Lecture 53: 1 John - Chapters 4-5
Lecture: 1 John - Chapters 4-5
In 4:2-4, John gives this test concerning Christological heresy, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus [has come in the flesh] is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist.” So, he gives us an indication, a kind of a test. If you wanted to know in AD 90 if someone had a true Christian understanding, just ask them whether they believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God came in the flesh. If they said no, then you would know that they were part of the Gnostic heresy. It was kind of an interesting test -- you could ask this question, and you’d know where they stand theologically. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily apply to the twentieth century; that was a first century test. There were various ways back then by which one could understand this other group and find out this theological viewpoint. One was this very question: “Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh.” And then we see another test in 4:6, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” So you could ask whether they listen to John and his teaching. If they don’t, then you also know that they are not of God. It would sure be nice to have in the Bible all the questions you could ask today to test “orthodoxy”, but we don’t have anything like that.
What do we have? How today do we make such judgments? John gives a very practical means for his day – asking whether Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. I think the true humanity of Jesus is a question that not many people today argue against. That’s not the issue – it’s the other issue, his deity that is the issue. What today forms the basis of our understanding of heresy vs. truth? If you’re Baptist, you would say that it’s the Bible (not so much creeds, but the Bible). We supposedly judge creeds by the Bible. That doesn’t mean that creeds are wrong, but they are expressions of the Bible. To that extent, that they are true expressions, they are helpful. And I would say that you have not only the Bible, but you have the tradition of the Christian church over 1900 years. When something comes up that seems to conflict over 1900 years with the church, I think you should be suspicious. For instance, the “Open-ness of God” debate doesn’t seem to fit 1900 years of Christian theology. It seems to be outside of that. It makes me uncomfortable. Another thing that I think you need to take into consideration today is (this is not absolute) the life and character of the teacher, as witness to the truth or the error. I’d be very uneasy about following somebody who I knew was an outright profligate with regard to his Christian life. I think I find it easier to listen to and to take seriously the teachings of a humble person who has lived a Godly life. Arrogant people I have problems with, and people who are immoral. You have to realize, however, that a person can be orthodox, and still be immoral. A person can also be moral and unorthodox, so it’s not perfect that way. But today, we have our Bible, and we have the tradition of the church over these 2000 years. The creeds are helpful, but as Baptists we have to always remember that the Bible judges the creeds, not the other way around. In 4:13, we talked about the fourth sign again that came up earlier in 3:24, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit,” so the witness of the Spirit.
In 5:6, ff. we have a number of problems. One is that v. 7 in modern translations reads differently than it does in the King James Version. Reading vv. 6-8, “This is he who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; 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. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” In the King James Version, you had in v. 7-8, “But there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” That’s a notorious textual problem. No modern translation I know, other than the New King James Version has this phrase in it. In the hermeneutics class, I go into this somewhat in detail, but let me make just a few comments here. The King James Version (the New Testament part) was based on a printed Greek text by a man by the name of Robert Estienne. It was printed by him, and in 1526, when Tyndale translated 1 John 5, that printed text had in it these Greek words which are translated, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” That printed Greek text came into existence in 1500. The original 1 John was written 1400 years earlier. The question is: Is the printed text exactly like the first 1 John that John wrote in the first century? And the answer is, that I don’t think there’s any printed text that’s exactly like any New Testament book. That is not to say that there are errors. But, for instance, every Greek text of a gospel probably has spelling differences when it comes to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is spelled all sorts of different ways. It’s not spelled LOUISVILLE, but it sometimes is spelled with –OUM or -EM, or things of that nature. So, Jerusalem is spelled very differently in various places. So, I don’t think any printed text has exactly the same spellings of Jerusalem that John or Mark wrote in their gospels. I think sometimes they may have spelled it differently. I’m not going to lose my faith over that.
Here, you have a verse, however, in the King James Version (KJV) that was printed in that early Greek text. So you have to ask: When that text was printed (edited by a man named Erasmus), why was it included? When Erasmus was writing out a text to be printed, he had four Greek manuscripts available to him that came from the University of Basel. The earliest was from about the eleventh century, and the latest came from the fourteenth century. Since that time, when we print up Greek texts like the one I have here, we have over 5000 more manuscripts available to us that have been discovered and used, many of which are 1000 years older than what Erasmus had available. When Erasmus looked at this text, none of the Greek manuscripts that he had included the words “for there are three that bear record, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” None of them had that. And, he was not going to include the verse, but some people protested, insisting that it was in the Latin Vulgate translation. Erasmus stood firm and said that he would not include that phrase unless a Greek manuscript with this phrase was found. After a time, a Greek manuscript of 1 John showed up, and was given to Erasmus, and the contentious phrase was present in 1 John of this manuscript. That manuscript dates from the sixteenth century (in other words, it’s pretty clear somebody had a Greek copy of John made up to hand to him, in which they included that phrase so that he would include it). There are only three other manuscripts in the world that have that verse in it, and they’re all in the margin of the text, not the text itself. So it looks like someone added to the margin of the original first century 1 John in three other manuscripts of this text. So there’s only one Greek text in the world in which it’s found in the body of the text, and that’s written in the sixteenth century, probably so that it could be handed to Erasmus for inclusion in his translation. Every Greek manuscript that we have of 1 John, other than that sixteenth century one, does not have that verse in the body of the text. And, the Latin Vulgate (any of the manuscripts before the eighth century) does not have it in the text. So when you look at that, you conclude that all the early manuscripts did not have it. Therefore, we shouldn’t include it, I assume.
There is Scripture that alludes to God’s curse upon people who take things out of Scripture; but all of these allusions include the same curse upon people who add things to Scripture. So if you add it and it shouldn’t be there, you’re under a curse. The clearest argument for me that this was never part of the biblical text is the fact that, in the second, third, and fourth century, the church struggled with its understanding of God. And you have the Chalcedonian creed, the Nicene creed, etc., and in all of those, where the church argued as to what God was like and that God is ultimately a trinity, Father Son, and Holy Spirit, no one ever quoted this verse. I can’t believe that those who were arguing and searching Scripture to defend their doctrine and understanding of God as the Trinity never read that verse, if it was there. I can’t believe that they decided that it wasn’t really important for their argument if it was there. I think it just was not there, and they didn’t have access to a verse like that. And so they hammered out the Doctrine of the Trinity without that verse. Some might suggest that if you remove this verse from Scripture, the whole Doctrine of the Trinity falls apart. But the Doctrine of the Trinity was formulated, and no one ever quoted anything like this. So, most translations might just have a footnote as to this verse.
In fact, when the New King James Version (NKJV) came out, one of the editors of the text came to Bethel Theological Seminary where he was teaching, and he spoke in the chapel, and gave everyone present a copy of the NKJV New Testament. There was a little time for questions, and before he even finished the invitation for questions, a colleague of mine had his hand up. He asked why they included 1 John 5:7 in the text. And the editor was rather sheepish, and answered that everybody on the editorial staff really wanted to remove it, and make it into a footnote at best. But the editor said that it had to stay in, otherwise the translation wouldn’t sell. I’m not sure this is a noble reason for including things in the Bible, but the Doctrine of the Trinity is nowhere dependent on this, because it was formulated without anyone knowing anything about this verse. That verse is simply not part of our Bible.
As pastors, I hope your first sermon will not be in 1 John 5:7. Be aware that people don’t want to know how smart you are on all these difficult problems, but how you can help them with their faith in Jesus Christ. So, when you’re preaching, I assume that you’ll be preaching from text. And long before you come to a difficult text, your congregation will know that you have a great love for Jesus Christ, a great reverence for the word of God, that you believe it’s the inerrant word of God, just like they do. And as they have confidence in you, they’ll be more willing to listen to you with regard to some of these more difficult passages. But you have to build up a rapport before you deal with that.
One issue that arises is that if v. 7 is removed from the biblical text, who would have written 5:6 and then skipped to 5:8? Versification of the New Testament came around 1550, when the editor of the Greek printed text added verse numbers for the first time. And in the Greek text that Erasmus was using, 5:7 was there. So you have that verse in there, but before that, there was never versification. At best, there were chapters. And, if you look up Luther’s writings, he talks about points “in the middle of chapter 3 of Romans”, or “earlier in Galatians 3, Paul says,” or something like that – he doesn’t refer to verses.
What most modern translations do, as a result, is to split up v. 6, which in the KJV is now longer than our normal v. 6, so that second part of v. 6 is v. 7 in our texts. So v. 7 was really part of v. 6. Part of v. 6 was, “This is he who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.” The following sentence, “And the Spirit is witness because the Spirit is truth” was originally part of v. 6. It’s now been made v. 7 so that you don’t just skip over v. 7. And the part of v. 7 that was originally there in the KJV was, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” That part is rightfully omitted. This is not a class in textual criticism or something like that, but sometimes when you get to 1 John, that is a key issue that comes up. It’s unfortunate – it shouldn’t have ever been a major issue, and it wouldn’t be if Erasmus had stuck to his guns and not put it in.
In 5:6, we have this reference that Jesus Christ came by water and blood, “… not by water only but by water and the blood.” This probably again is an attack on this proto-Gnostic error, which believed that the Spirit of the Son descended lightly not incarnate on the person Jesus in his baptism, and then left before his death. And John says no, Jesus Christ came not only by water, but also by blood. In other words, he continued through death, and this went against the Spirit departing Jesus before his death in this Gnostic sense. He came by water and blood.
In v. 8, “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree”, that is a verse that has been very much debated with regard to interpretation. One way of understanding this is that our Christian conversion bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Because when we were baptized in water and partook of communion with the blood of God, which refers to the Lord’s Supper, and the Spirit came upon us, he gave us this conviction that Jesus Christ came not only by water but by water and blood, etc. But that’s a rather difficult text to deal with.
In 5:16, we have a reference here to mortal sin and sin that is not mortal. The Old Testament reference to sin with a high hand is referred to in that regard. Can God forgive any sin? Yes, except that there are sins that we could commit that would put us in a position where we are not able ourselves to repent, ever. That’s why they become unpardonable. We have that reference to attributing the works of Jesus to the works of Satan, which is unforgivable. And it’s unforgivable because if you attribute what God is doing in your heart to evil, in trying to lead you to Christ, you can never repent and believe. And it’s unforgivable in that sense, that sense of hardness will not allow you to repent. If a person can repent sincerely, then they’re always going to be forgiven. But these sins don’t allow people any longer to repent in that way. Then we have (5:18), “We know that anyone born of God does not sin”, and again we have to interpret that as “… does not continually abide in sin”.
Then, when we get to v. 20, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” We looked at a number of verses that talk about the deity of Jesus Christ, where God, the term “theos”, is used of him. We’ve looked at them in Titus 2, in 2 Peter, and other places; and here’s another one. It is true that in this sentence, “This is the true God and eternal life,” that “this” can refer back to God in v. 19, “We know that we are of God and the whole world is in the power of the evil one … This is the true God and eternal life.” However, the nearest antecedent that this seems to refer to is Jesus Christ, right before it. So I would think the normal way of referring to and interpreting this sentence would be, “We are in him who is true in his son Jesus Christ. This [referring back to Jesus Christ, rather than all the way back to God in v. 19] is the true God and eternal life.” And that also is supported by the fact that in 1:2, “eternal life” is a characteristic of the Son of God, “The life was made manifest, we saw it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father.” And here, you have “This is the true God and eternal life.” Jesus is referred to as eternal life in 1:2, so this supports the understanding of Jesus referred to as “theos”.
And then, not only do you have the idea that Jesus is referred to explicitly as theos in the New Testament, but then you go on and say there are other references in which Jesus is referred to as eternally pre-existent (“that which was in the beginning”, “in the beginning was the word”, etc.). These examples are all Johannine, but in Colossians you have references to his eternality. We have the idea in the New Testament that Jesus is the creator -- all things were made through him and by him. Here, you have Jesus as the creator, and you’re reading this to people who are Jewish in orientation. And then you have some other attributes for Jesus that only God could do, and we’ll look at that more fully. But again here, you have “This is the true God and eternal life.
The Christian belief in the deity of Jesus is not based on a single text, but there are so many of these texts that occur that keep this up, and it’s always in the context of God being one, and the only way that Christians felt they could handle that was in putting it together in what we call the Doctrine of the Trinity.