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New Testament / Commentary

A New Paradigm in Bible Commentaries The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series, written by accomplished biblical scholars with all students of the Bible in mind, presents relevant scholarship in an accessible way. A visual generation of believers deserves a commentary series that contains not only the all-important textual commentary on Scripture but also images, photographs, maps, works of fine art, and drawings that bring the text to life.

The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary features: • Visually stimulating and user-friendly format

SMYTH & HELWYS BIBLE COMMENTARY

1, 2 & 3 John

• Insight from many of today’s finest scholars • Accompanying CD-ROM featuring powerful searching and research tools • Format that is ideal in a college/seminary classroom or a church setting • Distinctive hyperlinks that connect special interest boxes printed in color • Thorough indexes enabling the reader to locate information quickly • Internet support for news, information, updates, and enhancements to the series

Peter Rhea Jones


Concerning the Word of Life 1 John 1:1-4

COMMENTARY Comparisons with John 1:1-18

While the rhetorical force of the opening lines may not compare with the elegance of the celebrated prologue of the Gospel of John, the first four verses of 1 John succeed in making quite an impact in accumulating fashion. These opening lines (beginnings usually are important in a literary work) present an important christological claim. The lines also allow the reader to overhear something of the typical Johannine missionary preaching. These verses virtually cry out for comparison with John 1:1-18. First of all, the introductory paragraph of the Epistle is too reminiscent or parallel to the prologue of John to be accidental. Indeed, some suspect conscious imitation.1 The reader notes a movement or thought sequence from word to life to light in both, though neither light nor darkness is explicit in 1 John until v. 5. Observe the immediate mention of “beginning” in both prologues and the centrality of the Son. Both are christocentric, though the Epistle will devise theocentric starting points. Father and Son are prominent in both. A notable bearing witness appears in both, primarily featured by the Baptizer in John (vv. 6-9) and the mysterious “we” in the Epistle (and John 1:14b). Indeed, both writings by their nature bear witness and invite faith. Both use the language of “beholding” (theaomai in v. 14b in John and v. 1d in 1 John). Such commonalities imply the value of interpreting John by John just as we compare parallel passages in different Pauline Epistles. These commonalities allow us to seat the preface of the Epistle in the matrix of Johannine theology, perhaps a Johannine school of similar conceptuality. Secondly, however, the opening lines of the Epistle are custom fit, crafted for the crisis. Closer comparative reading of the two prologues uncovers telling differences that bear upon each one’s distinctive


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intent. Each must be read on its own. The early word “beginning” in the Epistle (1:1a) can be read as referring to the time of the ministry of Jesus, for example, and one is at least suspicious whether “word” carries the exalted meaning of the Logos as in John 1:1 or implies more message or gospel.2 While the famed Advent claim “The Word became flesh” stands pivotally present in John (1:14a), the issue is more the Life revealed as well as incarnated in the Epistle (1:2a). The differences are actually quite helpful in discerning the particular design of the exordium of the Epistle for all its echoes or conscious imitation of the Gospel. The Epistle says nothing overtly either about a christological role in creation or about the glory of Jesus. We read nothing of grace and truth or Moses and the Law, issues far more relevant for the probable situation of painful separation from Judaism during the development of John, but not one of the issues that called forth the Epistle. We do find fellowship concerns in the first paragraph (1 John 1:3-4), most revealing considering the schism in the church (2:19). The most obvious characteristic of the Epistle’s introduction, which manages to become a monotonous drumbeat within the compass of three verses, centers on hearing and seeing this Life manifested in a person. The Epistle’s agenda, dictated by an alarming diminution of the real humanity of Jesus, often referred to as an early form of docetism (appearing), called for an unambiguous confession of Jesus really come in flesh (4:2). Interestingly, the ironies of the Gospel’s overture are missing in the Epistle, including Jesus’ own people not receiving him (1:11), but 1 John wastes no time in exposing those claiming to be true believers yet walking in darkness (1:6). The epistolary writer does not address the issue of rejection like John (vv. 10-11) but is passionately concerned about acceptance and inclusion (vv. 3-4). So comparison to the prologue of John is telling. Similarly, further insight into the particular message of the first paragraph of 1 John can be derived from the seemingly unpromising analysis of its tangled syntax in the original Greek, less apparent in modern translations. The opening lines cry out for rearrangement. Verse 1 begins with a series of parallel constructions (relative clauses) and closes with a prepositional phrase (“concerning the word of life”) that may be the theme, but the first verse ends without a primary verb in sight, only to be followed by an interruption or parenthesis (v. 2) still with no period. Verse 3 resumes the direction of v. 1, picking up again with a relative clause. Much repetition occurs, especially “hearing” and “seeing”


1 John 1:1-4

(vv. 1ab, 2b, 3a) and “announce” or “declare” or “proclaim” (vv. 2b, 3b). Most students take the primary verb “proclaim” or “declare” from v. 3 and supply it earlier. The NRSV boldly adds a third “declare” at the beginning, making it far smoother and clearer but more removed from the literal Greek: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard . . . .” The NIV retains the rhetorical flourish of the opening relative clauses of v. 1 but does supply its own “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” Several speculations may be tendered in the form of questions for the reader. Does the opening “declare” in the NRSV give the Epistle, or at least the preface, a more manifesto feel? Does the “proclaim” of the NIV imply sermon for 1 John? Could the seemingly tangled grammar of the epistolary prologue suggest dictation? Were a translation to supply “witness” as well as a primary verb, would it capture even more of the sense of 1:1-3 (cf. John 8:14, 18)? First John 1:1-4 may be categorized informatively as a prologue or incipit, but the rhetorical term exordium, which like a prologue introduces an extended poem, may be used to begin a speech. (Aristotle makes elaborate remarks about various exordia in his classic Art of Rhetoric 3.13.3-14.12.) A proper exordium must declare purpose and announce crucial themes. Among such themes one finds “from the beginning,” tangibility of the Son, eternal life, revelation, fellowship, the Father and the Son as inseparables. Among purposes one finds the forging or firming of a fellowship at 1:3, appealing to self-interest. The writer utilizes the language of eyewitness testimony (cf. John 1:33) and spiritual relationships. Exegetical Observations

The first words refer to “what was from beginning” (v. 1a). Coming as they do at the outset, they seem to echo Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. Many superb scholars do in fact interpret them as portraying the absolute beginning.3 For Schnackenburg, “from the beginning” does not refer to the doctrine preached from the beginning but “to the personal bearer of the archetypal being (‘him who is from the beginning,’ 2:13-14)” as is supported by “the word of life.”4 Raymond Brown, however, made a strong and convincing case for the reference being to “the person, words, and deeds of Jesus” in company with his disciples after his baptism,5 a view held by this commentator as well because the contextual proximity and relative construction parallel to “what we have heard . . . seen . . .”suggest the same event, and due to the use of “from,” typical in 1 John,

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Beginnings Note that in Johannine thought, great interest centers on beginnings, a pivotal concept, whether it has to do with a pre-creational existence (John 1:1; cf. Heb 1:10), the historical ministry of Jesus (John 8:25; 15:27; 16:4; cf. Acts 1:2122; Phil 4:15), or the outset of discipleship (1 John 2:7, 24; 3:11; 2 John 5; 6). The author’s appeal to authority depends particularly upon the teaching (commandments) of Jesus and consistency with the instruction given to the recipients. He refers not to the beginning of time but to the beginning of the community.

rather than “in beginning” as John 1:1. While the grandeur of the first clause of the Gospel is undeniable, the epistolary writer has nothing less important in mind in his first clause than the beginning of Christianity. It will certainly be recognized, however, from v. 2 and its reference to eternal life and being “with the Father” that our author intends preexistence and transcendent significance. Admittedly, it is a hard call: one could take “was” at v. 1a as primordial, then interpret “and” at the beginning of v. 2 as stage two, temporally, to the precreational beginnings (1:1a). [Beginnings] The rolling relative clauses (v. 1) involving hearing, seeing, and touching have in common firsthand sensory perception that corroborates the physicality of Jesus. The audibility, visibility, and tangibility are established early on as an anti-gnostic or at least anti-docetic antidote (4:2-3; 2 John 7). And observe how the tangibility is heightened. The writer, not content to claim seeing and touching as signs of empirical reality, accentuates the seeing as “with our own eyes” and the touching as “with our own hands.” The author goes out of the way to stress the historical, spatio-temporal fleshly existence of Jesus as in the account of his death in John 19:34-35. Indeed, the Gospel includes an important christological model of hearing and seeing (3:31-32). The One from heaven testifies to what he has seen and heard from the Father (8:26, 28). The disciples then hear what Jesus says, “the words of God” (3:34; 8:47), thus having the authority of what comes ultimately from the Father. Also, pertinently Peter says to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). In 1 John the message “heard” includes the ethical, especially the commandment to love one another, and puts a premium upon the teaching of Jesus. Both the words and person of Jesus are at issue in this crisis within the Johannine church (1 John 3:23). [Resurrection Accounts in the Gospel] The other word used for seeing in v. 1, translated “looked at” (NRSV, NIV), might involve the sight of faith. It is an elevated word of seeing that can suggest penetrating beyond what was accessible to outward vision, possibly suggesting a discernment of the inward glory of Jesus or the aspect of revelation. [Particular Verb of Seeing]

This opening verse and the following two verses give the reader an almost inescapable sense of an eyewitness claim, especially “our eyes” and “our hands.” It reads so much like a witness announcement that the hypothesis has been advanced that 1:1-5 was an


1 John 1:1-4 Resurrection Accounts in the Gospel While the resurrection is apparently not at issue in 1 John, it appears more than likely that v. 1 includes in its scope appearances of the risen Christ as recounted in John. For example, the Beloved Disciple saw the linen wrappings lying in the tomb (20:5) and, entering, saw and believed (20:8), forging a vital connection between seeing and believing. Mary Magdalene looked into the tomb (20:11), encountered the risen Lord through hearing and perhaps touching, announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord (same verbal form), and reported what she had heard him say (20:18). The Lord would show the disciples both his hands and his side, and they would report that they saw the Lord (20:20, 24). The resistance of Thomas to Easter belief, refusing to believe unless he saw the imprint of the nails in his hands (20:25), also tends to stress the reality of Jesus. His realization of the continuity between the historical Jesus and the resurrected Lord came through seeing and touching (20:27). Could it be that 1 John 1:1-4 is more related to the resurrection than normally thought? Could testimony about the cross also be conveyed through the Beloved Disciple (John 19:25-27, 33-34)? In this famous painting by Holman Hunt, Christ stands at a door holding a lantern that illuminates the darkness, offering light to those on the inside who may open the door and enjoy his fellowship (cf. 1 Jn 1:3-4). William Holman Hunt (1827–1910). The Light of the World. Keble College, Oxford, Great Britain. (Credit: Foto Marburg / Art Resource, NY)

original witness report and the rest of the Epistle an exposition.6 At first impression, the mysterious “we” in the prologue certainly calls up the idea of actual eyewitnesses.7 Does the author speak in the name of the body of disciples, possibly as the last surviving representative thus asserting apostolic authority,8 or is it a literary or editorial “we,”9 or is the author associating the elders of Ephesus with himself?10 Is it somehow the witness of the Beloved Disciple11 or his disciples, tradition bearers who preserve his witness, possibly in a Johannine school?12 Does it mean “we, the Johannine community” (John 1:14) since “we” later in the Epistle includes author and readers?13 Is it the church in solidarity with eyewitnesses?14 Certainty cannot be enjoyed here, nor for that matter does the same “we” occur throughout the Epistle. It does indeed often include the author and the readers, the associative usage, but scarcely in the case of the preface in the light of v. 3. Here at v. 3 it seems most likely to be a matter of augmented apostolic authority

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similar to 4:14 and John 1:14. We could be hearing the report of the Beloved Disciple through his circle. We could be reading the report of the Elder John, a second John in Ephesus, which could fit a number of these groupings. And we cannot dogmatically exclude the disciple John as the writer. I suspect something like a Johannine school stands in the background, perhaps with the C. H. Peisker, “theaomai,” EDNT, 2:136. Elder John as the primary spokesperson. Whatever the exact identity, the haunting impression of an actual eyewitness report is not easily dismissed! Importantly, in John 15:27 the apostles are described as eyewitnesses from the beginning. They are eyewitnesses and advocates. The text purports to reflect the apostolic voice and in effect credentializes (cf. Gal 1–2), desirous that this witness be received (4:6). [Import of “concerning the Particular Verb of Seeing The verb theaomai connotes “intensive, thorough, lingering, astonished, reflective, comprehending observation,” and in passages like John 1:14 and 1 John 1:1 can suggest going “beyond reflective observation to an awareness of matters that are not perceptible to the senses . . . .” We have here not merely sight but insight. We could have the intuitive faith at the tomb (John 20:8) and in the boat (21:7).

word of life”] Import of “concerning the word of life” The prepositional phrase “concerning the word of life” can be interpreted as a life-giving message (cf. John 5:24; 1 John 3:14; Phil 2:16), or as the preexistent Logos (cf. John 1:1), or both. To put it another way, should “word” (logos) be capitalized? C. H. Dodd convincingly argued for the rendering of “gospel” (John 6:68; 2 Tim 1:10; Acts 5:20), “the life-giving Word of God which came to men through Christ and is embodied in the Gospel.” Brown pointed out how in the following verse “the theme of ‘life’ and not the theme of ‘word’ is developed.” Verse 5 with its “message” appears to be decisive along with other typical texts (1:10; 2:5, 7, 14). This prepositional phrase beginning “concerning” signals here and elsewhere the topic of one of the topoi. “Life,” however, does not stand merely for something you hear but for someone you could see and touch and hear, a personification. Eternal life and the Son are inseparable in 1 John (cf. 5:11-12). C. H. Dodd, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1932), 5. Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (AB 30; Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1982), 164.

Verse 2, a kind of parenthetical interruption, functions effectively as an explanation or epexegesis of “concerning the word of life.” The author makes an announcement of a momentous event: the life “appeared” (NIV) or “was revealed” (NRSV). The manifestation of the preexisting Life was a momentous event. [Greek Meaning] Jesus, his name so far withheld, functions not only as the object of the proclamation but the very embodiment of divine life (1:1). In his origin, ministry, personal teaching, and his resurrected life, the very character of eternal life, a prevailing theme in both the Gospel and the Epistle, emerged tangibly. The famous words of the Johannine Christ graphically illustrate this: “I am the resurrection and the life; the one believing in me, even though he or she may die, will live” (John 11:25). One might be inclined on the basis of v. 2 to name 1 John “The Epistle of Eternal Life,” particularly in the light of 5:13. The introductory sentences show how and in whom that life was uniquely manifested, and the rest of the Epistle shows how and in whom the presence of that life in professing believers may be discerned. Verse 2 makes two primary claims regarding the Life, preexistence with the Father and a verified manifestation. Eternal life, for the Epistle, resides in


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the Son but is given to believers. Some see Greek Meaning eternal life as the primary theme.15 The Greek word in the passive can mean “appear” or “become concerned While reiterating the claims of v. 1 and folprecisely with concrete appearance and its value lowing the interruption of v. 2, v. 3 advances to for knowledge in emphasizing God’s salvific the purpose of the writing with the use of “so activity . . . .” that” (hina). Both what the apostles had seen P. G. Mueller, “phaneroo,” EDNT 3:414. and heard are announced to the recipients, the past event expressed in the perfect tense shows that it continues to have results. It may seem inappropriately evangelistic as a reflection of the typical preaching from the community (and cf. John 17:26). Of course, the writer wants the readers to firm up their alliance. The revelation (vv. 1-2) demands declaration, both in teaching and personal activity, so that the recipients might have fellowship with those who affirm the original revelation of eternal life. The marked eagerness to proclaim, as though “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have heard and seen” (Acts 4:20), indicates that the faithful commitment of the recipients was not a foregone conclusion but the outcome poised delicately in the balance. The author claims a privileged position as spokesperson for those to whom the manifestation was made (v. 2) and for those who have direct fellowship with Father and Son (v. 3). The witnesses function as a vital intermediate link. The Epistle itself functions by reaching out through its written witness and proclamation, not inviting the readers to become Christians but to remain faithful followers (cf. John 15:4). Indeed, the modern reader “witnesses the Christian community struggling to rescue itself from an annihilation resulting from a schismatic movement.”16 [Mutual Indwelling] The final verse of the exordium expresses a surprising purpose for writing: that our joy may be completed (perfect passive subjunctive). This satisfying but unselfish attitude is of Mutual Indwelling one who has no greater joy than reports that his The fellowship enjoyed with God, both children continue to walk in the truth (2 John 4; with the Father and the Son, calls to mind mutual indwelling in John 15. Bultmann had 3 John 3-4). This expression, the perfection or it right when he observed that while the word completion of joy in relational terms, also “fellowship” (koinonia) appears only in passing (1 appears in the Gospel (3:29; 15:11; 17:13), a John 1:3, 6, 7) the motif appears throughout the complete joy Jesus himself experienced in felbook wherever it speaks of being in God (2:5; lowship with the Father. Some manuscripts say 5:20) or abiding in God (2:6, 24), and in the recip“your joy” rather than “our joy,” probably influrocal formula, we are in God and he is in us (3:24; 4:13). enced by John 16:24. The author writes with a Rudolf Bultmann, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles certain implicit confidence that the Epistle (trans. Philip O’Hara; ed. Robert Funk; Philadelphia: Fortress, will succeed, the recipients will respond. 1973), 13. However, behind the scenes we should envision


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a competition of two rival groups who send out representatives vying for support. The Elder and the community struggle with an unrequited sense of unease and hope for a good outcome. “These things� (tauta) may well refer to the content of the entire letter. The passion of the writer lies with his Epistle meeting with acceptance and his readers being connected with the authentic apostolic tradition. The author’s joy will be lessened if the readers do not share it. For 1 John, (1) the Christian message is grounded in the apostolic witness of those who were with Jesus, (2) the Son was a real historical figure with an authoritative message, (3) fellowship characterizes this Johannine religion, and (4) faith depends upon revelation.


New Testament / Commentary

A New Paradigm in Bible Commentaries The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series, written by accomplished biblical scholars with all students of the Bible in mind, presents relevant scholarship in an accessible way. A visual generation of believers deserves a commentary series that contains not only the all-important textual commentary on Scripture but also images, photographs, maps, works of fine art, and drawings that bring the text to life.

The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary features: • Visually stimulating and user-friendly format

SMYTH & HELWYS BIBLE COMMENTARY

1, 2 & 3 John

• Insight from many of today’s finest scholars • Accompanying CD-ROM featuring powerful searching and research tools • Format that is ideal in a college/seminary classroom or a church setting • Distinctive hyperlinks that connect special interest boxes printed in color • Thorough indexes enabling the reader to locate information quickly • Internet support for news, information, updates, and enhancements to the series

Peter Rhea Jones

1, 2 & 3 John: SHBC_excerpt 2  
1, 2 & 3 John: SHBC_excerpt 2  

During a historical crisis involving a splintering church, 1 John was written to solidify fellowship among like-minded congregations in a ti...

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