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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.