John appears to be writing to a community to which he himself is well-known (and to which he himself may belong). He attempts to reassure those to whom he writes, because their Christian community has undergone a serious split whereby a substantial part of the community has withdrawn from fellowship over doctrinal issues. The author of 1 John describes the group which has left as made up of ‘antichrists’ and ‘false prophets’ (strong language by any account).

This group (which has split off and withdrawn from fellowship with the community to which the author writes) is continuing to propagate its own beliefs. The secessionists are seeking to win converts for their own views, even from among the community to which they formerly belonged. In light of this threat, the author of 1 John is writing both to reassure and strengthen the faithful members of that community, and to warn them to continue to resist the proselytizing efforts of the false teachers who have gone out from among them. In 2 John the author is writing to a particular congregation to warn the believers there against giving aid or shelter to the false teachers in their ongoing missionary efforts.

Additional Bibliography: Background and Setting of the Johannine Letters

Boismard, M.-E. “The First Epistle of John and the Writings of Qumran.” In John and Qumran , pp. 156-65. Edited by J. H. Charlesworth. London: Chapman, 1972.

Brown, Raymond E. “The Qumran Scrolls and the Johannine Gospel and Epistles.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 17 (1955): 403-19, 559-74.

Filson, Floyd V. “The Significance of the Early House Churches.” Journal of Biblical Literature 58 (1939): 105-12.

Griffith, Terry. “A Non-polemical Reading of 1 John: Sin, Christology and the Limits of Johannine Community.” Tyndale Bulletin 49 (1998): 253-76.

Hoffman, T. A. “I John and the Qumran Scrolls.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 8 (1978): 117-25.

Piper, O. A. “I John and the Didache of the Primitive Church.” Journal of Biblical Literature 66 (1947): 437-51.

Songer, H. S. “The Life Situation of the Johannine Epistles.” Review and Expositor 67 (1970): 399-409.

Streeter, B. H. “The Epistles of St. John.” In The Primitive Church, pp. 86-101. New York: Macmillan, 1929.


21 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 81.4.

22 Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 3.1.1.

23 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.18.6-8.

24 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.3.

25 F.-M. Braun, Jean le Théologien, vol. 1: Jean le Théologien et son Évangile dans lÉglise ancienne (Paris: Gabalda, 1959) 374.

26 For further historical details see Brown, The Epistles of John, 772-74. On Augustine’s view see also W. Michaelis, Einleitung in das Neue Testament, 3rd ed. with Ergänzungsheft (Bern: Haller Verlag, 1961) 291-92.

27 Again see Brown, The Epistles of John, 773. The textual variant “To the Parthians” for the title of 2 John does not appear in the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland text. Brown states his indebtedness to both K. Aland and B. M. Metzger for their assistance with this information.

28 Brown discusses this suggestion along with a number of others (The Epistles of John, 773).

29 It is important to keep in mind that although 1 John contains a fair amount of polemic against the opponents, it is not directed at the opponents themselves, but is intended for the members of the Christian community to whom John is writing. Thus it is written against the opponents, but not directly to the opponents.

30 Not every NT scholar has unanimously agreed to the importance of the schism in understanding the Johannine Letters. For example, Judith Lieu has argued that while a schism occurred in the church(es) to which 1 John was addressed, the letter’s purpose was not to deal with the effects of the schism but to promote theological debate within the author’s own community (The Theology of the Johannine Epistles [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991], 16). Even further removed from the existence of a schism is T. Griffith, who argued that the setting of 1 John was the return of some Jewish Christians to Judaism, and the author’s purpose in writing was to safeguard the community against further such losses (“A Non-polemical Reading of 1 John: Sin, Christology and the Limits of Johannine Community,” TynBul 49 [1998]: 275). Nevertheless, most NT scholars seem prepared to acknowledge that 1 John 2:18-19, 4:1, and similar verses do suggest a polemical purpose for the letter.

31 3 John, because it is addressed to an individual, is less clear in this regard. In my opinion, however, the same situation described in 1 and 2 John lies behind 3 John as well.

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The Author’s Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John

Trying to diagnose the theological position of the author’s opponents in 1 John is a little like trying to reconstruct a telephone conversation by listening only to the party at one end. There are several important factors to consider before attempting an analysis of the views of the adversaries:

(1) The presentation of the opponent’s views by the author of 1 John can hardly be a sympathetic one, and it is not common for people to feel that their views have been accurately represented by an adversary intent on an unfavorable presentation. Thus we cannot be absolutely sure that the opponents would agree with the way their positions were being portrayed. (This has nothing to do with whether the author of 1 John was accurate in his portrayal; it only concerns whether the opponents would have agreed with his portrayal of them.)

(2) It is also difficult to tell when the quotations of the opponents’ views are direct (i.e., verbatim) and when they are being paraphrased or placed in the idiom of the author of 1 John for his own purposes in the debate, or perhaps to bring out implications of the opposing view that the opponents themselves might not have realized.

(3) When the opponents’ views are being quoted directly, it is without the benefit of context, so that we are completely dependent on the author of 1 John for clues as to how the opponents’ claims should be understood.

(4) Furthermore, it may be asked whether we are correct in assuming that in areas not mentioned by the author of 1 John he would be in general agreement with his adversaries. This is probably the case, but it is difficult to prove.

With all these qualifications and warnings in mind one may wonder about the possibility of success in constructing any portrait of the opponents and their teaching as addressed by 1 John. But it is necessary to keep in mind the difficulties in reconstructing the opponents’ views lest we become overly dogmatic about the accuracy of our exegesis in regard to their positions.

Passages in the Johannine Epistles Which Describe the Opponents’ Teaching

It will be helpful in discussing the views of the opponents in 1 John if we start with a list of passages in the Johannine Epistles which appear to describe the opponents and their teachings.

Note: English verse quotations from the NET Bible are given here in order to make analysis of this summary easier for the reader. The relevant portions of the text are highlighted in italics.

Their attitude toward Jesus

(1) [1 John] 2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour. 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us.

(2) [1 John] 2:22 Who is the liar but the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the Antichrist: the person who denies the Father and the Son. 2:23 Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father either. The person who confesses the Son has the Father also.

(3) [1 John] 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, 4:3 but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, that you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.

(4) [1 John] 4:6 We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

(5) [1 John] 5:5 Now who is the person who has conquered the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 5:6 Jesus Christ is the one who came by water and blood—not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

(6) [1 John] 5:10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.)

(7) [2 John] 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist!

(8) [2 John] 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching about Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Their attitude toward the world

(1) [1 John] 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.

(2) [1 John] 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

(3) [1 John] 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them.

(4) [2 John] 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist!

Their attitude toward sin

(1) [1 John] 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.

(2) [1 John] 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

(3) [1 John] 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

(4) [1 John] 2:4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.

(5) [1 John] 2:6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.

(6) [1 John] 3:3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure). 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness. 3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 3:6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.

(7) [1 John] 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.

(8) [1 John] 3:9 Everyone who is fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.

(9) [1 John] 5:18 We know that everyone fathered by God does not sin, but God protects the one he has fathered and the evil one cannot touch him.

(10) [3 John] 11 Dear friends, do not imitate what is bad but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does what is bad has not seen God.

Their attitude toward the brothers and sisters

(1) [1 John] 2:9 The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness.

(2) [1 John] 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.

(3) [1 John] 3:11 For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another, 3:12 not like Cain who was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous.

(4) [1 John] 3:14 We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death. 3:15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

(5) [1 John] 3:17 But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person? 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.

(6) [1 John] 4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

(7) [1 John] 4:20 If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 4:21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.

An Emerging Picture of the Opponents in 1 John

As we attempt to draw a picture of the opponents based on the statements above, several key factors and observations emerge, as follows:

(1) A case of charismatic Christian prophecy run amok?

It has been suggested (among other things) that the author of 1 John was faced with an outbreak of charismatic Christian prophecy run amok, with some similarities to 1 Cor 12-14. True, there are references to putting the Spirits to the test and to false prophets (1 John 4:1), but I can find no indication of ecstatic or uncontrolled behavior like the spiritual enthusiasts at Corinth appear to have exhibited. The false prophets are challenged on their Christological views (what they assert or fail to assert about Jesus, 1 John 4:2-3) rather than on their ecstatic practices, and their statements do not seem to be spontaneous, but rather a settled and perhaps organized doctrine which contradicts the doctrine of the author.

(2) A denial of apostolic authority

The author accuses the opponents of failing to listen to him (1 John 4:6), and if we are correct in our conclusion that the author was the Apostle John, this would amount to a denial of apostolic authority (note especially in this regard the prologue, 1:1-4, which appears to assume not only an authoritative tone, but eyewitness testimony about who Jesus is).

(3) Secessionists

The opponents appear to have withdrawn themselves from fellowship with the author’s community, since they are constantly referred to as “having gone out from among us” (1 John 2:18-19, 4:1, 2 John 7). This withdrawal appears to be voluntary on their part, since no mention is made of their being forced to leave the community. For the author of 1 John, the withdrawal of the opponents demonstrates conclusively that they had never really belonged in the first place (1 John 2:19).

(4) Proselytizing efforts

The secessionist opponents still constitute a threat to the author’s community, however, because they appear to be sending out teachers (1 John 2:27, 2 John 9, 10, 11) to try and win over more of the author’s followers (resisting this missionary effort by the opponents constitutes a major purpose of 2 and 3 John). Such attempts by the opponents to proselytize others suggest an organized effort on the part of the adversaries. There is good reason for thinking that a split has taken place (1 John 2:19), and the author’s opponents now constitute a community of their own, just as thoroughly committed as the author’s to spreading their understanding of who Jesus is.

(5) More numerous and prosperous?

Although it is difficult to be certain, there are hints in the text of 1 John that the opponents’ community may be at least as numerous as the author’s (1 John 2:18 [“many”]; 4:5 [hints at the success of the secessionists, cf. John 12:19; also note negative connotations in John 8:23]) and possibly more well-to-do (1 John 2:15-16; 3:17-18).25

(6) Multiple groups of opponents?

We have divided the statements in the Johannine Epistles pertaining to the opponents into four major categories, listed above: (1) Their attitude toward Jesus; (2) Their attitude toward the world; (3) Their attitude toward sin; and (4) Their attitude toward the brothers and sisters. We may now ask: do these attitudes reflect a single group of adversaries, or multiple groups?26 Some have even suggested a variety of Christological heresies are being addressed, based on the statement in 1 John 2:18 that “many antichrists have appeared.” Others see no relationship between the Christological discussion in 1 John 4:1-6 and the ethical commands of 4:7-13 to love one’s fellow Christian, so that again more than one group of opponents is being addressed. It would seem preferable, however, to see only one group of adversaries, fairly well organized and perhaps as numerous as the author’s own community, if we can arrive at a plausible statement of their position which would explain both the Christological emphasis in 1 John and also the ethical stress on avoidance of sin and love for the brothers and sisters.27 To this we will now proceed.

(7) Sequence of Johns Gospel and Epistles

My own understanding of the sequence of the Gospel of John and the three epistles is that the Gospel of John was produced first, followed by the three epistles in the canonical order (1, 2, 3 John). In order for what follows to be plausible, however, it is not necessary for the Gospel of John to have been in written form, or written in its final form, at the time 1 John was written—only that there was a community of Christians (probably in Asia Minor in the vicinity of Ephesus) who generally subscribed to the theology (especially the christology) which has been handed down to us in the Gospel of John.28

(8) A Christology too far?

It seems likely that if the secessionist opponents went out from among the author’s community (1 John 2:19) they held the same “high” christology reflected in the Gospel of John. But the opponents had gone too far: they were putting so much stress on the preexistence of Christ that they were neglecting or downplaying the humanity (or the earthly career) of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3, 2 John 7).29 This would also explain the author’s charge that the opponents were ‘progressives’ who had not remained in the apostolic teaching but had “gone too far” (2 John 9).

(9) “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

The purpose statement of the Gospel of John (20:31) is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and this is repeatedly worked into the assertions of the author of 1 John (1:3, 2:22-23, 3:8, 3:23, 4:9, 4:15, 5:1, 5:10-12, 5:20). How could adversaries who held a higher christology than that of the Gospel of John or the author of 1 John have possibly objected to such a statement? It seems to me the opponents would have had problems not with the predicates (Christ and Son of God) but with the subject (Jesus). When the author of 1 John talks about Jesus, he is talking about Jesus come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3, 2 John 7), that is, the importance of the earthly career of Jesus, including His sacrificial death (“the blood,” 1 John 5:5-6).

Note: Although the opponents have sometimes been identified with the Docetists against whom Ignatius of Antioch wrote, the stress of the author of 1 John does not seem to be on the reality of Jesus’ humanity (as if against the Docetist view) but on the importance of Jesus’ earthly career, especially His sacrificial death on the cross.

(10) Avoidance of moral error

How does all of this relate to the second major area of dispute between the author of 1 John and his opponents, that is, the insistence on ethical commandments and avoidance of moral error (points 2, 3, and 4 of the list above)? The author warns about walking in the darkness (1 John 1:6), not acknowledging sin (1:8, 1:10), not keeping the commandments (2:4), not following the example of Christ (2:6, 3:3-6), and committing sin (3:3-6, 3:7-8, 3:9-10).

(11) Neither libertines nor antinomians

We might draw the conclusion from the statements in the previous paragraph that the opponents were libertines or antinomians who were insisting on their right to live immoral lives while claiming to be Christians. It is interesting, though, that the author of 1 John never names any specific immoral behavior of his opponents. In fact we may infer that the opponents themselves were not consciously aware of living in an ungodly manner. They claimed to be in fellowship with God (1 John 1:6), to know God (2:4), to abide in God (2:6), to be born of God (3:9-10), and to love God (4:20).

(12) Moral indifferentists

This, combined with the lack of mention of any specific sins other than failure to show Christian love to the brothers and sisters (1 John 3:17-18), leads to the conclusion that the opponents were probably not libertines or antinomians but moral indifferentists, holding that one’s moral behavior has no importance whatsoever as far as the Christian life is concerned. The fault the author finds with his opponents is more with their theory than with their practice. At least at this point their theory has not been fully translated into practice in the moral realm. Perhaps the opponents themselves have not seen as clearly as the author of 1 John where their faulty christology will ultimately lead them. As moral indifferentists, the opponents may have been denying the need to confess post-conversion sins (1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves…”, and 1 Jn 1:10, “If we say that we have not sinned…”).

(13) Downplaying Jesus death on the cross

An ethical theory of moral indifference (that what one does in terms of moral behavior as a Christian really does not matter) would be consistent with the christology of the opponents, which put so much stress on the preexistence of Christ and the incarnation as central to salvation that what Jesus did in His earthly existence (including even His death on the cross) contributed nothing to the salvation of Christians and thus did not matter. Denial of the significance of Jesus’ work on the cross is a serious matter, but this seems to be the point of the author’s dispute with his opponents in 1 John 5:5-6, where the opponents affirmed that the significance of Jesus Christ’s coming lay “with the water only” (referring either to physical birth or to baptism by John the Baptist), while the author insists that Jesus came “not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood,” which constitutes an allusion to John 19:34 where both blood and water flow from the wound in Jesus’ side, and thus constitute a reference to Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross.

(14) Failing to love the brothers and sisters

Understanding the opponents as former members of the author’s community who have withdrawn from fellowship also helps to explain the author of 1 John’s emphasis on love for the brothers and sisters. By withdrawing (1 John 2:19) and splitting the community the opponents have shown that they do not love the brothers and sisters, in spite of the fact that they say they do. If they had really loved the brothers and sisters (i.e., those loyal to the author) they would not have gone out into the world, and would not be attempting even now to seduce those brothers and sisters loyal to the author with false teaching (1 John 2:27, 2 John 10-11).

Conclusions

Thus in conclusion I would say the opponents of the author of 1 John are schismatics from within the author’s own community who have put forward a christology which the author has judged unacceptable (4:1-3). The christology of the opponents appears to minimize the importance of the earthly career of Jesus (including His sacrificial death on the cross) in the plan of salvation, which has produced in the opponents (or in the judgment of the author of 1 John will inevitably produce in the opponents) a moral indifferentism in which the ethical value of one’s behavior and deeds as a Christian is minimized and sins committed after conversion do not need to be confessed. I suspect (though I cannot conclusively prove) that the opponents held a high christology which went beyond that reflected in the Gospel of John, to the point of saying that it was the act of incarnation itself (cf. John 1:14) which had redemptive value for Christians, not the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. There are a lot of similarities between this portrait of the opponents and Christian forms of Gnosticism found later, in the mid- to late second century (more so than to Docetism, in my judgment).30 Although there are also some significant differences between the picture of the opponents we have been able to draw and the later Gnostic systems, I suspect this is where the schismatics (they would not have called themselves ‘heretics’ and to do so would be somewhat anachronistic before the later Church Councils which determined what ‘orthodox’ christology was) and their followers eventually ended up.

These schismatics, after putting forward their variant christology and meeting with resistance, have seceded from the Christian community represented by the author of 1 John (2:18-19). After their departure, however, they have continued their efforts to influence the author’s community (2:26) and have even sent out itinerant missionaries to influence outlying congregations (the situation as reflected in 2 John).

Additional Bibliography: The Opponents and Their Teaching

Bogart, John. Orthodox and Heretical Perfectionism in the Johannine Community as Evident in the First Epistle of John. SBLDS 33. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977.

Brown, Raymond E. “Origin of I and II John in a Struggle with Adversaries.” In The Epistles of John: Translated with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, pp. 47-68. Vol. 30 of The Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.

Edwards, M. J. “Martyrdom and the First Epistle of John.” NovT 31 (1989): 164-71.

Klauck, H.-J. “Internal Opponents: The Treatment of the Secessionists in the First Epistle of John.” Concilium 200 (1988): 55-65.

Painter, J. “The ‘Opponents’ in 1 John.” New Testament Studies 32 (1986): 48-71.

Stagg, Frank. “Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in the Johannine Epistles.” Review and Expositor 67 (1970): 423-32.

Vorster, W. S. “Heterodoxy in 1 John.” Neotestamentica 9 (1975): 87-97.

Weiss, Konrad. “Orthodoxie und Heterodoxie im 1. Johannesbrief.” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 58 (1967): 247-55.

Wengst, K. Hresie und Orthodoxie im Spiegel des ersten Johannesbriefes. Gütersloh: Mohn, 1976.


25 Based on these texts H.-J. Klauck has argued that the secessionist opponents were much better off financially than the remnant who stayed behind in the author’s community, possibly providing the church’s meeting places and hospitality for itinerant missionaries (“Internal Opponents: The Treatment of the Secessionists in the First Epistle of John,” Concilium 200 [1988]: 56-57).

26 S. Smalley proposed that there were three groups within the community of the author of 1 John: those who were holding to the apostolic teaching, those of Jewish background who had not yet acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, and those from pagan Hellenistic backgrounds who had been influenced by dualistic (i.e. Gnostic) ideas. When the tensions in the community became too great, some of these seceded from the community (1, 2, 3 John, xxiii-xxv). While Smalley cites Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians 10:3 as evidence for a Jewish-Christian group in the community of 1 John, thus raising the possibility of a Jewish element in the opponents’ teaching, it should be noted that there is no real evidence for this in the text of 1 John.

27 See also J. Painter, “The ‘Opponents’ in 1 John,” NTS 32 (1986): 48-71, and H.-J. Klauck, “Internal Opponents,” 55-65. Schnackenburg felt there was general agreement that only one christological heresy was involved in 1 John: “The author is fighting on a single front. Even though there may be different groups among the many antichrists (2:18) or false prophets, they are united in their denial of the church’s christological confession (2:22; 4:2-3). “Antichrists” and “false prophets” are only different terms arising from particular perspectives, depending on whether it is eschatological (last hour, antichrist) or pneumatic (distinguishing of spirits)” (The Johannine Epistles, 17).

28 R. Brown argues more specifically that the split between the secessionists and the addressees of 1 John arose from different interpretations of the Gospel of John. The author of 1 John viewed the opponents as theological innovators (cf. 2 John 9) who had departed from the apostolic eyewitness testimony about who Jesus was, presumably claiming the teaching/revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community in support of their views (The Epistles of John, 69-71).

29 According to R. Brown, the secessionist opponents did not deny the incarnation as such, but denied that Christ’s incarnation was salvific (The Epistles of John, 67-68, 505).

30 R. Schnackenburg points out that the christological views of the secessionist opponents in the Johannine letters “can no longer be described with certainty or precision” (The Johannine Epistles, 23). However, R. Brown also observes, “While the Johannine adversaries have some points in common with all the proposed candidates, differences militate against a precise identification with any of these groups. In any case, to have so identified the epistolary adversaries would not have been particularly enlightening; for granted the little we know about such groups, it would have been tantamount to explaining ignotum per ignotius. Yet it remains useful to know that the views attacked in I and II John were not without parallel in Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century” (The Epistles of John, 67-68).

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Structure and Purpose of 1 John

Approaches to the Structure of 1 John

Anyone attempting to work on the structure of 1 John would do well to stop for a moment and reflect on just how different this “letter” is, especially in comparison with contemporary examples of letters and with 2 and 3 John (both of which exhibit almost all the characteristics of first century a.d. letters). There is no greeting or other introduction, no health wish or thanksgiving, and no final greetings. No author’s name is included anywhere (not just at the beginning). Most of the sentences in Greek have a very simple syntactical structure and the lack of connective conjunctions is often striking.40 Added to all this is an extremely convoluted internal structure which has plagued interpreters for centuries. Regarding the problem of the structure and argument of 1 John, F. F. Bruce stated (1970),

    Attempts to trace a consecutive argument throughout 1 John have never succeeded. For the convenience of a commentator and his readers, it is possible to present such an analysis of the epistle as is given on pp. 31 f., but this does not imply that the author himself worked to an organized plan. At best we can distinguish three main courses of thought: the first (1.5-2.27), which has two main themes, ethical (walking in light) and Christological (confessing Jesus as the Christ); the second (2.28-4.6), which repeats the ethical and Christological themes with variations; the third (4.7-5.12) where the same two essential themes are presented as love and faith and shown to be inseparable and indispensable products of life in Christ.41

Although Bruce has analyzed the epistle in terms of three major sections, it is important to note that the two main themes of walking in light and confessing Jesus as the Christ are repeated throughout all the sections.

This difficulty in understanding the structure and organization of 1 John is not limited to modern biblical scholarship. Brown has pointed out that interpreters as diverse as Augustine, Calvin, and Operinus all acknowledged the lack of a discernable sequence of thought, though some basic patterns were evident – it was fairly clear to these earlier scholars that the letter contained an extended treatment of love.42 By the time of the Reformation, the lack of a clear scheme of organization was seen as either the product of the Spirit’s inspiration or the advanced age of the apostolic author.43

In the latter part of the nineteenth century scholars began to grapple with the structural difficulties of 1 John in earnest. Discussions of the problem, at least in the introductions of commentaries on 1 John, became much more common. B. F. Westcott (1886) offered a summary of the problem that is still helpful:

    It is extremely difficult to determine with certainty the structure of the Epistle. No single arrangement is able to take account of the complex development of thought which it offers, and of the many connexions which exist between its different parts.44

At about the same time, A. Plummer (1886) rejected the view that 1 John had no systematic arrangement of material at all, amounting instead to a collection of aphorisms that did not have any logical or organized structure. He went on to state:

    It is quite true to say with Calvin that the Epistle is a compound of doctrine and exhortation: what Epistle in N.T. [sic] is not? But it is a mistake to suppose with him that the composition is confused. Again, it is quite true to say that the Apostle’s method is not dialectical. But it cannot follow from this that he has no method at all. …he does not allow his thoughts to come out hap-hazard. Each one as it comes before us may be complete in itself; but it is linked on to what precedes and what follows. The links are often subtle, and sometimes we cannot be sure that we have detected them; but they are seldom entirely absent. …The spiral movement, which is so conspicuous in the Prologue to the Gospel and in Christ’s Farewell Discourses, is apparent in the Epistle also.45

Only a few years later T. Häring (1892), in a lengthy essay dedicated to Carl von Weizsäcker, proposed that the two basic themes around which 1 John was organized were ethical and christological. In between the prologue (1 John 1:1-4) and the conclusion (5:13-21) these two major themes appeared repeatedly in three major sections: A. 1 John 1:5-2:27; B. 2:28-4:6; C. 4:7-5:12.46 Häring’s recognition of a cyclical and organized structure and the two basic themes, alternating between an ethical and a christological emphasis through three major sections, would have a significant influence on later interpreters.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Robert Law (1909), commenting on the view of some interpreters that 1 John has no logical structure, observed, “there is no portion of Scripture regarding the plan of which there has been greater diversity of opinion.”47 Law himself was not so quick to dismiss an organized structure in the letter, however. Echoing Plummer’s use of the term “spiral” to describe the argumentation of 1 John, he went on to state:

    The word that…might best describe St. John’s mode of thinking and writing in this Epistle is “spiral.” The course of thought does not move from point to point in a straight line. It is like a winding staircase – always revolving around the same centre, always recurring to the same topics, but at a higher level. Or, to borrow a term from music, one might describe the method as contrapuntal. The Epistle works with a comparatively small number of themes, which are introduced many times, and are brought into every possible relation to one another. …And the clue to the structure of the Epistle will be found by tracing the introduction and reappearances of these leading themes.48

Not long after this, and completely to the contrary, A. E. Brooke (1912) was ready to give up completely in the attempt to seek a pattern or structure to 1 John. Brooke remarks with some degree of resignation, “The aphoristic character of the writer’s meditations is the real cause of this diversity of arrangement, and perhaps the attempt to analyse the Epistle should be abandoned as useless.”49

By the mid-twentieth century C. H. Dodd (1946) was using the term “spiral” to described the structure of 1 John, echoing Plummer and Law back at the turn of the century. Dodd was also aware of the presence of aphorisms, like Brooke, and seemed less optimistic than Plummer and Law about discerning an organized structure. Like others, Dodd noted the difficulties of following the argument and dividing up the material:

    The argument is not closely articulated. There is little direct progression. The writer ‘thinks around’ a succession of related topics. The movement of thought has not inaptly been described as ‘spiral,’ for the development of a theme often brings us back almost to the starting-point; almost, but not quite, for there is a slight shift which provides a transition to a fresh theme; or it may be to a theme which had apparently been dismissed at an earlier point, and now comes up for consideration from a slightly different angle. The striking aphorisms which are the most memorable things in the epistle do not usually emerge as the conclusion of a line of argument. …Any attempt to divide the work into orderly paragraphs and sections must be largely arbitrary….50

Concerning the difficult structure of 1 John, A. N. Wilder (1957) noted, “An earlier commentator compared its course to that of the river Meander, which flowed through the province of Asia, while the adjective ‘cyclical’ has been applied to it by modern students.”51 M. Bogaert (1968) called it “the Canticle of Canticles of the New Testament,” in the sense that love was the main subject, but it was not always certain whose views were being expressed and there seemed to be little progress in the action. Bogaert, who apparently thought the writer of 1 John was influenced in his style by the repetitive nature of Hebrew poetry, attributed this to “Semitic thought patterns.”52

R. Bultmann (1967) acknowledged the apparent randomness of 1 John in yet another way, arguing that the original composition ended at 2:27, and (since the themes of the initial section are all repeated in the following material several times) the remainder of 1 John as we now have it consisted of various Johannine fragments and loose pieces added on after 2:27.53 It should be noted that there is no external textual evidence for such a “shorter version” of 1 John, so that Bultmann’s theory remains mere conjecture based on the content of the epistle, and as Brown observes, others have argued against it “for the paradoxical reason that they cannot explain why anyone would have added pieces that say little or nothing which was not already said in 1:5-2:27!”54 Brown himself is hardly less complimentary regarding the organization of the material in 1 John, however: “The author’s logic is so obscure that one could move around units almost at will and still I John would read just as well as it does now.”55

Other similar proposals have included “free association of ideas” on the part of the author of 1 John (de Ambroggi, 1949).56 Houlden (1973), like Law and others, used the term “spiral” and referred to “a number of cycles of argument”:

    Each cycle includes a consideration of the central themes with some subordinate question in mind; or, alternatively, using the great, constant words and ideas for material, it radiates from some new notion or question, introduced or brought into prominence for the first time.57

Even a rough comparison of 1 John with the other Johannine literature in the New Testament – the Gospel of John and Revelation – is helpful, because both these latter works, as Brown notes, “have a definite structure, even though it is difficult to discern the exact lines dividing one pericope from another and sometimes the thought is repetitive.” 58 This suggests that there may be a discernable structural pattern to 1 John as well, even though it may not be easy to see at first.

Major Divisions of Material in 1 John

      The number of major divisions

Proposed divisions of 1 John into distinct sections have had as few as two and as many as twelve parts. Of these, division into two parts, three parts, and seven parts have been most frequent, with three being the most common among commentators.59 The preference for three parts is due in part to the widespread influence of the work of R. Law at the beginning of the twentieth century (discussed below).60

A helpful summary chart of the various divisions proposed by scholars is given by R. Brown (1982), showing the most frequent divisions of the material into two, three, and seven parts.61 Anyone interested in pursuing further the various attempts to divide up the material in 1 John is referred to this chart in Brown’s commentary for detailed information on how various scholars have done so.

      The problem of how to determine major divisions

One of the problems that faces everyone who attempts to analyze the structure of 1 John is how to recognize the units of material in the first place.

(1) Some units within the epistle are clearly separate units of thought which can be distinguished on the basis of their contents (i.e., subject matter). The most important of these are 2:12-14, 2:15-17, and 4:1-6. Reference to the chart in Brown will show that no proposed division breaks these apart.62 Unfortunately these units do not have clear connections to what precedes or to what follows, so their precise role in the overall structure of the epistle is not entirely clear. This lack of connection to preceding or following material through the use of conjunctions or other overt structural markers is one of the chief stylistic factors distinguishing the Johannine Epistles from the Epistles of Paul. In some respects 1 John is more like narrative than epistolary literature in the types of difficulties it presents to the would-be interpreter.

(2) Somewhat less clear are a number of sections where a particular stylistic pattern is repeated, which might seem to argue for understanding these as separate units. Among these are (1) 1:6-2:2, where three times the conditional construction ejavn ei[pwmen is repeated, each time followed by a contrasting conditional clause beginning with ejavn, (2) 2:4-11, where there are three statements introduced by oJ levgwn and followed by further amplification, (3) 2:29-3:10, where there are seven clauses beginning with pa' oJ followed by a participle, and (4) 5:18-20, which includes three statements beginning with oi[damen. These sections with repeated structural patterns have been used in various ways by different commentators in making their divisions of the material, as a comparison with the chart in Brown will show.

(3) Also contributing to the problems associated with determination of the structure of 1 John is the presence of transitional verses (called “hinge verses” by Brown and, as he noted, occuring in the Gospel of John as well).63 These are verses that mark a transition ending one section and beginning another by including themes from both sections. Naturally this makes it difficult for interpreters to decide whether to assign such verses to what precedes or to what follows. Among the more important of these hinge verses are (1) 2:27, 28, 29; (2) 3:22, 23, 24; (3) 5:12, 13.

(4) Finally, regardless of the relationship of the structure of 1 John to other Johannine literature in the New Testament (a subject we will discuss more fully a bit later) many interpreters (though by no means all) would see 1:1-4 as a prologue to the epistle and 5:13-21 as an epilogue. Again, Brown’s chart should be consulted for an indication of which commentators would include a prologue and/or an epilogue to the epistle.

    The use of themes or topics to determine the structure

Starting from the assumption that 1 John is a letter (the traditional description of its literary genre is “epistle”), it has been suggested that, like many of the other letters of the New Testament, it contains a ‘doctrinal’ section of theology or teaching followed by a ‘practical’ section of application or exhortation. (An excellent example of this format is the letter to the Ephesians, which may be readily divided into chs. 1-3 and 4-6.) It should be evident at first glance that 1 John does not lend itself to such a simple division, so that one half is doctrinal and the other half practical, but a number of commentators have tried to make a case for a repeated pattern of doctrinal statements followed by hortatory statements. There is some basis for this, because as we have seen in our discussion of the opponents and their views, they are being accused of both christological and ethical errors, and this obviously leads to a sort of general pattern of doctrinal statements followed by hortatory statements. But as a guiding principle for dividing up the entire epistle, there does not seem to be a consistent pattern that emerges.

It has sometimes been suggested that the two major assertions about God found in 1:5 (“God is light”) and 4:8 (“God is love”) are keys to the overall structure of the epistle. But there are objections to this which have also been raised. From a purely structural standpoint there is the difficulty of making 4:8 stand at the beginning of a major section, like 1:5 does. In addition, the primary emphasis in both sections is on the Christian walking in light and loving one another; the characteristics of God described in 1:5 and 4:8 are exemplary for Christians, but are not the ends in themselves. Finally, since a christological controversy appears to be at the bottom of the dispute the author has with his opponents, it seems more likely that the epistle would be divided based on what it affirms about Jesus as the “Christ come in the flesh” (4:2-3) than on what it says about the character and nature of God.

Robert Law (1909) proposed one of the most influential theories regarding major divisions of the material in 1 John.64 He suggested that there were three parts to the epistle, and each of the three parts offered three tests by which the claims of the opponents could be measured: the test of righteousness, the test of love, and the test of belief. Upon close examination the three tests could certainly be found in the first two major divisions of 1 John (1:5-2:28 and 2:29-4:6), but Law’s theory seems to run into problems in the third major division (4:7-5:21), where it is extremely difficult to find the test of righteousness. Some interpreters, in an attempt to address this weakness in Law’s scheme, even suggest dislocations of sections of material to try to restore the missing test of righteousness.

    Comparison with other literature as an aid to determining the structure

Because of the difficulty in dividing the material in 1 John on a thematic basis, some interpreters have suggested turning to other literature to look for analogies by which the epistle might be divided. Most of these attempts have not been particularly convincing.

C. H. Dodd (1946) drew attention to parallels between statements in 1 John and sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, but converted to the Johannine idiom even more thoroughly than similar sayings found in the Gospel of John.65 This led to the suggestion that 1 John grew out of some type of “sayings source” similar to what might be behind the synoptic gospels – though Dodd did not attempt a specific reconstruction of such a source.

P. J. Thompson (1964) proposed that Psalm 119 provided the author of 1 John with the subject matter of the four parts into which the Epistle may be divided: the Way (1:1-2:21), Dangers (2:22-3:17), Safeguards (3:18-4:21), and the End (5:1-21).66 Because Thompson’s theory rests on a complicated acrostic pattern of 22 lines of Hebrew poetry which he believes lies behind both the prologue to the Gospel of John and 1 John, it has not found any degree of scholarly acceptance.

J. C. O’Neill (1966) proposed a source theory which divided 1 John into twelve parts, which he believed to have been influenced by twelve poetic admonitions borrowed from a (hypothetical) Jewish sectarian document.67 Because the document from which the structure was borrowed is purely hypothetical, O’Neill’s theory has also failed to win significant acceptance among scholars, though it is frequently mentioned.

A number of scholars have suggested analogies in the structure of 1 John and the Book of Revelation. The pattern of sevens so obvious in Revelation (seven letters to seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpet and bown judgments) has been seen by some interpreters in 1 John as well, and has led a number of them to make seven major divisions of the Epistle (once again, consult R. Brown’s chart for those who follow this scheme).68 But while the pattern of sevens is obvious in Revelation, it is far from clear in either 1 John or the Gospel of John, works which have more in common with one another in terms of style, vocabulary, etc., than either has with Revelation. In fact, if there is a numerical pattern discernable in 1 John, it is more likely three than seven. There are many patterns of three throughout the letter and this too argues against an appeal to Revelation to provide a key to the structure of 1 John.

Some of the patterns of three occurring in 1 John are: (1) three times the phrase “if we say…” (ejaVn ei[pwmen) is repeated in 1:6-10; (2) three times the phrase “the one who says…” (oJ levgwn) is used in 2:4-9; (3) three times the phrase “I am writing to you…” (gravfw uJmi'n) occurs in 2:12-13; (4) three times “I have written to you…” (e[graya uJmi'n) occurs in 2:14; (5) three things summarize all that is in the world (“the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions”) in 2:16; (6) there are “three that bear witness…” in 5:7-8, (7) three times the sin “not to death” (mhV proV qavnaton) is mentioned in 5:16-17; and (8) three times “we know…” (oi[damen) is repeated in 5:18-20. The impact that such patterns should have on our understanding of the structure of 1 John is difficult to determine, however. Patterns of three are a well-established device as an aid to memory, and thus are of questionable worth in helping to determine the major structural divisions of 1 John.

      The Gospel of John as a structural parallel to 1 John

(1) So far we have mentioned briefly the many parallels in vocabulary, style, and general outlook between 1 John and the Gospel of John. These are so numerous, as B. H. Streeter pointed out, that the burden of proof lies with the person who would deny common authorship.69

(2) We have also noted in our preliminary examination of the structure of 1 John that one of the features many interpreters see in the structure of the Epistle is a prologue (1:1-4) which introduces many of the themes to be picked up later on in the letter and developed further.

(3) Similarity between the prologue of 1 John and the prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) was recognized even in ancient times. As early as mid-third century, Dionysius of Alexandria (according to Eusebius) observed, “The Gospel and the Epistle agree with each other and begin in the same manner.”70

(4) In the latter part of the nineteenth century A. Plummer (1886) recognized this about the relationship between 1 John and the Gospel of John:

    The Epistle appears to have been intended as a companion to the Gospel. No more definite word than ‘companion’ seems to be applicable, without going beyond the truth….It is nearer the truth to speak of the Epistle as a comment on the Gospel….71

Almost a century later, J. L. Houlden (1973) made a similar observation about the structural similarities between 1 John and the Gospel of John:

    IJ is…not a letter, it is a theological tract, modelled roughly on this congregation’s existing production, GJ, especially in structure and terminology, and in the use and contents of the prologue. This is not to say that IJ does not have one or two features which give it something of the appearance of a letter which has lost top and tail… 72

(5) In both the Gospel of John and 1 John the author clearly states his purpose for writing: in John 20:31 he writes, “…But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The author of 1 John writes equally clearly in 5:13, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”73

(6) Although both John 20:31 and 1 John 5:13 form a conclusion to their respective works, in both cases there is additional material which follows, forming a sort of epilogue. Some interpreters have suggested parallels between John 21 and 1 John 5:14-21.

(7) Additionally, we have concluded from our previous discussion of authorship that the same person, the Apostle John, was the author of both the Gospel of John and 1 John. In light of the obvious similarities between the Gospel of John and 1 John mentioned above, if both came from the same mind, we might reasonably expect to find further similarities in structure beyond the prologue, purpose statement, and epilogue.

(8) What follows is an abbreviated outline, showing the major divisions only, for the Gospel of John:

I. The Prologue (1:1-18): The author introduces themes which will be repeated and expanded throughout the Gospel.

II. The Book of Signs (1:19-12:50): The Evangelist has selectively chosen seven representative sign-miracles which demonstrate that Jesus is both Lord and God. These are accompanied by dialogues and debates which explain and amplify the significance of the sign-miracles. The coming of Light into the world provokes judgment as people respond to the Light either by coming to Him or shrinking back into the darkness (3:16-21).

In this section of the Gospel of John light is a major theme. It is referred to in the prologue (1:4, 5, 7, 8 [2x], 9) and then mentioned repeatedly in this section (3:19 [2x], 20 [2x], 21; 5:35; 8:12 [2x]; 9:5; 11:9, 10; 12:35 [2x], 36 [2x], 46). The word “light” does not appear again in the Gospel of John after 12:46.

III. The Book of Glory (13:1-20:29): The Evangelist chronicles Jesus’ return to the Father as the “hour” of His glorification comes, which consists in His suffering, trials, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and return to the Father. As preparation for His departure Jesus prepares His disciples for their role in continuing His ministry to the world once He has returned to the Father. He commands them to love one another (13:34-35) and sets them an example of sacrificial love to the point of death, which pictures His own upcoming death on their behalf (13:1-20).

In this section of the Gospel love is a major theme. In the previous section the noun “love” appeared once (5:42) and the verb seven times (3:16, 19, 35; 8:42; 10:17; 11:5; 12:43). In this section the noun occurs six times (13:35; 15:9, 10 [2x], 13; 17:26) and the verb twenty-six times (13:1 [2x], 23, 34 [3x]; 14:15, 21 [4x], 23 [2x], 24, 28, 31; 15:9 [2x], 12 [2x], 17; 17:23 [2x], 24, 26; 19:26). The verb occurs four more times in the next section (21:7, 15, 16, 20).

IV. Conclusion (20:30-31): The Evangelist states his purpose for writing the Gospel.

V. The Epilogue (21:1-25): The Evangelist concludes his account with a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples in Galilee, in which Peter is fully restored to his position of leadership following his denials of Jesus.

(8) A structural similarity between 1 John and the Gospel of John has been proposed by both J. L. Houlden (1973) and A. Feuillet (1973).74 Such a structural similarity between the Gospel of John and 1 John has been endorsed by R. Brown (1982), even though he does not agree with Feuillet that the same individual wrote the Gospel of John and 1 John:

    If the epistolary author is drawing upon the theology and wording of the Johannine tradition embodied in Gjohn and assumes the mantle of the evangelist as an interpreter of that tradition (the “we” of the Johannine School), a priori it is not inconceivable that he used Gjohn as a model in structuring his comments in I John.75

Against Brown, I agree with Feuillet that the same individual wrote both the Gospel of John and 1 John, but I see nothing impossible or inconsistent in an author using the pattern of his own earlier work for a later one, especially if the author deliberately intends to make a comment on how the previous work is to be properly understood by his structural modeling of it in the later work. The following (simplified) structure is therefore suggested for 1 John based on its similarities to the Gospel of John:

I. The Prologue (1:1-4): The author introduces themes which will be repeated and expanded throughout the Epistle.

II. Part 1 (1:5-3:10): Because God is light, we must walk in the light as Jesus walked.76

III. Part 2 (3:11-5:12): Because God has loved us in Jesus Christ, we must love one another sacrificially as He loved us.

IV. Conclusion (5:13): The author states his purpose for writing the Epistle.

V. The Epilogue (5:14-21): The author discusses further implications of our assurance that we have eternal life.

This is the basic structural division which R. Brown proposed for 1 John, based on its similarities with the Gospel of John.77 (A much more detailed outline is presented throughout the exegesis of the text of 1 John.)

The Purpose of 1 John

The purpose statement for 1 John is found in 5:13, as the outline above makes clear. It is expanded and some of its implications are discussed in 5:14-21, but the basic purpose is given in 5:13.

In the words of the author of 1 John, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

This strongly suggests that (a) the author is writing to believers (“you who believe”), and (b) his purpose is to assure them that they do indeed possess eternal life. Thus although we believe 1 John was written in response to a specific situation (a christological controversy in which the secessionist false teachers had withdrawn from fellowship with the community to which the author is writing and yet were still seeking to proselytize from among it, cf. 1 John 2:18-19), the letter still has a message for the church at large in every age, assisting believers to have assurance of their salvation.

In this sense the letters of John are truly ‘catholic’ epistles, not in the sense that they were written for all Christians within the first-century church (the usual meaning of the description ‘catholic’), but in the sense that they addressed to believers in the Johannine community a message containing theological, ethical, and ecclesiological truths which can be applied to believers in every age, and which later proved indispensable for the universal church.

Beginning with the statement in 1 John 5:13 that the purpose of the letter is to tell believers how they may have assurance that they have eternal life (i.e., know God) we can expand this as follows:

Tau'ta (tauta, “these things”) in 5:13 must refer to what has preceded.

There are two basic components to assurance, both of which are repeatedly emphasized throughout 1 John: (1) obedience to God (that is, believe in Jesus Christ and show love for fellow believers, e.g., 3:23-24) and (2) the fact that God has given His Spirit to believers (e.g., 4:13). These in turn can be expanded as follows:

      (1) Obedience to God:

(a) One must keep God’s commandments (= “do the things that are pleasing to Him”): 1 John 3:22.

(b) God’s commandment is this: that we should (a) believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ (that is, remain in the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus) and (b) love one another just as He commanded us: 1 John 3:23.

(c) All who keep God’s commandments reside in God, and He in them: 1 John 3:24.

Note: John states these things from the perspective of covenant relationship – obedience, for example, is not the means by which one enters the covenant; rather it is expected of those who are already in covenant relationship.

      (2) The fact that God has given his Spirit to believers:

“By this we know that we reside in Him and He in us: in that He has given us of His Spirit”: 1 John 4:13. It is possession of God’s Spirit that assures believers that they are believers. It is significant that for the author of 1 John it is the presence of God’s Spirit within the believer that provides this assurance, rather than any communication or revelation from the Spirit. 1 John does not discuss revelatory content as a means of assurance, perhaps because (although we can only speculate here) that would be too close to what the secessionist opponents were claiming for themselves as possessors of “new revelation” about who Jesus was, at variance with the apostolic eyewitness testimony, and perhaps communicated to them (as they claimed) directly by God’s Spirit.

Note: With respect to personal assurance of salvation, obedience to God’s commandment to believe in Jesus Christ is internal (within the believer) and the fact of God’s Spirit being given is also internal (also within the believer). For John, the only external (i.e., outwardly visible) assurance comes from obeying God’s commandment to show love to fellow believers (cf. John 13:34-35).

Additional Bibliography: Structure and Purpose of 1, 2, 3 John

Bogaert, M. “Structure et message de la Première Épître de Saint Jean.” Bible et vie chrétienne 83 (1968): 33-45.

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Pivot of John’s Prologue.” New Testament Studies 27 (1980/81): 1-31.

Dodd, C. H. “The First Epistle of John and the Fourth Gospel.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 21 (1937): 129-156.

Filson, Floyd V. “First John: Purpose and Message.” Interpretation 23 (1969): 259-76.

Francis, F. O. “The Form and Function of the Opening and Closing Paragraphs of James and I John.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 61 (1970): 110-26.

Funk, Robert W. “The Form and Structure of II and III John.” Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (1967): 424-30.

Giurisato, Giorgio. “Struttura della prima lettera di Giovanni.” Rivista Biblica 21 (1973): 361-81.

________ . Struttura e teologia della prima lettera di Giovanni: Analisi letteraria e retorica, contenuto teologico. Analecta biblica 138. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1998.

Häring, Theodor. “Gedankengang und Grundgedanke des ersten Johannesbreifs.” In Adolf von Harnack, et al., eds. Theologische Abhandlungen: Carl von Weizsäcker zu seinem siebzigsten Geburtstage 11. Dezember 1892 gewidmet. Freiburg: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1892, 171-200.

Jones, P. R. “A Structural Analysis of I John.” Review and Expositor 67 (1970): 433-44.

Nauck, W. Die Tradition und der Charakter des ersten Johannesbriefes: Zugleich ein Beitrag zur Taufe im Urchristentum und in der alten Kirche. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 3. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1957.

Oke, C. C. “The Plan of the First Epistle of John.” Expository Times 51 (1939/40): 347-50.

O’Neill, J. C. The Puzzle of 1 John: A New Examination of Origins. London: SPCK, 1966.

Robinson, John A. T. “The Destination and Purpose of the Johannine Epistles.” New Testament Studies 7 (1960/61): 56-65.

Thompson, P. J. “Psalm 119: a Possible Clue to the Structure of the First Epistle of John.” In Studia Evangelica 2 [= Texte und Untersuchungen 87], pp. 487-92. Berlin: Akademie, 1964.

Tomoi, K. “The Plan of the First Epistle of John.” Expository Times 52 (1940/41): 117-19.

Westcott, A. “The Divisions of the First Epistle of St. John: A Correspondence between Drs. Westcott and Hort.” The Expositor, series 7, 3 (1907): 481-93.

Commentary on 1 John


40 Yet in the few instances when the author of 1 John did attempt a more complicated sentence, the result often left much to be desired in terms of clarity. Robert Law noted, “The writer’s efforts in more complex constructions are not felicitous,” citing as examples 1 John 2:27 and 5:9 (The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909] 2).

41 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1970; rpt Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 29.

42 Brown, The Epistles of John, 116.

43 H.-J. Klauck, Der erste Johannesbrief (Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 23/1; Zürich and Braunschweig: Benziger Verlag; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991) 24.

44 B. F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John: The Greek Text with Notes and Essays, 2nd ed. (Cambridge and London: Eerdmans, Macmillan, 1886), xlvi. In this section on “Structure and Purpose of 1 John” I have resorted to direct quotations rather more than I would like, but it is necessary to do so in order to observe the exact wording regarding the structure of 1 John, as the understanding of the cyclical nature of the argument of the letter progressively develops from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century.

45 A. Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: University Press, 1886) liii-liv [italics his].

46 T. Häring, “Gedankengang und Grundgedanke des ersten Johannesbreifs,” in Adolf von Harnack, et al., eds., Theologische Abhandlungen: Carl von Weizsäcker zu seinem siebzigsten Geburtstage 11. Dezember 1892 gewidmet (Freiburg: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1892) 184-87.

47 R. Law, The Tests of Life, 5.

48 Ibid., 5.

49 A. E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912), xxxii. However, immediately after this Brooke (no doubt due to the practical necessity of dividing the material into sections or paragraphs in order to produce a coherent commentary), reproduces the divisions of 1 John given by von Soden, Theodor Häring, and Robert Law, and expressing his preference for the second (xxxiv).

50 C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles (Moffatt New Testament Commentary; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946) xxi-xxii.

51 A. N. Wilder, “Introduction and Exegesis of the First, Second, and Third Epistles of John,” in The Interpreters Bible 12:207-313, ed. G. A. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 210. The English verb “to meander” is derived from the name of this river in Phrygia, known for its convoluted course which frequently loops back upon itself.

52 M. Bogaert, “Structure et message de la Première Épître de Saint Jean,” Bible et vie chrétienne 83 (1968): 33-45; esp. pp. 33-34.

53 R. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles (trans. R. P. O’Hara, L. C. McGaughy, and R. W. Funk; Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), 43-44. This earlier volume in the Hermeneia series has now been replaced by Georg Strecker’s The Johannine Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996).

54 Brown, The Epistles of John, 117.

55 So Brown, The Epistles of John, 117. This can actually be done to an extent; and if the enterprising reader wishes to undertake an interesting exercise he or she may experiment by interchanging major sections from almost any outline of 1 John and reading through the resulting sequence of material quickly in an English Bible to see if it makes any better (or worse!) sense than the existing (canonical) arrangement.

56 P. de Ambroggi, Le Epistole Cattoliche, 2nd ed. (Sacra Biblia 14; Torino: Marietti, 1949), 203-89.

57 J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (Harper’s New Testament Commentaries; New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 22-23; see also Edward Malatesta, The Epistles of St. John: Greek Test and English Translation Schematically Arranged (Rome: Gregorian University, 1973).

58 Brown, The Epistles of John, 117. This repetitive structure is especially evident in the book of Revelation (e.g., the letters to the seven churches, as well as the seven seals, trumpets and bowls), and less so in the Gospel of John.

59 As Strecker notes, “In the schemata that are by far the most widely preferred, 1 John is divided into two or three units, excluding the prologue and conclusion. Beyond this, there has been no shortage of original attempts at division” (The Johannine Letters, xlii-xliii).

60 Law summarized, “We seem, then, to have found a natural division of the Epistle into three main sections, or, as the might be most descriptively called, ‘cycles,’ in each of which the same fundamental thoughts appear, in each of which the reader is summoned to bring his Christian life to the test of Righteousness, of Love, and of Belief”; R. Law, The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909) 7.

61 Brown, The Epistles of John, 764. Brown’s chart, which is labeled “Chart Five” in his commentary, is reproduced almost verbatim (with credit and omitting only Brown’s notations for partial or complete prologue and epilogue) in D. L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001) 37-38.

62 Brown, The Epistles of John, 764.

63 Brown, The Epistles of John, 119; idem, The Gospel According to John (Anchor Bible 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) cxliii.

64 R. Law, The Tests of Life, 7.

65 C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, xxxviii-xxxix.

66 P. J. Thompson, “Psalm 119: a Possible Clue to the Structure of the First Epistle of John,” in Studia Evangelica 2 [= Texte und Untersuchungen 87] (Berlin: Akademie, 1964), 487-92.

67 J. C. O’Neill, The Puzzle of 1 John: A New Examination of Origins (London: SPCK, 1966).

68 Brown, The Epistles of John, 764.

69 In Streeter’s words, “We are forced to conclude that all four documents [the three epistles plus the Fourth Gospel] are by the same hand. And few people, I would add, with any feeling for literary style or for the finer nuance of character and feeling, would hesitate to affirm this, but for the implications which seem to be involved.” (The Four Gospels, rev. ed. [London: Macmillan, 1930], 460 [italics his; bracketed clarification mine). Expressing a contrary view, however, is R. Schnackenburg, who stated, “The comparison of the two writings [i.e., the Fourth Gospel and 1 John] yields one positive result. It is impossible to regard the epistle merely as a companion piece to Gjohn. It is a completely independent literary product. It neither presupposes the existence of the written Gospel, nor does it leave the reader to expect such a work dealing with the earthly life of the Son of God to follow” (The Johannine Epistles, 39 [bracketed clarification mine]).

70 Hist. eccl. 7.25.18.

71 Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, xlv.

72 J. L. Houlden, Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 31-32.

73 The purpose statements in both the Gospel of John and 1 John are clearly expressed as such. This is not to say, however, that they have been understood the same way by all interpreters. Much ink has been spilled over John 20:31, for example, with interpreters disagreeing over whether the Gospel was written primarily to unbelievers, believers, or both. This has been complicated further by textual uncertainty surrounding the tense of the verb in 20:31.

74 J. L. Houlden, Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 31-32 (mentioned above); A. Feuillet, “The Structure of First John: Comparison with the 4th Gospel,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 3 (1973): 194-216.

75 Brown, The Epistles of John, 124 [italics his].

76 Note that the emphasis in this section and the following one is not simply “God is light” and “God is love,” but focuses on the implications of God’s character (light) and actions (love) for the lives of believers.

77 Brown, The Epistles of John, 124.

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The Prologue to 1 John (1:1-4)

Grammar and Structure of the Prologue to 1 John

Introduction

Few today would question, regardless of their views on common authorship of the Gospel of John and 1 John, that the prologue of 1 John echoes the prologue of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18). Many of the themes found in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel are related to themes that occur in the prologue to 1 John. The only other New Testament work to contain a prologue anything like these two is the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:1-4).

Like the prologue to the Gospel, the prologue to 1 John introduces the reader to important themes which will be more fully developed later in the body of the work. In the case of 1 John, three of these themes are: (a) the importance of the apostolic eyewitness testimony to who Jesus is (cf. 4:14, 5:6-12), (b) the importance of the earthly ministry of Jesus as a part of God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ (cf. 4:2, 5:6), and (c) the eternal life available to believers in Jesus Christ (5:11-12, 5:20).

Like the rest of the letter, the prologue to 1 John does not contain any of the usual features associated with a letter in New Testament times.78 The Opening Formula79 or Praescriptio of a letter included: (a) the name of the author or sender of the letter, sometimes including his title or the name of a co-sender, (b) the name of the addressee or addressees to whom the letter is being sent, again often with further identification if needed, (c) a formal greeting or salutation, and (d) a health wish or expression of remembrance on the part of the author for the addressee(s). Most of these elements are present in both 2 and 3 John, so if the same author wrote all three, he knew very well what the standard epistolary formula was like, yet chose for reasons of his own not to employ the standard formula in the composition of 1 John. This difference between 1 John on the one hand and 2 and 3 John on the other has led some interpreters to doubt whether 2 and 3 John were written by the same author as 1 John.80 A different explanation is also possible, however: The author of 1 John did not consider the composition he was writing to be a letter in the formal sense, but something else. Over a century ago A. Plummer referred to 1 John as “a companion to the Gospel” and again, as “a comment on the Gospel.”81 If by this is meant not a detailed verse-by-verse commentary in the traditional sense, but rather the interpretive key by which the Fourth Gospel could be read in terms of apostolic christology, then Plummer’s remark is an instructive one. In light of the misuse of the Gospel of John and the christological witness it contains by the opponents of the author of 1 John, the first epistle shows how the Fourth Gospel should be read, in line with the apostolic christology of the author (whom I take to be the author of both works, the Apostle John himself).

A Phrase-by-phrase Structural Analysis of 1 John 1:1-4

Certainly the four opening verses of 1 John constitute the most difficult and complicated Greek of all the Johannine literature in the New Testament in terms of structure.82 This complexity is not always immediately obvious because the vocabulary of 1 John itself is rather straightforward and simple. Only when one tries to trace the flow of thought in the prologue do the structural difficulties become obvious.

Commentators have long agonized over the structure and grammar of these opening verses as well as their meaning. C. H. Dodd expressed an opinion echoed by virtually everyone who has attempted to translate the prologue into English: “The sentence is not good Greek, and it is only by paraphrase that it can be rendered into good English.”83 J. L. Houlden noted that the first few verses of 1 John “can only be described as, formally at least, bordering upon incoherence” and “lapse into grammatical impossibilities.”84 The complexities of the concepts the author is attempting to convey have contributed to this difficulty. As R. Schnackenburg observed, “It is not surprising that this battery of thoughts which the author tries to bring to light in the fundamental opening sentence makes the structure of this sentence unclear.” 85 In R. Brown’s words, “The initial four verses of I John have a good claim to being the most complicated Greek in the Johannine corpus.”86 Strecker adds, “one may…ask whether the choppiness of the style and the conscious avoidance of clear definitions allow the conclusion that the author is deliberately making a mystery of the subject being addressed.”87 Finally, as J. Painter remarked, “The first four verses of 1 John constitute a single sentence and provide the unsuspecting reader with fair warning of the difficulties to be faced in untangling the meaning of what follows.”88

In order to facilitate discussion of some of the grammatical and structural problems in these verses, we have divided them up and numbered the lines on a phrase-by-phrase basis to permit easy reference to the Greek text.89 Verbs are highlighted in boldface and their tense indicated in the right-hand column:

1a

}O h\n ajp= ajrch',

(imperfect)

1b

o} ajkhkovamen,

(perfect)

1c

o} eJwravkamen toi' ojfqalmoi' hJmw'n,

(perfect)

1d

o} ejqeasavmeqa

(aorist)

1e

kaiV aiJ cei're hJmw'n ejyhlavfhsan

(aorist)

1f

periV tou' lovgou th' zwh'

 

2a

kaiV hJ zwhV ejfanerwvqh,

(aorist)

2b

kaiV eJwravkamen kaiV marturou'men

(perfect, present)

2c

kaiV ajpaggevllomen uJmi'n

(present)

2d

thVn zwhVn thVn aijwvnion

 

2e

h{ti h\n proV toVn patevra

(imperfect)

2f

kaiV ejfanerwvqh hJmi'n

(aorist)

3a

o} eJwravkamen kaiV ajkhkovamen,

(perfect, perfect)

3b

ajpaggevllomen kaiV uJmi'n,

(present – main verb)

3c

i{na kaiV uJmei' koinwnivan e[chte meq= hJmw'n.

(present)

3d

kaiV hJ koinwniva deV hJ hJmetevra metaV tou' patroV

 

3e

kaiV metaV tou' uiJou' aujtou' =Ihsou' Cristou'.

 

4a

kaiV tau'ta gravfomen hJmei',

(present)

4b

i{na hJ caraV hJmw'n h\/ peplhrwmevnh.

(present, perfect)

Note: In spite of the fact that the editors of Nestle-Aland 27th ed. and UBS 4th ed. have punctuated these verses with a full stop (period) at the end of lines 3c and 3e, vv. 1-4 are considered by most commentators and grammarians to constitute one long sentence in the Greek text.

      Grammatical and Syntactical Difficulties with the Prologue

There are several major grammatical and syntactical difficulties presented by these verses:

(1) As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, vv. 1-4 of the prologue constitute a single sentence, even though the standard Greek critical texts do not punctuate it that way. It is made far more complicated by remarks that are apparently parenthetical (note the dashes supplied in both the Nestle-Aland and UBS texts) and that interrupt the logical sequence not once but three times!

The first interruption occurs with line 1f, where the prepositional phrase periV tou' lovgou th' zwh' (peri tou logou ths zwhs) introduces the theme of ‘the word of life’ as the topic of the eyewitness testimony discussed initially in 1a-1e and then resumed in 3a. Within this interruption a second interruption in the form of a parenthetical note occurs, consisting of all of v. 2 (2a-2f), which explains further the ‘word of life’ mentioned in the first interruption and specifies its relation to the eyewitness testimony introduced in 1a-1e and resumed in 3a-b. Thus there are three references to eyewitness testimony in the prologue: once at the outset in 1a-1e, once in the resumption in 3a-b, and once in the parenthetical interruption in 2b.

Therefore (from a syntactical standpoint) line 1e is followed by line 3b (line 3a is a summary/resumption of lines 1b-1e necessitated by the interruption). It may be said without exaggeration that even in Hellenistic Koiné that does not approach a literary level, this is logically and syntactically awkward, to say the least.

A third interruption occurs in lines 3d-3e, which is another parenthetical note explaining the fellowship mentioned in line 3c. The periods supplied by the editors of the Nestle-Aland and UBS texts at the ends of lines 3c and 3e are better replaced by parentheses, since the nature of the remarks in 3d-3e is clearly parenthetical and explanatory of line 3c.

(2) Although vv. 1-4 are a single sentence, the main verb does not occur until line 3b. This leaves the relative clauses of lines 1a-1e more or less dangling, since they are so widely separated from the main verb by the two interruptions of lines 1f and 2a-2f.90 This has led some commentators and translations91 to supply an equative verb between the clauses of v. 1, e.g., “What was from the beginning is what we have heard, etc.” but this makes the first relative clause a subject when in fact all four of them are objects. To produce a clear translation it is necessary to resort to a near-paraphrase and anticipate the main verb from line 3b in an introductory phrase absent from the Greek text: “This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, etc.” (cf. NET Bible).

(3) The alteration of tenses among the first person plural verbs, especially between the aorist and the perfect, is difficult to understand. It has been debated among the commentators whether this is purely a stylistic device of the author or whether it indicates subtle differences of meaning. C. C. Tarelli has argued, in my opinion correctly, that the diversity occurs not because of a subtle difference of meaning or because of “general” stylistic reasons such as the demonstrable Johannine love of variety of expression, but because of a stylistic preference for using certain verbs in certain tenses.92

    Development of Thought in the Prologue related to Structure

As far as the logical procession of thought in the prologue is concerned, one suggestion (made by D. N. Freedman and mentioned by R. Brown)93 is that a sort of resumptive/expansive arrangement is present in vv. 1-4. This could be represented symbolically by A/B/A'/B' where A (= 1a-1e) goes with A' (= 3a-3e) and B (= 1f + 2a-2f) goes with B' (= 4a-4b). In this arrangement the main verb of 3b is paired with the relative clauses of lines 1a-1e, while the verb in 4a (“we write”) is paired with the theme of “the word of life” introduced in the interruptions in lines 1f + 2a-2f.

Although this produces an interesting arrangement, there is no way to be certain that such an arrangement was not imposed by the mind of the interpreter rather than the mind of the author. While I agree that the main verb in line 3b should be connected grammatically to the relative clauses of lines 1a-1e, it seems a bit too artificial to limit the reference of the “we write” in 4a to the “word of life” theme of lines 1f + 2a-2f. It seems to me that the statement “we write” in line 4a applies not only to the theme of the “word of life” in lines 1f + 2a-2f but also to the eyewitness testimony mentioned in lines 1a-1e, which is the object of the proclamation in line 3b.

      Conclusions

The author of 1 John begins the prologue with an emphasis on the eyewitness nature of his testimony. He then transitions to a focus on the readers of the letter by emphasizing the proclamation of this eyewitness (apostolic) testimony to them. The purpose of this proclamation is so that the readers might share in fellowship with the author, a true fellowship which is with the Father and the Son as well. To guarantee this maintenance of fellowship the author is writing the letter itself (line 4a).

Thus, in spite of the convoluted structure of the prologue in which the author’s thought turns back upon itself several times, there is a discernable progression in his thought which ultimately expresses itself in the reason for the writing of the letter (later expressed again in slightly different form in the purpose statement of 5:13). This convoluted and somewhat circular progression of thought will be typical of the remainder of 1 John.

Exegesis of the Prologue

The detailed notes that follow are intended to discuss the major problems raised by the text.94 This includes a consideration of the major options involved and suggestions toward a solution which seems most in keeping with Johannine theology as reflected in both the Letters and the Gospel of John. Occasional comments of a more general nature will reflect on the flow and development of thought within 1 John, the relationship to the Gospel of John, and the semantics of Johannine words and phrases which have a significant impact upon the exegesis of the letters.

The translation supplied for each verse is that of the New English Translation (NET Bible).

Introduction. As we have already mentioned, the use of a prologue to begin a work is characteristic of two major Johannine works in the New Testament, the Gospel of John and 1 John. Both are used to introduce ideas which will be developed later at greater length in the body of the work, although the relationship between the prologue to the Gospel of John and the remainder of the Gospel appears closer and more tightly knit than the relationship between the prologue to 1 John and the remainder of the letter. Part of the reason for this may lie in the situation which occasioned 1 John, a situation which demanded an immediate response and did not allow for the time necessary to reflect upon the ideas in the body of the work and weave them carefully into a prologue.

    1:1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life –

    Summary

Verses 1-3 are very difficult to translate. Verse 1 begins with a series of four relative clauses (what…, what…, what…, what…) each beginning with the neuter singular relative pronoun o} (Jo, “what was from the beginning,” etc.) that might at first appear to be the subject of these verses.95 In fact, however, these clauses are all objects, not subjects. They are the objects of the main verb we proclaim…to you in v. 3. Therefore the translation supplies the phrase This is what we proclaim to you: at the beginning of v. 1 to make this clear. A fifth such clause occurs in v. 3, which is resumptive of two of the clauses in v. 1, the second and third in the series of four.

A further complication arises with the parenthetical comment by the author which begins at the end of verse 1 and extends all the way to the end of v. 2. This parenthetical comment explains to the readers that when the author says what…, what…, what…, what… in the four relative clauses he is referring to the word of life.

Another major problem in these verses is pinning down what the author means by the phrase the word of life. Because of similarities between 1 John 1:1 and John 1:1, many interpreters have found it impossible to resist identifying the word here in 1 John 1:1 as the Word, the Logos, who is mentioned in John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and what God was, the Word was”). In the very next verse, however, it is life rather than word which is picked up and expanded. This suggests that the author’s main focus is on the earthly life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The four relative clauses what…, what…, what…, what… in v. 1 would then refer to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus, the very thing which (we shall see later) is under attack by the secessionist opponents.

A further point concerns the phrase from the beginning in v. 1. Almost certainly it alludes to John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word,” etc. But does this mean that the beginning the author mentions here is in eternity past, as it is in John 1:1? If the controversy with the opponents is over the importance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, and if the relative clauses what…, what…, what…, what… in v. 1 refer to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus, then it is much more likely that the phrase from the beginning in v. 1 refers to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry which marked the beginning of his self-revelation to his disciples. A similar use of the phrase is found in John 2:11.

It then follows that the first person plural verbs in 1 John 1:1-4 (…we have heard, …we have seen, …we have looked at, …our hands have touched, …we proclaim) do not just refer only to the author. Instead they refer to a group of people including the author but separate from the readers of the letter. The terms used suggest that the people in this group are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.96 Such a conclusion strongly supports apostolic or near-apostolic authorship for the letter, a conclusion many recent scholars reject.97

    Exegetical Details

The syntax of the relative clauses beginning with o} (Jo, “what was from the beginning,” etc.). As we have already discussed in the structural analysis of the prologue (see the preceding section), the main verb which governs all of these relative clauses is ajpaggevllomen (ajpangellomen, “we announce”) in v. 3. This is important for the proper understanding of the relative clauses in v. 1, because the main verb ajpaggevllomen (ajpangellomen) in v. 3 makes it clear that all of the relative clauses in vv. 1 and 3 are the objects of the author’s proclamation to the readers. Since we have already concluded that the author of the letter was the Apostle John, we are dealing here with the proclamation of apostolic testimony, which was thus also eyewitness testimony. This is further confirmed by the contents of the second, third, and fourth of the relative clauses in v. 1, which describe the sensory experiences of the author in the realms of hearing, seeing, and touching.

But we must still ask, To what does the relative pronoun o} (Jo) in each of the four clauses in v. 1 refer? A number of explanations have been proposed:

(1) In view of the obvious similarity between 1 John 1:1a and John 1:1, many interpreters have found it irresistable to refer o} (Jo) directly to the Lovgo (Logos, “the Word”) who in John 1:1 is said to exist ejn ajrch'/ (en arch, “in the beginning”). Further support for this is adduced from the prepositional phrase at the end of v. 1, periV tou' lovgou th' zwh' (“concerning the word of life”), which specifically mentions the term lovgo (logos, “word”). But there are two major problems with this view: (a) The gender of the relative pronoun is neuter, while the gender of lovgo is masculine. While it is not absolutely impossible for the gender of the relative pronoun to differ from that of its antecedent, in a construction like this it would be awkward to say the least. It would be much more normal to use a masculine relative pronoun if lovgo is meant as the antecedent. (b) As far as the prepositional phrase at the end of v. 1 is concerned, it would be almost impossibly awkward for its object to be at the same time the antecedent of the relative pronouns. This would result in a circular statement almost totally devoid of logic: “the lovgo which we have beheld (1:1d) and our hands have touched (1:1e) concerning the lovgo… (1:1f).”

(2) A second possibility would be to refer the relative pronouns to zwh' (zwhs, “life”) in the prepositional phrase at the end of v. 1. However, the same awkwardness in terms of gender still remains, since zwh' is a feminine noun, and the logical awkwardness is not much improved either: “the ‘life’ which we have beheld (1:1d) and our hands have touched (1:1e) concerning the word of ‘life’… (1:1f).”

(3) The best solution, in keeping with the emphasis later made clear in v. 3 with the introduction of the main verb, is to understand the antecedent of the relative pronouns in vv. 1 and 3 to be a comprehensive reference to Jesus, the incarnate Word, including the apostolic testimony or witness about the earthly career of Jesus. This is all the more natural since martuvrion (marturion, “witness, testimony”) is neuter in gender and would naturally agree with the neuter gender of the relative pronouns.

This is not to say, however, that the opening phrase of 1:1, JO h\n ajp= ajrch' (Jo hn ap archs, “what was from the beginning”) is devoid of any personal reference. It seems almost certainly to be a deliberate allusion to John 1:1, and as such, cannot be separated from the Person about whom the apostolic testimony is being given. But v. 1 does not refer solely to Jesus himself; it includes the apostolic testimony about the whole earthly career of Jesus. This is especially true because the significance of Jesus’ earthly career is precisely what is being disputed by the author’s opponents, the false teachers, and thus what the author is undertaking to defend.98

The meaning of ajrchv (arch, “beginning”) in 1:1a. We also need to consider briefly the meaning of the prepositional phrase ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) in 1:1a. It is almost impossible for the modern reader to encounter the phrase without immediately thinking of John 1:1. In the similar phrase ejn ajrch'/ (en arch, “in the beginning”) in John 1:1, ajrch'/ (arch) alludes to Gen. 1:1. However, in the Fourth Gospel the eternal and pre-existent Lovgo (Logos, “the Word”) already “was” before the creative act began, and in fact participated in the act of creation (1:3). The remainder of chapter 1 of John’s Gospel after the prologue (1:19-51) goes on to suggest that Jesus (who according to 1:14 is the Lovgo [the “Word”] become flesh) has now begun to engage in a new creative undertaking, the result of which will be the new creation. The meaning of John 1:1a might be stated like this: “In the beginning (i.e., at the creation) the Word already existed….”

In light of this we may reasonably ask (1) whether the use of ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) in 1 John 1:1a constitutes a deliberate reference back to John 1:1, and (2) if so, whether the meaning of ajrchv (arch) in both references is exactly the same. I would answer the first question ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’. It appears to me almost indisputable that the author of 1 John intends by his statement in 1:1a to recall the prologue of the Gospel of John with all that it implies about the career of the preincarnate Word. But to understand ajrchv (arch, “beginning”) in 1 John 1:1a as a reference to the creation as in the Gospel of John would be to break the parallelism with the three other relative clauses in v. 1 and the one relative clause in v. 3. These clauses all refer to the apostolic witness (or testimony) about the earthly career of Jesus. It would be far more consistent with the context to interpret the ajrchv (arch, “beginning”) of 1 John 1:1a as a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which marks the beginning of his self-revelation to his disciples. Although from the standpoint of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) there are various points at which this could be said to have occurred, as far as the Gospel of John is concerned the ministry of Jesus began at his baptism by John (note, for example, that John’s Gospel contains no infancy narrative). Thus ajrchv (arch) in 1 John 1:1 bears more similarity in meaning to the use of ajrchv (arch) in John 2:11 than to the use in John 1:1.

Further confirmation of this can be found in our understanding of the ongoing dispute with the opponents, who are apparently bent on denying the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in the plan of salvation.99 It is precisely this earthly ministry of Jesus to which the Apostle John and the other apostles were witnesses, and it is that eyewitness testimony to the earthly career of the Word become flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, which the author of 1 John puts forward in the prologue at the outset in his refutation of the opponents’ position. Yet he does so in language which inescapably recalls the prologue to the Gospel of John, upon which (whether tradition or written teaching) the opponents have based their own christological position. This last point, while a subtlety that is lost on almost all modern readers of the Johannine letters, would certainly not have been lost on both the opponents and the intended recipients of 1 John.

The significance of the first person plural verbs in the prologue. It is sometimes suggested that the repeated use of first person plural verbs in 1:1-4 is not a genuine plural, but is equivalent to a first person singular and refers only to the author (i.e., when the author says “we” what he really means is “I”). However, it is clear from later references in all three of the Johannine letters that the author is perfectly capable of using the first person singular when he wishes to refer to himself alone. For example, in the section 1 John 2:12-14 the author uses the first person singular no less than six times in reference to his writing of the letter.100

Others (e.g., C. H. Dodd) have suggested that the first person plurals in the prologue include eyewitnesses but also refer to the Church at large in solidarity with them.101 Houlden, while not excluding the possibility of eyewitnesses, thinks it more likely the author is simply putting on “the mantle of orthodoxy” in preparation for his argument against the opponents.102 However, in the charged atmosphere of the debate over orthodox christology with the secessionists, it is unlikely that anything less than a real reference to eyewitness testimony about Jesus would serve to refute the opponents; a mere “rhetorical” appeal would not be sufficient. While it is possible to see the first person plurals in the prologue as a combined reference to both the author and other apostolic eyewitnesses on the one hand and the recipients of the letter (or all Christians) on the other, it seems more likely that the author is invoking an exclusive authority here, one belonging only to the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.103

Thus it is preferable to understand the first person plural references in the prologue as referring not just to the author of 1 John alone, but to a group of people including the author who are to be distinguished from the readers to whom the 1 John is being written. These people are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and it is their eyewitness testimony which is described in 1:1. It has already been concluded from the discussion regarding authorship that the author of 1 John is to be identified with John the Apostle, so this group of eyewitnesses would represent the Apostle John along with the other apostles, all of whom were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. Later on in 1 John it appears that the first person plural references do not continue to carry this “exclusive” signifance (the author plus others as opposed to the recipients of the letter), but become “inclusive” (the author plus the recipients as opposed to the opponents). In virtually every instance these first person plurals refer to (Christian) experience the author shares with his readers; the intent may be to demonstrate solidarity with them in their resistance to the false teaching of the opponents.104

The prepositional phrase periV tou' lovgou th' zwh' (peri tou logou ths zwhs, “concerning the word of life”) in 1:1f. From a structural standpoint I consider this phrase to be the first of three parenthetical interruptions in the grammatical sequence of the prologue (the second is the entirety of v. 2 and the third is the latter part of v. 3). This is because of the awkwardness of connecting the prepositional phrase with what precedes, an awkwardness not immediately obvious in most English translations: “what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the word of life….” It is obvious how someone might hear concerning the word of life, but it is harder to understand how one could see concerning the word of life, and virtually impossible to touch concerning the word of life.105 Rather than being the object of any of the verbs in v. 1, it seems more likely that the prepositional phrase in 1:1f is a parenthetical clarification intended to specify the subject of the eyewitness testimony which the verbs in v. 1 describe. A parallel for such parenthetical explanation may be found in the prologue to John 1:12 (toi' pisteuvousin eij toV o[noma aujtou' [tois pisteuousin eis to onoma autou, “to those who believe in his name”] which is set off by dashes in the NET Bible to indicate the parenthetical nature of the remark).

The meaning of tou' lovgou in 1:1f. Another problem which must be considered is the referent of tou' lovgou in 1:1f. There are two possibilities: (1) it is to be identified with the Lovgo (Logos, “Word”) of John 1:1ff., and refers to the personal, preincarnate second Person of the Trinity; or (2) it has an impersonal meaning in 1 John 1:1f and refers to the “message” or “report” about life, the gospel message of the apostolic testimony.

(1) Many interpreters have understood tou' lovgou (tou logou, “the word”) in 1 John 1:1f to refer to the Lovgo (Logos, “Word”) of John 1:1, and some English translations (kjv, jb, tev, niv) have capitalized the noun (“Word”) to indicate this (nasb, reflecting some degree of ambiguity, capitalizes both “Word” and “Life”). Certainly it is impossible to ignore the meaning of lovgo in John 1:1 in attempting to define its meaning here, but it is also significant that lovgo is used 5 more times in 1 John (1:10, 2:5, 2:7, 2:14, and 3:18), and none of these involve personification or a clear reference to the second Person of the Trinity. In fact (and this is a crucial point), if the prologue to the Gospel of John did not exist, no one would be inclined to understand lovgo in 1 John 1:1f as a personal reference.

(2) It seems far more likely that tou' lovgou (tou logou, “the word”) in 1 John 1:1f should be understood as “message” or “report” and refers to the apostolic testimony about the earthly career (the Person, words, and works) of Jesus, which is precisely the topic under discussion in 1 John 1:1-4. The context supports this, because in the phrase tou' lovgou th' zwh' (tou logou ths zwhs) it is the second concept, “life,” (zwh', zwhs) which is picked up for further discussion in v. 2, and which is also the object of the apostolic proclamation in vv. 2 and 3. And it is this proclamation of apostolic testimony which is also emphasized in the transition from the prologue to the remainder of the letter in 1:5, where the noun ajggeliva (angelia, “message”) and the verb ajnaggevllomen (anangellomen, both related to the verb ajpaggevllomen [apangellomen] in 1:3) stress the proclamation of the message.

But even though in my judgment the meaning of tou' lovgou (tou logou, “the word”) in 1 John 1:1 differs from that of lovgo (logos, “word”) in John 1:1, this does not mean that the two terms are totally unrelated. It appears more likely that the author of 1 John has made a (subtle) shift in emphasis in order to refute the opponents who have derived their faulty christology from an over-emphasis on the Logos doctrine of the prologue to the Gospel of John (or the tradition behind it).106 Although the author of John cannot and will not deny that the preexistent, preincarnate Logos became Jesus of Nazareth (an assertion that may in fact be a key point in the doctrine of his opponents), by his use of the term lovgo (logos, “word”) here in connection with the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, he has subtly shifted the emphasis to the earthly career of Jesus (his person, words, and works, including his work on the cross), which is precisely where the dispute with the opponents lies.107

The genitive th' zwh' (ths zwhs, “life”) in 1:1f. The meaning of the genitive th' zwh' in 1:1f is related to the previous discussion about the meaning of tou' lovgou (tou logou, “the word”). There are three possible ways of understanding the syntax of this phrase: (1) a genitive of apposition, meaning “the word which is life,” where the “word” is understood as life itself; (2) an attributive genitive, meaning “the living word” or “the life-giving word,” parallel to phrases in the Gospel of John like “the bread of life” (6:35) and “the light of life” (8:12); or (3) an objective genitive, meaning “the word about life,” where “life” is the object of the message, that which is spoken about or revealed.108

Option (3) seems most appropriate, because when lovgo (logos) is followed by an impersonal genitive, the genitive usually denotes the content of the message. The context of 1 John 1 bears this out, since in 1:2 “the eternal life” is the object of the apostolic proclamation. But perhaps we should not be too precise in our attempt to specify one of these options over the other, because the Apostle John, in both the Gospel of John and 1 John, has a tendency to use double entendres, that is, words with double meanings, or with multiple associations of meaning. Certainly the message, if understood and appropriated by the readers, was capable of producing life in them [option (2)]. And the word was also life itself [option (1)], so much so that the author can speak of “the eternal life which was with the Father and was revealed to us” in 1 John 1:2.

    1:2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us).

    Summary

Verse 2 gives more explanation about the word of life mentioned parenthetically by the author at the end of v. 1. The verb revealed in v. 2 is frequently used in the Gospel of John to refer to Jesus’ revelation of himself to his disciples (2:11, 21:1; 21:14). The author’s statement here that it was the eternal life that was with the Father echoes John 1:1 where it was the Word who was with the Father. Thus in 1 John 1:1-4 it is the term life rather than word which refers to Jesus as he revealed himself in his earthly career, including his person, words, works, death, and resurrection. This subtle shift in emphasis is precisely in keeping with the author’s stress on the importance of the earthly career of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Word in his dispute with the opponents.

Having introduced the “word of life” in 1:1 as the subject of the apostolic eyewitness testimony about which he is writing, the author of 1 John now picks up the theme of “life” (zwhv, zwh) and carries it further, explaining that it was this “life” which was with the Father and has now been revealed to the apostolic eyewitnesses, of which the author is one. As explained in the structural analysis of the prologue109 all of v. 2 is a parenthetical interruption in the structure of vv. 1-4 which further explains the “life” which was introduced in 1:1f and specifies its relation to the apostolic eyewitness testimony of vv. 1 and 3.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of zwhv (zwh, “life”) in 1:2. In v. 2 we have a parenthetical explanation of the concluding phrase of the previous verse, which introduced “life” (zwhv, zwh) as the object of the apostolic eyewitness testimony which is emphasized in the prologue. Since we are not to understand tou' lovgou (tou logou) in 1:1f as a direct personal reference (see discussion above) it seems preferable to understand zwhv (zwh) as a personal reference instead.

In the prologue to the Gospel of John, zwhv (zwh) is not personal but is something that came into existence by the Lovgo (Logos, “Word”) and was communicated to human beings by the Logos (John 1:4). Yet the verb used here to describe the revelation of the “life” (ejfanerwvqh, efanerwqh) is frequently used in the Gospel of John to refer to Jesus’ revelation of himself to the disciples, especially after his resurrection (John 21:1, 21:14). This is also true in 1 John in 2:28, which speaks of Christ’s revelation at the parousia, along with the revelation of the Son of God in his earthly career in 3:5 to take away sins and in 3:8 to destroy the works of the devil. Further confirmation for a personified use of zwhv (zwh) to refer to the revelation of Jesus in his earthly career is found in the second occurrence of zwhv (zwh) in 1:2, which speaks about the “eternal life which was with the Father and was revealed to us.” This echoes and parallels John 1:1, where it was the preincarnate Logos who was with the Father and was revealed to humanity in 1:14.

Thus in 1 John it is zwhv (zwh, “life”) rather than lovgo (logos, “word”) which refers to Jesus as he revealed himself in his earthly career, including his person, words, and works. This subtle shift is precisely in keeping with the author’s emphasis, in his dispute with the opponents, on the importance of the earthly career of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Word.

    1:3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ).

    Summary

The eyewitness testimony about the earthly career of Jesus, what the apostles and disciples themselves have seen and heard, they announce to the readers of the letter. The purpose for this proclamation is that the readers might have fellowship with the author and the other apostolic eyewitnesses. The word fellowship is difficult to define. Various suggestions for English translations have been “fellowship,” “partnership,” “communion,” or “community.” People who are in fellowship share some reality in common. This is especially important to the author of 1 John in the context of the ongoing dispute with the secessionist opponents about the importance and implications of the earthly career of Jesus.

As mentioned earlier, the first main verb of the prologue occurs in v. 3 (ajpaggevllomen, ajpangellomen, “we announce”). The apostolic eyewitness testimony about the “life” (the earthly career of Jesus, the incarnate Word) has been proclaimed to the readers, in order that they might have fellowship with the author and, by implication, with the other apostolic witnesses.110

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of koinwniva (koinwnia, NET Bible “fellowship”) in 1:3. This term, used four times in 1 John (1:3 [twice]; 1:6; 1:7) and not at all in 2 John, 3 John, or the Gospel of John, represents a concept difficult to translate into English: various possibilities are “association, communion, fellowship, close relationship.”111 Some of these terms (like “communion”) have liturgical connotations, while others (like “partnership”) suggest a business relationship to the modern English reader. In the Gospel of John the word koinwniva (koinwnia) is not used, but there are numerous references to oneness or unity, especially in the prayer of Jesus in the Farewell Discourse (17:11, 21, 22, 23). People who are in koinwnia share some reality in common, and this is particularly important to the author of 1 John in the context of the ongoing controversy with the opponents about the importance and implications of the earthly career of Jesus. The author and the recipients of the letter share in common the apostolic (eyewitness) testimony about who Jesus is, a reality not shared (in the opinion of the author of 1 John) with the opponents.

The introduction of the term at this point in 1 John has led to the suggestion that the term itself was not a favorite term of the author, but may indeed have been one used by the opponents, a term the author himself adopted in his rebuttal of the opponents’ claim to have “fellowship” with God without having “fellowship” with other believers (i.e., the author’s community).112

Pheme Perkins suggested that underlying the references to koinwnia in 1 John is its use as a technical term in the Pauline epistles referring to the Gentile mission (Gal 2:9; Phil 1:5; 3:10; Phlm 6).113 She argued that the Pauline concept of a mutual commitment to a common purpose was behind the use of the term in 1 John, so that the author of 1 John was to elicit his reader’s commitment to his own koinwnia rather than to the koinwnia of the secessionist opponents. Likewise, in 2 John 11 the author urges his readers not to give assistance to the rival koinwnia by providing hospitality to the representatives of the opponents.

While there are undoubtedly some parallels with the Pauline usage, particularly that in Philippians, nevertheless there are also significant differences. 1 John 1:7 indicates that the author does not think of “fellowship” as based on mutual commitment to a common purpose, but as a relationship created when believers walk in the light as God is in the light. As C. Kruse points out, once that fellowship is established it may then go on to find expression in a common purpose, but it would be wrong to characterize it simply as based upon mutual assent to a common purpose.114 In general the term koinwnia in 1 John 1:3, 6, and 7 is used to describe a personal relationship with the author or with God – a relationship the author does not believe the opponents genuinely have. In 1 John 1:3 the secondary nuance of commitment to a common task – the proclamation of the gospel message (“word”) of life – may be present as well.115

    1:4 Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

    Summary

The author now states his purpose116 for writing these things (tau'ta, tauta): he does so in order that his joy might be fulfilled as the believers to whom he writes continue in fellowship with him and the other apostolic witnesses and with the Father and the Son (as opposed to breaking that fellowship by siding with the secessionist opponents). The phrase these things refers back to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about the earthly career of Jesus which has been the theme of the prologue up to this point. However, it also looks ahead to 1 John 5:13 where the same phrase is used, referring to what has preceded. In both cases (1:4 and 5:13) a purpose clause (so that…) refers to the author’s reason for writing the letter.

    Exegetical Details

The antecedent of tau'ta (tauta, “these things”) in 1:4. What are “these things” which the author says that he has written about? Verse 4a contains the second main verb of the prologue, gravfomen (grafomen, “we are writing”), which is connected to the preceding main verb (ajpaggevllomen [apangellomen] in v. 3) by the conjunction kaiv (kai) which begins v. 4. In Koiné Greek kaiv (kai) is generally a coordinating conjunction, but here it probably has more of a resultative force (similar to a Hebrew vav consecutive, so NET Bible “Thus”). The meaning is, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you…and (thus) we write….” Because of the use of the plural verb with the emphatic pronoun in v. 4, we might suspect that the author is indicating that “these things” refer to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about the earthly career of Jesus, which has been the theme of the prologue up to this point. Certainly his use of the plural here indicates that (although he alone is actually doing the writing) he speaks not only for himself but also for all the apostolic eyewitnesses, who are in concord concerning this testimony. Yet the use of the verb gravfw (grafw) points ahead as well, to the later (singular) uses in 1 John 2:1, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 21, 26, and ultimately 5:13. In effect the statement in 1:4a forms a bracket along with 5:13, where tau'ta (tauta, “these things”) is again used. Thus the use of tau'ta (tauta) in 1:4 ties the eyewitness testimony of the prologue to what follows, while the use in 5:13 looks back to what has preceded. Further confirmation of this may be found in the Jina-clauses of 1:4 and 5:13, both of which refer to the author’s purpose in writing the letter.


78 Cf. Strecker: “1 John lacks the essential external marks of a letter” (The Johannine Letters, 3). See also “Structure and Purpose of 1 John” above.

79 Some interpreters call this the “Address,” but not in the sense of a destination (the usual meaning of “address” in the modern sense).

80 Such a view is usually combined with the observation that the author of 2 and 3 John designates himself “the Elder,” while the author of 1 John chooses to remain anonymous. See, e.g., Georg Strecker, The Johannine Letters (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996), 219; also “Die Anfänge der johanneischen Schule,” NTS 32 (1986): 31-47.

81 Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, xlv.

82 The Book of Revelation presents more difficulties of vocabulary, imagery, and grammatical concord, however.

83 C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 2.

84 J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (Harper’s New Testament Commentaries; New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 45.

85 Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 49.

86 Brown, The Epistles of John, 152.

87 Strecker, The Johannine Letters, 8.

88 Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John, 61.

89 The Greek text followed is that of the Nestle-Aland 27th ed. (= UBS 4th ed).

90 As Brown notes, “The reader does not discover until v. 3 whether these clauses are the object or the subject of what the author wishes to say!” (The Epistles of John, 153).

91 Cf. cev, “The Word that gives life was from the beginning.”

92 C. C. Tarelli, “Johannine Synonyms,” Journal of Theological Studies 47 (1946): 176.

93 Brown, The Epistles of John, 153.

94 The number of significant problems raised by the text of the Johannine letters is unusual, especially in light of the apparent simplicity of the Greek text itself, but should not be surprising in light of the author’s tendency to write with a high level of ambiguity.

95 Not the subject grammatically, but the subject in the sense of what the author is writing about.

96 Cf. Schnackenburg: “It is a difficult question, sometimes taken too lightly, as to who is speaking in 1 John 1:1-4. Nor is it clear what the witness is that they desire to give to the readers of 1 John. Does it involve a claim to direct historic encounter with Jesus Christ? Or is it only an expression of faith elevated to ultimate certainty and equally available to subsequent generations of believers? It is important to decide this issue not only for the question of authorship of 1 John but also for the meaning of the message of salvation that is proclaimed to the recipients of the letter” (The Johannine Epistles, 51).

97 E.g., Brown, who states: “I argued that the epistolary author does not have the authority of the Beloved Disciple and was probably not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. Therefore I do not accept the contention that the “we” of I John 1:1-4 designates a group of eyewitnesses” (The Epistles of John, 160).

98 See paragraph 13 of the section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” above.

99 See paragraph 13 of the section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” above.

100 First person singulars may be found in 1 John in 2:1, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 21, 26; 4:20; 5:13. All these refer to the author as the writer of the letter. The only exception, when a plural is used to refer to the author as writer of the letter, is 1:4.

101 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 9-16.

102 Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 53.

103 Among those who see a reference to eyewitnesses here are John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), 61-63 and I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 106-107.

104 First person plurals in 1 John that speak of shared Christian experience with the readers may be found in 1:6, 7, 8, 9, 10; 2:1, 2, 3, 5, 28; 3:1, 2, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24; 4:9, 10, 11, 12, 13; 16, 17, 19; 5:2, 3, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20. Sometimes this is regarded as merely a rhetorical device used by the author, but it is also possible to view this as a deliberate attempt by the author to identify with the recipients of the letter.

105 This is an observation made by J. Bonsirven, Épîtres de Saint Jean (Paris: Beauchesne, 1954), 67.

106 Although the present commentary is written with the assumption that the Gospel of John was written before the Johannine Letters, such an assumption is not technically required – all that is needed is that the tradition expressed in the Fourth Gospel was available to both the opponents and the author’s followers prior to the composition of 1 John.

107 See para. (13) of the earlier section, “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John.”

108 This last option is possible only if lovgou (logou) in the phrase is understood as “message” or “report,” as we already concluded above.

109 See para. (1) in the previous section, “Part 1: Grammar and Structure of the Prologue.”

110 The conjunction i{na (Jina), translated “in order that” (NET Bible, “so that”) indicates purpose here.

111 BDAG, 552 s.v. 1. Dodd suggests additional meanings like “shareholders in a common concern” or “joint ownership” (The Johannine Epistles, 6). For further information see J. Y. Campbell, “Koinonia and its Cognates in the New Testament,” JBL 51 (1932): 352-80.

112 The argument that koinwnia is a term used by the opponents and “borrowed” by the author of 1 John is made by John Painter, “The ‘Opponents’ in 1 John,” NTS 32 (1986): 48-71 (see esp. p. 54).

113 Pheme Perkins, “Koinwnia in 1 John 1:3-7: The Social Context of Division in the Johannine Letters,” CBQ 45 (1983): 631-41.

114 Colin Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Leicester: Apollos, 2000), 60.

115 See also the excursuses on koinwnia (“Fellowship with God”) in Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 63-69, and Strecker, The Johannine Letters, 20.

116 Again, the conjunction i{na (Jina), literally “in order that” (NET Bible, “so that”) indicates purpose here.

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 1:5-2:2

    Structure

The key to understanding the first major section of 1 John, 1:5-3:10, can be found in the summary statement in v. 5: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” The idea of “proclamation” – the apostolic proclamation117 of eyewitness testimony which was introduced in the prologue (1:2-3) – is picked up in 1:5 by the use of the noun ajggeliva (angelia, “[gospel] message”) and the verb ajnaggevllomen (anangellomen, “announce”), cognate to the verb in 1:3.118 The content of this proclamation is given by the Joti-clause in 1:5 as the assertion that God is light, so we should understand this statement as the author’s restatement (in somewhat different terms) of the apostolic eyewitness testimony introduced in the prologue.119

Following this basic statement in 1:5 are a series of claims and counterclaims between the author and his opponents. These claims and counterclaims make up the first major unit of 1 John (1:5-2:2).

    1:5 Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

    Summary

The word Now at the beginning of v. 5 connects the gospel message with what has preceded in vv. 1-4 (the prologue). The message refers to the eyewitness testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the author of 1 John, and the rest of the apostolic witnesses. This message relates to the salvation of the hearers/readers, since its purpose is to bring them into fellowship with God and with the apostolic witnesses (cf. 1:3). The content of the message, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all, is a description of a quality or attribute of God. As the following context and the introduction of the light/darkness imagery make clear, this involves the moral realm and thus is a description of God’s character as pure and completely sinless.

    Exegetical Details

The conjunction kaiv (kai, translated by the NET Bible as “now”) at the beginning of 1:5. This conjunction forms the link between the prologue (1:1-4) and the present section, 1:5-2:2. Some have attempted to treat it as inferential (i.e., “thus” or “therefore”), indicating a further conclusion that follows from the statement in 1:3 expressing the author’s purpose, namely, that the readers might have fellowship (koinwnivan, koinwnian) with the author and those who speak the same thing along with him (i.e., the other bearers of the apostolic testimony).

Another possibility is that the kaiv (kai) at the beginning of 1:5 is continuative rather than inferential and thus should be translated “and.” It expresses the transition from the prologue (1:1-4) to the first major section of the work, indicating that there is a link between the prologue and the following material, where themes introduced in the prologue will be repeated and expanded. Confirmation of this may be found in John 1:19, where the first verse after the prologue to the Gospel also begins with kaiv (kai).

Still another (and probably the best) possibility is that the kaiv (kai) at the beginning of 1:5 is resumptive, picking up the theme of proclamation or announcement (of the apostolic eyewitness testimony) from the prologue, as indicated by the phrases “heard from him and announce to you” in 1:5, which echo similar statements found in 1:3. In this case kaiv (kai) should be translated as “now.”

The meaning of ajggeliva (angelia, “[gospel] message”) in 1:5. This word occurs only twice in the New Testament, here and in 1 John 3:11. It is a cognate of ejpaggeliva (epangelia) which occurs much more frequently (some 52 times in the New Testament) including 1 John 2:25. The third edition of Bauer’s lexicon offers the meaning “message” which suggests some overlap with the semantic range of lovgo (logos), although in the specific context of 1:5 Bauer’s lexicon suggests a reference to the gospel.120 (The precise content of this “good news” is spelled out by the Joti-clause which follows in 1:5b.)

Such a connection of ajggeliva (angelia) with “the gospel” is not as strange as it may at first appear, since the Greek word usually associated in the New Testament with “the gospel,” eujaggevlion (euangelion, from which English words like “evangelism” and “evangelist” are derived), occurs only once in the entire Johannine corpus121 of the New Testament, in Rev. 14:6, where it is far from certain that it is a technical term. The word ajggeliva (angelia) in the context in which it occurs here appears to be virtually equivalent to eujaggevlion (euangelion): (1) it refers to the proclamation of the eyewitness testimony about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the author and the rest of the apostolic witnesses (see the prologue, especially 1:3-4), and (2) it relates to the salvation of the hearers or readers, since the purpose of this proclamation is to bring them into fellowship with God and with the apostolic witnesses (1:3).

The referent of aujtou' (autou, “[from] him”) in 1:5. The author says that he and the other apostolic witnesses have heard this ‘gospel message’ which they proclaim to the readers from “him.” To whom does this pronoun refer?

The last third person pronoun reference prior to this one is found at the end of 1:3, metaV tou' uiJou' aujtou' =Ihsou' Cristou' (meta tou Juiou autou Ihsou Cristou, “and with his Son Jesus Christ”). This pronoun, followed by a mention of Jesus Christ as “his Son,” must refer to God. However, this leaves the reference to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, at the end of 1:3 as the logical antecedent of the third person pronoun aujtou' (autou, “[from] him”) in 1:5. This would also be consistent with the eyewitness nature of the apostolic testimony introduced in the prologue, especially the reference to “the beginning” in 1:1, which we have already understood to refer to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, that is, the beginning of his self-revelation to his disciples.122 It was Jesus, through his revelation of himself to the disciples, who revealed what God himself is like (John 1:18). This fits perfectly with the content of the ‘gospel’ given in the following Joti-clause, namely, that God is light, when we recall that Jesus proclaimed himself to be the light of the world (John 8:12). I do not think it is necessary to say, as Z. C. Hodges does, that the author deliberately chose the third person pronoun in order to be ambiguous.123 It is true that the ‘gospel’ which the apostolic witnesses had heard came from God, but it came by way of Jesus Christ and his self-revelation: he it was who perfectly revealed what God is like.

The meaning of oJ qeoV fw' ejstin (Jo qeos fws estin, “God is light”) in 1:5. This statement occurs in the Joti-clause in 1:5b. Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar considers the phrase e[stin au{th hJ ajggeliva (estin Jauth Jh angelia, “this is the gospel message”) as equivalent to a verb of saying, and thus labels the following Joti-clause (“that God is light…”) as indirect discourse.124 The predicate nominative fw' (fws, “light”) is anarthrous, as it also is in 1 John 4:8. This probably indicates a qualitative force, since the context in no way demands definiteness. Thus this is not a statement of identity (“God” = “light”), but a description of a quality or attribute of God. As the following context and the introduction of the light/darkness motif make clear, this involves the moral realm and thus constitutes a description of God’s character as pure and completely sinless. The author goes on to explain the ethical implications of this description in the following verses, both for the claims of the opponents and for the author’s readers.

    1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.

    Summary

Verse 6 begins a series of six if-clauses which end in 2:1. These divide into three pairs, each pair consisting of If we say… followed by a negative statement (representing the claims of the secessionist opponents and their results, vv. 6, 8, 10) and But if… followed by a positive statement (representing the counterclaims of the author of 1 John, in vv. 7, 9, and 2:1).

The statements beginning with If we say… and representing the claims of the opponents should be read with hypothetical force: “If we were to say….” However, these statements reflect the real concern of the author that some of the Christians to whom he is writing are being (or soon will be) influenced by the christological teaching of the opponents.

According to v. 6, if a person says we have fellowship with him (God) and yet goes on walking in the darkness, that person is lying about having fellowship with God and not practicing the truth. The phrase practicing the truth means living out the truth in a lifestyle obedient to God. The most important parallel is John 3:20-21, where we are told “Everyone who does [= practices] evil hates the light and does not come to the light…but the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.” The problem with the opponents lies not with their boast that they have fellowship with God, but with their contradictory behavior – they continue walking in the darkness.125

    Structure

Verse 6 begins with the first of a series of six ejavn (ean, “if”) clauses which end in 2:1. These may be divided into three pairs, each pair consisting of (a) ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say,” representing the claims of the adversaries) followed by a negative statement in the apodosis and (b) ejavn (ean, “if,” reflecting the counter-claims of the author) with a positive statement in the apodosis.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the negative and positive apodoses in the six ejavn (ean) clauses in 1:6-2:1. All three of the negative apodoses are introduced by a protasis with ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say,” 1:6, 8, 10), while the positive apodoses are introduced with protases containing ejavn (ean) alone (1:7, 9, 2:1). The statements with ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen) have hypothetical force (“If we should say…”) but they reflect the real concern of the author that some of the Christians to whom he is writing are being (or will be) influenced by the teaching of the opponents; they may even represent favorite sayings of the opponents themselves.126 The three negative apodoses following ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen) are intended to bring out the implications of following the opponents’ teaching, while the three positive apodoses (preceded by ejavn [ean] only) reflect the implication of following the orthodox (apostolic) teaching of the author.

The force of the first kaiv (kai, “and”) in 1:6. The clause in 1:6 introduced by the first kaiv (kai) is structurally parallel to the first part of the protasis, ejavn ei[pwmen…(ean eipwmen…), but logically it is subordinate, expressing a condition circumstantial to the first part of the protasis. Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar considers this an adversative use of kaiv where actual contrast is involved, suggesting the translation “and yet.”127 Thus the force of the first kaiv (kai) is, “If we say that we have fellowship with God and yet continue walking in the darkness, then…” (the apodosis follows).

The referent of aujtou' (autou, “[with] him”) in 1:6. Since the last third person pronoun in 1:5, aujtw'/ (autw, “[in] him”), clearly referred to God, it seems almost certain that this pronoun in 1:6 should refer to God as well.

The significance of the present tense of peripatw'men (peripatwmen, “keep on walking”) in 1:6. The context of this statement in 1:6 indicates clearly that the progressive (sometimes called continuative, or durative) use of the present tense, one of its most common uses, must be in view here. The relationship of peripatw'men (peripatwmen) to ei[pwmen (eipwmen) is of particular importance for understanding the problem expressed in 1:6. We have already noted above that the first kaiv (kai, “and yet”) in 1:6 has adversative force. If someone should say (ei[pwmen, eipwmen) that he has fellowship with God, and yet continues walking (peripatw'men, peripatwmen) in the darkness, then it follows (as expressed in the apodosis of the conditional sentence) that such a person is lying and not practicing the truth. The author almost certainly has the claims of the opponents in view here.

The background of the light/darkness motif introduced in 1:6. The author’s problem with the claim of the opponents lies not with the boast that they have fellowship with God, but with their contradictory behavior: they continue walking “in the darkness” at the same time they are making the claim to have fellowship with God. To the author this proves conclusively that they are lying, as the author points out in the apodosis (1:6b). The contrast with light occurs because the opponents claim to have fellowship with God, who has been characterized as “light” in 1:5.

The light/darkness motif in Johannine theology. In the Old Testament God is compared with light on several occasions (e.g., Ps 27:1; 36:9).128 The constrast between light and darkness is also a major theme in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 1:9-10). The light/darkness motif occurs in a number of places in the New Testament (cf., for example, Eph 5:6-8), but it is especially evident in the Johannine literature. It is an important theme of the prologue to the Gospel of John, especially 1:5. One of the most important sections of the Gospel, containing the key to a number of themes within it, is 3:16-21. In 3:19 we are told that people “loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” The author goes on to state in 3:20 that “everyone who practices evil hates the light” and refuses to come to it, because of fear that his evil deeds will be exposed for what they are. Finally in 3:21 the one who “practices the truth” (same phrase as 1 John 1:6) comes to the light. The picture painted by John 3:16-21 is one where one’s affinity for ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ serves to reveal one’s inner nature. One is forced to a decision to ally oneself with one side or the other. A response is evoked; one cannot just remain neutral. Either one comes to the light, and it becomes evident that one belongs there, or one hates the light and shrinks back into the darkness to hide from it. The imagery of response used in John 3:16-21 applies to an individual’s response to Jesus himself, who is identified as “the true Light” in John 1:4 and who identifies himself as “the Light of the world” in John 8:12.

The significance of the light/darkness motif in 1 John 1:6. Because of the central role this theme plays in the Gospel of John, it is almost certainly behind the introduction of the motif in 1 John 1:6. The opponents, who profess that they have “come to the light” (using the language of John 3) have not in reality done so, and for the author of 1 John their deeds prove it, because they are continuing to “walk in darkness.” Rather, their way of life (“walking”) demonstrates that they are lying in their claim to have fellowship with God who is light.

The meaning of poiei'n ajlhvqeian (poiein alhqeian, “practicing [lit., “doing”] the truth”) in 1:6. R. Brown and S. Smalley both consider this phrase Semitic.129 It is clear that the construction poiei'n (poiein) + noun is frequently used by the author of 1 John; it occurs in 2:17, 2:29, 3:4 (2x), 3:7, 3:8-9, 3:10, and 3:22. The phrase occurs twice in the Old Testament, in Neh 9:33 and 2 Chr 31:20.

In this context it essentially means “to practice the truth” by living it out in a lifestyle obedient to God. By far the most important parallel is found in John 3:21, the one time the phrase occurs in the Gospel of John. We have discussed the context of John 3:16-21 in the preceding section of the commentary. The section in John 3 concludes by summarizing in 3:20-21, “For everyone who does (pravsswn, prasswn) evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light…but the one who practices (poiwvn, poiwn) the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.” Note that the light/darkness motif is present just as in 1:6.130 In the language and imagery of both the Gospel of John and 1 John, to “practice the truth” involves coming to the light, with the resultant confirmation of one’s affiliation to the light by one’s deeds (i.e., lifestyle). But that is precisely the shortcoming of the opponents here in 1 John: while they profess to have come to the light (saying “we have fellowship with God”) they are continuing to walk in darkness, and this shows them to be (a) lying and (b) proving it by their disobedient lifestyle. Precisely what this disobedient lifestyle of the opponents consists of is not explained here, but in light of the author’s reference to cleansing from sin in the following verse, it is highly probably that he views the opponents’ continuing to “walk in darkness” and “not practice the truth” as involving sin.

    1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

    Summary

In contrast to v. 6, which reflects a claim of the opponents, the present verse introduces the counter-claim of the author of 1 John. However, does the author’s statement the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin refer to initial justification or to ongoing sanctification for the Christian?131 Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification. This means that fellowship with one another is also something shared between believers and is a result of a righteous lifestyle (“walking in the light”). The author is not worried about the initial justification (salvation) of the people to whom he is writing. Rather he is reassuring them about forgiveness of sins committed after having become Christians.132

    Structure

Verse 7 introduces the first protasis with ejavn (ean, “if”), a “counter-claim” of the author, followed by a positive apodosis which reflects the implications of the author’s (apostolic) teaching in contrast to the teaching of the opponents.

    Exegetical Details

Do the phrases walking in the light and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin refer to initial justification or to sanctification, or both? If we understand these statements to refer to initial justification, the force of the conditional construction in the apodosis (“if we walk in the light”) would make one’s justification contingent upon one’s deeds or behavior, and this comes perilously close to making one’s salvation depend (at least in part) upon one’s good works. This would, of course, contradict the Pauline emphasis (Rom 5:1, Gal 2:16, Eph 2:8-10, etc.) on justification by faith alone, apart from works.

Some have suggested, however, that the author of 1 John has both initial justification and subsequent sanctification in view here. One version of this is to make “walk in the light” here in 1:7 the equivalent of “come to the light” in John 3:20-21, that is, justification, while the following statement “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” refers to the process of sanctification after one has come to the light. This is possible, of course, but it is open to question whether the phrase “walk in the light” can really refer to initial justification in this context; based on the usage in John 3:20-21 the expected Johannine phrase for initial justification would be “come to the light.”

It seems almost certain that “walk in the light” refers here to what one does after one has “come to the light,” that is, to the process of sanctification. As for the readers to whom 1 John is being addressed, the author is not worried about their initial justification. What he wants to do here is reassure them about their forgiveness of sins committed after having become Christians. This is in stark contrast to the condition of the opponents, who (in 1:6) profess to have fellowship with God (i.e., to be justified), but deny their profession by their lifestyle (i.e., by continuing to “walk in darkness”).

The meaning of aJmartiva (Jamartia, “sin”) in 1:7. This word occurs 17 times in 1 John, of which 11 are singular and 6 plural. Sometimes a distinction in meaning between the singular and the plural has been suggested. Some would see the singular pavsh aJmartiva (pashs Jamartias, “all sin”) of 1:7 as a reference to sinfulness before conversion and the plural taV aJmartiva (tas Jamartias, “sins”) of 1:9 as a reference to sins committed after one became a Christian. This amounts to making 1:7 refer to initial justification and 1:9 to sanctification, a position we have discussed and rejected in the previous section (see above). In addition to points made there, it may also be added that pavsh aJmartiva (pashs Jamartias) in 1:7 is so comprehensive that it can hardly be limited to pre-conversion sins, and the emphasis in 1:7 on “walking,” a common New Testament idiom for the conduct of one’s life, strongly suggests that the Christian life is in view.

The third edition of Bauer’s lexicon defines aJmartiva (Jamartia) as “a departure fr. either human and divine standards of uprightness” (cf. 1 John 5:17 where aJmartiva and ajdikiva are related).133 In 1 John 1:8 sin appears as a condition or characteristic quality, which in 1:10 is regarded as universal. Apart from forgiveness in Christ it results in alienation from God (2:15) and spiritual death (3:14). But according to 1 John 1:7, cleansing from sin is possible by the blood of Jesus. In this context where forgiveness of sin (and sacrificial atonement, cf. 1 John 2:2) is in view, the “blood” suggests not merely “death,” but sacrificial death which makes atonement possible.134

    1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

    Summary

Once again v. 8 refers to a claim of the opponents. The phrase translated bear the guilt of sin as used in the Gospel of John (9:41, 15:22, 15:24, 19:11) refers to situations where a wrong action has been committed or a wrong attitude already existed, resulting in a state of sin (i.e., guilt). This is the situation of the secessionist opponents. Such people are deceiving themselves. “Deceit” characterizes these opponents: in 1 John 2:26 they are trying to deceive others (the readers); in 3:7 the author again warns his readers against attempted deceit. The attempt of the opponents to deceive others begins with their self-deceit about being guilty of sins committed.

    Structure

Verse 8 introduces the second of the three clauses beginning with ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say”) and representing the claims of the opponents. Once again, ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen) is followed by a negative statement in the apodosis giving the author’s evaluation of the opponents’ claims.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the phrase aJmartivan oujk e[comen (Jamartian ouk ecomen, “we do not bear the guilt of sin”; literally, “sin we do not have”) in 1:8. The use of e[cw (ecw) + aJmartiva (Jamartia) is an expression peculiar to the Gospel of John and 1 John in the New Testament. On the analogy with other constructions in 1 John where e[cw (ecw) governs an abstract noun (e.g., 1 John 1:3, 1:6, 1:7, 2:28, 3:3, 3:15, 3:21, 4:16, 4:17, 5:12-13) it would appear that a state is involved, which in the case of aJmartiva (Jamartia) would refer to a state of sin. The four times the expression e[cw (ecw) + aJmartiva (Jamartia) occurs in the Gospel of John (9:41, 15:22, 15:24, 19:11) all refer to situations where a wrong action has been committed or a wrong attitude has already existed, resulting in a state of sin, and then something else happens which further emphasizes the evil of that action or attitude.

Here in 1 John 1:8 the sense appears to be the same. The author is addressing people who have sinned (resulting in a state of sin), warning them that they cannot claim to be free from the guilt of that sin. I do not think the context of 1 John implies libertinism135 on the part of the opponents, since the author makes no explicit charges of immoral behavior against his opponents. The worst the author explicitly says concerning them is that they have failed to love the brethren (3:17). It seems more likely that the opponents were saying that things a believer did were not significant enough to be ‘sins’ that could challenge one’s intimate relationship with God (a relationship the author denies that the opponents possess to begin with).136

The meaning of eJautouV planw'men (Jeautous planwmen, “we are deceiving ourselves”) in 1:8. According to the third edition of Bauer’s lexicon the verb planavw (planaw) means “to mislead, deceive,” in this context specifically, “deceive oneself.”137 An examination of the other uses of the same verb in 1 John (2:26, 3:7) implies that more than mere self-deception resulting from misunderstanding or confusion is in view here.138 The reference in 2:26 in particular (“these things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you…”) suggests that the opponents with their false teaching are in view. They are described as “antichrists” just prior to this in 2:18, and 1 John 4:6 (just after another mention of “antichrist” in 4:3) uses the cognate noun plavnh (planhs) to refer to the “Spirit of Deceit” which is at work in the world. Deceit in 1 John is consistently associated with Antichrist and with the opponents, and thus it appears that here the author is dealing with the potential acceptance of the adversaries’ claims by some of the readers. If they were to accept the false teaching and claim to be free from the guilt of sin, they would be deceiving themselves (as indeed the opponents already are self-deceived), but in this case it would be the result of accepting the claims of the opponents.

    1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

    Summary

Does the author of 1 John refer here to an initial confession of sins at conversion (when a person becomes a believer), or to ongoing confession of sins in the life of the believer, or possibly to both at the same time? It seems unlikely that the author is worried about the initial justification of the people to whom he is writing: he regards the members of the community who have “remained” and not “gone out” (1 John 2:19) as genuine believers. Thus the author points out that if Christians confess the sins they are aware of, they may be sure that God will forgive their sins and cleanse them not only from those sins they confess but from all unrighteousness.

    Structure

Verse 9 contains the second counter-claim of the author, beginning with ejavn (ean, “if”) and containing a positive statement in the apodosis. The statement in the apodosis reflects the implications of the author’s (apostolic) teaching in contrast to that of the adversaries: “he (God) is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.”

    Exegetical Details

To what does the protasis in 1:9 refer, an initial confession of faith or the ongoing confession of sin by the believer? As a third-class condition this could be considered either “future more probable” or “present general.” M. Zerwick states that in this example it is impossible to distinguish between the two nuances.139

The main verb in the protasis, oJmologevw (Jomologew, “confess”), occurs 4 times in the Gospel of John (1:20 [2x]; 9:22; 12:42), 5 times in 1 John (1:9; 2:23; 4:2, 3, 15), 1 time in 2 John (7), and 1 time in Revelation (3:5). Everywhere else in Johannine usage except here, however, the object is always Christ; this example is the only one where confession of sin is involved.

As we have pointed out in the discussion on v. 7 above where the same issue of initial justification versus ongoing sanctification was in view, the author of 1 John is not worried about the initial justification of the people to whom he is writing: he regards the members of the community who have “remained” and not “gone out” with the secessionist opponents as genuine believers. Here he is stating a counter-claim to the opponents’ claim in 1:8 that they are not guilty of sin. The author points out that if as Christians we confess our sins, we may be sure that God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us not only from those sins we confess but from all unrighteousness (pavsh ajdikiva, pashs adikias, “all unrighteousness”). That God the Father is the (understood) subject of the ejstin (estin, “is”) in 1:9 seems clear, since the last third person references in vv. 6 and 7 refer to God.

This is the opposite of the position taken by the opponents, who appear to be moral indifferentists140 saying that one’s behavior is of no consequence and sin, in any event, is not capable of interfering with a Christian’s relationship to God. The author’s position, in contrast, is that a Christian who denies the guilt attached to sin is self-deceived. Sins need to be confessed to God, and when this is done, the believer may be sure that God, because he is both faithful and righteous, will forgive the sins confessed as well as cleansing the believer from all unrighteousness.

The emphasis on God’s faithfulness in forgiving sin may actually have its roots in the Old Testament. Judith Lieu has argued that behind this text is Exod 34:6, which also links God’s forgiveness with his faithfulness; she traces this linkage through Num 14:18-19; Neh 9:17; Pss 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Dan 9:9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nah 1:3, and a number of texts in the Jewish intertestamental literature.141

The precise manner in which the author envisions this confession of sin by believers to take place is not specified. There are at least three possibilities: (1) a private confession of sin by the believer in prayer to God; (2) a private confession of sin by the believer to another believer; or (3) a public confession of sin by the believer to the Christian community, possibly in the context of a worship service. According to Brown the first option, a private confession by the individual to God, was held by Augustine, Oecumenius, Bede, and Theophylact.142 The current practice in some denominations (e.g., Roman Catholic) of a private confession of sin by the individual believer to an ordained priest is an outgrowth of the second option. Westcott argued for the third option, a public confession before other believers, “openly in the face of men,” based on the use of the verb oJmologevw (Jomologew) to refer to open witness elsewhere in the Johannine corpus (1 John 2:23; 4:2, 3, 15; John 1:20 [2x]; 9:22; 12:42), but this is not conclusive.143 Schnackenburg saw in this text an echo of the Jewish practice of confession on the Day of Atonement.144 Some have also suggested a public confession of sins in the context of a baptismal service, but this seems less likely in light of the probability that the confession the author envisions in 1 John 1:9 appears to be on the part of people who are already regarded as believers, rather than baptismal candidates who would presumably be new converts. In the final analysis, however, it is probably fair to say that the fact of confession of sin by the believer is what was important to the author, since he does not clearly specify the exact circumstances under which it is to take place.

    1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

    Summary

Verse 10 contains the last of the three If we say… clauses. Many see this as an exact repetition of the claim in v. 8. Others point to a difference in tense (present tense in v. 8, perfect tense here). But what is unique about v. 8 is the expression bear the guilt of sin, which was explained as referring to guilt resulting from sin. Here in v. 10 it is not the guilt resulting from sin that is being denied, but a denial of actual acts of sin. The opponents had apparently developed a version of perfectionism by which they were able to deny that, after professing to be Christians, they could be convicted of sin. The author of 1 John counters this by pointing out that the one who claims this makes God a liar, and God’s word is not “in” such a person.

    Structure

Verse 10 contains the last of the three clauses beginning with ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say”) and representing the claims of the opponents. Once again, ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen) is followed by a negative statement in the apodosis giving the author’s evaluation of the opponents’ claims.

    Exegetical Details

How does the claim ejavn ei[pwmen o{ti oujc hJmarthvkamen (ean eipwmen Joti ouc Jhmarthkamen, “if we say we have not sinned”) relate to the similar claim in 1:8? Many interpreters see this as an exact repetition of the previous claim in 1:8. Others see significance in the switch from the present tense in the apodosis of v. 8 to the perfect tense in the apodosis here.145 But the uniqueness of the statement in 1:8 did not lie in the use of the present tense, but in the idiom used (e[cw [ecw] + noun), which we discussed under v. 8 above. There we concluded that the stress of the idiom, as indicated by other usage, was on the guilt attached to sin, and that the opponents were claiming to be free of this guilt. Here it seems highly probable, as R. Brown points out, that “a denial of sins or bad actions is involved.”146 Since there is repeated stress in the Gospel of John on the sin of those who reject Jesus and refuse to believe (John 8:24, etc.) and that Jesus as the Lamb of God came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), the claim of the opponents could not be that in the past, before their professed conversion, they had never sinned. It must rather refer to sins committed after a person has professed to be a Christian, that is, post-conversion sins. The author’s adversaries had apparently developed a version of Christian perfectionism whereby they were able to deny that, after professing to be Christians, they could be convicted of sin.

The author counters this by pointing out that the one who claims this makes God a liar (a serious charge in itself), and furthermore, God’s word is not in such a person. This last phrase parallels 1:8b, where the “truth” is not in such an individual.147 Once again, the author makes it plain that the situation of the opponents who are claiming this is serious: they do not really have God’s word (the message about eternal life revealed by Jesus Christ, cf. 1:1) residing in them, although they claim that they do. This essentially brands the opponents as unbelievers in spite of their claims to know the truth, be in the light, and be in fellowship with other (genuine) Christians.

    2:1 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One;

    Summary

The seriousness of the last claim we have not sinned in v. 10 causes the author to break the pattern of if-clauses with a parenthetical note that he wants his readers (My little children) not to sin. But in the final if-clause in 2:1 (But if anyone does sin…) the author reassures his readers that even if they do sin, they may look to Jesus Christ as their advocate with the Father to intercede for them.

    Structure

The direct address by the author to his readers at the beginning of 2:1 marks a break in the pattern of the opponents’ claims (indicated by ejavn ei[pwmen [ean eipwmen, “if we say”] followed by a negative statement in the apodosis) and the author’s counter-claims (represented by ejavn [ean, “if”] with a positive statement in the apodosis) made so far in 1:6ff. The seriousness of this last claim (in 1:10) causes the author to interrupt himself with a parenthetical remark, to address the readers as his faithful children and to explain to them that while he wants them not to sin, they may be assured that if they do, they can look to Jesus Christ to intercede for them, as their advocate with the Father. After this, the last of the author’s three counter-claims in 1:5-2:2 is found in the ean-clause in 2:1b.

The term used by the author to address the readers, tekniva mou, teknia mou, is to some extent a term of endearment or affection, showing the regard the author has for them.148 However, it also shows that the author regards himself in something of a superior position to the readers – not morally or ethically superior, but in a position of spiritual responsibility over them and for them.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the first person singular gravfw (grafw, “I am writing”) in 2:1. The singular verb here must be compared to the plural of the same verb in 1:4. There we pointed out that the plural suggested the author was not speaking only for himself (although only he was actually doing the writing) but also for his fellow-eyewitnesses within the circle of apostles and disciples who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry, all of whom would agree concerning the testimony about the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. Here the singular strikes a more personal note, and this is confirmed by the author’s address to the readers as his “children” (tekniva mou, teknia mou) at the beginning of 2:1.

In 1:4 we suggested the tau'ta (tauta) which serves as the object of the verb referred forward, to the entirety of 1 John, and formed an envelope with the purpose statement in 5:13. Here the tau'ta (tauta) is more narrowly specified by the following Jina-clause, in which the author says he is writing these things to his readers “in order that they might not sin.” Brown sees this purpose as too narrow to apply to the entirety of 1 John, and thus understands the tau'ta (tauta) here to refer to the preceding material in 1:8-10, where the claims of the opponents and the counter-claims of the author concerning sin in the life of the Christian are in view.149 It is this material that the author has written to guard his readers from falling into sin, a certainty if the readers accept the claims of the opponents.

The significance of the aorist aJmavrthte (Jamarthte, “you may [not] sin”) in 2:1. There is some dispute over the significance of the aorist tense of aJmavrthte (Jararthte). F. Stagg held that the aorist here is nondescriptive, saying nothing about the nature of the action itself, but only that the action has happened.150 Today some grammarians think Stagg went too far: according to D. B. Wallace, “some have said too little by assuming that nothing more than the unaffected meaning can ever be seen when the aorist is used.”151 There is some disagreement over whether with this particular verb there are more specific nuances of meaning. M. Zerwick and N. Turner agree that the present tense of aJmavrtanw (Jamartanw) means “to be in a state of sin” (i.e., a sinner) while the aorist refers to specific acts of sin.152

Without attempting to sort out this particular dispute, it should be noted that certain verbs do have different nuances of meaning in different tenses, nuances which do not derive solely from the aspectual value of the tense per se, but from a combination of semantic factors which vary from word to word. Whatever else may be said about aJmavrthte (Jamarthte) here, it is clear the author is not simply exhorting the readers not to be habitual or repetitive sinners, as if to imply that occasional acts of sin would be acceptable. The purpose of the author here is that the readers not sin at all, as Jesus told the man he healed in John 5:14. The same phrase is echoed in the textually disputed passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11): “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”153

The meaning of paravklhton (paraklhton, “advocate”) in 2:1. The description of the Holy Spirit as “Paraclete” is unique to the Gospel of John (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7). Here, in the only other use of the word in the New Testament, it is Jesus, not the Spirit, who is described as paravklhto (paraklhtos). This change of referent for the same term within the Johannine corpus is striking and has been seen by some interpreters as evidence that the same author did not write the Gospel of John and 1 John.

We should have been prepared for this interchangeability of terminology, however, by John 14:16 ff., where Jesus told the disciples that he would ask the Father to send them ‘another’ paraclete (a[llo [allos], understood by many to imply “another of the same kind”). This implies that Jesus himself had been a paraclete in his earthly ministry to the disciples.

This does not answer all the questions about the meaning of the word here, though, since it is not Jesus’ role as a paraclete during his earthly ministry which is in view, but his role as a paraclete in heaven before the Father. The context suggests intercession in the sense of legal advocacy, as stress is placed upon the righteousness of Jesus (=Ihsou'n CristoVn divkaion, Ihsoun Criston dikaion). The concept of Jesus’ intercession on behalf of believers does occur elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in Rom. 8:34 and Heb. 7:25. Something similar is taking place here, and seems to be the best explanation of 1 John 2:1.154 This seems to be confirmed by one of the most recent studies on the meaning of the Greek term paravklhto (paraklhtos) by K. Grayston, who after surveying usage of the term from the fourth century b.c. to the third century a.d., concluded that paraklhtos was more of a general term than a legal technical term. However, when the term was used in legal contexts, it referred to a supporter or sponsor who came alongside the accused to intercede or propitiate.155 This is probably best conveyed to the contemporary English reader by a translation like “advocate” or “intercessor.”

    2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

    Summary

John goes futher with his words of assurance to his readers. The Greek word translated atoning sacrifice involves the idea of turning away the divine wrath. (Some modern English translations use words like “expiation” or “atonement” here while others, including older ones, may use the term “propitiation.”) Jesus by his sacrifical death on the cross made possible the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, but this assumes that the “world” will appropriate this forgiveness.

The final verse in the section makes a further statement about the role of Jesus Christ in relation to the sins of believers and, indeed, the entire world. It is on the basis of what is described here that Jesus can act as advocate for believers before the Father in heaven and plead their case when they do sin. On the basis of what he has done, his finished work on the cross, their sins are forgiven.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of iJlasmov (Jilasmos, “atoning sacrifice”) in 2:2. A suitable English translation for this word is a difficult and even controversial problem. L. Morris, in a study that has become central to discussions of this topic, saw as an integral part of the meaning of the word (as in the other words in the iJlavskomai [Jilaskomai] group) the idea of turning away the divine wrath, and suggested that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent.156 It is certainly possible to see an averting of divine wrath in this context, where the sins of believers are in view and Jesus is said to be acting as advocate on behalf of believers. R. Brown’s point, that it is essentially cleansing from sin which is in view here and in the other use of the word in 4:10,157 is well taken, but the two connotations are not mutually exclusive and it does not seem to me that the propitiatory aspect of Jesus’ work can be ruled out entirely in the usage in 2:2. This is essentially similar to what G. Strecker has argued, because “it accords with the preceding argumentation,” especially the reference to the blood of Jesus in 1 John 1:7 and to purification (1:9).158

In terms of translation, the traditional rendering, “propitiation” (kjv, nkjv, nasb),159 although supported by Morris, is unfamiliar to most modern readers, and the theological nuance of averting, appeasing, or turning aside divine wrath is lost on those who are not biblical scholars or theologians. Some modern translations have therefore attempted to render the term in ways more accessible to modern readers. Sometimes this is done because of theological convictions about whether or not the notion of divine wrath is actually implied by the Greek term iJlasmov (Jilasmos). In other instances the translators would agree with Morris about the implication of appeasing divine wrath inherent in the term, but have still sought a rendering more understandable to modern readers than “propitiation.” The rsv (New Testament, 1947) translated the term by “expiation,” an English word which Webster’s New International Dictionary defines as “atonement” or “means of atonement.”160 The neb (New Testament, 1961), influenced by the view of C. H. Dodd that the wrath of God (in the Old Testament) was replaced by love (in the New Testament), translated iJlasmov (Jilasmos) in 1 John 2:2 as “the remedy for the defilement [of our sins].” The niv (New Testament, 1973), taking a more conservative approach to the wrath of God directed at sinners, translated the Greek term “atoning sacrifice,” but gives in a note the alternative translation for the verse, “He is the one who turns aside God’s wrath, taking away our sins….” The nrsv (1989) also has “atoning sacrifice,” but without any note. The nlt (1996) simply has “sacrifice.” The NET Bible (New Testament, 1998) also has “atoning sacrifice,” partly on the basis of the fact that Webster’s New International Dictionary gives “atoning sacrifice” as a definition for the term “propitiation.” “Satisfaction” is also noted as a possibility, although some confusion could arise because in Roman Catholic theology, “satisfaction” is a technical term for the performance of the penance imposed by the priest on a penitant.

The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 2:2. Another problem is the scope of the kovsmo (kosmos) for which Jesus became a propitiatory sacrifice in 2:2. If we turn to the Gospel of John and examine its usage there, we find both positive and negative statements about the kovsmo (kosmos). On the one hand it is the object of God’s love (John 3:16) and of Jesus’ saving mission (3:17, 12:46-47). Jesus is declared to be “Savior of the world” (oJ swthVr tou' kovsmou, Jo swthr tou kosmou) by Samaritans (4:42). These statements are echoed in 1 John 4:14, “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” There are negative statements towards the kovsmo (kosmos) in the Gospel of John as well, as being hostile to Jesus and his mission (John 7:7, 15:18-19, 17:14-16), as failing to recognize who Jesus was (1:10, 17:25), as being overcome by Jesus (16:33), and as being under judgment (9:39, 12:31). These negative statements too have echoes in 1 John: “the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One” (1 John 5:19); “Do not love the world…” (1 John 2:15); “Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world…” (1 John 5:4-5); and “they [the opponents] are of the world…” (1 John 4:5).

It seems clear that in the context of 1 John 2:2 the reference to “the world” falls into line with statements in the Gospel of John like 3:16-17 and 12:46-47. There is some sense in which the propitiatory work of Jesus on the cross (the substitutionary atonement) extends not just to believers but to the entire kovsmo (kosmos). This is not to say (and the author of the Gospel of John and the Johannine letters would never have said) that the benefit of Jesus’ propitiatory work will accrue to the kovsmo (kosmos) unless the kovsmo (kosmos) turns to him and accepts the free gift of life which he offers. But it is offered to the entire world and not to believers only.

On this note the section 1:5-2:2 ends. The author has introduced three sets of claims made by the opponents and offered three sets of counter-claims based on the apostolic eyewitness testimony concerning the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ.


117 Sometimes known as the apostolic kerygma (from the Greek term used in Matt 12:41; Mark 16:8; Luke 11:32; Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:21; 2:4; 15:14; 2 Tim 4:17; Titus 1:3), although the term kerygma is never used in the Johannine corpus of the NT.

118 The cognate relationship between the verb and the noun can be seen in English by translating ajggeliva (angelia) as “announcement” (compare to ajnaggevllomen [anangellomen], “announce”).

119 This corresponds to the apostolic preaching elsewhere referred to as khvrugma (khrugma), although the term the Apostle John uses here is ajggeliva (angelia).

120 BDAG 8 s.v. ajggeliva 1.

121 The corpus of Johannine writings in the NT is generally understood to include John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation (although many NT scholars believe Revelation was written by a different individual named John).

122 See notes on 1:1.

123 Zane C. Hodges, “Fellowship and Confession in I John 1:5-10,” BSac 129 (1972): 48-60.

124 BDF §397(3). In any case the phrase e[stin au{th (estin Jauth, “this is”) here refers to what follows in the following Joti-clause (“that God is light…”). R. Brown comments, “Ambiguity as to whether the primary direction of the ‘this’ is to what precedes or to what follows is one of the more annoying grammatical peculiarities of the Epistles. The present instance, at least, is relatively clear” (The Epistles of John, 192).

125 As Schnackenburg stated, “The fellowship with God that the heretical teachers claim (“we have”) must be demonstrated to be illusory in character. This is achieved by the metaphor of light. They walk in darkness, with which God has no contact whatever since he is pure light. The author has in mind their moral attitude and their consequent behavior, which is antagonistic to God, a point that comes out more clearly in the following verses (1:8, 10; 2:4, 9)” (The Johannine Epistles, 76-77).

126 Some interpreters take the statements introduced with ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say”) in 1:6, 8, 10 to be slogans used by the heretical opponents themselves (e.g., Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 77). Although this would surely have been obvious to the recipients of the letter, it is difficult to prove conclusively today.

127 BDF §442(1).

128 As noted by Strecker in an excursus on the light/darkness imagery (The Johannine Letters, 26-28).

129 Brown, The Epistles of John, 199; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 22.

130 See the section above where this motif is discussed.

131 However, even to frame the question in these terms is to run the risk of misunderstanding the inherent linkage in Johannine theology between initial belief (using terms like “believing” or “coming to Jesus”) and ongoing belief (using figures like “eating [Jesus’] flesh and drinking his blood” or “residing [abiding] in Jesus”). Much of this terminology comes together in the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, particularly 6:39-58. Compare, e.g., John 6:40, which speaks of “beholding the Son and believing in him,” with 6:54, which speaks of “eating [his] flesh and drinking [his] blood.” The metaphors speak both of internalization and of the need for repeated spiritual sustenance.

132 Schnackenburg highlighted the author’s dilemma in these verses as he sought to refute the teaching of the opponents: “On the one hand, he insists that fellowship with God means walking in the light, in a pure moral life according to the rule of the supreme and all-holy God. On the other hand, no Christian can claim to be without sin. The solution to the dilemma lies, for the author, in the fact that the Christian is not immune from sin, but that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin” (The Johannine Epistles, 79).

133 BDAG 50 s.v. aJmartiva 1.

134 See also LN 23.107.

135 “Libertinism” may be defined as a belief system in which sins are flaunted as a way of demonstrating one’s “liberty.”

136 See the implications of the first of the opponents’ claims in 1:6.

137 BDAG 821 s.v. planavw 1.b.

138 Cf. Brown, “all the other usages of the verb and nouns in the Johannine Epistles refer to the secession that is affecting the Johannine Community” (The Epistles of John, 206).

139 Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963) 111, §377.

140 See paragraphs 12, 13, and 15 of the section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” above.

141 Judith M. Lieu, “What Was from the Beginning: Scripture and Tradition in the Johannine Epistles,” NTS 39 (1993): 458-77.

142 Brown, The Epistles of John, 208.

143 Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 23. He acknowledges the exact phrase is not found elsewhere in the New Testament.

144 Schnackenburg stated, “The author does not ask his readers to confess their sinfulness in general terms but to confess each specific sin…. Personal confession of sin, which was also a part of the Baptist’s preaching by the Jordan (Mark 1:5 = Matt 3:6), is an inheritance from the practice of Judaism” (The Johannine Epistles, 81).

145 Cf. Kruse, who states: “The only difference between this expression of their claim and the earlier statement of it in 1:8 is that here the author presents what is claimed, not as an ongoing achievement of not sinning as before, but as a condition of not having sinned (indicated by his use of the Greek perfect tense)” (The Letters of John, 70).

146 Brown, The Epistles of John, 211.

147 Compare the relationship between “word” and “truth” in John 17:17.

148 Brown mentions that the author of 1 John uses the plural of teknion (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21) or paidion (2:14, 18) when addressing his readers directly as members of his own Christian community, while he uses the plural of a different Greek term, teknon (3:1, 2, 10; 5:2), when speaking about the children of God (The Epistles of John, 214). This may be merely a stylistic variation, as Kruse notes (The Letters of John, 71, n. 31). Schnackenburg also considers the term “need not imply any particular tenderness” (The Johannine Epistles, 85, n. 61).

149 Brown, The Epistles of John, 215, citing Bultmann, Plummer, Schnackenburg, and others as in agreement that the tau'ta (tauta) here refers to 1:8-10.

150 Frank Stagg, “Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in the Johannine Epistles,” Review and Expositor 67 (1970): 423-32, in particular p. 428.

151 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 557.

152 Zerwick, Biblical Greek, 82, §251; J. H. Moulton, Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 3: Syntax, by Nigel Turner (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963) 72.

153 The story of the woman caught in adultery in John’s Gospel (7:53-8:11, traditionally known as the pericope adulterae) is almost certainly not an original part of the Fourth Gospel; for more detailed discussion see the NET Bible note on John 7:53.

154 For a different view, however, see Schnackenburg, who stated, “Jesus is the advocate with the Father for Christians when they sin, for he is close by him (“with the Father”). It does not say that it is his task to defend them against the accusations of Satan (cf. Rev. 12:10). The forensic meaning of “paraclete” is here overshadowed by Christ’s high-priestly role. This is made plain not only by the high-priestly prayer (John 17) but also by the cultic terminology that is used in the following verse” (The Johannine Epistles, 86-87).

155 Kenneth Grayston, “The Meaning of Paraklhtos,” JSNT 13 (1981): 67-82.

156 Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955) 140; see also David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) 37-38; T. C. G. Thornton, “Propitiation or Expiation? JIlasthvrion and JIlasmov in Romans and 1 John,” ExpTim 80 (1968/69): 53-55.

157 Brown, The Epistles of John, 220-21.

158 Strecker, The Johannine Letters, 39, n. 17.

159 nasb (both original edition and 1995 update) suggests in a note the alternative rendering “satisfaction.”

160 The cognate English verb “expiate” is defined by Webster’s as “to atone for and wipe out the guilt of sin or wrongdoing.”

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11

    Structure

This section contains three claims to intimate knowledge of God, expressed by the three Greek participles oJ levgwn (Jo legwn, “the one who says”) at the beginning of vv. 4, 6, and 9. As with the three conditional clauses beginning with ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say”) in the previous section (1:6, 1:8, 1:10), these participles indirectly reflect the claims of the opponents. They are followed by the author’s evaluation of these claims and their implications. While the subject matter is generally continuous with the preceding section, the focus shifts from awareness and acknowledgment of sin to obedience of God’s commandments. It is through obedience that the Christian may have assurance of the genuineness of his or her own relationship to God.161 The concept of “light” (contrasted with “darkness”) introduced in 1:5 appears again (for the last time in 1 John) in 2:8-11. The concept of “fellowship” introduced in the prologue (1:4) and discussed in 1:8-2:2 no longer appears in this section, but is replaced by an emphasis on “knowing” and “loving” God along with one’s fellow believers (2:3, 4, 5, 10).

    2:3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments.

    Summary

In this section are three claims to intimate knowledge of God. These are found in vv. 4, 6, and 9. Each claim begins with the phrase the one who says… and each claim reflects the position of the secessionist opponents. There is some problem determining whether the pronouns in v. 3 (“him” [clarified as God in the NET Bible] and his) refer to God the Father or to Jesus Christ. More likely the author of 1 John refers to God the Father here. All the claims of the opponents which the author introduces in 1:5–2:11 concern knowing and having fellowship with the God who is light (compare 2:8-9 with 1:5). Also, when John wants to specify a reference to Jesus, he uses the expression “that one” (translated by the NET Bible as Jesus in v. 6 below). The author’s point in this verse is that obedience to God’s commandments gives us assurance that we have come to know God. (The author later explains what the commandments are in 1 John 3:23.)

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the kaiv (kai, “now”) at the beginning of 2:3. This is important for understanding the argument, because a similar use of the conjunction kaiv (kai) occurs at the beginning of 1:5. The use here is not just a simple continuative or connective, but has more of a resumptive force, looking back to the previous use in 1:5. The author, after discussing three claims of the opponents in 1:6, 8, and 10 and putting forward three counter-claims of his own in 1:7, 1:9, and 2:1, is now returning to the theme of God as light introduced in 1:5. The author will now discuss how a Christian may have assurance that he or she has come to know the God who is light, again by contrast with the author’s opponents who make the same profession of knowing God, but lack the reality of such knowledge, as their behavior makes clear.

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3. This prepositional phrase occurs 14 times in 1 John (2:3, 2:4, 2:5 [2x], 3:10, 3:16, 3:19, 3:24, 4:2, 4:9, 4:10, 4:13, 4;17, and 5:2). Aside from two of these uses which refer to persons (2:4 and one of the two in 2:5), all of the occurrences present difficulties for the interpreter. The meaning is “in this” or “by means of this,” but what the “this” refers to is hard to determine: does it refer to preceding statements or to following statements?

(1) It appears that in cases where there is a following subordinate clause introduced by o{ti (Joti), i{na (Jina), ejavn (ean), o{tan (Jotan), or ejk (ek), and this subordinate clause does seem to be related to touvtw/ (toutw), then the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what follows in the subordinate clause. This is the case in 1 John 2:3, 3:16, 3:24, 4:9, 4:10, 4:13, and 5:2.

(2) On the other hand, in cases where there is no subordinate clause following ejn touvtw/ (en toutw), or the subordinate clause clearly does not have anything to do with the touvtw (toutw)/, then ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) could refer either to what precedes or to what follows, and each case must be decided individually based on context. Examples of this situation occur in 1 John 2:5c, 3:10, and 4:2.

(3) Sometimes it is debatable whether a subordinate clause that follows does or does not relate to touvtw/ (toutw). This is the case in 1 John 3:19 and 4:17.

The occurrence here in 2:3 fits the first case. The subordinate clause that follows is introduced by ejavn (ean). The intervening Joti-clause is an indirect discourse clause related to the verb ginwvskomen (ginwskomen, “we know”) and has nothing to do with touvtw/ (toutw). Thus the touvtw/ (toutw, “by this”) is explained by the subordinate clause (“if we keep his commandments”) with the resultant meaning: “And by this ( = if we keep his commandments) we know that we have come to know him….” Thus in this instance the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) has virtually no relationship to what precedes; relationship to the preceding material is indicated by the kaiv (kai) which is resumptive of 1:5 rather than by the prepositional phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw).

The referent of aujtovn (autou, literally “him”; translated “God” in the NET Bible) in 2:3.162 Once again the referent of the third person pronoun is difficult to determine: does the pronoun aujtovn (auton) here refer to God the Father or to Jesus Christ? Many interpreters hold that this is a reference to Jesus Christ, because he is mentioned in 2:1 and the pronoun aujtov (autos) at the beginning of 2:2 clearly refers back to him. Previous uses of aujtov (autos) in 1:6, 1:7, and 1:10 (see discussions under the appropriate verses) referred to God the Father, who was explicitly mentioned in 1:5 (“God is light” must refer to God the Father). It seems more likely that God is the referent of the pronoun aujtovn (auton) here, for the following reasons: (1) the assurance that the author is dealing with here is assurance that one has come to know God, not assurance that one has come to know Jesus Christ. All the claims of the opponents which the author introduces in 1:5-2:11, in order to refute them, concern knowing and having fellowship with God who is light (compare 1 John 2:8-9 with 1:5). (2) When Jesus Christ is explicitly mentioned as an example to emulate in 1 John 2:6, the pronoun ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated “Jesus” in the NET Bible) is used to distinguish this from previous references with aujtov (autos). (3) The kaiv (kai, literally “and”; translated “now” in the NET Bible) which begins 2:3 is parallel to the kaiv (kai) which begins 1:5, suggesting that the author, after discussing (somewhat indirectly) three claims of the opponents and putting forward three counter-claims in 1:6-2:2, is now returning to the discussion of “God as light” introduced in 1:5. The author will now discuss how a Christian may have assurance that he or she has come to know the God who is light.

The significance of the perfect tense ejgnwvkamen (egnwkamen, “we have come to know”) in 2:3. R. Brown apparently sees no significance here in the switch from present to perfect tense: “Variety of tense is, in part, a stylistic device.”163 Brown refers to an article by J. P. Louw in which Louw contends that overall there is no distinction in significance between aorist and perfect; both can be used to convey the idea of a perfected past action.164 Louw’s article may be accurate as far as it goes. But Louw’s point concerns the interchangeability of two past tenses (aorist and perfect) while Brown here apparently wants to interchange a present and a past tense. It appears more likely that there is some significance to the use of the perfect here that goes beyond a present tense, especially since it is in sequence with a present.165 This is probably best understood as a resultative perfect, which involves both past completed action and existing results, but emphasizes the existing results. It is clear in any case that the author is interested in reassuring those whom he considers to be believers already: they came to know God at some time in the past, and now the author is writing to reassure them of the reality of that (resulting) relationship.

The significance of ejavn (ean, “if”) in relation to the keeping of the commandments in 2:3. We might have expected to find o{ti (Joti) used here, since the subordinate clause which follows is explanatory or appositional to ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) as discussed above. Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out that if the explanatory clause refers to actual fact, in Johannine usage o{ti (Joti) is preferred, but if the fact is only assumed, ejavn (ean) or o{tan (Jotan) is used.166 The implication of this is that the author by the use of this construction is assuming that the readers as genuine believers will indeed keep God’s commandments, but he does not state this as an absolute fact.

The referent of aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 2:3. Whose commandments does the author refer to, those of Jesus Christ or those of God the Father? In John 13:34-35 and 15:12 Jesus says that he is giving the disciples a new commandment, and in 14:15, 14:21, and 15:10 Jesus speaks of “my commandments.” Yet he also speaks of a commandment he himself has “received” from the Father (John 10:18, 12:49-50, 14:31; plural in 15:10).

References to “his commandment(s)” occur 8 times in 1 John (2:3, 2:4, 3:22, 3:23, 3:24, 5:2, 5:3 [2x]) along with one reference (4:21) to a commandment “from him.” In two of these instances (3:23 and 4:21) the immediate context makes it clear that God the Father is referred to. For the sake of consistency it seems best to understand the remaining references to “his commandment(s)” as referring to God the Father as well, including the references here in 2:3 and in the following verse (2:4). This is not absolutely certain, however, and is another instance of the ambiguity that underlies many passages in these letters and has plagued interpreters for centuries.

The referent of the commandments in 2:3. Neither in this verse nor the following one does the author explicitly state what the “commandments” are which believers are supposed to obey. One might immediately assume that the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic law, Exod 20:2-17) is in view here, and in fact both Brown and Strecker have suggested that the author of 1 John intends some sort of reference to the Decalogue here in 2:3-4.167 However, there is no indication anywhere else in 1 John (unless in 5:21, with its prohibition of idolatry) that the author is concerned about his readers failing to keep the Mosaic law.168 God’s commands are spelled out later in the letter, in 3:23: “Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment.” The phrase “love one another” is an allusion to the “new commandment” of John 13:34, a major Johannine theme (cf. 1 John 2:8, 2 John 4-6).169 It is probably best to view this as an instance of introducing a concept (the “commandments” here in 2:3) without specifying it at the time, only to return to it later and clarify what is meant (in this case, in 3:23).

    2:4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.

    Summary

The first of three claims made by the opponents in 2:3-11 is found here, as expressed by the phrase The one who says…. The opponents are claiming I have come to know God but are not obeying God’s commandments. According to the author of 1 John their claim to have come to know God is false. The individual described here is a liar in whom the truth does not reside.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the three Greek participles (oJ levgwn, Jo legwn) in 2:4, 6, and 9 with respect to the claims of the opponents. Three masculine nominative singular present participles, each preceded by the article, occur in 2:4, 2:6, and 2:9. As in the previous section (1:5-2:2), these express three claims of the opponents. In the previous section the phrase used to express the opponents’ claims was ejavn ei[pwmen (ean eipwmen, “if we say”); here it is oJ levgwn (Jo legwn, “the one who says”). Some have thought the participles used here indicate the threat is more real that that expressed by the third-class conditions (ean eipwmen, “if we say”) in 1:5-2:2. But if there is any difference between the two sets of claims it probably lies in the switch from the use of the first person plural (“if we say…”) in 1:5-2:2 to the third person singular (“the one who says…”) here. This moves the second group of claims in 2:4-9 one step further away from the readers of the Letter. R. Brown thinks we have statements here that may be virtually direct quotations from the opponents.170 Certainly the author seems less willing here to entertain the possibility that his readers could, or would, say such a thing. From a rhetorical standpoint this does serve to distance the intended recipients of the letter from those who would make such statements as these. Marshall sees the sins alluded to here as more sins of omission than sins of commission (cf. 1:6), probably due to the connection with “commandments” here.171 This may be so, but assumes the commandments mentioned here are positive ones (like “love one another”) rather than negative ones.

The referent of aujtovn (auton, literally “him”; translated “God” in the NET Bible) in 2:4. Again the referent of this pronoun is ambiguous; it may refer to God the Father or to Jesus Christ. We concluded in our discussion above of the aujtovn (auton) in 2:3a that it constituted a reference to God the Father, and the parallelism here, after the same verb (e[gnwka, egnwka [“I have come to know”]) in the same tense (perfect), argues for a similar reference to God. The person who says, “I have come to know God,” and does not keep God’s commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in such an individual. Following the same pattern as 1:6-2:2, we have here once again the opponents’ claim followed by the author’s evaluation.172 The evaluation is harsh and self-explanatory: to say a person is a liar means that the claims he or she is making are not to be believed (a not-too-subtle polemical statement against the secessionist opponents with their false christology). To say “the truth” is not in such a person, in light of passages in John’s Gospel such as 14:6 (where Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”) and 17:17 (“Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth” – note “his word” in the following verse, 1 John 2:5) again points to the falsity of the opponents’ claims. The demonstrative ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, lit. “in this one”; NET Bible “in such a person”) is a typically Johannine expression, but its placement at the end of the clause is emphatic.

    2:5 But whoever keeps his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him.

    Summary

Now the author of 1 John offers a contrastive counter-claim introduced by But. The expression his word is parallel to his commandments in the previous verse. By this refers back to obeying God’s word and having his love perfected in us. Again obedience provides the Christian with assurance that we are in him.

    Exegetical Details

The relationship between his word in 2:5 and his commandments in the previous verse (2:4). In light of the contrastive nature of the author’s counter-claim, it seems highly probable that we should understand no difference here between “his commandments” in the opponents’ claim in 2:4 and “his word” in the author’s counter-claim here in 2:5. God’s “word” is here a reference to God’s ethical demands, demands which a believer will attempt to obey (but presumably the opponents, as moral indifferentists, would not be concerned about obeying). The same alternation is found in Jesus’ words in John 14:21 and 23 between “my commandments” and “my word,” where the two phrases are interchangeable, as they are here.

The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5. This is the first of 6 times the phrase hJ ajgavph tou' qeou' (Je agaph tou qeou, “the love of God”) occurs in 1 John (2:5, 2:15, 3:17, 4:9, 4:12, and 5:3). The most probable syntactical possibilities are (1) objective genitive, “our love for God,” so Dodd, Marshall, and Smalley;173 (2) subjective genitive, “God’s love for us,” an interpretation held by Westcott, Bultmann, and Houlden;174 (3) both objective and subjective;175 or (4) attributive genitive, “the divine love.”176 While caution is necessary because it is unlikely that the author of 1 John stopped to think through the implications of all these possibilities, or would have wanted to imply one to the exclusion of all the others, it does seems that a subjective genitive, emphasizing God’s love for us, is most likely here.177 In a close parallel, 1 John 4:12 speaks of “his love” (hJ ajgavph aujtou', Jh agaph autou) having been perfected in us. This refers back to “the love of God” (hJ ajgavph tou' qeou', Jh agaph tou qeou) in 4:9, where it is clear that the phrase must be subjective, because 4:9 explains the manifestation of God’s love as his sending of his Son into the world – something that God did in showing his love for us.

The significance of the perfect tense teteleivwtai (teteleiwtai, “has been perfected”) in 2:5. Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar cites this verse as an example of the use of the perfect tense in general assertions or imaginary examples, a usage well established in classical Greek but rare in the New Testament.178 The use here is further described as “futuristic” (in the sense of a hypothetical case): “whoever keeps his word, truly in this person the love of God will be perfected….” The futuristic nuance is based on an interpretive assumption and introduces a futuristic emphasis, however, while the major thrust of 1 John, concerned with the debate with the secessionist opponents, is much more centered on the present reality.179 For the author of 1 John, obedience to God’s word (i.e., “his commandments,” v. 4) is something that characterizes the faithful recipients of the letter (as opposed to the opponents), and through their obedience, the love of God has been perfected in them. In the Gospel of John, love and obedience are closely related as well: in the words of Jesus, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).

The referent of the second ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:5.180 Since the Joti-clause which follows is indirect discourse after the verb ginwvskomen (ginwskomen, “we know”), there is no subordinate clause following ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) to explain it. Thus it fits category (2) as discussed under 2:3 above, and could refer either to what follows or to what precedes. It seems most likely that it refers back to the preceding material, serving as a sort of inclusion with the use in 2:3 and summing up the author’s rebuttal to the first claim of the opponents in the section. What follows in 2:6 is the second of the opponents’ claims, and there does not seem to be any way that this can relate to the believer’s assurance of being “in him.”

The referent of ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) in 2:5. This is related to the same phrase used with mevnein (menein, “resides”) in the second claim of the opponents which follows in 2:6.181 As for the referent, it is either God the Father or Jesus Christ. The same phrase used in the next verse appears to refer to God the Father, since in 1 John there is a consistent switch in pronouns from aujtov (autos) to ejkei'no (ekeinos) when a reference to Jesus Christ is clearly introduced. This implies that the previous reference in 2:6 is to God the Father, as the reference here in 2:5 would be. Thus we have consistently interpreted all the unspecified third person pronoun references between 2:3 and 2:6a as referring to God the Father.

    2:6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.

    Summary

This verse contains the second of the three claims of the opponents as expressed by the phrase The one who says…. Once more we have a claim by the opponents: they claim to reside in God. The person who makes such a claim, says the author, ought…to walk (that is, behave) just as Jesus walked during his earthly life and ministry. Jesus sets the standard and example of behavior for the Christian.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the phrase ejn aujtw'/ mevnein (en autw menein, literally “[he] resides in him”; translated as “he resides in God” in the NET Bible) in 2:6. This is the first occurrence in 1 John of the verb mevnw (menw, “reside, remain, stay”), which is used a total of 24 times in the letter. Of these, 14 refer to the permanence of relationship between God and the believer (2:6, 3:24 [2x], 4:12, 4:13 [2x], 4:15 [2x], 4:16 [2x]), between Jesus and the believer (2:27, 2:28, 3:6), or both God and Jesus with the believer (2:24). Of the 10 remaining instances, 5 refer to other realities residing in the believer: the word of God (2:14), the message heard from the beginning (2:24 [2x]), the anointing (2:27), and God’s seed (3:9). Two more refer to realities not residing in the opponents: eternal life (3:15) and the love of God (3:17). The last three instances are more varied: the one who loves his brother resides in light (2:10), the one who does not love resides in death (3:14), and the one who resides in love (4:16) resides in God.

The first group of usages, referring to the permanence of relationship between God and the believer, Jesus and the believer, or both God and Jesus with the believer, are similar in concept to the Pauline ejn Cristw'/ (en Cristw, “in Christ”) formula.182 As E. Malatesta has pointed out, in the Johannine letters the phrase menein ejn (menein en, “to reside in”) is essentially equivalent to eijnai ejn (einai en, “to be in”).183 They refer to the reciprocal relationship of the divine indwelling of the believer on the one hand, and the “positional” relationship of the believer in God or Christ on the other. The usage here in 2:6 fits this category.

The Greek verb mevnw (menw) is commonly translated into contemporary English as “remain” or “abide,” but both of these translations have some problems. In some circles “abide” has become almost a technical term for some sort of special intimate fellowship or close relationship between the Christian and God, so that one may speak of Christians who are “abiding” and Christians who are not.184 Insofar as the word “abide” indicates a close, intimate (and permanent) relationship between the believer and God, it is not inaccurate; but it must be remembered that for the author of the Gospel of John and the Johannine letters every genuine Christian has this type of relationship with God, and the person who does not have this type of relationship is not a believer at all (in spite of what he or she may claim).185 On the other hand, to translate mevnw (menw) as “remain” removes some of these problems, but creates others: in certain contexts, such a translation can give the impression that those who currently “remain” in this relationship with God could at some point choose not to “remain”, i.e., could choose to abandon their faith and return to an unsaved condition. While one may easily think in terms of the author’s opponents in 1 John as not “remaining” in this sense (as many interpreters do), the author makes it inescapably clear in 1 John 2:19 that these people, in spite of their claims to know God and be in fellowship with God, never really were genuine believers to begin with. In an attempt to avoid both these misconceptions, the NET Bible has translated mevnw (menw) as “reside” except in cases where the context indicates that “remain” is a more accurate nuance.186

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 2:6. It seems clear that ejkei'no (ekeinos) here does not refer to the same person as aujtw'/ (autw) in 2:6a. We argued in 2:3 above that the third person pronoun reference there (as in 2:4 and 2:5) referred to God the Father rather than Jesus Christ. This would also be true for aujtw'/ (autw) in 2:6a.187 The switch to ejkei'no (ekeinos) indicates a change in the referent, however, and a reference to Jesus Christ is confirmed by the verb periepavthsen (periepathsen, “walked”), an activity which can only describe Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, the significance of which is one of the points of contention the author has with the opponents. As a matter of fact, ejkei'no (ekeinos) occurs 6 times in 1 John (2:6, 3:3, 3;5, 3:7, 3:16, and 4:17), and it turns out that each one of these refers to Jesus Christ.188

The ethical requirement implied in 2:6. For the author it is not enough to put forward a claim to reside in God. Such a claim (presumably here being made by the secessionist opponents) carries with it an implied ethical requirement to conduct oneself the way Jesus did during his earthly life and ministry (“ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked”). The verb plus infinitive ojfeivleiperipatei'n (ofeileiperipatein, “ought…to walk”) is a common metaphor for conduct (it was used this way previously in 1:6-7). The behavior and conduct of the historical Jesus is put forward here as a model for believers to emulate, and this presupposes that the readers of this letter had some information about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry to base their imitation on. It is reasonable to assume the primary source for such knowledge would be the Fourth Gospel (or the tradition behind it), although this does not exclude the possibility of knowledge about Jesus’ life and ministry from other sources as well. This call for believers to base their behavior on the example of Jesus will be repeated and escalated in 1 John 3:16. Finally, in light of the “residing” terminology (see above on the verb mevnw (menw, “reside, remain, stay”) which refers here to the reciprocal relationship of the divine indwelling of the believer on the one hand, and the “positional” relationship of the believer in God or Christ on the other – a relationship which all true Christians possess – this obligation to conduct oneself the way Jesus did is likewise placed upon all true Christians. It is not an option for Christians not to follow the example of Jesus. We may presume, however, that this is a major part of the fault the author finds with his opponents – while claiming to “reside” in God, they are not following the example of Jesus in their conduct.

    2:7 Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have already heard.

    Summary

As in 1 John 1:1, the beginning refers to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The old commandment and the word that you have already heard both refer to Jesus’ teaching while on earth with the disciples, specifically the “new commandment” of John 13:34-35, that believers should love one another. Jesus’ commandment to love one another can be described as old by the author of 1 John because it has been around since Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the present writer is not changing it. Referring to the commandment of John 13:34-35 in this way is a subtle way of reminding the readers (Christians in the community that the author is writing to) that they should hold fast to the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is, in the face of the challenges to this testimony raised by the secessionist opponents.

    Exegetical Details

The author’s address to the readers in 2:7. Verse 7 begins with a term of endearment (“Dear friends”), a sure sign of the author’s affection for the intended recipients of the letter. John uses this term, ajgaphtoiv (agaphtoi) elsewhere in his letters – the plural form occurs in 1 John 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11 and the singular in 3 John 1, 2, 5, 11. Bultmann cites Pauline usage as well (Rom 12:19; 2 Cor 7:1) to support his assertion that this was a common form of homiletical address in early Christianity.189

The old commandment in 2:7. Why does the author describe what he is writing as not “a new commandment” in 2:7 when Jesus describes his commandment to the disciples in John 13:34 as a “new” commandment? On the surface the author seems to be saying exactly the opposite of what we would expect him to say. Smalley suggests the author refers to “an old commandment which you have had from the beginning” for two reasons: the command to love one’s neighbor was contained in the Mosaic law (Lev 19:18), and the recipients of 1 John, belonging to the second generation of Christian believers, would have regarded Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to love one another as an “old” one.190 Others would deny that the “commandment” the author speaks of here is to be identified with the “new commandment” of Jesus to the disciples in John 13:34 precisely because the author here specifically rejects the designation “new.” There is so much emphasis on love throughout 1 John, however, that such a theory has little to commend it.191 It seems almost certain that the commandment of Jesus to his disciples to “love one another” is central to the theme of 1 John (cf. 1 John 3:16). More likely, the author means that what he writes is not a “new” commandment in the sense that it does not originate with him. Recall that one of the charges he makes against the opponents is that they are ‘progressives’ who have “gone too far” with respect to their christology (2 John 9).192 Thus it is important to the author to demonstrate to the intended recipients of the letter that his message and emphasis is one that has been “from the beginning”193 and does not represent a doctrinal innovation, as the teaching of the opponents does. Marshall suggests the author’s emphasis on the “old” nature of the commandment here may have arisen from resistance by the opponents within the community (prior to their secession from it) to Johannine language about a “new” law (cf. 2 John 5).194

The meaning of ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) in 2:7 and its relationship to the same phrase in 1 John 1:1. We interpreted the phrase ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) in 1 John 1:1 as a reference to the “beginning” of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which marked the beginning of his self-revelation to his disciples (cf. Jesus’ statement to his disciples that they had been with him “from the beginning” in John 15:27). This fits the context here as well, in keeping with the author’s stress on the importance of the apostolic eyewitness testimony to the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus.195 The commandment the author is writing about was new when it was first manifested in the words and works of Jesus during his earthly career (cf. John 13:34). Now, however, it can be called “an old commandment which you have had from the beginning,” the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and old in comparison to the innovative teaching of the opponents who have not remained in the apostolic teaching but have “gone on ahead” (2 John 9), becoming “progressives” in a bad sense.

    2:8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

    Summary

Jesus’ commandment to love one another can also be described as a new commandment, however, since that is the way Jesus himself described it to his original disciples (John 13:34). The darkness and the true light are allusions to John 1:5: “and the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.” In the beginning of John’s Gospel Jesus is described as “the true light, who gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).

    Exegetical Details

The significance of pavlin (palin, literally “again”; translated by the NET Bible as “on the other hand”) at the beginning of 2:8. Does pavlin (palin) at the beginning of 2:8, along with the designation of the commandment in 2:8 as a “new commandment” (ejntolhVn kainhVn, entolhn kainhn) refer to another commandment than the one mentioned in 2:7, or is this another designation for the same commandment as the one in 2:7? The Greek term pavlin (palin) means “again” or “on the other hand”196 and indicates not necessarily a new thought, but a further thought about the commandment already mentioned in v. 7. Although in v. 7 the author had designated this commandment as an “old” one, he now adds that in one sense it could be considered new: it is “new” (kainov, kainos) in the sense of having fresh applicability to the readers and their present situation, rather than being “new” in the sense of time (nevo, neos).

The newness of the “new commandment” the author writes in 2:8. While some interpreters see the reference to the “new” commandment written by the author here as no more than a conscious echo of Jesus’ “new commandment” to the disciples in John 13:34, it is not clear that this totally explains the author’s usage. Smalley argues that the newness of the commandment is demonstrated in at least three ways: (1) God has demonstrated his love for humanity in his self-giving through Jesus (1 John 4:9; cf. John 3:16); (2) Jesus by his own obedience fulfilled the Mosaic law (John 2:27; Rom 10:4); (3) Jesus makes it possible for believers to receive eternal life and through him to fulfill the law of selfless Christlike love (1 John 4:8-11; 5:11-12).197

The referent of aujtw'/ (autw, “in him”) in 2:8. Probably we should understand this as a reference to Jesus Christ, since the last third person pronoun, ejkei'no (ekeinos) in 2:6b, referred to Jesus, and there has been no indication in the context of a change in referent. In addition, since Jesus is clearly the one who gives his disciples a “new commandment” in the Fourth Gospel (John 13:34-35), it seems more natural to connect him with the “new commandment” mentioned here.

The force of the o{ti (Joti) in 2:8. It is possible that the o{ti (Joti) is epexegetical198 or appositional to the “commandment” (ejntolhVn, entolhn) giving a further explanation or clarification of it; in this case it should be translated as “that” (or perhaps “in that”): “I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, in that the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” But the statement following the o{ti (Joti) is about light and darkness, and it is difficult to see how this has anything to do with the commandment, especially as we have suggested the commandment is related to the commandment of John 13:34 for believers to love one another.

It seems far more likely that the Joti-clause should be understood as causal, but this still does not answer the question of whether it offers the reason for writing the “new” commandment itself or the reason for the relative clause (“which is true in him and in you”). Probably it gives the reason for the writing of the commandment, although R. Brown thinks it refers to both.199 Because the author sees the victory of light over darkness as something already begun, he is writing Jesus’ commandment to love one another to the readers as a reminder to (1) hold fast to what they have already heard (cf. 2:7) and (2) not be influenced by the innovative or “progressive” (false) teaching of the opponents. The language of the Joti-clause recalls John 1:4-5 in the prologue to the Gospel of John.

The significance of the light/darkness motif in 2:8 in relation to the argument. The light/darkness motif introduced in the Joti-clause suggests the struggle with the opponents, a struggle which has some eschatological overtones for the author. This will be more fully developed later, when the author announces that it is “the last hour” and labels the opponents “antichrists” (1 John 2:18). But for now, the opponents are still “in” darkness, as their failure to obey the “new” commandment to love one another indicates. They “walk in darkness” (1:6, 2:11), reside “in darkness” (2:9), and the darkness “has blinded their eyes” (2:11). But in contrast to all this, the victorious note of the author here is that “the darkness is passing away.” Even as the opponents with their “progressive” (and false) teaching about Jesus are plunging headlong into darkness, light is increasing for the author’s readers – Christians in the community to which he is writing – as they hold fast to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus.

The meaning of toV fw' toV ajlhqinovn (to fws to alhqinon, “the true light”) in 2:8. In the Gospel of John (esp. 1:4,5 and 8:12) the “light” refers to Jesus himself. Here in 1 John, however, the reference is somewhat broader. It involves believers “walking in the light” (1:7) and “residing in the light” (2:10). The “true light” is already shining (2:8). Finally, God himself is described as “light” (1:5). We mentioned in the discussion of 1:5 above that this involves the moral realm and constitutes a description of God’s character as pure and completely sinless. In the antithetical (either-or) terminology of 1 John, being “in the light” or “walking in the light” involves adherence to the ethical demands placed by God on believers to emulate his character and lifestyle.200 Kilpatrick suggests that the author’s choice of the adjective ajlhqinov (alhqinos, “true”) here rather than ajlhqhv (alhqhs, “true”) in v. 8a was deliberate since in the letters he uses the former attributively (as here) and the latter as a predicate (also 3 John 12).201

    2:9 The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness.

    Summary

Another claim by the opponents is now given: they claim to be in the light. Such a person’s actions in hating his fellow Christian speak louder than words. As far as the author of 1 John is concerned, this person – regardless of his or her claim to the contrary – is still in the darkness. According to John 3:17-21, an important thematic section in the Fourth Gospel, a person either comes to the “light” (i.e., comes to Jesus) or a person remains in the darkness. For John, there are no other alternatives. The choice an individual has made in this regard will become evident in how he or she treats fellow members of the community.

The opposite to hating one’s fellow Christian is, of course, the fulfillment of the new commandment of John 13:34 – to show love for fellow believers. Although not mentioned explicitly here, the opposite action to “hating” one’s fellow believer is clear, and this introduces a theme so important for the author of 1 John – loving one’s brother or sister in Christ – that it will occur repeatedly in 1 John (3:10ff., 23; 4:7, 11ff., 20-21; cf. 5:16).202

    Exegetical Details

This verse contains the third of the three claims of the opponents as expressed by the participle oJ levgwn (Jo legwn, “the one who says”). Here again the claim of the opponents (to be in the light) is shown to be false by their behavior in hating their fellow members of the community.203 Smalley observes:

    To claim existence “in the light” of God is one matter; but to do so while practicing hatred, rather than love, is a contradiction. Indeed, disobeying the law of love makes a right relationship with God impossible; for abiding in him means living as Jesus lived (vv 4, 6).204

The use of the verb “hate” may seem too strong, but for the author the failure to show love for others in the Christian community to which one belongs is a very serious matter. Coupled with this is the antithetical tendency of Johannine thought, which typically sees things in terms of polar opposites (cf. John 3:18-21). This antithetical terminology with respect to light and darkness occurs in John 1:5; 12:35-36. As Westcott noted, “there is no twilight in this spiritual world.”205 To be “in the darkness” in Johannine terms almost certainly signifies the status of an unbeliever; in the Fourth Gospel Jesus says the person who follows him “will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). Likewise, when Judas Iscariot departs from the upper room, “it was night” (13:30). Just as Judas followed Jesus for a while, but ultimately departed and returned to the darkness from which he had come, so the author of 1 John sees the secessionist opponents, who may have associated with the Christian community for some time, but have nevertheless remained “in the darkness.” Smalley sees the darkness terminology as shifting from its use in the Gospel of John where it refers to outsiders to the use here where it refers to “heterodox members within John’s congregation, as well as to the secessionists.”206 However, it is more likely that the usage remains the same in the Gospel of John and 1 John, since in my opinion the situation in 1 John can be explained in terms of one group of secessionists who have departed from John’s community and who continue from outside the community to recruit others to their own point of view (cf. 1 John 2:18-19; 4:5).

The force of the kaiv (kai, translated here by the NET Bible as “but [still]”) in 2:9. The conjunction kaiv (kai) here has adversative or concessive force: “the one who says he is in the light although hating his brother….”

    2:10 The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

    Summary

Once again, loving one’s fellow Christian is an evidence that one resides in the light. Love for one’s fellow believer will prevent the person himself from stumbling, that is, from leaving the community to which the letter is addressed and adopting the heterodox teaching of the secessionist opponents.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the phrase ejn tw'/ fwtiV mevnei (en tw fwti menei, “resides in the light”) in 2:10. To “reside/remain in the light” in the context of 1 John with its emphasis on adhering to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus (as opposed to the “progressive” teaching of the opponents) is to remain in the author’s (apostolic) teaching instead of siding with the opponents. However, it also involves adherence to the “new commandment” of 2:8, that is, the commandment to “love one another,” a summary term for obedience to all of God’s ethical injunctions. The person who “resides/remains in the light” continues to “walk in the light” (1:7) and to emulate the character of God who is light (1:5) and Christ who set believers an example (2:6, 3:16). For the author, this is primarily demonstrated by loving one’s fellow believers.207

The meaning of skavndalon (skandalon, “cause for stumbling”) in 2:10. The idea of a “stumbling block” is appropriate here.208 It is confirmed by the implication in the following verse (1 John 2:11) that the person who walks in the darkness cannot see where he is going, and therefore is likely to stumble. The Greek term translated “stumbling block” is used figuratively in the New Testament to refer to something that constitutes a temptation to sin or an enticement to apostasy or false belief (cf. Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:8; Rev 2:14), and that fits the context here.209

We may still ask, however, whether this “stumbling block” causes the person himself to stumble, or causes others around him to stumble. The two times the cognate verb is used in the Gospel of John (6:61, 16:1) both refer to causing others to stumble. If that is the case here, then the believer who loves his brothers will not cause them to stumble and thus drive them out from the community of the author into the community and teaching of the opponents. Still, it seems to me more likely that the author means here that love for one’s brother will prevent the person himself from stumbling, that is, leaving the author’s community and adopting the teaching of the opponents. Probably a parallel is to be found in Ps 119:165, where the cause for stumbling is in the person himself.

The referent of aujtw'/ (autw, “in him”) in 2:10. Does this third person pronoun refer to the person who loves his brother, and thus has no cause for stumbling “in him” (ejn aujtw'/, en autw), or to the light itself, which has no cause for stumbling “in it” (ejn aujtw'/, en autw)?210 The difference in meaning is not great, but on the analogy of the parallel in Ps 119:165 suggested above it is probably the person who is in view. The final Joti-clause in the next verse, 2:11, seems to confirm this because it pictures darkness as operative within a person, suggesting that by contrast that the person who loves his brother has no such principle operating within him (ejn aujtw'/, en autw).211

    2:11 But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

    Summary

On the other hand, the person who hates his fellow Christian has never “come to the light” at all but continues to live in the darkness. Such a person may rightfully be described as spiritually blind (compare John 9:39-41).

    Exegetical Details

The participial phrase oJ misw'n (Jo miswn, “the one who hates”) in 2:11 and its relationship to the phrase oJ ajgapw'n (Jo agapwn, “the one who loves”) in 2:10. It is clear that the participial phrase here in 2:11, oJ misw'n (Jo miswn), stands completely opposite to the phrase oJ ajgapw'n (Jo agapwn) in 2:10. The shift from the verb mevnw (menw) in the expression ejn tw'/ fwtiV mevnei (en tw fwti menei, 2:10) to the verb eijmi (eimi) in the expression ejn th'/ skotiva/ ejstiVn (en th skotia estin, 2:11) appears to be yet another instance of Johannine use of interchangeable terminology.212 Once again the author is thinking in terms of polar opposites or antitheses. R. Bultmann states, “Just as darkness and light are mutually exclusive antitheses, so, too, are hate and love. ...A third possibility, a neutral relationship to one’s brother, is excluded.”213

Note that oJ misw'n (Jo miswn, “the one who hates”) refers here, as did oJ levgwn (Jo legwn, “the one who says”) in 2:4, 6, and 9, to the opponents.

The concept of walking in the darkness in 2:11 and its relationship to the similar concept in 1:6. Here in 1 John 2:11 the person who hates his brother is said to be “walking in the darkness” (ejn th'/ skotiva/ peripatei', en th skotia peripatei), which is the antithesis of loving one’s brother and “residing/remaining in the light” (2:10). In 1:6 “walking in the darkness” (ejn tw'/ skovtei peripatw'men, en tw skotei peripatwmen) was opposed to being in fellowship with God. But in the verse before that (1:5), we are told that God is characterized by “light,” so the antithesis between light and darkness is much the same as here.

It seems clear from the antithesis between light and darkness, which is the basis of the author’s imagery here, that the opponents, who are said to be “walking in the darkness,” are not portrayed as believers but as unbelievers. The same imagery occurs in John 3:19-21, where those “who loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” hate the light and refuse to come to the light, a clear description of unbelievers.

The first half of v. 11 is very similar to John 12:35, “The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” In John 12:36 Jesus goes on to state, “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.”214

The concept of blindness in 2:11. Blindness in the New Testament is frequently a spiritual condition associated with deliberate disbelief (e.g., Acts 28:25-27; Rom 11:9; 2 Cor 4:4). Particularly applicable here is John 12:39-40, where deliberate refusal to believe in spite of the sign-miracles Jesus had performed led to inability to believe. In John’s Gospel this is explained in the words of Isaiah (quoted in John 12:38-39) as a deliberate blinding in response to their deliberate disbelief. While no agent is specifically mentioned here in 1 John 2:11, the next section will contain references to “the evil one” (2:13-14) and “Antichrist” (2:18-22).215 The connection between evil deeds, the influence of Satan (the “evil one”), and darkness (“night”) are all present in the reference to Judas in John 13:27-30, which concludes with the evangelist’s observation, “Now it was night.” Just as those who refuse to come to the light are left in darkness (John 3:18-21), so here those who refuse to love fellow members of the Christian community are said to be in darkness. This is tantamount to identifying them as unbelievers.


161 Thus 1 John really does address the topic of personal assurance of salvation. But it is crucial to note that this assurance extends to one’s own salvation, but not necessarily to the salvation of others, nor is it based on a mechanical formula which if repeated correctly guarantees salvation of the person using it, much like the word “Friend” spoken by Gandalf at the gates of Moria automatically opens the doors (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd ed. [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965] 321).

162 The NET Bible’s philosophy of translation states that it consistently specifies referents that are not clear (except in the case where the ambiguity appears deliberate, as it does occasionally in 1 John).

163 Brown, The Epistles of John, 249-50.

164 Johannes P. Louw, “Verbal Aspect in the First Letter of John,” Neotestamentica 9 (1975): 98-104.

165 Smalley states that the perfect tense here “implies a past experience with continuing effects” (1, 2, 3 John, 45). A bit more precisely stated, the perfect tense in Hellenistic Koiné describes past action with results in existence at the time of speaking or writing.

166 BDF §394.

167 Brown, The Epistles of John, 280-81; Strecker, The Johannine Letters, 40, n. 22.

168 The reference to idolatry in 1 John 5:21 is better understood metaphorically. See the discussion there.

169 On the concept of love as commandment in the Johannine literature see H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT 1:337-39.

170 Brown states, “The false statements here may approach being exact quotations from the secessionists, while those in ch. 1 may have been secessionist-inspired but rephrased in the author’s wording” (The Epistles of John, 253).

171 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 124.

172 Smalley observes, “Presumably the linguistic echoes of the earlier trilogy, 1:6, 8, and 10, are deliberate” (1, 2, 3 John, 47).

173 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 31; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 125; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 49.

174 Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 49; Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 25; Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 68.

175 Maximilian Zerwick refers to this kind of genitive as the «general» genitive in Biblical Greek, §§36-39. Wallace uses the term “plenary genitive” in a similar way (Exegetical Syntax, 119-21).

176 So Schnackenburg, who takes this as a genitive of quality, denoting God’s kind of love (The Johannine Epistles, 97; cf. also n. 118).

177 Brown observes, “One may wonder whether even implicitly the epistolary author ever stopped to ask himself which type of genitive he meant; or did he simply use a set phrase with a whole complexus of meaning which he did not refine further? Here I think it impossible to be sure what the author meant…” (The Epistles of John, 257).

178 BDF §344.

179 It is true that the author introduces an eschatological emphasis with the reference to “the last hour” in 2:18, but for the author, the eschatological emphasis still reflects a present reality.

180 See the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” above. The first ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase in 2:5 refers to the individual in whom love is perfected and thus is translated “in this person.”

181 See the discussion of the phrase ejn aujtw'/ mevnein (en autw menein) in 2:6.

182 See, e.g., Eph 1:3-14, where the phrase occurs in 1:3, 10, 12.

183 Edward Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant: A Study of ei\nai ejn and mevnein ejn in the First Letter of Saint John, Analecta Biblica 69 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978). This is an extremely important study (with implications for the terminology used in the Gospel of John as well) in which the author demonstrates the interchangeability in 1 John of the two Greek phrases in the title. In other words, in 1 John, to “abide in” (“reside in, remain in”) Christ is the same as to “be” in Christ.

184 Some would speak of Christians who are “out of fellowship,” while others would understand Christians who do not “abide” as Christians who are repeatedly engaging in some sin or other.

185 In particular, as the secessionist opponents appear to be doing.

186 That is, in contexts where some sort of change of status or state is implied. In these cases “remain” is a more appropriate translation.

187 See the discussion on the referent of this term above.

188 The NET Bible translates each of these occurrences of ejkei'no (ekeinos) as “Jesus,” since the NET Bible consistently specifies ambiguous pronoun referents in the English translation as a matter of its translation philosophy. Each of these instances will still be examined in context in the course of this commentary.

189 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 26.

190 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 54.

191 Cf. Brown’s comment: “I find it unlikely that the epistolary author, who puts so much emphasis on love, would ever say that he did not intend to write about love” (The Epistles of John, 264).

192 Cf. Schnackenburg, who stated, “the author inserts a section (vv. 7-8) to show that this commandment is both old and new. This makes sense only if the opponents were in his eyes ‘innovators’ (cf. 2 John 9)” (The Johannine Epistles, 104).

193 Note the use of ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) and compare 1:1; see also the following section.

194 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 128-29.

195 Schnackenburg, however, takes the “beginning” to refer to “the moment they [i.e., the recipients] became Christians” (The Johannine Epistles, 104).

196 Cf. BDAG, 752 (2) and 753 (4) s.v. pavlin. Brown renders it as “on second thought” here (The Epistles of John, 266).

197 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 56.

198 I.e., explanatory.

199 Brown, The Epistles of John, 268.

200 This concept is also found elsewhere in the NT, e.g., 1 Peter 1:15-16, 2 Cor. 7:1.

201 G. D. Kilpatrick, “Two Johannine Idioms in the Johannine Epistles,” JTS 12 (1961): 272-73.

202 Cf. Schnackenburg, “Love of brother and sister is the essential prerequisite for fellowship with God. Just as Gjohn knows no halfway house between faith and unbelief, so both Johannine writings constantly draw a contrast between love and hatred” (The Johannine Epistles, 107).

203 Literally “hating their brothers,” but “fellow member of the community” is used here to clarify that actual siblings are not the referent, nor is the term gender-specific. The point is that the opponents are not genuine Christians, although those they hate are genuine Christians. No description is perfectly adequate here, because the opponents, having seceded from the Christian community the author is writing to and having founded their own competing community, no longer belong to the same community as the readers. Likewise, they could be described as “fellow Christians” (so the NET Bible translation) but at the same time, the author of 1 John would not admit that his opponents were genuine Christians, in light of their rejection of the apostolic testimony about Jesus. Brown’s attempt to qualify the referent even further as “fellow Johannine Christian” (The Epistles of John, 271) raises even more questions and problems concerning the exclusivity of the Johannine community and its isolation from all other forms of early Christianity, not just heretical or unorthodox forms like the present secessionist opponents. All this has to be kept in mind when reading these statements about the opponents, and using the literal “brother” does not resolve the problem either – they may be “self-professed” brothers, but the author would still not acknowledge their claims.

204 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 60.

205 Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 55. Likewise Schnackenburg observed, “At last we are told what the commandment is – the love of brothers and sisters. The converse, hatred of brother or sister, incurs the sternest condemnation. Like the contrast between light and darkness, there are no halfway stages between love and hate. Once again, the heretical opponents are given their say…. They are now condemned to utter darkness for hating their brothers and sisters” (The Johannine Epistles, 107).

206 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 60.

207 Bultmann takes “brother” here to refer to “one’s fellowman the ‘neighbor’” generally (The Johannine Epistles, 28) – closer to the statements in the synoptic gospels about loving one’s neighbor as oneself – but in the context of 1 John “brother” almost certainly means “fellow member of the community,” which would be a fellow Christian, except that the opponents as those who do not show love to their brethren are not regarded by the author of 1 John as Christians at all (cf. 2:19).

208 Cf. Lev 19:14 where the imagery of the “stumbling block” – an obstacle that causes the unwary to trip and fall – appears in the OT.

209 Contra BAGD 753 s.v. skavndalon 3 which translates the term in 1 John 2:10 as “stain” or “fault” (BDAG 926 added a reference to 1 John 2:10 s.v. skavndalon 1, “trap” while retaining the earlier reference s.v. skavndalon 3) and Bultmann (The Johannine Epistles, 28) who renders the term here as “blemish” (also G. Stählin, TDNT 7:356-57). Such a translation suggests more of a concept of sinless perfection on the part of the Christian who loves his fellow believer, but the point here seems to be not sinless perfection but the concept of an enticement to apostasy or temptation to sin (in line with other New Testament usage), in particular the temptation to committ the apostasy of the secessionist opponents with their false christology. Loving one’s fellow Christians provides a safeguard against that.

210 The same Greek phrase (ejn aujtw'/, en autw) may be translated either “in him” or “in it” depending on the context. Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 62) takes the latter option, arguing that the translation “in him there is no cause for stumbling” might favor a doctrine of sinless perfection. However, as the previous footnote indicates, such a view is more related to the translation of the term skavndalon (skandalon) than the referent of the pronoun aujtw'/, (autw).

211 So also Schnackenburg, who stated that in the first edition of his commentary he had taken the phrase to refer to a cause for others stumbling – “there is nothing in such a person to cause offense in the brothers and sisters,” although he later came to understand the phrase to mean “in the realm of the light there is no offense, no cause of stumbling, for those who walk in the light” (The Johannine Epistles, 108).

212 Although the interchangeability of the verbs mevnw (menw) and eijmi (eimi) here does form the central point of E. Malatesta’s important thesis about the meaning of “abiding” in the Johannine corpus (Interiority and Covenant: A Study of ei\nai ejn and mevnein ejn in the First Letter of Saint John, Analecta Biblica 69 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978).

213 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 28.

214 Concerning the image of “walking in the darkness” see also John 8:12 and 11:9-10.

215 Brown, The Epistles of John, 276.

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 2:12-17

    Structure

This section contains two subsections, 2:12-14 and 2:15-17. In 1 John 2:12-17 John addresses his readers with words of reassurance.216 In 1 John 2:18-27 there are strong warnings concerning the secessionist opponents. Each of these subsections in turn has a structure built on patterns of three. Having begun a direct exhortation to his readers in 2:1 with the address tekniva mou (teknia mou, “my little children”), the author now continues that exhortation. The opponents were described last, in 2:11, as being “in the darkness” and “walking in the darkness” and having their eyes “blinded” by the darkness. The recipients of the letter, however, because they are loyal to the community and the teaching of the author, can be said to “reside/remain in the light” (2:10). Now the author addresses them directly as those who belong to the light and reside (or remain) in the light.

    2:12 I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven because of his name.

    Summary

Here the author of 1 John addresses his readers directly as little children. He writes to assure them that their sins have been forgiven. Elsewhere in 1 John the term little children refers to the entire readership rather than a select group within it (2:1, 2:28, 3:7, 3;18, 4;4, 5:21). Thus in 2:12-14 there are not three distinct groups addressed, as often superficially assumed, but rather the whole group (little children) followed by two subgroups (fathers and young people). Whether these two subgroups are distinguished by age or spiritual maturity, however, is not clear.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the switch in tenses with the verb gravfw (grafw, “I am writing”) from the present to the aorist. The present tense of gravfw (grafw) is used three times in vv. 12-13, while the aorist tense (e[graya, egraya) is used three times in v. 14. Some interpreters have understood this change to refer to two different writings, so that the present tense referred to what was currently being written in 1 John, while the aorist referred to something written previously. Not surprisingly, some interpreters have taken the supposed “previous” work to be the Gospel of John. Others have suggested 2 John (which in this case would have to have been written before 1 John). Still others have posited a lost letter, and in at least one case the “source” which was supposed to underlie 1 John was suggested.217

Reference to a previous writing (whatever it may have been) appears to many to be the most natural explanation of the switch in the verb from present to aorist tense. In 3 John 9 the aorist e[graya (egraya) almost certainly refers to a previous written communication. But there are significant problems with this view as well: (1) It seems strange that the author would refer to a previous work after referring to the present work. The normal and expected order would be to refer to the previous work first. (2) This is particularly true in light of the content of the six clauses in 1 John 2:12-14. The content of the three aorist clauses is virtually a repetition of the three present tense clauses. If the author literally means that he wrote virtually the same things before to the same audience, why does he write them again and then repeat what he had written earlier as well? Repetition is of course a good teaching strategy, but one wonders just how much repetition is needed here. (3) Each of the proposals for identifying the previous work are open to objection – there are no compelling similarities with either the Gospel of John or 2 John in these verses, and the “lost letter” as well as the “source” behind 1 John are both hypothetical and thus not subject to comparison.

This leaves the suggestion that the author does not intend the change in tenses to refer to a previous work, but in fact refers to the same work he is now writing, 1 John itself. There is precedent for this, because the author uses the aorist e[graya (egraya) elsewhere (1 John 2:21, 26; 5:13) to refer to what he has been writing in 1 John. It seems most likely that this is what he is doing here as well.218

There are two further variations in this view: (a) The present tenses in 1 John 2:12-13 refer to what the author is now writing, while the aorist tenses in v. 14 refer to the part of 1 John already written. But while some of what is said in 2:14 can certainly be found in the previous material in 1:1-2:11, it is clear that most of it cannot. This suggests the second variation: (b) The aorist tenses in 2:14 refer to all of 1 John as an entirety, just as the present tenses in 2:12-13 refer to the entirety of the work. In this case, the variation between the present tenses of 2:12-13 and the aorist tenses of 2:14 is merely a stylistic variation on the part of the author, intended to emphasize what he is saying by repetition. The use of the aorist verbs in the repeated statements may add slightly to the emphasis that they already have by nature of the repetition itself, although this is not absolutely certain.

Further evidence that we are dealing here with a stylistic variation can be found in the author’s use of the same verb gravfw (grafw) elsewhere in 1 John. Prior to this section, the author has always used this verb in the present tense (1:4, 2:1, 2:7, 2:8). After this section he will always use it in the aorist tense (2:21, 2:26, 5:13), and there is no discernable difference in the meaning in any of these contexts.219

The number of groups of people being addressed in 2:12-14. At first glance the number of groups addressed by the author in 1 John 2:12-14 appears obvious; there are three: tekniva (teknia, “little children,” addressed the second time [2:14] as paidiva, [paidia, “children”]), patevre (pateres, “fathers”), and neanivskoi (neaniskoi, “young people”). Some have taken these references literally, to refer to different groups of people of differing ages.220 It has been suggested that the first refers to those who were new converts to the faith, the second to those who were spiritually mature, and the last (in the order listed in the text) to those who were making progress toward maturity.221 It is the reversed order which in fact argues against this interpretation, because there is no progression (either ascending, from youngest to oldest, or descending, from oldest to youngest) in the order of the titles used to address the groups, and it is hard to understand why the middle group, those progressing toward maturity, should be mentioned last.

Thus, another view is that only one group is addressed in 2:12-14 using three different titles. All believers are tekniva (teknia, “little children”) because they are born again and their sins forgiven, all are patevre (pateres, “fathers”) because they believe in him who was from the beginning, and all are neanivskoi (neaniskoi, “young people”) because they are resisting the devil. In this case we are dealing with another stylistic variation. I. de la Potterie argued for this interpretation by citing two texts which he felt validated his point: Jer. 31:34, “They shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest,” and Acts 2:17, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”222

However, it appears that these two texts, rather than supporting the argument for no distinction in the three groups, actually support a third view: that there are two groups of people in view in 1 John 2:12-14, addressed first collectively as a whole (tekniva [teknia, “little children”; paidiva [paidia, “children”]) and then as individual groups (patevre [pateres, “fathers”] and neanivskoi [neaniskoi, “young people”]). This is confirmed by the author’s use of tekniva (teknia) elsewhere in 1 John to refer to the entire readership, rather than a select group within it (2:1, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4, and 5:21). The same is true of paidiva (paidia, used of everyone in 2:18), which probably is a stylistic variation with tekniva (teknia) in light of the fact that the author uses both terms to address his readership at large. One the other hand, the remaining terms patevre (pateres) and neanivskoi (neaniskoi) do not refer to the Church at large or to the entire community of Christians anywhere else in the New Testament.

Thus we conclude that the first clause in each group of three, introduced by tekniva (teknia) in 2:12 and paidiva (paidia) in 2:14, addresses the entire audience, while the two subsequent terms address groups within the audience at large. Whether these subgroups are distinguished by actual age or by spiritual maturity is not entirely clear; either could be the case and the evidence from the text is inconclusive on this point.223 Presumably the recipients themselves would have known this, so the author of 1 John felt no need to be more specific.

The force of the o{ti (Joti) which follows all six occurrences of the verb gravfw (grafw) in 2:12-14. The o{ti (Joti) that follows all six occurrences of the present and aorist forms of the verb gravfw (grafw) in 2:12-14 may be understood as either (1) causal or (2) substantival of content.224 Many interpreters and translators have preferred a causal rendering, so that in each of the six cases what follows the o{ti (Joti) gives the reason why the author is writing to them.225 Usage in similar constructions is not decisive, because the verb gravfw (grafw) is followed by o{ti (Joti) elsewhere in 1 John only once (2:21), and that context is just as ambiguous as this one. On other occasions gravfw (grafw) does tend to be followed by a noun or pronoun functioning as direct object. This might argue for a substantival o{ti (Joti) of content here, but it could also be argued that the direct object in the six instances in these verses is understood, namely, the content of the entire letter itself.226 Thus the following Joti-clause could still be causal.

Grammatical considerations aside, I am inclined to understand the uses of o{ti (Joti) as content here rather than the typical causal rendering, because such a meaning better fits the immediate context.227 If the uses of Joti are understood as causal, it is difficult to see why the author immediately turns to give a warning in the section which follows about loving the world. The confidence he has expressed in his readers (if the Joti-clauses are understood as causal) would appear to be ill-founded if he is so concerned about their relationship to the world as 2:15-17 seems to indicate. On the other hand, understanding the Joti-clauses as content clauses fits the theme of reassurance which runs throughout the letter very well. The author appears to have been concerned that some of his readers, at least, might be tempted to accept the claims of the opponents as voiced in 1:6, 8, and 10. The counter-claims the author has made in 1:7, 9, and 2:1 seem intended to encourage the readers and reassure them (among other things) that their sins are forgiven. Further assurances of their position here would be in keeping with such a theme, and indeed, the topic of reassurance runs throughout the entire letter.228 Given the attractiveness of the opponents’ position and their claims to divinely-inspired authority for their teachings, it is not difficult to see how the author would consistently need to reassure his readers throughout the letter that choosing to remain faithful to the apostolic testimony was the proper course to follow. Finally, in such a context the warning which immediately follows in 2:15-17 would not be out of place, because the author is dealing with a community discouraged by the controversy which has arisen within it – a community in need of exhortation as well as encouragement.

The referent of aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 2:12. This pronoun almost certainly refers to Jesus Christ: (1) The last third person reference (2:8) was understood as a reference to Christ, and this in turn goes back to the use of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”) in 2:6 which is clearly a reference to Christ. (2) Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out that this is an example of constructio ad sensum, a fixed phrase easily understood from common Christian usage.229 It is obvious here what is meant.

    2:13 I am writing to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, that you have conquered the evil one.

    Summary

The expression him who has been from the beginning could refer either to God or to Jesus Christ. Since God the Father is clearly referred to in the next verse, a reference to Jesus Christ is more likely here. Those who are addressed as fathers have remained faithful to the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is. When the author turns to those he addresses as young people, the emphasis is on their victory over the evil one (i.e., Satan, a theme which will reappear later, in 1 John 5:4-5, where it is apparent that all true Christians are “overcomers”).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of toVn ajp= ajrch' (ton aparchs, “him who has been from the beginning”) in 2:13. The masculine singular article toVn (ton) here, used as a personal pronoun, could refer either to God (who has existed “from the beginning of time”) or to Jesus Christ.230 The entire phrase (article + prepositional phrase) is so similar to o} h\n ajp= ajrch' (Jo hn aparchs, “what was from the beginning”) in 1:1 that a reference to Jesus Christ is most likely here, for the following additional reasons: (1) As a word of reassurance to the readers following the departure of the opponents, a reference to God the Father makes little sense here, because none of John’s readers (or even the opponents, for that matter) would have doubted the eternality of the Father. (2) When the same phrase is used in 2:14b, it follows an explicit reference to the Father in 2:14a, resulting in a pointless repetition if the Father is the referent. (3) In 1:1 (as we pointed out there) the neuter relative pronoun suggested the emphasis was not on the person of Jesus Christ alone, but included a reference to his earthly career as the subject of the apostolic eyewitness testimony which was the theme of the prologue. Here the earthly career of Jesus Christ also appears in the context, in the mention of “sins forgiven on account of his name” in the previous verse. This, along with the similarity of this phrase to the phrase in 1:1, makes it extremely likely that a reference to Jesus Christ is intended here.

The meaning of the prepositional phrase ajp= ajrch' (aparchs) in 2:13. I. H. Marshall takes this as a reference to “the beginning of time and not to the beginning of the Christian era or the readers’ Christian experience.”231 The phrase has occurred twice before, however (1 John 1:1 and 2:7), and twice before we have understood it to refer to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly career and ministry, consistent with the stress placed on the significance of Jesus’ earthly career by the author in contrast to his opponents. It seems very likely (in spite of Marshall’s assertion) that ajp= ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”) here should be understood the same way as in the two previous references – as referring to the beginning of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples in his earthly ministry.232

The referent of toVn ponhrovn (ton ponhron, “the evil one”) in 2:13. In contrast to toVn ajp= ajrch' (ton aparchs, “him who has been from the beginning”) in 2:13a, which refers to Jesus Christ, we encounter toVn ponhrovn (ton ponhron, “the evil one”) for the first time in 2:13b. The phrase is used in John 17:15 as a reference to Satan, and that is also its meaning here and in each of the four remaining occurrences in 1 John (2:14, 3:12, 5:18 and 19).

    2:14 I have written to you, children, that you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young people, that you are strong, and the word of God resides in you, and you have conquered the evil one.

    Summary

The author now repeats himself for the sake of emphasis. A new thought introduced here concerns the word of God which resides in believers (compare Jesus’ words to the Jewish authorities in John 5:38: “nor do you have his [= God’s] word residing in you, because you do not believe the one [= Jesus] whom he [= God] sent”).

    Exegetical Details

The meaning and referent of oJ lovgo tou' qeou' (Jo logos tou qeou, “the word of God”) in 2:14. The last previous occurrence of this term was in the phrase oJ lovgo aujtou' (Jo logos autou, “his word”) in 1:10. There, we understood the phrase to refer not to the personal Lovgo (Logos) of the prologue to the Gospel of John, but to the phrase at the end of 1 John 1:1 which described the message about eternal life revealed by Jesus Christ to his disciples from the beginning of his self-revelation during his earthly ministry. Consistent with that, the phrase here should be interpreted in the same way. Brown suggests the referent is even more specific, relating the expression to the commandment to love one’s brother already mentioned in the previous section, 1 John 2:5-11.233

    2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him;

    Summary

Here the author presents only two alternatives: either a person loves the world or a person loves the Father. Once again the polarized (antithetical) thinking of the author is evident. Apparently the opponents do love the world, since they are later described as “from the world” (4:5a), they “have gone out into the world” (4:1), they “speak from the world” (4:5b), and “the world listens to them” (4:5c). Verses 15-17 form a second subsection within the larger unit 2:12-17.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 2:15. For examples of both positive and negative statements about the kovsmo (kosmos) in both the Gospel of John and 1 John, see the discussion on this term at its first occurrence in the letter in 2:2. Here it seems clear from the context that the negative aspect of the term is in view, since the readers are being warned not to “love the world.” This is in contrast to the author’s opponents, who apparently do “love the world,” since they “are of the world” (4:5a), they “have gone out into the world” (4:1), they “speak from the world’s perspective” (4:5b), and “the world listens to them” (4:5c). It is likely the author’s use here is colored by the statements of Jesus about the “world” in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you.” The hostility of the “world” for Jesus’ disciples is reflected in the present situation of the secessionist opponents with their false christology – they may be described as “hating” those believers in the congregation(s) John is writing to, and in fact this failure to show love is one of the chief complaints the author of the letter has against the secessionists (1 John 3:17).234

The use of the genitive tou' patroV (tou patros, “of the Father”) in 2:15. This expression is unique in the New Testament. The genitive could be either subjective (“the love which the Father has is not in him”) or objective (“love for the Father is not in him”). Marshall argues for the objective sense, pointing out that love for the world and for the Father cannot coexist in a person.235 The preceding parallel phrases “Do not love the world” and “if anyone loves the world,” where in both cases kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) is the object of this person’s love, also suggest that the phrase tou' patroV (tou patros, “of the Father”) here should be understood as an objective genitive, where “the Father” is the object of an individual’s love. But perhaps both nuances are involved, and we should understand this as an example of M. Zerwick’s so-called «general» genitive (called by Wallace a “plenary” genitive).236 Smalley observes, “both ideas are probably present (cf. v 5): love for the world inhibits a love for God which both answers his and derives from it (cf. 4:19; also John 17:26).”237

Once again the author of 1 John has set behavior (love for the world) as a “test” or indication of belief: the individual who “loves” the “world” shows by this allegience that he has no love for God and that God’s love has not come to dwell in him.

    2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.

    Summary

Here the author gives the reason love for the Father is not “in” the person who loves the world. Everything in the world, everything a person could desire at a purely human level, does not originate with the Father but with the world.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, translated by the NET Bible as “because”) at the beginning of 2:16. The o{ti (Joti) that introduces v. 16 is almost certainly causal. It gives the reason why the love of the Father is not in the person who loves the world: it is because everything in the world does not come from the Father but from the world. The construction used in both these phrases is the preposition ejk (ek) related to the finite verb ejstin (estin). Brown notes, “The main theological usage of einai ek is in the Johannine dualistic worldview to indicate origin from and/or adherence to one side or the other.”238 In the Greek text of 1 John 2:16 the arrangement of phrases is chiastic: “oujk e[stin ejk tou' patroV ajll j ejk tou' kovsmou ejstivn (ouk estin ek tou patros all ek tou kosmou estin). This puts even more emphasis on the notion of origin here by juxtaposing the phrases “from the Father” and “from the world” next to one another.

The use of the genitive th' sarkoV (ths sarkos, “of the flesh”) in 2:16. The genitive th' sarkoV (ths sarkos) here is probably not objective (with the “flesh” as the object of desire) because in the parallel phrase hJ ejpiqumiva tw'n ojfqalmw'n (Jh epiqumia twn ofqalmwn, “the desire of the eyes”) which follows it, is not the “eyes” that are the objects of desire (!). The genitive could be attributive ( = “fleshly desire”), but it is more likely subjective, where it is “the flesh” which does the desiring (see the next paragraph for the meaning of “flesh” and of the entire phrase).

The meaning of savrx (sarx, “flesh”) in 2:16. This is a very complicated lexical problem. In some of its oldest extant usage the term savrx (sarx, “flesh”) referred to the flesh of the human body, and then to animal flesh used for sacrifice (Homer, Odyssey 9.293). By the time of Aeschylus in the fifth century b.c. the term had come to mean the whole physical body, which could be young or old (Agamemnon 72). Also around this time Euripides used the term not just for the whole person, but a human being without understanding, and thus not complete (Electra 387). Once savrx (sarx, “flesh”) came to refer the whole physical body, it also came to include emotions (Euripides, Phoenissae 1285). Around the beginning of the third century b.c. Epicurus held that the savrx (sarx, “flesh”) was the seat of desire (Fragmentum 409) and also of sorrow (Fragmentum 40). The Epicureans became known for unbridled desire and licentious behavior, especially gluttony.

In contrast to this, the Hebrew concept also started with literal references to flesh and then to the whole body (including a corpse, 1 Sam 17:44; 2 Kgs 9:36). It then comes to refer to all human life (Ps 16:9; to inner attitudes and longings (Pss 63:1; 84:2), and most importantly human frailty and weakness, especially in contrast to God (Gen 6:3; Isa 31:3; Ps 78:39). In the translation from Hebrew to Greek, the LXX did not link savrx (sarx, “flesh”) with sexuality. But the LXX did pave the way for the division of the world into two spheres, that of spirits (above) and of flesh (below). In Num 16:22 and 27:16 the “Lord of the spirits of all flesh” (Hebrew) becomes in the LXX the “Lord of spirits and of all flesh.” Such an emphasis on the spiritual world above and the physical world below has carried over into the Johannine literature of the NT (e.g., John 3:3, 6, 7, 12).

This appears to provide the transition to the Pauline concept of savrx in the New Testament. For Paul, the “flesh” is a force or aspect of man that struggles with the Spirit of God (Rom 7:5); in becoming a believer one is spiritually circumcised “by the removal of the fleshy body” (Col 2:11). Before conversion, believers “formerly lived out…[their] lives in the cravings of…[their] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind” (Eph 2:3). Other references in Paul suggest a more neutral sense, like “go on living in the body [Grk flesh]” (Phil 1:22), “destroyed…the hostility in his [Jesus’] flesh” (Eph 2:14), and “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50).

We must be careful, however, not to interpret the Johannine usage by the Pauline. For John, there is always John 1:14, “the Word became flesh,” where it must refer not just to physicality, but means something more like “man” or “human” (more like the Hebrew emphasis on the whole man in his frailty and weakness).

In light of this it seems likely that the expression hJ ejpiqumiva th' sarkoV (Jh epiqumia ths sarkos, “the desire of the flesh”) in 1 John 2:16 does not refer simply to carnal or sensual desire or behavior (lustfulness or promiscuity).239 Dodd’s suggestion that the background of the phrase is the sensual (pagan) environment typical of Asia Minor in the first century a.d. is probably too restrictive.240 More likely the term is more closely related to the Jewish context that looks at the nature of man as a whole.241 It refers to everything that is the desire of human beings as human beings: all that meets their wants and needs. Some of these desires would be sensual, carnal, and vulgar, but others would be neutral, and some (from a purely human point of view) could even be considered noble. The characteristic that links them all together, however, is that they are purely human desires, desires characterized only by that which is ‘flesh’ and nothing more. In R. Brown’s words, this describes “human nature incapable of attaining to God unless it is re-created by His Spirit.”242

The use of the genitive tw'n ojfqalmw'n (twn ofqalmwn, “of the eyes”) in 2:16. It is probable that this should be viewed as a subjective genitive (the “eyes” do the desiring) since the other possibilities [attributive genitive (“visual desire”?) and objective genitive (the eyes are the objects desired)] make little sense in the context.

The meaning of the phrase hJ ejpiqumiva tw'n ojfqalmw'n (Jh epiqumia twn ofqalmwn, “the desire of the eyes”) in 2:16. The entire phrase “the desire of the eyes” focuses attention on desires that are not merely human desires as such (see the preceding discussion on the phrase “the desire of the flesh”) but that are related to one’s awareness of one’s surroundings, that is, the conscious part of human nature. C. Kruse says this refers to “those sinful cravings which are activated by what people see, and lead to covetousness.”243 There might be a possible allusion to the temptation account in Genesis, because Gen 3:6 mentioned that the forbidden tree was “pleasing to the eyes and desirable….” The problem with the eyes here is that they tend to see only that which is of the earth (the ‘flesh’) without seeing the spiritual significance. Dodd has expressed this concept well: it is “the tendency to be captivated by the outward show of things without enquiring into their real values.”244 This is confirmed by an examination of John 9, where the real significance of the sign-miracle245 lies not in Jesus restoring the man’s physical sight, but in leading him to spiritual sight as well, while the Pharisees continue plunging headlong into blindness (although their physical sight remains unaltered).

The use of the genitive tou' bivou (tou biou, literally “of life”; translated by the NET Bible as “[produced by] material possessions”) in 2:16 and the meaning of the phrase hJ ajlazoneiva tou' bivou (Jh alazoneia tou biou, literally “the pride of life”; translated by the NET Bible as “the arrogance produced by material possessions”). The genitive again presents interpretive difficulties here. Many understand it as an objective genitive, so that bivo (bios, “material life”) becomes the object of one’s ajlazoneiva (alazoneia, “pride” or “boastfulness”).246 Various interpretations along these lines refer to boasting about one’s wealth, showing off one’s possessions, or boasting of one’s social status or life-style. It is also possible, with Brooke, Malatesta, and Brown, to understand the genitive as subjective, in which case the bivo (bios, “material possessions”) itself produces the ajlazoneiva (alazoneia, “pride” or “boastfulness”).247 In this case, the material security of one’s life and possessions produces a boastful overconfidence. The person who thinks he has enough wealth and property to protect himself and ensure his security has no need for God (or anything else outside himself). This understanding better fits the context: we are dealing with people who operate purely on a human level and have no spiritual dimension to their existence. This is the person who loves the world, whose affections are all centered on the world, who has no love for God or spiritual things (“the love of the Father is not in him,” 2:15). It should be added that for the author, all of vv. 15-16 constitute a good description of the opponents (see discussion at 2:15). The author again hints at the extent of their material possessions in 1 John 3:17.

    2:17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

    Summary

The author reminds his readers that everything in the world is transitory. The person who does the will of God is the genuine Christian, in contrast to the secessionist opponents who have loved the world and have gone out into the world. Compare John 8:35, where the “son” remains in the household forever.

    Exegetical Details

The use and referent of the genitive aujtou' (autou, “its”) in 2:17. The syntax of the genitive is also problematic here, although the referent of aujtou' (autou) is clear: it is the kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) at the beginning of 2:17 and also in 2:15-16.

The genitive could be objective, in which case “the world” is the object of desire (the thing desired) in 2:17a. In light of our understanding of sarkov (sarkos, “flesh”), ojfqalmw'n (ofqalmwn, “eyes”), and bivou (biou, “material possessions”) in 2:16 as subjective genitives, however, it seems more consistent to see aujtou' (autou) as a subjective genitive here.248 This is also consistent with the use of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”), the word to which the pronoun refers, as the subject of the verb in the first clause of 2:17. The meaning is therefore “the world is passing away, with all its desires….”

The transient nature of the world is clearly part of the meaning of this verse. There is a sense in which, at the end, both the world and worldy desires will have passed away. But there is another sense, for John, in which the process has already begun in the present. The author stated in 2:8 that “the darkness is passing away” using the same verb (paravgetai, paragetai) as here. John’s eschatology at this point is (characteristically) realized; in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” the author consistently puts his emphasis on the “already.” Salvation and judgment, rather than being limited to the end times, are already operative in the present (cf. John 3:18-21). While it is true that the world and worldly desires will pass away in the future, for John they have already begun to disappear in the present.249 Such an understanding is even more probable in light of the introduction of themes like “the last hour” and “antichrist” in the following verse.

The meaning of the phrase does the will of God in 2:17. There are clearly important Old Testament and Jewish backgrounds to the idea of “doing God’s will.”250 In the Gospel of John it is Jesus who repeatedly states that he has come to do the will of the Father who sent him (John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38). This involved Jesus’ obedience to God’s will for him, even up to the point of death. In 1 John it is clear that the author stresses obedience to the will of God by the believer, and this in effect amounts to imitating the obedience of Jesus Christ by walking (conducting one’s life) just as Jesus walked (see 1 John 2:6). This includes, but is not limited to, obedience to the new/old commandment to “love one another” (cf. 1 John 2:7-8), expressed in the context of 1 John in terms of love for fellow members of the Christian community. Why the dual stress on Jesus’ earthly ‘walk’ and on his obedience to the Father? From a practical standpoint, in contrast to the opponents, the author wants his readers to continue in the apostolic testimony concerning the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and that involves obedience. By this obedience to God which acknowledges the necessity of a spiritual dimension to one’s life, contrasted to the purely human perspective of the adversaries, a person may demonstrate his true allegience (to God and not to the world) and thus strengthen his assurance that in fact he possesses eternal life (see the following discussion). Thus, “the one who does the will of God” is the believer, and it is in the doing of God’s will (obedience, especially to the new/old commandment to “love one another” within the Christian community) that the believer demonstrates to himself and to those around him that he is indeed a genuine Christian. This amounts, for the author, to one means of personal assurance.

The meaning of the phrase mevnei eij toVn aijw'na (menei eis ton aiwna, “remains forever”) in 2:17. The characteristic Johannine use of the verb mevnw (menw) occurs again here (see the extended discussion on the term at 2:6). While the world (and those who have given their total allegience to it, particularly in this context the author’s opponents) are passing away, the person who “does the will of God” (who does what Jesus did and lives as Jesus lived, obeying the new/old commandment to “love one another” – see preceding discussion) resides/remains forever. Using similar terminology, John 8:35 affirms that the “son” remains in the household forever, and 12:34 states that the Messiah will remain forever. The person who does the will of God lives in imitation of Jesus (demonstrating by this that he is a believer) and (thus) remains forever. A parallel may be found in John 8:51, “I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death.” The person who lives this way possesses eternal life, and by his obedience he may be assured that he has eternal life (cf. 1 John 5:13). While some of these references emphasize the place where one remains (John 8:35, “in the household”; 1 John 3:24, “in him”), the usage here is absolute, emphasizing the fact of remaining.


216 Cf. Schnackenburg’s comment, “The author now turns directly to his readers, having refuted the errors of his opponents. He seeks to assure his readers of their salvation (vv. 12-14), and he urges them to reject all evil love of the world (vv. 15-17)” (The Johannine Epistles, 115).

217 This would refer to a no longer extant “source” document used by the author of 1 John (who in this case would not have been the Apostle John or an eyewitness to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry) in the composition of the present letter.

218 This usage is frequently labeled an “epistolary” aorist. Cf. Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 118.

219 Brown calls this evidence “a persuasive argument” that the interchange of tenses is a stylistic variation (The Epistles of John, 297). English translations have differed in how they represent the switch in tenses in this section from present (three times in vv. 12-13) to aorist (three times in v. 14). The rsv was among the first of the modern translations to attempt to represent an epistolary aorist, translating the present tense forms as “I am writing” but the aorist ones as “I write.” The niv, on the other hand, translated all six forms of the verb gravfw (grafw) in vv. 12-14 as “I write,” obscuring any distinction at all between the forms. Because there is no current consensus of opinion over why the author switched from presents to aorists in vv. 12-14, and because contemporary English is capable of using a past tense in a letter to refer to what is currently being written (e.g., “in this letter I have included the relevant data” as opposed to “in this letter I am including the relevant data”), it is probably preferable to maintain some distinction between the present and aorist forms in the translation, as the nlt and the NET Bible have done.

220 Hans Windisch, Die katholischen Briefe (HNT 15; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1951), 115-16.

221 Proposed by Stott, The Epistles of John, 96.

222 I. de la Potterie, “La connaissance de Dieu dans le dualisme eschatologique d’après I Jn, ii, 12-14,” in Au Service de la Parole de Dieu (Gembloux: Duculot, 1969) 77-99, esp. p. 89.

223 J. L. Houlden’s view, that the two subgroups refer to leaders in the church addressed (i.e., “fathers” = elders and “young men” = deacons (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 70-71), is unlikely and is not indicated by usage of these terms elsewhere in the Johannine literature.

224 If content, the Joti-clause could be labeled more specifically as a direct object clause or as indirect discourse.

225 Among those holding this view are Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 58; Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 43-44; Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 31.

226 Direct objects were frequently omitted in Hellenistic Koiné when clear from the context.

227 Among those holding this view, although sometimes expressed in different terms, are Malatesta, who argues that the verb gravfw (grafw, “write”) always takes a direct object in both the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Interiority and Covenant, 166), and Brown, who favors a declarative meaning (= content) based on the context, but is not willing to exclude the causal meaning completely: “For that reason, I have chosen not to translate the Joti but to use a colon, which orients the reader toward a declarative meaning, but does not exclude a causal undertone” (The Epistles of John, 301). See also B. Noack, “On 1 John II. 12-14,” NTS 6 (1959/60): 236-41. A few other interpreters, like Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 71), have felt the Joti-clauses carry the force of both causality and content at the same time. Cf. also the translation of the six Joti-clauses in the NET Bible.

228 Note, e.g., the purpose statement for the entire letter in 1 John 5:13.

229 BDF §282(3). The Latin phrase constructio ad sensum means “construction according to sense.”

230 For the former view (i.e., referring to God) are Dodd (The Johannine Epistles, 38), Stott (The Epistles of John, 97), and Bruce (The Epistles of John, 58). Supporting a reference to Jesus Christ are Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 60), Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 45), Bultmann (The Johannine Epistles, 32), Brown (The Epistles of John, 303), and Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 73).

231 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 139.

232 So Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 72, and Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 168. See also de la Potterie, “La connaissance de Dieu,” 94-96.

233 Brown, The Epistles of John, 306.

234 On the meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) here see further J. Guhrt, NIDNTT 1:525-26; for discussion of the evangelist’s attitude toward the world in the Gospel of John see Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 63-65; 143-44.

235 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 143-44.

236 Zerwick, Biblical Greek, §§36-39, and Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 119-21.

237 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 83.

238 Brown, The Epistles of John, 313.

239 The view of Noël Lazure, that all three phrases in v. 16 describe some sort of sexual sin, is unlikely (“La convoitise de la chair en I Jean, II,16,” RB 76 [1969]: 161-205, esp. pp. 203-205). The final phrase, “the arrogance produced by material possessions” (lit. “the pride of life”) much more likely refers to pride that comes from material possessions. However, Lazure provides a good description of the Jewish background of John’s thought as opposed to Greek background (177-90).

240 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 41-42.

241 See Anthony C. Thiselton, NIDNTT 1:671-82.

242 Brown, The Epistles of John, 326.

243 Kruse, The Letters of John, 95.

244 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 41.

245 The healing of the man born blind in John 9 is one of the seven so-called “sign-miracles” in John’s Gospel.

246 Cf. niv “the boasting of what he has and does”; nlt “pride in our possessions”; nrsv “the pride in riches.”

247 Brooke understands bivo (bios) to refer to “life in its external aspect (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 48); Malatesta notes that this is the third subjective genitive in this triad (Interiority and Covenant, 184). Brown sees the phrase as referring to an overconfidence that stems from one’s material possessions (The Epistles of John, 312).

248 Smalley notes that while the genitive aujtou' (autou) “is certainly subjective (the sinful desire which belongs to the world)…an objective sense (the desire which is directed toward worldly things) cannot be excluded completely” (1, 2, 3 John, 87).

249 Note the present tense of the verb paravgetai (paragetai) in this verse.

250 E.g., Ps 40:8 in the Old Testament and 1QS 5:9-10 from the Qumran community during the intertestamental period. See also Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 187.

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 2:18-27

    Structure

Many interpreters see a new section beginning at 2:18, although there are differences of opinion as to whether this is merely a new section (which continues on the theme of the world “passing away” in 2:17 by announcing its immediate end in 2:18) or whether this marks a new major part of the letter.251 This section contains a theme statement, just as 1:5 contained a theme statement for all of 1:5-3:10 (the first half of the letter). The theme statement, as in 1:5, is found in the first verse of the section, 2:18. It consists of the first clause of that verse, “Children, it is the last hour….”

The author initially addresses the readers as “children” (paidiva, paidia), which is paralleled in 2:12 (tekniva, teknia [“little children”]) and 2:28 (tekniva, teknia [“little children”]), suggesting that 2:18-27 should be viewed as a discrete unit. There is disagreement among scholars over where the section should end, but this is because 2:27-28 are “hinge verses” and it is difficult to be sure whether they go with the preceding or following material. Making 2:28 the start of another section, however, allows the address with which it begins to stand in parallel to 2:12 and 2:18, and this seems the most logical way to divide the material.

As far as the further division of material in the section is concerned, there are three points at which the author directly addresses his readers with the use of the emphatic pronoun uJmei' (Jumeis, “you” [plural]): 2:20, 2:24, and 2:27. Following this division there are four subsections within 2:18-27.252 In the first of these (2:18-19) the author mentions the coming of Antichrist and connects it with the departure of the opponents. In the second (2:20-23) he contrasts his readers – who have received an “anointing” of the Spirit – with the Liar, the Antichrist, and the opponents. In the third section (2:24-26), he exhorts the readers to hold fast to the apostolic teaching they have heard “from the beginning” and to resist the opponents who are trying to deceive them. In the fourth (2:27) the author concludes the section 2:18-27 with a final appeal to the readers to continue in the apostolic teaching they have heard from the beginning and not to be persuaded by the opponents. Thus in this section there is a lot of stress on the concept of “residing” (“remaining”), with the key verb mevnw (menw) used no less than seven times (2:19, 24 [3 times], 27 [twice], 28). This is also the section which spells out explicitly the departure of the opponents (2:18-19), an event which is central to much that is discussed in the letter.

    2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour.

    Summary

The arrival of the last hour is signaled by the appearance of the secessionist opponents whom the author describes as many antichrists. To understand the author’s use of the term Antichrist we must note that this is more than just someone who opposes Christ, but one who seeks to replace Christ, that is, a counterfeit Christ. This is precisely the idea in Mark 13:22 where Jesus warns his followers about “false Christs and false prophets” who will arise before his return, working signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, the elect. It is in this category that the author of 1 John sees the opponents with their innovative but false christology. This is clear in 2 John 7 where the author explicitly labels the opponents as “the deceiver and the antichrist” and in 1 John 2:26 where the author says, “these things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you.”

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the reference to the last hour (ejscavth w{ra, escath Jwra) in 2:18. R. Brown rejected the explanation of this phrase which holds that the entirety of the Christian era may be referred to as “the last days.”253 Instead, Brown stated:

    …the epistolary author would scarcely need to make an urgent announcement of such a general truth. Since he has just said that the world is passing away, since the presence of the Antichrists is cited as a sign of the end, and since the coming of Christ is mentioned in 2:28, there can be little doubt that the author thought the end was coming soon. In his time he was not alone in that view…but like every other Christian who stated it then or since, he was wrong.254

However, S. Smalley argued for more flexibility in the interpretation of Johannine eschatology.255 He acknowledged that some New Testament writers speak of an extended period of time from Jesus’ resurrection to his final parousia as “the last days” (Acts 2:17, cf. Heb 1:2). The final conclusion of these ‘last days’, the final act of history, is the “day” of the Lord, which is alluded to even within John (5:24-28, 6:39-40, 11:24 according to Smalley). The parousia is still future (John 14:3) according to Smalley’s interpretation of the Fourth Gospel.256 Other references within the Gospel of John emphasize the believer’s experience of eternal life in the present (John 5:24, 6:47, 10:10). Therefore within the Gospel of John there is a tension between what has already been realized and what is still to come, between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet.’257

If we assume that a similar outlook exists in 1 John,258 then the statement in 2:18 that the “last hour” has arrived is a proclamation that the final stage of history has been reached in the interval between the first and second advent of Christ. It is clear from the usage of w{ra (Jwra, literally, “hour”; translated as “time” in the NET Bible) in the Gospel of John that it can refer to a period of time rather than a moment of time, because it is frequently used by Jesus to refer to the entire period from just prior to his crucifixion until his return to the Father (John 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 12:27, 13:1, 17:1).259 Such flexibility is probably present here in 1 John as well: the author sees in the departure of the adversaries and in the promulgation of their false christology the foreshadowing of the ultimate end of history marked by the coming of the Antichrist. The end-time has already begun, and will continue until Christ returns. In this case the author was not mistaken about the arrival of “the end,” as Brown asserted.260

The referents of ajntivcristo (anticristos, “Antichrist”) in 2:18 and the ajntivcristoi (anticristoi, “antichrists”) mentioned later in the same verse. The Letters of John contain the only New Testament usage of this term, 3 times in 1 John (2:18 [2x], 2:22, and 4:3) and once in 2 John 7.261 But although the word itself is unique to 1 and 2 John, the concept behind it and the figure to whom it refers are not. Paul described this individual in 2 Thess 2:3 as “the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction,” and Jesus himself referred to “the abomination of desolation” in Mark 13:14 (Matt 24:15). This individual is also referred to as “the Beast” in Rev. 13:1 ff. Smalley thinks that the lack of the Greek article with the term here in 1 John 2:18 indicates that it had by this time not only become personalized but had passed into current use as a proper name.262 Against this, however, is the fact that the two later uses in 1 John (2:22; 4:3) and the use in 2 John 7 are accompanied by the article.263

The formation of the Greek term itself causes some difficulty. The basic meaning of the Greek preposition ajntiv (anti) which is prefixed to the word cristo (cristos) may be either “against” or “in place of.” Thus this individual can either be one who opposes Christ (in the sense of “against”) or one who seeks to replace Christ, that is, a counterfeit Christ (in the sense “in place of”).264 The latter meaning is precisely the idea in Mark 13:22 (parallel Matt 24:24) where (following the reference to the “abomination of desolation” in 13:14) Jesus goes on to warn his followers that “false Christs and false prophets” (yeudovcristoi kaiV yeudoprofh'tai, yeudocristoi kai yeudoprofhtai) will arise before he returns, and they will work signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, even the elect. It is probably in this category that the author of the Johannine letters sees the opponents with their false christology. While it is possible that the author merely has in mind the secessionist opponents as “opposing” Christ (the first basic meaning for the preposition ajntiv (anti), the introduction of themes relating to “deceit” and “deceiving” suggest strongly that the second meaning of ajntiv (anti) is in view here. This is clear in 2 John 7 where the author explicitly labels these individuals as “the deceiver and the Antichrist” (oJ plavno kaiV oJ ajntivcristo, Jo planos kai Jo anticristos) and in 1 John 2:26 where the author says, “these things I have written to you concerning the ones who are attempting to deceive you” (periV planwvntwn uJma', peri planwntwn Jumas). The author’s reasoning is not difficult to follow: the opponents, who are trying to deceive the believers of the community to which the author is writing, are deceivers, and deceit is linked to the coming of the Antichrist, so the opponents themselves may be labeled “deceivers” and “antichrists” since they foreshadow the Antichrist who is to come (and also follow the same modus operandi of deception and deceit).

Some interpreters have argued that since the author identifies the Antichrist with the present “antichrists” (the secessionist opponents), he no longer expects the appearance of a future Antichrist at the end of the age.265 Dodd maintained that for John the antichrist had become an idea (even if embodied in the opponents) rather than a specific human or supernatural individual.266 The author of 1 John does indeed refer to the “spirit of the Antichrist” in 4:3 as the controlling force behind the secessionist opponents, and it is true that this could be understood in an abstract or impersonal sense, but as Smalley observes this could equally well imply that John saw the current situation with the opponents as foreshadowing the future coming of the Antichrist himself, while nevertheless sharing in the general character of that future event.267 This seems a more plausible explanation in that it fits with the “already/not yet” emphasis which we see as consistent with the remainder of the New Testament.

    2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us.

    Summary

Here the author describes for the first time in the letter the departure of the opponents. They went out from the congregation or Christian community he is now writing to. Their departure shows that all of them never really belonged in the first place.

    Exegetical Details

The second occurrence of the phrase “they went out from us” in this verse is not found in the Greek text but has been supplied in the translation in order to clarify the understood repetition of the phrase ejx hJmw'n ejxh'lqan (ex Jhmwn exhlqan, “they went out from us”) at the beginning of 2:19. For further explanation of the ellipsis, see below on the syntactical function of the i{na (Jina) in this verse.

The significance of the statement ejx hJmw'n ejxh'lqan (ex Jhmwn exhlqan, “they went out from us”) in 2:19 in relation to the situation within the Christian community the author of 1 John is addressing. How one understands the significance of this statement is very important in understanding the background and setting of the dispute with the opponents reflected in 1 and 2 John. It seems clear from the statement that there was once a time (before the present dispute arose) when the opponents considered themselves members of the Christian community to which 1 John is being written (and of which the author considers himself a part).268 Now the opponents have withdrawn from the community in a dispute over christological doctrine, a dispute which has every indication of being a bitter split. As Schnackenburg observed, these opponents were secessionists – they left of their own free will; there is no indication in the text that the author’s community took the initiative in expelling them.269 Houlden noted that this division appears to be a new development within the New Testament.270 Although there are plenty of examples of doctrinal disagreements within Paul’s congregations (e.g., 1 Cor 15:12) there does not seem to be much indication of complete separation from fellowship on the part of a group (1 Cor 5:1-5 appears to deal with a specific individual case rather than a group).

In what is probably more than coincidence, the same verb used to describe the departure of the opponents here (ejxh'lqan, exhlqan) was used in John 13:30 of the departure of Judas Iscariot from the upper room. The implication is clear – just as Judas betrayed Jesus, so the secessionists have betrayed their fellow members of the community (and indeed, the author himself) and have gone out into the darkness (as Judas went out into the night).

The phrase oujk h\san ejx hJmw'n (ouk hsan ex Jhmwn, literally “they were not of us”; translated by the NET Bible as “they did not really belong to us”) in 2:19a in relation to the spiritual condition of the opponents prior to their withdrawal.271 The author goes on to make it clear that the opponents, although previously associated with the Christian community he is addressing, never truly belonged to it. They professed to be genuine believers and members of the community, but they really were not, and their act of secession has demonstrated this conclusively (note the Jina-clause that follows in 2:19 which makes this clear).272 Although many interpreters have viewed the opponents as genuine Christians who by their apostasy from the author’s community forfeited their salvation, the statement by the author here seems rather to suggest that the opponents, in the author’s opinion at least, were never really genuine Christians to begin with.273

They would have remained with us (2:19). Here the characteristically Johannine verb mevnw (menw) is used to express the close ongoing personal relationship between genuine members of the Christian community. See the survey of this term’s usage in the Johannine literature at its first occurrence in the letters in 1 John 2:6.

The syntactical relationship of the i{na (Jina) in 2:19. The combination of ajllav (alla) + i{na (Jina) is an expression found in the Fourth Gospel at 1:8, 1:31, 9:3, 14:31, and 15:25. Outside the Johannine literature of the New Testament it occurs only in Mark 14:49.274 As Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out, it is a case of ellipsis where “this happened” (or a similar verb) must be supplied for the i{na to modify, with the resultant meaning “…[on the contrary] but [this happened] in order that….”275 In context “this happened” refers to the departure of the opponents: “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but [this happened, i.e., they went out from us] in order that it might be shown that all of them are not of us.” The translation in the NET Bible reflects this understanding: “But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us.”276

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “that”) in 2:19. The o{ti (Joti) in 2:19 may be described as either epexegetical (i.e., explanatory) or content. Regardless of which descriptive term is preferred, in either case the clause introduced by o{ti (Joti) gives in effect the content of what is manifested or shown by the opponents’ act of withdrawal: it was shown “that all of them are not of us,” i.e., that they did not belong to the believing community of which the readers of the present letter are still a part. This echoes the situation described in John 3:21: “But the person who does the truth comes to the light, in order that his deeds might be shown that (i{na fanerwqh'/ aujtou' taV e[rga o{ti…, Jina fanerwqh autou ta erga Joti) they are done in God.” In withdrawing from the believing community, the opponents have revealed their true allegience: they showed by their withdrawal from the light that they did not belong there, nor had they ever belonged there. As mentioned previously, a number of interpreters have understood the departure of the opponents in terms of genuine believers who have committed apostasy, but it seems more likely in light of the author’s statement “all of them are not of us” (i.e., “all of them do not belong to us”) that the author views the secessionist opponents as never having really belonged to the Christian community in the first place. This is what their withdrawal from fellowship and departure prove.

The syntactical relationship of the negative particle oujk (ouk, “not”) in 2:19b. In the Joti-clause at the end of 2:19 the negative particle oujk (ouk) may modify either pavnte (pantes, “all”) or the verb eijsivn (eisin, “are”). If pavnte (pantes, “all”) is negated, it would mean “not all belong to us,” that is, “not all who claim to be genuine members of our community really are.” This is reflected in the NEB translation: “not all in our company truly belong to it.” One of the implications of such a rendering is that not all the opponents had left the author’s community at the time of writing 1 John; the author’s community is still “mixed,” made up of both his genuine followers plus some of the opponents. However, such a grammatical understanding involves an unexpected shift of subject from v. 18 and the earlier part of v. 19, where “they” clearly refers to the secessionists themselves, and here, where “all” would have to refer to “members of the community.” The word order also strongly argues against this rendering. It is important to note that the negative particle oujk (ouk) precedes the verb eijsivn (eisin), not pavnte (pantes). Taking the negative particle with the verb, as its location in the text suggests, results in the meaning “all are not,” which is the equivalent of “none is,” where “all” refers collectively to the secessionist opponents whom the author has been discussing. This same type of negation occurs fairly frequently elsewhere in the letter: 1 John 2:21, “every lie is not from the truth” = “no lie is from the truth;” 2:23, “everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father” = “no one who denies the Son has the Father;” 3:15, “every murderer does not have eternal life abiding in him” = “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him;” and 5:18, “everyone who is fathered by God does not commit sin” = “no one who is fathered by God commits sin.” In a letter as short as 1 John these are probably enough occurrences to warrant labeling the construction as characteristic of Johannine style.277 This understanding is reflected in the NET Bible translation “all of them do not belong to us.”278

Thus the point here is that the withdrawal of the opponents took place in order to show that none of them genuinely belonged to the community they withdrew from, the community to which the author is writing. The implication is that the opponents’ departure was part of God’s sovereign purpose, and the author probably intends this as reassurance to his readers in the face of the emotional and psychological turmoil that may have followed the schism. None of those who left were truly believers to begin with, and their secession from the community of true believers proved it (just as, for the author, their continuing to walk in darkness proved the same thing in 1:6).

    2:20 Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.

    Summary

The anointing from the Holy One refers to the Holy Spirit who indwells believers. The Holy One refers to Jesus Christ himself. In contrast to the opponents, all of whom do not belong, John tells his readers you all know. What they know, in contrast to the opponents, is the truth about who Jesus is, as the following verse makes clear.

    Exegetical Details

When compared with the secessionist opponents (discussed in the previous verse) the readers/recipients of the letter, who are genuine believers and have remained loyal to the Christian community and the apostolic teaching, can be assured that they possess a cri'sma (crisma, “anointing”) from the “Holy One” which enables them to know the real truth. In vv. 20-23 the author discusses the indicators of a genuine believer. Once again the author’s antithetical (or polarized) viewpoint reflects a sharp distinction not only between the positions of the secessionist opponents on the one hand and his followers who have held to the apostolic testimony on the other, but also between the basic concepts of falsehood and truth that characterize their respective positions (vv. 21-22; also 4:1-6).

The meaning of cri'sma in 2:20. The meaning of this word is disputed: the noun form may mean either (1) “the means of anointing” (i.e., the oil or ointment itself that is placed on someone) or (2) “the results of receiving an anointing.”279 The Old Testament background of the term includes the general use of “anointing oil” for purposes of consecration (Exod 29:7; 30:25; 35:15), but there was also a figurative significance to anointing, as 1 Sam 16:13 shows: Samuel anointed David, and the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him with power. Likewise, in Isa 61:1 the Servant of Yahweh was “anointed” by the Spirit to proclaim the good news. This figurative usage for anointing with/by the Spirit is picked up in the New Testament in the use of the related verb crivw (criw), e.g., Acts 10:38, where Peter says that God “anointed” Jesus with the Holy Spirit. There are three other references to the anointing of Jesus in the New Testament (Acts 4:27, Luke 4:18, Heb 1:9), and the last two occur in Old Testament quotations.280 On the basis of these analogies, it seems highly probable that the related noun form cri'sma (crisma), which appears in the New Testament only three times (once here and twice in 1 John 2:27), refers not to the means of anointing (that is, the substance itself, the anointing oil) but to the results of receiving the anointing.281

However, we must still decide whether the referent of cri'sma (crisma, “anointing”) here is (1) the Holy Spirit or (2) the word of God. In favor of the word of God is the structure of the passage: we have already mentioned that there are three statements in which the readers are addressed as “you” (2:20, 2:24, 2:27). In the first and last of these the readers are said to receive an “anointing” from the Holy One (or from “him”). The middle statement, however, speaks of “what you have heard from the beginning” and this seems clearly a reference to the apostolic testimony about the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ.282 An additional point is that if the cri'sma (crisma) here refers to the word of God which the readers have received, the author is appealing to an objective standard of truth against which the truth or falsity of the opponents’ claims may be tested. Objective standards like one’s love for fellow Christians play a significant role elsewhere in 1 John.

In spite of this, Johannine usage seems to point to the Holy Spirit as the referent here. In 1 John 2:27 believers are told that they “received” the cri'sma (crisma), while in John 14:17 Jesus contrasts his disciples with the “world” who cannot “receive” the Paraclete. In 1 John 2:27 the cri'sma (crisma) is said to “remain in” believers, while in John 14:17 Jesus tells the disciples that the Paraclete “remains with you and will be in you.” 1 John 2:27 says that the cri'sma (crisma) “teaches you [believers] about all things,” while in John 14:26 Jesus says, “the Paraclete will teach you everything.” Finally, in 1 John 2:20 knowledge (“and you know all things”) is the result of having the cri'sma (crisma), while in John 14:17 knowledge is given by the Paraclete. These conceptual links seem to point to the Holy Spirit as the cri'sma (crisma) mentioned in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27.

It may be, in fact, that the author has both the Holy Spirit and the word of God in mind when he refers to the cri'sma (crisma) received by believers in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27. S. Smalley suggested: “The faithful…are those who have (inwardly) received the gospel of truth, and made it their own through the activity of the Spirit (cf. 1 Thess 1:5-6); thereby they possess the antidote to heresy….”283

If so, however, it still appears (based on the parallels discussed above between the Paraclete in the Gospel of John and the cri'sma [crisma] mentioned here) that the primary referent in 1 John 2:20 is the Holy Spirit, who is given by Jesus to believers. It is likely that the secessionist opponents had appealed to the teaching about the Spirit/Paraclete found in the Fourth Gospel to support their own claims to have the correct understanding of who Jesus was, and what the significance of his earthly life and ministry was. If the author of 1 John indeed has both the word of God and the Holy Spirit in mind here when he speaks of the “anointing,” he would be asserting that the word of God (as an external objective reality) cannot be detached from the (interior and subjective) witness of the Spirit/Paraclete present in the believer.

In what sense may the readers be said to have (e[cete, ecete) this cri'sma (crisma) in 2:20? Since we have already decided in the discussion above that the cri'sma (crisma) in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27 refers primarily to the Holy Spirit (although it may refer to both the Holy Spirit and the word of God), the readers may be said to “have” it in a figurative sense which refers to the “possession” of the Spirit through the Spirit’s indwelling in the lives of believers. While some have understood the “anointing” (cri'sma, crisma) to be a literal practice of anointing people in the Johannine community, perhaps carried out at the baptism of converts, there is little external evidence for such a practice, and nothing in the text of the Johannine letters demands a reference to a literal practice.284 It is even possible that the terminology John employs here is that of the opponents, who may have spoken of the indwelling Spirit as an “anointing” from God. In this case, John uses terminology both his opponents and his readers would be familiar with, but shapes it to suit his own (orthodox) theology, as the comparisons with the role and functions of the Spirit/Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel illustrate.

The referent of tou' aJgivou (tou Jagiou, “the Holy One”) in 2:20. Once again the meaning of the phrase is ambiguous. There are three possibilities for the referent: (1) the Holy Spirit; (2) God the Father; or (3) Jesus Christ.

The first possibility can be eliminated because (a) this phrase itself is never a title for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and (b) we have already concluded in the two preceding paragraphs that the anointing itself referred primarily to the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. It is highly unlikely the author would be saying that the Holy Spirit is the source of the “anointing” which consists of himself indwelling the believer – such reasoning is a bit too circuitous even for the author of 1 John!

A reference to God has been suggested here because: (a) In the Old Testament there are well-known references to God as “the Holy One of Israel” (Isa 1:4, Ps 71:22); there is at least one clear reference in the LXX using this phrase (Hab 3:3). (b) In 1 John 3:24 and 4:13 it is God who gives the Holy Spirit to believers. (c) In the two passages from the Gospel of John which are closest to 1 John 2:20, 27 (John 14:16-17, 26) it is God the Father who sends the Holy Spirit.

A reference to Jesus Christ is most probable here, however, for the following reasons: (a) Jesus is called “the Holy One of God” in Mark 1:24, Luke 4:34, and John 6:69, and “the Holy One” (exactly as here) in Acts 3:14 and Rev. 3:7. (b) John 15:26 and 16:7 portray Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, and Acts 2:33 refers to the exalted Jesus pouring out the Spirit. (c) Finally, there is conclusive contextual evidence in 1 John 2:27, which speaks of “the anointing which you received from him” (ajp= aujtou', apautou) and “his anointing” (toV aujtou' cri'sma, to autou crisma). The pronouns in both these phrases (aujtou', autou) almost certainly refer to Jesus Christ, since they both relate back to 2:25 which describes the promise to believers of eternal life given by Jesus Christ.

Thus in summary we conclude that the primary reference here is to Jesus “anointing” believers with the Holy Spirit. Since the verb translated “received” in 2:27 (ejlavbete, elabete) is past tense (aorist), this most likely refers to the gift of the Spirit to indwell believers at their conversion.

The meaning and referent of the final clause in 2:20, kaiV oi[date pavnte (kai oidate pantes, “and you all know”). There is a textual problem in the phrase: should kaiV oi[date pavnte (“you all know”) or kaiV oi[date pavnta (“you know all things”) be read here? The nominative plural pavnte (pantes, “you all know”) is read by Í B P Y 398 1838 1852 copsa Jerome Hesychius. On the other hand A C K 049 33 614 1739 Byz latt and several other versional witnesses (mostly secondary) have the accusative pavnta (panta, “you know all things”). The manuscript evidence favors the nominative reading, but it is not overwhelming. At the same time, the internal evidence supports the nominative, suggesting that it arose as a result of scribal confusion with the accusative used in John 14:26 and 16:30. The phrase in 2:27 could also be read as neuter and might suggest a neuter accusative here. Certainly pavnte (pantes) is favored on internal grounds as the somewhat more difficult reading to explain, but it fits the context well. In this context of reassurance, where the author has just reminded his readers that they possess an anointing with the Holy Spirit from Jesus himself (see previous discussion), it would seem logical for the author to tell the readers that all of them have knowledge. This would create an implicit contrast with all of the secessionist opponents, who presumably do not.

    2:21 I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

    Summary

These are further words of authoritative reassurance from the author to his readers. Because of the false teaching of the secessionist opponents, some of the readers may have come to doubt that they really knew the truth concerning the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is. John writes to reassure them that they do. The phrase no lie is of the truth refers to the teaching of the opponents (see the next two verses).

    Exegetical Details

Previously the author had contrasted two groups of people: those who remained true to the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is, and the secessionist opponents who had withdrawn from fellowship and abandoned the apostolic testimony about Jesus. Now the author draws the distinction, implicit throughout this passage but stated here explicitly for the first time, between truth and falsehood.

The significance of the aorist e[graya (egraya, “I have…written”) in 2:21. Once again, e[graya (egraya) in 2:21 is an epistolary aorist which refers to the entirety of the present letter.285 In the extended discussion of the significance of the switch from the present tense forms of gravfw (grafw) in 2:12-13 to the aorist e[graya (egraya) in 2:14, we concluded that the difference between the tenses was a stylistic one, and both presents and aorists referred to the entire letter of 1 John. The present tense of gravfw (grafw) is used prior to 2:14 (1:4, 2:1, 2:7, 2:8, 2:12, 2:13) while the aorist tense of the same verb, e[graya (egraya), is used in 2:14 ff. (2:14, 2:21, 2:26, 5:13) with no significant or apparent difference in meaning.286

The force of the o{ti (Joti) in each of the three instances it occurs in 2:21. There are three possibilities that have been suggested for the three Joti-clauses here: (1) All three uses should be understood as causal: “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (so nasb, niv, neb).287 (2) The first two uses should be understood as causal, while the third is substantival of content, i.e., declarative or recitative Joti: “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (so kjv, rsv, tev, nrsv).288 (3) All three uses should be understood as substantival of content (i.e., declarative or recitative Joti): “I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (NET Bible).289 Each of these options can be evaluated as follows:

(1) Understanding all three of the Joti-clauses as causal leaves no direct object expressed for the verb e[graya (egraya, “I have [not] written”). If the Joti-clauses were causal we should have expected a direct object such as tau'ta (tauta, “these things”) to be expressed.290 From a logical standpoint, although a causal idea might fit for the first clause, it is difficult to see a causal idea in the second and third clauses.291 The author would be writing to the readers because they already know the truth and because no lie is from the truth, reasons for writing which seem to stretch even the Johannine tendency to circular reasoning and ambiguity.

(2) Another possibility takes the first two Joti-clauses as subordinate to the verb e[graya (egraya), but the third as subordinate to oi[date in the second Joti-clause: “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and [you know] that no lie is of the truth” In this case, however, the kaiv (kai, “and”) that introduces the third Joti-clause would have to be understood as explanatory or epexegetical (and thus translated “namely”), while the simplest and most natural reading of this kaiv (kai) would be coordinative or connective (“and”).

(3) Understanding all three of the Joti-clauses as substantival of content would allow all three to be subordinate to the verb e[graya (egraya) as compound direct objects.292 In terms of the meaning, the author would be writing to reassure his readers (a) that they do indeed know the truth (Joti1, 2) and (b) that no lie is of the truth (Joti3). It is important to note, however, that such a precise distinction in the nuances of all three of the Joti-clauses may not have occurred to either the author or the readers.293

The implication of seeing the three Joti-clauses not as causal but as content is that the author is primarily writing here with pastoral concern for his readers, who in light of the disruption caused by the departure of the schismatics need to be comforted and reassured. To suggest, especially in the case of the third Joti-clause, that a causal idea was involved (“because no lie is of the truth”) would imply that the author’s concerns in writing are primarily abstract and philosophical rather than pastoral.294

The significance of the lie versus truth motif in 2:21. The contrast between truth and falsehood was introduced in 1 John 1:6, where the person who claims to have fellowship with God and yet continues to walk in darkness is characterized as “lying” and “not practicing the truth.” In 2:4 the person who says “I have come to know him” and does not keep his commandments is said to be a “liar” and “the truth is not in him.” Here in 2:21 the “lie” represents not just falsehood in general, but the teaching of the opponents, which is not the result of ignorance or self-deception, but involves an active hostility to the “truth” (“truth” as represented by the authoritative apostolic christological teaching of the author).

    2:22 Who is the liar but the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the Antichrist: the person who denies the Father and the Son.

    Summary

The opponents have already been identified as antichrists (v. 18). They are now identified as liars. Their false teaching involves a denial that Jesus is the Christ. As the next verse explains, a denial of the Son, Jesus, also involves a denial of the Father.

    Exegetical Details

For the first time in the letter, the author explicitly states the christological position of the secessionist opponents (“denies that Jesus is the Christ”). The Greek text literally reads, “the one who denies that Jesus is not the Christ,” but the double negative in Greek does not cancel out the negation as it does in English. Rather it is a holdover from the form the opponents’ denial took in direct speech: they would have said, “Jesus is not the Christ.” To avoid confusion the negative particle oujk (ouk) must be left untranslated in English.295

The referent of oJ yeuvsth (Jo yeusths, “the liar”) in 2:22. Although yeuvsth (yeusths) in 1 John 2:22 has the Greek article, many interpreters understand it to mean only “the person who tells lies” in general. The second half of the verse, however, associates this person with the Antichrist296 – “this one is the Antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son.” In John 8:44 the devil (oJ diavbolo, Jo diabolos) is called a “liar” and “the father of lies.” The referent of oJ yeuvsth (Jo yeusths) here is not the devil himself, but Satan is certainly in the background of the associations surrounding the Antichrist in most of the New Testament literature, especially in the book of Revelation. Here in 1 John 2:22 oJ yeuvsth (Jo yeusths) refers collectively to the secessionist opponents themselves, who according to their false christology are said to be “denying that Jesus is the Christ.” As in 2:18, the opponents are identified with the Antichrist because they foreshadow the Antichrist who is yet to come. They are “liars” because they deny that Jesus is the Christ, and since lying is linked to the coming of the Antichrist (John 8:44), the opponents themselves may be labelled collectively “the Liar” and “the Antichrist” (cf. 2 John 7).297

The meaning of the phrase “denies that Jesus is the Christ” in v. 22. Frequently this is understood to mean that the secessionists, in making this denial, were rejecting the orthodox interpretation of the incarnation, according to which Jesus’ divine and human natures were fully united. Furthermore it is common to connect such views with the gnostic Jewish-Christian heretic Cerinthus, who is thought to have lived and taught around a.d. 100.298 What we know about the teaching of Cerinthus comes primarily from a reference in Irenaeus (Adv. haer. 1.26.1). Cerinthus apparently claimed that the divine emanation (or aeon) “Christ” came upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism by John and departed from him before his crucifixion. Cerinthus apparently denied the incarnation on the grounds that the virgin birth was an impossibility, rejected the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross because Christ as “spirit” could not suffer, and distinguished between a “lower” god from whom Jesus came and a “higher” god from whom came the Christ. However, this is about all we know about his views, and it is far from certain that the false christology put forward by the secessionists in 1 John is related to the Cerinthian heresy. There are really no indications anywhere else in 1 John that such views are held by, or lie behind the views of, the secessionists.299

The relationship between “the Christ” and “the Son” in 2:22-23. The Greek term Cristov (Cristos) is used to translate the Hebrew term “Messiah”; both mean “anointed one” and refer to the deliverer of Israel promised in the Old Testament. At some point in the New Testament the term begins to appear more as a proper name and less as a title. Some have understood this to be the case in 1 John,300 although in this particular verse the parallelism between “Christ” and “Son” seems to indicate a close correspondence between the two terms as titles; it is possible to argue that they are synonymous here.301 Such a correspondence is also indicated by the parallels between “Christ” and “Son of God” in John 11:27 and 20:31.

    2:23 Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father either. The person who confesses the Son has the Father also.

    Summary

To have the Father is to be in relationship with the Father through the Son. The opponents who deny that Jesus is the Christ (v. 22) have no relationship with the Father regardless of what they claim. In contrast the person who confesses Jesus has the Father also.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the phrase toVn patevra e[cei (ton patera ecei, “have the Father”) in 2:23. It has been suggested that this expression is synonymous with “to know God” or “to have fellowship (koinwniva [koinwnia]) with God.” The meaning of the phrase probably goes beyond this, however. There are a number of statements in the Gospel of John which portray the believer as possessing (“having”) certain things through Jesus Christ: “life” (3:16, 36; 5:24, 26; 6:40, 47, 53), “his [God’s] word” (5:38), “the love of God” (5:42), “the light of life” (8:12) or simply “the light” (12:35-36), “peace” (16:33), and “my [Jesus’] joy” (17:13). It appears that the expression “have the Father” in 1 John represents a Johannine development in terminology that grows out of the usages in the Gospel of John just listed, a development which is logical because it serves to summarize almost all of the divine realities mentioned in the Gospel of John as possessed by the believer. It is to be in relationship with the Father through the Son, even as Jesus can say in John 14:11 and 17:21 “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Thus “everyone who denies the Son” is not in relationship with the Father through the Son.302

Here again in 2:23 the author is speaking of the opponents, whom he characterizes as “denying the Son” and therefore “not having the Father” either. In contrast, “the person who confesses the Son” (i.e., acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ, cf. 2:22) “has the Father also.” It is difficult to escape the clear implication that the opponents, as far as the author is concerned, are not genuine Christians.

    2:24 As for you, what you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.

    Summary

In this verse the second person plural (“you”) resumes from 2:20. There is something of a wordplay: the Greek verb translated remain (mevnw, menw) can also be translated reside. The phrase what you heard from the beginning refers to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus (see 1 John 1:1-3) as contrasted with the false teaching of the secessionist opponents. This teaching must remain (reside) in the readers in order for them to remain (reside) in the Son and in the Father.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of o} hjkouvsate ajp= ajrch' (Jo hkousate aparchs, “what you have heard from the beginning”) in 2:24. Once again, this refers to the apostolic eyewitness testimony concerning the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, as emphasized in the prologue (1:1-4) and mentioned again in 2:7 and (indirectly) in 2:13-14. The “beginning” referred to here is thus the beginning of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples who are the source for this eyewitness testimony.303

The meanings of the three uses of mevnw (menw) in 2:24 (“must remain…remains...will remain”). Here there is a play on words with the three uses of mevnw (menw) in 2:24. The first two uses in the verse refer to realities which “reside” in the believer, which in this case refers to the message the readers have heard from the beginning.304 The third use refers to the permanence of relationship between both God and Jesus with the believer. This is the only instance in the Gospel and Letters of John where the verb mevnw (menw) refers to the believer residing in both the Father and the Son together, although a similar concept (without using mevnw) is expressed in John 17:21 and 1 John 5:20.305 Implicit in the use of mevnw (menw) here is also the situation with the opponents, who did not “remain” in the apostolic teaching (1 John 2:18-19) and thus do not “reside” in the Son and in the Father.

The repetition of the phrase “If what you heard from the beginning remains in you” in v. 24. The repeated phrase takes the form of a conditional statement. Although the repetition of the phrase is apparently regarded by some interpreters as redundant (and therefore virtually omitted by some translations, apparently for stylistic reasons),306 it serves to emphasize the connection with the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus which has become so important to the author’s argument in 1 John, and in addition prepares the way for the final clause of v. 24 (“you also will remain in the Son and in the Father”).307

    2:25 Now this is the promise that he himself made to us: eternal life.

    Summary

Eternal life is the promise of God to those who remain in the Son and in the Father (see previous verse). It is the possession of the recipients of the letter as genuine believers. The secessionist opponents do not possess it because they did not remain, which shows they do not reside (see the previous verse for discussion of the wordplay).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of aujtov (autos, “he himself”) in 2:25. Once again, the third person pronoun may refer to God the Father, to Jesus Christ, or (ambiguously) to both. (1) The closest specified referent is patriv (patri, “Father”) at the end of 2:24, a reference to the God the Father. One might object that the reference to “the promise” here implies a reference to Jesus, since a promise made in the Gospel of John would have to be made by Jesus. But this is not conclusive, because Jesus gave the disciples the commandment to “love one another” in John 13:34-35, yet in 1 John the author always attributes the commandment to God (1 John 2:3, 2:4, 3:22, 3:23, 3:24, 4:21, 5:2, 5:3 [2x]; 2 John 4, 6). (2) The mention of both God the Father and Jesus the Son in the final clause of 2:24 would seem to argue for a(n ambiguous) reference to both. (3) Nevertheless, the primary referent here is probably Jesus Christ, because (a) the use of aujtov (autos) here is somewhat emphatic (“he himself…”) and (b) the author’s dispute with the opponents in 2:22-23 (the immediately preceding context) centered around the denial of the Son, so it is more likely in context that the Son would be emphasized here.

The relationship of kaiV au{th ejstin (kai Jauth estin, “now this is”) at the beginning of 2:25 to preceding and following material. As usual, it is difficult to know whether the phrase kaiV au{th ejstin (kai Jauth estin) refers to the preceding or following material, or both. The same phrase occurs at the beginning of 1 John 1:5, where it serves as a transitional link between the prologue (1:1-4) and the first major section of the letter (1:5-3:10). It is probably best to see the phrase here as transitional as well. The accusative phrase at the end of v. 25, thVn zwhVn thVn aijwvnion (thn zwhn thn aiwnion, “eternal life”), stands in apposition to the relative pronoun h}n (Jhn, “that”), whose antecedent is hJ ejpaggeliva (Jh epangelia, “the promise”).308 Thus the “promise” consists of “eternal life;” but the promise is also related to the concept of “residing/remaining” in 2:24. The person who “resides/remains in the Son and in the Father” thus has this promise of eternal life from Jesus himself. Consistent with this, 1 John 5:12 implies that the believer has this eternal life now, not just in the future, and this in turn agrees with John 5:24, which speaks of a transfer from death to life in the present rather than in the future.309

    2:26 These things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you.

    Summary

Again, those who are trying to deceive you refers to the secessionist opponents with their false teaching. One of the author’s primary purposes in writing 1 John is to protect his faithful followers from the false christological teaching of the opponents.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of tau'ta (tauta, “these things”) at the beginning of 2:26. Once again we are faced with the difficulty of identifying the referent of the pronoun. The construction is the same as in 1 John 2:1 and 1:4. In 2:1 we concluded that tau'ta (tauta) refers to the preceding statements made in 1:8-10 about sin as viewed by the opponents and by the author. On the other hand, tau'ta (tauta) in 1:4 looks ahead to the remainder of the letter and especially to the similar statement in 5:13, and thus refers to the entire contents of the present letter. The context of 2:26, with its reference to the opponents as “those who are trying to deceive you,” suggests a reference to the entire letter here also, as in 1:4. Thus when the author refers to “these things” in 2:26, he means everything he has written concerning the opponents in the present letter.

The referent of tw'n planwvntwn (twn planwntwn, “those who are trying to deceive you”) in 2:26. The idea of “deception” has already occurred in 1 John 1:8, which we understood to be an indirect reference to the activity of the secessionist opponents, who with their innovative but false christology were trying to deceive members of the community to which the author is writing. Here, as later in 3:7, the reference to the opponents is direct: they are portrayed as attempting to carry out the deception at the present moment. The participle is best understood as a conative present310 since (as far as the author is concerned) this has been attempted but has not been carried out completely. As a matter of fact, the purpose of the author in writing the letter is to forestall such a deception of the readers by the opponents.311

    2:27 Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him.

    Summary

The author now addresses his readers directly as those who possess the indwelling Holy Spirit (the anointing which you received from him). The indwelling Spirit who resides in believers provides assurance to them that they do indeed reside in him (i.e., Jesus, the Holy One who anoints believers with the Spirit, cf. 1 John 2:20).

    Exegetical Details

The author now turns to the faithful members of the congregation to which he writes, addressing them once again (cf. 1 John 2:20, 24) with the plural pronoun (uJmei', Jumeis) which adds some emphasis to the statement.

There are a number of textual problems in 1 John 2:27 which originate, no doubt, from the obscure grammar and syntax of the verse. As R. Brown has wryly observed, “The basic problem throughout these variants is not corrupt copying but the author’s propensity for writing obscure sentences.”312

The meaning of the cri'sma (crisma, “anointing”) which the readers have received in 2:27. This term is discussed at 1 John 2:20, where it previously occurred. As we concluded there, the cri'sma (crisma) is a reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit that believers have received from Jesus at their conversion.

The referent of the first aujtou' (autou, “from him”) in 2:27. This probably refers to the same person as aujtov (autos) in 1 John 2:25, which we understood there as a reference to Jesus Christ.313 This is also in agreement with our conclusions concerning the identification of tou' aJgivou (tou Jagiou, “the Holy One”) – the one who is responsible for the cri'sma (crisma, “anointing”) given to believers in 2:20 – which we also interpreted as a reference to Jesus Christ.314

The meaning of mevnei (menei, “resides”) in 2:27. This use of mevnw (menw) refers to a divine reality which ‘resides’ in the believer, which in this case is the cri'sma (crisma, “anointing”) which believers have received from Jesus Christ. The cri'sma (crisma, “anointing”) refers to the indwelling Holy Spirit which has been given to them at their conversion.315

The (understood) subject of ejdivdaxen (edidaxen, “[it] has taught”) in 2:27. This could be either “he” (referring to Jesus Christ)316 or “it” (referring to the “anointing”). It is fairly certain that the latter is the case, since the “anointing” is the subject of the verb didavskei (didaskei, “teaches”) in the preceding parallel clause (“his anointing teaches you about all things”).

It is difficult to know whether to read the second half of 2:27, beginning with ajll= (all’, “but”), as a single sentence (with Brooke, Marshall, and Smalley) or a compound sentence (with Bultmann, Haas, and Brown).317 As a single sentence v. 27b would read, “But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it [or, he] has taught you, you reside in him.” Taking the second half of 2:27 as a compound sentence seems preferable, since the parallelism thus created makes the final kaqwV (kaqws)-clause understandable rather than awkward and parenthetical. In translation this would read: “But, as his anointing teaches you about all things, [so] it is both true and is not a lie; and just as it [or, he] has taught you, you reside in him.” As Brown admits, “The weakness of this approach is that the kai, ‘and,’ beginning line 27f, must be understood as ‘so,’ introducing an apodosis.”318 Brown opts for the interpretation in spite of this, citing the “rythym” of the verse. I tend to agree, and see the emphasis at this point on the assurance believers possess as a result of the Spirit dwelling in them.

The mood of menete (menete) in the final clause of 2:27. The verb menete (menete, “[you] reside”) may be read as either indicative mood (“you reside in him,” so asv, nasb, NET Bible) or imperative mood (“reside in him,” so niv, nrsv, nlt, esv, tniv). The same verb is found in the following verse, 2:28, but the address to the readers there seems to indicate clearly an imperative. By analogy some interpreters (e.g., Bultmann, Smalley)319 have called for an imperative here, but others have seen the presence of an imperative in the following verse as suggestive of an indicative here, so that the author is not repeating himself.320 An indicative is slightly more likely on contextual grounds. Up to this point the thrust of the author has been reassurance rather than exhortation, and an indicative here (“…you reside in him”) balances the indicative in the first part of 2:27 (“the anointing which you received from him resides in you…”). However, in the following verse the author switches from reassurance (the readers at the time he is writing still ‘reside/remain’; they have not yet espoused the teaching of the opponents) to exhortation (now he is writing so that they will indeed ‘remain’ and not succumb to the deception of the opponents).


251 Among those who see the break as marking a new major part of the letter are Marshall (The Epistles of John, 147) and Schnackenburg, who saw the transition as one from didactic and parenetic to a focus on the “last hour” (The Johannine Epistles, 129).

252 Malatesta suggests a somewhat more complicated arrangement of seven strophes: 2:18, 2:19; 2:20-21; 2:22-23; 2:24; 2:25; 2:27. Three of these he divides further into three distichs each: 2:19; 2:20-21; 2:22-23 (Interiority and Covenant, 193-95).

253 This explanation of the phrase goes back to Augustine in the fourth century a.d.

254 Brown, The Epistles of John, 330.

255 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 95-97.

256 Although (against Smalley) it is certainly possible (and indeed may be preferable) to read John 14:3 as a reference not to the parousia (second coming), but to the post-resurrection return of Jesus to the disciples and/or the post-exaltation coming of the Spirit/Paraclete. The phrase th'/ oijkiva/ tou' patrov mou (th oikia tou patros mou, “my Father’s house”) in John 14:3 was used previously in John 2:16 to refer to the temple in Jerusalem. The evangelist in 2:19-22 then reinterpreted the temple to refer to Jesus’ body, which was to be destroyed in death and then rebuilt in resurrection after three days. Even more suggestive is the statement by Jesus in 8:35, “Now the slave does not remain (mevnei, menei) in the household (th'/ oijkiva/, th oikia) forever, but the son remains (mevnei, menei) forever.” If in the imagery of the Fourth Gospel “my Father’s house” is ultimately a reference to Jesus’ body, the relationship of monhv (monh) to mevnw (menw) in 14:3 suggests the permanent relationship of the believer to Jesus and the Father as an adopted son who remains in the household forever. In this case the “dwelling place” is “in” Jesus himself, where he is, whether in heaven or on earth. The statement in v. 3, “I will come again and receive you to myself” then refers not primarily to the parousia, but to Jesus’ post-resurrection return to the disciples in his glorified state, when by virtue of his death on their behalf they may enter into union with him and with the Father as adopted sons. Needless to say, this bears numerous similarities to Pauline theology, especially the prominent concepts of adoption as sons (uiJoqesiva, Juioqesia) and being “in Christ” (ejn Cristw'/, ejn Cristw). It is also important to note the emphasis in the Fourth Gospel itself on the present reality of eternal life (5:24, 7:38-39, etc.) and the possibility of worshipping the Father “in the Spirit and in truth” (4:21-24) in the present age. Thus there is a sense in which it is possible to say that the future reality is present now. See further R. H. Gundry, “‘In my Father’s House are many Monai’ (John 14,2),” ZNW 58 (1967): 68-72; J. McCaffrey, The House With Many Rooms: The Temple Theme of Jn. 14, 2-3 (AnBib 114; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1988).

257 For yet another perspective on the meaning of “the last hour” see Schnackenburg, who stated, “With the warning signal ‘antichrists have come,’ all he means to say is that his own time has an eschatological importance. He wishes to alert his leaders [sic] in the face of impending danger. …He has the same eschatological sense of time that all of the other New Testament authors have” (The Johannine Epistles, 133).

258 Such an assumption is reasonable in light of the close connections between the Fourth Gospel and 1 John, including the probability of common authorship. See the sections in the introduction entitled “Authorship of 1 John” and “Structure and Purpose of 1 John.”

259 On the usage of w{ra (Jwra) in John see C. Haas, M. de Jonge, and J. L. Swellengrebel, A Translator’s Handbook on the Letters of John (UBS Helps for Translators 13; London: United Bible Societies, 1972), 62.

260 See also Dodd (The Johannine Epistles, 51), who felt that due to the dire situation he was addressing the author had in mind the imminence of the end, and so was not necessarily mistaken in his anticipation of it.

261 The term is also used only very infrequently in the early church: it occurs only in Polycarp (To the Philippians 7:1) quoting 1 John 4:2-3 and 2 John 7.

262 Smalley does acknowledge the textual problem associated with the omission of the article, however, in which some mostly later manuscripts add the article before ajntivcristo (1, 2, 3 John, 91 n. a, 98). In his suggestion about the use of the term as a proper name Smalley is following Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 70).

263 Like the occurrence here, the usage in 2 John 7 involves a textual problem in which some manuscripts omit the article, but the articular reading is more likely original.

264 The first meaning is illustrated by the usage of terms like “antigeneral” for the enemy general, many instances of which occur in accounts of the Roman civil wars. Caesar, for example, wrote two works “Anticato” (“against Cato”). See W. Grundmann, TDNT 9:571, n. 500. Thus the use of the term in relation to Christ can denote the one who is “against Christ,” but could also be use of a “replacement” or “counterfeit” Christ.

265 So Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 36.

266 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 49-50.

267 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 100.

268 Note the author’s use of the first person plural pronoun hJmw'n (Jhmwn, “us”), which suggests he viewed himself as part of this Christian community. Some have understood the first person plural pronoun to refer to Christianity at large, however, and others have viewed it merely as a literary device employed by the author to gain sympathy from his readers or to make it easier for them to identify with them.

269 Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 140 (although somewhat inconsistently on the previous page [139] Schnackenburg refers to “heretical teachers who have been expelled from the community”).

270 Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 78.

271 See the previous paragraph as well for background.

272 See Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 71, and Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 53.

273 At least that is the way they would have been viewed by the faithful members of the congregation who remained behind when they left. See J. N. S. Alexander, The Epistles of John (Torch Biblical Commentaries; London: SCM, 1962), 67.

274 Brown refers to the expression as “characteristically Johannine in the NT” (The Epistles of John, 340).

275 BDF §448(7).

276 Greek purpose clauses are frequently translated by the English infinitive.

277 The same construction also occurs in other NT literature as well, e.g., 2 Peter 1:20, “every prophecy of scripture is not a matter of one’s own interpretation” = “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”

278 Cf. other modern translations: nab “Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number”; nasb “it might be shown that they all are not of us”; niv “their going showed that none of them belonged to us”; nkjv “that none of them were of us”; nrsv “by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.”

279 Theoretically it could also refer to “the act of anointing,” but in this context it is hard to see how the readers of the letter could possess an “act of anointing.” See Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 105.

280 For a thorough discussion of the uses of the term cri'sma (crisma) in the LXX, Jewish intertestamental literature, Josephus, classical Greek literature, and the early church fathers see the excursus in Strecker, The Johannine Letters, 65-66.

281 Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 73) and Marshall (The Epistles of John, 153) argued for a reference to the means of anointing (an object, the anointing oil itself). More likely, however, the result of being anointed is what is in view here; cf. the rendering of the rsv and nrsv “you have been anointed by the Holy One”; so also Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 65.

282 Note the stress on this in the prologue. Dodd saw here a reference to the word of God which indwelt the believer in order to teach and to witness to the truth, arguing for a Greek background rather than a Jewish one (The Johannine Epistles, 58-64; cf. also Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 204). Dodd concluded that the cri'sma (crisma) in vv. 20 and 27 “is the Word of God, that is, the Gospel, or the revelation of God in Christ, as communicated in the rule of faith to catechumens, and confessed in Baptism” (63). One of the reasons Dodd argued for this is that a reference to God’s Word here constitutes an appeal by the author of 1 John to an objective standard of truth against which orthodoxy and faith may be tested, while an appeal to the Spirit, whose “anointing” enabled the individual Christian to be the arbiter of truth, left the door open to the dangers of subjectivism (63-64). In light of the controversy with the secessionists and their false christology, it might be attractive to appeal to such a solution, since the author of 1 John is obviously seeking to counter the opponents’ claims to have received new and innovative revelation about who Christ is, presumably as a result of the teaching ministry of the Spirit/Paraclete. However, against the attractiveness of this proposition must be weighed the usage elsewhere in both the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Letters (outlined in the text above), which seems to point strongly to a reference to the Holy Spirit as the referent of the anointing here.

283 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 107.

284 Ritual anointing did become part of the Christian baptismal liturgy later on (cf. Tertullian, de Baptismo 7). W. Nauck argued for the practice in 1 John in Die Tradition und der Charakter des ersten Johannesbriefes: Zugleich ein Beitrag zur Taufe im Urchristentum und in der alten Kirche (WUNT 3; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1957), 94-95; 147-82. However, there is no evidence such a practice was current either in heretical or orthodox circles during the first century (see Marshall, The Epistles of John, 153-54).

285 So Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 109.

286 For a more complete discussion of the alternation in tenses see the discussion at 2:12.

287 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 57.

288 So Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 47, 55, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 109.

289 So Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 38 n. 13; Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 66-67; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 156 n. 30, and Brown, The Epistles of John, 350.

290 I.e., “I have not written [these things] to you.” Although it is true that in Koiné Greek direct objects were frequently omitted when clear from context, the more natural way to read the phrase here without a direct object would be as a declarative or recitative Joti, so here the direct object would be virtually required in order to indicate clearly a causal nuance.

291 Marshall notes the logical difficulty with the causal force here: “The writer is not giving instruction to his readers because of their ignorance (after all they have the anointing!) but because he can build on the fact of their knowledge of the truth” (The Epistles of John, 156 n. 28).

292 Brown states, “Grammatically this is the easiest and makes good sense” (The Epistles of John, 350). Marshall prefers this option as well, although he characterizes the resulting construction as “elliptical and harsh, but not impossible” (The Epistles of John, 156 n. 30).

293 For a similar discussion of parallel Joti-clauses, see the previous discussion at 2:12.

294 As noted by Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 109.

295 BDF §429.

296 See the previous discussion of “Antichrist” at 2:18.

297 I consider a collective reference to the secessionist opponents here as “the Liar” to be more likely than Brown’s notion that the community to which the author is writing had an expectation of an apocalyptic figure known as “the Liar” which was then fulfilled by the opponents at the time of writing (The Epistles of John, 351). See also the discussion of the views of the opponents in paragraph 9 of the introductory section, “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” for the significance of their denial that “Jesus is the Christ.”

298 In one way or another Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 75), Stott (The Epistles of John, 111), and Marshall (The Epistles of John, 157-58) all connect Cerinthus with the teaching of the secessionist opponents in 1 John.

299 Although one can argue, as Brown does, that the docetic christology of Cerinthus originally derived from a misinterpretation of the evangelist’s teaching about Jesus in the Gospel of John (The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 150-54), it is not necessary to do so in order to argue that the teaching of the secessionist opponents in 1 John did indeed derive in part from mishandling the Fourth Gospel.

300 So Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 113), who argues that the usage of Cristov (Cristos) in 1 John 5:1 and 2 John 9 support the term’s use as a proper name. However, this certainly does not appear to be the case in 1 John 5:1, and does not necessarily have to be the case in 2 John 9 either.

301 See Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 67-68; also M. de Jonge, “The Use of the Word Christos in the Johannine Epistles,” in Studies in John (NovTSup 24; Leiden: Brill, 1970), 66-74).

302 See further on the expression “have the Father” H. Hanse, TDNT 2:823-24; J. Eichler, NIDNTT 1:637-38; Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 204-209. Although Bultmann (The Johannine Epistles, 38 n. 22) suggested the expression “to have God” originated with gnosticism (and thus represents an anti-gnostic polemic here) such a connection is difficult to prove.

303 See the further discussion of the phrase ajp= ajrch' in 1:1, 2:7, and 2:13. Here in 2:24 it is possible to see the “beginning” as the beginning of the readers’ Christian experience (so Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 60; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 160) but it is much more likely that the term is to be understood in terms of previous references in 1 John 1:1, 2:7, and 2:13-14 (so Smalley, 1, 2, 3, John, 118).

304 See the discussion of the phrase “from the beginning” in the previous paragraph.

305 See the survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw) in 1 John at 2:6.

306 E.g., niv “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.” Cf. also nlt, tniv.

307 See Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 70.

308 See BDF §295.

309 On the concept of “eternal life” see further E. Hoffmann, NIDNTT 3:70-74; Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 216-18.

310 See BDF §319. Wallace states regarding the “true conative” that “an attempt is being made in the present time” (Exegetical Syntax, 534 [italics his]).

311 For further discussion of the significance of the verb planavw (planaw, “I deceive”) see the discussion at 1:8.

312 Brown, The Epistles of John, 360.

313 See the discussion of the referent of aujtov (autos) in 1 John 2:25 above.

314 See the discussion of the phrase tou' aJgivou (tou Jagiou, “the Holy One”) in 1 John 2:20.

315 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see the first occurrence of the term in the letter in 1 John 2:6.

316 So Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 75; also Brown, The Epistles of John, 361.

317 In favor of a single sentence are Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 63), Marshall (The Epistles of John, 163 n. 57), and Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 125-26). In favor of two sentences are Haas, et al. (A Translator’s Handbook, 72) and Brown (The Epistles of John, 360-61).

318 Brown, The Epistles of John, 361. Such an understanding is possible grammatically (BDF §442.7 is mentioned in this regard by both Brown and Marshall), and Marshall lists the suggested parallels (1 John 2:18; John 15:9; 17:18; 20:21 along with Rom 1:13 and Matt 18:33), but discounts them as inexact (The Epistles of John, 163 n. 57).

319 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 38; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 163 n. 56; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 127.

320 So Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 81), Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 63-64), and Brown (The Epistles of John, 361), who notes, “In any case there is little difference of meaning, for even the indicative would stress the necessity of continuing to abide in him.”

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 2:28-3:10

    Structure

As we mentioned in the introduction to the previous section, there is a problem with where this section begins: with 2:28, 2:29, or 3:1. Beginning the present section at 2:28 allows the three addresses to the readers as “Children” (2:12, 2:18, 2:28) to stand in parallel, so this is the most logical solution.

There is also a problem with where the section ends, with interpreters frequently proposing 3:3, 3:10, and 3:12. The best choice among these is 3:10, because the last two verses of the section, 3:9-10, form an inclusion with the first two, 2:28-29, with many of the same themes repeated: remaining or abiding, being fathered by God, doing righteousness (2:29) versus not doing righteousness (3:10), and the manifestation of the Son of God (2:28) compared to the manifestation of the children of God (3:10).

Within the section, all of 3:1-3 is a parenthesis in which the author reflects on what it means to be fathered by God, a subject he has already mentioned at the end of 2:29. The flow of the argument is then resumed by 3:4, which is in opposition to 2:29.

    2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that whenever he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.

    Summary

In the previous verse (2:27) the author had written to reassure his readers. Now, with the reference to Jesus’ second coming (when he comes back), the author switches from reassurance to exhortation. John wants his readers (addressed as little children) to remain in the apostles’ teaching about Jesus (him) so that when Jesus returns (when he comes back) they may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame. While at first glance the mention of Christ’s return (the parousia or second advent) may seem to run counter to the realized eschatology so prevalent in the Fourth Gospel, a reason for this can be seen in the conflict with the secessionist opponents in 1 John, as the author puts in a reminder of future accountability for moral behavior in the present.

    Exegetical Details

The force of kaiV nu'n (kai nun, “and now”) at the beginning of 2:28. The phrase kaiV nu'n (kai nun) here serves to make the transition between this section and the preceding one. The same phrase was used in a similar way in 1 John 2:18. The use here has something of a resumptive force, and like the previous use in 2:18 picks up the reference to the “last hour” at the beginning of 2:18. The eschatological note of imminence should not be overlooked either: since Christians are living already in the “last days” (to borrow the terminology of other New Testament writers),321 it follows that the consummation of history is at hand, and believers should live as if Jesus Christ might reappear at any moment. That the phrase kaiV nu'n (kai nun) does indeed suggest a connection to 2:18 with its eschatological overtones is confirmed by the reference to the parousia (second advent) later in the present verse.

The mood of menete (menete, “remain”) in 2:28. Again, as at the end of 1 John 2:27, the verb menete (menete) may be read as either indicative mood (“And now, little children, you remain in him”) or imperative mood (“And now, little children, remain in him”). In 2:27 we opted for an indicative because the author had been attempting to reassure his readers that they did indeed possess eternal life, and also because an indicative at the end of 2:27 balances the indicative reference to the “anointing” residing in the readers at the beginning of the verse. With the return in 2:28 to the eschatological note introduced in 2:18, however, the author has now switched from reassurance to exhortation. At the time he is writing them, the readers do still “remain” since they have not yet adopted the heretical teaching of the opponents. But now the author wants to forestall the possibility that they might abandon the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus and adopt the opponents’ teaching at some point, and so he begins this section with an exhortation to the readers to “remain” in Christ. This suggests that we should read menete (menete) in the present verse as imperative rather than indicative, a view made even more probable by the following Jina-clause which states the purpose for the exhortation: in order that at the parousia when Jesus Christ is revealed, the readers may have confidence and not shrink back from him in shame when he appears. Malatesta points out that of all the exhortations in 1 John, this is the only one that “encourages an attitude directed immediately to Christ,” although Smalley notes that the appeal to “walk just as Jesus walked” in 2:6 is quite similar.322

Once again in the antithetical framework of Johannine thought,323 there are only two alternatives, just as there are only two alternatives in John 3:18-21, a key section for the understanding of the present passage in 1 John. Anyone who does not ‘remain’ demonstrates that whatever profession he has made is false and he is not truly a believer.324

The referent of ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) in 2:28. Although a few interpreters have understood all three of the third person pronouns in this verse to refer to God, most take them to refer to Jesus Christ.325 This is far more probable because of the reference to the parousia at the end of the verse and the connection back to 2:18. Additional support comes from the usage of the verb fanerovw (fanerow, “I appear/reveal/manifest”), discussed further below.

The meaning of ejavn (ean, “whenever”) in 2:28. In this context ejavn does not indicate uncertainty about whether or not Christ will return, but rather uncertainty about the exact time the event will take place. In the Koiné period ejavn (ean) could mean “when” or “whenever” and was virtually the equivalent of o{tan (Jotan).326 It has this meaning in John 12:32 and 14:3. Thus the phrase here should be translated, “so that whenever he should appear….”

The use of fanerovw (fanerow, “I appear/reveal/manifest”) and Johannine theology. The verb fanerovw (fanerow) is used in the Johannine corpus 17 times. Seven uses (including the present one) are found in 1 John (1:2; 2:19, 28; 3:2, 5, 8; 4:9). A majority of the 17 uses in the Fourth Gospel, Epistles of John and Revelation appear to refer to Jesus Christ. In context, none of the uses clearly refers to God. While exegesis is not a matter of statistics, the numbers in this case suggest a stylistic tendency within the Johannine corpus to avoid the use of this particular verb with God as the referent. This avoidance is consistent with Johannine theology, in which God has never been seen by human beings except as he is revealed in the person of his Son Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:18).

The significance of the word play in 2:28 between parrhsivan (parrhsian, “confidence”) and parousiva/ (parousia, “coming”; translated by the NET Bible as “when he comes back”). The term parousiva/ (parousia) occurs in the New Testament in a non-technical sense to refer to someone’s arrival in general (1 Cor 16:17). More frequently it is used to designate the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age (Matt 24:3; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 4:15; 2 Thess 2:1; James 5:7-8; 2 Pet 3:4).327 This is the only occurrence of the word parousiva/ (parousia) in the Johannine writings, but its use here is probably explained by the wordplay between parrhsivan (parrhsian) and parousiva/ (parousia). This appears to be a deliberate wordplay suggesting how believers will be able to respond at the return of Jesus Christ: they will not shrink back away from him in shame, but will have confidence to stand before him. The word parrhsiva (parrhsia) is used 4 times in 1 John, and it always refers to the confidence the believer has before God or God’s Son: at the judgment (here and in 4:17), in making requests (5:14), or both the preceding ideas (3:21).328 The opposite behavior is illustrated in both John 3:17-21 (especially v. 19) and Rev 6:15-17 where those who are not believers shrink away in shame and attempt to hide when Jesus returns. That this does not refer to mere feelings of embarrassment can be seen by comparing the two passages just mentioned, where real judgment by Christ is in view.329 Brown suggests that the secessionist opponents, who minimized the need for right behavior, were appealing to the Fourth Gospel with its realized eschatology and emphasis on present rather than future judgment (cf. John 3:18-21) to justify their views.330 If so, the author’s mention of Christ’s return here would serve as a reminder that a future accountability for one’s moral behavior still remains for Christians and non-Christians alike.331

    2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness is fathered by him.

    Summary

The initial if-clause deals not with whether Jesus is righteous or not, but with whether the readers of the letter have realized this fact. The statement he is righteous refers to Jesus (compare 2:1). The expectation reflected here is that all those people who are truly God’s children (fathered by him) will practice righteousness. For the author of 1 John, ultimately conduct is the clue to paternity: how one behaves provides a reliable indicator of who one’s father is. When this test is applied to the secessionist opponents, it will be seen that their failure to practice righteousness indicates they are not fathered by him, regardless of what they may claim.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the conditional construction with ejavn (ean, “if”) + subjunctive in 2:29. The verb governed by ejavn (ean) is eijdh'te (eidhte), a subjunctive mood verb, not ejstin (estin), an indicative mood verb. Therefore the third-class conditional phrase does not refer to whether Jesus332 is righteous or not, but rather whether the readers have realized that Jesus is righteous. The uncertainty does not concern the fact of Jesus’ righteousness, but the readers’ knowledge of that fact.

The meaning of divkaio (dikaios, “righteous”) in 2:29 and in Johannine theology generally. This word occurs 3 times in the Gospel of John (5:30, 7:24, and 17:25) and 6 times in 1 John (1:9, 2:1, 2:29, 3:7 [2x], and 3:12). Of the uses in the Gospel of John, one refers to Jesus himself (5:30), one to men (7:24), and one to God the Father (17:25). In 1 John, one of the uses refers to God (1:9), three refer to Jesus Christ (2:1, here in 2:29, and the second use in 3:7), one refers to people (the first use in 3:7), and one refers to deeds (the righteous deeds of Abel in 3:12). When used in reference to people or their deeds, the word indicates righteous or just behavior, particularly as demonstrated by obedience to God.333 The word is used this way in 1 John 3:7 and 3:12. When used of God or Jesus Christ, the concept of righteousness or justice involves opposition to sin, but this is not without forgiveness and mercy, and can even involve the removal of sin. It is God who forgives the believer who sins in 1:9, and Jesus Christ who intercedes on behalf of believers who sin in 2:1. Here in 2:29 Jesus Christ334 is described as righteous, and believers also ought to behave righteously as he did. Again the author is stressing ethical behavior as important for the Christian, in contrast to the teaching of the opponents, who appear to have been moral indifferentists who argued that a person’ moral or ethical behavior was unimportant as a Christian.

The mood of ginwvskete (ginwskete, “you know”) in 2:29b. By its form, the mood of ginwvskete (ginwskete) here may be understood as either indicative or imperative. It is preferable to understand the verb here as indicative. Brown states, “in I John knowledge is described as an already existing fact flowing from the reader’s being a Christian (2:3, 5, 20, 21; 3:16, 19, 24; 4:2, 13; 5:2).”335 Thus in 1 John knowledge is something one possesses as a believer, not something one has to be exhorted about. The change in verbs from oi\da (oida) in 2:29a to ginwvskw (ginwskw) in 2:29b, both of which mean “know,” is one more example of Johannine stylistic variation: the author interchanges words that are synonyms for stylistic reasons with no apparent difference in meaning.

The force of the kaiv (kai, translated by the NET Bible as “also”) in 2:29. Kaiv (kai), although often translated as “and,” is best understood as adjunctive here, meaning “also”, “likewise”, or “as well.”336 This agrees with the understanding of ginwvskete (ginwskete) as indicative and results in the meaning: “If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness is fathered by him.”

The referent of the (understood) subject of ejstin (estin, “he is”) in 2:29a. Again we encounter the problem of whether the author intends a reference to God the Father or Jesus Christ here. There were three uses of the pronoun aujtov (autos) in 2:28, all of which referred to Jesus Christ.337 There is an additional use of aujtov (autos) in the second half of this verse, also ambiguous.338 There is then a clear reference to God the Father in 3:1, so the present instance could refer back to Jesus in 2:28 or ahead to God the Father in 3:1. In his comment on this verse R. Brown notes parenthetically: “An occasional use of a proper name by the author would have been very helpful! One wonders whether the author reflects a Jewish reluctance to employ divine names.”339 Brown’s suggestion represents one possible explanation for the ambiguity surrounding many of the pronominal references in 1 John. Another is that our author sees such a close relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father that he is not always interested in clearly distinguishing between the two, nor does he feel it necessary to do so.

However, it seems best to understand the referent of the understood subject of ejstin (estin) here as Jesus Christ. In 1 John 2:1 there was a clear reference to Jesus Christ as “righteous” (divkaio), and with “righteous” being predicated here, a reference to Christ is likely. In the previous verse, 2:28, the three uses of aujtov (autos) all appear to refer to Christ, since his parousia (second advent) is mentioned. The point of the comparision in 2:29 is that believers behave like the one who himself acted righteously, which can only refer to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, as emphasized repeatedly by the author throughout 1 John, especially in contrast to the behavior of the secessionist opponents. Finally, 2:29 is very similar to 3:7, where the pronoun is ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”) and must refer to Jesus Christ (cf. 2:6), as it consistently does throughout 1 John.

The referent of aujtou' (autou, “of him”) in 2:29b. Once more it is not clear whether aujtou' (autou) refers to God the Father or Jesus Christ. From the previous discussion, one might assume that Jesus Christ is the most likely referent, since the subject of ejstin (estin, “he is”) in 2:29a is best understood as Jesus.340 But in the following verse, 3:1, there is a clear reference to God the Father, identified as oJ pathvr (Jo pathr, “the father”). Added to this, we should note from Johannine theology that the expression ejx aujtou' gegevnnhtai (ex autou gegennhtai, “fathered [traditionally, “begotten”] by him”) in the Johannine literature customarily refers to God (John 1:13, 1 John 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 5:4, 5:18) and never refers unambiguously to Jesus. This strongly suggests a reference to God the Father here, although admittedly it does make for a very abrupt transition from the reference to Jesus in the first half of the verse.341 Perhaps this is due to a degree of interchangeability here between the Father and the Son, and this is certainly possible within Johannine christology.342

The meaning of gegevnnhtai (gegennhtai, “fathered”) in 2:29. For translators the verb gennavw (gennaw, the lexical form of the verb) presents a problem: should the passive be translated “to be begotten” (the action of the male parent)343 or “to be born” (as from a female parent)?344 A number of modern translations (rsv, nrsv, nasb, niv) have opted for the latter, but the imagery expressed in 3:9 clearly refers to the action of the male parent in begetting, and so “begotten” is the better choice here. This term, however, strikes most modern readers as somewhat archaic, and could even lead to confusion about some sort of “begetting” at the metaphysical level. In contemporary American English the verb “to father [a child]” conveys the meaning adequately. If the imagery seems boldly anthropomorphical, it is carried even farther by the author in 1 John 3:9 (see below). It is also important to note that similar imagery lies behind John 1:13, and so should come as no surprise to the readers of 1 John here.

    3:1 (See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children – and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him.

    Summary

This verse begins a parenthetical comment that extends through the end of 3:3. The author refers to believers as God’s children. The Greek word translated children also occurs in 1 John 3:2, 3;10, and 5:2. A related Greek word, little children, occurs in 1 John 2:1, 2:12, 2:28, 3:7, 4:4, and 5:21. John 1:12 is an important verse for understanding the meaning of the phrase here. John never uses the word “son” to refer to the believer like Paul does. For John, the word “son” is reserved for Jesus alone, because “Son of God” is a unique description of Jesus. John calls believers “children of God.”

The verse asserts that the world’s treatment of believers is a reflection and outgrowth of its treatment of Jesus himself (because it did not know him). As the Master was treated by the world, so will the servants be treated too.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the i{na (Jina, “that”) in 3:1. The {ina-clause is best understood as epexegetical or explanatory, clarifying the love (ajgavphn, agaphn) that the Father has given to believers.345 Although it is possible to regard the Jina as indicating result, the use of potaphvn (potaphn, “what sort of”) to modify ajgavphn (agaphn) suggests that the idea of “love” will be qualified further in the following context. This qualification is provided by the epexegetical Jina-clause. This is the kind of love God has given to believers: to designate them as his children. A similar idea is expressed in John 1:12.

The meaning of tevkna (tekna, “children”) in 3:1. This is the first of 4 uses of the word in 1 John (also in 3:2, 3:10, and 5:2).346 This term is used to refer to “God’s children” in John 1:12 and 11:52 (both of which are significant for the usage here in 1 John) and in all four of the uses in 1 John.

The use of tevkna (tekna, “children”) and uiJov (Juios, “son”) in Johannine theology. Paul uses the term tevkna (tekna) to refer to believers as children of God in Rom 8:16, 17, 21; 9:8; Phil 2:15, but he also uses the term to refer to his converts as “my children” (1 Cor 4:14, 17; Gal 4:19; Phlm 10). Paul uses uiJov (Juios) of Christians as God’s children (Rom 8:14, 19; 9:26; Gal 3:26), though always in the plural. John, on the other hand, never uses uiJov (Juios) of Christians but reserves it uniquely for Jesus as the Son (uiJov, Juios) of God. Tevkna (tekna) thus becomes the technical Johannine term for the divine sonship of the believer. It is sometimes used virtually interchangeably with paidivon (paidion), as in 1 John 2:12, 14. The diminutive form teknivon (teknion) also occurs frequently in Johannine literature.347 The concept that the author uses here to describe God’s relationship to believers, as a father to children, points on the one hand to God’s personal, relational, loving nature. On the other hand it defines the status of Christians: they are members of his household.348

The significance of the indicative mood in the final clause of 3:1a, kaiV ejsmevn (kai esmen, “and [indeed] we are”). The use of the indicative mood indicates that the verb ejsmevn (esmen) at the end of 3:1a is not governed by the i{na (Jina) and does not belong with the Jina-clause, since this would have required a subjunctive. If the verb ejsmevn (esmen) were subjunctive, the force of the clause would be: “that we should be called children of God, and should be (children of God)….” With ejsmevn (esmen) as indicative, the clause reads: “that we should be called children of God, and [indeed] we are [children of God]….”

The force of diaV tou'to (dia touto, “for this reason”) which begins 3:1b and the Johannine use of diaV tou'to (dia touto). Lexically it is clear that this phrase indicates reason, but what is not clear is whether tou'to (touto) refers to what follows, what precedes, or both (the same problem that occurs with the ejn tou'to (en touto) phrases throughout 1 John). The phrase diaV tou'to (dia touto) is used three times in the Johannine letters (here, 1 John 4:5, and 3 John 10) and 15 times in the Gospel of John (John 1:31; 5:16, 18; 6:65, 7:21-22, 8:47, 9:23, 10:17, 12:18, 27, 39; 13:11, 15:19, 16:15, 19:11). These uses exhibit a consistent pattern: when an epexegetical Joti-clause follows, the phrase diaV tou'to (dia touto) refers to it. This is the case six times in the Gospel of John (5:16, 5:18, 8:47, 10:17, 12:18, 12:39). The remaining nine times in the Gospel of John there is no following Joti-clause and the diaV tou'to (dia touto) refers to preceding material (1:31, 6:65, 7:21-22, 9:23, 12:27, 13:11, 15:19, 16:15, 19:11).

Of the three uses of the phrase diaV tou'to (dia touto) in the Johannine letters, in two of these (1 John 4:5, 3 John 10) there is no Joti-clause following, and so according to the pattern observed in the Fourth Gospel the diaV tou'to (dia touto) should refer to preceding material. Here in 3:1 there is an epexegetical Joti-clause following, so the diaV tou'to (dia touto) should refer to what follows, that is, to the Joti-clause itself.349 Thus it explains the reason (Joti = “because”) why Christians are not recognized by the world.350

The referent of aujtovn (auton, “him”) in 3:1. Again the referent of the third person pronoun is a problem. It could refer either to God the Father or to Jesus Christ, but since the Father is clearly mentioned in 3:1a and God is mentioned in 3:2a, it seems preferable to understand aujtovn in 3:1b as a reference to God the Father. However, it is important to remember that Johannine christology associates Jesus with God, and there may have been little difference here as far as the author was concerned.351

    3:2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. But we know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.

    Summary

According to 1 John 2:19 the opponents have been revealed as antichrists now. What believers, who are God’s children now, will be in the future is to be revealed at some later point: what we will be has not yet been revealed. In light of the reference to Jesus’ parousia (second advent) in 2:28, that is probably the time when the true character of believers will be revealed – the time when they will be like him.

    Exegetical Details

The subject of the passive verb ejfanerwvqh (efanerwqh, “been revealed”) in 3:2. The subject of the third person singular passive verb ejfanerwvqh (efanerwqe) in 3:2 is the following clause tiv ejsovmeqa (ti esomeqa): “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” The opponents have been revealed as antichrists now (2:19). What believers will be is to be revealed later. In light of the mention of the parousia (second advent) in 2:28, it seems likely that the author is referring to an eschatological revelation of the true character of believers which is still future to the time of writing.

The relationship of 3:2b to 3:2a. It seems best to regard this as a case of anacoluthon,352 although the Byzantine text, along with the Syriac Peshitta, the Bohairic Coptic, and some manuscripts of the Sahidic Coptic, supply the conjunction dev (de) before o{ti (Joti) in 1 John 3:2b. Given the weight of the manuscript evidence which favors the omission plus the fact that omission of the conjunction is the more difficult reading, inclusion of dev (de) here is not likely to represent an original reading. Perhaps it does reflect a tendency among the scribes who copied the text to see a contrastive relationship between 3:2a and 3:2b. This produces an accurate understanding of the relationship between the clauses from a logical standpoint: “and what we shall be has not yet been revealed; but we know that whenever he should be revealed, we shall be like him.”

The meaning of ejavn (ean, frequently “if”; translated by the NET Bible as “whenever”) in 3:2b. As in 1 John 2:28, ejavn (ean) does not indicate uncertainty about whether or not this will be revealed, but rather uncertainty about the exact time the event will take place. Thus the phrase here should be translated, “we know that whenever it should be revealed, we will be like him.”

The force of the first o{ti (Joti) in 3:2b. The first o{ti (Joti) in 3:2 follows oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”), a verb of perception, and introduces an indirect discourse clause which specifies the content of what believers know: “that whenever it should be revealed, we will be like him.”

The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:2b. The second o{ti (Joti) in 3:2 follows ejsovmeqa (esomeqa, “we will be”) and is best understood as causal, giving the reason why believers will be like God: “we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is.” This has been explained two ways: (a) believers shall really become more like God than they now are, and will do this through seeing God as he really is; or (b) believers will realize that they are already like God, but did not realize it until they see him as he is. The interpreter who sees a strong emphasis on realized eschatology in the Gospel of John and the Johannine letters might well opt for the second view, since it downplays the difference between what believers already are in the present age and what they will become in the next. It seems more likely to me, though, in light of the statement in 3:2a that “what we will be has not yet been revealed” and because of the reference to Christ’s parousia (second advent) in 2:28, that the author intends to distinguish (to some degree) between the present state of believers and what they will be like in the future.353 Thus the first view is somewhat more likely: that believers really will become more like God than they are now, as a result of seeing him as he really is.

The (understood) subject of fanerwqh'/ (fanerwqh, “been revealed”) in 3:2. Many take the understood subject (“he” or “it”) of fanerwqh'/ (fanerwqh) as a reference to Jesus Christ, because the same verb was used in 1 John 2:28 in reference to the parousia (second advent). In the immediate context, however, a better analogy is found in ejfanerwvqh tiv ejsovmeqa (efanerwqh ti esomeqa) in 3:2a. There the clause tiv ejsovmeqa (ti esomeqa) is the subject of the passive verb: “what we will be has not yet been revealed.”354 From a grammatical standpoint it makes better sense to see the understood subject of fanerwqh'/ (fanerwqh) as “it” rather than “he” and as referring back to the clause tiv ejsovmeqa (ti esomeqa) in 3:2a. In the context this makes good sense: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.”355 This emphasizes the contrast in the verse between the present state (“not yet been revealed”) and the future state (“will be revealed”) of believers, and this will of course take place at the parousia (second advent). It may well be that the use of the same passive verb here (fanerovw, fanerow) is intended to suggest to the reader the parousia mentioned in 2:28.

The referents of aujtw// (autw, “him”) and aujtovn (auton, “him”) in 3:2b. Again, the referents of these pronouns are very difficult to identify. A case could be made for seeing them as references either to God the Father or to Jesus Christ. There may indeed be some blurring of the two as a result of the Johannine christology.356 However, it is more likely that both third person pronouns in 1 John 3:2b refer to God the Father for two reasons: (a) In the following verse (3:3) where a clear reference to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ is mentioned, the pronoun used to refer to Jesus is ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”) rather than aujtov (autos). (b) As explained in the previous section, the understood subject of fanerwqh'/ (fanerwqh) is better understood as “it” rather than “he,” referring back to the clause tiv ejsovmeqa (ti esomeqa, “what we will be”) in 3:2a. Thus the theme of 3:2 is “what believers will be like,” and since 3:2a asserts that believers are God’s children now, it follows that believers will be like God their Father in the future. This is further supported by the reference to “the Father” in 3:1.

The idea that believers will see God is present in several Old Testament texts like Ps 11:7; 17:15; 42:1-5, so the primary background for this concept is probably Jewish, although the idea of “seeing God” has also been found in gnostic mysticism according to C. H. Dodd.357 However, John 17:24 in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse provides an even more immediate background for the idea that believers will see God: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”358 Finally, there is the relationship between “seeing and believing” highlighted in John 20:29 by the statement of the resurrected Jesus to Thomas, immediately following the confession of Thomas, “my Lord and my God,” in 20:28. This in turn is related to the assertion at the end of John’s Prologue (1:18) that “no one has ever seen God,” although God is fully revealed in the Word made flesh, Jesus.

    3:3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure).

    Summary

All believers, because they have this hope focused on him, are expected to purify themselves just as Jesus is pure, that is, to separate themselves from sin and live lives of moral purity just as Jesus did. The assurance of the previous verse, that believers will “see him just as he is,” has moral and ethical behavioral implications for their lives in the present. As Bultmann correctly noted, the hortatory overtones of this verse are obvious, even though it is couched in “indicative” language.359

    Exegetical Details

The referent of aujtw'/ (autw, “him”) in 3:3. Once again there is the familar problem of deciding whether the third person pronoun refers to God the Father or to Jesus Christ. Modern commentators are about equally divided here, but a reference to God the Father (continuing the references from 3:1-2) is somewhat more likely. (a) In 3:3b the pronoun used is ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”), and since purity of life is mentioned, this almost certainly refers to Jesus in his earthly life and ministry.360 (b) The switch from aujtov (autos) to ejkei'no (ekeinos) suggests that the former refers to someone other than Jesus, i.e., God the Father. (c) In the previous context (3:1-2) the pronoun aujtov (autos) refers to God.361

The referent of thVn ejlpivda tauvthn (thn elpida tauthn, “this hope”) in 3:3. The “hope” could refer back to the love which the Father has for believers and has given to believers in 1 John 3:1.362 But the idea of “hope” implies something future that has not yet happened, while the “love of God” in 3:1 results in believers already being God’s children in the present. More likely the expression thVn ejlpivda tauvthn (thn elpida tauthn, “this hope”) refers to the combined idea at the end of 3:2b of being like God and seeing him just as he is. This is something that has not yet been revealed; it will not be revealed until the parousia. Thus believers must look forward to this in hope and expectation.

The noun ejlpiv (elpis, “hope”) occurs only here in the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, and Revelation, although it is common in Paul’s writings and the Petrine corpus. One reason for this is that in the Fourth Gospel the focus is largely on “realized” eschatology, with the emphasis on the relationship believers have with God in the present (expressed frequently as “eternal life”). It is also possible that the secessionist opponents in 1 John have exaggerated that focus even further, claiming that how one behaves in the present has no bearing whatsoever on one’s future relationship with God.363 In that case, the author’s introduction of a note about the believer’s relationship with God in the future in the previous verse and a reminder about the need for moral and ethical behavior in the present here in v. 3 would serve as a challenge to the opponents’ claims. Taking the referent of the hope expressed here to be the idea of being like God and seeing him just as he is (3:2b), a hope which is to be fulfilled in the future at the parousia, the polemical nature of the statement against the opponents becomes even more sharply focused. How one behaves now (“purifies himself”) really does have an impact on one’s ability to relate to God in the future (“be like him…see him just as he is”).

The meaning of aJgnivzei (Jagnizei, “purifies”) in 3:3. The verb aJgnivzw (Jagnizw) is somewhat unusual here, since it is not common in the New Testament and occurs only once in the Gospel of John, in 11:55. One might wonder why the author did not use the more common verb aJgiavzw (Jagiazw), as in John 17:19, where Jesus prays, “I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart.” It is possible that there is some overlap between the two verbs and we have here another example of Johannine stylistic variation, but the verb aJgnivzw (Jagnizw) is used in the context of John 11:55, which describes ritual purification for the Passover, a usage similar to that found in the LXX (Exod 19:10-11, Num 8:21). In this context the use of aJgnivzw (Jagnizw) would remind the readers that, if they have the future hope of entering the Father’s presence (“seeing him as he is” in 3:2), they need to prepare themselves by living a purified lifestyle now, just as Jesus lived a purified lifestyle during his earthly life and ministry.364 This serves to rebut the opponents’ claims to moral indifferentism (i.e., that what the Christian does in the present life is of no consequence).

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 3:3. As mentioned above in the first section on 1 John 3:3, the switch in pronouns from aujtov (autos) to ejkeivno (ekeinos) parallels 2:6. The pronoun ejkeivno (ekeinos) in 1 John always refers to Jesus throughout. Since purity of life is mentioned in the context, this almost certainly refers to Jesus in his earthly life and ministry, as the example of a pure life that believers should imitate (a major theme of the author throughout 1 John).365

    3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.

    Summary

The author of 1 John is not referring to lawlessness as violation of the Mosaic law (as Paul does in Rom. 4:7). For John the “law” is the law of love, the new commandment to “love one another” (John 13:34). Everyone who practices sin is contrasted with Everyone who resides in him in 3:6, and the two are in absolute and sharp contrast. The author is thus referring to the secessionist opponents here, who in 1 John 1:8 and 10 were denying that they were guilty of sin or had committed sin. The only specific sin in all of 1 John that the author charges the opponents with is failure to show love for fellow believers (3:17).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 3:4. The construction with pas Jo (“everyone who”) is characteristic of this part of 1 John (cf. 2:29; 3:10; also 3:3, 6, 9). In contrast to the pas Jo + participle construction in 1 John 3:3, pa' oJ e[cwn (pas Jo ecwn, “everyone who has”), which referred to believers, the use of the same construction here, pa' oJ poiw'n thVn aJmartivan (pas Jo poiwn thn Jamartian, “everyone who practices sin”), appears to refer to the author’s opponents.366 A similar use, referring to the opponents’ denial of the Son, is found in 2:23. Here it is probable that the author’s opponents were moral indifferentists who held that even if they practiced sin, it was inconsequential and had no bearing on their relationship with God. It is even possible that such a claim by the opponents was based on John’s own teaching (like 1 John 2:1) that forgiveness for sin is readily available.367 However, this tendency to moral indifferentism (or even antinomianism) on the part of the opponents could not be allowed to go unchallenged.

The meaning of ajnomiva (anomia, “lawlessness”) both times it is used in 3:4. The Greek word is often translated “iniquity” or “lawlessness” and in the LXX it refers particularly to transgression of the law of Moses. In Jewish thought the ideas of sin (aJmartiva) and lawlessness or iniquity (ajnomiva, anomia) were often equated because sin involved a violation of the mosaic law and hence lawlessness. For example, Ps. 51:5 LXX sets the two terms in parallel, and Paul in Rom 4:7 (quoting Ps 32:1) does the same.

For the author, however, it is not violation of the Mosaic law that results in “lawlessness,” since he is writing to Christians. The ‘law’ for the author of 1 John is the law of love, as given by Jesus in the new commandment of John 13:34-35. This is the command to love one’s brother, a major theme of 1 John and the one specific sin in the entire letter which the opponents are explicitly charged with (3:17).

Since the author has already labelled the opponents “antichrists” in 2:18, it may well be that he sees in their iniquitous behavior of withdrawing from the community and refusing to love the brethren a foreshadowing of the apocalyptic iniquity of the end times (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-8).368 In Matt 24:11-12 Jesus foretold that false prophets would arise in the end times (cf. 1 John 4:1), that lawlessness (ajnomiva, anomia) would increase, and that “the love of many will grow cold.” This is certainly a description which would fit the author’s portrait of the opponents in 1 John. Smalley observes, “For the writer, then, sin (as practiced, no doubt, by the heretically inclined members of John’s church) is the ultimate rebellion against God; and the sinner is one who takes sides with the archenemy of God, and of his Son Jesus.”369

    3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

    Summary

The author now reminds the readers of what they know: that Jesus came to take away sins (compare 1 John 2:2). The phrase in him there is no sin is an important affirmation of Jesus’ sinlessness. The author appeals here to knowledge he anticipates his readers will certainly share, a technique he employs frequently in the Johannine letters (cf. 1 John 2:20-21; 3:2; 4:2; 5:15, 18-20; 3 John 12). The particular knowledge involved here, that Jesus came to take away sins, is so basic a part of the apostolic preaching that the readers must have been very familiar with it.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 3:5. The context makes it clear that this is a reference to Jesus Christ, because the Greek text of the verse literally states “that one was revealed in order that he might take away sins.” In Johannine thought it is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). This provides additional confirmation that the previous use of ejkei'no (ekeinos) in 3:3b should also be understood as a reference to Jesus, just as 2:6 was.

The force of the i{na (Jina, “to”) in 3:5. The Jina-clause gives the purpose of Jesus’ self-revelation as he revealed himself to the disciples and to the world during his earthly life and ministry: it was in order that he might take away sins.

The referent of aujtw'/ (autw, “in him”) in 3:5. Clearly the referent of aujtw'/ (autw) in 3:5b is the same as the referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos) in 3:5a. This is therefore another reference to Jesus Christ.370 The theme of Jesus’ sinlessness appears in John 8:46, where Jesus asked his opponents, “Which of you is able to convict me of sin?”, a question to which his opponents gave no answer. The same theme of the sinlessness of Jesus is directly affirmed by the author’s statement here. It has been suggested that Isa 53 (especially vv. 4, 5, 9, 11, 12 in the LXX) has influenced the choice of wording of the affirmation of Jesus’ sinlessness here.371 On the other hand, Malatesta observed a parallel between 3:5b and T. Judah 24:1-3, the first verse of which includes the statement “no sin shall be found in him.”372

The time of the action described by ejfanerwvqh (efanerwqh, “was revealed”). While it would not be inaccurate in Johannine terms to say that the self-revelation of Jesus came at the time of his incarnation,373 such a thought would be precariously close to what the author’s opponents were apparently teaching. It seems much more likely that, in keeping with the author’s emphasis throughout 1 John, that the self-revelation of Jesus the author has in mind came primarily during (i.e., throughout) his earthly life and ministry as he revealed himself to his disciples and to the world. In the Fourth Gospel, 1:18 could be viewed in this way – it would speak of Jesus’ revelation of God throughout his earthly life and ministry rather than tied to a particular point in time connected with the incarnation.

    3:6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.

    Summary

This verse (along with v. 9) presents many interpretive difficulties, because the author of 1 John seems to say here that genuine Christians (everyone who resides in him) do not sin. Even aside from experience (which strongly suggests that genuine Christians do sin, at least occasionally) there is the author’s own clear statement in 1 John 2:1 that if anyone sins Jesus is an advocate with the Father on their behalf. 1 John 3:6 and 9, which contain the most problematic statements, have been understood in a multitude of ways, the most significant of which are discussed below. See also the discussion on v. 9.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of mevnwn (menwn, “resides”) in 3:6. Here the verb mevnw (menw) refers to the permanence of relationship between Jesus and the believer, as in 1 John 2:27 and 2:28.374 It is clear that Jesus is the referent of the pronoun translated “him” in the phrase ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) because he is the subject of the previous discussion in v. 5.375

The significance of the present tense of the verb aJmartavnei (Jamartanei, “[does not] sin”) in 3:6. The interpretive problem raised by the use of the present tense aJmartavnei (Jamartanei) in this verse (and the present tense poiei' [poiei, “practice”] in 3:9 as well) is that (a) it appears to teach a sinless state of perfection for the true Christian, and (b) it appears to contradict the author’s own statements in 1 John 2:1-2 where he acknowledged that Christians do indeed sin, but have Jesus as an advocate with the Father when they do.376

One widely-used method of reconciling the acknowledgment in 2:1-2 that Christians do sin with the statements in 3:6 and 3:9 that they do not is expressed by M. Zerwick. He understands the aorist tense to mean “commit sin in the concrete, commit some sin or other” while the present tense means “be a sinner, as a characteristic «state».”377 N. Turner argues essentially the same as Zerwick, stating that the present tense aJmartavnei (Jamartanei) is stative (be a sinner) while the aorist tense is ingressive (begin to be a sinner, as the initial step of committing this or that sin).378 Similar interpretations may be found in a number of grammars and commentaries.

Others, however, have questioned the view that the distinction in Greek tenses alone can convey a ‘habitual’ meaning without further contextual clarification, including C. H. Dodd and Z. C. Hodges.379 However, B. Fanning has concluded that the habitual meaning for the present tense cannot be ruled out, because there are clear instances of habitual presents in the New Testament where other clarifying words are not present and the habitual sense is derived from the context alone.380 This means that from a grammatical standpoint alone, the habitual present cannot be excluded as a possibility in 1 John 3:6 and 3:9. It is still true, though, that it would have been much clearer if the author had reinforced the habitual sense with clarifying words or phrases in 1 John 3:6, 9 if that is what he had intended. Dodd’s point, that reliance on the distinction in tenses alone is quite a subtle way of communicating such a vital point in the author’s argument, is still valid. It should also be noted that the author of 1 John has demonstrated a propensity for alternating between present and aorist tenses for purely stylistic reasons, and it is hard to be sure that such stylistic issues do not play a role in these verses.381

At this point, therefore, it seems best to view the distinction between “everyone who practices sin” in 3:4 and “everyone who resides in him” in 3:6 as absolute and sharply in contrast.382 As R. Law noted, the author’s absolute declarations about the sinlessness of the believer is “the language not of calm and measured statement, but of vehement polemic.”383 The author is here making a clear distinction between the opponents, who as moral indifferentists downplay the significance of sin in the life of the Christian, and the readers, who as true Christians recognize the significance of sin because Jesus came to take it away (3:5) and to destroy it as a work of the devil (3:8). This argument is developed more fully by S. Kubo, who takes the opponents as gnostics who define sin as ignorance.384 I do not think the opponents were adherents of fully-developed gnosticism, but I agree with Kubo that the distinction between their position and that of the true Christian is intentionally portrayed by the author here as a sharp antithesis.

This explanation still has to deal with the contradiction between 2:1-2 and 3:6-9, but this does not present an insuperable difficulty. The author of 1 John has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to present his ideas antithetically, in “either/or” terms, in order to bring out for the readers the drastic contrast between themselves as true believers and the opponents as false. In 2:1-2 the author can acknowledge the possibility that a genuine Christian might on occasion sin, because in this context he wishes to reassure his readers that the statements he has made about the opponents in the preceding context do not apply to them. But in 3:4-10, his concern is to bring out the absolute difference between the opponents and his readers, so he speaks in theoretical rather than practical terms which do not discuss the possible occasional exception, because to do so would weaken his argument. There will be more to say at 3:9, however, about the description and nature of the sin involved here. At this point it looks as if the author’s remarks apply to any sin at all that a Christian might commit, but I will argue below at 3:9 that there are in fact limitations on the referent of “sin” in the context.

The referent(s) of the first and second aujtovn (auton, “[seen] him…[known] him”) in 3:6b. Since we have understood the phrase ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) at the beginning of 3:6 as a reference to Jesus Christ based on the connection with 3:5 (see above), it seems most likely that the referent of both uses of the pronoun aujtovn (auton) in 3:6 is Jesus. However, in 3 John 11 an almost identical expression clearly refers to God the Father: “the one who does evil has not seen God.” It appears that with reference to ‘seeing’ God himself or God as revealed in Jesus there is some interchangeability in Johannine theology, an interchangeability made possible by Jesus’ statement in John 14:9, “the person who has seen me has seen the Father.” If we understand the phrase here in 3:6 to refer to Jesus, we must understand the verb eJwvraken (Jewraken, “seen him”) to mean “seen him for who he truly is,” because of course even the secessionist opponents could have ‘seen’ Jesus literally.385

The significance of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction (used twice) in 3:6. This construction also occurs in 1 John 3:3 and 3:4, as well as elsewhere in 1 John.386 Here its use serves to emphasize the contrast between the true Christian (“everyone who resides in him”) and the opponents (“everyone who sins”), a point which further supports our understanding of the force of the present tense of aJmartavnei (Jamartanei) in 3:6 as discussed above.

    3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous.

    Summary

The ones attempting to deceive John’s readers are clearly the secessionist opponents. The person who lives righteously is righteous, just as Jesus is. Once again, for the author, conduct is the clue to paternity; as Smalley says, “the close connection between theology and ethics is a constant feature of 1 John.”387 The implication is that the opponents, who are trying to deceive the intended recipients of 1 John with their false teaching, do not practice righteousness.388 While righteousness could be defined very broadly, it is likely that the author has a very specific failure in mind, since the only sin he ever charges the opponents with explicitly is failure to show love for fellow believers (1 John 3:17).

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the oJ poiw'n (Jo poiwn, “the one who practices”) + noun construction occurring in 3:7 and again in 3:8a. Once again these parallel phrases, the first positive and the second negative, serve to emphasize the contrast between the true Christian (“the one who practices righteousness,” 3:7) and the opponents (“the one who practices sin,” 3:8a). Again, this further supports our understanding of the force of the present tense aJmartavnei (Jamartanei) in 3:6.389 The truly “righteous” person is the one who “practices righteousness,” a concept which has its roots in the teaching of Jesus in the synoptic gospels (Matt 7:16, “you will recognize them by their fruit”; cf. also Luke 6:44). A person’s ethical behavior is an outward indication of one’s inner character and nature. Put more simply, conduct is the clue to paternity (how one behaves is an indication of who one’s father is).

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 3:7. As with the previous uses of ejkei'no (ekeinos) by the author of 1 John (2:6, 3:3, 3:5), this one refers to Jesus Christ, as the reference to “the Son of God” in the following verse (3:8) makes clear.390 Concerning Jesus’ righteousness see also 1 John 2:1, 29, where this has been mentioned before.

    3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.

    Summary

The strong contrasts and polemical tone which have characterized the present section come to a head in this verse and v. 10. The one who practices sin refers to the secessionist opponents. They claim to be in relationship with God, yet refuse to live righteously as Jesus did (previous verse; compare 1 John 2:4, 6). Such people do not belong to God but to the devil. Jesus the Son of God, however, came to destroy the works of the devil. The antithetical style of the author in this part of 1 John is readily apparent when this verse is compared with v. 7 as well as when the first part of this verse is compared to v. 9a. Malatesta pointed out the presence of a “covenant” motif in vv. 7-9, which describes the signs of authentic sonship on the one hand (vv. 7b, 9) and the lack of it on the other (v. 8a).391

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the ejkejstivn (ekestin, “is of”) phrase in 3:8a. At first glance 1 John 3:10 and John 8:44 might be cited as parallels to the present verse, because these speak of opponents as the devil’s “children.” However, it is significant that the author of 1 John never goes so far as to speak of the opponents as “fathered by the devil” in the same sense as Christians are “fathered by God” (3:9).392 A concept of evildoers as ‘fathered’ by the devil in the same sense as Christians are fathered by God would imply a much more fully developed Gnosticism with its dualistic approach to humanity. The author of 1 John carefully avoids saying that the opponents are “fathered by the devil,” because in Johannine theology not to be fathered by God is to be fathered only by the flesh (cf. John 1:13). This is significant evidence that 1 John predates the more fully developed Gnosticism of the second century A.D.

What the author does say is that the opponents (referred to in the phrase “the one who practices sin”) are from the devil, in the sense that they belong to him and have given him their allegiance.

The referent of ajp= ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”) in 3:8. In this context the phrase does not refer to Jesus Christ but to the devil, who is said to “sin from the beginning.” In John 8:44 the devil is identified as “a murderer from the beginning,” and Westcott takes the reference to “the beginning” as prior to the fall of Adam.393 However, the only explicit Old Testament reference in 1 John, in 3:12, refers to Cain, who was “from the evil one” and killed his brother Abel. This suggests that the author is not using the phrase ajp= ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”) in 3:8 to refer to the pre-creation beginning of Satan’s career, but to his involvement in the first murder in human history, which occurred “at the beginning.” In a similar sense Philo in On Rewards and Punishments 12 (68) states: “Now there was at the very beginning of the world when the race of men had not as yet multiplied, a fratricide.” Given that the murder of Abel in Genesis 4 followed from the evil which came into the world in Genesis 3, the author of 1 John probably has a general notion of the events of Genesis 1-4 in mind as the ‘beginning’ of human history.394 From the appearance on the scene of the serpent in the Garden of Eden “in the beginning,” Satan has been active in human history to divide brother from brother even to the point of fratricide. For the author, the devil is active even as he is writing to cause further division and hatred in the community which has already split as a result of the false teaching of the opponents (1 John 2:18-19).

The force and referent of eij tou'to (eis touto, “for this purpose”) in 3:8b. In this instance the prepositional phrase eij tou'to (eis touto) indicates the purpose: “for this purpose….” However, the phrase offers the same difficulty as all the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrases in 1 John: does it refer to what precedes or to what follows?

By analogy with the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) construction it seems probable that the phrase eij tou'to (eis touto) here refers to what follows: there is a Jina-clause following which appears to be related to the eij tou'to (eis touto), and in fact is resumptive (that is, it restates the idea of “purpose” already expressed by the eij tou'to (eis touto). Thus the meaning is: “For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: in order that he might destroy the works of the devil.” Thus it parallels category (1) of the uses of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw).395

The meaning of the title “Son of God” in 3:8. Prior to this verse the references to Jesus in relation to the Father in 1 John (1:3, 7; 2:22, 23, 24) have either been absolute (“the Son”) or have occurred with the genitive (“his Son”). In light of the controversy with the secessionist opponents the author makes clear that Jesus was both divine (1:1-3) and human (1:7). The three references to the Son in 2:22, 23, 24 are more ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so). However, with this verse a turning point in the letter takes place: here in 3:8 and hereafter in 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12, 13, 20 the title “Son of God” is used. The added dimension that this qualification of the title brings is the unique relationship of Jesus to the Father (2:22-23) and his role as mediator between God and humanity (4:15; 5:11).396

The time of the action described by ejfanerwvqh (efanerwqh, “was revealed”) in 3:8b. It appears most likely that, as in 3:5, the self-revelation of Jesus the author has in mind came primarily during his earthly life and ministry as he revealed himself to his disciples and to the world.397

The meaning of luvsh/ (lush, “destroy”) in 3:8. In the Gospel of John this word is used both literally and figuratively. In John 1:27 it refers to a literal loosing of one’s sandal-thong, and in John 2:19 to a destruction of Jesus’ physical body which was understood by the hearers to refer to physical destruction of the Jerusalem temple. In John 5:18 it refers to the breaking of the Sabbath, in John 7:23 to the breaking of the law of Moses, and in John 10:35 to the breaking of the scriptures. The verb is again used literally in John 11:44 at the resurrection of Lazarus when Jesus commands that he be released (i.e., untied) from the graveclothes with which he was bound.

Here in 1 John 3:8 with reference to “the works of the devil” the verb means “to do away with, destroy, bring to an end, abolish.”398

The works of the devil which the Son of God was manifested in order to destroy. The exact phrase “the works of the devil” does not occur elsewhere in the Johannine literature. The closest parallel is in John 8:41, where Jesus tells those who were seeking to kill him, “You people are doing the deeds of your father,” and again in 8:44, “You people are from your father the devil.” Repeatedly emphasized in the Gospel of John is the principle that a son cannot do anything except what he sees his father doing, and this principle applies both to Jesus, whose Father is God (John 5:19) and to Jesus’ opponents, whose father is the devil.399

The phrase here in 1 John 3:8 is explained by the parallel Jina-clause in 3:5, “he [= Jesus] was revealed to take away sins.”400 This is confirmed by the first clause in 3:8, which states: “the one who practices sin is of the devil,” a reflection of the same concept of paternity (i.e., who one’s father is) controlling one’s behavior found in John 8:41, 44. The “works of the devil” refer to sins that are committed by those who are ‘children’ of the devil (in the sense that they belong to him).401

    3:9 Everyone who is fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.

    Summary

This verse, along with 3:6, appears to say that the genuine Christian (everyone who is fathered by God) does not practice sin. The reason for this, the author of 1 John says, is that the Holy Spirit (God’s seed) resides in the Christian, preventing him or her from sinning. These difficult verses have been understood in a number of different ways, but the major categories of interpretation can be summarized as follows:

(1) Some have taught that Christians are able to attain a state of sinless perfection, and that is what the author refers to here. But John says all Christians (that is, everyone who is fathered by God) do not sin. The same rebuttal would apply to those who say that John is distinguishing between ordinary Christians, who occasionally sin and need forgiveness, and superior Christians, who do not sin at all.

(2) Some have connected the sin mentioned in 3:6, 9 to the sin of apostasy committed by the opponents, that is, denying the apostolic eyewitness testimony about who Jesus is. The author would then be saying that genuine Christians are not capable of committing apostasy (departing from orthodoxy apostolic christology like the opponents did, cf. 2:19). The problem with this interpretation is that this sin is not connected with the departure of the opponents in the immediate context. Given the major role the opponents’ departure plays in the author’s thinking throughout the letter, if their departure from the apostolic teaching about Jesus and their withdrawal from the community to which the author now writes is connected with the “sin” here in 3:9, we would expect some indications of that connection in the context here.

(3) A popular interpretation of these verses distinguishes between occasional sin (which every Christian commits) and a continuing lifestyle of sin, which a genuine believer cannot pursue. Appeal is usually made to the present tense verbs to support this view. The Greek present tense describes ongoing action (action in progress). The problem with this view is that the author of 1 John does not appear to distinguish anywhere else between a lifestyle of sin and occasional isolated acts of sin. Also, to make such a significant interpretive point on the basis of the Greek tense alone is extremely subtle. One can only wonder whether John’s readers would have gotten the point.402

(4) In the immediate context (vv. 8, 10) the contrast is between the children of God and the children of the devil. This contrast is strongly either/or. The concept of loving one’s fellow Christian is introduced at the end of v. 10 and expanded in vv. 11-18. It is clear that the children of God love their brothers and sisters in Christ, while the children of the devil do not (instead, they are like Cain who hated his brother). Since John has already introduced and emphasized the new commandment (to love one another) in 1 John 2:7-11, and since loving one’s brothers and sisters in Christ is the theme of 1 John 3:11-18, the most probable meaning of 1 John 3:6 and 9 is that genuine Christians do not sin by failing to love fellow believers. Thus the sin John has in mind here is disobedience to the new commandment to love one another, which in the Fourth Gospel is the mark of true discipleship (John 13:34-35). In fact, this is the one specific sin that the author charges his opponent with committing in the entire letter (see 1 John 3:17).

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “I beget, I father”) in 3:9. The imagery expressed here (spevrma aujtou', sperma autou [literally “his seed”]) clearly refers to the action of the male parent in fathering children, and so “fathered” is the best choice for translation.403

The significance of the present tense of poiei' (poiei, “practice”) in 3:9 with respect to sin. The problem of the present tense of poiei' here is exactly that of the present tense of aJmartavnei (Jamartanei, “sin”) in 3:6. See the section “The significance of the present tense of the verb aJmartavnei (Jamartanei, “[does not] sin”) in 3:6” above for an extended discussion of the aspectual significance of the present tense in these verses in relation to the context. It is just as unlikely here in verse 9 as it is above in verse 6 that the author is basing such a significant point in his argument on something as subtle as the nuance of a Greek verb tense.

Here in 3:9 the distinction is sharply drawn between “the one who practices sin” in 3:8, who is of the devil, and “everyone who is fathered by God” in 3:9, who “does not practice sin.” Again, as in 3:6, the author is making a clear distinction between the opponents, who as moral indifferentists downplay the significance of sin in the life of the Christian, and the readers, who as true Christians recognize the significance of sin because Jesus came to take away sin (3:5) and to destroy it as a work of the devil (3:8).404

Again, this explanation still has to deal with the apparent contradiction between the author’s statements in 1 John 2:1-2 and those here in 3:9, but this can be explained in terms of the author’s tendency to present issues in “either/or” terms to bring out the drastic contrast between his readers, whom he regards as true believers, and the opponents, whom he regards as false.405 In 2:1-2 the author can acknowledge the possibility that a true Christian might on occasion sin, because in this context he wishes to reassure his readers that the statements he has made about the opponents in the preceding context do not apply to them. But in 3:4-10, his concern is to bring out the absolute difference between the opponents and his readers, so he speaks in theoretical terms which do not discuss the possible occasional exception, because to do so would weaken his argument.

All of this is true enough if the “sin” referred to is some general moral or ethical fault. But it becomes much more significant to the major theme of the letter (love) if the particular “sin” the genuine Christian cannot commit is the failure to obey the new commandment to “love one another,” a fault the author will specifically charge his opponents with in 1 John 3:17 (in fact it is the only specific sin the opponents are charged with in the entire letter). This seems to me to be the most likely solution to the problems this verse presents with regard to genuine Christians not practicing sin, and indeed not being able to sin. So fundamental is Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to “love one another” (John 13:34-35) to the author’s thought in 1 John, that failure to love one’s fellow member of the community indicates that one is in fact not a genuine Christian at all. This may seem like a harsh judgment, but according to 1 John 3:16, the love expected among members of the Johannine community is a sacrificial love like the love Jesus showed for his own in the Gospel of John (John 10:11; 13:1). It is a fierce and costly love, not mere words expressing sentiment (1 John 3:18; 4:7, 8, 11).

The force of the two o{ti (Joti, translated here as “because”) conjunctions in 3:9. Both o{ti (Joti) conjunctions in 3:9 are causal. The first gives the reason why the person who is fathered by God does not practice sin: “because his [i.e., God’s] seed resides in him.” The second gives the reason why the person who is fathered by God is not able to sin: “because he has been fathered by God.”

The referent of spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou, “his seed”) in 3:9. The most probable meaning for spevrma (sperma, “seed”) in this context is “male generating seed,” although this is a figurative rather than a literal sense.406 This imagery is bold and has seemed overly anthropomorphic to some interpreters, but it poses no more difficulty than the image of God as a male parent fathering Christians which appears in John 1:13, and is behind the use of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “I beget, I father”) with reference to Christians numerous times in 1 John (2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 4, 18).

There is still the question, however, as to the referent of spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou) in 3:9. It is possible to see a collective sense to the expression here, so that the phrase spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou) refers to God’s “offspring.” This is reflected in the rsv margin as “the offspring of God abide in him, and they cannot sin….” This interpretation picks up the idea of God “fathering” believers from the first part of the verse, and also makes the believer the subject of the verb mevnei (menei, “resides”) according to the usual pattern in the Johannine corpus. There are also occurrences of spevrma (sperma) in the LXX which mean “offspring” (e.g., Isa 53:10), as well as in the Fourth Gospel (the spevrma jAbraavm [sperma Abraam] in John 8:33, 37). Against this view Dodd noted that the phrase spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou) lacks the Greek article, which he felt would be required for the meaning “the offspring of God,” and the phrase if understood as a synonym for “everyone fathered by God” produces a tautology.407

Another approach sees the author using an agricultural metaphor here, speaking of some sort of “divine life principle” which indwells the believer, a sort of “seed” planted in the individual’s heart which produces new life. Marshall follows this line of interpretation and compares the expression here to the “seed” in the parable of the sower in Mark 4:3-20 and parallels.408 The major weakness of this view, however, is that sandwiched in between the concept of spiritual rebirth which begins and ends the verse, the agricultural metaphor ignores the important relational aspect linked to this concept in the Johannine corpus by the very use of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “I beget, I father”), used with reference to Christians repeatedly in 1 John (2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 4, 18).409

This leaves the two most likely possibilities as (a) the proclaimed word of God or (b) the Holy Spirit.410

(a) One frequent suggestion is that the referent of spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou) in 3:9 is the word of God.411 In John 15:7 the words (taV rJhvmatav, ta rJhmata) of Christ are said to “reside/remain” (meivnh/, meinh) in the believer, and in John 15:3 it is the word (toVn lovgon, ton logon) of Christ that cleanses the disciples. In 1 John 2:14 the readers are assured that “the word of God resides in you” (oJ lovgo tou' qeou' ejn uJmi'n mevnei, Jo logos tou qeou en Jumin menei). The problem with this view, however, is that there is no other connection in the Gospel of John, the Epistles, or Revelation between the word of God and the fathering of Christians.412

(b) Another possibility is that the referent of spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou) in 3:9 is the Holy Spirit.413 This view finds strong support in John 3:5, where the concept of divine begetting is associated with the work of the Holy Spirit when Jesus told Nicodemus, “unless a person is born (gennhqh'/, gennhqh, literally “begotten, fathered”) of water and spirit (pneuvmato, pneumatos, literally “wind/breath/spirit”), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Although many interpreters understand pneuvmato (pneumatos) in John 3:5 to refer directly to the Holy Spirit, it is more likely that in John 3:5 both phrases (‘water’ and ‘wind’) refer to natural forces which in the Old Testament were associated with the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly in his work of regeneration (Isa 44:3-5, Ezek 37:9-10). Thus it would be through the work of the Holy Spirit that Christians are fathered by God in John 3:5. Either interpretation, however, implies that the Holy Spirit is active in the work of the divine begetting of Christians, and this link between the Spirit and the divine begetting of Christians strongly supports the understanding of spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou, “his seed”) here in 3:9 as a reference to the Holy Spirit. In 1 John 3:24 and 4:13 the believer’s “residing” in God is associated with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we also understood the “anointing” in 1 John 2:20 and 27 to refer to the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer. In summary, it seems best to understand the bold metaphor of God’s ‘seed’ residing in the believer in 3:9 as a reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit.414

The meaning of the final statement in 3:9 that the one who is fathered by God cannot sin. There is of course a basic problem with regard to the author’s statements in 1 John 3:9 that the one who is fathered by God (the believer) does not sin and furthermore cannot sin; it may reasonably be asked in what sense this is true, since experientially almost everyone recognizes that Christians do sin, at least on occasion. Beyond this, however, is the problem of the author’s own internal consistency: in 1 John 1:8 he rejected the statement (which we have understood as originating with the opponents) “we do not have sin” (aJmartivan oujk e[comen, Jamartian ouk ecomen), and in 1:10 he condemned the opponents’ claim, “we have not sinned” (oujk hJmarthvkamen, ouk Jhmarthkamen). Furthermore, in 1:9 the author assured the readers, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins”; and in 2:1 the author again states, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” Finally, in 5:16 the author will urge his readers to pray for a brother who is sinning a sin “not resulting in death.” There have been numerous proposals by interpreters seeking in one way or another to reconcile these statements with the claim the author himself makes in 3:9 that the one who is fathered by God is not able to sin.

(a) Of all the proposals put forward by modern interpreters, perhaps the easiest to dismiss is the supposition that two different writers worked on what is now 1 John, or a writer and a (somewhat inept) redactor. Those who hold this view basically admit the irreconcilability of the opposing statements in 1:9, 2:1 on the one hand and 3:6, 9 on the other, and concede that these statements irreconcilably contradict one another. This approach be ruled out because we have already concluded that the entire letter was written by a single author. While the author may at times make ambiguous statements, there is no precedent for a blatant contradiction of this magnitude.

(b) It has been suggested that two different groups of opponents are involved. One group is being addressed in 1 John 1:8-2:2, a group which thinks they are so perfect that they never sin. Another group is addressed in 3:1-10, who are indifferentists who think their sins have no effect on their relationship with God. The author appears to contradict himself only because in reality he is rejecting the claims of both groups.415 This view is possible, but we concluded in our examination of the claims of the adversaries that only one group of opponents was in view in the entire letter, and that such a theory was capable of explaining all the evidence in the simplest fashion. An explanation of the (apparent) contradiction in the two statements in question here that does not require positing multiple groups of opponents would therefore be preferable.

(c) A distinction between individual acts of sin (which a Christian may occasionally commit) and habitual sin as a lifestyle (which the author rules out here) has been proposed on grammatical grounds by a number of interpreters. They argue for a distinction between the aorist tense in 1 John 2:1, referring to individual acts of sin, and the present tense in 3:6 and 3:9, which would refer to habitual sin as a lifestyle. It is open to question whether the author of 1 John would rest a distinction so crucial for his argument on a variation in tenses, particularly in light of his fondness for alternating tenses for purely stylistic reasons. This view was discussed at length (and rejected) in the section “The significance of the present tense of the verb aJmartavnei…in 3:6”, and mentioned again in the section “The significance of the present tense of poiei'…in 3:9 with respect to sin” on the present verse.

(d) Another proposal is that the author is distinguishing between ‘ordinary’ Christians in 1 John 1:8-2:2, who can and do occasionally sin and need forgiveness, and ‘superior’ Christians in 3:6 and 3:9, who really do live up to their position in Christ and do not sin. This assumes that 3:6 and 9 do not really describe the ‘average’ believer. However, in the ‘dualistic’ or polarized thought of the author there is no middle ground between the opponents, all of whom sin and have neither seen God nor known him, and the readers, all of whom ‘reside in him’ and do not sin. The author’s use of the construction pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle in 3:3, 4, 6, 9, and 10 to refer to “everyone” in the respective groups (opponents and readers) confirms this.

(e) Still others have suggested that the author is speaking in two different literary contexts in 1 John 1:8-2:2 and 3:1-10. In the former he is speaking in a context of exhortation or proclamation, reminding the readers of what they had already heard. In 3:1-10 he is speaking in an apocalyptic context, where it is “the last hour” (2:18) and the final struggle with Antichrist has already begun (2:22). The author actually believes that in the final struggle with evil Christians will be without sin (a view that has some support from the intertestamental Jewish literature). In light of the signs of the end which he has already pointed out (2:18, 22, 26, 28), the author has concluded that the time is at hand and sinlessness is an attainable reality for the believers to whom he is writing.416 This view ultimately revolves around the author’s (mistaken) belief that the end is at hand and so believers are going to be divinely protected from sinning. Our own understanding of the concept of “the last hour” in which the author is writing is not as narrow as this and does not demand that the author be mistaken about the immediacy of the end.417

(f) A similar idea is that the author is speaking with different practical emphases in different contexts in 1 John 1:8-2:2 and 3:1-10. When he acknowledges that Christians do indeed sin and that forgiveness is available if they do (1:8-2:2), the author is speaking on a pastoral level, because in that context he is trying to reassure his readers that they have heard and believed the apostolic teaching, and need not worry about the claims of the opponents. When the author later states in 3:1-10 that Christians do not sin and cannot sin (3:6, 9), he is speaking on a polemic level, in an absolute sense, against the opponents who, as moral indifferentists, are saying that sin is unimportant for the Christian and does not interfere with one’s relationship to God. In this context the author will say in rebuttal that in an absolute sense, “conduct indicates paternity,” so that those who sin belong to the devil and are shown to be his children (3:8, 10) while those who are fathered by God do not sin.

(g) It has also been proposed that the author’s general statements on Christians who sin are found in 1 John 1:8-2:2, and the statements here in 3:9 that Christians cannot sin refer only to specific types of sin (e.g., sins against love, or a refusal to believe that Jesus is the Christ). The difficulty of this view lies in trying to identify the specific sins the author has in mind in 3:9 – it is far from clear to many interpreters that the reference in 3:9 applies only to some specific sins, and even less certain what those sins might be. However, it seems to me that there is one sin which might indeed be serious enough to warrant the author’s strong statements in 3:9, in light of the repeated emphasis on love throughout 1 John that so many interpreters have noted. In this case the specific sin the author is referring in 1 John 3:6, 9 is the sin of the opponents in failing to love the brethren (cf. 1 John 3:17, 18, 19). Failure to love the brethren is the only specific sin the opponents are ever charged with in the Johannine letters (1 John 2:4; 3:10b, 11-12, 14-15, 17-18; 4:20-21). The section immediately following this one (3:11-18) deals with loving one’s brother as opposed to hating him; the ‘model’ for the person who hates his brother is Cain (3:12), who murdered his brother because his deeds were evil (ponhrav [ponhra]).418 The statement in 3:9 that the person who is fathered by God (i.e., the genuine Christian) cannot sin is thus “framed” in 3:7 by the phrase oJ poiw'n thVn dikaiosuvnhn (Jo poiwn thn dikaiosunhn, “the one who practices righteousness”) and the opposite phrase pa' oJ mhV poiw'n dikaiosuvnhn (pas Jo mh poiwn dikaisnunhn, “everyone who does not practice righteousness”) in 3:10.

The passage in the Gospel of John which serves as the backdrop for this discussion is John 8:31-47, where Jesus is in dialogue with some of the Jewish leaders who have professed to believe in him.419 One of the major issues in John 8 is continuing in Jesus’ word and being truly his disciples (8:31b). This is also expressed as to “know the truth (ajlhvqeia, alhqeia)” (8:32). Jesus indicates that “everyone who practices sin (pa' oJ poiw'n aJmartivan, pas Jo poiwn Jamartian) is a slave of sin” (8:34). Jesus tells his opponents that his teaching “makes no progress among you” (8:37).420 He also tells them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the deeds of Abraham” (taV e[rga tou' =AbraaVm [ta erga tou Abraam], 8:39). Instead, Jesus says, “You people are doing the deeds of your father” (8:41), and “You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires” (8:44). Jesus adds, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him” (8:44b). Jesus also calls the devil a liar and the father of lies (8:44c), and asks who convicts him of sin (8:46, compare 1 John 3:5b). Finally, Jesus concludes, “Therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (8:47, compare 1 John 4:6, “whoever knows God hears us”). It appears that our author has seen in the discussions Jesus had with these Jewish leaders a “pattern” which has repeated itself in the behavior of the secessionist opponents in 1 John. They have already been branded liars and antichrists, who are attempting to deceive the believers to whom 1 John is written (2:22, 26). In the section immediately following they will be compared to Cain who was a murderer (3:12, 14).

If, as I think, this is the proper way to read 1 John 3:4-10, then 3:6 is to be understood as “Everyone who resides in him (i.e., God/Jesus) does not sin” (i.e., refuse to love the brethren), and it follows in 3:9 that those who are fathered by God (i.e., geniune believers) cannot sin in this way (i.e., cannot refuse to love the brethren). The rhetorical question raised in 3:17 applies this concept explicitly to the opponents: “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?” The answer to the rhetorical question is that God’s love cannot reside in such a person.

This approach appears to me to provide the best explanation for the seeming discrepancy in the author’s statements throughout the letter, which amount to an admittedly significant difference in emphasis in the different contexts. The unifying theme running through all of 1 John, though, is the absolute necessity to observe the “new” commandment to love one’s fellow member of the community. The genuine Christian cannot and will not fail to do this; a failure to do this demonstrates that one is not a genuine Christian. This is precisely what the author of 1 John wants to say about the secessionist opponents who have denied the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus. By their departure from the community the author is writing to, and their ensuing failure to demonstrate love for those brethren from whom they departed, they have shown that they are not themselves genuine Christians.

    3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: everyone who does not practice righteousness – the one who does not love his fellow Christian – is not of God.

    Summary

One’s paternity (whether one is a child of God or a child of the devil) is revealed by whether or not one practices righteousness. For the author, every person who does not practice righteousness – the one who does not love his fellow Christian, is not of God. For the author with his antithetical thought patterns, however, not to be a child of God is to be a child of the devil. Here it is clear that for the author “practicing righteousness” is to be equated with “loving one’s fellow Christian.” In my opinion this provides strong contextual support for the interpretation of “sin” in the preceding context (1 John 3:6, 9) as failure to show love to fellow members of the Christian community.

    Structure

This verse serves as a transition from the preceding material (3:4-9) to what follows (3:11-24). In a thematic sense it is roughly parallel to 2:3-11, where the author described obedience as a necessary condition for living (literally, “walking”) in the light. However, it also anticipates the later section 4:7-5:4, where the author explains obedience in terms of its outward expression, love.

A number of commentators attach this verse to the following material rather than, as we have done here, to what precedes, because it seems to them to begin a new section parallel to 2:28-29, with many of the same themes repeated: remaining or abiding, being fathered by God, doing righteousness (2:29) versus not doing righteousness (3:10), and the manifestation of the Son of God (2:28) compared to the manifestation of the children of God (3:10).421 However, these very similarities cause us to see 3:10 as related to the preceding section, forming an inclusion (Latin inclusio) with 2:28-29 at the beginning of the section. Nevertheless, it also provides at the same time a transition to the theme of loving one’s fellow Christian, a major element in the following section (3:11-24), so its function in the argument flow is really twofold. Connection with the preceding also affects the interpretation of the “sin” in the previous context (3:6, 9), which we understand as a failure to show love to fellow members of the Christian community.

    Exegetical Details

The general concept of dividing people up into righteous and ungodly is a common one, but many concrete examples can be found in the intertestamental literature: “the sons of the covenant which the Lord made for Abraham” in Jub. 15:26 are contrasted with the “sons of Beliar” in 15:33. Likewise in T. Dan 4:7 either God or Beliar can rule over people’s souls.422 It is clear that in this context the author has in mind the secessionist opponents as those who do not “practice righteousness” (who do not show love for fellow believers), who in Smalley’s words “were emphasizing (false) belief at the expense of (right) conduct.”423 These individuals the author of 1 John describes as “children of the devil,” a phrase unique in the New Testament, although Westcott noted that there were similarities to phrases found in Eph 2:3, 2 Pet 2:14, Matt 13:38, 23:15, and Acts 13:10.424

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:10. Once again there is the problem (by now familiar to the interpreter of 1 John) of determining whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) in 3:10 refers to what precedes or what follows. This usage fits category (2) of the uses of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw), since no explanatory clause that can be related to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) follows.425 Thus it may refer either to what precedes or to what follows. If it refers to what precedes, it serves to conclude the unit which began with 2:28. The remainder of 3:10 would then form a transition to the following material (another “hinge” passage). On the other hand, if the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what follows, then the entirety of 3:10 is a summary statement at the end of 2:28-3:10 which recapitulates the section’s major theme (“conduct is the clue to paternity”), and provides at the same time a transition to the theme of loving one’s fellow Christian which will dominate the following section (3:11-24). Although R. Brown prefers to see the phrase as referring almost exclusively to the preceding material,426 it seems to me to make slightly better sense to refer it to the remainder of 3:10 that follows, and see the entirety of 3:10 as both a summary of the theme of the preceding section 2:28-3:10 and a transition to the following section 3:11-24.

The theme of loving ones fellow Christian in the final clause of 3:10. As discussed in the preceding section, the theme of loving one’s fellow Christian appears in the final clause of 3:10 because it provides the transition to the second major section of 1 John, 3:11-5:12, and specifically to the following section 3:11-24. The theme of love will dominate the second major section of the letter (cf. 1 John 4:8). This theme must have been familiar to the readers of 1 John through the teaching of Jesus reflected in the Fourth Gospel (for example, John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17). The “new commandment” already mentioned in 1 John is a direct allusion to John 13:34.


321 See the discussion at 2:18.

322 Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 226; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 129.

323 That is, the author’s tendency to think in terms of polar opposites. Some interpreters refer to this as dualistic, but that term implies that both sides (e.g., “good” and “evil” or “light” and “darkness”) are equal, while the Johannine literature of the NT leaves no doubt which side will ultimately be victorious (cf. John 1:5).

324 Just as the opponents demonstrated this by their departure from the community in 1 John 2:19.

325 Bultmann understood the referent of ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) to be the cri'sma (crisma) in 2:20 (taking the phrase ejn aujtw'/ [en autw] to mean “in it” rather than “in him”), but this seems unlikely in view of the amount of intervening material (The Johannine Epistles, 41, n. 31).

326 BDAG 268 s.v. ejavn 2. Cf. Haas, et al., “When serves to introduce an event that is expected to happen. It is used to show that Christ’s second coming is not viewed as a hypothetical possibility, but as something that will certainly happen, only the time and circumstances being unknown” (A Translator’s Handbook, 77).

327 On the Old Testament and Jewish background to the term see A. Oepke, TDNT 5:866; also G. Braumann, NIDNTT 2:899-900.

328 On the meaning of parrhsiva (parrhsia) see also H. Schlier, TDNT 5:879-82; H.-C. Hahn, NIDNTT 2:736-37.

329 Cf. Marshall’s comment about “judgment by Christ, rather than…psychological feelings in his presence” (The Epistles of John, 166, n. 9).

330 Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 135-36.

331 Cf. also Schnackenburg, who sees in the verb aijscunqw'men (aiscunqwmen, “shrink away…in shame”) a legal term which refers to objective conviction and condemnation rather than a psychological attitude of embarassment of someone who is summoned before a judge (The Johannine Epistles, 153).

332 See below for discussion of the antecedant of the pronoun translated “he” in v. 29: “The referent of the (understood) subject of ejstin (estin, “he is”) in 2:29a.”

333 See BDAG 246 s.v. divkaio 1.a.

334 See below for identification of Jesus Christ as the antecedant of the pronoun translated “he” in v. 29: “The referent of the (understood) subject of ejstin (estin, “he is”) in 2:29a.”

335 Brown, The Epistles of John, 383.

336 See BDAG 495 s.v. kaiv 2.

337 See the previous section “The referent of ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) in 2:28.”

338 See the next section, “The referent of aujtou' in 2:29b.”

339 Brown, The Epistles of John, 382.

340 See the discussion in the previous section.

341 Bultmann saw this as evidence of two disparate Joti (“that”) clauses taken from an original source and joined together clumsily by an editor (The Johannine Epistles, 45). Similarly, Schnackenburg saw the awkwardness in the verse as a result of the author’s decision to make use of already existing doctrinal formulations about Christ and God (The Johannine Epistles, 154-55). Against these types of explanations Marshall argues that the concept of spiritual regeneration as the work of God would have been so familiar to the author and his readers that it was possible to move easily from Jesus as the antecedent in 2:28-29a to God in 2:29b (The Epistles of John, 168, n. 13).

342 Cf. John 20:28, for example, where Thomas, no longer doubting, refers to the resurrected Jesus using titles (“Lord” and “God”) applied in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) to God the Father.

343 So BDAG 193 s.v. gennavw 1.a.

344 So BDAG 194 s.v. gennavw 2.

345 Smalley calls this use of the {ina-clause in 3:1 epexegetic, noting that “it explains the force of the preceding sentence” (1, 2, 3 John, 141). Brown uses the term “expexegetical” (The Epistles of John, 388). Wallace says the epexegetical use of {ina occurs “after a noun or adjective to explain or clarify that noun or adjective” (Exegetical Syntax, 476 [italics his]). In this case “love” is the noun that is further qualified.

346 The similar word used in 1 John 2:1, 2:12, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4, and 5:21 is teknivon, the diminutive form (“little children”).

347 Uses in 1 John are listed in the previous footnote. For further discussion of the phrase tevkna qeou' (tekna qeou, “children of God”) in 1 John see Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 122-24, and Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 68-69. Alan Culpepper argued that this phrase was in fact a self-designation of the Johannine community (“The Pivot of John’s Prologue,” NTS 27 [1980/81]: 1-31; esp. 25-26).

348 See further G. Fohrer, TDNT 8:344-45.

349 Unless, of course, this is the sole exception to the pattern in all 18 uses in the Gospel and Epistles of John.

350 So Stott (The Epistles of John, 118), Brown (The Epistles of John, 392), Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 142), and Painter (1, 2, and 3 John, 218). In spite of the structural pattern discussed above which seems to me determinative, some interpreters still take the phrase diaV tou'to (dia touto) to refer to the first part of the verse: “for this reason (i.e., that we are God’s children) the world does not know us,” with the Joti-clause functioning as an additional explanation, “for it did not know him.” Among those holding this view are Haas, et al., (A Translator’s Handbook, 77), Houlden (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 90), and Marshall (The Epistles of John, 171, n. 25).

351 Cf. Westcott, who saw the referent here as “God in Christ” (The Epistles of St. John, 97).

352 The grammatical term “anacoluthon” refers to a broken-off construction.

353 Brown, on the other hand, seems unable to decide here: “Perhaps all we can be certain of is that the author made two future clames without being clear on the relationship between them” (The Epistles of John, 396).

354 See the discussion of this phrase above.

355 So Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 78-79.

356 See the section “The referent of the (understood) subject of ejstin (estin, “he is”) in 2:29a.” above.

357 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 71.

358 Schnackenburg considered that in the Johannine writings there was a polemic against any direct “seeing” of God on earth, citing texts like John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 14:8-9; 1 John 4:12 (The Johannine Epistles, 160). However, it is important to remember that the thrust of most of these passages is that for John, to see Jesus is to see God.

359 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 49.

360 Cf. the parallel use of ejkei'no (ekeinos) to refer to Jesus in 2:6.

361 See the relevant sections at 3:1 and 3:2 above.

362 Brown states the hope here “probably refers back to the affirmation in 3:1…our hope for the future is based on what He has done in the past” (The Epistles of John, 397).

363 See Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 135-37.

364 Cf. 1 John 2:6 again.

365 See also the section “The referent of ejkei'no in 2:6.”

366 Smalley comments that this statement is “deliberately aimed at the heretics in and around the Johannine community” (1, 2, 3 John, 153).

367 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 49-50; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 176.

368 Some interpreters, of course, have argued that the author of 1 John mistakenly thought that the apocalyptic iniquity of the end times had already begun. This is a possible, but not a necessary, inference from his remarks.

369 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 155. Brown also states, “the author is again appropriating the apocalyptic expectations of the final time to describe his opponents” (The Epistles of John, 400).

370 Smalley mentions the possibility that the phrase ejn aujtw'/ (en autw, “in him”) might refer to the Christian rather than to Christ himself – it is the person who is “in” Christ who can overcome sin. The idea that belonging to God through Christ frees the believer from sin is the theme of the entire section, and in fact the sinlessness of the Christian becomes the focus of the very next verse (3:6). However, Smalley concludes it is more likely that the phrase “in him there is no sin” is to be understood in its most obvious and natural sense as referring to Jesus himself (1, 2, 3 John, 157-58).

371 A. W. Argyle, “1 John iii. 4f,” ExpTim 65 (1953/54): 62-63.

372 Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 244.

373 That is, Jesus’ revelation of himself came at the point in time at which he became incarnate (cf. John 1:14). It is possible that the secessionist opponents were identifying this as the time when Jesus was baptized by John and the Spirit descended like a dove and remained on him (John 1:32-33). It is significant that the Fourth Gospel contains no infancy narrative like Matthew and Luke, and if the secessionist opponents were primarily dependent on the Fourth Gospel or its underlying traditions for information about the “Word become flesh,” they may well have connected this statement of the incarnation in John 1:14 with Jesus’ baptism by John.

374 For a comprehensive survey of the uses of the verb mevnw in 1 John and its implications for Johannine theology, see the discussion at 2:6.

375 See the sections “The referent of ejkei'no in 3:5.” and “The referent of aujtw'/ in 3:5” above.

376 In what amounts to a massive understatement, Brown comments, “It is difficult to anticipate the author’s mind. After ‘Everyone who abides in him does not commit sin’ one might have expected a perfect chiastic antithesis: ‘Everyone who does commit sin does not abide in him,’ reflecting a world where there is no middle ground. However, the author is harsher: the sinner not only does not abide in Christ; he has not even seen Christ!” (The Epistles of John, 403).

377 Zerwick, Biblical Greek, 82, §251.

378 Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the Greek New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1965) 151.

379 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 79; Zane C. Hodges, “1 John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor, 1983) 894.

380 Buist M. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

381 See, for example, the section “The significance of the switch in tenses with the verb gravfw from the present to the aorist” at 2:12.

382 A different approach to the one we are suggesting here was advanced by H. C. Swadling, who argued that in 1 John 3:6, 9, and 5:18 the author is quoting and then commenting on the sayings of his opponents for polemical purposes (“Sin and Sinlessness in 1 John,” SJT 35 [1982]: 205-211). Thus the statements about sinlessness in these verses do not represent the author’s view at all, but that of his opponents, and the author’s teaching on sin in the Christian’s life is found in 1 John 1:8-2:2. While such a solution is ingenious, it is far from obvious in the context that the author is quoting the views of the opponents; the context does not appear to me to give sufficient clues to support such a reading.

383 Law, The Tests of Life, 226. C. H. Dodd also held that the content of these verses was to be understood in light of the controversy with the opponents in which the author found himself (The Johannine Epistles, 78-81). However, Dodd saw two different groups among the opponents, one which was complacent because they thought they had already attained sinless perfection (addressed in 1:8-2:2), and another group (addressed in 3:4-10) who believed that as long as they were “enlightened,” moral virtue was of no consequence. It seems preferable, though, to see only one group of opponents (the secessionists mentioned in 2:18-19) if a satisfactory explanation of all the evidence can be given under such a scenario.

384 Sakae Kubo, “I John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” Andrews University Seminary Studies 7 (1969): 47-56.

385 Although it is not at all clear that any of the author’s opponents in 1 John had seen Jesus during his earthly ministry, or indeed were claiming to have done so.

386 In addition to 3:3, 4, 6, the construction occurs in 1 John 2:23, 29; 3:9, 10, 15.

387 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 166.

388 See the section “The referent of tw'n planwvntwn (twn planwntwn, “those who are trying to deceive you”) in 2:26” for further discussion.

389 See the sections “The significance of the present tense of the verb aJmartavnei (Jamartanei, “[does not] sin”) in 3:6” and “The significance of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction (used twice) in 3:6” above.

390 See also the section “The referent of ejkei'no in 2:6.”

391 Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 242.

392 Although Smalley states, “The person who in this sense ‘commits sin’ has the devil (rather than God) as a father (cf. John 8:44).” Smalley does go on to admit, however, that the phrase “is of the devil” may simply mean the individual “belongs” to the devil and his sinful activities “originate from the Satan” (1, 2, 3 John, 168).

393 Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 106.

394 So Brown, who states, “Since in Jewish thought the evil in Gen 4 was the continuation and cursed result of the evil in Gen 2–3, and since the epistolary author must have shared such an idea in order to associate Cain with the Evil One, it is most likely that by using ‘from the beginning’ the author is thinking of sin inspired by the devil in the whole compolex of Gen 1–4” (The Epistles of John, 406).

395 See the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” above.

396 On “Son of God” see further O. Michel and I. H. Marshall, NIDNTT 3:645-47; I. Howard Marshall, “The Divine Sonship of Jesus,” Int 21 (1967): 87-103; more generally, Martin Hengel, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion (trans. J. Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976).

397 See the section “The time of the action described by ejfanerwvqh (efanerwqh, “was revealed”)” above and compare John 1:31.

398 See BDAG 607 s.v. luvw 4 and F. Büchsel, TDNT 4:336.

399 Dodd notes, “It is all very plain black-and-white. It had to be made so, if the readers were to be sufficiently warned against the dangers of sophistication. Sophistry can as easily prove that evil is an aspect of good as that error is an aspect of truth. But truth and falsehood, good and evil, right and wrong, God and the devil, are irreconcilable opposites. True religion means belonging to God, and therefore it means standing on the side of truth and goodness, to the exclusion of their opposites” (The Johannine Epistles, 73).

400 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 170.

401 See the section “The significance of the ejkejstivn (ekestin, “is of”) phrase in 3:8a” above.

402 See the section “The significance of the present tense of the verb aJmartavnei (Jamartanei, “[does not] sin”) in 3:6” above.

403 See the section “The meaning of gegevnnhtai (gegennhtai, “fathered”) in 2:29” above.

404 See Sakae Kubo, “I John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” Andrews University Seminary Studies 7 (1969): 47-56, for a fuller discussion of the author’s argument as based on a sharp antithesis between the readers (true Christians) and the opponents (heretics).

405 Cf. 1 John 2:19, “they did not really belong to us.”

406 Cf. BDAG 937 s.v. spevrma 1.b, which gives the meaning as “male seed or semen,” though BDAG classifies this use in 1 John 3:9 under the following category 3, “genetic character, nature, disposition, character” but giving a variety of referents by different interpreters.

407 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 75. In response it could be said that Dodd’s objections are not very serious ones, although most commentators have agreed with him in rejecting the view.

408 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 186.

409 Marshall himself admitted that if the agricultural metaphor is pressed, the believer “becomes merely the soil in which the plant of eternal life grows” (The Epistles of John, 186, n. 37).

410 No less than six possibilities are listed by J. du Preez (“‘Sperma autou’ in 1 John 3:9,” Neot 9 [1975]: 105-12). In the end, du Preez himself argues that the phrase refers to the believer’s new life in Christ, a fairly general interpretation.

411 So Dodd, who saw the phrase referring to the word of God, or “the gospel” (The Johannine Epistles, 77-78), and Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 248.

412 But as Brown notes, there are other places in the NT where such a connection is possible; he lists James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23 among the closer connections (The Epistles of John, 410).

413 Smalley combined this with the previous view, seeing the expression spevrma aujtou' (sperma autou) against both a Jewish and a Christian background, in which the phrase refers to the word of God received in faith by the Christian and leading through the inward activity of the Spirit to rebirth and spiritual growth toward holiness (1, 2, 3 John, 173-74).

414 Brown states “Yet overall I think the evidence favors identifying God’s seed with the Spirit rather than with His word. But in the long run the exact identification is not so important, so long as we recognize that the author is talking about a divine agency for begetting God’s children, which not only brings us into being but also remains and keeps us His children” (The Epistles of John, 411). Cf. also Schnackenburg, “‘God’s seed’ can hardly mean anything other than the Holy Spirit” (The Johannine Epistles, 175).

415 Dodd holds a variation of this view which sees the same heterodox teaching by the opponents producing different types of behavior among the secessionists: “The heretical teaching might have different effects upon its adherents. Some of them were led to assume that, being ‘enlightened,’ they were already perfect in virtue. Others thought it did not matter whether they were virtuous or not, provided they were ‘enlightened.’ The complacency of the former was castigated in i. 8-10. The moral indifference of the latter is in view in our present passage” (The Johannine Epistles, 80).

416 Brown himself appears close to holding this view: “a partial explanation is that here the author is speaking in the eschatological context of the last hour when in Jewish apocalyptic it was believed that God would prepare a sinless generation in the great struggle with evil…Thus both sides of the Johannine schism would have been contending that Christians do not commit sin” (The Epistles of John, 430).

417 See the section “The meaning of the reference to “the last hour” (ejscavth w{ra, escath Jwra) in 2:18” above.

418 Compare the term ponhrou' [ponhrou] in 1 John 3:12a used to describe Satan, referred to earlier as oJ diavbolo [Jo diabolos, “the devil”] in 3:7, 8, and 10.

419 Presumably, in context, this means they believed him to be the Messiah – but Messiah as they conceived him, possibly an agent of political upheaval or reform. Thus the issue is not the genuineness or non-genuineness of their faith, but the specific content assigned to their faith.

420 Literally, “my word finds no place in you (plural).”

421 See, for example, Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 178.

422 See further Schnackenburg, who lists more examples from intertestamental literature and from Qumran (The Johannine Epistles, 176-77). T. Dan = Testament of Dan, one of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, examples of Jewish intertestamental literature. Another example is the book of Jubilees, a free retelling of the Genesis narrative with special emphasis on chronology.

423 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 180.

424 Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 108-9.

425 See the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” above.

426 Brown, The Epistles of John, 416.

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 3:11-24

    Structure

This section marks the beginning of the second major part of 1 John, 3:11–5:12.427 The present unit begins with the assertion au{th ejstiVn hJ ajggeliva (Jauth estin Jh angelia, translated by the NET Bible as “this is the gospel message”), which parallels the similar assertion of 1:5.428 The unit ends with 3:24, since 4:1-6 is one of only a few sections almost all interpreters would agree is a discrete unit within 1 John. The similarity between 3:11 and 3:23, both of which mention the command to love one another, also suggests that 3:11-24 should be regarded as a single unit.

Within the present unit, indications for subdivisions are less clear, but the author’s tendency to use a direct address to the readers to mark a subdivision (cf. 2:1, 7, 12, 18, 28; 3:7) suggests 3:13 (ajdelfoiv [adelfoi, literally “brothers”]) and 3:18 (tekniva [teknia, “little children”]) as beginning new subsections.

    3:11 For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another,

    Summary

Once more the phrase from the beginning is a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples in the course of his earthly life and ministry. The gospel message the author refers to here is that we should love one another, a restatement of Jesus’ command to the disciples in John 15:12, which is itself a restatement of the “new commandment” of John 13:34.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, translated by the NET Bible as “for”) at the beginning of 3:11. It could be argued that the o{ti (Joti) at the beginning of 1 John 3:11 is grammatically subordinate to the preceding statement at the end of 3:10. As Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out, however, “Subordination with o{ti and diovti is often very loose…so that it must be translated ‘for’.”429 Thus o{ti (Joti) approaches an inferential sense, standing at the beginning of a new sentence and drawing an inference based on all that has preceded. This is confirmed by the structural parallel between the present verse and 1:5.430

The meaning of ajp= ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”) in 3:11. The “beginning” here is once more a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples in the course of his earthly life and ministry.431 This is consistent with earlier usage of the phrase in 1 John 1:1 and 2:7; cf. also 2 John 5-6. The possibility exists, as mentioned by Smalley, that the expression looks back even earlier to an Old Testament background, even to the beginning of human history itself.432 At first this might seem more likely in view of the introduction of Cain and Abel in the following verse. However, it is important to note that v. 11 looks at the experience of the readers (“that you have heard from the beginning”), and it seems much more likely that “the beginning” in this case means essentially the same as it did in the earlier usage in 2:7.

The relationship of 3:11 to 1:5. The present verse begins with a clause that is structurally parallel to the first clause of 1 John 1:5, a key observation in our decision to regard 3:11 as the beginning of a second major section of 1 John.433 The repetition of ajggeliva (angelia, translated by the NET Bible as “gospel message”), which occurs in both 1:5 and 3:11, also points to a relationship between the two verses. We have understood ajggeliva (angelia) to be a Johannine term for the “gospel” and thus virtually equivalent to eujaggevlion (euangelion, the usual Greek term for the gospel in the New Testament).434 The phrase i{na ajgapw'men ajllhvlou (Jina agapwmen allhlous, “that we should love one another”) in 3:11 points to Jesus’ command to the disciples to “love one another” in John 15:12, which is itself a restatement of the “new commandment” given by Jesus in John 13:34-35. There is a sense in which the following material is an elaboration on the discussion of obedience to God’s commandments and the need to show love to fellow believers in 2:3-11 (note 2:10, “The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light”). There is even a sense, as Dodd said, that as far as the author is concerned, “love and hatred are the typical forms of righteousness and sin respectively.”435

    3:12 not like Cain who was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous.

    Summary

Cain serves here as the negative example not to follow – instead of loving his brother he did the opposite – he brutally murdered his brother. The reason the author of 1 John gives for this murder is because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous. Again we find the stark contrast between righteous and evil deeds, just as we have seen before in the contrast between light and darkness (John 3:19-21): “the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” But the author also says here that Cain…was of the evil one. In the immediate context this imagery serves to illustrate 1 John 3:8a: “the one who practices sin is of the devil.” This is also similar to John 8:44, where Jesus told his adversaries “you people are from your father the devil…he was a murderer from the beginning.” In both Jewish and early Christian writings Cain serves as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the imagery of Cain in 3:12. The mention of Cain and his brother with its allusion to Gen 4:1-16 constitutes the only direct reference to the Old Testament in 1 John.436 However, in stating that Cain was “of the evil one” (ejk tou' ponhrou', ek tou ponhrou), the author goes farther than any other New Testament writer.437 In the immediate context this statement about Cain serves as an illustration of 3:8a: the person who practices sin is “of the devil” (ejk tou' diabovlou, ek tou diabolou). This is similar to John 8:44, where Jesus told his opponents “you people are from your father the devil…he was a murderer (ajnqrwpoktovno, anqrwpoktonos) from the beginning.” In both Jewish and early Christian writings Cain appears as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve.438 With this kind of background it is not difficult to see why the author of 1 John used Cain here as a model for the opponents in light of their failure to “love the brothers” (cf. 1 John 3:17).

The meaning of the term e[sfaxen (esfaxen, “brutally murdered”) in 3:12. This Greek verb occurs in the LXX in a number of settings involving sacrifice (e.g., Isaac in Gen 22:10, but see also Judg 12:6). In the New Testament the only other place the verb occurs is in Revelation, in 5:6, 9, 12; 6:4, 9; 13:3, 8; 18:24.439 Smalley thought the term was deliberately used by the author here to suggest violence and translated it “butchered.”440

The significance of the contrast between ponhrav (ponhra, “evil”) and divkaia (dikaia, “righteous”) in 3:12. Just as the author has tended to portray the issues before the readers in antithetical (‘either/or’) terms before, so here the contrast between the evil deeds of Cain and the righteous deeds of his brother Abel is portrayed in the same way. Again, this echoes John 3:19-21, where “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” There is no middle ground between evil and righteousness or between light and darkness in the author’s portrayal; one must choose one side or the other. This is especially understandable in view of the radical threat which the author sees in the innovative but heretical teaching of the opponents: he wants his readers to make no mistake about the seriousness of the issues involved, and so he presents those issues in terms that are mutually exclusive and completely opposite. Under these dire circumstances, no room can be left for anyone to sit on the fence.

    3:13 Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

    Summary

Since the way Cain treated his brother Abel is the way unbelievers generally treat believers, John tells his readers do not be surprised…if the world hates you. Hatred of the world for believers is a familar theme in the Gospel of John (15:18, 17:14). It is now also an emerging theme 1 John, though in this case it may particularly refer to the hatred of the secessionist opponents who have departed from the Christian community the author is writing to, and have gone back into the world. This hatred is directed at those of the community they left behind.

    Exegetical Details

The response of believers when the world hates them. The author tells his readers not to marvel when the world hates them. The expression he uses, mhV qaumavzete (mh qaumazete, “do not be surprised,” “do not marvel”), is characteristically Johannine, occurring in John 3:7; 5:28. The hatred of the world for believers is a new theme in 1 John, although it was foreshadowed in 3:1 by the author’s assertion that the world “does not know” believers. Now the hostility of the world toward believers, a familiar theme in the Gospel of John (15:18, 17:14), is made explicit. The same theme of the contrast between those who are in the world (those who have rejected Jesus) and Jesus’ followers is also restated later in 1 John 4:5-6: “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them. We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” Although when one speaks of hatred for believers by the world one might think of persecution, it becomes clear in v. 17 that for the author of 1 John this “hatred” he is speaking about consists of the absence of love.441

The force of the conditional construction with eij (ei, “if”) in v. 13. The semantic force of the statement here can be either “if (= whether) the world hates you” or “if (= that) the world hates you.” In context, though, it is clear that the statement describes a present situation rather than a hypothetical one.442 The secessionist opponents, who have departed from the community to which the author is writing and have “gone out into the world” (4:1), are now showing hatred for their former associates (cf. 3:17) by refusing to assist them materially, a violation of the commandment to love one another.

    3:14 We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death.

    Summary

In contrast to the world’s hostile reaction to believers, believers may have assurance that they have crossed over from death to life. This refers to a present experience of eternal life rather than an experience confined to the world to come, and is completely in line with the perspective of the Fourth Gospel on eternal life as a present possession of believers (John 5:24). The assurance the readers of 1 John may have that they possess this eternal life comes from loving fellow believers (We know…because we love our fellow Christians). As in 1 John 2:3 and 2:5, obedience to the “new commandment” to love one another becomes the basis for assurance. Love for fellow believers is in fact a form of God’s love for us because as far as John is concerned, all love comes from God (1 John 4:7-11). But the person who refuses to love fellow believers remains in a state of spiritual death. Such a person is surely an unbeliever, as the following verse makes clear. Ultimately these verses will apply to the secessionist opponents (3:17) and the fact that they remain in a state of spiritual death demonstrates (again, as in 2:19) that as far as the author of 1 John is concerned they were never really genuine believers to begin with, no matter what they claimed.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”) in 3:14. In contrast to the world’s hostile reaction to the readers, they may be assured that they do indeed possess eternal life.443 The first Joti-clause, following a verb of perception, introduces an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what the readers are assumed to know: that they have passed from death to life, that is, that they possess eternal life. The author gives a similar reassurance to his readers in 5:13. Alternation between the verbs oi\da (oida, “I know”) and ginwvskw (ginwskw, “I know”) in 1 John is probably a matter of sylistic variation (of which the writer is extremely fond) rather than indicative of a subtle difference in meaning.444

The meaning of metabebhvkamen (metabebhkamen, “crossed over”) in 3:14. This verb essentially means “to transfer from one place to another, go/pass over.445 In John 13:1 it is used to refer to Jesus’ departure from this world as he returns to the Father. Here it is used figuratively to refer to the believer’s transfer from the state of (spiritual) death to the state of (spiritual) life. This use has a close parallel in John 5:24, where Jesus states, “the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over (metabevbhken [metabebhken], same verb) from death to life.” The use of perfect tense both here and in John 5:24 indicates that for the author this transfer is viewed as a past action for his readers, whom he views as genuine Christians, although it has results that persist at the time he writes.

The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:14. The second Joti-clause in 1 John 3:14 is also related to oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”), but in this case the o{ti (Joti) is causal, giving the reason why the readers know that they have passed from death to life: because they love their fellow Christians.446 This echoes Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.” As in 1 John 2:3 and 2:5, obedience becomes the basis for assurance. But the relationship between loving one’s fellow Christian and possessing eternal life goes beyond a proof or external test, because as far as the author of 1 John is concerned, all love comes from God (cf. 1 John 4:7-11). Therefore he can add the next line of 3:14, “the one who does not love remains in death.”447 Why? Because such a person does not have God’s love residing in them at all. Rather, this person can be described as a “murderer” – as the following verse goes on to state. Note also that the author’s description here of the person who does not love as remaining in death is another way of describing a person who remains in darkness, which is a description of unbelievers in John 12:46. This provides further confirmation of our interpretation of the spiritual state of the author’s opponents in 2:9-11.448

    3:15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

    Summary

Here the person who hates his fellow Christian is just as guilty as if he had murdered him. This is strong language indeed, but failure to show love to fellow believers is a serious matter as far as the author of 1 John is concerned. Failure to show love for fellow believers is an indication that eternal life is not present within the individual who fails to love. Once again, one’s behavior is a measure of one’s spiritual status.

    Exegetical Details

The description of the person who hates his fellow Christian as a murderer (ajnqrwpoktovno, anqrwpoktonos) in 3:15. On one level it is easy to see how the author could say this; the person who hates his fellow believer (literally, “brother”) is one and the same with the person who murders his fellow believer. Behind the usage here, however, is John 8:44, the only other occurrence of ajnqrwpoktovno (anqrwpoktonos) in the New Testament, where the devil is described as a “murderer from the beginning.” John 8:44 refers to the devil’s role in bringing death to Adam and Eve, but even more to his involvement in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel.449 This was the first incident of murder in human history and also the first outward demonstration of the full implications of sin’s entry into the world. Ultimately, then, the devil is behind murder, just as he was behind Cain’s murder of Abel. When the hater kills, he shows himself to be a child of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:10).450 Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity: how one behaves is an indicator of who one’s parent is. The author is not saying that every individual who hates will inevitably become a murderer at some future point, nor is he denying that a murderer is beyond repentance and forgiveness. What he is saying is that hatred is in the same moral category as murder.451

The significance of the use of mevnw (menw, “reside”) in 3:15. Here the verb refers to a spiritual reality (eternal life) which in this case does not reside in the person in question.452 While in some contexts the verb mevnw (menw) can be translated as “remain” as well as “reside,” to speak in terms of eternal life not “residing” in the individual who is a “murderer” of his fellow Christian is not to imply that at some time in the past this person did possess eternal life and subsequently lost it. The previous verse (3:14) makes it clear that the individual under discussion here has “remained” in death (i.e., the realm of spiritual death) and so has never possessed eternal life to begin with, no matter what he or she may have claimed. Taken together with the use of mevnw (menw) in 3:14, the use here implies that the opponents have “remained” in death all along, and have not ever been genuine believers.453 Thus the NET Bible translates “residing” rather than “remaining” for the participle mevnousan (menousan) here.

    3:16 We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.

    Summary

In contrast to the hatred shown by the opponents for fellow members of the Christian community – and the hatred of Cain shown for his brother Abel – is the standard of love for fellow believers given by Jesus himself – Jesus laid down his life for us. Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of believers forms a strong motivation for them to lay down their lives for fellow believers. For the author, this act of selfless sacrifice on Jesus’ part becomes the very standard by which love is measured (We have come to know love by this). It is also the standard of love expected between believers in the Christian community to which the author is writing.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:16. Here the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) is followed by a Joti-clause which is epexegetical or explanatory, and thus ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) refers to what follows. This is indicated in the NET Bible translation by a colon.454

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 3:16. The mention of the sacrificial death in 3:16 (“laid down his life for us”) points to Jesus as the referent here. This provides further confirmation that we correctly interpreted ejkei'no (ekeinos) in 2:6, 3:3, 3:5, and 3:7 as references to Jesus.455

The use of the verb tivqhmi (tiqhmi, “laid down”) in Johannine theology with reference to the death of Jesus. References to Jesus “laying down his life” using the verb tivqhmi (tiqhmi) are unique to the Gospel of John (10:11, 15, 17, 18; 13:37, 38; 15:13) and 1 John (only here). From John’s perspective Jesus’ act in giving up his life sacrificially was a voluntary one; Jesus was always completely in control of the situation surrounding his arrest, trials, and crucifixion (cf. John 10:18).456 There is another parallel with 1 John 2:6 beyond the use of ejkei'no (ekeinos): there, as here, the life of Jesus (during his earthly ministry) becomes the example for believers to follow. This in turn underscores the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (especially his sacrificial death on the cross), a point of contention between the author and his opponents in 1 John. See 1 John 4:10 for a further parallel.

Even if it could be argued in the Gospel of John that the evangelist’s interpretation of the death of Jesus focuses on its exemplary nature, in which the cross is seen as a revelation of self-sacrificial love and an example for believers to follow, the notion of Jesus dying “for” the sin of people is not absent from the Fourth Gospel.457 Here in 1 John, however, the concept of Christ’s vicarious suffering becomes explicit with the use of uJpeVr hJmw'n (Juper Jhmwn, “for us”), even if the exemplary element is retained (cf. 3:16b) and the author does not spell out exactly how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross contributes to the salvation of people. C. Maurer argued that the phrase here (ejkei'no uJpeVr hJmw'n thVn yuchVn aujtou' e[qhken, “that one [= Jesus] laid down his life for us”) is the Johannine version of Mark 10:45b (= Matt 20:28) which states the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (using dou'nai [dounai] instead of tivqhmi [tiqhmi]), and is derived from the text of Isa 53:10.458 If Maurer is correct this would indicate that the author’s emphasis here was on the expiatory nature of Jesus’ death (cf. 1 John 2:1). Note also in this regard the similarity to the discourse in John 10 on the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (10:11, same verb as here [tivqhmi, tiqhmi]).

The obligation placed on believers by 3:16b. Although the primary allusion in this verse is to Jesus’ own self-sacrifice on the cross, it is important to note that the obligation placed on believers here to do likewise finds its basis not only in Jesus’ sacrifice but in his words to the disciples in the Farewell Discourse, John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.” In its original context this has reference to Jesus’ own death, but in the context of 1 John where the statement is applied to relationships between Christians, the “friends” are clearly the fellow members of the Christian community to which the author is writing.459

    3:17 But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?

    Summary

The exact opposite to the sacrificial love for fellow Christians that Jesus himself demonstrated by his death (and which is expected of all Christians) is now illustrated. The individual who has the world’s possessions and yet fails to show any compassion for a fellow Christian in need demonstrates that he or she does not have God’s love residing within. The author’s point is made by asking a rhetorical question which assumes a negative answer: the love of God cannot reside in such a person. This is the only specific moral fault the author ever charges the secessionist opponents with anywhere in 1 John.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of toVn bivon tou' kovsmou (ton bion tou kosmou, “the world’s possessions”) in 3:17. The Greek term bivo (bios) here refers to “resources needed to maintain life, means of subsistence” – material goods or property.460 Note the vivid contrast with Jesus’ example in the preceding verse: he was willing to lay down his very life (thVn yuchVn aujtou', thn yuchn autou), but the person in view here in 3:17 is not even willing to lay down part of his material possessions for the sake of his fellow Christian! This is the same Greek word used in 1 John 2:16, where it is translated by the NET Bible as “material possessions.” The genitive qualifier tou' kovsmou (tou kosmou, “the world’s”) suggests an allusion to 1 John 2:15-17 where the author instructed the readers not to love “the world.” However, some interpreters have held that the phrase carries no pejorative or negative connotations here, but simply means “worldly possessions.”461

The meaning of the phrase kleivsh/ taV splavgcna (kleish ta splancna, “shuts off…compassion”) in 3:17. This is the only use of the noun splavgcna (splancna) in the Johannine literature of the New Testament, although it is fairly common in Paul (e.g., 2 Cor 6:12; 7:15; Phil 1:8; 2:1; Col 3:12; Phlm 7, 12, 20).462 In classical Greek the term referred to the “inward parts” of the body, and by transference of meaning came to refer to “impulsive passions” such as anger, anxious desire, and even love. But the pre-Christian Greek usage of the noun apparently did not include mercy or compassion. In the LXX, many references have the general sense of “entrails” with respect to sacrificial animals, although one can find the sense “seat of feelings” in 2 Macc 9:5-6 and Sir 30:7. In Prov 17:5 the verb (splagcnivzomai, splancnizomai) in the middle voice means “to be merciful.” The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs offer numerous examples of the term in the sense of “showing mercy” (T. Zeb. 5:3-4; 7:2-3; 8:1-5). Some translations render the term here in 1 John 3:17 as “heart,” understanding that term to refer not to the physical organ but to the seat or center of the compassionate action here expected, thus exchanging an ancient metaphor for a modern one. The NET Bible prefers, however, to render the term as “compassion,” a reference to the action itself.

The force of the rhetorical question at the end of 3:17. The author asks at the end of 1 John 3:17, “How can the love of God reside in such a person?” The full force of v. 17 becomes evident in this rhetorical question at the end, which expects a negative answer. Once again the verb mevnw (menw, “reside”) is used of a spiritual reality (in this case the love of God, see the next paragraph) which does or does not ‘reside’ in a person.463 Although the author uses the indefinite relative o} d= a]n (Jos dan, “whoever”), it is clear that he has the opponents in view here. This is the only specific moral fault the author of 1 John ever charges his opponents with in the entire letter. It is also clear that the author sees it as impossible that such a person, who refuses to offer help in his fellow Christian’s time of need (and thus ‘hates’ his fellow believer rather than ‘loving’ him, cf. 3:15) can have any of the love which comes from God residing in him. This person, from the author’s antithetical ‘either/or’ perspective, cannot be a genuine Christian.464 The semantic force of the deliberative rhetorical question, “How can the love of God reside in him?”, therefore becomes a declarative statement about the spiritual condition of the opponents, meaning “The love of God cannot possibly reside in him.”

The force of the genitive in the phrase hJ ajgavph tou' qeou' (Jh agaph tou qeou, “the love of God”). The difficulty in this phrase lies in its ambiguity – tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) can be understood as either objective genitive (meaning “our love for God”) or as subjective genitive (meaning “God’s love for us”).465 Here a subjective genitive, indicating God’s love for us – the love which comes from God – appears more likely because of the parallelism with “eternal life” (zwhVn aijwvnion, zwhn aiwnion) in 1 John 3:15, which also comes from God. Thus the author is not saying that the person who does not love his brother cannot love God either (although this may be true enough), but rather that the person who does not love his brother shows by this failure to love that he does not have any of the love which comes from God ‘residing’ in him.466 Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity, or as Malatesta observed, “Christian love implies Christian faith.”467

    3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.

    Summary

The first noun in each pair is produced by the second noun: words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are to love one another are produced by the truth. The author exhorts his readers to love one another not merely with words, but with real actions that spring from their relationship to the truth. In spite of the fact that many interpreters simply assume the author is merely repeating a general proverbial statement, it is difficult to see why he would do so here, in light of his ongoing polemic against the secessionist opponents. Especially after the statements about seeing a fellow member of the Christian community in need and shutting off one’s compassion against that person as described in the preceding verse, it is much more likely that what we have here is intended by the author to be applied specifically in the situtation he is addressing in 1 John. Such behavior on the part of the readers will contribute to their assurance even in a time of self-doubt, as the following context explains.

    Exegetical Details

The authors use of tekniva (teknia, “little children”) to address the readers in 3:18. Here again the author’s direct address to the readers as tekniva (teknia) indicates the beginning of a new subsection within 3:11-24. Tekniva (teknia, the diminutive form of tevkna [tekna, “children”]) is used here as a term of endearment as it is in 1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 4:4, and 5:21. It indicates the warmth of affection the author feels for the recipients of the letter – he is genuinely concerned for their spiritual welfare.

The relationship between lovgw/ (logw, “with word”) and glwvssh/ (glwssh, “with tongue”) and between e[rgw/ (ergw, “in deed”) and ajlhqeiva/ (alhqeia, “truth”) in 3:18. There are a number of interpreters who understand the final noun in this series, ajlhqeiva/ (alhqeia, “truth”), in an adverbial sense (“truly” or “in sincerity”), describing the manner in which believers are to love. If we compare the two pairs of nouns, however, it is hard to see how the second noun (glwvssh/ [glwssh, “with tongue”]) in the first pair can have an adverbial sense. It seems better to understand the first noun in each pair as produced by the second noun: words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are supposed to love one another are produced by the truth. As Smalley noted, “The major concern of this passage is to encourage obedient and active love from all those who claimed allegiance to the Johannine church.”468 1 John 3:18 marks the beginning of another section aimed at the readers of 1 John as members of the Christian community who have remained faithful to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus. Some in that community, however, appear to be in need of reassurance of their standing before God, and the following section thus has a pastoral and reassuring tone to it.

    3:19 And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence,

    Summary

The prepositional phrase by this refers to the previous verse: by doing these righteous deeds, these expressions of love for one another, Christians assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of our relationship with God. Another way to say this, as we have noted before, is that conduct is the clue to paternity. Here, however, rather than serving as a polemic against the opponents (whose wrong conduct shows they do not have a genuine relationship with God), the same principle can be used to reassure believers – in this case the author’s readers – that they do indeed have this genuine relationship.

    Exegetical Details

This verse and the following two verses are extremely difficult from a structural standpoint. Dodd called the entire section (3:19-24) “a series of loosely connected statements, set forth briefly and baldly, almost as if the author had made notes which he found no time to work up.”469 Even Brown is forced to admit (perhaps with a bit of overstatement),

    We have already seen that the epistolary author is singularly inept in constructing clear sentences, but in these verses he is at his worst. Most commentators kindly call the passage a crux interpretum; less charitably, Loisy, Evangile-Epîtres 559, dubs it “gibberish” (un galimatias). At the least, it offers the prologue competition for the prize in grammatical obscurity.470

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:19. Once again we are confronted with the problem of deciding whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what precedes or to what follows. In the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” it was pointed out that when an explanatory or epexegetical Joti-clause follows, and the Joti-clause is not grammatically unrelated to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw), then the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is best understood as referring to what follows. But here there are no less than three Joti-clauses that follow (!), one in 3:19 and two in 3:20, and thus we are faced with the difficulty of trying to determine whether any one of them is related to the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase in 3:19.

It is relatively easy to eliminate the first Joti-clause (the one in 3:19) from consideration, because it is related not to ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) but to the verb gnwsovmeqa (gnwsomeqa, “we will know” [future tense]) as an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what believers will know (“that we are of the truth”). As far as the two Joti-clauses in 3:20 are concerned, it is difficult to see how we as believers could know that we belong to the truth (19a) by means of either, since the first speaks of a situation where the subjects are under self-condemnation (“if our conscience condemns us…”) and the second Joti-clause seems to give a further explanation related to the first (“that God is greater than our conscience…”).

Therefore it seems better to understand the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:19 as referring to the preceding context, and this makes perfectly good sense, because we have understood 3:18 to conclude with a reference to the righteous deeds with which believers are to show their love for one another, deeds which are produced by the truth. It is by doing these deeds, these expressions of love, that believes can assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of their relationship with God. Put another way (once again, but this time in a positive sense), conduct is the clue to paternity.

The use of e[mprosqen (emprosqen, “in [his] presence”) in 3:19 and ejnwvpion (enwpion, “to [him]”) in 3:22. Both of these are improper prepositions, and both express the meaning “before” in the sense of “in the presence of.”471 Some interpreters have tried to see a subtle distinction in meaning between the two in 1 John 3:19 and 3:22, but as Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out, e[mprosqen (emprosqen) and ejnwvpion (enwpion), along with a third classical expression ejnantivon (enantion), all refer to being in someone’s presence and are essentially interchangeable.472 There can be little doubt that once more we are seeing the author’s fondness for stylistic variation in terminology at work here.

The meaning of peivsomen (peisomen, “will convince”) in 3:19. The verb peivqw (peiqw) in the active voice (with the exception of the second perfect and pluperfect) means (a) “convince”; (b) “persuade, appeal to”; (c) “win over, strive to please”; or (d) “conciliate, pacify, set at ease/rest.”473 Interpreters are generally divided between meaning (a) and meaning (d) for the verb in the present context, with the third edition of the Bauer lexicon opting for the latter (although it is conveniently pointed out that the text is “not in good order”). In any case the object of the verb peivqw (peiqw) in this context is kardiva (kardia, literally “heart”; translated here by the NET Bible as “conscience”), and this produces further problems because the meaning of kardiva (kardia) will affect one’s understanding of peivsomen (peisomen) here.

The meaning of kardiva (kardia, literally “heart”; translated here by the NET Bible as “conscience”) in 3:19. Further difficulties are raised by the meaning of kardiva (kardia) in 1 John 3:19. Although one can agree that the term generally refers to the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition,” this can be further subdivided into references to (a) “an all-inclusive sense: said of God’s or Christ’s awareness about the inner life of humans”; (b) “inner awareness,” that is, the mind; (c) “the will and its decisions;” (d) “moral decisions, the moral life, of vices and virtues” that is, the part of the individual where moral decisions are made, what we would call the conscience; and (e) “the emotions, wishes, desires,” i.e., the emotions or feelings.474 Thus kardiva (kardia) in 3:19 could refer to either the mind, the will, the emotions, or the conscience, and it is not transparently clear which concept the author has primarily in view.475 In light of the overall context, which seems to discuss the believer’s assurance of his or her standing before God (e[mprosqen aujtou' [emprosqen autou, “in his presence” in 3:19 and the mention of parrhsiva [parrhsia, “boldness” or “confidence”] in 3:21) it seems probable that the conscience, that aspect of one’s mind or heart which involves moral choices and the guilt or approval for having made them, is primarily in view here. This in turn leads me to prefer the meaning “convince” for the verb peivqw (see discussion above), since the overall subject seems to be believers’ assurance of their standing before God, especially in the case when (v. 20) their conscience attempts to condemn them (presumably on account of the sin of failing to show love for fellow Christians).

    3:20 that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.

    Summary

The statement our conscience condemns us refers to a situation when believers condemn themselves because of a guilty conscience concerning sin (probably the specific sin of failing to show love for fellow Christians). Their actions in showing love for fellow believers will assure them that God will accept and forgive them even if their own consciences are guilty.

    Exegetical Details

The force of o{ti ejavn (Joti ean, “that if”) at the beginning of 3:20. The first Joti in 1 John 3:20 can be understood as either causal, “because if our heart condemns us…,” or as epexegetical (explanatory), “that if our heart condemns us….” There are two other instances of the combination o{ti ejavn (Joti ean) in 1 John, 3:2 and 5:14. In 3:2 the Joti clearly introduces an indirect discourse (content) clause following oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”). In 5:14 the Joti is epexegetical to a preceding statement (“and this is the confidence [parrhsiva, parrhsia] that we have before him, that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”). This is analogous to the present situation, and the subject under discussion (the believer’s confidence before God) is also similar.476 It thus seems more likely, by analogy, that the first Joti-clause in 3:20, o{ti ejavn kataginwvskh/ hJmw'n hJ kardiva, (Joti ean kataginwskh Jhmwn Jh kardia) should also be understood as epexegetical to the preceding clause, kaiV e[mprosqen aujtou' peivsomen thVn kardivan (kai emprosqen autou peisomen thn kardian, “and will convince our conscience in his presence”).

The meaning of the verb kataginwvskw (kataginwskw, “condemn”) in 3:20 and 21. In Deut 25:1 LXX this verb means “to condemn” in a context where it is in opposition to dikaiou'n (dikaioun), “to acquit.” In Job 42:6 LXX (Symmachus) and Ezek 16:61 LXX (Symmachus) it is used of self-judgment or self-condemnation, and this usage is also found in the intertestamental literature (Sir 14:2). T. Gad 5:3 describes a person oujc uJp= a[llou kataginwskovmeno ajll= uJpoV th' ijdiva kardiva (ouc Jup allou kataginwskomenos all Jupo ths idias kardias, “condemned not by another but by his own heart”).477 Thus the word has legal or forensic connotations, and in this context refers to the believer’s self-condemnation resulting from a guilty conscience concerning sin.

The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:20. The use of two Joti-clauses in close succession is somewhat awkward, but this is nothing new for the author; and indeed he has twice previously used two Joti-clauses in close proximity in 1 John 3:2 and 3:14. In both those instances we have understood the second Joti as causal, and some interpreters would do so here. Unless one understands both of the Joti-clauses in 3:20 as causal, however (an option we rejected based on the analogy with 5:14),478 the first Joti-clause must be understood as parenthetical in order for the second to be causal. This results in an even more awkward construction.479 It seems most probable that the second Joti-clause in 3:20 should also be understood as epexegetical (explanatory), and resumptive of the first. The resultant meaning may be expressed as follows: “and will convince our conscience in his presence, 3:20 that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.”

The significance of Gods omniscience as indicated by pavnta (panta, “all things”) at the end of 3:20. What does the author intend to imply by the mention of God’s omniscience (“God…knows all things”) in the final phrase of 1 John 3:20?

(1) Many interpreters have taken this to mean that even if believers stand condemned by their own consciences (because of their failure to love fellow Christians) God, because he knows everything, will be merciful to forgive everything (as far as the believer is concerned). Since the context looks at the believer’s behavior (performing deeds of love toward fellow-believers) as a basis for believers’ assurance that they are indeed God’s children, there is some support for this view.480

(2) Others who hold to a more ‘severe’ interpretation of these verses see God’s omniscience here as as allusion to the fact that, if believers stand condemned by their own consciences (for their failure to love fellow Christians) God, because he knows all things, will be even more strict and demanding in judgment and will condemn them all the more. Given that we have argued above that 1 John 3:18 marks the beginning of another section of pastoral reassurance with the endearment term “little children,” this view does not fit that context very well at all, unless the author truly is hopelessly confused in his argumentation at this point.

(3) A third and more neutral view is also possible: God, because he knows all things, will show no partiality, but will be more fair and neutral in judgment than even believers’ own consciences. He will be merciful to those who (as believers) have demonstrated love for their fellow Christians, and relentless toward those who (typified by the opponents who, as unbelievers, have failed to love their fellow believers) have exercised hatred (rather than love) toward their fellow members of the community. In either case, God will be completely fair and impartial in his judgment.481 There are two passages in the Gospel of John which allude to Jesus’ omniscience (2:24 and 21:17). The first of these (2:24) mentions a negative outcome and the second (21:17) a positive one. Perhaps in light of the different outcomes of divine knowledge in the Fourth Gospel the third (more neutral) view is to be preferred here: God’s omniscience leads to a judgment which in some instances will be negative and in others positive. Having said this, however, one wonders if the author is not assuming here that the genuine Christians in the community to which he writes will not (correctly) see themselves as recipients of a positive judgment because they have shown love for fellow believers, and the opponents as recipients of a negative judgment because they have failed to do so.

    3:21 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God,

    Summary

Confidence in this context refers to the Christian’s confidence in asking God for things (see next verse). Because this same word (confidence) occurs in contexts connected to Christ’s parousia (second advent) in 1 John 2:28; 4:17, it may also refer to the Christian’s assurance of a positive outcome at the judgment when Jesus returns. The thought in this verse is completed in v. 22.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of parrhsivan (parrhsian, “confidence”) in 3:21. In the immediate context, the “confidence” described by parrhsivan (parrhsian) here relates to the Christian’s confidence in asking things of God (3:22).482 Because the term also occurs in contexts connected to the parousia (second advent), however (1 John 2:28, 4:17), it may also allude to the Christian’s assurance of a positive outcome at the judgment when Jesus returns. This is made more probable by the mention in the preceding verse of God’s impartial verdict in judgment based on his omniscience.483

On the translation of kardiva (kardia, literally “heart”) as “conscience” see 1 John 3:19.

    3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.

    Summary

Believers who have a clear conscience (v. 21) have confidence (v. 21) that God will answer their prayers because they live lives of obedience (keep his commandments), doing things that are pleasing to him. (Of course in the context of 1 John, God’s commandments consist of believing in Jesus and showing love for one another, as explained in the following verse.) Here the author of 1 John has conditioned the expectation of answered prayer on (a) the believer’s conscience making no accusation against him or her (3:21) and (b) the keeping of God’s commandments (obedience, 3:22b). This is not to say that an obedient lifestyle on the part of the believer merits or guarantees answered prayer. It simply means that, insofar as believers’ consciences make no accusation against them, and they are living in obedience to God’s commandments, their will and God’s will coincide, and thus they may reasonably expect to receive the answers to their requests. This combination of confidence and answered prayer appears also in 1 John 5:14-15.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the kaiv (kai, “and”) at the beginning of 3:22. The kaiv (kai) which begins 3:22 is epexegetical (explanatory), relating a further implication of the “confidence” (parrhsivan, parrhsian) which believers have before God when their conscience does not condemn them. They can ask things of God with the expectation of receiving their requests. The “asking” and “receiving” motif is discussed in the following section.

The background of the theme of asking” (aijtw'men, aitwmen) and receiving” (lambavnomen, lambanomen) in 3:22. This theme is a restatement of similar themes introduced in the Gospel of John by Jesus himself in the Farewell Discourse.484 At numerous points in the Discourse Jesus tells the disciples that whenever they ask the Father for things in his [Jesus’] name, these things will be done or given (John 14:13-16; 15:7, 16; 16:23-26, with one of these formulations, 16:24, using identical terminology to the present verse). In only one instance in the Gospel of John (15:7) is a condition attached to the promise of answered prayer, and it concerns the believer “residing” in Jesus and Jesus’ words “residing” in the believer. Here in 1 John the author has conditioned the expectation of answered prayer on (a) the believer’s conscience having no accusation against him and (b) the keeping of God’s commandments (3:22b). This is not to say that an obedient lifestyle on the part of the believer merits (or guarantees) answered prayer. It implies that, insofar as the believer’s conscience makes no condemnatory accusation against him, and he is living in obedience to God’s commandments (see the following verse), his will and God’s will coincide, and thus the believer may reasonably expect to receive the answer to his requests.485

The meaning of taV ejntolaV aujtou' throu'men (tas entolas autou throumen, “we keep his commandments”) in 3:22 and its relationship to the promise of answered prayer in 3:22a. In a sense it is true that the promise of “receiving” the requests believers have asked from God is conditioned upon the keeping of his commandments. But as explained in the previous section, this does not imply the existence of a situation in which the believer ‘merits’ the answered prayer or in which God is ‘obligated’ to answer such requests. It rather implies the existence of a situation in which God’s will and the believer’s will coincide to such an extent that the petitioner may be assured of receiving the answer to his requests.486 See also the section “The significance of ejavn (ean, “if”) in relation to the keeping of the commandments in 2:3” above, which points out that it is expected that a genuine believer will indeed keep God’s commandments.

The plural form of the noun taV ejntolaV (tas entolas, “commandments”) occurs in the Johannine letters eight times, while the singular occurs ten times. In every instance, however (whether singular or plural), the nature of the “commandment/s” can be summed up in the requirement for believers to show love to one another (cf. 3:23; 4:21; 2 John 5).487

The referent(s) of the three occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:22. A reference to God the Father is highly probable in each instance, because in the following verse there is a reference to “his Son Jesus Christ” and this clarifies the previous third person pronouns in 1 John 3:22 and 23 as references to the Father. In 1 John the commandments are consistently associated with God the Father.488

    3:23 Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment.

    Summary

The author now specifies what God’s commandment (now reduced to the singular from the plural of the previous verse) consists of. It has two parts: (a) believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and (b) love one another. Believers showing love for one another is a major theme of this section of 1 John (3:11-5:12).

    Exegetical Details

The referent(s) of the two occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:23. As mentioned in the previous section, the reference in the present verse to “his Son Jesus Christ” (tou' uiJou' aujtou' =Ihsou' Cristou', tou Juiou autou Ihsou Cristou) makes it clear that the referent of both the third person pronouns in v. 23 is God the Father.

The force of the i{na (Jina) in 3:23. This verse begins with the phrase kaiV au{th ejstiVn (kai Jauth estin, “now this is”; cf. the similar phrase in 1 John 1:5 and 3:11), which is explained by the following Jina-clause, “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ….” The i{na thus introduces a clause which is epexegetical (explanatory) or appositional. By analogy the similar phrase in 3:11 is also followed by an epexegetical Jina-clause and the phrase in 1:5 by an epexegetical Joti-clause. Thus the “commandment” from God that the author refers to here is the commandment to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another. This is indicated in the NET Bible translation by a colon preceding the Jina-clause.

The meaning of the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw) + dative in 3:23 and its relationship to other Johannine usages of pisteuvw (pisteuw). Belief, for the author, is not mere assent or accepting certain information as true. The explanatory Jina-clause “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ” is not too far removed in meaning from the verb “confess” (oJmologevw, Jomologew) in 2:23 (“the person who confesses the Son”); similar formulaic statements are found in 4:2-3, 15.489 But just as in the similar statements in the Fourth Gospel (John 2:11; 4:39; 7:31; 12:11) the specific content of the confession (or belief) is also important, as the author makes clear elsewhere – particularly in light of the debate over orthodox christology with the secessionist opponents. The readers are commanded to believe in Jesus as Christ (2:22; 5:1), as Son (2:23), as Son of God (4:15; 5:5), and as Christ incarnate (“come in the flesh,” 4:2; 2 John 7). The fact that the author regards belief as something “commanded” here is also in line with the description of faith as a “work” in John 6:29 (cf. John 16:27).490

Some interpreters attach special significance to certain Johannine constructions with the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw, “I believe”). In particular there is a tendency to insist that pisteuvw + eij (pisteuw + eis) consistently indicates a higher level of belief, trust, or committment than, for example, pisteuvw (pisteuw) followed by the simple dative.491 When one surveys the total Johannine usage of the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw), certain patterns of frequency of usage do emerge. But when one compares contexts like John 3:36 and 5:24 it seems obvious that there is no difference between pisteuvw + eij (pisteuw + eis) and pisteuvw (pisteuw) followed by the simple dative. Likewise, in 1 John 5:10 the verb pisteuvw (pisteuw) occurs three times, twice with eij (eis) and once with the simple dative, and there does not seem to be any distinction in force or quality. Thus the faith the author has in view here does not seem to be qualitatively anything less than trust in and committment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God.492

The significance of the mention of tw'/ ojnovmati (tw onomati, “in the name”) in 3:23. The author’s construction with the dative here is unique. Elsewhere in the Johannine corpus eij (eis, “in”) with the accusative toV o[noma (to onoma, “the name”) is used, as in 1 John 5:13 (cf. John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18); see also 1 John 4:16; 5:10, and (using o{ti [Joti, “that”] in place of eij) 5:1, 5. As the Son of God, Jesus bears the divine Name (cf. John 20:28). As Bultmann correctly observes, believing “in the name of his (God’s) Son Jesus Christ” here amounts to essentially the same thing as believing “in the Son of God” in 1 John 5:10.493 Belief in the Son makes people God’s children, and as such they are under the protection of the Name (cf. John 17:11-12). They are also able to ask for things in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), and although the author of 1 John does not focus on that aspect here, he was concerned in the previous verse with the believer asking and receiving things from God. The wording of 3:23 may suggest a formulaic confession aimed at the secessionist opponents, who have already been attacked for their failure to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.494

The (understood) subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken, “he gave”) in 3:23b. As mentioned in previous sections,495 the author of 1 John repeatedly attributes the commandments given to believers as given by God the Father, even though in John 13:34-35 it was Jesus who gave his disciples the commandment to love one another. 2 John 4-5 also attributes the commandment to love one another directly to the Father. Thus it seems clear that God the Father is the subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken, “he gave”) here in 3:23.496

    3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.

    Summary

Here the person who keeps his commandments clearly refers to the genuine believer, the faithful member of the community to whom the author is writing (the previous verse defines what the commandment is). Such a person is in a mutual and reciprocal relationship with God (resides in God, and God in him). The assurance (by this we know) of this mutual relationship between God and the believer is God’s Spirit (the Spirit he has given us). The believer’s assurance of a genuine relationship with God in 1 John is thus based on three things: (a) believing in Jesus Christ (3:23a); (b) loving one another (3:23b); and (c) the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit (3:24b).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of oJ thrw'n (Jo thrwn, “the person who keeps”) in 3:24. The author has repeatedly used the definite article oJ (Jo) + the participle to refer to genuine believers on the one hand and the secessionist opponents on the other.497 Here “the person who keeps his (i.e., God’s) commandments” clearly refers to the genuine believer, the faithful member of the Christian community to which the author is writing.

The referent of the pronouns aujtou' (autou, “his”), the first aujtw'/ (autw, literally “in him”; translated by the NET Bible as “in God”), and aujtov (autos, literally “he”; translated by the NET Bible as “God”) in 3:24. Once again, all of the third person pronouns in 3:24 are best understood as referring to God the Father.498

The meaning of the verb mevnw (menw [“I reside”], used twice) in 3:24. The verb here refers to the permanence of relationship between God and the believer, as also in 1 John 2:6, 4:12, 13 (2x), 15 (2x), and 16 (2x). The present verse implies that this is a mutual and reciprocal relationship.499 Previously the author has introduced the concept of believers residing in God and/or Jesus in 1 John 2:5-6, 24, 27-28, and 3:6 (cf. also 5:20). The author also mentions God residing in the believer in 4:12 (cf. 2:14; 3:9). Here, however, the ideas are combined and mutual for the first time in the letter (cf. later references in 4:13, 15, 16).500

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:24. Once again there is the (by now familiar) question of whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ refers to what precedes or to what follows. In this case, the following phrase ejk tou' pneuvmato…(ek tou pneumatos, “by the Spirit…”) explains the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase, and so it is best to understand the phrase as referring to what follows.501 This is confirmed by the parallel at 4:13.

The (understood) subject of e[dwken (edwken, “he has given”) in 3:24. Who is the one who has given the Spirit, Jesus or God the Father?502 An almost identical phrase occurs in 1 John 4:13:By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.” The preceding verse, 4:12, makes it clear that the reference in 4:13 is to God the Father. Thus it seems by analogy that we should consider God the Father to be the subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken) here in 3:24.503

The Spirit’s role in the believer’s assurance in 3:24. Here in v. 24 is the first explicit reference to the Spirit in 1 John, although the “anointing” mentioned in 2:20, 27 is best understood as a reference to the Spirit as well. After this there will be additional references to the Spirit in 1 John, all more or less explicit (4:2, 13; 5:6, 8; cf. also 4:6). Appeal to the Spirit as proof of God’s presence residing in the believer may appear at first subjective, but it is very important to note (especially in light of the debate over christology with the secessionist opponents, who apparently were claiming to be receiving new revelation from the Spirit concerning who Jesus was) that the ground of assurance is not based on some revelation or other by the indwelling Spirit, but on the fact of the Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer. No content of any “message of reassurance” from the Spirit is mentioned or alluded to here.504 Second, as Smalley notes, “the Spirit, according to John, manifests himself objectively in the life and conduct of the believer, inspiring a true confession of Jesus (4:1-3) and enabling his followers to act righteously (cf. 2:29) and lovingly (cf. 4:12-13).”505


427 See the section “Structure and Purpose of 1 John” above.

428 On the translation of ajggeliva (angelia) as “gospel message” see Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 87.

429 BDF §456(1). BDAG 732 s.v. o{ti 4.b states, “The subordination is oft. so loose that the transl. for recommends itself (B-D-F §456, 1; Rob. 962f). Naturally the line betw. the two groups cannot be drawn with certainty.”

430 See the section below, “The relationship of 3:11 to 1:5,” for further discussion.

431 For further discussion of the phrase see the sections “The meaning of ajrchv (arch, “beginning”) in 1:1a” and “The meaning of ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) in 2:7 and its relationship to the same phrase in 1 John 1:1” above.

432 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 182.

433 Brown says of the opening clause of 1 John 3:11, “The clause itself is virtually a copy of 1:5” (The Epistles of John, 440). He goes on a few lines later to point out, “In 1:5 the perfect tense of the verb ‘to hear’ was used; here the tense is aorist. This is a real challenge to those who would see a precise theological implication in such variations; for certainly the author, despite his use of the aorist here, means a past hearing that lasts into the present (the meaning a perfect should have).”

434 See the section “The meaning of ajggeliva (angelia, “[gospel] message”) in 1:5” above.

435 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 82.

436 Smalley noted how strange this is in a work of fundamentally Judeo-Christian background with its great similarity to the Fourth Gospel, which makes constant allusion to the OT (1, 2, 3 John, 183-84). However, it is possible that in the doctrinal dispute with the secessionist opponents confronted by the author, appeal to the OT would not have been convincing (cf. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 97-98).

437 The source of Cain’s character and behavior are specified; cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 92.

438 T. Benj. 7:5 warns, “those who are like Cain in envy and hatred of brethren shall be punished with the same judgment.” In a similar way Philo stated with sarcasm, “if any one accuses you of impiety, make your defense with a good courage, saying that you have been brought up very admirably by your guide and teacher, Cain” (On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 11 (38). Josephus characterized Abel as righteous but Cain as evil: “Abel, the younger, was a lover of righteousness, and…excelled in virtue…But Cain was not only very wicked in other respects, but was wholly intent upon getting” (Antiquities 1.2.1 [1.53]). In addition to the intertestamental literature Cain also appears elsewhere in the NT (Heb 11:4; Jude 11; indirectly in Matt 23:35 = Luke 11:51; Heb 12:24).

439 Schnackenburg pointed out that the use of the term might have been suggested by the brutal killing of Christians in the earliest persecutions under Domitian (The Johannine Epistles, 179) although this presumes a somewhat later date for the letter.

440 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 184.

441 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 54, n. 47.

442 So Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 88-89. Marshall, on the other hand, takes the world’s hatred here as a future possibility (The Epistles of John, 190, n. 9). If we understand the reference to the “world” here as a reference to the secessionist opponents, a future reference to the world’s hatred seems less likely since the schism has already taken place (cf. 2:18-19) and its effects are being felt in the community addressed by the author even as he writes. Thus I prefer to see the hatred here as something currently in progress rather than something hypothetically possible in the future.

443 As Smalley states, “The verb oi[damen here, with oi[date (“you know”) in v 15, indicates John’s appeal to the common awareness of truth among the members of his church (cf. v 5)” (1, 2, 3 John, 188).

444 Brown suggests another possibility for the alternation between the two verbs for knowledge in 1 John: “The verb ‘know’ is eidenai (oida), and there is the usual speculation that it is used rather than ginwskein because the knowledge here is more emphatic or experiential…But any emphasis here comes from the pronoun; and oidamen, ‘we know,’ may simply be the Community’s set formulation for reliable tradition” (The Epistles of John, 445).

445 BDAG 638 s.v. metabaivnw 1.a and 2, with 2 being a figurative extension of meaning, “to change from one state or condition to another state, pass, pass on.”

446 It is important to note that the second Joti-clause in 1 John 3:14 is related to oi[damen (oidamen, “we know”), giving the reason for the knowledge, rather than being related to metabebhvkamen (metabebhkamen, “crossed over”), giving the reason for the transfer from death to life (as Marshall appears to state, The Epistles of John, 191, n. 11). To take the second Joti-clause in this sense (“we have crossed over…because we love”) would make one’s salvation contingent on whether or not one loved, which is perilously close to a doctrine of salvation by works, as Smalley points out (1, 2, 3 John, 189). As Houlden also observes, Christian love is the consequence of salvation rather than its presupposition (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 98). Brown simply notes, “One might argue that the author has phrased himself ambiguously to cover both interpretations: love both as sign and cause of life. More realistically, he may have phrased his sentence ambiguously because he never asked himself this kind of question” (The Epistles of John, 446).

447 On the term “death” (qavnato, qanatos) here as spiritual death, compare 3:14b and 5:16-17; see also W. Schmithals, NIDNTT 1:439-40.

448 See the section “The concept of “walking in the darkness” in 2:11 and its relationship to the similar concept in 1:6” above.

449 The involvement of the devil in the murder of Abel is not directly mentioned in the Genesis account, but is elaborated in the intertestamental literature. The pseudepigraphal Apocalypse of Abraham 24:5 states: “I saw Adam, and Eve existing with him, and with them the cunning Adversary, and Cain who acted lawlessly through the Adversary, and the slaughtered Abel, (and) the destruction brought and caused upon him through the lawless one.” The translation is from G. H. Box, ed., The Apocalypse of Abraham (London: SPCK; New York: Macmillan, 1919), 71-72.

450 There are some indications in rabbinic literature that Cain was not considered to be the son of Adam, but the offspring of Eve after she had sexual relations with Sammael (variously identified as the angel of death and the leader of all satans). The tradition is found in Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 21 and also in Targum Pseudo- Jonathan on Gen 4:1-2. See further A. F. J. Klijn, Seth in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Literature (NovTSup 46; Leiden: Brill, 1977) 4-10. Of course it is difficult to prove that these traditions predate the NT. Nevertheless, the selection of Cain by the author of 1 John as the model for those who hate brethren is intriguing in light of these traditions, especially since the author states in 1 John 3:12 that Cain “was of the evil one.”

451 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 191; Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 82.

452 Cf. Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 260-61. For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see the discussion at 1 John 2:6. On “eternal life” as a quality of spiritual life made available to the believer now through Christ (rather than confined to the future), cf. 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 5:11, 13, 20. Ultimately, as the author declares in 5:20, this life is synonymous with Jesus Christ himself.

453 See the discussion of the opponents above in the section “The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:14.”

454 See the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3” above for a discussion of the possible meanings of this phrase in 1 John. Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 114) saw the phrase as recapitulating what had gone before (the contrast between disobedient hatred and obedient love), but the structural pattern discussed above and at 2:3 strongly suggests that the reference is to what follows.

455 See the section “The referent of ejkei'no in 2:6” for a discussion of this issue.

456 The same verb, tivqhmi (tiqhmi), is used in John 13:4 to describe Jesus laying aside his outer garments before washing the disciples’ feet. On the one hand this suggests the voluntary nature of the action involved, which would parallel the voluntary nature of Jesus’ sacrifice in the passages listed above. On the other hand, it suggests that the imagery behind the footwashing episode is linked to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, a connection suggested by other contextual features in John 13 as well (e.g., the phrase eij tevlo [eis telos] in John 13:1 seen in relation to tetevlestai [tetelestai] in John 19:28, 30).

457 For further discussion on the description of the atonement in the Fourth Gospel, see Stephen S. Smalley, John: Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter: Paternoster, 1978), 225-26.

458 C. Maurer, TDNT 8:155-56.

459 The idea of “imitating Christ” found in 1 John 3:16 occurs elsewhere in 1 John (see 2:6, 29; 3:2, 3, 7; 4:17). It is is also found in Paul (cf. 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 2:5-8; 1 Thess 1:6; 1 Tim 6:13-14) and in other NT writers (e.g., Heb 12:2-3; 1 Pet 2:21).

460 BDAG 177 s.v. bivo 2, which gives the contextual gloss “worldly goods” for the use in this verse.

461 So Marshall, The Epistles of John, 194, n. 20, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 196.

462 For further details see H. Köster, TDNT 7:548-59, and H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT 2:599-601.

463 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

464 This is not to say that such a person cannot claim to be a Christian – note 1 John 2:4: “The one who says ‘I have come to know God’ and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.” Here again we are dealing with the major problem underlying the entire letter: the opponents are claiming to be in relationship with God, but are refusing to share material assistance with their fellow members of the Christian community in need, and this (for the author) constitutes conclusive proof that the opponents’ profession to know God (or, as here, to have God’s love residing in them) must be false. As elsewhere in 1 John, conduct becomes the clue to paternity, and speaks louder than words.

465 See the discussion of this phrase in the section “The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5” above.

466 Brown summarizes, “The person described in 17abc is blocking the movement of divine love, which would lead him to treat his brother as Christ treated us, so divine love does not function in such a person” (The Epistles of John, 450).

467 Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 266.

468 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 199.

469 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 87.

470 Brown, The Epistles of John, 453.

471 BDAG 325 s.v. e[mprosqen 1.b.b and 342 s.v. ejnantivon 2.b.

472 BDF §214(6). However, BDAG 342 s.v. ejnantivon classifies the meaning in 1 John 3:22 under 3, “pert. to exposure to value judgment, in the opinion/judgment of,” a metaphorical extension of the notion of presence.

473 BDAG 791 s.v. peivqw 1.a, b, c, d.

474 BDAG 508 s.v. kardiva l.b.a, b, g, d, e.

475 The term kardiva (kardia) occurs only in this passage in the letters of John. On the meaning see further H.-C. Hahn, NIDNTT 1:349; T. Sorg, NIDNTT 2:180-84; cf. also Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 94.

476 Compare 1 John 3:21-22.

477 The Testament of Gad is one of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, pseudepigraphal works of Jewish intertestamental literature.

478 See the discussion in the section “The force of o{ti ejavn (Joti ean, “that if”) at the beginning of 3:20” above.

479 Thus producing the following: “and will convince our conscience in his presence 3:20 (that if our conscience condemns us), because God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.”

480 Cf. Brooke, who pointed out that the author was not concerned to “strike terror” into the hearts of the members of his congregation (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 100).

481 Cf. Marshall, who noted that “a just verdict” could be reached concerning the believer on this basis (The Epistles of John, 198, n. 7).

482 This “confidence” amounts to a “freedom to speak” before God, cf. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 93; note also the allusion to making requests of God in prayer in v. 22.

483 It goes without saying here that the emphasis on the parousia (second advent) in 1 John 2:28, 3:21, and 4:17, with implications of a future judgment of Christians, is different from the perspective of the Fourth Gospel, which with its emphasis on realized eschatology sees Christians as not coming into judgment (John 3:18) and already having passed from death to life (5:24).

484 More commonly known as the “Upper Room Discourse,” but it is preferable to label it by its literary genre (a farewell discourse after the pattern found in the OT) rather than by the location where it took place.

485 More general statements in the NT about answered prayer for the believer may be found in Matt 7:7-8 (= Luke 11:9); Matt 18:19; Mark 11:24; Jas 1:5.

486 In other words, God answers believers’ prayers because they regularly “keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.” There is therefore an objective ethical reason for God’s answering prayer – it does not depend automatically on the subjective ground of a believer’s clear conscience (cf. Stott, The Epistles of John, 149).

487 Houlden saw the interchange between singular and plural as an indication that the author was not interested in ethical rules or “moral complexities” (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 102-103), but as Smalley pointed out, theology and ethics are closely related in the letters of John, and the author was well aware that “love for fellow believers” required practical expression in specific moral situations like the one described in 3:16-17 (1, 2, 3 John, 206).

488 See the section “The referent of aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 2:3” above for further discussion.

489 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 59.

490 For further discussion of the concept of “faith” in the Johannine corpus see O. Michel, NIDNTT 1:602-603.

491 Cf. for example Brooke, who takes the construction with the dative to mean “conviction of the truth of a statement” whereas the construction with eij (eis) means “devotion to a person” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 104-105); cf. also Marshall, The Epistles of John, 201, n. 14, and M. J. Harris, NIDNTT 3:1212-13.

492 Brown sees 1 John 3:23 as significant evidence against distinctions between different constructions with pisteuvw (pisteuw) in the Johannine literature: “Although the author uses the dative in the present verse, it is unbelievable that he means anything other than total commitment since he is dealing with the basic commandment that sums up the gospel” (The Epistles of John, 463).

493 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 59.

494 See the sections “The referent of oJ yeuvsth (Jo yeusths, “the liar”) in 2:22” and “The meaning of the phrase toVn patevra e[cei (ton patera ecei, “have the Father”) in 2:23” above.

495 See “The referent of aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 2:3” and “The referent(s) of the three occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:22” above.

496 So Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 273. Smalley states, “Unless John is once more being consciously ambivalent (and this is not impossible), the structure and thought of the v as a whole probably demands that God should be understood here as the author of the love command” (1, 2, 3 John, 209).

497 See the section “The participial phrase oJ misw'n (Jo miswn, “the one who hates”) in 2:11 and its relationship to the phrase oJ ajgapw'n (Jo agapwn, “the one who loves”) in 2:10” above.

498 See the sections “The referent(s) of the three occurrences of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his”) in 3:22” and “The (understood) subject of the verb e[dwken (edwken, “he gave”) in 3:23b” above.

499 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

500 In 2:27 the “anointing” (which is probably best understood as a reference to the Holy Spirit) is said to reside in believers, and believers are said to “reside in him” (which is probably best understood as a reference to Jesus Christ). While the idea of mutuality is not completely developed in 2:27, it can be seen as a step in the direction of the full-fledged reciprocal relationship between the believer and God expressed here. For further details see the notes on 1 John 2:27. On the similar concept of “mutual residing” as expressed by Paul, see Marshall, The Epistles of John, 202, n. 16, and M. J. Harris, NIDNTT 3:1190-93. On the relationship between the theology of John and Paul at this point, see Stephen S. Smalley, “The Christ-Christian Relationship in Paul and John,” in Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce, ed. D. A. Hagner and M. J. Harris (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Exeter: Paternoster, 1980), 97-99.

501 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

502 Brown notes that in the Gospel of John both God and Christ can send or give the Spirit, as shown by comparing John 14:16 and 16:17 (The Epistles of John, 465).

503 Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 212) refers to the verb e[dwken (edwken) in 3:24 as a perfect, when in reality the form is aorist. Perhaps this oversight occurred because the verb is frequently translated into English as a perfect tense in this verse, as a result of tense sequencing requirements in English.

504 Neither is it likely that the sacraments (baptism and the eucharist) are alluded to here either, as suggested by Schnackenburg (The Johannine Epistles, 195). The “objective” nature of the Spirit’s role in assuring believers does not, for the author, depend on an external administration of a sacrament, but on the changed lifestyle (especially in the demonstration of love toward fellow believers) evidenced as a result of possession of the Spirit.

505 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 212.

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 4:1-6

    Structure

The present section, 4:1-6, is one of three units within the letter (the other two are 2:12-14 and 2:15-17) that virtually all interpreters would regard as a self-contained unit. The subject matter of each of these sections is so clearly distinguished from the surrounding context that there can be little doubt that each constitutes a separate unit of thought. I have yet to find a proposed division of 1 John that breaks 4:1-6 apart.506

This section does, however, contain two subdivisions: 4:1-3, introduced by =agaphtoiv (agaphtoi, “dear friends”) in 4:1, and 4:4-6, introduced by tekniva (teknia, “little children”) in 4:4.

    4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    Summary

Since possession of the Spirit he has given us (3:24) is a ground of assurance for the believer, it is important to test the spirits, because not every spirit is the Spirit of God (4:1-6). The second section (4:7-21) deals with the believer’s assurance of God’s love.

The false prophets are the opponents with their false christology who have gone out from the Christian community the author is addressing into the world. They are claiming to be inspired by the Spirit of God. The author of 1 John makes it clear, however, that not all spirits are from God, and so it is necessary to test the spirits to determine if they are from God. The test the author proposes is in the following verse (4:2).

    Exegetical Details

The referents of pneuvmati and pneuvmata in 4:1. In the previous verse, 1 John 3:24, the author tells the readers that one of the ways in which they may be assured that God “resides” in them is by the (Holy) Spirit which he has given to believers. Now, in a section closely tied to the preceding one, the author realizes the need for further qualification because the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit active in the world. Thus in 4:1 the readers are warned, “do not believe every spirit (pneuvmati, pneumati), but test the spirits (pneuvmata, pneumata) to determine if they are from God.” One could argue that the plural here indicates a reference to demonic or evil spirits behind the human prophets which inspire them. However, the primary contrast in 1 John is not between believers and multiple evil spirits, but between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit (4:6).507 The readers must be warned not to make the mistake of thinking that every spirit which influences human behavior is the Spirit of God. There are two spirits at work to influence human behavior, the Spirit of truth (toV pneu'ma th' ajlhqeiva [to pneuma ths alhqeias] in 4:6), that is, the Spirit of God, and the spirit of deceit (mentioned explicitly in 4:6 as toV pneu'ma th' plavnh [to pneuma ths planhs]), that is, the evil spiritual being known as Satan. The same opposition between these two spirits is found in the Gospel of John in 16:8-11, which describes the conflict between the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) and the “Ruler of this world” (Satan, the devil).

But while the author of 1 John views these two spirits as real entities which are at work in the world, their influence is evident in terms of its effect on human beings (note how the writer shifts easily from discussing the Spirits in 4:1-3 to addressing the readers and the opponents directly as “you” [uJmei', Jumeis] and “they” [aujtoiv, autoi] in 4:4-5). The Holy Spirit influences and motivates the human spirits of the believers in the community to which the author is writing, while the evil spirit of deceit influences and motivates the human spirits of the opponents with their false teaching.

The author’s use of dokimavzete (dokimazete, “test”) in 4:1. According to the third edition of the Bauer lexicon, the verb means “to make a critical examination of someth. to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.”508 Since in the second half of the present verse the author mentions “false prophets” who have “gone out into the world” it appears highly likely that his concept of testing the spirits is drawn from the Old Testament concept of testing a prophet to see whether he is a false prophet or a true one. The procedure for testing a prophet is found in Deut 13:2-6 and 18:15-22. An Old Testament prophet was to be tested on the basis of (1) whether or not his predictive prophecies came true (Deut 18:22) and (2) whether or not he advocated idolatry (Deut 13:1-3). In the latter case the people of Israel are warned that even if the prophet should perform an authenticating sign or wonder, his truth or falsity is still to be judged on the basis of his claims, i.e., whether or not he advocates idolatry.509

Here in 1 John the idea of “testing the spirits” comes closer to the second Old Testament example of “testing the prophets” mentioned above. According to 1 John 4:2-3, the spirits are to be tested on the basis of their christological confession: the person motivated by the Spirit of God will confess “Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh”; while the person motivated by the spirit of deceit will not confess “Jesus” and is therefore not from God. This comes somewhat closer to the idea expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 12:3 where the person speaking charismatic utterances is also to be judged on the basis of his christological confession: “So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

The identification of the false prophets who have gone out into the world in 4:1. It seems clear that the “false prophets” mentioned in 1 John 4:1 are the author’s opponents, since he has already labeled them “antichrists” in 2:18 and 2:22, and uses this same label again in 4:3.510 It is best to understand the adjective polloiv (polloi, “many”) as implying that there were a considerable number of opponents who withdrew from fellowship with the Christian community to which the author is writing. All the opponents, however (not just some of them), are viewed as “false prophets” here, because according to 4:3 and 4:6 the spirit that motivates every one of them is the spirit of deceit. In the author’s antithetical framework there are only two possible alternatives: either a person is motivated by the Spirit of God, in which case he is a genuine believer and belongs to the faithful Christian community to which the author is writing; or one is motivated by the spirit of deceit, in which case he belongs to the opponents, who are ‘false prophets’ because like the false prophet of Deut 13:1-3 they advocate a form of idolatry. As far as the author is concerned this ‘idolatry’ consists in their attempt to seduce others into adopting their heretical christological views while rejecting the apostolic testimony (1 John 1:1-4) about who Jesus is (4:2).

The description of the false prophets as having “gone out into the world” appears to be a direct reference to the secession of the opponents in 2:19 since the same verb (ejxevrcomai [exercomai], “to go out, to depart”) is used in both places. Not only that, but the same verb also occurs in John 13:30 as a description of the departure of Judas Iscariot, who in the Fourth Gospel is called “devil” by Jesus himself (John 6:70-71; cf. 13:2). To leave the author’s congregation and go out into the “world” is, in the framework of Johannine theology, a clear indication that the secessionists are viewed by the author as unsaved, since he warns the readers in 1 John 2:15-17 not to love the “world,” which is described as transitory rather than eternal (2:17), and in the Fourth Gospel when Jesus prays for the disciples, he specifically states that the “world” hates them (17:14) and they do not belong to it (17:14, 16).

    4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God,

    Summary

This is the test for the spirits: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God. Note that the test is both confessional (concerning what a person believes) and christological (concerning what a person believes about Jesus). Presumably the opponents would not be able to make this confession, since this is designed to test the truth or falsehood of their prophetic claims.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 4:2. Once again we must attempt to determine whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) refers to what precedes or to what follows. This occurrence falls into category (2) mentioned in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”511 There is no subordinating conjunction following the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) here in 4:2, so the phrase could refer either to what precedes or to what follows. Contextually the phrase refers to what follows, because the following clause in 4:2b-4:3a,512 while not introduced by a subordinating conjunction, does explain the preceding clause beginning with ejn touvtw/ (en toutw).513 In other words, the following clause in 4:2b-3a is analogous to a subordinate clause introduced by an epexegetical Jina or Joti, and the relationship can be represented in the English translation by a colon, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Most modern translations follow this approach and insert the colon.514

The meaning of the phrase oJmologei' =Ihsou'n CristoVn ejn sarkiV ejlhluqovta (Jomologei Ihsoun Criston en sarki elhluqota, literally “confess Jesus Christ in the flesh having come”) in 4:2. This forms part of the author’s christological confession which serves as a test of the spirits. Many interpreters have speculated that the author of 1 John is here correcting or adapting a slogan of the secessionist opponents, but there is no concrete evidence for this in the text. Such a possibility is mere conjecture.515 The phrase may be understood in a number of different ways, however: (1) the entire phrase “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” may be considered the single object of the verb oJmologei' (Jomologei, “confess”; so B. Westcott, A. Brooke, J. Bonsirven, R. Brown, S. Smalley, and others); (2) the verb oJmologei' (Jomologei, “confess”) may be followed by a double accusative of object-complement,516 so that “Jesus Christ” functions as object and the phrase “come in the flesh” as complement; the meaning would be “confess Jesus Christ as come in the flesh” (so B. Weiss, J. Chaine, and others). (3) A third possibility is to see the verb followed by a double accusative of object-complement as in (2), but in this case the object is “Jesus” and the complement is “[the] Christ come in the flesh,” so that what is being confessed is “Jesus as [the] Christ come in the flesh” (so N. Alexander, J. Stott, J. Houlden, and others).

All three options are grammatically possible, although not equally probable. Option (1) has a number of points in its favor: (a) the parallel in 2 John 7 suggests to some that the phrase should be understood as a single object; (b) option (2) makes “Jesus Christ” the name of the preincarnate second person of the Trinity, and this would be the only place in the Johannine literature where such a designation for the preincarnate Logo occurs; and (c) option (3) would have been clearer if Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”) had been accompanied by the Greek article (oJmologei' =Ihsou'n toVn CristoVn, Jomologei Ihsoun ton Criston).

Nevertheless I am inclined to prefer option (3) on the basis of the overall context involving the secessionist opponents: their christological views would allow the confession of “the Christ come in the flesh,”517 but they would have trouble confessing that Jesus was (exclusively) the Christ incarnate. It seems to me that the author’s failure to repeat the qualifying phrases (CristoVn ejn sarkiV ejlhluqovta, Criston en sarki elhluqota) in the negative repetition of the confession in 4:3a actually suggests that the stress is on Jesus as the component of the confession objected to by the opponents. I do not see how the parallel in 2 John 7 favors option (1), in spite of R. Brown’s assertion that it does.518 As for the objection that option (3) would have been clearer if the author had included the Greek article before Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”), one can hardly complain about the presence or absence of an article given the convoluted and obscure grammatical constructions the author has employed elsewhere in 1 John!

The related or parallel construction in John 9:22 (ejavn ti aujtoVn oJmologhvsh/ Cristovn, ean tis auton Jomologhsh Criston, “if anyone should confess him [to be the] Christ”) provides further support for option (3). This is discounted by Brown because the verb in John 9:22 occurs between the two accusative objects rather than preceding both as here – although Brown does mention Rom. 10:9 as another parallel closer in grammatical structure to 1 John 4:2).519 Brown does not mention the textual variants in John 9:22, however: both Ì66 and Ì75 (along with K, Ë13 and others) read oJmologhvsh/ aujtoVn Cristovn (Jomologhse auton Criston).520 This structure exactly parallels 1 John 4:2, and a good case could be made that this is actually the preferred reading in John 9:22; furthermore, it is clear from the context in John 9:22 that Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”) is the complement (what is predicated concerning the first accusative) since the object (the first accusative) is aujtovn (auton, “him”) rather than the proper name =Ihsou'n (Ihsoun, “Jesus”). The parallel in John 9:22 thus appears to me to be clearer than either 1 John 4:2 or 2 John 7. In fact, it proves useful in understanding both the latter constructions.

    4:3 but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, that you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.

    Summary

Since the spirit…not from God is unable to confess Jesus, this is where the opponents appear to have had their christological problems. Perhaps they could confess the Messiah come in the flesh, but could not connect this with Jesus. Many heresies and sects have begun by distorting who Jesus is. The author of 1 John identifies this false spirit with the spirit of the Antichrist. Earlier the author had called the opponents themselves antichrists (1 John 2:19). Now he says the false spirit behind them is the spirit of the Antichrist. It is important to note that behind the people are spirits who motivate them.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the kaiv (kai, translated by the NET Bible here as “but”) at the beginning of 4:3. The kaiv (kai) which begins 4:3 introduces the “negative side” of the test by which the spirits can be known in 4:2-3. Thus it is adversative (contrastive) in force: “…every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

The meaning of mhV oJmologei' toVn =Ihsou'n (mh Jomologei ton Ihsoun, “does not confess Jesus”) in 4:3. The omission of Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”) from the negative repetition of the confession in 4:3a is significant. According to our reconstruction of the opponents’ views, they would have had no difficulty confessing that the Christ (the Logo) had come in the flesh, since they appear to have based their soteriology on the fact of the incarnation, as reflected in the stress on the incarnation found in John 1:14. What they could not acknowledge was the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (including his sacrificial death on the cross), and this is precisely where the author of 1 John differed radically with them. Thus the opponents could have confessed the Christ come in the flesh (the incarnation), they could not have confessed Jesus, because they denied that there was any salvific significance to his earthly life and ministry.521 There is a textual variant in this verse which replaces the negated verb mhV oJmologei' (mh Jomologei) with luei (luei), which would mean in this context “to annul, to abolish.”522 However, the external (manuscript) evidence for this variant is extremely slim, because it is supported only by the Latin Vulgate and a few fathers, three of whom (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen) are mentioned in the margin of ms 1739. With such slender external support, it is very unlikely this represents the original reading.

The referent of pneu'ma (pneuma, “spirit”) in 4:3. “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus” in 4:3a refers to the spirit of deceit (cf. 4:6), that is, Satan, behind the opponents with their false christological confession. The opponents refused to confess the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.523

The referent of toV tou' ajnticrivstou (to tou anticristou, “the [spirit] of the Antichrist”) in 4:3. This is another reference to the spirit of deceit (cf. 4:6), this time referred to as “the [spirit] of the Antichrist.”524 This is the “spirit of the Antichrist” which the readers have heard about: the author has already announced that it is now at large in the world (2:18), and he will do so again in 2 John 7. R. Brown thinks the mention of the “spirit of the Antichrist” as “coming” (e[rcetai, ercetai) here in 4:3 is a word-play on the preceding description of Jesus as “come in the flesh” (ejlhluqovta, elhluqota) in 4:2.525 It seems much more probable, however, that this is an allusion to the Antichrist as “the prince who is to come” in Dan 9:26, who in the LXX is referred to as oJ hJgouvmeno oJ ejrcovmeno (Jo Jhgoumenos Jo ercomenos, “the coming prince” [or, “the prince who is coming”). The “spirit of the Antichrist,” that is, the motivating spirit behind the Antichrist, is Satan.

The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 4:3. The term kovsmo (kosmos) is understood to be neutral in its connotation here, meaning “the world of humanity,” the sphere in which the “spirit of the Antichrist” operates.526 It is true that later uses of the term kovsmo (kosmos) in this section (e.g., vv. 4, 5) are more negative in tone than the earlier ones in vv. 1, 3. However, it is just as possible to take all six references to kovsmo (kosmos) in vv. 1-5 as negative, referring to that which opposes God and his purposes. The so-called “false prophets,” by their secession from the Johannine Christian community (cf. 2:18-19) have gone into the “world” (4:1) and the “world” listens to them (4:5). In this way the antithetical contrast between the “world” of faith (the author’s readers) and the “world” of unbelief (the secessionist opponents) becomes clear (cf. 2 John 7).527

    4:4 You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

    Summary

The author now gives reassurance to his readers (whom he addresses yet again as little children) that they are victorious over the opponents (have conquered them), because the Holy Spirit (the one who is in you) is greater than the spirit of the Antichrist (the one who is in the world).

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the authors inclusion of uJmei' (Jumeis, “you”) in 4:4. The author’s use of uJmei' (Jumeis) at the beginning of 4:4 signals both emphasis and contrast. The author is now contrasting the readers, whom he regards as genuine believers,528 with the opponents (aujtouv [autous, “them”]) who are not. But there is also an emphatic shift from reference to the spirits (the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit, cf. 1 John 4:6) in 4:1-3 to the people whom those respective spirits influence and control: the readers, as God’s children, are motivated by the Spirit of God; the opponents, as children of the devil (cf. 3:10), are motivated by the spirit of the Antichrist (4:3), that is, Satan.

The significance of the perfect tense nenikhvkate (nenikhkate, “have conquered”) in 4:4. Here the perfect tense looks not only at a decisive victory won in the past over the secessionist opponents, but at the results of that victory continuing in the present.529 The immediate context here suggests that more emphasis is on the existing results than on the past completed action, although if one sees a more polemical tone to the present section one might argue for somewhat more emphasis on the past completed action.

The referent of aujtouv (autous, “them”) in 4:4. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the author of 1 John has shifted the emphasis in 4:4 from the spirits themselves to the people whom they motivate, influence, and control. While the author’s readers are motivated by the Spirit of God, the opponents, the secessionists with their heterodox christology who withdrew from the Christian community to which 1 John is addressed (2:19), are motivated by Satan, known in this context as the spirit of deceit (cf. 4:6). Thus aujtouv (autous, “them”) refers to the opponents, and the author tells his readers that they have “conquered” these opponents, just as in 2:13-14 the author assured the readers that they had conquered the “evil one” (a reference to Satan) who is viewed in the present context as the motivating spirit behind the opponents.530 The basis for the author’s assertion of victory, “because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” is not mere empty boasting, but is consistent with his earlier statements about believers being “from God” (4:2; also 3:1-2) and God residing in believers (2:5-6; 3:24).531 This is still true even if the Spirit of God is the primary referent here rather than God himself, since in Johannine theology there is considerable interchange of function between Father, Son, and Spirit as far as the believer is concerned.

The referents of the first and second uses of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo, translated both times by the NET Bible as “the one who”) in 4:4. Some interpreters have taken the first use of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo) to refer to Jesus or to God the Father because of the Johannine emphasis on Jesus or God “residing” in the believer.532 Significantly, however, the verb mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) is not used here. In context the contrast is clearly between the Spirit of truth, that is, the Holy Spirit, and the spirit of deceit, that is, Satan (cf. 4:6). Thus it seems clear that when the author mentions “the one who is in you” in speaking to the readers, he is referring to the Spirit of God.533 Likewise, the second occurrence of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo) refers to “the one who is in the world,” a reference to the spirit of deceit, that is, Satan.

Regarding the conflict portrayed here between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error, Smalley noted,

    If the thought of this v, with its allusion to the battle between spiritual truth and error, God and the evil one, grazes the edge of dualism, this dualism is ethical and not cosmic…Jewish and not Greek. For John is in no doubt about the ultimate outcome of the conflict (“he in you is more powerful”; cf. further v 6; 5:4-5; Rev 5:5; 12:11; 17:14).534

    4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them.

    Summary

In 4:1 the author insisted the opponents, who were characterized as false prophets, had gone out into the world. Now he asserts the opponents are from the world. This determines their perspective and also ensures that the world pays attention to them. Compare John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.”

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the pronoun aujtoiv (autoi, “they”) in 4:5. In contrast to uJmei' (Jumeis, “you”) at the beginning of 1 John 4:4 which refers to the readers, the author speaks of the opponents here as aujtoiv (autoi, “they”). While the author’s readers are regarded as believers (note “you are of God,” 4:4a), the opponents are regarded as unbelievers. Confirmation of this is provided here by their association with “the world”: they are “of the world” (ejk tou' kovsmou eijsivn, ek tou kosmou eisin). From the author’s perspective the departure of the opponents from the believing community (1 John 2:19) demonstrated that they never had been genuine Christians, but had been guilty of a false profession all along. Thus they belong to the world, and when they speak the world listens to them because they are its own.

The significance of the statement in 4:5 that the world listens to them.” The “world” pays attention to the message of the secessionist opponents because, as Stott observed, their message “originates in its own circle.”535 The Pharisees complained about the success of Jesus in gathering a following in similar terms (John 12:19): “Look, the world has run off after him!” R. Brown, S. Smalley, and R. Schnackenburg see in the author’s comment about the opponents here (“the world listens to them”) a hint that the opponents may be enjoying greater success than the faithful believers to whom the author is writing.536 This may be so, but there is not enough information in the context to be sure.537 The author’s primary interest in the opponents is the disastrous effect they could have on the believing community to which he is writing; their relative success in the world at large is of secondary interest to him at best.

    4:6 We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

    Summary

Now the author introduces another way to test the spirits: We are of God is inclusive, referring to the author and the faithful Christians who have held fast to the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is. Whoever is not from God refers to the opponents, who are refusing to listen to the apostolic testimony about Jesus.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:6. It is difficult to isolate the extent of the author’s intended reference by his use of the pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:6. (1) This could be a distinctive (or exclusive) use of “we” by which the author refers specifically to himself and the other apostolic eyewitnesses as guardians of the truth concerning the eyewitness testimony to the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, as emphasized in the prologue (1:1-4).538 In this case the meaning is, “We apostolic witnesses are from God, and the person who knows God (the true Christian) listens to us….” (2) But it is also possible that by the use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) here the author intends to include himself with his readers and all genuine Christians, as over against the heterodox opponents with their false christology.539 This would mean, “We (all of us true Christians) are from God, and the person who knows God (the true Christian) listens to us….” R. Brown thinks it more likely that a nondistinctive use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) is involved here (the second option above), where the writer does not single himself and the other apostolic eyewitnesses out from among the rest of Christianity.540 Partly this is because Brown does not see the author of 1 John himself as an eyewitness of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, but a member of the community to which he is writing,541 although in fairness it must be noted that the contrast with the opponents (“they”) in the previous verse supports an inclusive use of “we” here to refer to both the author and his readers.

It is also possible to see a distinctive use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) here (the first option mentioned above), similar to the prologue’s emphasis on the (apostolic) eyewitness testimony to the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. This may provide sufficient justification for the author (whom I understand to be one of those eyewitnesses) to distinguish himself from the members of the community to which he writes. The author would be, in effect, stating his apostolic authority here when he says “the person who knows God listens to us,” because he, as an apostle – a delegated successor whom Jesus himself appointed to carry on the ministry after his departure and return to the Father – can echo Jesus’ own words in John 10:27, “my sheep listen to my voice.”542 In other words, those who are genuine believers will pay attention to the apostolic testimony about Jesus, and those who are not (the opponents) will ignore it.

The referent of the phrase ejk touvtou (ek toutou, “by this”) in 4:6. This phrase, which occurs only here in the Johannine corpus but bears obvious similarity to the much more common phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”),543 must refer to what precedes, since there is nothing in the following context for it to relate to, and 4:1-6 is recognized by almost everyone as a discrete unit. There is still a question, however, of what in the preceding context the phrase refers to. Interpreters have suggested a reference only to 4:6, to 4:4-6, or to all of 4:1-6.544 The latter seems most likely, because the present phrase forms an inclusion with the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:24 which introduces the present section. Thus “by this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” refers to all of 4:1-6 with its “test” of the spirits by the christological confession made by their adherents in 4:1-3 and with its emphasis on the authoritative (apostolic) eyewitness testimony to the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in 4:4-6.

The identification of the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit mentioned in 4:6. Although some interpreters have regarded the “spirits” in 4:6 as human spirits, it appears abundantly clear in the context that (while 4:1a is ambiguous and might refer either to human spirits or spiritual beings who influence people) the author sees behind the opponents and their false christology the spirit of the Antichrist, that is, Satan (4:3b), at work, and behind the true believers of the community to which he is writing, the Spirit of God (4:2). This is made clear in 4:4 by the reference to the respective spirits as “the one who is in you” (oJ ejn uJmi'n, Jo en Jumin) and “the one who is in the world” (oJ ejn tw'/ kovsmw/, Jo en tw kosmw).545 In the final analysis this may be another instance of Johannine ambiguity, and it is really only a question of whether the human agents who speak are in view first, or the spiritual beings who exert influence over them.


506 See the discussion of major divisions in 1 John in the previous section “Structure and Purpose of 1 John.”

507 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 61-62, and Marshall, The Epistles of John, 204, n. 3. A similar contrast between the “spirit of truth” and the “spirit of falsehood” (corresponding to light and darkness respectively) can be seen in the Qumran literature in 1QS 3:18; 4:23. On this contrast see also Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 106, and Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 283, n. 2. This is not to suggest direct links between 1 John and Qumran; their antithetical or dualistic outlooks may be similar but are not identical.

508 BDAG 255 s.v. dokimavzw 1.

509 Note that in the concluding verse of the letter (1 John 5:21) the author warns his readers against idolatry.

510 Cf. Smalley, who summarizes, “The ‘false prophets’ who have ‘defected into the world’ are undoubtedly the heretical members of John’s congregation who have spearheaded a secession from the community…and a direct reference to this ‘defection’ has already been made in 2:18-19” (1, 2, 3 John, 219).

511 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

512 I.e., “Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

513 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 220.

514 So, for example, neb, nasb, niv, nrsv, nlt, esv, NET Bible, tniv.

515 Note Brown’s comment: “Too often scholars have been distracted by speculating that there was a somewhat similar secessionist slogan which the author corrected in order to achieve the present wording” (The Epistles of John, 492).

516 See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 188, n. 41. Wallace lists John 9:22; 1 John 4:2; and 2 John 7 as examples of the verb oJmologevw (Jomologew, “I confess”) taking a double accusative of object and complement.

517 Perhaps in the sense of the Spirit indwelling believers, although this is hard to prove.

518 Brown, The Epistles of John, 492. It is difficult to see how the use of the present participle in 2 John 7 instead of the perfect participle in 1 John 4:2 would contribute to option (1), and the same can be said for the relocated prepositional phrase ejn sarkiV (en sarki).

519 Brown, The Epistles of John, 493.

520 The order of the Greek words is different. In the textual variant found in Ì66 and Ì75 (along with other mss) both object and complement follow the verb, as in 1 John 4:2.

521 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John,” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents. Smalley made an important observation: “John is not discussing the contrast between faith and unbelief; he is condemning those heretical beliefs, within and beyond his community, which amount to a determined and antichristian rebellion against God (v 3b)” (1, 2, 3 John, 223).

522 BDAG 607 s.v. luvw 4.

523 See also the discussion in the previous paragraph.

524 In the Greek text pneu'ma [pneuma, “spirit”] is elided and must be supplied. Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 224). According to Westcott, the omission of pneu'ma may be the author’s way of generalizing the allusion to the figure of the Antichrist (The Epistles of St. John, 143). Marshall saw the omission as a device to prevent any suggestion that there is a “spirit” of antichrist comparable to the Spirit of God (The Epistles of John, 208, n. 12).

525 Brown, The Epistles of John, 496. The lexical form of both these verbs is the same (ejrcomai, ercomai).

526 Cf. Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 104; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 209, n. 18. See also the discussion of the meaning of kovsmo (kosmos) in 2:15.

527 See also Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 178-82, esp. 179, n. 51.

528 Note the use of tekniva (teknia, “little children”), a term of endearment, to address them.

529 Cf. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 109-110.

530 Bultmann compares the “triumphal self-consciousness” of the author’s community implicit here with that expressed in the first part of 1 John 3:14 (The Johannine Epistles, 63).

531 See Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 132-33; cf. also Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 100.

532 Haas (A Translator’s Handbook, 104) saw a reference to God the Father here, while Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 144) thought the relative pronoun referred to Christ. For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

533 So Stott, The Epistles of John, 157, and Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 110. Smalley, on the other hand, saw a combined reference to God as Father, Son, and Spirit based on the trinitarian character of this section, especially v. 3 (1, 2, 3 John, 227)

534 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 227.

535 Stott, The Epistles of John, 157.

536 Brown, The Epistles of John, 498; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 228; Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 204-205.

537 Georg Strecker argued that seeing in 1 John 4:5 a comment about the degree of success enjoyed by the opponents amounted to an overestimation of the possibility of obtaining historical information from the text (The Johannine Letters, 139). He may well be right.

538 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 115, and Stott, The Epistles of John, 157-58, who see the referents of the “we” here as differentiated from the Christian readers of the letter in general.

539 So Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 288, n. 10; cf. also Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 64, n. 15. Haas (A Translator’s Handbook, 104) expresses a preference for this inclusive sense of “we,” although he acknowledges that it may be exclusive instead.

540 Brown states, “A decision between the distinctive and nondistinctive use of ‘we’ is difficult here, but overall I am inclined toward the latter” (The Epistles of John, 499).

541 Brown did not hold to apostolic authorship of 1 John.

542 Even if one does not hold that the Apostle John wrote 1 John, it is still evident from the context that the author is claiming to have apostolic authority in the confrontation with the secessionist opponents: he places himself among the apostles to bolster his arguments against the teaching of the opponents. It seems to me, however, that it is simpler to regard the author himself as one of those eyewitnesses he describes in 1:1-4.

543 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

544 Dodd preferred to see the phrase referring not just to v. 6, but to the christological confession in vv. 2-3 as well (The Johannine Epistles, 102). Smalley allowed that the phrase referred to v. 6, but stated further that “an allusion to the earlier test (a proper acknowledgment of Jesus, vv 2-3) is almost certainly in view as well” (1, 2, 3 John, 230).

545 See the sections “The referents of pneuvmati and pneuvmata in 4:1” and “The referents of the first and second uses of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo) in 4:4” above for further discussion.

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 4:7-5:4a

    Structure

This section contains a number of subsections, but not all of them are readily agreed on by interpreters. Both 1 John 4:7 and 4:11 begin with the author addressing the readers as =agaphtoiv (agaphtoi, “dear friends”), so 4:7-10 appears to be a discrete unit, with 4:11 marking the beginning of another unit. The ending of the second subsection and the remaining subsections of the unit are far from clear, however. Because of the importance that the theme “God is love” has for the second half of the letter, I am inclined to end the second subdivision with 4:16a, and begin the third subsection with the author’s declaration in 4:16b, “God is love” (a theme resumed from 4:8). A likely candidate for the beginning of the fourth (and final) subsection is the author’s hypothetically-worded statement aimed at the opponents in 4:20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet hates his fellow Christian…,” which with its introductory formula ejavn ti ei[ph/ (ean tis eiph, “if anyone says”) is reminiscent of 1:6, 8, and 10. This is less clear as a subdivision, however, and it is easy to see how 4:19 could fit with what precedes or with what follows; it is obviously another of the author’s “hinge” verses which mark the transition from one thought to another, but it is not entirely clear to which subsection it should be assigned.

    4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.

    Summary

The author, addressing his readers as Dear friends, now returns to the theme of loving one another, the major theme of the second half of the letter. By everyone who loves, the author means those who love fellow Christians sacrifically, as Jesus loved us (1 John 3:16).

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “because”) in 4:7. This Joti is causal, giving the reason why the readers, as believers, ought to love one another: because love comes from God.546 The statement implies that love (the genuine love that is the topic of discussion here) has its source in God.547 The next clause, introduced by the conjunction kaiv (kai, “and”), does not give a second reason (i.e., is not related to the Joti-clause), but introduces a second and additional thought: everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God.

The significance of the pa' oJ (pas Jo, “everyone who”) + participle construction in 4:7. As in 1 John 2:23 and 3:4, the author uses pa' (pas) with the present articular participle as a generalization to describe a category of people.548 From the author’s antithetical (“either/or”) perspective, which tends to see things in terms of polar opposites, the use of such a generalization presents a way of categorizing the opponents on the one hand and the readers, whom the author regards as genuine Christians, on the other. “Everyone who loves” refers to all genuine Christians, who give evidence by their love for one another that they have indeed been fathered by God and are thus God’s children. It is clear from 1 John 3:23 that the command to show love to fellow Christians is predicated upon belief in Jesus Christ, so that love is the effect rather than the cause of the spiritual birth spoken of here.549 The opposite situation is described in the following verse, 4:8, where (although pa' [pas, “everyone”] is omitted) it is clear that a contrast is intended.550

The meaning of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “I beget, I father”) in 4:7. The verb gennavw (gennaw) in this context means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The bold imagery the author uses is that of the male parent who fathers children.551 We have encountered this imagery before in 1 John 3:9 using the same verb as here.

    4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

    Summary

Once again, one’s behavior toward fellow Christians serves as an indication for the author whether or not one has come to know God. Since God is love, those who truly know him will reflect that love toward fellow members of the Christian community. Compare 1 John 3:17.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of oJ mhV ajgapw'n (Jo mh agapwn, “the person who does not love”) in 4:8. This construction is the opposite of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 4:7b.552 There the phrase pa' oJ ajgapw'n (pas Jo agapwn, “everyone who loves”) was a generalization referring to every genuine Christian: everyone who loves his fellow Christian gives evidence by his love for his fellow believers that he has indeed been fathered by God and is thus God’s child. In contrast, the person who does not love (oJ mhV ajgapw'n, Jo mh agapwn, in 4:8) does not know God, and thus is not really a genuine believer, no matter what he or she might claim. This is in context most likely a reference to the opponents, who (in the author’s opinion) have demonstrated by their failure to love their fellow believers that they are not genuine Christians. The only specific moral fault the author ever charges his opponents with in the letter is failure to show love for fellow Christians when they are in need (1 John 3:17).

The meaning of the famous statement in 4:8, God is love.” The author proclaims in 4:8 oJ qeoV ajgavph ejstivn (Jo qeos agaph estin, “God is love”), but from a grammatical standpoint this is not a proposition in which subject and predicate nominative are interchangeable (“God is love” does not equal “love is God”). The predicate noun is anarthrous, as it is in two other Johannine formulas describing God, “God is light” in 1 John 1:5 and “God is Spirit” in John 4:24. The anarthrous predicate suggests a qualitative force, not a mere abstraction, so that a quality of God’s character is what is described here. C. H. Dodd explained the difference between saying “God is love” and merely “God loves” this way:

    The latter statement might stand alongside other statements, such as ‘God creates,’ ‘God rules,’ ‘God judges’; that is to say, it means that love is one of His activities. But to say ‘God is love’ implies that all His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, which is—to love. The theological consequences of this principle are far-reaching.553

Because this is so, because all God’s activity is loving activity and involves the expression of love, the author of 1 John can rightly conclude that the person who does not love must not know God. If they did, they would act in love, because all God’s activity is loving activity. Once more, as so often in 1 John, conduct is the clue to paternity.

    4:9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him.

    Summary

God’s love is revealed in believers through his giving of his Son (compare John 3:16). It is through the Son that believers may have life.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 4:9. Once again there is the problem of determining whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what precedes or to what follows. This is the first of five uses of the phrase in the present section: 1 John 4:9, 10, 13, 17, and 5:2. In this case (as also in the next two instances) the construction fits category (1) as explained in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”554 There is a Joti-clause following which is related and which explains (i.e., which is epexegetical to) the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw). Thus the meaning here is, “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him.”

The force of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 4:9. In terms of syntax the force of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou) may be objective, subjective, or both.555 In this case the epexegetical Joti-clause which follows makes it clear that this is a subjective genitive, emphasizing God’s love for us rather than our love for God, because it describes God’s action in sending his Son into the world.

The meaning of the phrase ejn hJmi'n (en Jhmin, “in us”) in 4:9. This phrase is best understood as the equivalent of a dative of sphere, but this description does not specify where the love of God is revealed with regard to believers: “in our midst” (i.e., among us) or “within us” (i.e., internally within believers).556 The latter is more likely, because in the context the concept of God’s indwelling of the believer is mentioned in 4:12: “God resides in us….”

The meaning of monogenh' (monogenhs, “one and only”) in 4:9. Although this Greek word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship.557 The word in Greek was used of an only child, either a son (Luke 7:12; 9:38) or a daughter (Luke 8:42). It was also used of something unique (the only one of its kind) such as the mythological bird known as the Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2).558 From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 1.222) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus alone in the Johannine literature of the New Testament.559 While all Christians are children of God (tevkna qeou', tekna qeou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).

The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 4:9. The word kovsmo (kosmos) is used both neutrally and negatively in the Johannine literature.560 In formulas like this one, which echoes John 3:16 and speaks of God sending his Son to be the Savior of the world, the term is used in a neutral sense rather than a negative one (cf. the use in 1 John 4:14 where it is explicitly stated that “the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world”).561

    4:10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

    Summary

The author reminds his readers that real love comes from God, and we cannot love God except that he loved us first and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The initiative in this outreach lies with God.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “in this”) at the beginning of 4:10. Once again there is the (by now familiar) problem of determining the referent of this phrase. This use, like the one in the previous verse, fits category (1) of the uses of ejn touvtw/ in 1 John as described earlier.562 There are two Joti-clauses which follow, both of which are epexegetical (explanatory) to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) and explain what the love of God consists of: first, stated negatively, “not that we have loved God,” and then positively, “but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”563 The two Joti-clauses reinforce each other.564

The meaning of iJlasmov (Jilasmos, “atoning sacrifice”) in 4:10. Inherent in the meaning of this Greek word is the idea of turning away the divine wrath, so that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent.565 God’s love for us is expressed in his sending his Son to be the propitiation (the propitiatory sacrifice) for our sins on the cross.566 This is an indirect way for the author to allude to one of the main points of his controversy with the opponents: the significance for believers’ salvation of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including especially his sacrificial death on the cross.567 The opponents apparently saw little salvific significance in Jesus’ earthly career, including his death; as far as the author of 1 John is concerned, what Jesus did during his incarnation was absolutely indispensable.

The relationship of the two Joti-clauses in 4:10 to the authors argument. As explained above in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “in this”) at the beginning of 4:10,” the two Joti-clauses are epexegetical to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) which begins the verse. What is important (as far as the author is concerned) is not whether we love God (or say that we love God – a claim of the opponents is probably behind this), but that God has loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning (propitiatory) sacrifice which removes believers’ sins. This latter point is similar to the point made in 2:2 and is at the heart of the author’s dispute with the opponents, because they were apparently denying any salvific value to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross.568

    4:11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another.

    Summary

Once more the author of 1 John addresses his readers as Dear friends.569 If God took the initiative in so loving us, we also ought to take the initiative in showing love for one another. God’s example of self-giving, sacrificial love – the giving of his own Son – serves as the model for believers to follow in loving one another.

    Exegetical Details

The conditional sentence in 4:11. This is a first-class conditional sentence with eij (ei, “if”) + aorist indicative in the protasis. Reality is assumed for the sake of argument with a first-class condition,570 and the author here assumes the reality of the protasis, which his readers, as genuine believers, would also be expected to agree with: assuming that God has loved believers in this way, it follows that believers ought to love one another. God’s act of love in sending his Son into the world to be the atoning (propitiatory) sacrifice for our sins ought to motivate us as believers to love one another in a similar sacrificial fashion. The author has made the same point already in 1 John 3:16, so this is not a new assertion in the context of 1 John. Nevertheless, the protasis of the conditional sentence here bears a strong resemblance to John 3:16 as well, especially with the use of o{utw (Joutws, “so,” “in this way”).

The significance of the statement in the apodosis, we also ought to love one another.” We might have expected the author to say that the proper response to God’s love for believers (as shown in the giving of his Son, v. 10) is for believers to love God in return. Such reciprocity may be implied, but the author emphasizes instead the necessity of believers showing love for one another. In the previous paragraph we mentioned that the author has already pointed out to his readers that Jesus, in light of his sacrificial love for them demonstrated in his death on the cross, set an example for believers to follow – an example of sacrificial love for one another. Just as in 1 John 3:16 and 2:6, the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love puts the Christian under obligation to love one’s fellow Christian in the same way.571 But this is just what the opponents were not doing: in 3:17 the author charged them with refusing to love their fellow members of the community by their withholding of needed material assistance. Thus, by their failure to love their fellow members of the Christian community sacrificially according to the example set by Jesus, the opponents have demonstrated again the falsity of their claims to love God and to know God (cf. 2:9).

The author’s use of the verb ojfeivlomen (ofeilomen, “we ought”) here indicates that he views mutual love on the part of Christians as a duty. As Dodd observed, the command for Christians to love one another is not an optional extra.572 Instead, it is an integral part of normative Christian experience and cannot be dispensed with.573

    4:12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    Summary

Since no one has seen God at any time, how is it possible for believers to know that God resides in them? When believers love one another sacrificially the way God loved us (1 John 4:10) and Christ loved us (1 John 3:16) we have assurance that God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the authors claim in 4:12, no one has seen God at any time.” This claim is made three times in the Gospel of John (1:18, 5:37, and 6:46) and is repeated in 1 John 4:20.574 In spite of this in John 14:9 Jesus seemed to contradict this when he told his disciples, “The person who has seen me has seen the Father.” This is said in light of Jesus’ revelation to the disciples of who the Father is and what he is like through Jesus’ own self-revelation during his earthly life and ministry. But it is still true that no human being has ever seen God as God is; Jesus’ revelation of the Father in his own life and actions is not exactly the same as seeing God himself. According to 1 John 3:2 the ability to see God (just as he is) is promised to believers as something still future.575 The strength of the author’s denial here that anyone has yet seen God may well be a polemic response to a direct claim of the opponents to have ‘seen’ God; other claims of the opponents are alluded to in 4:8a (to have ‘known’ God) and 4:10a (to have ‘loved’ God).576 This is further supported by the author’s previous statements in 3:6, where he linked the concepts of ‘seeing’ God and ‘knowing’ God together.577

The meaning of the phrase God resides (mevnei, menei) in us in 4:12. This is a reference to the permanent relationship which God has with the believer. Here it refers specifically to God’s indwelling of the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, as indicated by 4:13b.578 The author does not mean here that God’s indwelling of believers (or the completion of his love in believers, see the following phrase) is contingent on the love of Christians. Rather, Christians love because God resides in them, not the reverse.579

The meaning of the phrase his [Gods] love is perfected (teteleiwmevnh ejstivn, teteleiwmenh estin) in us in 4:12. First it is necessary to decide whether the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “his,” referring to God) is subjective (= God’s love for us) or objective (= our love for God). A subjective genitive, stressing God’s love for us, appears more likely here, because the immediate context, 4:11a, speaks of believers as the objects of God’s love (“if God so loved us”).580 The entire phrase “his love is perfected in us” then refers to what happens when believers love one another (note the protasis of the conditional sentence in 4:12, “if we love one another”). The love that comes from God, the love that he has for us, reaches perfection in our love for others, which is what God wants and what believers are commanded to do (cf. 3:23b).581

    4:13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.

    Summary

The first ground of assurance (we know) mentioned by the author is the indwelling Holy Spirit (he has given us of his Spirit). Compare the similar statement in 1 John 3:24b. The phrase we reside in God and he in us refers to the mutual relationship between God and the Christian.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 4:13. Again the referent of the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is a problem. There are two Joti-clauses which follow. The first is an indirect discourse clause related to the verb ginwvskomen (ginwskomen, “we know”) and giving the content of what believers know: “that we reside in God and he in us.”582 The second Joti-clause is either (1) epexegetical or explanatory to the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase, explaining how believers know that they reside in God and God remains in them: “in that he has given us of his Spirit,” or (2) causal following the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) phrase, explaining the reason why believers know that they reside in God and God remains in them: “because he has given us of his Spirit.”583 Most interpreters seem to prefer the causal sense based on the way they translate the phrase, even if their explanation is somewhat looser: Marshall translates the second Joti-clause “because” but then states, “Our knowledge that we have this relationship with God arises from the fact that he has given us a share in the Spirit.”584 In any case, this occurrence of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) fits category (1) as described in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”585 According to the author of 1 John, the Father’s giving of the Holy Spirit to indwell the Christian is one means of providing assurance to the Christian of the genuineness of his/her relationship to God. This was also stated in 1 John 3:24b in essentially identical terms.

The meaning of the phrase ejk tou' pneuvmato aujtou' (ek tou pneumatos autou, “of his Spirit”) in 4:13. As mentioned in the previous section, it is the Father’s giving of the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer which provides assurance to the believer of his or her relationship to God. The genitive here, like the phrase in 1 John 3:24, probably reflects a partitive nuance, so that the author portrays God as ‘apportioning’ his Spirit to individual believers.586 This leads to the important observation that the author is not particularly interested in emphasizing the ongoing interior witness of the Holy Spirit (which is what the passage is often understood to mean) but is emphasizing the fact that God has given his Spirit to believers, and it is this fact that gives believers assurance of their relationship to God.587 In other words, it is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been given to believers, rather than some ongoing interior testimony of the Holy Spirit within the believer, which is the primary source of the believer’s assurance according to this passage.

    4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

    Summary

Possession of God’s Spirit (v. 13) leads one to testify to what God the Father has done through his Son, who was sent to be the Savior of the world.588 This expression recalls the testimony of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, which led to the same confession about Jesus by the Samaritans (John 4:42).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:14. In the section “The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, ‘we’) in 4:6” above we discussed whether the author’s use of the first person plural pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis) was an exclusive use, in which the author wished to set himself and the other apostolic eyewitnesses in contrast to the readers, or an inclusive use, by which the author intended to include with himself the readers of the letter and ultimately with all genuine Christians. The same question can be raised here. This could be an exclusive use of the pronoun referring specifically to the author and the company of apostolic eyewitnesses to which he belongs, since the language used here (teqeavmeqa kaiV marturou'men, teqeameqa kai marturoumen, “we have seen and testify”) recalls the emphasis on the apostolic eyewitness testimony in the prologue (1:1-4).589 But the author appears to be speaking of more than physical sight here, because in context what is ‘seen’ is that “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14b, cf. John 4:42). Thus the author probably intends to include the readers in the reference here, as genuine Christians who are holding fast to the apostolic testimony: they themselves are able to testify to the salvific role of the Son (unlike the opponents, who cannot do so). Thus this use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”), like the other first person plural pronouns in 4:11-13, is probably best understood as an inclusive use and refers to both the author and the readers (as well as all genuine believers).590

The syntactical relationship of swth''ra (swthra, “savior”) to uiJovn (Juion, “son”) in 4:14. Swth'ra (swthra, “savior”) is the object complement of uiJovn (Juion, “son”) in a double accusative construction in 4:14, so there is an understood equative verb joining the two, with the resultant meaning “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” The term Swth'ra (swthra, “savior”) occurs only here in the Johannine letters, and also occurs only once in the Fourth Gospel, in John 4:42, in a phrase that is directly parallel. The title “savior” was also used in the Roman imperial cult.591 It has been suggested that the Christian use of the term to refer to Jesus developed as a response in opposition to this usage.592

    4:15 If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God.

    Summary

The second ground of assurance mentioned by the author is confessing that Jesus is the Son of God. Compare 1 John 3:23a. The statement God resides in him and he in God again refers to the mutual relationship between God and the Christian.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the confession in 4:15, Jesus is the Son of God, in terms of the authors argument. It seems clear from the reference to God’s giving of his Spirit as an accomplished fact in 4:13b and from the reference to God’s indwelling of the believer in 4:15b (the second half of the present verse) that the confession introduced by the author in 4:15a, that “Jesus is the Son of God,” is a confession which constitutes the one who makes it a believer.593 We might suspect it is particularly aimed at the author’s opponents, and is in fact something the opponents would not or could not say. The author’s use of the Greek article oJ (Jo, “the”) with the phrase uiJoV tou' qeou' (Juios tou qeou, “Son of God”) implies that the problem is not with the predicate, “Son of God,” but with the subject, “Jesus”: whether Jesus was in fact in this relationship to God or not. The opponents would probably have been forced to deny that he was.594

The meaning of the expression “God resides in him and he in God” in 4:15. On this typically Johannine statement with its reciprocity, see the similar phrase in 3:24, where the reciprocal concept of mutual indwelling with respect to God and the believer is introduced in 1 John for the first time. For the meaning of the verb mevnw (menw, “I reside”), see the discussion at its first occurrence in the letter in 2:6. Law did not think the reversal of order of the two clauses (“God…in him and he in God”) compared with 4:13 is of any particular significance here.595

    4:16 And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him.

    Summary

The third ground of assurance the author mentions is showing love to fellow believers. When a believer shows love toward another believer, this provides assurance to the first believer that he or she resides in God and likewise, that God resides in him or her. Although a number of commentators view v. 16 as separate from the preceding context,596 Stott argued for a clear progression of thought in vv. 13, 15, 16: Believers know that they reside in God, and he in them, because of the presence of his Spirit (v. 13); believers know that God has granted them to share in his Spirit because they acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son (v. 15) and because they show love for fellow believers (= “resides in love,” v. 16).597

    Exegetical Details

The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:16a. The author’s use of the first person plural pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) here is almost certainly inclusive, including the author himself, the readers, and all genuine Christians as contrasted to the opponents.598

The meaning of the verbs ejgnwvkamen (egnwkamen, “we have come to know”) and pepisteuvkamen (pepisteukamen, “[we have come] to believe”) in 4:16. Both verbs are perfect tense, implying a past action with existing results. In this case the past action is specified as the recognition of (ejgnwvkamen, egnwkamen) and belief in (pepisteuvkamen, pepisteukamen) “the love that God has in us”. But what is the relationship between the two verbs ginwvskw (ginwskw, “I know”) and pisteuvw (pisteuw, “I believe”)? Some interpreters see a different nuance in the two verbs. But in the Gospel of John these two verbs frequently occur together in the same context, often in the same tense; examples are found in John 6:69, 8:31-32, 10:38, 14:7-10, and 17:8. They also occur together in one other context in 1 John, 4:1-2. Of these John 6:69, Peter’s confession, is the closest parallel to the usage here: “We have come to believe (pepisteuvkamen, pepisteukamen) and to know (ejgnwvkamen, egnwkamen) that you are the Holy One of God.” Here the order of “knowing” and “believing” is reversed from 1 John 4:16, but an examination of the other examples from the Gospel of John makes it clear that there is no difference in meaning when the order of the terms is reversed. It appears that the author considered both terms to describe a single composite action.599 Thus they represent a hendiadys which describes an act of faith/belief/trust on the part of the individual; knowledge (true knowledge) is an inseparable part of this act of faith as far as John is concerned.

The force of the preposition ejn (en, “in”) in the phrase ejn hJmi'n (en Jhmin, “in us”) in 4:16a. Although “for” (in the sense of “on behalf of”) is possible and is a common English translation,600 the other uses of the same phrase in 1 John 4:9 (where it refers to God’s love for us) and 4:12 (where it refers to God’s indwelling of the believer) suggest that the author intends to emphasize interiority here – a reference to God’s love expressed in believers. This is confirmed by the uses in 1 John 3:15 and 5:10, the only other uses in 1 John of the verb e[cw (ecw, “I have”) with the preposition ejn (en, “in”), both of which literally refer to something ‘in’ someone. Beyond this (and even more significant in my view) there is the use of the preposition preposition ejn (en, “in”) in the second part of the present verse to describe God “residing in” the believer, where interiority is clearly in view.

The relationship of 4:16b to the context. This is a restatement or “echo” of 1 John 4:13 and 4:15b which emphasizes the mutual indwelling of God and the believer. The statement here relates this theme of mutual indwelling to the author’s assertion in 4:8 that “God is love.”601 It is much debated whether 1 John 4:16b should be seen as the beginning of a new paragraph.602 In support of a continuation of the previous paragraph, it is argued that the reciprocal concepts of God’s love for believers (4:16a) and believers’ expression of that love (4:16b) belong together and are complementary.603 Furthermore, the repetition of the formula concerning mutual (reciprocal) indwelling, which previously appeared in vv. 13 and 15, serves to mark the end of the paragraph.604 Nevertheless, the opening phrase of v. 17, ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) probably refers to what precedes rather than what follows (see below), and so would not begin a new subdivision (i.e., paragraph). Second, if 4:16b is taken as the opening statement of a new paragraph, there is parallelism among the opening statements of 4:7, 4:11, and 4:16b. Finally, the themes of love, mutual residing of God and the believer, and perfection began the previous subdivision (cf. 4:11-12) and would begin this one too (4:16b-17).605

    4:17 By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world.

    Summary

The author now talks about Christian growth (what we might call Christian maturity or sanctification). As believers love one another this love is perfected with regard to their actions in loving fellow believers, and that in turn allows them to have confidence in the day of judgment. Believers may have confidence that when Jesus returns they will not be punished (see next verse) but that they will be like him (just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 4:17. The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both Jina- and Joti-clauses following, it is not clear whether or not they are related to the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw). Thus this use of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) falls into category (3) as described above: it may refer either to what precedes or to what follows.606

There are actually three possibilities for the referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) in 4:17: (a) it may refer to the Jina-clause which immediately follows, so that the love of believers is brought to perfection in that [= when?] they have confidence in the day of judgment.607 The main problem with this interpretation is that since the day of judgment is still future, it necessitates understanding the second use of the preposition “in” (ejn, en) to mean “about, concerning” with reference to the day of judgment in order to make logical sense. (b) The ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) may refer to the Joti-clause in 4:17b, meaning “love is perfected with us…in that just as he [Christ] is, so also are we in this world.” This makes logical sense, and we have seen numerous cases where ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is explained by a Joti-clause that follows. However, according to this understanding the intervening Jina-clause is awkward, and there is no other instance of the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) explained by a following Joti-clause where a Jina-clause intervenes between the two in this way. (c) Thus, the third possibility is that ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) refers to what precedes in 4:16b, and this also would make logical sense: “By this – by our residing in love so that we reside in God and he resides in us – is love brought to perfection with us.”608 This has the additional advantage of agreeing precisely with what the author has already said in 4:12: “If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Thus option (c) is best, with the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) referring to what precedes in 4:16b, and the Jina-clause which follows indicating the result of this perfection of love in believers: in the future day of judgment they will have confidence. The Joti-clause would then give the reason for such confidence in the day of judgment: because just as Jesus is, so also are believers in this world – they are already currently in relationship with God just as Jesus is.

The force and syntactical relationship of the preposition metav (meta, “with”) in 4:17. The expression meq j hJmw'n (meq Jhmwn) is somewhat unusual; Marshall suggested it reflected a Hebraism, comparing it to the use of metav (meta, “with”) in greetings and blessings (cf. 2 John 3).609 The preposition metav (meta) means “with” and modifies the verb teteleivwtai (teteleiwtai, “is perfected”). If the prepositional phrase modified the noun ajgavph (agaph, “love”) which immediately precedes it, it would almost certainly have the Greek article, thus: hJ ajgavph [hJ] meq= hJmw'n (Jh agaph [Jh] meqJhmwn, “the love [which is] with us”). To say “love is perfected with us” means “with regard to our actions in loving our fellow believers.” It is debated by interpreters whether this “love” refers to believers’ love for God (Stott), God’s love for believers (Haas, Bultmann) or both (Marshall, Houlden, Smalley), although either of the latter two options seem more likely than the former in light of 4:12.610

The significance of the phrase “in the day of judgment” in 4:17. This phrase occurs only here in the Johannine corpus, but see Matt 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 2 Pet 2:9; 3:7. Bultmann thought the phrase “day of judgment” did not fit the present context, and so suggested it was added by a redactor.611 But while references to future eschatology are few and far between in the Fourth Gospel,612 it is mentioned in 1 John at 2:18, 28, and 3:2. The author is implying that love “is perfected” in the Christian’s correct behavior now (“residing in love,” 4:16; cf. 2:29) as well as through the Christian’s confidence in God’s presence in the future “day of judgment” (cf. 3:21). In fact, as Smalley notes, “the one leads to the other.”613

The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos, literally “that one”; translated by the NET Bible as “Jesus”) in 4:17. Once more the author uses the pronoun ejkei'no (ekeinos) to refer to Jesus Christ, as he did in 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 5, 7, and 16.614 A reference to Jesus is confirmed in this context because the author says that “just as he is, so also are we [believers] in this world” and since 3:2 indicated that believers are to be like God in the future (but are not yet), the only one believers can be like already in the present age is Jesus Christ.615

    4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love.

    Summary

Fear on the one hand and mature, perfect love on the other are mutually exclusive. A Christian who fears God’s punishment (on the day of judgment mentioned in v. 17) has not yet been perfected in love, but needs to grow in his or her understanding of love. The thought begun in v. 16 is completed here.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the phrase hJ teleiva ajgavph (Jh teleia agaph, “perfect love”) in 4:18. The author’s capacity for writing somewhat obscurely, as usual, has resulted in a text capable of various interpretations. Commentators have questioned whether the reference in 1 John 4:18 to “perfect love” refers to (1) God’s love for believers, (2) the believer’s love for God, or (3) believers’ love for one another. Probably in a number of these references to ‘perfected’ love the author does not have one idea or the other exclusively in view, however, but rather a concept of love on a sort of continuum: “perfect” love begins with God, who himself is love (4:8) and from whom all love proceeds (4:19). God’s love for the world of men is manifested in his sending of his Son Jesus into the world to be its Savior (4:9, 10, 14). This divine love manifested in Jesus as he came into the world gives life to those who believe in him (4:9b, John 1:4), and resides in believers, actively manifesting itself in both love for fellow Christians and love for God (4:21). For our author, the concept of ‘perfected’ love encompasses all of this, but culminates in the active demonstration of love toward fellow believers and love for God. As far as the author of 1 John is concerned with regard to the secessionist opponents, their failure to practice the former demonstrates their lack of the latter.

The meaning of the phrase oJ fovbo kovlasin e[cei (Jo fobos kolasin ecei, “fear has to do with punishment”) in 4:18. The entire phrase could be understood in two slightly different ways: “fear has its own punishment” or “fear has to do with [i.e., includes] punishment.”616 These are not far apart, however, and the real key to understanding the expression lies in the meaning of the Greek word kovlasi (kolasis, “punishment”), found in the New Testament only here and in Matt 25:46.617 While it may refer exclusively to physical torture or torment, as in 4 Macc 8:9,618 there are numerous Koiné references involving eternal punishment (T. Reu. 5:5, T. Gad 7:5) and some references (e.g., 2 Macc 4:38) that are ambiguous.619 Eternal punishment is clearly in view in the only other New Testament reference, Matt 25:46. In the present context, where the author has mentioned confidence in the day of judgment (4:17), it seems virtually certain that eternal punishment (or at least the fear of it) is what is meant here. The (only) alternative to perfected love, which results in confidence at the day of judgment, is fear, which has to do with the punishment one is afraid of receiving at the judgment. As 4:18b states, “The one who fears [punishment] has not been perfected in love.” It is often assumed by interpreters that the opposite to perfected love (which casts out fear) is imperfect love (which still has fear and therefore no assurance). This is possible, but it is not likely, because the author nowhere mentions imperfect love, and as Brown states, “in Johannine dualism the opposite to perfect love may not be imperfect love but hate. To hold on to fear is to be on the wrong side of judgment.”620 In other words, in the antithetical (‘either/or’) categories in which the author presents his arguments, a person is either a genuine Christian, who becomes ‘perfected’ in love as he/she remains/resides in love and in a mutually indwelling relationship with God (cf. 4:16b), or one is not a genuine Christian at all, but one who (like the opponents) hates his/her fellow member of the Christian community, is a liar, and does not know God at all (cf. 4:20). Such a person should well fear judgment and eternal punishment because in the author’s view that is precisely where he or she is headed!

    4:19 We love because he loved us first.

    Summary

God’s love for us should motivate us to love one another. The basis for Christians loving one another is the prior love of God for them. Compare 1 John 3:16. Compare also 1 John 4:10-11 above. Although the verse appears to be a declarative statement in the indicative mood, it contains an implicit exhortation: because God first loved Christians, they ought to love him and others in return.

    Exegetical Details

The object of the verb ajgapw'men (agapwmen, “we love”) in 4:19. No object is supplied for the verb here (the author with his propensity for obscurity has left it to the readers to supply the object).621 The obvious objects that could be supplied from the context are either God himself (so Houlden) or other believers (Schnackenburg).622 It is likely that the author has both in mind at this point; the statement is general enough to cover both alternatives, although the following verse puts more emphasis on love for fellow believers, a theme already shown to be important in 1 John.623

The referent of aujtov (autos, “he”) in 4:19. The pronoun aujtov (autos, “he”) in 4:19 almost certainly refers to God, because 4:16a explicitly mentions “the love that God has in us.” This love on God’s part is manifested in his sending his Son into the world to be the Savior of the world (cf. 1 John 4:9, 10, 14; John 3:17).

    4:20 If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

    Summary

For the author of 1 John, hatred of a fellow Christian is irreconcilable with genuine love for God. The individual who claims to love God while hating a fellow Christian is a liar who has no relationship with God at all.

    Exegetical Details

The relationship of the phrase ejavn ti ei[ph/ (ean tis eiph, “if anyone says”) in 4:20 to the authors argument. Here the author has reverted to hypothetical statements like those in 1:6, 8, 10 and 2:4, 6, 9. Like those former statements, this one almost certainly has the author’s opponents in view: they claim to love God, but fail to love their fellow members of the Christian community. This leads the author to conclude that such a person is a liar, and the reason is given in the following clause introduced by the conjunction gavr (gar, “because”): he is a liar because the person who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (cf. 4:12).

The structure of 4:20b. The structure of the second half of 4:20 is chiastic, as follows:

      [A] oJ gaVr mhV ajgapw'n

      because the one not loving

 

        [B] toVn ajdelfoVn aujtou' o}n eJwvraken,

        his brother whom he has seen,

        [B´ ] toVn qeoVn o}n oujc eJwvraken

        God whom he has not seen

      [A´ ] ouj duvnatai ajgapa'n.

      he is not able to love.

In a similar statement in 1 John 3:17 the author implied by use of a rhetorical question that God’s love cannot reside624 in an individual who refuses to love his fellow believer (especially his fellow believer in need). Now the author states explicitly that such a person cannot love God, and this is emphasized further by the chiastic arrangement.625

The meaning of the authors statement in 4:20, the person who does not love his fellow Christian...cannot love God.” For the author, it is impossible for such a person to love God, because all the love there is comes from God (cf. 1 John 4:8) and thus this person who does not love his fellow member of the Christian community has no relationship with God at all.626

    4:21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.

    Summary

Again the author stresses the importance of loving one’s fellow Christian (one gets the impression that for the author of 1 John this was extremely important). Compare 1 John 4:16b; also 3:14; 16; 23; John 13:34-35 and John 15:12.627

    Exegetical Details

The force of the i{na- (Jina-) clause in 4:21. The Jina-clause in 1 John 4:21 could be giving the purpose or the result of the commandment mentioned in the first half of the verse, but if it does, the author nowhere specifies what the commandment consists of. It makes better sense to understand this Jina-clause as epexegetical (explanatory) to the pronoun tauvthn (tauthn, “this”) at the beginning of 4:21628 and thus explaining what the commandment consists of: “that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.”

The referent of the first aujtou' (autou, “him”) in 4:21. Again the referent is ambiguous, but in context this is best understood as a reference to God, who has been the subject of frequent mention in the preceding context.629 This is consistent with the tendency of the author throughout 1 John to attribute the commandment to “love one another” to God (1 John 2:3-4, 3:22-24) even though the Gospel of John attributes it to Jesus (John 13:34-35).630 A reference to God here is also confirmed by the author’s failure to use the pronoun ejkei'no (ekeinos, “that one”), which he consistently uses elsewhere in 1 John to specify a reference to Jesus Christ (2:6, 3:3,;5, 7, 16, and 4:17).

    5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is fathered by God, and everyone who loves the father loves the child fathered by him.

    Summary

Once again (echoing 4:2-3) the confession that Jesus is the Christ is the standard which determines whether or not one is fathered by God. The second part of the verse is like a proverb: “if one loves the parent one will love the child,” though this has application to loving God and loving God’s children in the present context.

    Exegetical Details

The significance of the confession, “that Jesus is the Christ” (o{ti =Ihsou' ejstin oJ Cristov, Joti Ihsous estin Jo Cristos), to the author’s argument. The person who believes this is acknowledged to be a Christian (“is fathered by God”).631 What problem would the opponents have had with such a formulation? There is no indication that they would have had a problem with the predicate; more likely they would have had problems with the subject, “Jesus.” In other words, the opponents would have had problems with the unique and unqualified application of the title “Messiah” (“Christ”) to Jesus during his earthly career and ministry. Together with the confession in 1 John 4:15 and 5:5, “Jesus is the Son of God,” the confession here forms the full and complete Johannine confession as found in John 20:31 (“so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”632 The statement of the confession here (“that Jesus is the Christ”) is also consistent with the proposed interpretation of the confession in 4:2, “every spirit that confesses Jesus [as the] Christ who has come in the flesh,” since here “Jesus” and “Christ” are separated and “Christ” is what is being confessed. In 4:2 “who has come in the flesh” is an additional qualification to “Christ,” while here an abbreviated version of the confession “Christ” appears. Culpepper saw 5:1 as an inclusion with 5:5 because the two titles of Jesus which are used in the purpose statement of the Fourth Gospel in 20:31 (“Christ” and “Son of God”) occur in these two verses in 1 John.633

The meaning of the verb gennavw (gennaw, “to father, to beget”) in 5:1. The verb gennavw (gennaw) here means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The bold imagery in 1 John is that of God as the male parent who fathers children.634

The meaning of 5:1b – a general observation or a specific statement about God and Christians? There are three ways in which the second half of 5:1 has been understood: (1) It could be a general statement, proverbial in nature, applying to any parent and child: “everyone who loves the father also loves the child fathered by him.”635 (2) This has also been understood as a statement that is particularly true of one’s own parent: “everyone who loves his own father also loves the (other) children fathered by him (i.e., one’s own siblings).”636 (3) This could be understood as a statement which refers particularly to God, in light of the context (5:1a): “everyone who loves God who fathered Christians also loves the Christians who are fathered by God.”637 Without doubt options (2) and (3) are implications of the statement in its present context, but it seems most probable that the meaning of the statement is more general and proverbial in nature (option 1). This is likely because of the way in which it is introduced by the author with pa' oJ (pas Jo, “everyone who”) + participle. The author could have been more explicit and said something like, “everyone who loves God also loves God’s children” had he intended option (3) without ambiguity. Yet that, in context, is the ultimate application of the statement, because it ultimately refers to the true Christian who, because he loves God, also loves his fellow Christians, those who are God’s offspring. This is the opposite of 1 John 4:20, where the author asserted that the opponents, who profess to love God but do not love their fellow members of the Christian community, cannot really love God because they do not love their fellow Christians.

    5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God: whenever we love God and obey his commandments.

    Summary

At face value this verse says just the opposite of 4:20, where the author stated we could know that we love God when we love our fellow Christians. It appears the debate is really over two things at once: whether or not we really love God (addressed by 4:20 and aimed at the opponents) and how we can know that we really love God’s children (addressed here and aimed at the readers). To know that we love the children of God we must be loving God the Father and obeying his commandments.638

    Exegetical Details

The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) at the beginning of 5:2. Once more there is the familiar difficulty of determining whether the phrase refers to what precedes or to what follows. Here, because ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) is followed by a clause introduced by o{tan (Jotan, “whenever”) which appears to be related, it is best to understand ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) as referring to what follows.639 Thus it falls into category (1) as discussed earlier,640 and the following Jotan-clause is epexegetical (explanatory) to ejn touvtw/ (en toutw), explaining how we know that we love God’s children: “by this we know that we love God’s children, whenever we love God and keep his commandments.” For the meaning of this statement, see the following section.

The meaning of 5:2, we know that we love the children of God whenever we love God and obey his commandments.” It is not entirely clear what the author means by this, because at face value it says exactly the opposite of 1 John 4:20, where he stated that we could know that we love God when we love our fellow believers. Now he says we can know that we love our fellow believers when we love God!641 This apparently circular reasoning becomes understandable if the debate here is over two things simultaneously: whether or not we really love God (which is addressed by 1 John 4:20) and how we can know that we really love God’s children (which is addressed by 1 John 5:2). Both these alternatives are plausible if the author here is dealing with two aspects of the controversy with the opponents at the same time. On the one hand the opponents claim to love God, but do not love the members of the Christian community to which the author is writing, because they have seceded from it (1 John 2:18-19). Thus in 1 John 4:20 the author questions the validity of the opponents’ claim to know God, because they have failed to love their fellow members of the community. On the other hand, the question for the readers is, “how may we know that we really love God’s children?” (a question that might reasonably follow from the author’s statement in 5:1b) and the author answers that one must be loving God and obeying him in order to know that. In other words, the context in 1 John 4:20 is more polemic, aimed at the opponents, while the context here in 5:2 is addressed to the author’s followers and is aimed at reassuring them. This is also supported by the first person plural pronouns in 5:2-3, which are almost certainly inclusive in scope (the author plus his readers).

    5:3 For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down,

    Summary

A Christian’s love for God is expressed by obeying him. The phrase his commandments do not weigh us down echoes the words of Jesus in Matt 11:30, “My yoke is easy to bear and my load is not hard to carry.”

    Exegetical Details

The force of the conjunction gavr (gar, “for”) at the beginning of 5:3. This is similar to another introductory formula used by the author of 1 John in 1:5, 5:4, 5:11, and 5:14, kaiV au{th ejstivn (kai Jauth estin, “now this is”). The conjunction gavr (gar, “for”) is inferential and has as its basis the preceding statements, particularly the one in 1 John 5:2b regarding the love of God. If in 5:2 loving God and keeping his commandments is the key to knowing that we love God’s children, it is important to define what the love of God involves, and this is what the author is doing in 5:3. In fact, as the following Jina-clause makes clear, loving God consists in keeping his commandments (see the following section).

The force of the i{na- (Jina-) clause in 5:3. The au{th (Jauth, “this”) which begins 5:3 has the Jina-clause as its referent. The Jina-clause is epexegetical (explanatory) to the preceding phrase, explaining what the love of God consists of: “that we keep his [= God’s] commandments.” This is not the only Johannine definition of love: it was defined from God’s perspective in 1 John 4:10 (he sent his Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins) and from the believer’s perspective in 2 John 6, which is very close in meaning to the present verse: “Now this is love: that we walk according to his commandments.” The Johannine definition of love for God from the believer’s point of view concerns obedience to God’s commandments (compare John 14:15, 21; and especially, in context, John 15:12).

The force of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 5:3. Once again the genitive could be understood as objective, subjective, or both.642 Here an objective sense is more likely (believers’ love for God) because in the previous verse it is clear that God is the object of believers’ love.

The punctuation of 5:3. Contrary to the punctuation of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition and the United Bible Societies’ 4th edition Greek texts, it is best to place a full stop (period) in the Greek text following the verb thrw'men (thrwmen, “we keep) in 1 John 5:3. The subordinate clause introduced by Joti at the beginning of 5:4 is related to the second half of 5:3 which begins with kaiv (kai, “and”). The conjunction kaiv (kai) is commonly used by the author to begin a new sentence, perhaps by analogy with the Hebrew vav consecutive.

The description of Gods commandments as not being weighty (barei'ai, bareiai) in 5:3. The term “weighty” here is a figurative way of describing a commandment as “burdensome” or “difficult”, as indicated by Deut 30:11 and reiterated by Jesus in Matt 11:30.643 In contrast Jesus described the Pharisees in Matt 23:4 as people who “tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders.” The author of 1 John may well have been thinking of Jesus’ words in Matt 11:30, “my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” In any case, the implicit reason the author can describe God’s commandments as not being weighty is because the commandment is to love one another, and God himself is the source of this love which believers are to have for one another.644 Another way to say this is that God provides the empowerment for Christians to love one another in obedience to the new commandment, since he himself is the source of the love Christians have for one another.645

    5:4a …because everyone who is fathered by God conquers the world.

    Summary

The author has used the verb translated “to conquer” to describe the believer’s victory over Satan himself in 1 John 2:13-14 and over the secessionist opponents (described as “false prophets”) in 4:4. It is most likely that the author has in mind victory over the opponents here.646 In the face of the opponents’ attempts through their false teaching to confuse the readers (who are genuine Christians) about who it is they are supposed to love, the author assures the readers that loving God and keeping his commandments assures them that they really do love God’s children. Because they have already achieved victory over the world through their faith, keeping God’s commandments is not a difficult or burdensome matter.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “because”) at the beginning of 5:4. The explicit reason the commandments of God are not burdensome to the believer is given by the Joti-clause at the beginning of 1 John 5:4. It is “because everyone who is fathered by God conquers the world.” Once again, the author’s language is far from clear at this point, and so is his meaning, but the author has used the verb nikavw (nikaw, “conquer”) previously to describe the believer’s victory over the Enemy, the evil one himself, in 1 John 2:13-14, and over the secessionist opponents, described as “false prophets” in 1 John 4:4. This suggests that what the author has in mind here is a victory over the opponents, who now belong to the world and speak its language (cf. 4:5). In the face of the opponents’ attempts through their false teaching to confuse the readers (who are genuine Christians) about who it is they are supposed to love, the author assures the readers that loving God and keeping his commandments assures us that we really do love God’s children, and because we have already achieved victory over the world through our faith, keeping God’s commandments is not a difficult matter.

The use of the neuter (rather than the masculine) gender to refer to the person who is fathered by God in 5:4a. We might have expected the masculine gender here rather than the neuter pa'n toV gegennhmevnon ejk tou' qeou' (pan to gegennhmenon ek tou qeou, “everyone who is fathered by God”). However, Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar of NT Greek explains: “The neuter is sometimes used with reference to persons if it is not the individuals but a general quality that is to be emphasized. Intensifying pa'n or pavnta may be added.”647 This seems to be the case here, where a collective aspect is in view: as a group, all those who have been fathered by God, that is, all genuine Christians, overcome the world.648 The author is once more looking at the situation antithetically (in ‘either/or’ terms) as he sees the readers on the one hand as genuine Christians who have overcome the world through their faith, and the opponents on the other as those who have claimed to have a relationship with God but really do not; they belong to the world in spite of their claims to know God. For the author of 1 John, all genuine Christians are “overcomers.”


546 According to Smalley, this clause gives “the fundamental basis of the imperative” (1, 2, 3 John, 237).

547 Cf. Marshall, The Epistles of John, 211, n. 2.

548 See the section “The referent of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 3:4” above.

549 Cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 118; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 211-12.

550 See the section “The referent of oJ mhV ajgapw'n in 4:8” below.

551 See the section “The meaning of gegevnnhtai (gegennhtai, “fathered”) in 2:29” for further discussion of the imagery.

552 See the section “The significance of the pa' oJ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 4:7” above.

553 C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 110; cf. also Stott, The Epistles of John, 160, and Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 107.

554 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

555 The various options and difficulties in understanding the genitive used with qeov in 1 John are discussed in the section “The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5” above, where the phrase occurs for the first time in the letter.

556 Cf. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 149.

557 If this were the case, it would imply the Son was derivative from (and less than) the Father.

558 Clement understood the legend of the Phoenix to mean there could be only one Phoenix alive in the world at any given time.

559 See further F. Büchsel, TDNT 4:737-41.

560 See the section “The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 2:2” above for examples of both neutral and negative uses.

561 For further discussion of the meaning of kovsmo (kosmos) see Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 57, 108.

562 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

563 Cf. Smalley, “The explication of love’s essence is provided in the subsequent o{ti (“that”) clauses (negative and positive)” (1, 2, 3 John, 243).

564 So Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 109.

565 For fuller discussion see the section “The meaning of iJlasmov (Jilasmos, “atoning sacrifice”) in 2:2” above. There the alternatives for translation into contemporary English are also discussed.

566 Cf. Rom 8:32, which may also allude, as Houlden (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 113-14) thinks the present passage does, to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, his “only son” (Gen 22:1-14).

567 See Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 122-23.

568 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John,” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents.

569 The Greek term used here is ajgaphtoiv (agaphtoi). This is the sixth and last time this term of endearment is used by the author of 1 John to refer to his readers.

570 See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 692-93.

571 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 68, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 245.

572 Dodd states, “It can now be very plainly seen that the new command is no arbitrary or optional addition to the original Gospel (ii.7)” (The Johannine Epistles, 112 [boldface his]).

573 Cf. Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 109.

574 The idea of God being unseen or invisible has OT roots (Exod 33:20, 23; Deut 4:12) and also appears in the OT Apocrypha (Sir 43:31) and first century Jewish literature like Philo (On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 48 [168-69]) and Josephus (Jewish War 7.8.7 [346]).

575 See the sections “The force of the second o{ti (Joti) in 3:2b,” “The (understood) subject of fanerwqh'/ (fanerwqh, “been revealed”) in 3:2,” and “The referents of aujtw// (autw, “him”) and aujtovn (auton, “him”) in 3:2b” above.

576 Cf. Smalley, “It is possible that some gnostically inclined members of John’s congregation were claiming to have ‘seen’ God directly, and thereby to ‘know’ him” (1, 2, 3 John, 246). However, it is also worth noting that if the opponents were claiming to have ‘seen’ God in the person of Jesus (along the lines of John 14:9), that would be a claim the author could agree with. Thus they must have been claiming to have ‘seen’ God directly, something the author of 1 John denies.

577 P. W. van der Horst proposed that the verb used here for “seen,” teqevatai (teqeatai), results from an etymological connection believed to have existed in ancient Greek between qeov (qeos) and qea'sqai (qeasqai) or qei'o (qeios) (“A Wordplay in 1 Joh 4, 12?” ZNW 63 [1972]: 280-82). This does not seem likely, however, since in the closely connected text in the Fourth Gospel (1:18) the verb is eJwvraken (Jewraken), not teqevatai (teqeatai).

578 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

579 So Stott, The Epistles of John, 164; cf. Malatesta, who sees God as the source, model, and giver of all love (Interiority and Covenant, 301).

580 Cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 120, and Brown, The Epistles of John, 521. Dodd, on the other hand, argued for an objective genitive here (The Johannine Epistles, 113).

581 There is a hypothetical question which the text does not answer. What happens if believers do not love one another? Are both apodoses in 4:12 not true, so that (a) God does not ‘reside’ in such a person and (b) God’s love does not reach perfection in such a person? It seems probable that only the second would not be true: God’s love would not reach perfection in such an individual. But the author is not interested in raising such a question, probably because for him a genuine Christian indwelt by God who does not love his brother is a contradiction in terms. In the antithetical (‘either/or’) framework of the author’s thought, it is not possible to conceive of a genuine believer who as such does not love his brother.

582 On the meaning of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see the discussion at 1 John 2:6.

583 Brown takes the second Joti-clause as epexegetical: “there are two following Joti-clauses…the second of which (13b) is epexegetical of ‘in this’ by explaining how we know” (The Epistles of John, 521). Among those who take the second Joti-clause in a causal sense are Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 121), Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 249), and Painter (1, 2, and 3 John, 272). The resulting meaning is not much different.

584 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 219 (italics mine).

585 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

586 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 250; for other partitive uses in the NT compare Matt 25:28; John 1:16; 6:11; contrast 1 John 3:24b.

587 It may well be that the author avoided a more “subjective” approach to the ministry of the Spirit in believers here because that was precisely what his opponents were claiming to possess – an ongoing testimony of the Spirit within them as to who Jesus really was. If so, the author’s response was to insist on the objective criterion of (orthodox) doctrine (cf. 1 John 1:1-4). Cf. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 115; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 219; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 251.

588 Stott noted that in vv. 13 and 14 together there is a reference to all three persons of the Trinity: the Spirit in v. 13 and the Father and the Son in v. 14 (The Epistles of John, 166).

589 So Brooke, who took the pronoun to refer to the original eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 121).

590 So Dodd, who took the plural pronoun to refer to the Church in solidarity with the eyewitnesses (The Johannine Epistles, 116). A view not too different is that of Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 153) and Marshall (The Epistles of John, 220, n. 5), who took the pronoun to refer primarily to the apostles themselves, but to include the Church as represented by them (cf. v. 16). Brown, while in general supporting an inclusive understanding here (which he calls “nondistinctive”), does not see this referring to the entire Church, or even the entire Johannine community: “the ‘we’ that has seen and can testify is not the Johannine School alone but the members of the Johannine Community faithful to the author” (The Epistles of John, 523).

591 See J. Schneider and C. Brown, NIDNTT 3:216-216; W. Foerster, TDNT 7:1003-21.

592 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 220, n. 7.

593 Note also the similarity to John 20:31, the purpose statement for the Fourth Gospel. Cf. Smalley’s comment: “…acknowledgment of the divine sonship of Jesus leads to the mutual indwelling of God and his people” (1, 2, 3 John, 253). Brown notes, “…the author is now talking about the (single) basic public confession of faith that makes on a Christian. Obviously he assumes that the person who makes the confession continues to believe in it, but he is not envisaging a constant oral repetition of the confession as a basis of divine abiding” (The Epistles of John, 524).

594 See the sections “The meaning of mhV oJmologei' toVn =Ihsou'n (mh Jomologei ton Ihsoun, ‘does not confess Jesus’) in 4:3” and “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” above for further discussion of these issues. Along these same lines Smalley notes, “The fact that the writer returns in this v to the thought of orthodox ‘confession’…suggests that he still has in mind the need to resist the heterodox members of his community” (1, 2, 3 John, 253).

595 Law, The Tests of Life, 400; cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 254. Given the love of stylistic variation by John both in the Fourth Gospel and the letters, it would be difficult to assess what significance (if any) the reversal of the clauses would have here. Law was probably correct not to see any particular significance to the changed order at this point.

596 E.g., Schnackenburg, who saw vv. 14-15 as a digression, after which the author returns to his point in v. 16 (The Johannine Epistles, 219, 221); similarly Marshall saw v. 16 as parallel to v. 14 and therefore not related to v. 15 (The Epistles of John, 221, n. 8).

597 Stott, The Epistles of John, 166.

598 See the extended discussion of this issue in the section “The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, ‘we’) in 4:14” above, which also applies to the present instance. Cf. also Law, The Tests of Life, 400, and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 255.

599 So Brown, The Epistles of John, 525.

600 E.g., “the love God has for us” (nrsv, nasb, niv, esv, tniv); so also Law, The Tests of Life, 401.

601 For further discussion of the meaning of the phrase “God is love” see the previous section “The meaning of the statement in 4:8, ‘God is love.’”

602 So Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 155-56), Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 122-23), and Brown (The Epistles of John, 560); cf. neb, niv.

603 So Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 255.

604 Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 109.

605 Cf. Brown, The Epistles of John, 560.

606 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

607 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 123-24, and Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 222 (cf. n. 78). Smalley, although he takes the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) to refer to what follows, does not see a reference to the preceding as excluded: “John’s use of ejn touvtw/ may act as a bridge from one step in his discussion to the next by looking in both directions: backward to v 16, and forward to the remainder of v 17” (1, 2, 3 John, 256-57).

608 So Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 157), Marshall (The Epistles of John, 223, n. 17), and Brown (The Epistles of John, 560).

609 Marshall, The Epistles of John, 223, n. 19.

610 Stott, The Epistles of John, 168; Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 111; Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 72; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 223; Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 117; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 257.

611 Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 72-73.

612 This is primarily due to the Fourth Gospel’s focus on what is usually called “realized” eschatology. Among the very few clear references to future eschatology in John’s Gospel are 5:28-29.

613 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 258.

614 See the initial discussion of this issue in the section “The referent of ejkei'no (ekeinos…) in 2:6.”

615 See the section “The referents of aujtw// (autw, ‘him’) and aujtovn (auton, ‘him’) in 3:2b” above for a discussion of the context there.

616 On the meaning of the term fovbo (fobos, “fear”) see W. Mundle, NIDNTT 1:623-24. Smalley calls the fear mentioned in this context “servile, self-regarding fear (as in Rom 8:15; cf. John 19:38; 20:19)” (1, 2, 3 John, 260).

617 The related verb is used in Acts 4:21 and 2 Pet 2:9, however.

618 BDAG 555 s.v. kovlasi 1. 4 Macc 8:9, 11 states, “But if by disobedience you rouse my anger, you will compel me to destroy each and every one of you with dreadful punishments through tortures….Will you not consider this, that if you disobey, nothing remains for you but to die on the rack?”

619 The Testament of Reuben and the Testament of Gad are two of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, examples of Jewish intertestamental literature written between 109 and 106 b.c.; 2 Macc 4:38 describes Antiochus executing Andronicus for the murder of Onias: he “led him…to that very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias, and there he dispatched the bloodthirsty fellow. The Lord thus repaid him with the punishment he deserved.” One might think this is limited to physical death, but the Lord’s involvement suggests at least the possibility of an eternal punishment.

620 Brown, The Epistles of John, 532. In such a person God’s love (or the individual’s love for God) has not yet become a reality (cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 73). On the antithetical opposition between fear and love in this verse see also Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 121-22.

621 Direct objects are frequently omitted in the NT and in Koiné Greek in general, but they are usually more obvious from the context than this one is. No doubt this has resulted in the textual variants toVn qeovn (ton qeon, “[we love] God”) found in a Vgcl syrp, h copbo arm on the one hand and aujtovn (auton, “[we love] him”) found in K y on the other.

622 Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 120; Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 225.

623 Arguing for a reference both to God and other believers here are Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 114; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 225, n. 26; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 262.

624 The verb used in 3:17 is mevnw (menw). For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

625 On the chiastic arrangement see Brown, The Epistles of John, 533. As Westcott states, the author of 1 John allows “no position of indifference” (The Epistles of St. John, 161). As is typical in the Johannine literature of the NT, the author here portrays the issue as antithetical, in terms of polar opposites, with no middle ground in between.

626 Smalley comments, “Love for God…is expressed in love for others. To withhold the one is to render the other impossible” (1, 2, 3 John, 264). Cf. Marshall, The Epistles of John, 225-26; also Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 123-24. See further the section “The referent of the phrase hJ teleiva ajgavph in 4:18” for a discussion of the author’s concept of love.

627 Note Smalley’s comments here: “John has articulated already the command to love (note especially 3:23; cf. also 4:7, 11). But his restatement of the ordinance here is no mere repetition. (a) It gains force and precision in the light of his description so far (vv 7-20) of the source, inspiration, and practice of love. (b) For the first time in 1 John the author speaks positively of the need to love both God and other people (the reference in v 20 is negative)” (1, 2, 3 John, 264).

628 The pronoun tauvthn (tauthn), translated “this,” occurs in the Greek text at the beginning of v. 21, in an emphatic position. In English, where it would normally appear first in the clause, it is more emphatic when placed at the end, in close proximity to what it refers to.

629 So Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 226, n. 93, and Marshall, The Epistles of John, 225, n. 28.

630 In spite of the evidence mentioned above, the fact that the command to love one another was given in the Fourth Gospel by Jesus (John 13:34; 15:12, 17) is used by some to argue that Jesus rather than God is the referent of the pronoun aujtou' (autou, “him”) in v. 21 (e.g., Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 120, n. 2; cf. Stott, The Epistles of John, 171. See also the translation of this verse in the neb.

631 The confession here, “that Jesus is the Christ,” is virtually synonymous with the confession mentioned in 2:22-23; 4:2, 15 (although the reference to the incarnation found in 4:2 [“come in the flesh”] is not repeated here). Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 76; Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 227.

632 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents.

633 R. Alan Culpepper, “The Pivot of John’s Prologue,” NTS 27 (1980/81): 25-26.

634 See the section “The meaning of gegevnnhtai (gegennhtai, “fathered”) in 2:29” for further discussion of the imagery.

635 So Marshall, The Epistles of John, 227, n. 32.

636 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 129.

637 So Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 76-77.

638 As stated by Smalley, “The divine ‘orders’ (ejntolav, plural) in question are the moral precepts of God summed up in the supreme obligation of love (ejntolhv, singular, as in 2:7-8; 3:23 and 4:21)” (1, 2, 3 John, 269.

639 For further discussion of this particular occurrence of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) see Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 268, who takes the phrase to refer to what follows (as we do) and interacts with the opposing views of Marshall and Dodd at some length.

640 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”

641 The apparent discrepancy with Johannine thought elsewhere led both Marshall (The Epistles of John, 227-28) and Dodd (The Johannine Epistles, 125-26) to understand the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) to refer to what precedes rather than what follows.

642 See the section “The use of the genitive tou' qeou' (tou qeou, “of God”) in 2:5” above for a discussion of these options in Johannine usage.

643 On the meaning of the term baruv (barus, “weighty”) see G. Schrenk, TDNT 1:557-58.

644 The suggestion has been made that a rabbinic teaching about “light” and “heavy” laws may also lie behind the author’s statement here. Cf. Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 229; also H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, 1:901-905. Brown disagrees with the notion that a rabbinic distinction is present here (The Epistles of John, 540).

645 Put this way, it is also easier to see what the problem would be for the secessionist opponents: since the author of 1 John does not consider them to have a genuine relationship with God, they by definition cannot have this love for one another in obedience to the new commandment, because they cannot receive love from God.

646 Schnackenburg suggests a parallel with the “spirit of conflict and of confidence in victory” that characterized the Qumran community (The Johannine Epistles, 230, n. 103). He notes, however, that for the community at Qumran the victory was still future, while in 1 John the victory over the world is viewed as an event completed already (cf. Jesus’ statement “I have conquered the world” in John 16:33) yet still being worked out in the life of the Church. Cf. also Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 78, n. 17.

647 BDF §138(1). N. Turner also states, “As in class. Greek the neuter gender may refer to a person (e.g. toV gegennhmevnon Jn 3:6 1 Jn 5:4, cp. Masc. 5:1), provided that the emphasis is less on the individual than on some outstanding general quality like foolishness; pa'n is often added to make this clear” (MHT 3:21).

648 T. W. Manson also argued for a collective nuance for the neuter phrase here (“Entry into Membership of the Early Church,” JTS 48 [1947]: 27). Marshall, on the other hand, speculated whether the author might have been influenced by the neuter gender of the Greek words for “child” (The Epistles of John, 228, n. 37).

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Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 5:4b-12

    Structure

The previous section ended with the declaration, “everyone who is fathered by God conquers the world”; now the author will embark on an explanation of that conquest of the world in 1 John 5:4b-12. He will explain that the means by which believers conquer the world (including, of course, the opponents, who are now part of the world according to 1 John 4:5) is their faith – faith in what Jesus has done during his earthly life and ministry, including his sacrificial death on the cross. For the author, this is a faith the opponents do not possess.

The present section consists of two subsections, 5:4b-8 (which deals with the christological content of the faith that enables believers to conquer the world) and 5:9-12 (which deals with the testimony of God himself concerning his Son).

This is the last section of the main body of the letter; the conclusion follows in 5:13-21.

    5:4b This is the conquering power that has conquered the world: our faith.

    Summary

The author of 1 John refers here to a past action that has conquered the world. What past action did he have in mind? Although some interpreters connect this with the past victory achieved over the secessionist opponents, this is less likely because 1 John 2:19 makes it clear that the opponents withdrew from the church of their own accord; a struggle or battle to expel them does not appear to have been necessary in order to convince them to leave. They were not forcefully ejected. In light of this, it is more likely that the author refers here to Jesus himself, who has already overcome the world by his victory over death, as he himself stated in John 16:33. Thus when the author of 1 John says our faith is the conquering power that has conquered the world, he is speaking of believers’ faith in Jesus, who overcame the world by his sacrificial death on the cross, resurrection, and return to the Father. This is precisely the point of contention with the opponents, who deny that there is any saving significance to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (including his death on the cross).

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of hJ nivkh (Jh nikh, “the conquering power”) in 5:4b. The standard translation for nivkh (nikh) found in almost all English Bibles is “victory,”649 but this does not preserve the relationship with the cognate verb nikavw (nikaw, used in 1 John 2:13-14 and present in this context in participial form in 5:4b and 5:5). One alternative would be “conquest,” although R. Brown states, “I prefer ‘conquering power’ to ‘conquest’; for here nikh is a metonymy for the means of victory or the power that gives victory.”650 In context this refers to the faith of believers. This is the translation used by the NET Bible.

The use of the aorist participle nikhvsasa (nikhsasa, “that has conquered”) to refer to faith as the conquering power that has conquered the world in 5:4b. Debate here centers over what temporal force, if any, can be assigned to the aorist participle. It may indicate an action contemporaneous with the (present tense) main verb, in which case the alternation between the present verb in 1 John 5:4a, the aorist participle in 5:4b, and the present participle in 5:5 is one more example of the author’s love of stylistic variation with no significant difference in meaning. This would result in the translation “This is the conquering power that conquers the world.” This is the least problematic rendering.651 Nevertheless, an aorist participle with a present tense main verb would normally indicate an action antecedent (prior) to that of the main verb, so that the aorist participle would describe a past action: “This is the conquering power that has conquered the world.” That is the most probable here.652 Thus the aorist participle stresses that the conquest of the world is something that has already been accomplished.

The conquest of the world in 5:4b. Although we concluded in the previous section that the aorist participle refers to an action antecedent (prior) to the main verb, an interpretive problem still remains: what past action does the author have in mind when he refers to believers’ faith as the “conquering power that has conquered the world”? Suggestions have been: (a) a reference to Jesus himself, who has already conquered the world by his victory over death, as he himself stated in John 16:33; (b) a reference to the past conversion (and baptism?) of the readers, at which point their faith conquered the world; or (c) the past victory achieved over the secessionist opponents when they were expelled from the community. R. Brown states, “although I favor the true aorist meaning of the verb, I see no way to be certain as to which past action I John means here.”653 Of these three possibilities, I consider the second to be the least likely, because the association of the confession “Jesus is the Son of God” in the following verse (5:5) with a conversion or baptismal context is tenuous at best, since there are no other contextual indications that liturgical processes play a significant role in 1 John. The first or third options are both possible, and although the third is intriguing in light of the ongoing dispute with the opponents, 1 John 2:19 seems to imply that the opponents withdrew of their own volition without being forcefully ejected. Possibly their departure, even if of their own volition, could be “interpreted” by the author’s readers as a “victory” over the opponents, but the other problem for this interpretation is that the struggle with the opponents appears to be still ongoing and not something completed in the past. This leaves the first option as the most likely in my judgment, and there are numerous references in the book of Revelation to Jesus’ victory (Rev 3:21, 5:5, 12:11) which would agree with this. Given that Jesus himself claimed victory over the world in John 16:33, and this victory in the Fourth Gospel was closely related to Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is easy to see how the author of 1 John could appropriate that victory as something shared by the Christians of the community he is writing to, especially since it is the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross, that the opponents are apparently denying.

The meaning of the phrase hJ pivsti hJmw'n (Jh pistis Jhmwn, “our faith”) in 5:4b. We have concluded in the previous paragraph that the past action denoted by the aorist participle nikhvsasa (nikhsasa, “that has conquered”) in 1 John 5:4b probably consists of an allusion to Jesus’ own victory over the world which he accomplished in the past and which is now the object of believers’ faith. Thus when the author says “our faith is the conquering power that has conquered the world” he is referring to believers’ faith in Jesus, who during his earthly life and ministry conquered the world (cf. John 16:33) by his sacrificial death on the cross, resurrection, and return to the Father. The author will elaborate on this in 1 John 5:5-6. This is precisely the point of contention with the opponents, who have denied the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including the actions he performed during that ministry.654

    5:5 Now who is the person who has conquered the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

    Summary

Although v. 5 is phrased as a question, the answer is clear (thus it is a rhetorical question). The author now affirms that it is the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God who has conquered the world. The statement lends a strong christological emphasis to the section.

    Exegetical Details

The force of o{ti (Joti, “that”) in 5:5. After a verb of perception (in this case, the participle oJ pisteuvwn [Jo pisteuwn, “the one who believes”]), the Joti in 1 John 5:5 introduces indirect discourse, a declarative or recitative clause giving the content of what the person named by the participle believes: “that Jesus is the Son of God.” As in 1 John 4:15, such a confession constitutes a problem for the author’s opponents but not for his readers, who are genuine Christians.655 The shift from confessing Jesus as “Christ” in 5:1 to confessing him as “Son of God” here may not be very significant, as Smalley pointed out.656 Marshall thought the shift was related to “the power of God revealed in his Son, Jesus.”657 However, it is more likely that these two terms are used here because they form the full-orbed Johannine confession “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” as reflected in the purpose statement of the Fourth Gospel (John 20:31; cf. also 11:27). As Painter notes, “Both constructions stress correct belief over against the false belief of the opponents.”658

    5:6 Jesus Christ is the one who came by water and blood – not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

    Summary

There is inherently a degree of uncertainly anytime we attempt to reconstruct the views or claims of the opponents in 1 John, but probably they were saying that Jesus came with the water only. The author of 1 John says Jesus came by the water and the blood. What do these puzzling phrases mean? Since this is a debate with the opponents, both the opponents and the author’s readers would clearly have known what the author was talking about. A common interpretation sees the water as a reference to Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, while the blood is a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross. It is hard to see, though, how the opponents could have been insisting that Jesus “came…by the water only” at his baptism, unless the water is not referring only to the water of baptism, but to the Holy Spirit. Water in the Gospel of John is consistently used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). In very simple terms, what the opponents were probably saying is that Jesus saved us by bringing the Holy Spirit. What the author of 1 John is saying is that Jesus saved us by dying on the cross. For John the water and the blood refers to the outpouring of blood and water that came forth from Jesus’ side after he died on the cross (John 19:34). Jesus’ sacrificial death was a necessary and vital part of his saving work and could not be separated from it or dispensed with (as the opponents were apparently claiming).

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the water and the blood in 5:6 and the description of Jesus as the one who came by water and blood. The identification of the “water” and the “blood” in 1 John 5:6 is a major interpretive problem. It is clear that the author is using symbolism of some sort here, but that is about all that interpreters are able to agree on! Several major and many minor approaches to understanding the “water” and the “blood” have been suggested:

(1) The phrase di= u{dato kaiV ai{mato (diJudatos kai Jaimatos, “by water and blood”) refers to the incarnation.659 It is true that the Gospel of John uses the verb e[rcomai (ercomai) to refer to Jesus’ entry into the world (John 1:11, 5:43, 16:28), and that the only other two uses of e[rcomai (ercomai) with the preposition ejn (en) in the Johannine letters (1 John 4:2, 2 John 7) both refer to Jesus Christ coming in the flesh, i.e., the incarnation. The similarity of those texts to the present verse points to the incarnation as the meaning of the phrase here. But the major objection to this interpretation is that it involves understanding the opponents as docetists, who denied the reality of the human body of Jesus. There is no indisputable evidence for docetism in the Johannine letters. Furthermore, this view has difficulty explaining the mention of the Spirit in 5:6b, because in no Johannine account of Jesus’ incarnation or coming into the world is the Spirit directly involved (e.g., John 1:14).

(2) The phrase di= u{dato kaiV ai{mato (diJudatos kai Jaimatos, “by water and blood”) refers to the ordinances (sacraments) of Christian baptism (“water”) and the Lord’s supper or eucharist (“blood”).660 In this view the preposition diav (dia) is understood as “with”: Jesus came bringing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper (“with water and blood”). By the fourth century this interpretation found support among the church fathers (Augustine, Chrysostom, and others) and later with the reformers (Luther, Calvin), but it is an extremely obscure way for the author to refer to the ordinances. There is nothing in the context to suggest the preposition diav (dia) should be understood as introducing accompanying circumstances, as this view would require. Furthermore, this is set in a polemic context where the author is addressing the claims of the opponents regarding the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and there is nothing else in 1 John to suggest that the opponents were denying the ordinances (sacraments) of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Therefore such a view must be regarded as highly improbable. It no longer has a significant following among modern interpreters.

(3) A modern variation on the previous view is suggested by G. Strecker, who sees the switch in prepositions in 5:6 from dia in the phrase di= u{dato kaiV ai{mato (diJudatos kai Jaimatos, “by water and blood”) to en in the repeated phrases following as significant. The substitution of a different preposition indicated “a change in the system of theological coordinates, and that in the phrase ejn tw'/ u{dati kaiV ejn tw'/ ai{mati it is no longer simply the baptism and death of Jesus (including its atoning effect) but also the two community sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that are the object of the instruction.”661 Against this view which sees a significant distinction in the use of the two prepositions, most interpreters today regard this as merely another example of Johannine stylistic variation.

(4) The phrase di= u{dato kaiV ai{mato (diJudatos kai Jaimatos, “by water and blood”) refers to the baptism (“water”) and death (“blood”) of Jesus. This, with a number of variations, is the most common interpretation of the phrase in 5:6a.662 It makes considerable sense in the context, because the “water” suggests the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist which marked the beginning of his public ministry (including his self-revelation to the disciples), while the “blood” recalls Jesus’ death on the cross, where blood and water flowed from his side (John 19:34). Thus the complete phrase in 5:6a would refer to the starting point and the ending point of Jesus’ public ministry and salvific mission. Much of the imagery fits well, but as R. Brown points out, “two comings do not fit 5:6a where the single preposition dia covers two anarthrous nouns, so that ‘came by water and blood’ should mean one composite action”.663 Had separate references to Jesus’ baptism and his death been intended, it would have been clearer to repeat the preposition before each of the two nouns (di= u{dato kaiV di= ai{mato, diJudatos kai diJaimatos).

(5) A similar approach that sees separate events as the referents of “water” and “blood” is the proposal of C. Kruse that, like the previous view, the “blood” refers to Jesus’ death, but the “water,” instead of referring to Jesus’ own experience of baptism by John the Baptist, refers to Jesus’ activity of baptizing, mentioned only in the Fourth Gospel (John 3:22, 26; 4:1).664 Thus Kruse sees the author of 1 John and the secessionist opponents agreeing that Jesus had a ministry baptizing people with water.665 A major problem with this view is that, while the Gospel of John does clearly mention Jesus’ participation in a ministry of water baptism, it also points out (John 4:2) that Jesus himself was not actually baptizing with water, but his disciples were. Presumably the clarification in John 4:2 would apply to the other references in 3:22, 26 as well; this seems to downplay any significance of Jesus’ baptizing activity in the Fourth Gospel. It thus seems unlikely that this activity would form the basis for such an important claim as the dispute with the opponents in 1 John.

(6) The phrase di= u{dato kaiV ai{mato (diJudatos kai Jaimatos, “by water and blood”) refers to the death of Jesus. The only other Johannine passage where “blood” and “water” are mentioned together is John 19:34, which mentions the flow of water and blood from Jesus’ side at his death on the cross. The only other use of “blood” in 1 John (1:7) also refers to the sacrificial death of Jesus. In John 19:34 the water which flowed from Jesus’ side symbolically represented the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (consistent with the imagery in John 7:39), and so it was mentioned second by way of emphasis. Association of the “water” with the Holy Spirit may well explain the author’s (seemingly) abrupt introduction of the Spirit here, in 5:6b. But the author of 1 John may well have reversed the order of “blood” and “water” from John 19:34 because for him the precise point of contention with the opponents is over the salvific significance of Jesus’ death on the cross. The opponents would have been able to acknowledge that Jesus’ “coming” was marked by his baptism (they may even have held to a theory of baptismal incarnation, i.e., that the Logos became flesh at the baptism of Jesus by John).666 But they could not acknowledge the significance of his death on the cross, because they denied any salvific significance to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Thus the author in his polemic against the opponents asserts, “This is the one who came by water and blood (sacrificial death on the cross), Jesus Christ, not with the water only (the water of baptism, as the opponents claimed) but with the water and with the blood (death on the cross again, or perhaps both baptism and death on the cross)….” In the repetition of the phrase “water and blood” the preposition ejn (en) is repeated before both nouns (ejn tw'/ u{dati kaiV ejn tw'/ ai{mati, en tw Judati kai en tw Jaimati), and it is not possible to determine conclusively whether the author intended a separate reference here to Jesus’ baptism as well as to his death on the cross, or (as in the first occurrence) a combined reference only to his death, or (a third possibility) a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross followed by the outpouring of the Spirit (John 19:34-35). But it does seem clear that the author’s point is that the opponent’s confession, that Jesus at his baptism “came by water” only, is insufficient as a christological confession. Thus, although it is impossible to be dogmatic about all of the details, some variation of the fourth view, that the first reference to “water and blood” in 5:6 is a comprehensive reference to Jesus’ death on the cross (which may or may not include a reference to the outpouring of the Spirit), seems preferable.

The relationship between the Spirits testimony in 5:6b and the authors assertion that Jesus came with water and blood in 5:6a. Why has the author introduced a reference to the Holy Spirit in 5:6b? The answer may be found in a further relationship between the present passage and the context of John 19:34, which seems to be in the background of this passage (see the discussion in the preceding section). In John 19:25-27 Jesus handed over the care of his mother to the Beloved Disciple, whom we have understood to be the Apostle John. In 19:30 Jesus handed over the Spirit. In 19:34 blood and water are said to have flowed from his side when pierced by the soldier’s spear. The Beloved Disciple testified to what happened, and in the following verse his testimony is said to be true. It is probable that the flow of water from Jesus’ side was understood in the early Christian community to represent symbolically the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; this is certainly consistent with the imagery of John 7:39 where the Spirit is explicitly mentioned. In John 19:35 appeal is made to the apostolic eyewitness testimony as confirmation of the truth of the events surrounding Jesus’ death on the cross. Here in 1 John, the Apostle John himself, locked in a crucial debate with the opponents over the acceptance of that very apostolic eyewitness testimony (concerning the salvific significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus) appeals to an even higher witness, the Holy Spirit, who offers a present and continuing testimony to the significance of Jesus’ coming by “water and blood,” i.e., his sacrificial death on the cross.667

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “because”) in 5:6b. This Joti is best understood as causal. Some interpreters have taken it as giving the content of the Spirit’s testimony: “and the Spirit is the one who testifies that the Spirit is the truth.” This is certainly possible, since a Joti-clause following the cognate verb marturevw (marturew, “I witness,” “I testify”) would normally be expected to be a direct object (i.e., indirect discourse) clause giving the content of the testimony. Examples of this can be found frequently in the Gospel of John (1:34, 3:28, 4:39, 4:44) and 1 John (4:14). But in the Gospel of John the Spirit never bears witness on his own behalf, but always on behalf of Jesus (John 15:26; also 16:13). There are, in fact, some instances in the Gospel of John where a Joti-clause following marturevw (marturew) is causal (John 8:14, 15:27), and that is more likely the meaning here: “and the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” Once again, however, the author’s tendency to write obscure sentences is obvious, and it is not absolutely certain that a causal sense best represents the author’s meaning here.

    5:7 For there are three that testify,

    Summary

The author now calls on three witnesses to support his claims about the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross. The longer version of this and the next verse found in the Textus Receptus (Received Text) is almost certainly not original.

    Exegetical Details

Textual problems concerning the longer version of 5:7. The Textus Receptus (Received Text) of 1 John 5:7-8 contains additional words which are absent from the earliest and best Greek manuscripts. These words, known as the Comma Johanneum (Latin for “Johannine sentence”) are inserted between vv. 7-8 and read as follows: ejn tw'/ oujranw'/, oJ pathvr, oJ lovgo, kaiV toV a{gion pneu'ma, kaiV ou|toi oiJ trei' e{n eijsi. 5:8 kaiV trei' eijsin oiJ marturou'nte ejn th'/ gh'/ (“…in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 5:8 And there are three that testify on earth…”). Although the words are fairly well known in the English-speaking world (primarily through their inclusion in the King James Version), manuscript and contextual evidence is decidedly against their authenticity.668 The longer reading is found only in eight late mss, four of which have the words in a marginal note. Most of these mss (2318, 221, and [with minor variations] 61, 88, 429, 629, 636, and 918) originate from the sixteenth century; the earliest ms, codex 221 (tenth century) includes the reading in a marginal note, added sometime after the original composition. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek ms until the 1500’s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. The story of how the longer reading was omitted from the first two editions of Erasmus’ text (1516, 1519) but came to be included in his later editions is well known. One of Erasmus’ most vocal critics was Stunica, one of the editors of the Complutensian Polyglot, who charged that Erasmus’ text lacked the trinitarian affirmation of 1 John 5:7-8 (the passage currently under discussion). Erasmus responded that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, but – unwisely as it turned out – promised that if he were shown one Greek manuscript containing the words, he would insert them. A manuscript containing the “missing” words was produced, probably written to order around 1520 by a Franciscan friar who took the words from the Latin Vulgate and translated them back into Greek.669 Erasmus became aware of this manuscript between May 1520 and September 1521. He kept his promise and inserted the words of the Comma into his third edition (1522), but indicated in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the Greek manuscript containing the disputed words had been written to order.670 The influential German translation of Luther was based on Erasmus’ second edition (1519) and so did not contain the Comma. But the translators of the King James Version, who worked mainly from Theodore Beza’s tenth edition (1598), which was based on the third and later editions of Erasmus (as well as those of Stephanus), included the Comma because they found it in these editions of the Greek text.671

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “for”) at the beginning of 5:7. A second causal Joti-clause (after the one at the end of the preceding verse) is somewhat awkward, especially since the reasons offered in each are somewhat different. The content of the second Joti-clause (the one in question here) goes somewhat beyond the content of the first. The first Joti-clause, the one at the end of 1 John 5:6, stated the reason why the Spirit is the one who testifies: because the Spirit is the truth. The second Joti-clause, here, states that there are three witnesses, of which the Spirit is one. It is probably best, therefore, to understand this second o{ti (Joti) as indicating a somewhat looser connection than the first, not strictly causal but more inferential in sense (the English translation “for” captures this inferential sense).672

    5:8 …the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.

    Summary

There have been many attempts to identify who (or what) the three witnesses (the Spirit and the water and the blood) refer to. It is probably best to see these as references to Jesus’ power to make alive (Spirit), cleanse the believer from sin (water) and atone (blood). There is support for this symbolism in the Gospel of John (6:63, 13:10) and in 1 John (1:7, 2:2). It is also supported from the Old Testament prophecy of Zech 12:10–13:1, part of which is quoted in John 19:37. But how does all this relate to the author’s debate with the opponents? If (as we have suggested previously) the debate centered over the saving significance of what Jesus did during his earthly life and ministry (especially his death on the cross), then the continuing presence of Jesus’ power in the Christian community to which the author is writing is experienced by believers as they are made alive (by the Spirit), cleansed from their sins (represented by water) and reconciled to God (by Jesus’ death on the cross). These three things are “witnesses” because although the opponents can deny the apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry they cannot deny the present effects of Jesus’ actions in the lives of believers within the congregation.

    Exegetical Details

The identification of the three that testify in 5:8, “the Spirit and the water and the blood,” and their relationship to one another. The “three that testify” introduced in 1 John 5:7 are listed in 5:8 as “the Spirit and the water and the blood.” While in 5:6 the author affirmed that Jesus came by water and blood673 and the Spirit testifies, now in 5:8 he says that all three, the Spirit and the water and the blood, do the testifying. There does not seem to be any logical subordination to their testimony (e.g., the Spirit testifying through the water and the blood) because of the three parallel uses of kaiv (kai, “and”).

Once again, as with the “water and blood” in 5:6, there have been numerous proposals for the meaning of the “three witnesses” mentioned here.

(1) One of the oldest interpretations is the trinitarian one, based partly on the statement at the end of 5:8, which sees a reference to the Father, Spirit, and Son (in that order). This involves understanding the explicit reference to the Spirit as a reference to the Father, however, because in order for the symbolism to fit Johannine usage as developed and reflected in the Fourth Gospel, “water” must refer to the Holy Spirit (otherwise the Spirit is mentioned twice, directly [“Spirit”] and indirectly [“water”] in the same sequence). The problem with the water symbolism in the Gospel of John is a major difficulty for this view.

(2) T. W. Manson and W. Nauck argued that the passage refers to an early Christian initiation ritual which survived in the Syriac church which involved anointing the candidate with oil (representing the Spirit), administering baptism (= water) and the Lord’s supper (= blood).674 Although this interpretation has the advantage of preserving the order of the three witnesses as found in vv. 7-8, there is no evidence in the New Testament of a practice of anointing converts prior to baptism.675 Furthermore, there is no evidence such a practice was current either in heretical or orthodox circles during the first century.676

(3) Perhaps the most common interpretation sees the three witnesses as references to the ordinances (sacraments) of Christian baptism and the Lord’s supper.677 Major objections to this view are: (a) This view encounters the difficult problem of what to do with the explicit mention of the Spirit, which cannot be understood as a ‘sacrament’ in the sense that the water and blood can.678 (It has even been suggested that the Spirit ‘administers’ the sacraments in some sense!) (b) There is no other attested use of the term ai|ma (Jaima, “blood”) to refer to the eucharist.679 (c) If “water” in 1 John 5:6 is understood to refer to Jesus’ baptism, how could Christian baptism here be a witness to that?680

(4) Another interpretation understands all three elements as references to Jesus’ power to make alive (Spirit), cleanse (water) and atone (blood).681 There is support for this understanding of the symbolism within the Gospel of John (John 6:63, 13:10) as well as 1 John itself (1 John 1:7, 2:2), and this is also supported by the Old Testament prophecy of Zech 12:10-13:1, part of which is quoted in John 19:37). It is also clear from our interpretation of 5:6 that the water and the blood, at least, relate to the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. But one may still ask, how does all this relate to the author’s debate with the opponents?682 If, as we have suggested, the debate centers over the salvific significance of what Jesus did during his earthly life and ministry, the continuing presence of Jesus’ power in the Christian community to which the author is writing is experienced by believers as they are made alive (by the Spirit), cleansed from their sins, and reconciled to God (both by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross). These things are witnesses who “testify” because, although the opponents can deny the apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life, ministry, and death on the cross, they cannot deny the present effects of these actions and events in the lives of believers within the Christian community.

The meaning of the authors assertion in 5:8, oiJ trei' eij toV e{n eijsin (Joi treis eis to Jen eisin, “these three are in agreement”). Some interpreters saw in this phrase, because of its similarities to statements made by Jesus in the Gospel of John (“The Father and I are one,” John 10:30; “that they may be one just as we are one,” John 17:11, 22) support for a trinitarian interpretation of the ‘three witnesses’ mentioned in the first part of the verse. This view we rejected already.683 The remaining problem with the phrase oiJ trei' eij toV e{n eijsin (Joi treis eis to Jen eisin, “these three are in agreement”) is the use of the preposition eij (eis) in such a context. Some have suggested that the prepositions eij (eis) and ejn (en) are interchangeable in New Testament Greek. While on some occasions that is true, it does little to clarify the meaning here. Better is the suggestion found in both Blass-Debrunner and M. Zerwick684 that eij (eis) + accusative has replaced the predicate nominative under the influence of the Hebrew preposition lamed, and in fact similar constructions are found in the Qumran scrolls (e.g., 1QS 5:2).685 Thus the meaning of the phrase in 1 John 5:8 is that the three witnesses are in agreement.686 They work together to achieve the same result, that is, to establish the truth that Jesus is Christ (Messiah) and Son of God (cf. John 20:31).687 Many see in the number of the witnesses (three) the Old Testament requirement that evidence had to be confirmed by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15; cf. John 8:17-18).

    5:9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son.

    Summary

Sometimes the testimony of men is thought to refer to the “three witnesses” in the previous verse. More likely it refers to the testimony of John the Baptist at the baptism of Jesus (John 1:32, 3:31-33, 5:36) which the opponents were quoting to support their claim that Jesus “came by water” at his baptism (see 1 John 5:6). In this case the author of 1 John mentions here a fourth witness in addition to the three mentioned in v. 8: the fourth witness is God Himself, who has testified concerning his Son. The author is saying that the opponents, in their appeal to the human testimony of John the Baptist, are wrong because God’s testimony surpasses human testimony. For what the testimony of God consists of, we must look ahead to v. 11a.

    Exegetical Details

The referent(s) of the testimony of men in 5:9. There are three possibilities for the referent of this phrase.

(1) It may refer to the testimony of the three witnesses mentioned in the preceding verse. Some interpreters have had difficulty relating the witness of the “Spirit” in 5:8 to the testimony of men here, but in view of the interpretation we suggested in v. 8 for the identification of the three witnesses (a reference to the continuing presence of Jesus’ power in the community, experienced by believers as they are made alive [by the Spirit], cleansed from their sins, and reconciled to God [the last two by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross]) it is not difficult to see how the author could refer here to the “testimony of men,” since people in the believing community would be giving testimony to the continuing activity of Jesus in their midst as reflected in v. 8. Yet to some extent this view is related to one’s identification of the “testimony of God” later in the present verse; see the following section.

(2) Another suggestion has been that “the testimony of men” refers simply to human testimony in general.688 This interpretation, however, suffers from a failure to relate to the context of the preceding verse.

(3) The phrase “the testimony of men” refers to the testimony of John the Baptist at the baptism of Jesus (John 1:32, 3:31-33, 5:36). In this case the phrase refers implicitly to the claims of the opponents, who are claiming the support of John the Baptist’s (human) testimony for their claim that Jesus “came by water” at his baptism.689

Of these three alternatives, the first and third are most probable. The decision between them rests largely on one’s understanding of the context and one’s ability to reconstruct the views of the opponents, an undertaking that must remain to some extent speculative. Although it is difficult to decide between the first and third alternatives, I prefer the third because I think the entire section is a polemic against the opponents and their views, and understand the “testimony of God” mentioned in the following verse to refer to a fourth witness added to the “three witnesses” of 5:8.690 If the first view is correct, then the author is saying that the “testimony of men” is the testimony of believers in the community to which he is writing, yet God’s testimony is weightier still (an implicit comparison in degree). If the third view is correct, the author is saying that the opponents, in their appeal to the human testimony of John the Baptist to support their claims, are wrong, because God’s testimony surpasses human testimony (an implicit comparison of kind [the wrong claims of the opponents versus the right claims of the author and the other apostolic eyewitnesses, which agrees with God’s testimony]). It seems to me that in the author’s ongoing debate with the opponents, which runs throughout 1 John, the latter reconstruction of the argument is more likely to be correct.691

The referent(s) of the testimony of God in 5:9. Identifying the referent or referents for the “testimony of God” introduced in 1 John 5:9 presents another major difficulty. This time there are two primary alternatives:

(1) It may refer to the testimony of the “three witnesses” mentioned in 5:8, so that the testimony of the three is in fact the testimony of God himself. This is the way the neb translates the first Joti-clause in 5:9: “and this threefold testimony is indeed that of God himself.” Since we have already identified the three witnesses of 5:8 as referring to the continuing presence of Jesus’ power in the Christian community, experienced by believers as they are made alive (by the Spirit), cleansed from their sins, and reconciled to God (the last two by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross), we would have to understand God as speaking through these evidences within the community.

(2) The “testimony of God” may refer to a new, fourth testimony in addition to the three of 5:8. In this case, we must look forward in the context to identify the “testimony of God”, and this is precisely what 5:11a seems to do (“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life…”). This view seems preferable because 5:11a seems to point forward and define the “testimony of God” as something different from the “three witnesses” in 5:8. There is a partial parallel which supports this view in John 5:31-40, where a list of witnesses to Jesus are given: the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus (5:32-33), the works that Jesus was doing (5:36), the testimony of the Father himself (5:37-38), and finally the testimony of the scriptures (5:39). In this case there are three witnesses to Jesus, and then a fourth (the testimony of the scriptures) is added to the three.

The force of the first o{ti (Joti, “because”) that introduces 5:9b. This Joti almost certainly introduces a causal clause, giving the reason why the “testimony of God” is greater than the “testimony of men”: “because this is God’s testimony that he has testified concerning his Son.”

The force of the second o{ti (Joti, “that”) in 5:9b. The second Joti in 5:9 may be understood in three different ways. (1) It may be causal, in which case it gives the reason why the testimony just mentioned is God’s testimony: “because this is the testimony of God, because he has testified concerning his Son.” This is extremely awkward because of the preceding Joti-clause which, as we have already pointed out, is almost certainly causal (see the previous section), although the second Joti could perhaps be resumptive in force, continuing the first. (2) The second Joti could be understood as epexegetical (explanatory), in which case it explains what the testimony of God mentioned in the preceding clause consists of: “because this is the testimony of God, [namely,] that he has testified concerning his Son.”692 This is much smoother grammatically, but encounters the logical problem that “the testimony of God” is defined in 5:11 (“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life…”) and the two definitions of what the testimony of God consists of are not identical (some interpreters would say that they are not even close). Thus (3) the smoothest way to understand the second Joti logically is to read it as a relative pronoun: “because this is the testimony of God which he has testified concerning his Son….” In this case it is exactly parallel to the relative clause which occurs in 5:10b: “because he has not believed the testimony which (h}n, Jhn) God has testified concerning his Son.”693 In an effort to derive a similar sense from the second Joti in 5:9 it has been suggested that the conjunction o{ti (Joti) should be read as an indefinite relative pronoun o{ti (Joti, sometimes written o{ ti [Jo ti]).694 The problem with this suggestion is the use of the neuter relative pronoun to refer to a feminine antecedent (hJ marturiva [Jh marturia, “the testimony”]). It is not without precedent for a neuter relative pronoun to refer to an antecedent of differing gender, especially as some forms tended to become fixed in usage and were used without regard to agreement. But in this particular context it is difficult to see why the author would use a neuter indefinite relative pronoun here in 5:9b and then use the normal feminine relative pronoun (h}n, Jhn) in the next verse. Perhaps this strains at the limits of even the notorious Johannine preference for stylistic variation, although it is impossible to say what the author of 1 John might or might not have been capable of doing! Because of the simplicity and logical smoothness which results from reading Joti as equivalent to a relative pronoun, I prefer the third option, although it is not without its difficulties (as are all three options). The NET Bible also follows this third option, but uses “that” to translate Joti instead of the relative pronoun “which” for English stylistic reasons.

The referent of au{th (Jauth, “this”) in 5:9. The problem with au{th (Jauth) in 1 John 5:9 lies in determining whether it refers to what precedes or to what follows. A few interpreters would see this as referring to the preceding verses (5:7-8), but the analogy with the author’s other uses of au{th (Jauth) in 1 John 1:5, 3:11, 23 suggests a reference to what follows. In all of the other instances of au{th ejstin (Jauth estin, in 1:5, 3:11, 23) the phrase is followed by an epexegetical (explanatory) clause giving the referent (a Joti-clause in 1:5, Jina-clauses in 3:11 and 3:23). We have already discussed in the preceding section the Joti-clause which follows the demonstrative au{th (Jauth) in 5:9 and concluded that it does not explain the testimony, but should be understood as an adjectival relative clause which qualifies the testimony further. The Joti-clause which explains the testimony of 5:9 (to which the au{th [Jauth] in 5:9 refers) is found in 5:11, where the phrase au{th ejstin (Jauth estin) is repeated. Thus the second use of au{th ejstin (Jauth estin) in 5:11 is resumptive, and the Joti-clause which follows the au{th (Jauth) in 5:11 is the epexegetical (explanatory) clause which explains both it and the au{th (Jauth) in 5:9 which it resumes.695

    5:10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.)

    Summary

This verse is a parenthesis in the author’s argument, which is then resumed in v. 11. The author, in context, is not distinguishing between the person who has made a personal committment to Jesus (The one who believes in the Son of God) and the person who has failed to do so, but between the person who has made a true christological confession and the person who has made a false one (has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son, referring to the secessionist opponents).

    Exegetical Details

This entire verse constitutes a parenthesis in John’s argument, which is then resumed in v. 11. The verse is placed in parentheses in the NET Bible to indicate this.

The difference between pisteuvwn eij toVn uiJoVn tou' qeou' (pisteuwn eis ton Juion tou qeou, “believes in the Son of God”) and pisteuvwn tw'/ qew'/ (pisteuwn tw qew, “believe God”) in 5:10. Again there is probably no difference in the significance of these constructions.696 This is made clear by the following phrase pepivsteukamen eij thVn marturivan (pepisteukamen eis thn marturian, “believed in the testimony”) in 5:10b which uses pisteuvw + eij (pisteuw + eis