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Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Lesson 32

Epistles of John

In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Lesson 32
Watching Now
Epistles of John

I. The Epistles of John

A. Emphases in John's Writings

[John's gospel vs. 1 John]

1. Deity of Christ vs. Humanity of Christ

2. Empowering believers to keep commands vs. Reminder against claims of sinlessness

3. Realized eschatology vs. Future eschatology

4. Guidance of the Holy Spirit vs. Test the spirits

B. Gnostic Doctrines vs. John's Tests of Life

1. Perfectionism vs. keep the commandments

2. Antinomianism vs. commandments and love

3. Docetism vs. belief in Christ's full humanity

C. The Tests of Life (1 John)

1. Keeping God's commandments

a. Cycle 1 - 1:5-2:6

b. Cycle 2 – 2:28-3:10

c. Cycle 3 – 5:16-21

2. Loving one another

a. Cycle 1 – 2:7-17

b. Cycle 2 - 3:11-24

c. Cycle 3 – 4:7-21

3. Believing in Jesus as the God-man

a. Cycle 1 – 2:18-27

b. Cycle 2 – 4:1-6

c. Cycle 3 – 5:1-15

[Each test entails the other two (3:23-24)]

D. Additional Notes on John's Letters

1. 1 John 1:9 – salvation vs. fellowship

2. 3:2 – moral not physical similarities

3. 4:4 – Spirit in us more powerful than Satan

4. 4:18 – love casting out fear

5. 5:6-7 – the Johannine "comma" and the meaning of the remaining text

6. 5:13 – present tense belief

7. 5:16 – not commanding prayer vs. commanding no prayer

8. 3 John 2 – spiritual vs. physical health

E. Gems from John (or are they??)

1. I John 3:6-9

2. 1 John 2:3-6

3. 1 John 2:16

4. 1 John 2:19

5. 1 John 2:20-23

6. 1 John 2:27

7. 1 John 3:17-18

8. 1 John 3:19-24

9. 1 John 4:1-4

10. 1 John 4:7-12

11. 1 John 5:16-17

12. 2 John 10-11

F. The Johannine Community

1. Gospel: contra schismatics

2. 1st Epistle: schismatics have begun to secede

3. 2nd Epistle: secessionists attacking from outside

4. 3rd Epistle: orthodoxy an embattled minority

5. Revelation: lost their first love


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  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

     

  • Correlation of the accounts in Galatians and Acts on Paul's trip to Jerusalem. 

  • Galatians as a model of apologetics supporting Christianity.

  • Comparing faith and works in Judaism and Christianity. 

  • Paul faced persecution when he preached in Thessalonica. The return of Christ is a central theme in the letters to the Thessalonians.

  • One aspect of the subject of biblical eschatology is the timing and nature of the tribulation. 

  • Paul addresses the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as concerns regarding marriage, spiritiual gifts and the resurrection.

  • Divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by both theology and lifestyle.

  • Whether or not believers should eat food that had been offered to idols was an issue in the Corinthian church. The importance and role of spiritual gifts was a major topic of discussion.

  • Paul updates the people in the church in Corinth about his travels. He also follows up on relationships and defends his apostolic ministry.

  • Paul responds to specific situations in the Corinthian church including emphasizing a correct perspective on giving and encouragement to see God's redemptive purpose in our suffering.

  • Knowing the key places as backgrounds for Romans, the timeline and the outline of the book are helpful to understanding the context and message.

  • Paul wrote Romans as a systematic exposition of the gospel.

     

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the deity of Christ. Philemon was written to a gentlema Paul knows to encourage him to welcome back Onesimus, his runaway slave, who became a disciple of Christ and was returning.

  • Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

  • Paul describes the blessings of salvation and encourages believers to live in unity that transcends cultural and racial barriers. 

  • Paul describes to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, who they are in Christ, and the ethical implications for how they should live their daily lives.

  • Paul contrasts the condescention and the exaltation of Christ, and addresses specific situations in the Philippian church.

  • Paul writes to encourage and instruct Timothy and Titus, both of whom are young pastors. It is important for Titus to identify and train elders and deal effectively with factious people. 

  • Paul instructs Timothy about how to pastor a church and turn it away from heresy.

  • Both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians contain key passages addressing the roles of men and women in the local church. Some of them address conduct when gathering for corporate worship.

  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gives some direction for gender roles in a worship service.

  • Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

  • James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

  • A prominent theme in Hebrews chapters 1-5 is the superiority of Christ to the angels and to Moses.

  • Hebrews 6:4-8 is a key warning passage. Christ's priesthood is superior to both the Levitical priesthood and also to Melchizedek. Chapter 11 remembers the heroes of the faith.

  • A major theme of 1 Peter is perseverance despite persecution.

  • The outline of 1 Peter has similarities to other letters of the first century that emphasize a high view of Christology.

  • Jude and 2 Peter both emphasize refuting false teachers.

  • In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

  • As you study and preach from the epistles of John, note the passages that Dr. Blomberg describes as, “gems from John.”

  • Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

  • In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

  • In both of the possible scenarios for the tribulation, believers are exempt from God’s wrath but they are not exempt from Satan’s attacks.

  • Revelation chapters 12-22 cover themes of salvation and judgment of nations, Armageddon, the millennium and the new heavens and new earth.

Using the English New Testament, this course surveys the New Testament epistles and the apocalypse. Issues of introduction and content receive emphasis as well as a continual focus on the theology of evangelism and on the contemporary relevance of the variety of issues these documents raise for contemporary life.

 

Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
nt512-32
Epistles of John
Lesson Transcript

 

This is the 32nd lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. 

 

Our final collection of New Testament Epistles is the three letters attributed to the Apostle John. As we have been doing in all of these audio files in this taped series, we have not been attempting to cover it comprehensively, either the matters of introduction or those of the commentary. We haven’t attempted anything like a comprehensive coverage even in our accompanying textbook, but we have gone into more detail on a number of items that we’ve mentioned briefly or skipped over altogether. With respect to the letters of John, the same questions of authorship that bedevil the study to the introduction to the Gospel of John reappear here. There are a number of early Christian traditions that attribute the Gospel to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, son of James, one of the inner three core of Jesus’ closest followers and in John’s case, associated with the otherwise beloved disciple of the Gospel of John and the one who reclined on Jesus’ breast, using the old fashion English expression at the Lord’s Super, also described in the Gospel of John. 

 

There is one early church tradition that refers to John the Elder and depending on how the context of that tradition is read, that John may be understood as a separate individual from John the Apostle and in fact a disciple of him, but the grammar is unclear. When we come to the Epistles of John, there are simply fewer early church traditions. We had to come to grips as well with the fact that in 2nd and 3rd John, the author refers to himself as, simply the Elder. So that if Papriyus’ testimony that John the Elder wrote the New Testament document bearing his name does in fact refer to a separate individual than John the son of Zebedee, one could argue that Papriyus was most likely to be correct for 2nd and 3rd John; if indeed he was not correct for all of Johannian literature. On the other hand, the links between the Gospel and direct apostolic eye witness testimony are strong. Of a number of sources see my own introduction in my book, the Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. The stylistic links between the Gospel of John and the three epistles are strong though not unimpeachable; this could then suggest that the apostle is responsible for all of the documents and much like other Christian leaders, like James in the Book of Acts, taking over key leadership roles in the early church; we could easily imagine John referring to himself as an elder of the Ephesian community and not least because the traditions sign John’s writings of all the documents scribed to him at the end of the 1st century when he would have been a quite elderly man. 

 

Be that as it may, what is perhaps more theologically interesting is the comparison of the emphasis between John’s Gospel and the first epistle, the only one that is lengthy enough to have a long list of chief emphasis and intriguingly the only one that matches the Gospel of John in the sense that there is no description of authorship in the text of the epistle itself nor is there even any title, like the elder that comes at the beginning to the letter or anywhere else. Indeed the similarities of form extend further between the Gospels and first epistle with a lofty theological prologue focusing on Jesus as the Word beginning both documents though not nearly as lengthy epistle as in the Gospel. What is dramatically different as we reflected in the PowerPoint slide is the emphasis in John’s writings in particular to what seems to be an opposite emphasis on four key doctrines. This is not to say that each of these two writings do not contain the doctrine that is emphasized in the other. We are not speaking here of alleged contradictions but rather shifts in emphasis. So that even in John’s Gospel clearly acknowledges both Jesus’ humanity and his deity, it’s certainly most strikingly known for its emphasis on the deity of Christ. This is true whether we compare John with the other three Gospels, the so-called synoptic Gospels or whether we compare John with his epistles. Indeed in all New Testament theology, there are those who would argue that John’s Christology is highest of all. The Word was God; the Word was God and there was nothing made, that was not made through him (John 1:1). Verse 3, as the prologue continues. All of the great ‘I am sayings’ commentating in ‘I am who I am’, a reference to Exodus 3:14 is the very divine self-revelation of God to Moses in the burning bush and Thomas’ dramatic confession in 20:28 and following, that Jesus is my Lord and my God, etc. 

 

Of course, John’s Gospel knows as well in 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwell among us, but that is more to the fore in the first epistle. That is what must be confessed in order to distinguish true teachers from false teachers. Note the opening verses of 1st John 4 in particular. That is what is stressed in the prologue in 1st John, that is what we have heard; what we have seen with our eyes which we have looked at, emphasizing the very human reality. Of course the verse opens with that which was from the beginning, alluding, at least implicitly back to his deity or his pre-existence. But the focus, the emphasis has shifted from John’s prologue. The same is true if we contrast the many references to the Paraclete, to the Holy Spirit empowering believers to keep God’s commands and those commands as they are now filtered through the Christ event. Look particularly at the farewell discourse in John 13-17 whereas 1st John 1:6, 8 & 10 creates a trio, a barrage of assertions that if anyone claims to be keeping the commands so well that he or she is no longer sinless, they lie and the truth in not in them. 

 

Thirdly, as one compares John, particularly with the synoptic Gospels, and to a certain degree with all other New Testament writers as well, his emphasis on the future is in the present, on the new age as begun in what theologians call realized eschatology; that eternal life and death start now in the present age. The one who believes on the Son has passed from death into life and the one who doesn’t believe is already now condemned. The language from John 3 and 5 and elsewhere in his Gospel gives way in terms of emphasis to a greater emphasis, a greater insistence on what still remains eschatologically, speaking in the first Gospel. We do not see him for when we shall see him and know him as he really is. 

 

And then finally the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not so much to keep commands as to understand spiritual trues, to recall all that Jesus has taught the disciples, to lead them into further truth. Again, language particular common in chapter’s 14 to 16, the heart of the farewell discourse. Whereas, in a way, almost non-existent, although there are allusions to the coming persecutions in the Gospel of John; there are not the predictions of false teachers as explicitly appear on the scene that John has to combat in the first epistles and therefore again with chapter 4 warns people not to believe every spirit, even those that come in the name of Christ, but to test them and test them particularly in light of their convictions about the humanity of Jesus. If early church tradition is correct that these two documents, the Gospel and the Epistle are written by the same person to the same Christian communities in and around Ephesus, what accounts for this shift? And the answer may be, as we hinted a ways back when we discussed 1st & 2nd Thessalonians. A similar phenomenon may have accounted for the shifts in eschatology from the first of those two letters, namely an overreaction by some that needs to be counter balanced, particularly in light of what now we may speak of as very close to, if not fully emergent Gnosticism, reasonably full blown. Not just proto-Gnosticism or incipient Gnosticism as we have used for possible influences behind some of Paul’s letters back in the 50’s and 60’s, most notably 1st Corinthians. 

 

Note that Gnosticism was known for three particular doctrines relevant to these emphases in the Epistles of John and 1st John in particular. It was known for perfectionism, the belief that because sin was defined entirely in terms of inward attitudes rather than external behavior and because no one could ever access another person’s inward thoughts and attitudes; claims of sinless and moral perfectionism could be made. Clearly 1:6, 8 and 10 could be seen as a direct counter thrust in 1st John to such claims, along with the more general emphasis in his letters to keep the commandments, unnecessary of course if he believed that his charges were already doing so, even reasonable well. A second key Gnostic doctrine was anti-nominalism; lawlessness, which follows directly from the first, various external behaviors that were condemned in the Hebrew Scriptures did not count as sins because Christians were radically free from the law. Free from the Law in a way, going far beyond anything even Paul and the New Covenant age articulated. As long as one’s inward thoughts were pure. Hence again the stress in 1st John to keep the commandments as well as the importance shared with the Gospel of John on loving one another and not hating those and also those who claimed to know God but who hate their brother, being liars and not being a part of God’s people at all. Notice particular the verses in 1st John 3.

 

And then, finally, Gnostics were known for believing that Christ only seemed to be human or more correctly called Docetism, from the Greek verb, ‘to seem’, dokeo and hence the emphasis in 1st John on the belief in Christ for humanity. Scholars correctly point out that Gnosticism was not the only Hellenistic thought form in the ancient world. That proposed perfectionism or anti-nominalism or Docetism, though we don’t know of any other major movement that combined all three of these together. There is an early church tradition in the writings of Irenaeus that speak of an early false teacher who has often been associated with Gnosticism though Irenaeus doesn’t make that association per say by the name of Cerinthus who taught along the lines reflected here that would have necessitated the kind of response that John’s makes. Colin Cruse therefore in his wonderful medium sized commentary on the Epistles of John, makes a very balanced and more modest claim that we should acknowledge that 1st John is combating some combination of Gnosticism, Docetism, which was indeed much more wide spread than just Gnosticism and lastly, Cerinthianism, which may or may not have been part of formal Gnosticism. But nevertheless, these three heresies were present and John had to counter them. 

 

His countering leaves us naturally to a consideration, briefly, of what for the past century or so has been called the tests of life in the Epistles of John. Almost to the same degree as James, perhaps even slightly more so in some circles the outline of the 1st John has been, not only contested, but for some is non-existent, for others, it is very general, for still others, it’s a collection of definable ideas between them and as we mentioned with James and more briefly elsewhere, nothing required an ancient 1st century and particularly Jewish writer of the 1st century to have a modern western linear style outline, though many Greek and Roman writers did. Nevertheless, and again as with James, three key themes certainly do come to the fore that many commentators have identified corresponding to the right hand column to the previous chart involving keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man with the emphasis on his humanity. And going back to a little commentary by Robert Law, a century or so ago, and then modified by John Stott in his well-known and now widely circulated and used Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the Epistles which has gone through two additions. It is, at least, arguable that one can see three main cycles or passes through the epistle dealing with each of these three topics in turn though again as in James, not always in the same order, in this case with the third cycle creating somewhat different order than the first two. And then a prologue instead of an epistolary beginning or prescript and a fairly abrupt conclusion which could be limited only to verse 21, though that leaves verses 16-20 for the third cycle. It is difficult to see if the original writer was intending for verse 21 to stand alone or not. It is on either rendering, a very abrupt ending however, ‘dear children, keep your selves from idols.’  As we point out in the textbook, arguably, a theological central summary of what faithful Christian living is about and made more emphatic by its abruptness. 

 

So we present the outline with attentiveness, stressing that it is not so much the exact identifying of discrete ideas or details but the recognition of these three central repeated themes that gives this structure its merit. And intriguingly, towards the end of chapter 3, we get a glimpse as to why perhaps, not every one of these nine segments clearly discuss just one of the three themes because John sees them as very intertwined. We read in 3:23-24, ‘and this is his command to believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who keep his commands live in him and he will live in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us; we know it by the Spirit he gave us.’ The command in verse 23 is defined in terms of belief and love, the other two tests. And believing and loving are in fact what he commanded. Although it’s possible that the clause, that he commanded us at the end of 23 modifies only, and to love one another and clearly he will teach elsewhere that it is only in God where true love is found and hence belief in him, now exhibited uniquely through belief in the Son. Note in 2:23, ‘no one who denies the Son has the Father and whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.’ Thus it would be entirely fair to say that John also believed that love can be defined in terms of keeping the commandments and believing. But then, finally, if one comes to define what it means to believe because the one who says he believes but does not love his brother is a liar. Look at 3:11-18 and the one who claims to believe but does not keep the commandments is likewise not born of God. We can see that in the illustration of material processions. Likewise in 3:17 and verse 4 where sin is defined as lawlessness and therefore breaking the commandments and no one who lives that way in that kind of sin has neither seen him or known him. 

 

The third equation that emerges is that belief can be defined in terms of love and keeping the commandments. This is not double speak or triple speak but is a way of saying that each of these tests entails the other two and gives substance or definition to them, such that if a person has difficulty applying one of the tests to themselves by asking, ‘Do I really believe, I know I have some doubts and I know that faith makes room for doubts in the New Testament.’ The man whose son was healed from an evil spirit in Mark 9 said he believed and pleaded for Jesus to help his unbelief. ‘But do I even believe that much?’ And a very helpful way for a personal decision making or in helping others is to have them focus on whether or not they can see evidence of Christ transforming their life in any way. Are they more loving; are they more obedient to the commands? Another person may argue that they don’t know if they are obeying the commands well enough? And one has a conversation to make sure they understand that no level of obedience ever merited salvation, and they recognize that some aspect of a changed life does come from those who have truly repented and been touched by the Spirit. They don’t know if this is really happening, then asks about their faith. Which, itself, is a command to be obeyed and about their love which others can more objectively assess. And the same is true, if they don’t feel loving enough but can see ways in which without the final verdict on that more abstract quality of love, they are in fact obeying God’s command and believing in Jesus in ways not true in earlier stages of their lives; a very practical application. 

 

We will not go to additional exegetical notes on John’s letters as throughout this lecture series has been highly selective. 1st John 1:9 has generated a debate in some circles as to whether John is talking about salvation or merely fellowship with God in Christ when he writes, ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Clearly the first time a person does that in turning to Christ, he or she receives salvation. But here, John is writing to believers and particularly to those who claim to be so mature in Christ, even if mislead by this Gnostic dualism; this bifurcation between material and immaterial worlds. Nevertheless, they believe that they have attained a state of being without sin. Clearly, John is denying this and therefore turning to the repeated need for believers to confess their sins is talking to those who have been Christians, perhaps for some time. So what kind of forgiveness do they receive and purification from all unrighteousness? Is this a radical form of Armenianism, that Armenian himself never promoted, namely that sins remove us from a forgiven state until we confess them and forgiven again? Any answer would seem in light of all Scripture teaching to be a clear no. We have seen before that only a full-fledged consistent knowledgeable unrepentant blasphemous utter renunciation of Christ and following him, this is known as apostasy, which leads to God declaring a person upon their death not to be part of his family and that is some which both Calvinist and Armenians historically have agreed on, disagreeing only about what that proved about that person’s prior apparent Christian existence. 

 

So, on the one hand with the more Calvinist wing, it is important to say that all sins are forgiven by the Cross and God wipes all past, present and future sins from our slate when we turn to him for the first time in genuine repentance in our lives. Nevertheless, for us our fellowship is impeded and at times, virtually cut off altogether by our choice to sin and not immediately to repent and hold him at arm’s length, if not even at a greater distance. On the other hand, the Armenians would surely be correct in stressing that in light of all of the statements of the Gospel as John speaks about it here in his letters, about those who consistently sin, who consistently do not show love but show hate even for apparently brothers in Christ and sisters in the Lord; they do not know him, suggesting that there may be those who discover retrospectively that it is not the first time they think they’ve repented of sin. But is it at some later point in their lives when they truly are doing serious business with the Lord and thus the forgiveness they receive in applying 1st John 1:9 is their initial moment of salvation. 

 

In chapter 3:2, what should we do with the verse that reads, ‘dear friends now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known but when Christ appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.’ Does this mean with latter day saints and a handful of other Christians throughout church history that there is a physical nature to the image of God, to God the Father? Probably not, as the context here is one of moral likeness; note that in 2:28 which talks about preparing to be confident and unashamed before him. That continuing in him that is commanded there, based on the fact that we know that he is righteous, clearly a moral attribute beginning in verse 29 leads to everyone who is born of him doing what is right, moral likeness to God. 3:1 goes on to talk about the great love the Father has lavished on us. Again one of the moral attributes, not one of the ontological or essential attributes that separate divinity from humanity. When verse 2 goes on to speak of being like him, it seems that, very likely that it is this moral perfection that we can look forward to which is being considered here. This hope purifies believers, verse 3, which suggests moral perfection, just as he is pure, as opposed to the sinning and law breaking that verse 4 goes on to describe which is taken away, initially, gradually and ultimately one day, perfectly, verse 5 and 6. There is overwhelming evidence that the context is moral and not physical or any other essential similarities. 

 

Now for verse 4:4; a text that is very crucial in the whole area of spiritual warfare, prayer, of understanding the victory that we can have to a considerable degree though never perfectly. We refer back to Roman 6. We read, ‘you dear children are from God and have overcome them.’  Them refers to the spirits that are like anti-Christ, ‘because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world;’ the devil, the spirit of falsehood. Verse 6: this does not mean that Satan cannot attack, cannot even oppress believers to have deliberately courted him and left themselves open to insidious devices. It’s difficult however to read a text like this and believe that Christians could ever be fully processed by the devil, especially as indicated and illustrated by the demon processing people as described on the pages of the Gospels and Acts. And for those who are seeking Godly guidance and his covering power to have a close relationship with him, not least in prayer. There should be the confidence that the temptations and attacks that come from the devil will be even be considerable less than whatever boundary line separates oppression from procession. 

 

Or what could arguably be the flip side of this in 4:18, ‘there is no fear in love.’  Not some amorphous almost definition-less understanding of love, but the love that has already been defined in the previous three and half chapters as faith in Christ and keeping his commands. Love casts out all fear; fear in the sense of terror not fear in the sense of reverence or worship and certainly, a few things more than the devil and his unseen hordes can inspire fear in individuals. 

 

Chapter 5, verses 6 and 7 present the initiated reader who pays attention to footnotes or perhaps follows older Bible translations, like the King James, tends not to have footnotes to textual variance, even in modern printings of the King James, since many of those discoveries have not occurs when that translation was created in 1611. Chapter 5:6-7 in most all modern versions speaks of Jesus, ‘this is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only but by water and blood. And there is the spirit who testifies because of the spirit’s truth.’ And then verse 7, ‘for there are three that testify: the spirit, the water and the blood, and the three are in agreement.’ But footnotes regularly explain such as in the New International Version, the late manuscripts of the vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible read in (an addition to) verse 8, ‘there are three that testify in heaven as well, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit and these three are one and there are three that testify on earth;’ then the text as read before continues, ‘the spirit, the water and the blood.’ In this particular English addition, the footnote continues that this rendering found in some later Latin manuscripts was not found in any Greek manuscripts prior to the 14th century. All of which is overwhelming textual support for saying that there is almost no chance at all that John could have written the longer version of this text. These are clearly late additions and undoubtedly added because of the ambiguities of what John wrote and for the desire in what could look like a Trinitarian context (references to Jesus coming from God as the Son of God in the previous verse at the end of 5:1-5), and then being testified to by the Spirit. Verse 9 again, speaks of God’s testimony. Surely John intended to make a Trinitarian confession of faith here and it is simply spelled out using the characteristic Johannian termed Logos that had come to be central in countless treaties of Greek and Roman philosophical speculations in the later centuries. We now have not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but Father, the Word and Holy Spirit in equally clear Trinitarian interpretation of John’s original writings. 

 

Unfortunately, there are those today, particularly among the King James Only Movement that do not understand adequately the history and contemporary practices of the science of textual criticism that lambast all modern translations because they claim that those translations leave out and relegate to footnotes of the precious and clear Trinitarian texts of the New Testament. No, all they do is remove or relegate to a footnote that which almost certainly was never in the New Testament, but was added later for the same well-intentioned desire as the modern folks have to strengthen the Scriptures’ commitment to the Trinity but there are plenty of other texts that are textually unimpeachable; so our belief in the trinity hardly hinges on this and indeed, it is our high view of Scripture and respect for its inspired and inerrant and authoritative nature in the originals that lead us to want to reconstruct those originals as accurately as possible and not treat any later addition however theologically orthodox it might be, as though it was part of that inspired text. All of the debate around these added words has come to be known as the Johannine comma from a Latin use of the equivalent Latin for comma (Komma in Greek) which often meant an entire phrase or additional segment of a text.  

 

Then, still following our bulleted PowerPoint slide, we pass on to 5:13, where John declares he’s writing these things, ‘to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.’ A presage verse of Christian assurance, though sometimes applied in context beyond in what it was originally designed to do. It’s as if John had written, I write these things to you, any of you who at any point in your life, no matter how far back and no matter how little interest you have shown in spiritual things sense and no matter how horrific your lifestyle has been, made some superficial profession of faith in the Son of God. You too, may know that you have eternal life. This exaggerates things for the sake of making a point. This is a present tense declaration and it comes in a purpose clause using the subjunctive mood because it is a purpose clause. Purpose clauses by their very nature suggest things that in many cases may or may not happen and thus there is the use of a non-indicative mood form such that present tenses outside of the indicative mood regularly refer more to kind rather than time of action; all of which for those of you who have had no Greek, the long winded way of saying that the focus here is not merely on present tense belief but on continual belief; though obviously continual belief passes through the present time. There is no promise here to the person who in long times pass made some profession of faith but does not pass currently and continually and consistently the tests of life and John has defined them. 

 

The next to the last item comes from 1st John 5:16 which read quickly could suggest that John is saying there are certain prayers that should simply be avoided. And in this context, most notably praying for someone who has committed a mortal sin, a sin that leads to death, a sin that is unforgiveable and therefore, there is no point in praying for it. A closer reading, however shows that this is not where the nots appear. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. This is straight forward and simply said. I refer to those who sin that do not lead to death; the Roman Catholics have come to call this ‘venial sins’. But then, by way of contrast, at the end of the verse, he says, ‘there is a sin that leads to death; I’m not saying you should pray about that.’ What the misinterpretation we have just outlined, would have required the text to read, for it to be true would be: ‘there is a sin that leads to death and I am saying that you should not pray about that.’  That’s not what John wrote. He said, ‘I’m not saying that you should pray about people in those situations.’ One could just as easily have inferred that he is not saying that you shouldn’t pray about those situations. He simply is not discussing the situation. If one begins to reason philosophically and go beyond what John is discussing or any other text discusses; it is logically consistent to say if certain people in certain situations pass a threshold of rebellion against God beyond which our hearts are so hardened that they will never again ask for forgiveness or repent and therefore they never will be forgiven, a doctrine that seems to flow from such text as Romans 1:24, 26 and 28. Then, it is logically consistent to say that there really is no point in praying for such people. But the missing piece is that our finite fallen minds, however redeemed, however progressively sanctified, will never unerringly identify in this life whoever may have passed such a threshold. Only God knows that and if we were to identify some of the people who would seem at times to be among those most entrenched in their wickedness, most extractable in their sin and seemingly the best candidates for having crossed such threshold; well, there are characters in the Bible; David, the Apostle Paull; Others? And certainly some that we know from church history and from our own experience that we would have consigned to hell and stopped praying for them, who have indeed been saved. And so it would be wrong for any Christian to ever stop praying for anybody in any situation, even if with 20/20 hindsight we will recognize someday that perhaps a few had crossed such a threshold which explains why no change happened to them, despite our prayers. 

Then lastly, the 3rd letter of John, verse 2, ‘dear friend, (he’s speaking to Gaius) I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.’ A favorite proof text for the so-called prosperity Gospel; God wants you to be physical healthy and as well off financially and materially as he cares about your soul. Well again, perhaps quickly reading with our minds on some other topic might bring that thought to the fore, but let’s try looking at it again, more carefully seeing what it is actually saying. Yes, he prays for good health and that all may go well, perhaps in broader physical and material circumstances. But it is to the degree just as, even as, to the extent that; all legitimate translations of the Greek here. Your soul is getting along well; is your soul prospering; is it very close to full sanctification? It’s hard to have read everything that we did in 1st John and come away with that. In which case, this may only be a prayer for basic help. This is one individual who presumably is doing better. Okay, then it’s a prayer for good health, for a good standard of living, but not for wealth, not for prosperity, not for a glamor body. But then if you are going to distinguish this from everyone else to push the argument that far, then be consistent and realize that it we apply this prayer to anybody else but Gaius, we may not be praying for very much prosperity at all. All of this is which to say that the real focus of this text as an opening, thanksgiving and brief prayer, is the implicit praise for Gaius’ spiritual well-being to such a degree that it would be a good thing to pray, that his physical health be as good as his spiritual health; nothing less and nothing more.