Observations for discussion and questions:
The Godhead: The clearest examples of triadic formulation of the Godhead are found in Matt 28:19 and 2 Cor 3:14, but even there we do not have any attempt to explain the mystery of three persons within one divine unity. The statement of this in the KJV version of 1 John 5:7, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one,” was found only in the Latin Vulgate without any reliable Greek manuscripts having it. Erasmus included it only in his 3rd edition of the Greek text to humor Stunicus who challenged him, but left it out in subsequent editions. It was clearly a later addition made by copyists and not original to the text of 1 John (See J.H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, Rev. ed., Hendrickson Pub., 1995, pp. 60, 64, 70, 130).
In the N.T. the Trinity is simply stated and the persons are described in terms of their functions, not their metaphysical relations engendered by Greek categories of thinking among the Early Church Fathers and onwards. The latter led only to controversy and schism. The metaphysical relations are beyond human comprehension, a mystery. We shall limit this topic to what is said about them in 1 John.
- God is presented as being light (1:5) and love (4:7), as open to fellowship with human beings (1:4), as having a ”Father” relation to his ”children” (3:1-10; 4:7; 5:1, 18), as having sent his Son for the purpose of atonement and salvation (4:9, 10, 14) for all fallen human beings, “the world” (4:9), and as loving us and abiding in those who love him (4:9, 12).
- Jesus is presented as incarnate (1:1-2, 4:2, possibly in 5:6-7), as providing atonement for sins (2:2, 4:10), victory over the evil one (3:8), and protection from the evil one (5:18). He is the way to the Father, since to deny his connection with the Father as “the Christ” and denying his incarnation, i.e. being sent by the Father in the flesh, leaves one without fellowship with the Father (2:22-24; 4:2-3). He reveals God to us so that we can understand and know him (5:20).
- The Holy Spirit comes from God as a gift which confirms our knowledge of and confidence in being in a right relationship with God (3:24; 4:13). It testifies to the truth of Jesus” incarnation/baptism/death depending on how one understands “the water and the blood” in 5:6-8. It is also referred to in terms of its reception, “the anointing” (2:20, 27), as the Spirit of God (4:2), as the Spirit of truth (4:6), and as “the truth” (5:7).
The Church: In 1 John the church is not mentioned explicitly by that term, but rather in terms of a fellowship characterized by joy (1:3-4), by mutual love (3:11-23), and a common belief regarding the identity and function of Jesus in relation to both God and human kind (3:23; 4:1-6; 4:9-10, 14; 5:18-20).
Salvation and Christian Behavior: As already indicated above salvation is provided by Jesus” atonement, victory over and protection from the evil one. It is, however, not simply the removal of obstacles, but the basis for fellowship with God and God”s children. Eternal life is not only a past provision (5:11), or a future promise (implied in 3:2), but a present possession and experience (3:14; 5:13). Salvation calls for the abandonment of a life that practices sin, as indicated by the Greek present tense of continuous action used to refer to sin in 2:6, 9. But it also provides atonement for the confessed sin of the believer when he/she falls by committed acts of sin, as indicated by the Greek aorist tense of pointed action in 2:1-2 (see 1:9). Even if we did not have the definition of sin as “lawlessness” in 3:4, the contrasts between love and hate (2:10-11; 3:11-15) would make it clear that sin is ethical, and thus relational in essence. How we treat people reveals our true relationship with God (4:20). This is the ultimate test for us, and it is tested in deed and truth with how we treat a brother in need (3:17-18).
- Even though we do not essentially understand the Trinity, do the functional, personalized inter-relations among Father, Son and Holy Spirit have any bearing on how Christian fellowship should be? On the nature of sin as being an ethical problem in essence? On how we should understand the work of atonement, even though it is ultimately a great mystery of love?
- A major puzzle not addressed so far in these lessons on the Johannine letters is the fact that in all John”s instructions, refutations of false doctrine, and exhortations there is not one single explicit quotation from the Old Testament. When compared to the letters of Paul, Peter, and James, and even the Gospel of John, this is really quite strange. In Lessons #7 and #8, however, we observed a couple of possible reflections of some of Jesus” teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. At the same time, the influence of the Old Testament is not far off.
- What connections can you find between the New Covenant as expressed in Jeremiah 31:33-34, especially to the expressions that are highlighted, similar ones in 1 John? What is the significance of this?
- 33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”