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  • Archive for December, 2011

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 7-8

    Saturday, December 17th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 15: Dec 18, 2011

    This week we continued to unpack John’s arguments. While his teaching were largely aimed at addressing those who had broken away from the church, they have a lot to say about how we live our life today.

    Study

    ii. Three Proposition Refuted (1:6-10)

    1:7 But if we keep living in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

    - Having refuted the first claim, John now gives the counter teaching.

    But if we keep living in the light as he himself is in the light

    - Note the contrast between “If we say…” and “But if we keep living.” While those who had left were making claims about a relationship, it is what we do that is most important. In this case, we must live in the light. As was made clear in the Gospel of John, Jesus is our example of how we are to live. We should seek to follow him and do his will.

    we have fellowship with one another

    - The first result of right living is fellowship. It is the fellowship of believers that is in focus here, but all fellowship depends on “living in the light.” This is because sin damages our ability to have real fellowship with one another. This can most easily be seen in the bonds between a husband and a wife. The sin of adultery seriously damages that that relationship such that, even if forgiven, it can take a long time to heal. But the sin does not need to be as significant as adultery to cause damage. Lots of “little things” that seemingly could be brushed off can still have a cumulative effect and can keep a deeper relationship from ever forming in the first place.

    It can seem strange that numerous studies have clearly demonstrated that the more and deeper the relationships that a person has, the more joy they will have in their lives. And yet in recent years such relationships have been harder to form and harder to maintain. But it is only strange until one realizes that over the same period society as a whole has devalued and even ridiculed the notion of “living in the light.”

    the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin

    - The idea that we should be living in the light does not mean we will never sin. John realizes that we will fail, but that we can be cleansed of our sins. One question is why does John refer to being cleansed here rather than forgiven? While some see the concepts as synonymous, I believe they are different and that here John has a particular reason for referring to cleansing. The reason goes back to his starting premise: God is light, and in him there is no darkness. We cannot be in fellowship with God while we have the stain, or darkness, of sin. Thus, the fact that we are cleansed is key to John’s claim that we have fellowship. This is also a repudiation of those who left, for they were claiming that sin did not matter. In short, they were claiming that darkness could be in God.

    1:8 – If we say that we do not have any sin, we are deceiving ourselves and we’re not being truthful to ourselves.

    - Here we come to the second claim: we do not have any sin. In this claim it is easy to see a rebuttal to John’s refutation of their first claim. John countered their claim to fellowship by pointing out that those who had left were walking in darkness. So you can almost hear them respond, “I am not walking in darkness because I do not have any sin.” In later Gnostic writing there were different views of this, both of which could be covered by the Greek construction here. Some argued that sin had no hold over them. Others argued that sin was just physical and that only the spiritual mattered. But either way they were arguing that the way they lived was no a barrier to fellowship with God.

    - John refutes this second claim by pointing out that if we make such a claim, we are deceiving ourselves. We, after all, know ourselves better than anyone else, so to think that we have no sin is first and foremost to lie to ourselves.
    The idea that we can lie to yourselves is at first blush a seeming contradiction. To lie, is to say anything with the intent of deceiving; but how could we deceive ourselves without knowing that we are deceiving ourselves? Yet while intellectually a problem, in reality the concept is so common place that it is not that strange at all. We deceive ourselves all the time. This is one of the key aspects of coming into a deeper relationship with God. A true relationship cannot be built on lies, so the first step in a deeper relationship is being honest with ourselves and with God about who we really are. Before we can really know God, we must first know ourselves. We must break through all the rationalization and self-justifications and see ourselves as God sees us. This can be a very difficult and even painful process, but it is important to remember that we can seek forgiveness and with God’s help become the person God wants us to be, a person who does not need to hide behind lies and rationalizations.

    Questions and Discussion.

    A lot of the discussion this week centered on the concept and value of true fellowship. True fellowship is a deep and abiding relationship, a relationship where one can be open about their lives, their struggles and their failures. While the amount of true fellowship in a person’s life is perhaps the clearest indicator of a truly joyful life, it is also difficult obtain and once obtained is easily damaged. True fellowship requires openness, and openness requires trust. At its core sin damages relationships, both with God and with each other. We also spent time taking about how societal pressures push toward casual swallow relationship, rather than true fellowship.

    The class is taking a break for Christmas and the New Year, and will resume on Sunday January 8th 2012 where we will continue in 1 John 9

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 6

    Thursday, December 8th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 14:  Dec 11, 2011

    This week we began to unpack John arguments and saw that 1 Century Gnosticism shared some key characteristic with modern 21 Century thought.

    Study

    ii.            Three Proposition Refuted (1:6-10)

    Having establish his premise (that God is light) John now begins to address the claims of the group that left.  But rather than doing this specifically, John shows their inconsistency by stating their claims by as universal principles; principles that they were not living up to. He starts with three claims and formats his arguments in the following fashion.

    Claim/Refutation:                    If we claim that…/ we are… – v 6
    Counter-Teaching        :           But if we – v 7

    Claim/ Refutation:                   If we claim that…/we are… – v 8
    Counter- Teaching       :           (But) if we – v 9

    Claim/ Refutation:                   If we claim that…/we make… – v 10
    Counter- Teaching       : …But if anyone – v 2:1 – Expansion in next section.

    These were almost certainly claims that were made by the splinter group. But since John is phrasing these as universal principles, these claims can be troubling for Christians if taken out of context. Thus it is important to remember that John is combating heresy and his readers knew the people to which he was referring. They used to all be members of the same local church. Thus, as John is contrasting the behavior of the heretics with the lives of his readers, he does not need to provide a lot of details to show his readers that they had the truth, not the heretics that left.

    1:6 – If we claim that we have fellowship with him but keep living in darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.

    If we claim

    -          The construction of the Greek (if + subjunctive) shows that this and the claims that follow are said as a hypothetical.   By stating the claims in this way John is including himself and his readers. He is making it clear that these are universal rules, and not just rationales created to attack his opponents. There is something fundamentally wrong with their claims.  Their inconsistency meant that they cannot possibly be right no matter how good what they say may sound.

    Claim #1 : we have fellowship with him

    -          This was a key claim of his opponents.  They had fellowship with God.  Gnosticism stressed that a true relationship could only be had by initiates who had the secret knowledge that Gnosticism provided.

    but keep living in darkness

    -          Lit: Keep walking. In context this refers to continuous walk that differs from the teaching of God.  This passage has concerned some Christians because they realize they fail on a daily basis to live as God wants. As such, they see themselves as living in darkness. But, as we will see shortly, John is not asking for perfection.  The issue here is not one of perfection, but rather that for Gnostics such things did not really matter. It was the unseen spiritual not the physical that was important.  Thus it was not that they tried and failed, but that they saw no reason to try, which is not the case with most Christians.  As one Pastor I had put it, if you are worried about this verse, then most likely it is not referring to you.

    With his mention of “darkness” John ties this back to his starting premise, a premise that his critics would have accepted. As John will make clear shortly, some of this “darkness” was that those who left do not have fellowship with one another (v7) and they “hates his brother.” (v 2:9) But while we do not know the exact specifics of how his opponents were living in the darkness, his readers would have understood the argument.

    A key difference between Christianity and (proto) Gnosticism is that Gnosticism saw salvation, not as freedom from sin, but from ignorance.  Ethics and morality were seen as just systems of rules, and as such to be resisted. Right conduct results, not from following external rules, but from inner integrity with the in-dwelling spark.

    In some respects Gnosticism has a lot in common with modern thought.  Today we also see “salvation” in knowledge.    In fact the solution to most problems is seen as education.  Have a problem with anger?  This really does not have anything to do with sin. Rather it is a lack of knowledge and therefore the solution is to go to anger management classes.   It would be as if, instead of telling the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” a modern Jesus said, “go and take a remedial class.”

    In addition, while the terminology is a little different, the modern view of morality held in the culture at large would be pretty consistent with the Gnostic view of morality, except rather than that saying they are guided by an inner spark as with Gnosticism, today we would phrase it as that we should be guided by our heart.   

    Refutation #1: we are lying and not practicing the truth.

    -          Yet while they claim they have fellowship, John shows that their lives are in contradiction with the truth they claim to have.  God is light.  Those who walk in darkness cannot be in fellowship with God.   Note that again, as in 2 & 3 John, the key standard here is Truth.   This is a very important standard for proto-Gnostics as their big claim was that they had the secret truth that no one else had.  So to show that they are lying and don’t have the truth goes to the very core of their claims.

    Questions and Discussion.

    Much of the discussion this week centered on the nature of Gnosticism, its view of the importance of knowledge and its view of morality, and how they are similar to modern views.  There are differences to be sure, but there is broad similarity as well. Thus as John is talking about those who left the church to which he is writing, he is also saying a great deal about the modern world as well.

    Next week we will continue in 1 John 7

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 1b-5

    Sunday, December 4th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 13: Dec 4, 2011

    This week we finished the prologue and got a brief start into the main part of the letter.

    Study

    1:1b – what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we observed and touched with our own hands—this is the[1] Word of life!

    what we

    John continues with the 2nd of the 4 “whats”, and we immediately come to yet another question. Just who are the “we” mentioned here? One option is that John is using the so called royal we and referring to himself in the plural. While possible, one problem is that elsewhere in the letter John refers to himself saying “I’m writing these things…

    Another possibility is that “we” refers to the church at large. While this is consistent with some the later usage, (e.g. 1:6) this would seem to negate the importance of the eyewitness aspect of the testimony since by the time the letter was written, most Christians were not eyewitnesses.

    With the stress on eyewitnesses, another possibility is that “we” refers to those who like John were eyewitnesses. While this is consistent with the stress on eyewitness, I believe there is better possibility: The apostles. This is similar to the previous option but is focused on the authority and consistency of message. This is not just John, but all the Apostles who heard the message. He is being sure to point out that he is not special, but that he was an eyewitness, just as other apostles were eyewitnesses.

    have heard

    The verb here is perfect tense indicating that this was a completed action and not one that was continuing. The message was complete and was not new was the case with his opponents teaching. This emphasis on hearing would stress the message more than the person.

    what we have seen with our eyes

    This is the third “What.” That it was something that that could be seen, shows that this is more than just a message, this a person, but could also include the miracles. Again, note the emphasis here. This was not just something that was seen; this was something that they saw with their own eyes.

    This part conflicts with proto-gnostic teaching. Gnostics believed that outwardly you would only see Jesus. The Christ was within and unseen. Because of this, it is easy to understand why John would choose to emphasizes this point.

    what we observed

    The 4th and Last of the 4 “whats” is yet a further emphasis on visible nature of the “What.” This verb differs from the previous “have seen” in that it stresses continuity and attention. It often has the implication that what is being observed is unusual or out of the ordinary. Gnostics saw nothing unusual in Jesus. For them, it was the Christ within him that was special.

    and touched with our own hands

    Not a separate “what,” but linked to the previous one. Not only did they see the “what,” they touched it with their own hands. Again note the emphasis, this was not just something one could touch, but something they did touch. While a miracle could be seen, touching stresses the physical person of Christ.

    this is the Word of life!

    Having gone through the four “Whats” we come to the center of the chiasmus, and the focus of the “whats.” The Greek phrase could be translated several different ways:

    1 this is word of life
    2 concerning the word of life
    3 the message concerning life
    4 the message which is life
    5 the life giving message

    It all depends on how the passage is understood in the syntax. Given the Chiastic structure, I support the first view – Both the message and the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself the physical manifestation of the Word of God, a message that is focused on eternal life.

    1:2 – This life was revealed to us, and we have seen it and testify about it. We declare to you this eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.

    Verse one, with it allusions to John 1:1 and ending with The Word focused readers on the message, the logos. But unlike John 1:1 it was not just the Word, but the Word of Life. Here John begins to focuses on the life as he backs out of the chiasmus. (The ↑ ­ mark is to indicate the corresponding phrase in the beginning of the chiasmus.

    was revealed to us ↑ observed and touched with our own hands

    and we have seen it ↑ what we have seen with our eyes

    and testify about it and declare to you ↑ what we have heard

    Again note the emphasis on this point with both Testify and Declare. This was not some secret (Gnostic) teaching, but one that was to be testified about and proclaimed.

    this eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. ↑ What existed from the beginning

    At the beginning we have the Person (Word) but with a strong focus on message. Here at the end we have the result: eternal life. Yet there remains a strong focus on the person of Jesus, i.e. that was with the Father. This is similar to John 1:2 he was in the beginning with God.

    In this passage we have the same teaching as John 14:6, Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the embodiment of eternal life in the same way he is the embodiment of the Word of God. It is the whole: Jesus as the embodiment of the message and life that is John’s focus.

    This is one of the reasons for the complexity found in this verse. John is tying all of this together with yet another emphasis on the fact that this is not just something that he teaches, but that something to which he and others were eyewitness.

    1:3 – What we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you, too, can have fellowship with us. Now this fellowship of ours is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus, the Messiah.2

    Having established his main theme, John returns his reader back to where he left off with a short summary before moving on to the main verb in the sentence.

    we declare to you so that you, too, can have fellowship with us

    The point of all this is not just abstract theology, but our fellowship (κοινωνίαν). This is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. (Louw-Nida) There is a unity and oneness to fellowship and this sets it apart from proto-Gnostics who had recent split off, who had broken fellowship.

    Now this fellowship of ours is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus, the Messiah

    This is not just a fellowship of other Christians but a fellowship that includes the Father, and also includes his Son, Jesus Christ. This again may be stressing a difference with John’s proto-Gnostic opponents. They had separated and thus were not in fellowship with eyewitnesses. More importantly their theological views put a difference between Jesus and the Christ. Finally, Gnosticism was more individualistic, stressing secret knowledge held by a few, whereas Christian is more communal offering a fellowship to be shared with all true believers.

    1:4 – We are writing these things3 so that our4 joy may be full.

    Finally John ends the prologue with a statement of purpose. There is an issue here as to exactly what he is referring to when he writes “these things.” Does he mean this letter or something more? A key here is the use of We, which is emphatic. In Greek, pronouns such as ‘we’ are optional as they are already included at the end of the verb itself. The ending –μεν (-men) means ‘we,’ so the word γράφομεν (graphomen) already means “we write,” since it ends in μεν (men). Yet John does not write γράφομεν (graphomen), but γράφομεν ἡμεῖς (graphomen hemeis) where ἡμεῖς (hemeis) is the Greek word for we. Thus he is emphasizing that this is “We,” and not just him. Given the context, discussed above, i.e., of the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, I believe “these things” references to the written version of the testimony of the apostles; to the entire New Testament, or at least as much as had been written to that point.

    so that our joy may be full.

    This is the second reason clause in the sentence (the first was so we could have fellowship). The verse recalls Jesus words in John 15:11

    I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (full).

    The “our” here is inclusive. John’s joy would not be complete unless theirs was complete. Remaining in the truth, within the apostolic message, and having a fellowship with the Father, the son, and with other Christians is the way to be full of joy.

    I. Part 1 – Light and Darkness (1:5 – 3:10)

    a. The Message – Living in the Light (1:5-10)

    i. God Is Light – Establishing Common Ground (1:5)

    1:5 – This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness—none at all!

    This is the message

    John begins the main part of his letter with the phrase “This is the message.” This basic phase occurs only here and then again in 3:11 which reads, “This is the message that you have heard from the beginning:” I believe phrases mark off the two major sections of the letter.

    we have heard from him and declare to you

    This message was not a deduction or a belief; it was a revelation from Jesus. John is still referring to the testimony of the apostles. The message was one they heard (perfect – complete), and it is one they declare (Present – ongoing). It remains ongoing even today in the New Testament.

    God is light

    This is not a statement that is found directly in the rest of the Bible, but some passage come close. John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and that life brought light to humanity. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” Psalm 104:2 says, “you are wrapped in light like a garment, stretching out the sky like a curtain.

    More importantly, the Light and Darkness metaphor is common to many religious traditions during the first century. Itcan be found in Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and even the Jews at Qumran, talked of “sons of light” and “sons of darkness.” So John is starting at a point of common ground upon which all would agree.

    and in him there is no darkness—none at all!

    John not only makes the point that God is light positively, but for emphasis he makes the same point negatively. Then for yet further emphasis he add, “none at all!” The metaphor of light includes revelation and salvation, knowledge and morality. So while John is starting with common ground, he is also drawing a clear standard. “God is good and evil can have no place beside him” (Marshall)

    Next week we will continue in 1 John 6

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:

    1 v1:1 Lit. about the
    2 v1:3 Or Christ
    3 v1:4 Other mss. read these things to you {B}
    4 v1:4 Other mss. read your {A}