Week 30: May 13, 2012
John continues building on the ideal that we are children of God, contrasting sin with abiding in him.
14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love one another. The person who does not love remains spiritually dead.
- As is his pattern, John, having given the negative teaching that hating your brother is from the evil one, now gives the positive side: Loving your brother is from God, the one who gives life. We were once dead, but because of Jesus, we have passed from death to life. The indication of this transition is a love for our brother. Without it, we remain spiritually dead.
15 – Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life present in him.
- As he so often does, John now sums up this teaching in very stark terms. While Cain was a murderer, John points out that his is not limited just to murders. His use of Hate (μισῶν) here raises some issues. It seems to be based on Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:21-22.
“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘You must not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders will be subject to punishment. ‘But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.
That John speaks of hate instead of anger is easy to understand. Hate it fits context better and what would be true of anger would be true of hate. It also fits John practice of stark contrasts. In the context here, hate is contrasted with loving your brother. Again for John there is no middle ground. He has also just talked about how the world hates Christians (v 13). As such his comments here are aimed more at the world than us. For the world hates us without cause.
- At first the equation of hate with murder may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not such a leap as it may at first seem. We, after all want to get rid of that which we hate. It is also very difficult to treat people that we hate as people. Instead they become labels, and we have in effect murdered there humanity. (See discussion below)
- Murder is the ultimate rebellion against God. Jesus is the Life (John 14:6) and as such, to take life without just cause (i.e., the difference between murder and killing), is the ultimate rebellion against God. It is to ally oneself with the destroyer of life, i.e., Satan.
Questions and Discussion
Verse 15 and its comments on hate generated a lot of discussion, not so much over the prohibition, but rather the related question, of is it ever right to hate? Contrary to a lot of people who quickly answer no, I think this is a very complex question. For many, 1 John 4:8’s statement that, “God is Love” precludes any possibility of hate. But the Bible says differently. In Exodus 18:21 Moses is told to pick “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.” So here hating is a good thing. On the other hand we are also told in Leviticus 19:17 “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” This shows up in the common phase hate the sin, not the sinner. This is very true, but also very difficult.
Then there is the issue of people whose very existence seems to be defined by evil. People such as Osama Bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and far too many others. Is it permissible to hate them? Again I do not think this is so clear cut, while in theory one could separate out the person from their evil, in these extreme cases this is very difficult if not impossible. The evil is an integral part of who they are. At this point it is important to note that many texts Jesus’ statement in Matthew have the qualifier, “without cause.” Even if “without cause” was not original, it is implied in the style which used hyperbole and stark black and white differences as a way of making a point. After all, no one would take Jesus’ statement that “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” just a few verses later (Mt 5:29) to be to be a literal injunction to Christians. Then again Jesus says Mat 5:22 that “And whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.” In Matt 23:17 he says to the Pharisees, “You blind fools” again showing that Matthew 5 cannot be taken as an absolute prohibition which no exceptions.
Likewise Jesus was at time angry. In Mark 3:5 Jesus in a dispute over healing on the Sabbath “looked around at them in anger, deeply hurt because of their hard hearts.” Then there was the cleansing of the temple. This division between a good anger (anger with a just cause) and bad anger used to be common place. In fact the good anger was called righteous indication.
Finally it is also important to consider that he did not reach out to everyone. While he reached out to many, especially those shunned by the culture, such as the Samaritan woman at the well, when he was taken before Herod, “Jesus gave him no answer at all.” (Luke 23:9) No reaching out, no pleas to repent, just silence.
A large part of this turns on what is meant by hate. If what we mean by hate is an emotion that will control us, then the answer is no. Such hatred in the heart will eat at a person and corrupt their sole. However, if we mean an intellectual attitude, that will depend on the circumstances. Luckily very few will ever have to deal with a person the likes of Herod or Hitler. The far more likely question for us is: Do we really hate evil. Do we have room in our theology for righteous indication? Or are we so busy loving the sinner, that we just ignore the sin?
If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.
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.
 3:14 Other mss. read doesn’t love his brother
 3:14 The Gk. lacks spiritually