Johannine Theology

JOHANNINE THEOLOGY. The teaching of the Apostle John as given by him in the NT books attributed to him—the fourth gospel, the epistles, and the Apocalypse.


It is generally supposed that Johannine theology has its own distinctive features sufficient to mark it out from other streams of theological thought current in the apostolic age. Because of the usual dating of the Johannine lit. at a time nearing the turn of the 1st cent., the Johannine theology is seen usually as the latest development in the NT. Yet a strong warning is necessary against the too ready assumption that this theology has no roots in the earliest Christian traditions. It is wrong to suppose that John is a development from Pauline theology, for instance, without giving full consideration to the possibility that both preserve an early stream of thought that developed collaterally and not dependently.

The following survey will consider the contribution of the Johannine lit. to the major aspects of Christian doctrine. In doing so, most attention will be paid to the gospel of John, although some relevant data may be drawn from the epistles of John. The Apocalypse, which may or may not have been written by the same author, will be included where applicable because it shares certain common theological features with the other lit.

Doctrine of God

Basic to any approach to early Christian theology is the doctrine of God, for all other aspects of doctrine are affected by it. It was a marked feature of all the various streams of Christian thought that they shared a strong view of God. This is particularly evident in the Johannine lit. In the gospel, both the recorded teaching of Jesus and the evangelist’s own comments bear testimony to this.

The Hebrew basis for the doctrine.

It is almost an axiom of primitive Christian theology that the doctrine of God was basically taken from Judaism. The OT had presented a high ethical concept that was superior to the inadequate and often capricious deities of the Gentile world. Judaism, by the time of Jesus, had exalted God to such high transcendence that intermediaries were necessary for Him to maintain contact with men. This exalted notion of God made unique the revelation in Christ of a God who is at once unapproachably holy, yet condescendingly merciful. In the Johannine theology the more intimate aspect of God’s relationship with men is brought vividly to the forefront. The various ways in which this compares and contrasts with the Hebrew background of thought will be brought out in the course of the following discussion.

Aspects of God

God as Creator.

Although John did not use the words “to create” in his prologue, he definitely assumes the creative activity of God. His purpose in drawing attention to the part played by the Logos in creation is to show that creation is a divine activity. For this there is ample support from the OT, not only from the creation account in Genesis, but also in many other books. At the same time there is no suggestion that the creative activity of God has ceased. The statement of Jesus in John 5:17 that the Father still works is basic to His whole teaching that God is active, esp. in His own mission. This concept of the continuing work of God is more dynamic than the rabbinic understanding of the Sabbath rest of God; according to the rabbis God’s work related to judgment not creation, that to them was completed. The distinction, therefore, is made between the physical and the ethical activity of God. Whereas in the teaching of Jesus the ethical is decidedly dominant, the physical activity of God is not absent.

In connection with the activity of God, John’s gospel draws attention to the works of Jesus as being works of God. So Nicodemus is recorded as saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). It is taken for granted that supernatural signs are directly attributable to the action of God. A man who does what is true shows that his works are wrought in God (3:21). Similar stress on the works of God is found in Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ query about the blind man (9:3). The unfortunate man was to be the means for the manifestation of the works of God, and the later deduction of the man himself that no one could do what Jesus did unless God were with Him (9:33) shows how clearly he had come to appreciate the continuous activity of God. To this may be added the challenge of Jesus when His Jewish opponents took up stones to stone Him, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” (10:32). Good works are the direct result of the Father’s activity.

God as Father.

No other book of the NT lays such emphasis on the Fatherhood of God as John’s gospel, and special attention needs to be given to its contribution to this aspect of the doctrine. The idea of fatherhood was not new. There was some appreciation of the personal fatherhood of God in Heb. thought, although the more dominant idea was corporate. God was father to His people Israel. There is certainly nothing to compare with the depth of personal relationship that is seen so clearly in the filial status of Jesus, which was divine Fatherhood on a new plane. It is in John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple that Jesus refers to the Temple as “my Father’s house” (2:16). One reason why the Jews sought to kill Him was because He called God “Father,” which in their eyes was tantamount to claiming equality with God (5:18). Therefore, they construed the Lord’s references to the Father in a different way from traditional Heb. thought. This comment by John on Jewish opposition leads into an extended discourse about the Lord’s relationship with the Father. Since the Son is seen to be not only dependent upon but also wholly in harmony with the Father, the Jewish claim that He was making Himself equal with God is seen to be justified. What the Jews regarded as blasphemy, the Christians recognized as revelation. The Father’s life-giving work and judging activity are closely reflected in the Son (5:21) The Son, in fact, is endowed with all the authority of the Father in judgment (5:27).

Another extensive Johannine passage reveals the Fatherhood of God prominently (8:18-59), when a comment by Jesus prompted the question, “Where is your Father?” The dullness of understanding in the hearers is vividly brought out. In spite of Jesus’ specific reference to the Father, John records that “they did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father” (8:27). Such teaching was unprecedented; nevertheless, the Jews themselves claimed to regard God as Father (8:41), although Jesus proceeded to disillusion them (cf. 8:44).

Another passage reveals the Fatherhood of God (10:31f.). Again, there was a clash with Jews, whose intention to give vent to violence was challenged by Jesus with comments about the Father. Most significant about this incident is that it was prompted by the claim of Jesus to be one with the Father (10:30), and was followed by the equally astonishing statement that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10:38). There is no denying that John desired to bring to the fore in his gospel the predominant part played by the filial consciousness of Jesus in the pursuance of His mission. After describing the incident in the upper room when Jesus arose to wash the disciples’ feet, John comments that Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into His hands (13:3). In the subsequent discourse, Philip made the request “Show us the Father” (14:8), to which Jesus answered with a further question that presupposed that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father. The Father desired to communicate knowledge of Himself in the person of Jesus. The whole Farewell Discourse contains constant references to the Father. Most illuminating in this respect is John 17, which records the prayer of Jesus to the Father. In this section alone Jesus used descriptive adjectives with the title. God is addressed as both holy Father (17:11) and righteous Father (17:25). Nowhere else is the close relationship between Jesus and the Father seen as in these petitions, offered mainly on the behalf of others.

The major difference between the gospel and 1 John in references to God is that the idea of Fatherhood is much more prominent in the gospel (119 times) than in the epistle (12 times), although God is mentioned 64 times in the epistle. The difference is due to the difference of purpose, but the fundamental concept of the divine Fatherhood is common to both. There are few references to this theme in the Apocalypse, although those that do occur (all but one in the letters to the churches) are consonant with the usage in the gospel and epistles.

God as Spirit.

The spiritual nature of God is specifically asserted (4:24) in Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman. It is not introduced as a new revelation; it is rather the deduction from it that appears to be new. Men must worship in accordance with the nature of the object of worship, which entails spiritual worship in view of the nature of God. It is important to note, as W. F. Howard, Christianity According to St. John, points out, that “the initiative is with God, who seeks such worshipers, and himself bestows the Spirit of truth.” The teaching of Jesus on the subject of man’s approach to God assumes this spiritual nature of God.

God as Light.

In the prologue to the gospel the metaphorical use of light is introduced and is also used as a self-description of Jesus later in the gospel (cf. 1:4ff., 8:12f.). It is more specifically applied to God in 1 John 1:5 and a similar idea is found in Revelation 21:23; cf. 22:5. The idea is not unique to Christian thought. C. H. Dodd claims parallels with the Hermetica and Philo (cf. BJRL 21 [1937], 149; cf. Dodd’s The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [1953], 201f.). If the imagery used may be paralleled, there is not the same depth of insight in the Hermetica and Philo as is found in 1 John, where the whole concept is brought into the sphere of human relationships as the readers are exhorted to walk in the light. Fellowship is possible only if some agreement exists between the natures of those communing.

God as Love.

There is much on this theme in both the gospel and the epistle, but it is in the latter that the definite assertion is made that God is Love (1 John 4:16). A marked distinction must be drawn between this Christian concept of love and the contemporary Gr. concept, which did not distinguish between love and lust (cf. Nygren, Agape and Eros [1953], I, 118ff.; E. Stauffer, TWNT I, 34ff.; C. Spicq, Agape in the New Testament I [1963]). Moreover, in view of the inferior character of their notion of love, the pagans could not conceive of God loving men, for as E. K. Lee points out, “Such love would imply a downward movement, from the level of divine perfection to a lower level” (The Religious Thought of St. John [1950], 54). The statement in John 3:16 that “God so loved that he gave his only Son” concisely sums up the uniqueness of the Christian approach. The spring of divine action in salvation was love. Such love is poured out toward men (cf. 1 John 4:7ff.).

Other aspects of God.

In the prologue, the invisible nature of God is brought into focus (John 1:18) to be modified by the knowledge that He has become revealed in Christ. This God who is so revealed is true (3:33), which means both true or real in contrast to no gods, and true in contrast with false. The former is nearer to the Heb. idea of truth, the latter to the Gr. idea. God is not only faithful but is eternally real. In the concluding statement of the epistle (1 John 5:20) this characteristic of being true is applied to God who has been revealed in Christ.

God is seen not only in His redemptive activities, but also in His work of judgment. John does not hesitate to speak of the wrath of God abiding on those who disobey the Son (John 3:36). His work in judgment already has been mentioned.

The Johannine presentation of God may be summed up as exalted and yet loving, as holy and yet merciful, as Father and yet Judge. The other aspects of doctrine must be considered against this background.

Jesus Christ

In examining the Christology of John, the obvious point of departure must be the prologue, although some discussion will be necessary concerning the extent to which this can be regarded as normative for the whole gospel. It may be regarded as detached from the main body of the gospel, as it is by those who see it as an essentially Hellenistically-orientated introduction. If, as others maintain, its basis is Sem., it may more readily be treated as an integral part of the gospel (cf. the discussion in W. F. Howard’s The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism [2nd ed. 1955], p. 57). Others regard the major part of the prologue as originally a hymn on the Logos that has been adapted for the purpose. Whatever the origin of the Logos material, this prologue bears witness to an early Christology and is of great importance in any estimate of Johannine theology.

The Logos.

There are various theories regarding the Logos which can only be touched upon. (See Logos.) The Stoics spoke of the Logos Spermatikos, which was the divine Reason that made nature function. It was what Howard called “theoretical pantheism” (Christianity According to St. John, 35). The term is used some thirteen hundred times in Philo and some suggestions that there are points of contact between him and John are natural enough, but the distinctive features of the Johannine use of the term are lacking in Philo. There can be no denial that John implies the distinct personality of the Logos. Indeed, his identification of the Logos with Christ is proof of this. In this he differed radically from Philo, who, although he used various terms to describe the part played by Logos in creation, never rises to the concept of a personal agent. Moreover, Philo never suggests what John asserts regarding the preexistence of the Logos. The most far-reaching contrast is in the absence from Philo of any idea of the incarnation of the Logos, whereas this is the key thought in John’s presentation. It is as if John were saying that all this theorizing about the Logos is finished now that the Logos Himself has come to dwell among men. It would be a fitting introduction to Christ for those accustomed to these Hel. modes of thought.

Other strands of Gr. thinking can be seen in the Hermetica, where the term is also used; but in this case communion with God is attained through nature rather than through Christ. The parallel in usage is only superficial.

Some have seen a correspondence with the Jewish concept of the intermediary Memra who spanned the gap between the transcendental God and the created order. Although the notion undoubtedly throws light on what might have been the Jewish understanding of John’s Logos—an important consideration if John’s gospel comes from a Jewish source—yet this would not exhaust the meaning.

The “I am” sayings.

The filial sayings.

It has been pointed out already how frequently in the discourses in John’s gospel Jesus speaks of God as Father and of Himself as Son. This filial relationship is based on human analogy, but goes far beyond it, for the sonship of Jesus is unique. It is for this reason that the adjective monogenes (only-begotten) is applied to Jesus in John’s gospel four times (1:14, 18, 3:16, 18) and once in 1 John (4:9). The word focuses attention upon uniqueness. Jesus is Son in such a sense that He alone is the means whereby the Father reveals Himself. Throughout the gospel, the awareness of Jesus of His unique relation with the Father is self-evident. He frequently refers to Himself as one sent from God. He makes clear that He speaks on the basis of the Father’s authority and conceives all His actions as conforming to the divine will. The charge brought by His enemies (5:18) that He made Himself equal with God may be understood in the rabbinic sense of acting independently of God, a charge that Jesus refutes. (So H. Odeberg, The Fourth Gospel [1929], 203.)

This frequent use of the title “Son” in John’s gospel compares and contrasts in some respects with the synoptic title of “Son of man.” The latter title is not absent from John, but is infrequent when compared with the widespread and unqualified use of Son. Nevertheless, there are nearly as many occurrences of it in John as in Mark. In all of these there is an eschatological emphasis (see A. Correll, Consummatum Est [1958], 103, 104). This draws attention to a change of emphasis in John from the identification of Jesus with man to His filial relationship with God. The two emphases are not mutually exclusive but are complementary. It should be noted that John’s purpose was to lead the readers to faith in Jesus as the Christ and as Son of God (20:30, 31). An echo of this is found in Martha’s confession (11:27). To this evangelist, nothing was more important than that the readers should recognize the divine nature of Jesus. He had no intention of portraying Him as anyone less than Son of God.

Indications of the true humanity of Jesus.

Although so much stress in John falls on Jesus’ divine aspect, it is significant that nowhere else is the true humanity of Jesus more clearly brought out. At the scene by the well at Sychar Jesus was both weary and thirsty. At the grave of Lazarus He was deeply moved with indignation and then weeps. In the account of the crucifixion John records the saying “I thirst” (19:28). In addition, he notes His essentially human condescension in washing the disciples’ feet (13:1f.).

The Jesus portrayed in John’s gospel is not remote; He is interested in people. He takes time to talk with the two disciples of John the Baptist (ch. 1). He concerns Himself with the domestic arrangements at a village wedding (2:1f.). He accepts an intrusion from Nicodemus at night time (3:1f.). He does the unconventional by talking with a Samaritan woman at midday (4:7). He seeks out the impotent man who had been healed to give him some moral instruction (5:14). A similar action follows the healing of the blind man (cf. 9:35). Such incidents bring out clearly the essential character of Jesus in His warm concern for people. Whereas this is not John’s major interest, it is indispensable to his total picture of Jesus Christ.

Messianic considerations.

In John’s gospel the recognition of the Messianic status of Jesus occurs much earlier than in the synoptic gospels, and this has given rise to problems regarding the veracity of John’s references. The first of these comes when Andrew tells his brother Peter, “We have found the Messiah (which means Christ)” (1:41). The second evidence comes in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman when He acknowledges the title Messiah (4:25). In the synoptic gospels, however, and particularly in Mark, there is reticence in allowing observers to publish any recognition of the messianic signs. This led Wilhelm Wrede to propose his theory of a “messianic secret,” by which he meant that Mark has imposed these Messianic hints upon his narrative. Such a theory has been resuscitated with modifications by T. A. Burkill. It requires, however, considerable reinterpretation of the evidence to excise from the gospels the Messianic consciousness of Jesus. Certainly John’s gospel presents a distinctive account of Messianic claims, as is stated in the purpose of the gospel (20:31). There is no need to suppose that his account shows any fundamental difference from the synoptists. There were many stages in the development of the disciples’ full understanding of Jesus as Messiah, and John does not imply that this had already happened in the earliest part of the ministry of Jesus. He shows occasions in His subsequent narrative when the disciples did not understand (cf. 2:22; 12:16; 13:36; 20:25). What John implies is that two of the disciples at least had an early flash of insight. The admission by Jesus of His messianic office to the Samaritan woman is in marked contrast to the synoptic restraint, but for Samaritans the Messianic concept was not, as with the Jews, inextricably bound up with nationalist ic aspirations.

Since John sets out his gospel in such a way that his readers might be led to believe in Jesus as Messiah, it is relevant to inquire how he achieved this purpose. The nationalistic motive is specifically rejected in 6:15. In this case Jesus Himself takes the initiative in avoiding the crowds. On more than one occasion he avoids mere popular acclaim. The messianism seen in John’s gospel is, on the contrary, essentially spiritual. Jesus is conscious of being the Sent One to do the will of God, and it is in this sense that the title Messiah must be understood. This explains why the Jewish nationalists found events unintelligible that for Jesus were fulfillment of a mission. The cross would be more than an enigma—a positive stumbling block—if the messianism of Jesus was understood in any other sense than spiritual.

The total Johannine Christology has many distinctive features, but there is a common basis with other streams of early thought about Jesus Christ. There are no grounds for the view that John’s Christology is a special and independent development of his own.

Teaching about the Spirit

It is in the sphere of teaching about the Spirit that John’s contribution is esp. noteworthy, for there is more about the activity of the Spirit in this gospel than in any other. It will be best to consider the references to the Spirit in order of mention and then to construct some summary of the whole teaching.

At the baptism of Jesus.

The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus when He was baptized by John the Baptist closely follows the pattern of the synoptic accounts. John the Baptist’s testimony that he saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and that it rested on Jesus (1:32) was strengthened by his (John the Baptist’s) inner God-given conviction that whoever received the Spirit in this way would baptize with the Spirit (1:33). All the synoptics mention the dove-like appearance of the Spirit, but John alone records the prior message given to the Baptist concerning its significance. Baptism by the Holy Spirit is clearly a major characteristic of the mission of Jesus, but the question arises as to when this activity happened. Does this refer to the baptism of the Spirit seen at Pentecost and thereafter, or is there any evidence of such baptism during the earthly ministry of Jesus? There can be no doubt that in the fullest sense the baptism of the Spirit did not take place until after the glorification of Jesus. This is specifically supported by the statement in John 7:39 (see discussion below). The close connection between the mission of Jesus and the work of the Spirit is basic to all the records. It suggests that the mission of Jesus could not be adequately applied apart from the activity of the Spirit, a conviction that is amply supported from the evidence in Acts.

The Nicodemus incident.

The next allusion to the Spirit is in John 3:5, where Jesus in conversing with Nicodemus links the Spirit with water in emphasizing the necessity for new birth. Whereas there is dispute over the interpretation of “water,” whether or not it refers to baptism, there can be no dispute about the essential role of the Spirit in the process of regeneration. The fact that Jesus proceeded to contrast natural and spiritual birth (3:6) shows that the work of the Spirit cannot be conceived in any other than spiritual terms. A human analogy is in mind. Whatever comes from human parents shares the nature of the parents, and John uses this basic principle to maintain the spiritual nature of those born of God. It is as if Jesus knew how apt men would be to desire to track with precision the activity of the Spirit, for he shows how impossible this is by using the analogy of the wind (3:8). The statement emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of the Spirit in the processes of regeneration. There is no set pattern, no mechanization. The whole process is on an essentially personal basis.

In the same ch. John records another significant statement about the Spirit. “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit” (3:34). Although there are other ways in which the sentence can be construed, e.g., with the Spirit as the subject rather than the object of the giving, the above rendering is the most probable. The words of God need the Spirit of God to interpret them, and the assurance is given that there will be no stinting in the supply of the Spirit. Again, the close connection between the mission of Jesus and the work of the Spirit is brought to the fore.

A parallel contrast between the Spirit and flesh is recorded later (6:63), where once again Jesus connects His words with the Spirit, if pneuma is here understood as the Holy Spirit. Even if it be regarded as the human spirit set in contrast to the flesh, it may still be treated as evidence of the essentially spiritual character of the teaching of Jesus.

At the Feast of Tabernacles.

The important declaration of Jesus made at the Feast of Tabernacles concerned anyone who believed in Him—“Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (7:38, 39). The interpretation is a comment made by the evangelist, but it shows his own understanding, and presumably that of the Early Church, of the relationship between the glorification of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. The analogy of running water as a symbol of the Spirit is suggestive, for it represents both what is essential to life and what possesses cleansing power, which are prominent aspects of the Spirit’s work. One important feature of the present statement is that the Spirit is in some way communicated through the agency of believers. The Book of Acts contains instances of the gift of the Spirit coming by means of the apostles, which serves as an illustration of this aspect.

The Paraclete sayings.

The major passages about the Spirit in John’s gospel are all found in the discourses in the upper room. There are five sayings in which the Spirit is referred to as the Paraclete (a transliteration of the Gr. parakletos). The passages are John 14:15-17; 14:25, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:5-11, 12-15. Windisch treated these passages as separate from the rest of the discourses, but it is valuable to regard them as forming a group that supplies much information regarding the Spirit. First the meaning of the word paraclete should be noted. It is a legal term, but not exclusively so. Where it bears this significance it may be rendered “Advocate,” but it should not be confined to one who pleads another’s cause in a legal sense, for the help to be given is more general. The rendering “Counselor” as in RSV conveys this more general sense. The sayings in John are sufficiently explicit to show in what ways the Spirit counsels.

The first passage (14:15-17) identifies the Counselor as the Spirit of truth (cf. 15:26; 16:13). The idea of truth here is prob. twofold—reality and veracity. Since God Himself is truth it is to be expected that truth will be a characteristic of His Spirit. The main activity of the Spirit, which this present statement asserts, is His continual presence with His people. “He dwells with you and shall be in you” (14:17) focuses upon the Spirit’s function to continue the presence of Jesus among His people. It is in this sense that He is another Counselor. The second passage (14:25, 26) draws attention to His teaching ministry. When the Spirit comes, sent by the Father in the Son’s name, “he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26). The close connection between the Spirit and the teaching of Jesus is to be observed, and the most significant feature is the Spirit’s part in restoring that teaching to the disciples’ mind. Jesus did not leave the transmission of His teaching to the faulty memories of men. The Spirit’s activity had fundamental importance in the establishment of true Christian traditions.

The third passage (15:26, 27) lends support to the view that the major objective of the Spirit is the glorification of Christ. He who is said to proceed from the Father “will bear witness of me” (15:26). Because the disciples were called to do the same, their possession of the Spirit is at once seen to be indispensable. There was never any question of the disciples witnessing in their own strength.

The fourth passage (16:5-11) is introduced as an assurance to the disciples in view of the coming departure of Jesus. It shows again that the coming of the Spirit depends upon the cessation of the earthly ministry of Jesus. The Spirit’s ministry will follow the ministry of Jesus. It would consist in bringing conviction to the world. It concerns sin, righteousness, and judgment—the two former on the ground of Christ’s position, the latter on the ground of the already pronounced judgment upon the prince of this world. Placed as they were in a hostile world, the disciples discovered later the reality of this promise.

The final passage (16:12-15) is the promise that the revelation of truth given thus far would be developed through the agency of the Spirit. The Spirit’s function in this was to glorify Christ. His authority was not His own. He was to declare not only things yet to come, but all that belongs to Christ. This ministry of the Spirit was therefore entirely Christcentered.

One remaining reference (20:22) to the Holy Spirit, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” contains the words of Jesus as He breathed on the disciples in the upper room after the Resurrection. This seems to be a foreshadowing of Pentecost. It is accompanied by a promise regarding forgiving or retaining of sins, which is clearly connected with the authority of the Spirit.

Summary of Johannine teaching about the Spirit.

To sum up the Johannine evidence concerning the Holy Spirit it may be said that the essential ministry of the Spirit is assumed throughout. His activity is an integral part of the Johannine presentation of Christianity. Indeed, the writer must have been conscious of the fact that his own knowledge of the teaching of Jesus was derived from the Spirit’s leading. Christianity was a dynamic faith and the power was that of the Spirit. At the outset of Christian experience, the Spirit’s activity is dominant in the process of regeneration; so it is in the realm of faith. The believer is assured of the indwelling presence of the Spirit. The work of conviction cannot be achieved without His aid.

There is sufficient evidence in this gospel to show an exalted view of the Spirit. He proceeds from God, and He is sent by God. He is the gift accompanying the glorification of Jesus. His whole work depends upon what is essentially a continuation of the work of Jesus Christ. In a sense He is the other self of Jesus and called another Counselor. The personality of the Spirit in this gospel cannot be denied, for although some passages can be understood in a nonpersonal sense, others cannot, and these latter must be determinative. The basic idea of the Paraclete is personal. As a teacher He cannot be an impersonal influence or principle. If the Spirit is a fitting example of witnessing, His personality must be assumed. Indeed He cannot take the place of Christ unless He is a person. Moreover, the masculine personal pronoun is used in spite of the neuter gender of the word pneumatos (cf. 14:26; 15:26; 16:7, 8, 14). There is no doubt that the evangelist intentionally brought out the personal characteristics of the Spirit.

The question arises whether John presents any doctrine of the Trinity. If by doctrine one understands a formal doctrine, the answer must be in the negative. There is enough evidence, however, to show that the doctrine is here in embryo. The respective emphases on the different persons of the Trinity by John supply some of the data on which the Trinity came to be assumed.

Facets of salvation

The Johannine lit. presents a picture of a world in need and then shows the means used to meet that need. It will be helpful therefore to discuss the Johannine doctrine of salvation under four sections: sin and judgment, atonement, faith, and eternal life.

Sin and judgment.


Like all the evangelists, John sees the major mission of Jesus as dealing with man’s need. There are, however, many distinctive features in John’s presentation of that mission. Only the more important of these can be mentioned.

(1) John the Baptist announced Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29), which at once linked the mission of Jesus with sin. But, in what sense? The figure of the Lamb is suggestive of a sacrificial interpretation, and the imagery used is reminiscent of Isaiah 53. The Gr. word for lamb used by John differs from the LXX of Isaiah 53 but this does not materially affect the sacrificial significance. The universal character of this sacrificial mission is clearly brought out. The Lamb imagery is continued in the Apocalypse where the whole sequence of visions is dominated by the figure of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but now exalted in heaven. It need not be supposed that John the Baptist understood the significance of his own statement, for it is only in the light of the cross that its relevance to the mission of Jesus is fully appreciated.

(2) An important statement was made by Jesus following the cleansing of the Temple. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). John comments that the temple was His body (2:21). The statement reveals the consciousness of Jesus that His mission would end in death at the hands of men, but that it would be crowned with the Resurrection.

(3) The promise that the Son of man must be lifted up as Moses raised the serpent (3:14, 15) is suggestive of the mode of His death. Faith is in some way related to this uplifted person, and eternal life depends on such faith.

(4) The statement regarding God’s love (3:16) is important because it grounds the divine giving in the divine love. There is more emphasis on love in the mission of Jesus in John’s gospel than elsewhere in the gospels. To this may be linked the saying of Jesus, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). The connection between love and sacrifice is a key concept in the Johannine presentation of the Passion.

(5) In the discourse on the bread, Jesus spoke of men eating His flesh and drinking His blood (6:51, 53). Some see a direct reference to the sacraments and suppose that this was John’s attempt to counteract an excessive sacramentalism. Regarded as a statement of Jesus well before the institution of the Last Supper, the words may be understood in a preparatory sense. They provide the basic teaching that is essential for a right understanding of the words of institution. The giving of flesh and blood must again bear a sacrificial significance.

(6) The voluntary character of the death of Jesus is seen in the statement regarding the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (10:11). This principle is more specifically stated by Jesus in relation to Himself—“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (10:18). In the same context Jesus revealed the necessity for His mission when referring to the other sheep that He must bring into the flock (10:16). This idea of necessity may be supported also from the serpent passage (3:14).

(7) When Caiaphas commented that it was more fitting for one to die rather than that the whole people perish (11:50), referring to the need to plot against Jesus, John recognized a prophetic voice, but understood it in an entirely different sense from Caiaphas’ own meaning. To him it possessed significance that the words were uttered by the high priest; but the most important aspect was the spiritual expediency of the death of Jesus for many. The idea of substitution is unmistakable. The purpose was to gather into one the scattered children of God (11:52).

(8) In answer to a quest from some Greeks, Jesus spoke of the necessity for a grain of wheat to fall into the ground and die if it is to produce fruit (12:24). He was clearly referring to His own death and once again the major emphasis is upon the necessity for that death. The future success of the entire mission of Jesus depended upon it.

(9) Throughout the gospel of John, the approach of the hour in which Jesus was to be glorified is specially marked. Its delay is noted earlier (as in 2:4), but in 12:23 this hour has come, and since this was the commencement of the passion week there can be no doubt that the hour was the hour of the Passion. There is a sense of inevitability; the death of Jesus fitted into a divine program. Nowhere is this so vividly revealed as in John’s gospel. This idea is echoed in the prayer of Jesus, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do” (17:4). The whole prayer shows that the mission of Jesus was directed toward the welfare of His people (ch. 17).

(10) The insistence by Jesus that even Pilate would have no power over Him unless that power were granted by God (19:11) again shows the divine pattern in the events of the Passion.

(11) The completeness of the work of Christ is strikingly brought out by His declaration on the cross, “It is finished” (19:30). This was more than the finish of His earthly life; this was the completion of His redemptive mission.


The provision of atonement is not enough without some knowledge of how its benefits may be appropriated, and the Johannine lit. is specially rich in drawing attention to the function of faith. It is the verb rather than the noun that constantly recurs, vividly emphasizing the active aspect. The gospel is written to inculcate faith. First John was written to bring knowledge to that faith. The teaching of Jesus is full of exhortations to believe and full of promises to believers. It is by faith that men enter into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith leads to life, and unbelief to condemnation (cf. John 3:16-18). Of special significance is the often recurring preposition eis (into) after the verb “believe,” when Jesus is the object of faith; for this introduces the idea of personal trust that goes beyond the simple idea of belief (cf. J. H. Moulton, Grammar of New Testament Greek3 [1908], I. 68).

The close connection between knowing and believing is important in view of the Gnostic overemphasis on the former at the expense of the latter. Although the teaching of Jesus and the comments of John never propose that faith can exist without understanding, it is basic to Johannine Christianity that Jesus Christ came to do something more than merely to reveal truth.

Eternal life.

The concept of eternal life is not unique to the Johannine lit., but it is specially characteristic of it. It is seen as the end result of the process of redemption. In some respects it takes the place of the synoptic emphasis upon the kingdom, but the two ideas are complementary. R. H. Charles (Eschatology [1899], 315), regarded eternal life in relation to the individual and the kingdom in relation to the community.

Eternal life is essentially a present possession (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 1 John 3:14; 5:11ff.). This corresponds with the present aspect of the kingdom in the synoptics. It also involves fullness of life in the future. Eternal life is inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ, who declared Himself to be the true life.


Much debate has surrounded the problem of eschatology in this gospel. Many scholars have set its teaching in antithesis to the apocalyptic type of eschatology found in the synoptic gospels. This has been mainly due to the belief that John is indebted to Hel. modes of thought, whereas the synoptics have been more influenced by Jewish concepts. The stress on the Hel. background for this gospel has somewhat lessened following the discovery of the DSS because of their testimony to the syncretism of Jewish and Gr. concepts in nonconformist Judaism. Clearly a right assessment of background is essential for a true appreciation of Johannine eschatology. It is certain that no true appraisal can come along the way of strong antithesis. There is enough evidence to demonstrate that teaching akin to the synoptic eschatology is not absent from John, as the following survey will show.

Before considering the evidence, it would be well to indicate the various schools of interpretation. Some (e.g., Bultmann, Dodd) concentrate on realized eschatology and dismiss the futurist elements entirely, either by resorting to a thesis of editorial additions (as Bultmann) or by explaining away the futuristic texts (as Dodd). Although interpreting rather differently what they mean by realized eschatology, both agree that eschatology has to do with the present rather than the future. The reverse position has been adopted by others who insist that present eschatology has no meaning unless it is inseparably linked with a future emphasis (so Stählin, Correll). There can be no doubt that the latter approach takes more account of all the data in the gospel. Within this general position there is, of course, room for much difference of opinion regarding the relationship between John and the synoptics over eschatology.

Relation to the OT.

The firm belief of the Early Church that the life and teaching of Jesus are a fulfillment of OT prediction gives an eschatological emphasis. In a sense the hopes and promises of the past are now “realized.” They have ceased to be future. That this is implicit in John’s approach is seen in the prologue, where the benefits received through Christ, i.e., grace and truth, are compared with the law given through Moses (John 1:17). There is considerable emphasis in the teaching of Jesus on Abraham, and the superiority of Jesus to Abraham is specifically implied (8:53f.). A similar superiority to Jacob is evident (4:5, 12; cf. 1:50, 51). As far as the OT patterns are concerned, the advent of Jesus was the eschaton (end), but, however, since He Himself gave further predictions regarding His Parousia (Return), the final consummation is still in the future.

The use of the title “Son of man.”

The main feature of the occurrence of this title in John is the context in which it occurs. It is almost as frequent as in the synoptics; in the latter it is used sometimes generally, sometimes in relation to the Passion of Jesus, and sometimes eschatologically, whereas in John it is uniformly used in the eschatological sense. It concerns the “lifting up” of Jesus, which although it refers to the event of the Passion, goes beyond it in conveying the idea of exaltation. The Son of man was to be glorified. This is the climax of His mission. In this is a rather different emphasis from that found in the synoptic usage, where apocalyptic imagery is used; but the difference is not a contradiction. John concentrates more on the state than the event. For him eschatology has a spiritual importance.

References to resurrection and to the last day.

Statements of Jesus are recorded that have a future reference (John 5:25-29). The dead are to hear the voice of the Son of God. The Son has received from the Father authority to execute judgment. The time will come for a resurrection to life for some and a resurrection to judgment for others. These references are in the style of the Jewish apocalyptic (see Bernard, The Gospel According to St. John [1928], p. clvi) and cannot be explained in terms of realized eschatology. There is a finality about these concepts that is wholly out of keeping with the present. Similarly, the theme of the last day is essentially futuristic (ch. 6). In the discourse in which these references occur Jesus clearly assumed that His hearers would have some understanding of the “last day.”

Time references in the gospel.

The words “hour,” “now,” “not yet,” “yet a little while” and similar expressions are frequent in John’s gospel and must be regarded as characteristic. One deduction from them is that the eschatological event is not entirely future. There is a strong present element. In Christ, and particularly in His death, the hour “has now come.” This sense of completeness is present (12:23) where Jesus announced that His hour had come, and (17:1) where He related the dawning of the hour to the accomplishment of the mission received from the Father. The major feature of these references, however, is not chronological but theological. The “hour” of Jesus was decisive for world history. Any future consummation must in some way be related to this.

The approaching judgment.

Mention has already been made of the future judgment (5:25-28). Other references have given rise to a different idea. John 3:19 and 12:31 seem to refer to a judgment that has already taken place; the ruler of this world has been deposed through Jesus. According to C. H. Dodd this shows a conclusive reinterpretation of the eschatological idea of judgment. Although the action of Jesus in His Passion shows the effectiveness of the overthrow of the evil agencies, this does not exhaust the Johannine teaching about judgment. The gospel is not primarily concerned with this theme. Jesus makes clear that He came to save, not to judge, the world (12:47). Although the major emphasis is on the present, judgment is an indispensable part of the consummation of the present age.

References to the Parousia.

In the farewell discourse, Jesus refers to His Second Coming in such terms that a future Parousia must be meant (14:3, 18, “I will come to you” and 16:16, “a little while, and you will see me”). These statements are not understood in the sense of a future eschatology by advocates of the realized eschatology school, who regard them as “realized” in the coming of the Paraclete (so Dodd). But this is not the most obvious meaning of passages like 14:2f., where a closer connection between the going and coming again seems required. It may be said, therefore, that whereas it is possible to interpret the words in the sense of a spiritual coming it is more natural to interpret them as referring to a future personal return.

Use of the term “eternal life.”

Mention already has been made of this concept when dealing with the effects of the work of Christ, but it is necessary to note its special eschatological significance. It has been seen that it may be considered as roughly equivalent to the concept of the kingdom of God, for it implies both a present and a future experience and is appropriated by faith. According to W. F. Howard, “eternal life” is life in the age to come as contrasted with life in the present age. It is therefore essentially future, but Dodd regards it as realized in the present experience of believers. It is important to recognize its present appropriation (cf. John 3:16), but the term cannot be emptied of its abiding significance.

Summary of eschatology.

Taking the evidence as a whole, it is impossible to deny that a double aspect is involved. The outlook is both present and future. Salvation includes a present experience and in this sense it is realized, or, more accurately, is a continuous process of realization. Such specific future events as the Parousia, resurrection, and judgment point to a coming consummation which will introduce features that are beyond present experience.

So far nothing has been said about the eschatology of the Johannine epistles or of the Apocalypse. One notable feature of this lit. is the occurrences of the anti-christ theme. The epistles have but little data apart from the name (cf. 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). In one passage antichrists (pl.) are mentioned (1 John 2:18), which suggests that no particular individual is in mind. Other references are more specific (cf. 2 John 7). Nothing in John’s epistles is as informative as Paul’s statement (2 Thess 2) on this theme. In the Apocalypse are various descriptions of evil powers, and the reader is made vividly aware that the burden of the book is the spiritual conflict and the final overthrow of the evil powers. Such terms as the beast, the great red dragon, another beast, and similar descriptions are intended to convey the impression of highly organized hostility. One may dismiss the theory that some of these could be references to Nero, for the concept of spiritual conflict is characteristic of Johannine lit. and the theory is totally unnecessary. Since the whole world lies in the lap of the wicked one, an intense clash between the deliverer and the usurper is to be expected. But, the Lamb will obtain the final victory. The vision of the New Jerusalem is intended to illustrate the age of blessing that will result from the final overthrow of evil.

One eschatological feature marks out the Johannine epistles from the Apocalpse—the absence of the apocalyptic element. The epistles have much to say about “eternal life,” as does the gospel, but not the Apocalypse. In 1 John 1 it is seen as the result of the testimony of the “word of life” (i.e., Christ).

The Church

No direct reference is made in John’s gospel to the Church, and yet there are a number of indirect indications that Jesus conceived of a community of people who would continue His work. It is the cumulative effect that is important rather than any specific statements. The evidence will be divided into three main divisions: the concept of the Christian community; the ministry; and the ordinances.

The Christian community.

That the mission of Jesus was outward-looking goes without saying, but in John’s presentation of His teaching, this feature is brought into sharp focus. One of the key sayings is, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). This at once links the idea of an emerging community with the Passion. There can be no Church that is not based on the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The Shepherd allegory.

The use of the shepherd image to express the relationship between God and His people is not original. Many traces of it occur in the OT (e.g., Ps 23; Isa 40:11; Jer 23:1; Ezek 34:11). Jesus developed the idea to illustrate the special relationship between Himself and the Church. The word “flock” (poimne) is used (John 10:16) to describe the community of those who are said to be possessed by Jesus Christ. The distinction between the flock and different folds within the flock is important in the context of the Jewish and Gentile controversy that developed within the Early Church. The major significance of the Shepherd allegory is the centrality of Christ. He laid down His life for His sheep. He knows His sheep and is known by them. He possesses His sheep and has a deep sense of urgency in bringing all His sheep into the flock. This accords well with the commission of Jesus as recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matt 28:18ff.).

The Vine allegory.

The essential oneness of the Vine with its branches serves as an admirable illustration of the corporate nature of the Church. The basis of the unity of the branches rests in the common dependence of each upon the Vine, i.e., Christ. The figure of speech draws attention to the Church as an organism rather than as an organization. In the teaching of Jesus the relationship of each member to the Vine is of more importance than their relationship to one another. The idea of abiding in the Vine is the essential qualification for membership in the Christian community.

Mission teaching.

The prayer of Jesus in John 17 (often known as the High Priestly prayer) is significant for several reasons, but for none more important than the close identification of the mission of the disciples with the mission of Jesus (“as thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world,” 17:18). The implications are farreaching, for the disciples’ work is described as a continuation of the mission of Jesus. Frequently John records the expression “he whom the Father has sent,” and if the disciples are to be commissioned with the same burning sense of purpose, they are linked together in a corporate aim. Both the mission of Jesus and of the disciples is aimed to gather into one the children of God that are scattered abroad (John 11:51, 52). This emphasis on oneness is brought to focus in 17:20. Such oneness can exist only in an integrated community devoted to a common purpose.

The Paraclete sayings in relation to the Church.

A clear distinction exists between the world and the Church in the fact that the latter (represented by the disciples addressed) alone possesses the Spirit (cf. 14:16, 17; 15:26, 27). What the Spirit teaches will be taught only to those in whom the Spirit abides. There is therefore to be a community consisting of people of the Spirit. This marks out the Christian Church from all other communities.

The Christian ministry.

Several passages in John bear upon the ministry. It is seen as an integral part of the concept of the Church. The teaching does not make reference to any church offices; it is rather a matter of functions.

The allegory of the door and shepherd.

Although the primary reference is to Christ as the door and shepherd of His sheep, there is a derived sense in which the true shepherd, contrasted with the hireling, is an illustration of the pastoral office. The Christian ministry is concerned with a tender caring for the sheep.

The commission to Peter.

The threefold commission to Peter also presents loving care for the sheep (ch. 21). The metaphor of sheep is continued with Peter exhorted to feed both lambs and sheep. The pastoral office is directly concerned with those belonging to Jesus (my sheep, my lambs). The different terms used show the variety of functions of the true pastor.

The foot-washing.

Because Jesus specifically stated that His action in washing the disciples’ feet was intended to be an example (13:5, 14, 15) the incident throws light on the attitude required in the servants of the Church. The major demand is for humility; the emphasis is on service, however lowly. The sent one (apostolos) is essentially a servant (doulos). It was on this occasion that Jesus made clear that those who received His servants received Him (13:20), so demonstrating the inseparable character of Christ and His ministers.

The insufflation.

Some difficulty has been found over the interpretation of John 20:21-23, particularly the prediction regarding forgiving and retaining of sins as a future function of the disciples. The context shows that the words can be understood only in the light of the commission addressed to the disciples (v. 21). Moreover, they are applicable only through the agency of the Holy Spirit, for it is after the breathing of the Spirit upon them that the statement is made. The Church consists essentially of those who possess the Spirit. Was the statement intended for all who possess the Spirit or restricted to those only who were the original recipients? In the latter case it would be restricted to apostles. Since the Holy Spirit descended on the whole Church at Pentecost, a wider interpretation seems implied. It is the Spirit’s task to bring forgiveness into human experience, and those addressed possess that power only by virtue of the Holy Spirit. There can be no doubt that the ministry in John is an activity of the Spirit.

The ordinances.

There is no specific mention of the institution of either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper in John’s gospel, and this has given rise to various theories in an attempt to explain it. If there was a tendency to overstress the external features of the ordinances, this might supply a sufficient reason for John’s intention not to mention them directly. If, as many hold, chs. 3 and 6 refer to the ordinances indirectly, John may be bringing out their true spiritual significance. It must not be overlooked that when John wrote, the ordinances were well established in the churches, and it may well be that he omits reference to the institution because of the prior existence of the synoptic records.


Cullmann finds references to baptism in many parts of this gospel, but most would restrict the mention of baptism to John 3:3-5. This reference to baptism is not certain, for the expression “born of water” could be otherwise interpreted as being synonymous with physical birth. In the latter case, the emphasis falls wholly on spiritual renewal. It may be questioned whether Nicodemus would have understood it in this sense. If the reference is to baptism, its close connection with spiritual rebirth is the essential teaching. It has no value apart from the regenerating activity of the Spirit in the individual. This spiritual interpretation of an ordinance like baptism shows the Lord’s perspective in regard to ritual requirements.

The Lord’s Supper.

The Bread discourse in John 6 shows such close connections with the institution of the Lord’s Supper of the synoptic gospels that many scholars regard it as a substitution, or rather reinterpretation, of the ordinance. In this case it is claimed to have sacramental significance. Another view, however, is possible and much more probable. It cannot be supposed that Jesus gave no preparation for the ordinance that was to play so important a part in the worship of the Church. The Bread discourse furnished such an opportunity to bring out the spiritual principles. Yet, it may be objected that the setting of the discourse shows it to have been delivered to a Jewish audience who revealed no understanding of it (cf. 6:60). This has led some scholars (e.g., W. F. Howard) to regard the setting as unhistorical. Even if the Jewish audience was baffled by the statements of Jesus, as the passage clearly indicates, this is no reason to suppose it to be unhistorical. Even the disciples who were present at the first supper understood the spiritual meaning only after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. There was however, nothing secret about the teaching. It was simply unintelligible to the unspiritually minded.

Christ identified the living bread from heaven as “my flesh” (6:51). The spiritual manna, which is infinitely superior to the manna provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, is therefore meaningful only in the context of Jesus’ self-giving for the “world.” The further statement about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man (6:53) is even more obviously linked with the ideas that found expression in the Last Supper. One feature is particularly worth noting i.e., the reference in this context to the last day (v. 54). In the synoptics the Last Supper has a forward look; so have these adumbrations of it in John.


B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (1887); H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 2nd. ed. (1907); E. F. Scott, The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and Theology, 2nd. ed. (1908); G. G. Findlay, Fellowship in the Life Eternal (1909); R. Law, The Tests of Life: a Study of the First Epistle of St. John (1909); R. H. Charles, Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, ICC (1920); H. S. Holland, The Fourth Gospel (1923); K. Kundsin, Topologische Überlieferungsstücke im Joh (1925); J. H. Bernard, The Gospel according to St. John, ICC (1928); H. Odeberg, The Fourth Gospel Interpreted in its Relation to Contemporaneous Religious Currents (1929); R. H. Strachan, The Historic Jesus in the New Testament (1931); W. H. Raney, The Relation of the Fourth Gospel to the Christian Cultus (1933); W. F. Howard, Christianity According to St. John (1943); C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, MNT (1946); W. Michaelis, Die Sakramente im Joh (1946); E. C. Hoskyns and F. N. Davey, The Fourth Gospel, 2nd ed. (1947); E. K. Lee, The Religious Thought of St. John (1950); E. Ruckstuhl, Die literarische Einheit des Johannesevangeliums (1951); W. H. Rigg, The Fourth Gospel and its Message for Today (1952); W. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (1953); R. Bultmann, Das Evangelium des Johannes, 13th ed. (1953); C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953); B. Noack, Zur johanneischen Tradition (1954); W. F. Howard, The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism, 2nd ed. revised by C. K. Barrett (1955); D. Lamont, Studies in the Johannine Writings (1956); C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (1956); A. Corell, Consummatum Est (1958); J. E. Davey, The Jesus of St. John (1958); W. Wilkens, Die Einstehungsgeschichte des vierten Evangeliums (1958); B. Gärtner, John 6 and the Jewish Passover (1959); A. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (1960); E. M. Sidebottom, The Christ of the Fourth Gospel (1961); L. van Hartingsveld, Die Eschatologie des Johannesevangeliums (1962); C. H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (1963); T. F. Glasson, Moses in the Fourth Gospel (1963); J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John (1964).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Personality of Writer

2. Earlier nodetitle Writings

3. Christian Experience and Teaching of History

4. Widening Contact with Gentile World

5. The Odes of Solomon

6. Antagonism to Gnostic Speculation


1. God Is Spirit

2. God Is Life

3. God Is Light

4. Ethical Attributes

God Is Righteous

5. God Is Love

(1) The Love of God

(a) Primarily a Disposition

(b) Embodied in Christ’s Self-Sacrifice

(c) Love in Redemption

(2) Love Is God’s Nature


1. Historical Antecedents of the Logos-Doctrine

2. The Logos-Doctrine in John

3. The Incarnation as Delineated in the Fourth Gospel

4. The Incarnation in the First Epistle

5. Practical Implications of the Incarnation


1. The Work of the Spirit--in the Fourth Gospel

Perpetuates, but also Intensifies the Consciousness of Christ

2. In the First Epistle

(1) A Divine Teacher

(2) Other Aspects

3. The Person of the Spirit

His Deity Implied


1. Sin

2. Propitiation

(1) In the Gospel

(2) In the Epistle

(3) One with New Testament Teaching


1. Ethical Rather than Eschatological

2. Metaphysical Aspect

Reply to Criticism

3. Development of Doctrine

(1) Source in God

(2) Mediated by Christ

(3) Through the Spirit

(4) The Divine "Begetting"

(5) The "Children of God"

(6) The Divine Abiding


1. The World

2. Two Classes in the Human Race


1. The Church

2. The Sacraments

(1) Baptism

(2) The Lord’s Supper


1. Type of Thought Idealistic

2. Yet History Not Ignored

3. Nor Eschatology

4. Eschatological Ideas

(1) Eternal Life

(2) Antichrist

(3) Resurrection

(4) Judgment

(5) The Parousia

(a) A "Manifestation"

(b) Relation to Believers


The materials for the following sketch of the Johannine theology are necessarily drawn from the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles, chiefly the First Epistle, of John. The question of authorship is not here considered (see articles on the GOSPEL and on the JOHN, THE EPISTLES OF). These writings, whether by the same or by different authors, are equally saturated with that spiritual and theological atmosphere, equally characterized by that type of thought which we call Johannine, and which presents an interpretation of Christianity scarcely less distinctive and original than Paulinism. Where there are differences in the point of view, these will be indicated.

I. The Antecedents.

1. Personality of Writer:

To attempt a full account of the historical sources and antecedents of the Johannine theology is beyond the scope of the present article; but they may be briefly indicated. Much must be attributed to the personality of the great anonymous writer to whom we directly owe this latest development of New Testament thought. Only a thinker of first rank among the idealists and mystics, a mind of the Platonic order, moving instinctively in the world of supersensuous realities, absorbed in the passion for the infinite, possessing in a superlative degree the gift of spiritual intuition, could under any conditions have evolved a system of thought having the special characteristics of this theology.

2. Earlier New Testament Writings:

Yet with all his originality the builder has raised his structure upon the foundation already laid in the teaching represented by the earlier New Testament writings. The synoptic tradition, though freshly interpreted, is presupposed. At certain points there is a strong affinity with the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the main, however, the Johannine doctrine may be said to be a natural and inevitable development of Paulinism--the conclusion to which the earlier writer’s mind is visibly moving in e.g. the Epistle to the Colossians.

3. Christian Experience and Teaching of History:

Among the influences which have stimulated and guided this development, the first place belongs to the natural growth of Christian experience and the teaching of history. In the closing decades of the 1st century, Christianity was compelled by the force of events to liberate itself more completely from the husk of Jewish Messianism in which its Divine seed had first been deposited. The faith of the first Christian generation in the Messiahship of Jesus and the triumph of His cause had expressed itself (necessarily so, under the historical conditions) in vivid expectation of His nodetitle. He was only waiting behind the clouds, and would speedily return to the earth for the restitution of all things (Ac 3:21). But after the fall of Jerusalem this primitive apocalypticism became, with the passing years, more and more discredited; and the Christian faith had either to interpret itself afresh, both to its own consciousness and to the world, or confess itself "such stuff as dreams are made of." It would be difficult to overestimate the service which the Johannine theology must have rendered in this hazardous transition by transferring the emphasis of Christian faith from the apocalyptic to ’the spiritual, and leading the church to a profounder realization of its essential and inalienable resources in the new spiritual life it possessed through the ever-living Christ. Eternal life was not merely a future felicity, but a present possession; the most real coming of Christ, His coming in the Spirit. The Kingdom of God is here: the eternal is now. Such was the great message of John to his age, and to all ages.

4. Widening Contact with Gentile World:

In another direction, the widening contact of Christianity with the Gentileworld had stimulated the development of doctrine. A disentanglement from Jewish nationalism, more complete than even Paul had accomplished, had become a necessity. If Christianity was to find a home and a sphere of conquest in the Greek-Roman world--to recreate European thought and civilization--the person of Christ must be interpreted as having a vastly larger significance than that of the Jewish Messiah. That this necessity hastened the process of thought which reached its goal in the Loges-doctrine of John cannot well be doubted. The way had so far been prepared by Philo and the Jewish-Alexandrian school. And while it is probably mere coincidence that Ephesus, with which the activity of John’s later years is associated by universal tradition, was also the city of Heraclitus, who, 500 years earlier, had used the term Logos to express the idea of an eternal and universal Reason, immanent in the world, there is as little room as there can be motive for questioning that in the Johannine theology Christian thought has been influenced and fertilized at certain points by contact with Hellenism.

5. The Odes of Solomon:

On the other hand it is possible that this influence has been overrated. Fresh material for the investigation of the sources and connections of the Johannine theology is furnished by the recent discovery of the Odes of Solomon (J. Rendel Harris, M.A., Odes and Psalms of Solomon, Cambridge, 1909; AdoIf Harnack, Ein judisch-christliches Psalmbuch aus dem ersten Jahrhundert, Leipzig, 1910). This collection of religious poems is regarded by its discoverer, Rendel Harris, as the work of a writer who, while not a Jew, was a member of a community of Christians who were for the most part of Jewish extraction and beliefs. But though the Odes in their present form contain distinctly Christian elements (references, e.g. to the Son, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the Passion, the Descensus ad inferos), Harnack’s closer analysis tends to the conclusion that in their original form they were purely Jewish, and that they have been adapted to Christian use by a process of interpolation. For the original work Harnack gives as a possible date the beginning of the Christian era, the Christian redaction falling within the 1st century. Harnack recognizes a possibility that the redactor may have been acquainted with the Fourth Gospel. The religious feeling of the writer is throughout individual and mystical, rather than nationalistic and Messianic. The characteristic atmosphere is strongly Johannine (we may quote in, illustration only the noble sentence from the 12th ode: "The dwelling-place of the Word is man; and its truth is Love"). The Odes have, in common with the Johannine writings, such leading conceptions as "grace," "believing," "knowledge," "truth," "light," "living water," "life" (for a full exhibition of the parallelisms, see article by R.H. Strachan, The Expository Times, October, 1910). Harnack asserts deliberately (p. 99) that in the Odes we possess "the presuppositions of the Johannine theology, apart from the historical nodetitle, and without any Messianic doctrine." More recent criticism of the Odes, however, has resulted in great diversity of view regarding their origin. They have been assigned to Gnosticism, and on the contrary to Montanism; and again are described (Bernard) as Christian baptismal hymns. In view of this division of critical opinion, all that can be said in the meantime is that the Odes testify to a collateral mystical development, the recognition of which necessitates a revision of the estimates which have been made regarding the extent to which the Johannine theology is indebted to Hellenistic philosophy.

6. Antagonism to Gnostic Speculation:

One other factor in this theological development remains to be mentioned--antagonism to Gnostic speculation. In the Gospel this has left not a few traces, in the way both of statement and omission; in the 1st Epistle scarcely any other danger to the faith and life of the church is apprehended than the spreading influence of Gnostic tenets (see nodetitle). John himself has been charged with Gnostic tendencies; but the truth rather is that to him Gnosticism must have been the more hateful and have seemed the more dangerous because its conceptions were at some points the caricature of his own. In it he saw the real Antichrist, the "spirit of error," giving fatally misleading solutions of those problems which the human mind can never leave alone, but regarding which the one true light is the historic Christ. Gnosticism had lost all historical sense, all touch with reality. It moved in a world of sheer mythology and speculation; history became allegory; the incarnate Christ a phantasm. John took his stand only the more firmly upon historical fact, insisted the more strenuously upon the verified physical reality of the Incarnation. In many of its adherents Gnosticism had lost almost completely the moral sense; John the more vehemently asserts the inviolable moral purity of the Divine nature and of the regenerate life which is derived from it. Gnostic dualism had set God infinitely far from men as transcendent Being; John brings God infinitely near to men as Love; and sweeps away the whole complicated mythology of Gnostic emanations, eons and archons, by his doctrine of the Logos, coeternal and coequal with the Father, incarnate in Jesus, through whom humanity is made to participate in the very life of God--the life of all love, purity and truth.

II. The Divine Nature.

1. God Is Spirit:

One of the glories of the Johannine theology is its doctrine of God, its delineation of the Divine nature. This is given in a series of intuitional affirmations which, though the manner of statement indicates no attempt at correlation, unite to form a complete organic conception. The first of these affirmations defines what is the Divine order of being: God is Spirit (Joh 4:24). The central significance of this inexhaustible saying is defined by the context. The old local worships, whether at Jerusalem or Samaria, had implied some special local mode of Divine presence; and this naturally suggested, if it did not necessitate, the idea of some kind of materiality in the Divine nature. But God is spirit; and true worship must be an intercourse of spirit with spirit, having relation to no local or material, but only to moral conditions. Thus the concept of the Divine spirituality is both moral and metaphysical. The religious relation to God, as it exists for Christian faith, rests upon the fact that the Supreme Being is essentially moral, but also omnipresent and omniscient--the Divine Spirit whose will and percipiency act immediately and simultaneously at every point of existence. Such a Being we utterly lack the power to comprehend. But only such a Being can be God, can satisfy our religious need--a Being of whom we are assured that nothing that is in us, good or evil, true or false, and nothing that concerns us, past, present or future, is hid from His immediate vision or barred against the all-pervading operation of His will. To realize that God is such a Being is to be assured that He can be worshipped with no mechanical ritual or formal observance: they that worship Him must worship Him "in spirit and in truth."

2. God Is Life:

God, who is spirit, is further conceived as Life, Light, Righteousness and Love. Righteousness and Love are the primary ethical quailties of the Divine nature; Life the energy by which they act; Light the self-revelation in which they are manifested throughout the spiritual universe. God is Life. He is the ultimate eternal Reality. He was "in the beginning" (Joh 1:1), or "from the beginning" (1Joh 1:1; 2:13). These statements are made of the Logos, therefore a fortiori of God. But the Divine nature is not mere abstract being, infinite and eternal; it is being filled with that inscrutable elemental energy which we call Life. In God this energy of life is self-originating and self-sustaining ("The Father hath life in himself," Joh 5:26), and is the source of all life (Joh 1:3,4, the Revised Version (British and American) margin). For every finite being life is union with God according to its capacity.

But the lower potencies of the creative Life do not come within the scope of the Johannine theology. The term is restricted in usage to its highest ethical significance, as denoting that life of perfect, holy love which is "the eternal life," the possession of which in fellowship with God is the chief end for which every spiritual nature exists. The elements present in the conception of the Divine life are these:

(1) The ethical: the life God lives is one of absolute righteousness (1Joh 2:29), and perfect love (1Joh 4:9).

(2) The metaphysical: the Divine life is nothing else than the Divine nature itself regarded dynamically, as the ground and source of all its own activities, the animating principle or energy which makes Divine righteousness and love to be not mere abstractions but active realities.

(4) But God is not only the transcendent final source, He is also the immanent source of life. This is clearly implied in all those passages, too numerous to be quoted, which speak of God’s abiding in us and our abiding in Him. Life is maintained only through a continuous vitalizing union with Him, as of the branches with the vine (Joh 5:1-6). It must be observed, however, that John nowhere merges the idea of God in that of life. God is personal; life is impersonal. The eternal life is the element common to the personality of God, of the Loges, and of those who are the "children of God." Any pantheistic manner of thinking is as foreign to John as to every other Biblical writer.

3. God Is Light:

God is not life only; He is light also (1Joh 1:5). That God is life means that He is and is self-imparting; that He is light means that the Divine nature is by inward necessity self-revealing.

(1) As the essential property of light is to shine, so God by His very nature of righteousness and love is necessitated to reveal Himself as being what He is, so as to become the Truth (he aletheia), the object of spiritual perception (ginoskein), and the source of spiritual illumination to every being capable of receiving the revelation. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." In God there is nothing that hides, nothing that is hidden. The Divine character is utterly transparent--goodness without a shadow of evil.

(2) This self-revelation of God is given in its perfect form in Jesus, the incarnate Word, who is the light of men (Joh 1:4), the light of the world (Joh 8:12; 9:5), the true light (Joh 1:9; 1; Joh 2:8).

(3) It is in their illumination by this Divine light that there exists, even for the sinful, a medium of moral fellowship with God. We can "come to the light" (Joh 3:19-21) and "walk in the light" (1Joh 1:7). In the translucent atmosphere of the true light, we, even while morally imperfect and impure, may come to have a common view of spiritual facts with God (1Joh 1:8-10; 2:9,10). This is the basis of a spiritual religion, and distinguishes Christianity from all irrational superstitions and unethical ritualisms.

4. Ethical Attributes:

In Gnostic speculation the Divine nature was conceived as the ultimate spiritual essence, in eternal separation from all that is material and mutable. But while John also, as we have seen, conceives it in this way, with him the conception is primarily and intensely ethical. The Divine nature, the communication of which is life and the revelation of which is light, has, as its two great attributes, Righteousness and Love; and with his whole soul John labors to stamp on the minds of men that only in righteousness and love can they walk in the light and have fellowship in the life of God. It is characteristic of John’s intuitional fashion of thought that there is no effort to correlate these two aspects of the ethical perfection of God; but, broadly, it may be said that they are respectively the negative and the positive. Love is the sum of all that is positively right; righteousness the antithesis of all that is wrong, in character and conduct.

God Is Righteous.

(1) That such righteousness--antagonism to all sin--belongs to, or rather is, the moral nature of God, and that this lies at the basis of Christian ethics is categorically affirmed. "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him" (1Joh 2:29). (2) This righteousness which belongs to the inward character of God extends necessarily to all His actions: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins" (1Joh 1:9). When on the ground of Christ’s propitiation God forgives those who by confessing their sins make forgiveness possible, He acts righteously; and because He acts righteously, He acts also faithfully, that is, self-consistently. He does not "deny himself" (2Ti 2:13), but does what is in accordance with His own unchangeable character. (3) God’s righteousness is related imperatively to the whole moral activity of His creatures, rendering sin inadmissible in them--inadmissible de jure in all, de facto in all who are "begotten of him." This John maintains with unexampled vigor (compare 1Joh 2:29; 3:6,8-10; 5:18). It is true, however, that in its doctrine of Divine righteousness the Johannine theology makes no notable contribution to the sum of New Testament thought, but simply restates in peculiarly forceful fashion the conception of it which pervades the whole Biblical revelation.

5. God Is Love:

(1) The Love of God.

It is far otherwise with the next of the great affirmations which constitute its doctrine of God: God is Love. Here Gospel and Epistle rise to the summit of all revelation, and for the first time clearly and fully enunciate that truth which is the innermost secret of existence.

(a) Primarily a Disposition:

Love is primarily a disposition, a moral quality of the will. What this quality is is indicated by the fact that the typical object of love in human relation is invariably our "brother." It is the disposition to act toward others as it is natural for those to do who have all interests in common and who realize that the full self-existence of each can be attained only in a larger corporate existence. It is the mysterious power by which egoism and altruism meet and coalesce, the power to live not only for another but in another, to realize one’s own fullest life in the fulfillment of other lives. It is self-communication which is also self-assertion.

(b) Embodied in Christ’s Self-Sacrifice:

In history love has its one perfect embodiment in the self-sacrifice of Christ. "Hereby know we love (i.e. perceive what love is), because he laid down his life for us" (1Joh 3:16). The world had never been without love; but till Jesus Christ came and laid down His life for the men that hated and mocked and slew him, it had not known what love in its greatness and purity could be.

(c) Love in Redemption:

But here history is the invisible translated into the visible. The self-sacrifice of Christ in laying down His life for us is the manifestation (1Joh 4:9), under the conditions of time and sense, of the love of God, eternal and invisible. In the closely related parallel passages (Joh 3:16; 1; Joh 4:9,10) this is declared with matchless simplicity of statement. The Divine love is manifested in the magnitude of its gift--"his Son, his only begotten" (elsewhere the title is only "the Son" or "his Son" or "the nodetitle"). Other gifts are only tokens of God’s love; in Christ its all is bestowed (compare Ro 8:32; Ge 22:12). The love of God is manifested further in the purpose of its gift--"that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." It is the self-determination of God, not only to rescue men from what is the sum and finality of all evils, but to impart the supreme and eternal good. But again, the love of God is manifested in the means by which this purpose is achieved. His son is sent as "the propitiation for our sins." God shrinks not from the uttermost cost of redemption; but in the person of His Son humbles Himself and suffers unto blood that He may take upon Himself the load of human guilt and shame. And the last element in the full conception of Divine love is its objects: "God so loved the world"; "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." Its ineffable mystery reveals itself in its absolute spontaneity, its self-origination. Its fires are self-kindled; it shines forth in its purest splendors upon the unattractive and unworthy. Such is the conception John sets before us. In this entirely spontaneous, self-determined devotion of God to sinful men; this Divine passion to rescue them from sin, the supreme evil, and to impart to them eternal life, the supreme good; in this, which is evoked not by their worthiness but by their need, and goes to the uttermost length of sacrifice in bearing the uttermost burden of their sin and its inevitable consequences; in this, which is forever revealed in the mission of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, is love.

(2) Love Is God’s Nature.

And God is love (1Joh 4:8,16).

(a) God is love essentially. Love is not one of God’s moral attributes, but that from which they all proceed, and in which they all unite. The spring of all His actions is love.

(b) Therefore also His love is universal. In a special sense He loves those who are spiritually His children (Joh 14:23); but His undivided and essential love is given also to the whole world (Joh 3:16; 1; Joh 2:2). That is John’s great truth. He does not attempt to reconcile with it other apparently conflicting truths in his theological scheme; possibly he was not conscious of any need to do so. But of this he is sure--God is love. That fact must, in ways we cannot yet discern, include all other facts.

(c) The love of God is eternal and unchangeable; for it does not depend on any merit or reciprocation in its object, but overflows from its own infinite fullness. We may refuse to it the inlet into our life which it seeks (Joh 3:19; 5:40); we may so identify ourselves with evil as to turn it into an antagonistic force. But as our goodness did not call it forth, neither can our evil cause it to cease.

(d) If love is an essential, the essential attribute of God, it follows that we cannot ultimately conceive of God as a single simple personality. It is at this point that the fuller Johannine conception of multiple personality in the Godhead becomes most helpful, enabling us to think of the Divine life in itself not as an eternal solitude of self-contemplation and self-love, but as a life of fellowship (Joh 1:1; 1; Joh 1:2). The Godhead is filled with love. "The Father loveth the Son" (Joh 3:35); and the prayer of the Son for His followers is "that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them" (Joh 17:26). The eternal giving and receiving of Divine love between the Father and the Son is, in the Johannine theology, an essential element of the Divine nature.

III. The Incarnation.

The 2nd great contribution of the Johannine writings to the development of Christian theology is their doctrine of Christ--the latest and most deliberate effort within New Testament times to relate intellectually the church’s faith in Jesus to its faith in God. In these writings the superhuman personality of Jesus is expressed by three titles which are used as practically synonymous--"the Christ," "the Son" ("Son of God," "only begotten Son of God"), the "Word" (Logos). The last alone is distinctively Johannine.

1. Historical Antecedents of the Logos-Doctrine:

Historically, the Logos-doctrine of John has undoubted links of connection with certain speculative developments both of Greek and Hebrew thought. The Heraclitean use of the term "Logos" (see above, I) to express the idea of an eternal and all-embracing Reason immanent in the world was continued, while the conception was further elaborated, by the Stoics. On the other hand, the later developments of Hebrew thought show an increasing tendency to personify the self-revealing activity of God under such conceptions as the Angel, Glory, or Name of Yahweh, to attach a peculiar significance to the "Word" (me’mera’) by which He created the heaven and the earth, and to describe "Wisdom" (Job, Proverbs) in something more than a figurative sense as His agent and coworker. These approximations of Greek pantheism and Hebrew monotheism were more verbal than real; and, naturally, Philo’s attempt in his doctrine of the Logos to combine philosophies so radically divergent was less successful than it was courageous. How far, and whether directly or indirectly, John is indebted to Philo and his school, are questions to which widely different answers have been given; but some obligation, probably indirect, cannot reasonably be denied. It is evident, indeed, that both the idea and the term "Logos" were current in the Christian circles for which his Gospel and First Epistle were immediately written; in both its familiarity is assumed. Yet the Johannine doctrine has little in common with Philo’s except the name; and it is just in its most essential features that it is most original and distinct.

As the Old Testament begins with the affirmation, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," so the Fourth Gospel begins with the similar affirmation, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Joh 1:1). The Word was the medium of Divine action in creation (Joh 1:3).

2. The Logos-Doctrine in John:

In the Word was life, not merely self-existing but self-imparting, so that it became the light of men (Joh 1:4)--the true light, which, coming into the world, lighteth every man (Joh 1:9). And finally it is declared that this Divine Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, so that "we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Joh 1:14). Here faith in Jesus as Divine has been traced back to, and grounded in, a duality within the Godhead itself. In the twofold mode of the Divine existence, it is seen that there is God who is just God (so to say), God in Himself; and there is God-with-God, God who is God’s other self, God going forth from Himself in thought and action. The first without the second would be essence without manifestation, mind without utterance, light without effulgence, life without life-giving, fatherhood without sonship. It is seen that within the Divine Being there is one through whom, as there is also one from whom, all Divine energy goes forth. Above all it is seen that there is a Divine mode of existence in which it is inherently possible and natural for God to be immediately related to created being and even to become incarnate in humanity, as there is also a mode of Divine existence which cannot be immediately communicated or revealed to created life. Thus the Johannine doctrine is: first, that the Logos is personal and Divine, having a ground of personal being within the Divine nature (pros ton Theon, "in relation to God"); and, second, that the Logos became flesh, was and is incarnate in the historical Jesus.

3. The Incarnation as Delineated in the Fourth Gospel:

4. The Incarnation in the First Epistle:

In the 1 John the central thesis is the complete, personal, and permanent identity of the historical Jesus with the Divine Being who is the Word of Life (1:1), the Christ (4:2), the Son of God (5:5). This is maintained in a vigorous polemic against certain heretical teachers whom the writer calls "antichrists," who in docetic fashion denied that Jesus is the Christ (2:22), or, more definitely, the "Christ come in the flesh" (4:3), and who asserted that He "came" by water only and not by blood also (5:6; see nodetitle). Against this doctrine of a merely apparent or temporary association of Jesus with the Christ John bears vehement testimony. "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" (1Joh 2:22). `Every spirit that confesseth Jesus as Christ come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God’ (1Joh 4:2,3). "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood" (1Joh 5:5,6). These passages all promulgate the same truth in substantially the same way. Without ceasing to be what He is, the Christ, the Son of God, has become Jesus; and Jesus, without ceasing to be truly human, is the Son of God. As to the manner of the incarnation--by what process of self-emptying or by what conjunction of Divine-human attributes the eternal Son became Jesus--the Johannine writings, like the New Testament everywhere, are silent. They proclaim Jesus Christ as human and Divine; but the distinguishing of what in Him was human and what Divine, or whether the one is distinct from the other, this they do not even consider. Gnosticism drew such a distinction; John does not. His one truth is that Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of God is Jesus, and that in Him the life of God was manifested (1Joh 1:2) and is given (1Joh 5:11) to men.

5. Practical Implications of the Incarnation:

IV. The nodetitle.

1. The Work of the Spirit--in the Fourth Gospel:

In one direction the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is uniquely developed in the Johannine writings. The conception of the Spirit as the agent of Work of the Christ’s presence with and activity in the church is presented with a fullness and clearness unequaled in the New Testament. The departing Christ promises to His friends a new presence, different from His own in that it was to be not a bodily but a spiritual presence, and yet really His own--a presence in which all and more than all the effects of His bodily presence would be perpetuated (Joh 14:18; 16:22). In truth, it was expedient for them that He should go away, in order that this other Paraclete should come (Joh 16:7). In the body His presence with His followers had been local and intermittent; in the Spirit He would come to take up His abode with them forever (Joh 14:16). Formerly He had been still external to them, but now was not only to dwell with them, but to be in them (Joh 14:17). Instead of the external voice of their Teacher addressing to them the words of eternal life, they should possess the very Spirit of truth (Joh 14:17), a well-spring of illumination from within, giving them an "understanding" to know Him that is true (1Joh 5:20); and instead of His visible example before their eyes, an inward community of life with Him like that of the vine and the branches. The complete, vital, permanent union of Christ and His people, which had been prevented by the necessary limitations of a local, corporeal state of existence, would be attained, when for this there was substituted the direct action of spirit upon spirit.

Perpetuates, but also Intensifies the Consciousness of Christ.

Thus the function of the Spirit which is chiefly emphasized in the Johannine writings is that by which He perpetuates but also intensifies, enlightens, and educates the consciousness of Christ in the church and in the Christian life. In this respect His nature is the opposite of that of the Logos, the self-revealing God. The Holy Spirit never reveals Himself to human consciousness; He reveals the Son and the Father through the Son. His operations are wholly secret and inscrutable, known only by their result (Joh 3:8). He is the silent inward monitor and remembrancer of the disciples (Joh 14:20); the illuminator, the revealer of Christ (Joh 16:14); a spirit of witness who both Himself bears witness concerning Christ to His people and makes of them ready and joyful witness-bearers (Joh 15:26,27); a guide by whom a steady growth in knowledge is secured, leading gradually on to the full truth of Christ (Joh 16:12,13); a spirit of conviction working in men an immediate certainty of the truth regarding sin and righteousness, and the Divine judgment which marks their eternal antagonism (Joh 16:8-11).

2. In the First Epistle:

In the Epistle we find the promise of the Gospel accomplished in actual experience. There is no reference to the manifold charismata of the first age, the prophetic afflatus excepted (1Joh 4:1). But whether through the prophetic "medium" or the normal Christian consciousness, the function of the Spirit is always to "teach" or to "witness" concerning Christ. This is finely brought out in the parallelism of 1Joh 5:6: "This (Jesus Christ) is he that came" (once for all fulfilling the Messiah’s mission); "It is the Spirit that beareth witness" (ever authenticating its Divine origin, interpreting its purpose and applying its results). The specific testimony the Spirit bears to Christ is defined (1Joh 4:2,3). "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God."

(1) A Divine Teacher.

The gift of the Spirit is an "anointing from the Holy One" (1Joh 2:20); and the result of this "anointing" is that "ye know all things" (or that "ye all have knowledge"; the reading is doubtful), and "need not that any one teach you" (1Joh 2:27). The apostle’s comfort concerning his readers, encompassed as they are by the snares of Antichrist, is that they have a Divine Teacher, who continually enlightens their understanding, strengthens their convictions and ministers to them an invincible assurance of the truth of the Gospel. "The anointing abideth in you .... and teacheth you concerning all things." The spirit is not a source of independent revelation, but makes the revelation of Christ effectual. The truth is placed beyond all reach of controversy and passes into absolute knowledge: "Ye know all things." It may be added that the history of Christianity furnishes an always growing verification of this Johannine doctrine of a living power of witness and enlightenment present in the church, by which, notwithstanding the constant hindrance of human imperfection, the development of the Christian faith has been steadily advanced, its forgotten or neglected factors brought to remembrance. Old truths have been presented in new aspects and filled with fresh life, and all has been brought to pass with marvelous adaptation to the church’s needs and in proportion to its receptivity.

(2) Other Aspects.

In other directions the doctrine of the Spirit is less developed. The agency of the Spirit in regeneration is repeatedly and emphatically declared in a single passage (Joh 3:5-8), but is nowhere else referred to either in the Gospel or the First Epistle. More remarkable still, neither in Gospel nor Epistle is the Holy Spirit once spoken of as the Divine agent in sanctification. There is no passage resembling that in which Paul speaks of the ethical "fruit of the Spirit" (Ga 5:22,23). The Spirit is the Spirit of truth, the revealer, the inspirer of faith, but is never spoken of as the Spirit of love or holiness. If those who are begotten of God cannot sin, it is not because God’s Spirit, but because "his seed," abideth in them (1Joh 3:9). The explanation of this peculiarity (which has been little observed) in the Johannine theology may be that the Spirit’s work of revealing Christ is regarded as all-inclusive. Thus enabling Christ’s disciples to abide in Him as the branch in the vine, He secures also their bringing forth "much fruit" in all Christlikeness of character and conduct.

2. The Person of the Spirit:

Passing now from the work to the Person, we observe that in the Fourth Gospel the attribution of personality to the Spirit reaches the acme of distinctness. He is "another Paraclete" (Joh 14:16 margin), personal as Christ Himself is personal; and all the functions ascribed to Him--to remind, to teach, to testify, to guide, to convict--are such as are possible only to a personal agent. Nor is it otherwise in the First Epistle. The expressions in it which have been alleged (Pfleiderer and others) as inconsistent with personality (the "anointing," 1Joh 2:20; "He hath given us of his Spirit," 4:13) require no such interpretation. The "anointing" denotes the Spirit, not in His essence or agency, but as the gift of the Holy One with which He anoints believers (compare Joh 7:38,39); and the expression "He hath given us of his Spirit" (as if the Spirit were a divisible entity) is no more incompatible with personality than is the saying "to Him whom he hath sent ...., God giveth not the Spirit by measure" (Joh 3:34), or than our speaking of Christians as having more or less of the Spirit.

His Deity Implied.

The essential Deity of the Spirit is nowhere explicitly asserted, but is necessarily implied in His relation both to Christ and to the church as the "other Paraclete." There is not, however, the same theological development as is achieved regarding the Logos. The Divinity of Christ is grounded in an essential duality of being within the Godhead itself; but there is no similar effort to trace back the threefoldness in the revelation of God, as Father, Son and Spirit, to an essential threefoldness in the Divine nature. The fact is that both historically and logically the doctrine of the Spirit as the third person in the Godhead depends upon that of the Divine Son as the second. It was through its living experience of the Divine in Christ that the church first developed its thought of God beyond the simple monotheism of the Old Testament; but having advanced to the conception of a twofold Godhead, in which there is Fatherhood and Sonship, it was bound to enlarge it still further to that of a threefold Godhead--Father, Son and Spirit. The Son and the Spirit were equally manifestations of God in redemption, and must equally stand in essential relation to the Divine existence.

V. Doctrine of Sin and Propitiation.

This theme is not elaborated. It is characteristic of the Johannine writings that salvation is looked at from the terminus ad quem rather than from the terminus a quo. The infinite good, eternal life, is more in view than the infinite evil, sin. It seems safe to say that the author of these writings at no time had that intense experience of bondage to the law of sin and of death which so colors Paul’s presentation of the gospel. It was, moreover, no part of his plan to expound the doctrine of propitiation; nor had he any original contribution to make on this head to the sum of New Testament thought. But it is a quite unwarrantable criticism which denies that the saving work of Christ, in the Johannine conception, consists in deliverance from sin.

1. Sin:

It is true that Christ not only takes away the sin of the world (Joh 1:29), but also draws it forth in its utmost intensity and guilt. All sin culminates in the rejection of Christ (Joh 15:22); the Spirit convicts men of sin because they "believe not" on Him (Joh 16:9). "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin" (Joh 8:34); but what reveals the true character of this bondage is that in the presence of the light, men "loved the darkness" (Joh 3:19). That the malign quality and power of evil are fully revealed only in the presence of perfect goodness, that the brighter is the light, the darker is the shade of guilt created by its rejection--all this John teaches; but such teaching is by no means peculiar to him, and to infer from it that "to his mind sin in itself involves no moral culpability" is nothing more than a way-ward paradox.

A second passage (1Joh 3:4-9) emphasizes the ethical quality of sin--its antagonism to the nature of God and of the children of God. The word which defines the constitutive principle of sin is "lawlessness" (1Joh 3:4). Sin is fundamentally the denial of the absoluteness of moral obligation, the repudiation of the eternal law upon which all moral life is based. In other words, to sin is to assert one’s own will as the rule of action against the absolutely good will of God. But again, the Epistle gives the warning that "all unrighteousness is sin" (1Joh 5:17). Everything that is not right is wrong, Every morally inferior course of action, however venial it may appear, is sin and contains the elements of positive guilt. The perplexing topic of "sin unto death" demands too special treatment to be dealt with here.

2. Propitiation:

(1) In the Gospel.

The paucity of reference in the Fourth Gospel to the propitiating aspect of Christ’s redemptive work has been seized upon as proof that, though the writer did not consciously reject the orthodox doctrine, it was really alien to his system. But such a criticism might be directed with almost equal force against the Synoptics. It was no part of John’s plan, as has been said, to expound a doctrine of propitiation; yet his frontispiece to the ministry of Jesus is "the nodetitle that taketh away the sin of the world"; and, as Dr. Inge has pointed out, the same type of the Paschal Lamb underlies the whole narrative of the Passion. In the high-priestly prayer our Lord expressly represents Himself as the covenant-sacrifice which consecrates His disciples as the people of God (Joh 17:19); while the Synoptic "ransom for many" is paralleled by the interpretation of Christ’s death as effectual "for the nation; and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad" (Joh 11:51,52; compare 1Joh 2:2).

(2) In the Epistle.

In the Epistle the doctrinal statement is much more explicit. The fact of propitiation is placed in the forefront. The passage which immediately follows the Prologue (1Joh 1:6-2:2) introduces a group of ideas--propitiation, blood, forgiveness, cleansing--which are taken directly from the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, and are expressed, indeed, in technical Levitical terms. The mode of action by which Christ accomplished and still accomplishes His mission as the Saviour of the world is: "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (1Joh 2:2). Propitiation has its ultimate source in the moral nature of God. It is no device for inducing a reluctant Deity to forgive; it is the way by which the Father brings back His sinning children to Himself. In John’s conception it is the supreme act of God’s supreme attribute, love. "Herein is love" (1Joh 4:10). Yet it is a real work of propitiation in which this love goes forth for man’s salvation--a work, that is, which expiates the guilt of sin, which restores sinful offenders to God by rendering their sin null and inoperative as a barrier to fellowship with Him. This propitiatory virtue is regarded as concentrated in the "blood of Jesus his Son" (1Joh 1:7), that is to say, in the Divine-human life offered to God in the sacrifice of the cross. This, if we walk in the light as He is in the light, "cleanseth us from all sin"--removes from us the stain of our guilt, and makes us clean in God’s sight. In virtue of this, Christ is the penitent sinner’s advocate (paraclete-helper) with the Father (1Joh 2:1). The words "with the Father" are highly significant. Even the Father’s love can urge nothing in apology for sin, nothing that avails to absolve from its guilt. But there is one who can urge on our behalf what is at once the strongest condemnation of our sin and plea for its remission--Himself, "Jesus Christ the righteous" (1Joh 2:1). "And he (Himself) is the propitiation for our sins." John does not speak of Christ as "making propitiation"; He, Himself, in virtue of all He is--Jesus Christ, in whom the Divine ideal of humanity is consummated, in whom the Father sees His own essential righteousness revealed, Jesus Christ the Righteous--is both propitiation and intercession. The two acts are not only united in one person, but constitute the one reconciling work by which there is abiding fellowship between God and His sinning people.

(3) One with New Testament Teaching.

In this statement of the doctrine of propitiation, memorable as it is, there is nothing notably original. It tacitly presupposes, as New Testament teaching everywhere does, that God, in bestowing the sovereign grace of pardon and sonship, must deal truthfully and adequately with sin as a violation of the moral order; and with John, as with other New Testament writers, the necessity and efficacy of sacrifice as the means by which this is accomplished are simply axiomatic. His great contribution to Christian thought is the vision of the cross in the heart of the eternal love. How suggestive are these two statements when placed side by side! "Herein is love .... that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1Joh 4:10); and "Hereby know we love (recognize what it is), because he laid down his life for us" (1Joh 3:16). God’s sending His Son and Christ’s laying down His life are moral equivalents. The sacrifice of Christ is the sacrifice of God. John’s doctrine of propitiation follows as a moral necessity from his doctrine of God. If God is love, nothing is more inevitably true than that He suffers on account of human sin; and to deny Him the power to help and save men by bearing their burden would be to deny to Him love’s highest prerogative.

VI. Eternal Life.

The development of the conception of eternal life must be set along with the doctrine of the moral nature of God and the doctrine of the incarnation as one of the greatest contributions of the Johannine theology to New Testament thought. With this conception the Gospel begins (Joh 1:4) and ends (Joh 20:31); and, in like manner, the Epistle (1Joh 1:2; 5:20). The designation most frequently employed is simply "the life" (he zoe); 17 times in the Gospel and 6 times in the First Epistle it is described qualitatively as "eternal"; but the adjective brings out only what is implicit in the noun. In harmony with the universal Biblical conception, John regards life as the summum bonum, in which the reality of fellowship with God consists, which therefore fulfills the highest idea of being--"perfect truth in perfect action" (Westcott). Christ Himself is "the life" (Joh 14:6), its only bestower and unfailing source (Joh 14:19). He came that we might have it abundantly (Joh 10:10).

1. Ethical Rather than Eschatological:

2. Metaphysical Aspect:

Metaphysically the conception undergoes a development which is equally remarkable, though in the judgment of many, of more questionable value. It has already been seen (see above, II) that life is conceived as the animating principle or essence of the Divine nature, the inward energy of which all its activities are the manifold outgoing. And this conception is carried through with strict consistency. The spiritual life in men, which is "begotten of God," is the vital essence, the mystic principle which is manifested in all the capacities and activities of Christian personality. It does not consist in, and still less is it a result following, repentance, faith, obedience or love; it is that of which they are the fruits and the evidences. Thus instead of "This do, and thou shalt live" (Lu 10:28), John says, conversely, "Every one also, that doeth righteousness is (= has been) begotten of" God (1Joh 2:29); instead of "The just shall live by faith" (Ro 1:17, the King James Version), "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is (= has been) begotten of God" (1Joh 5:1). The human activity is the result and proof of Divine life already imparted, not the condition or means of its attainment. In the Johannine conception life is cause, not effect; not phenomenon, but essence; not the complex whole of the qualities, activities and experiences of the spiritual man, but that which makes them possible--the inscrutable, Divinely communicated principle (Joh 3:8) in which the capacity for them is given and by which also it is realized.

Reply to Criticism.

This Johannine conception of life is vigorously criticized as importing into the interpretation of Christian experience principles and modes of thought borrowed from Greek philosophy. But the tendency to infer causes from effects and to reason from phenomena to essence is not peculiar to Greek philosophy; it is native to the human intellect. The Johannine conception of spiritual life is closely analogous to the common conception of physical life. We do not conceive that a man lives because he breathes and feels and acts; we think and we say that he does these things because he lives, because there is in him that mystic principle we call life. Only to the thinker trained in the logic of empiricism is it possible to define life solely by its phenomena, as e.g. "the continuous adjustment of internal to external relations" (Spencer). The ordinary mind instinctively passes behind the phenomena to entity of which they are the manifestation. The Johannine conception, moreover, lies in the natural line of development for New Testament thought. It is implicit in that whole strain of our Lord’s synoptic teaching which regards doing as only the outcome of being, and which is emphasized in such utterances as "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit" (Mt 12:33); as also in the whole Pauline doctrine of the new creation and the mystical indwelling of Christ in the members of His body. And while it is no doubt true that the Johannine conception of life was immediately influenced by contact with Hellenism, it is one which was sure, sooner or later, to emerge in Christian theology.

3. Development of Doctrine:

(1) Source in God.

In the development of the doctrine we note the following points. (a) The sole and absolute source of life is God, the Father, revealed in Christ. "The Father hath life in himself" (Joh 5:26). He is the "living Father" by whom the Son lives (Joh 6:57); the "true God, and eternal life" (1Joh 5:20). Eternal life is nothing else than the immanence of God in moral beings created after His likeness; the Divine nature reproducing itself in human nature; the energy of the Spirit of God in the spiritual nature of man. This is its ultimate definition.

(2) Mediated by Christ.

(3) Through the Spirit.

In the communication of this life the Spirit is the one direct agent (Joh 3:5-8; see above, under IV).

(4) The Divine "Begetting."

The act of Divine self-communication is constantly and exclusively expressed by the word "beget" (gennao--Joh 1:13; 3:3,5-8; 1Joh 2:29; 3:9, etc.). The word is of far-reaching significance. It implies not only that life has its ultimate origin in God, but that its communication is directly and solely His act. In how literal a sense the Divine begetting is to be understood appears very strikingly in 1Joh 3:9: "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin; because his seed abideth in him." The unique expression "his seed" signifies the new life-principle which is the formative element of the "children of God." This abides in him who has received it. It stamps its own character upon his life and determines its whole development.

(5) The "Children of God."

On the Divine side they have fellowship "with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Joh 1:3). In this Divine fellowship the life "begotten" is nourished and sustained; and no term is more characteristic of the Johannine vocabulary, alike in Gospel and Epistles, than the word "abide" (menein), by which this is expressed. There is, however, a noticeable difference in the modes of statement. In the Epistle, the formulas almost exclusively employed are these: "God abides in us," "We abide in God," "God abides in us and we in him." In the Gospel the reciprocal indwelling is that of Christ and His disciples (Joh 15:4-10), which has its Divine counterpart in that of the Father and the Son (Joh 14:10; 17:23; 15:10). This diversity is consistent with the different points of view occupied in the two documents. The Gospel is christocentric; the Epistle, theocentric. In the one is given the concrete presentment of the incarnate Son; in the other the immediate intuition of the Divine nature revealed in Him. While the theme common to both is the "Word of life," the special theme of the Gospel is the Word who reveals and imparts the life; in the Epistle it is the life revealed and imparted by the Word, and the thought of the indwelling Christ is naturally carried up to the ultimate truth of the indwelling God.

(6) The Divine Abiding.

VII. Human Nature and Its Regeneration.

The necessity of regeneration is fundamental to the whole theological scheme (Joh 3:3,5,7). Life which consists in union with God does not belong to man as he is naturally constituted: those who know that they have eternal life know that it is theirs because they have "passed out of death into life" (1Joh 3:14; Joh 5:24).

1. The World:

The unregenerate state of human nature is specially connected with the Johannine conception of the "world" (kosmos). This term has a peculiar elasticity of application; and Westcott’s definition--"the order of finite being, regarded as apart from God"--may be taken as expressing the widest idea that underlies John’s use of the word. When the kosmos is material, it signifies

(1) the existing terrestrial creation (Joh 1:10; 13:1; 16:28), especially as contrasted with the sphere of the heavenly and eternal. When it refers to humanity, it is either

(2) the totality of mankind as needing redemption and as the object of God’s redeeming love (Joh 3:16; 1; Joh 2:2; 4:14), or

Thus the "world" (in this darker significance) is composed of those who still love the darkness rather than the light (Joh 3:19), who, when Christ is presented to them, obstinately retain their blindness and enmity. Nevertheless, the "world" is not beyond the possibility of salvation. The Holy Spirit, acting in the Christian community, will convince the world with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (Joh 16:8); and the evidence of the unity of Divine fellowship among Christ’s disciples will lead it to believe in His Divine mission (Joh 17:23).

2. Two Classes in the Human Race:

VIII. The Church and Sacraments.

1. The Church:

While the word "church" is not found, the idea lies near the base of the Johannine theology. The Divine life communicated to men creates a Divine brotherhood, a "fellowship" which is with the Father and "with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Joh 1:3) and also "one with another" (1Joh 1:7)--a fellowship which is consecrated by the self-consecration of Jesus (Joh 17:19), in which men are cleansed from all sin by His blood (1Joh 1:7), and which is maintained by His intercessory action as the Paraclete with the Father (1Joh 2:1). This fellowship is realized in the actual Christian community and there only; but it is essentially inward and spiritual, not mechanically ecclesiastical, In the visible community spurious elements may intrude themselves, as is proved when schism unmasks those who, though they have belonged to the external organization, have never been partakers of its real life (1Joh 2:19). Only among those who walk in the light of God does true fellowship exist (1Joh 1:7).

2. The Sacraments:

From the doctrine of the Divine nature as life and light one might a priori infer the possibilities of a Johannine view of the sacraments. It is evident that there is room in the Johannine system of thought for a genuinely sacramental mode of Divine action--the employment of definite external acts, not as symbols only, but as real media of Divine communication. On the other hand, the truth that God is not life only but light also--self-revealing as well as self-imparting--would necessarily exclude any magical ex opere operato theory by which spiritual efficacy is attributed either to the physical elements in themselves or to the physical act of participation. And (though there is little or no explicit statement) such is the type of doctrine we actually find. With regard to all sacramental rites the universal principle applies: `It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing’ (Joh 6:63).

(1) Baptism.

Yet baptism is the physical counterpart of the Spirit’s work in regeneration, and great importance is attached to it as the means of admission to the new life of the kingdom (Joh 3:5).

(2) The Lord’s Supper.

The omission of all reference to the institution of the Lord’s Supper (the incident of the feet-washing and the proclamation of the new commandment taking its place in the Gospel-narrative) is thought to indicate that John was conscious of a tendency to attach a superstitious value to the outward observance, and desired emphatically to subordinate this to what was spiritual and essential. The omission, to whatever motive it may have been due, is counter-balanced by the sacramental discourse (Joh 6). While the language of this discourse is not to be interpreted in a technically eucharistic sense, its purpose, or one of its purposes, undoubtedly, is to set forth the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the largest light. Christ gives to men the bread of life, which is His own flesh and of which men must eat that they may live (Joh 6:50-55). "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him." This eating and drinking is essentially of the Spirit. It signifies a derivation of life analogous to that of the Son Himself from the Father. "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me" (Joh 6:57). To "eat the flesh" of the Son of man is to receive spiritual nourishment from Him, to live by His life. Yet there is nothing in John’s way of thinking to exclude a real sacramental efficiency. "The act which is nothing when it is performed ignorantly and mechanically is of sovereign value to those who have apprehended its true meaning. The material elements represent the flesh and blood of Christ--His Divine Person given for the life of the world. He is present in them, not merely by way of symbol, but actually; but there must be something in the recipient corresponding to the spiritual reality which is conveyed through the gift. The outward act of participation must be accompanied with belief in Christ and a true insight into the nature of His work and a will to know and serve Him. The sacrament becomes operative as the bread of life through this receptive spirit on the part of those who observe it" (Scott, The Fourth Gospel, 127-28).

IX. Eschatology.

1. Type of Thought Idealistic:

The type of mind revealed in the Johannine writings is one that instinctively leans to the ideal and the spiritual in its contemplation of life, grasping what is of universal significance and dwelling upon events only as they are the embodiment of eternal principles. Where this fashion of thought is so strongly developed, the eschatological, like the historical, becomes secondary.

2. Yet History Not Ignored:

3. Nor Eschatology:

Thus John has an eschatology, as well as a history. He profoundly spiritualizes. He reaches down through the pictorial representations of the traditional apocalyptic, and inquires what essential principle each of these embodies. Then he discovers that this principle is already universally and inevitably in operation; and this, the present spiritual reality, becomes for him the primary thought. Judgment means essentially the sifting and separation, the classification of men according to their spiritual affinities. But every day men are thus classifying themselves by their attitude toward Christ; this, the true judgment of the world, is already present fact. So also the coming and presence of Christ must always be essentially a spiritual fact, and as such it is already a present fact. There is, in the deepest significance of the word, a perpetual coming of Christ in Christian experience. This, however, does not prevent John from firmly holding the certainty of a fuller manifestation of these facts in the future, when tendencies shall have reached a final culmination, and principles which are now apprehended only by faith will be revealed in all the visible magnitude of their consequences.

4. Eschatological Ideas:

We shall now briefly survey the Johannine presentation of the chief eschatological ideas.

(1) Eternal life.

It has already been said that the most distinctive feature in the conception of eternal life is that it is not a future immortal felicity so much as a present spiritual state. The category of duration recedes before that of moral quality. Yet it has its own stupendous importance. In triumphant contrast with the poor ephemeralities of the worldly life, he that doeth the will of God "abideth for ever" (1Joh 2:17); and the complete realization of the life eternal is still in the future (Joh 4:36; 6:27; 12:25).

(2) Antichrist.

The view of Antichrist is strikingly characteristic. Tacitly setting aside the lurid figure of popular traditions, John grasps the essential fact that is expressed by the name and idea of Antichrist (= one who in the guise of Christ opposes Christ), and finds its fulfillment in the false teaching which substituted for the Christ of the gospel the fantastic product of Gnostic imagination (1Joh 4:3). But in this he reads the sign that the world’s day has reached its last hour (1Joh 2:18).

(3) Resurrection.

While the Fourth Gospel so carefully records the proofs of Christ’s resurrection, noticeably little (in the Epistle, nothing) is made of the thought of a future resurrection from the dead. For the Christian, the death of the body is a mere incident. "Whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die" (Joh 11:26; compare Joh 8:51). Regeneration--union with Christ--is the true resurrection (Joh 6:50,51,58). And yet, again, the eschatological idea is not lost. Side by side with the essential truth the supplementary and interpretative truth is given its right place. "Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (Joh 6:54 the King James Version). If Christ says "I am the life: whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die," He also says "I am the resurrection: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live" (Joh 11:25).

(4) Judgment.

(5) The Parousia.

In like manner the conception of the Parousia is primarily spiritual. The substitution in the Fourth Gospel of the Supper Discourse (Joh 14-16) for the apocalyptic chapters in the Synoptics is of the utmost significance. It is not a Christ coming on the clouds of heaven that is presented, but a Christ who has come and is ever coming to dwell in closest fellowship with His people (see above under IV). Yet John by no means discards belief in the Parousia as a historical event of the future. If Christ’s abiding-place is in those that love Him and keep His word, there is also a Father’s House in which there are many abiding-places, whither He goes to prepare a place for them and whence He will come again to receive them unto Himself (Joh 14:2,3). Still more is this emphasized in the Epistle. The command "Love not the world" is sharpened by the assurance that the world is on the verge, aye, in the process of dissolution (1Joh 2:17). The exhortation to "abide in him" is enforced by the dread of being put to shame at His impending advent (1Joh 2:28). The hope of being made partakers in His manifested glory is the consummation of all that is implied in our being now children of God (1Joh 3:2,3).

(a) A "Manifestation":

But this future crisis will be only the manifestation of the existing reality (1Joh 3:2). The Parousia will, no more than the incarnation, be the advent of a strange Presence in the world. It will be, as on the Mount of Transfiguration, the outshining of a latent glory; not the arrival of one who is absent, but the self-revealing of one who is present. As to the manner of Christ’s appearing, the Epistle is silent. As to its significance, we are left in no doubt. It is a historical event; occurring once for all; the consummation of all Divine purpose that has governed human existence; the final crisis in the history of the church, of the world, and of every man.

(b) Relation to Believers:

Especially for the children of God, it will be a coming unto salvation. "Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1Joh 3:2). Here the Johannine idea of "manifestation" is strikingly employed. "What we shall be" will be essentially what we are--children of God. No new element will be added to the regenerate nature. All is there that ever will be there. But the epoch of full development is not yet. Only when Christ--the Christ who is already in the world--shall be manifested, then also the children of God who are in the world will be manifested as being what they are. They also will have come to their Mount of Transfiguration. As eternal life here is mediated through this first manifestation (1Joh 1:2), so eternal life hereafter will be mediated through this second and final manifestation. "We know that we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." It is true that here according to our capacity we behold Him as He is (Joh 1:14); but perception, now dim and wavering, will then be intense and vivid. The vision of the future is in some sense corporeal as well as spiritual. Sense and faith will coincide. It will then have ceased to be expedient that Christ should go away in order that the Spirit of truth may come. We shall possess in the same experience the privilege of the original eyewitnesses of the incarnate life and the inward ministry of the Spirit. And seeing Him as He is, we shall be like Him. Vision will beget likeness, and likeness again give clearness to vision. And as the vision is in some unconjecturable fashion corporeal as well as spiritual, so also is the assimilation (compare Php 3:21). The very idea of the spiritual body is that it perfectly corresponds to the character to which it belongs. The outward man will take the mold of the inward man, and will share with it its perfected likeness to the glorified manhood of Jesus Christ. Such is the farthest view opened to our hope by the Johannine eschatology; and it is that which, of all others, has been most entrancing to the imagination and stimulating to the aspiration of the children of God.


The following works may be mentioned as treating specially of the Theology: B. Weiss, Der Johannische Lehrbegriff, Berlin, 1862; O. Holtzmann, Das Johannes-Evangelium untersucht und erklart, Darmstadt, 1887; Beyschlag, Neutestamentliche Theologie, Halle, 1896; Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum, Berlin, 1902, English translation, Williams and Norgate, London; E. Haupt, Der erste Brief des Johannes, Colberg, 1869, English translation, T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh; Grill, Untersuchungen uber die Entstehung des vierten Evangeliums, Tubingen, 1902; G.B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology, New York, 1894; id., The Theology of the New Testament, 1899, also The Christian Doctrine of Salvation, 1905, T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh; O. Cone, The Gospel and Its Earliest Interpretations, New York, 1893; Scott, The Fourth Gospel, Its Purpose and Theology, T. and T. Clark, 1906; Law, The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of John (dealing specially with the Theology), Edinburgh and New York, 1909; Denney, Jesus and the Gospel, New York, 1909; Judge, Cambridge Biblical Essays, Macmillan, 1910.

R. Law