Book Review: Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. Second Edition. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 282 pp. Hb; $40.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Colin Kruse published his original Pillar commentary on the Letters of John in 2000. This second edition brings the bibliography up-to-date, lightly edit the text, and include the NIV 2011 as the English basis of the commentary.

Kruse, Letters of JohnNot much has changed in the introduction to the book. As all commentaries on the Letters of John must do, Kruse sets out a likely scenario for the writing of each of the three letters. Kruse assumes a close relationship between an early form of the Gospel of John and the Letters, and that the Beloved Disciple is responsible for that early version of the book. The beloved disciple is a member of a community of believers in and around episodes in the Roman province of Asia. After the early form of the fourth gospel was written, some members of the community begin to express views about the person and work of Jesus unacceptable to the author of the Letters. This sharp disagreement led to the secession of those who held the new views (1 John 2:19). We’re leaving the community these secessionists organized a group of itinerant preachers to circulate their beliefs among the community’s churches. First John is a circular letter sent to these churches to encourage the readers and (indirectly) challenged the teachings of the secessionists. Kruse suggests the Beloved Disciple died sometime during or after the writing of the three letters, and the final form of the Gospel of John was complete.

The introduction includes a new paragraph drawing several parallels between the letters of John and the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3 (5). Citing Robert Yarbrough’s 2018 commentary, “there may be a need to rethink the consensus that there is no historical setting for John’s letters.” For Kruse, a case could be made for some o of the seven Asian churches as part of John’s community. Another brief addition is a short paragraph on non-polemical views of the letters (Jobes, following Lieu) and a note to two recent articles.

An addition to this new edition of the commentary is a short summary of the paragraph and the text of the section from the NIV (2011). The body of the commentary proceeds through the text verse by verse, occasionally breaking verses into sub-sections. All Greek appears in transliteration, both in the main text and in footnotes. Kruse’s commentary is expositional, focusing on lexical and theological issues, although occasional textual critical issues appear in the footnotes. The Letters of John are not a difficult grammatically, so Kruse rarely needs to explain difficult syntax. More important in this commentary is John’s usage of words like righteous/just, advocate, faith, antichrist, etc. At the end of each pericope is a new Theology summary for each pericope. These helpful summaries are no more than a page drawing out a few implications of the exegesis.

I noticed several new footnotes interacting with recent articles. For example, commenting on the phrase “born of God” in 1 John 2:28, Kruse has added a note to Menken’s article in Novum Testamentum (2009). The body of the commentary is unchanged by this added note. In another example, Kruse as altered the commentary and added a reference to Roy Ciampa’s 2010 Novum Testamentum article on John 1:7 in Codex Alexandrinus. There are many new footnotes adding a quotation from historic commentaries drawn from the Ancient Christian Commentary (vol. 11, edited by Gerald Bray).

There are a few editorial and cosmetic changes in this new edition. Sections headings are clearer in the introduction. The text describing rhetorical categories is reformatted and much easier to read. The outline for the 1 John is also reformatted so the chiastic structure is clear. In the first edition, words drawn from the verse were printed in bold, the second edition abandons this practice (except on pages 55-7 and the top of page 67). I noticed the early edition started sentences with “1 John,” these have been changed to “First John.” The excurses are now numbered and indexed separately (p. ix). There are two new excurses: “A Note on ‘Children,’ ‘Fathers’ and ‘Young Men’” and “A Note on God’s Invisibility.”

Conclusion. This is not a major revision of the original commentary. Since 2000, several major commentaries have appeared: Akin (NAC), Bray (ACCS), Jobes (ZEBTC), Parsenios (PCNT), Smalley (WBC, revised edition) and Yarbrough (BENTC). Other than Bray’s Ancient Christian Commentary, these new commentaries appear only rarely in the notes. Jobes is not listed in the index of modern authors at all, although she appears in at least one footnote. However, this new edition uses the New International Version (2011). Unlike the original edition, the text of each pericope appears before the commentary section.


Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke
Colin Kruse, Romans
Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians
Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus
Peter T. O’Brien, Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Main Themes of Third John

Third John is the shortest letter in the New Testament, at only thirteen verses and a little over three hundred words. By way of comparison, the letter to Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-28 is 297 words. This letter is also the last of the documents included in the New Testament canon.

Since the letter discusses how to treat traveling evangelists, it is difficult to find any real theology in the letter. It does not deal with the same theological problems and the first two Letters of John. Although Diotrephes may be one of “those who have gone out from us,” that is not the reason the Elder condemns him in verses 9-11. It appears Diotrephes refused to give hospitality to one of the elder’s traveling teachers (probably Demetrius) and has slandered the Elder. The elder therefore warns Gaius to not “be like Diotrephes” and continue to welcome the traveling teachers, starting with Demetrius (who may be carrying this letter).

In fact, this letter follows the style of a Hellenistic letter of recommendation (systatikai epistolai; Parsenios, First, Second and third John, 148). For example, Saul obtained letters of recommendation from the high priest to the synagogue leaders in Damascus (Acts 9:1-2) and Apollos carried a letter from Christians in Ephesus to the churches in Achaia (Acts 18:27).

It is not hard to imagine Demetrius arriving at Gaius’s home and presenting him this short note which praises him for his reputation for hospitality and encourages him avoid being like that rascal Diotrephes and accept Demetrius into his home, supply his needs and send him on his way with supplies for the road.

That is the “plot” of the letter. Although there is no great theological contribution to be found here, 2 John does give us an insight into the way early house churches functioned.

First, the letter of 3 John praises Gaius because he has offered hospitality to strangers (3 John 2-8).  Similar to Second John, the Elder opens the letter as most Greco-Roman letters open, with a prayer and a wish for good health (2-4). The elder prays for Gaius and reports that some brothers have given testimony both Gaius and his house church are “walking in the truth.”

In verse 8 Gaius is called a “co-worker in the truth.” This is an important hint that Gaius is in agreement with the theological perspective of 1-2 John, that Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah, and was truly God in the flesh.  Although 3 John has little theology, it assumes the same truth as the first two letters and the Gospel of John.

Gaius should send the travelling teachers on their way in a manner that honors God (6b-7). To “send them on their way” refers to providing a traveler “with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.” (BDAG). In Acts 15:1-3 the church at Antioch “sent Barnabas and Saul on their way.” This means the church gave them the supplies they needed to travel to Cyprus (food, money for passage on a ship, perhaps letters of introduction to the synagogues there, etc.)

Second, 3 John concerns showing hospitality honors traveling teachers (3 John 8). The verb translated “support” (ὑπολαμβάνω) refers to receiving someone as a guest, to care and feed them, or even protect them (BrillDAG). We tend to think of support as sending money off to an agency to support a missionary or ministry; in this case Gaius is providing what the traveling teachers need in order to do the ministry for which they have been appointed.

This kind of hospitality was expensive. The average free person in a larger city struggled to have enough food for themselves and their own family, so to share food with a stranger (even if they are a Christian brother) was difficult. Yet these traveling teachers are worthy of the honor Gaius has shown them. Just as Paul encouraged the churches in Ephesus to take care of full time minsters.

Gaius is a good example of a patron of a local house church caring for the needs of traveling teachers and missionaries sent out by the Elder’s community. The reason the Elder praises Gaius is because not all house church leaders are hospitable toward the missionaries the Elder has sent. By describing this negative example of “what not to do,” the Elder is encouraging Gaius to accept Demetrius, the bearer of this short letter.

Third, the letter condemns Diotrephes because he refused to help the Elder’s representatives (3 John 9-12).  Can we know anything about Ditrephes? Not really, other than the negative things the Elder says about him. Like Gaius, the name is a common Roman name and he too may be a wealthy patron of a local church. “The author of 3 John, however, never charged Diotrephes with heresy. The conflict was over authority in the church instead of theology.

  • He loves to be first. This word (φιλοπρωτεύω) only appears here in the New Testament. It is not necessary a vice since it means “to aspire to excellence, be ambitious” (BrillDAG). But this is the opposite of Jesus’s own example when he demonstrated his humility by washing his disciples’ feet (John 13). John 13:16 where Jesus says no servant is greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him.
  • He does not acknowledge the authority of the Elder. The verb (ἐπιδέχομαι) simply means “receive, welcome” (BDAG) and does not necessarily mean he refused the authority of the Elder. There is significant variation in the English translations for this word in verse 9.
  • He was spreading malicious nonsense about the Elder. Talking nonsense (φλυαρέω) is a word only found here in the New Testament, “to utter foolishness, joke, gossip, to play the fool” (BrillDAG). Although the word can have the sense of “pulling someone’s leg” on rare occasions, it has the connotation of spreading lies and rumors in order to damage someone’s reputation.
  • Refuses the traveling teachers sent by the Elder and wants to put them out of the church. This is the main problem, although the Elder does not tell us why he refuses them. It may be the teachers are proclaiming John’s theology of Jesus as the messiah, son of God having come in the flesh and Diotrephes disagrees theologically and therefore refused to let the teach in the church he hosts. On the other hand, it might be the case Diotrephes just dislikes the elder and refuses to recognize his authority and therefore will not welcome the Elder’s representative.

Finally, the letter recommends Demetrius, a teacher with a good reputation (12). What is the point of 3 John? Do not imitate what is evil (like Diotrephes) and receive my representative Demetrius.  The Elder vouches for Demetrius as having a good reputation and will speak the truth. Here is potentially another hint that there is a doctrinal rift between the Elder and Diotrephes, he is saying “my representative will teach your congregation the truth, as opposed to anyone going out from Diotrephes.

Who are the Elder and the Chosen Lady in 2 John?

The book was written by “The Elder” and addressed to the Elect Lady and her Children. Who is “the Elder”? The traditional answer understands the elder as the same person who wrote 1 John, the Apostle John, son of Zebedee. This traditional answer is often challenged based on the date of the letter. If it was written in the early 90s then John the son of Zebedee would be very old.

Eusebius reports a tradition from Papias that someone named John the Elder was active in Ephesus at the end of the first century and many scholars think the tradition John the Apostle settled in Ephesus has been confused with the activity of this John the Elder. By way of analogy, the Philip who was martyred in Hierapolis is called the apostle, but he also had four daughters who were prophets. This is a confusion of Philip the Apostle and Philip the Deacon.

The Chosen LadyThe word translated elder (πρεσβύτερος) refers to a man in his early to mid-50s, as opposed to an old or elderly man (γέρων). But the word was used for a position of authority in the early church. The leaders of a Jewish synagogue and the Sanhedrin were called elders (BDAG), as were the leaders of towns (BDAG, citing LXX Ruth 4:2 for example). In Revelation 4:4 there are twenty-four elders forming a “heavenly council” around the throne of God. There are a few examples in Acts of the word referring to early Christian leaders (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2-6; 16:4), although with the exception of 14:23 these all Jewish congregations so they may have taken over the leadership structure of the synagogue; this may also be true for Paul’s congregations.

While it is always possible this Elder is not the elderly Apostle John, there is little in 1-3 John to suggest the Apostle is not the authority behind the letters. Eusebius cites Clement of Alexandria, John was based on Ephesus but traveled throughout the region appointing bishops and dealing with church issues. Assuming the writer is the same as 1 John 1:1-4, the claim to be an eyewitness of Jesus is more or less a claim to apostolic status.

Is the “chosen lady” an actual person? The word John uses in verse one (κυρία) refers to a woman of special status. Some suggest this is a woman named Eklete (Greek word for chosen) who led the church to which John is writing. The “mistress of the house” would refer to the woman in charge of assigning work to all the household slaves and managing household affairs but in the LXX the mistress (κυρία) is not a slave (BDAG). The woman may be like Lydia or Phoebe, a wealthy woman who hosted the church in her home and was the patroness of a local congregation. In support of this view, see this post by Marg Mowczko arguing the Lady is the leader of a house church.  Here are Paul Anderson’s comments on the Lady as a real church leader.

However, the consensus answer is the Chosen Lady is a metaphor for a house church rather than a literal woman who led a church. The Greek word translated church, gathering, or congregation (ἐκκλησία) is feminine. Using a metonym for the church like this is unusual in the New Testament, but in the ancient world cities were often described in female terms (Jerusalem as a woman in Isaiah), Paul used a similar metaphor in Ephesians 5:25 and 2 Corinthians 11:2. The children (and her sister’s children in v. 13) would then refer to the members of two separate congregations.

Although I agree with Marg that Phoebe was deacon or minister of her church (Rom. 16:1–2) and that Junia (Rom 16:7) and Nympha (Col 4:15) are examples of women in leadership in local churches, I find it simpler to understand this particular chosen Lady as a reference to the church.

It is not clear why John used these metaphors to hide his identity and that of the congregation. 1 Peter 5:13 uses Babylon as a metonym for Rome (both were arrogant world empires which had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple). It may be the case the writer was masking his identity and the location of the congregation to avoid drawing attention of the authorities.

Main Themes of Second John

Maybe an alternative title for this post could be “Second John: Why Bother?” The problem with 2 John is that it is nearly the same as 1 John, the same opponents have gone out from the church and the readers are encourage to recall what John has already taught them (love one another) and to not have anything to do with the false teachers. There is really nothing new in this letter aside from the standard features of Hellenistic letters, the salutation (1-3) and concluding farewell (12-13). Although we now have an author and recipient, they are veiled to hide their true identity. Nor do we know who the opponents are, other than they are the same antichrists mentioned in 1 John. What is even more frustrating, we cannot know if this letter was written before or after 1 John, to the same congregations as 1 John, or whether this short note was sent as a cover letter for 1 John (or the Gospel of John).

Second John is an excellent example of a Hellenistic “advice” letter. (The technical term is paraenetic letter (Parsenios, First, Second and Third John, 132-32; see page 137 for a reprint of a standard paraentic letter from the third or fourth century AD). These types of letters were short notes exhorting the reader to keep on doing what they have already been told to do (this is not a new command, love one another) and to avoid some negative action or behavior (stay away from the false teachers). Even the greetings and conclusion are the way letters were framed in the ancient world.

If the content is identical to 1 John, why was it included in the canon of Scripture? Although the letter is quoted occasionally, it is sometimes cited as if it were part of 1 John, supporting the suggestion it was originally a cover letter for 1 John. To complicate matters, sometimes 3 John is referred to as the second letter, implying 1-2 John circulated as a unit.

First, 2 John is a Reminder of the Commandment Heard from the Beginning (2 John 4-6). The Elder rejoices that some members of the church are walking in truth (4). At the beginning of an advice letter, the writer often would praise the readers in order to create good will. Does “some of your children” imply that some are not walking in the truth? It may be the case John has only heard of some of the children walking in the truth, or this soul be a subtle hint that there is some problem in the church.

This is not a new commandment: Love one another (5-6). This may refer back to 1 John 2:7-8 (the Gospel of John), but also the content of the Elder’s teaching and preaching (they have heard it from the beginning).

There is a subtle difference here, in 1 John 2:7-8 he wrote the “command you have had,” in 2 John 5 it is the command “we have had” from the beginning. John is including himself in this command; it is not as though the Father holds the apostle to a different standard than his readers. John is including himself because the deceptive teachers are claiming John has no authority, he is saying “we are in this together” even if the false teachers claim otherwise.

Second, the letter warns about the Deceivers (2 John 7-11). Like 1 John, these deceivers are those who deny Jesus came in the flesh (7-9). The one who denies Jesus came in the flesh is the deceiver and the antichrist (7, 1 John 2:18-23, 3:7, 4:3). The noun translated deceiver (πλάνος) refers to something which is misleading or intentionally deceitful. In classical Greek the word could be used for someone who cheats or is a trickster (BrillDAG).

Third, the Elder tells his readers to not even let the false teacher into your house (10-11). It is possible the Elder thinks the Lady’s church has been too living toward the false teachers by providing hospitality to their teachers. But his may be more than giving them a meal and a place to sleep as they passed through their town. If the church allowed the deceptive teachers to teach the congregation, then the “little children” would be at risk of falling under the influence of the deceivers and antichrists.

If someone welcomes one of the deceptive teachers, they are “sharing in the wicked work.” The verb (κοινωνέω) is the same semantic range as the noun John used in 1 John 1:3, holding to the things John has proclaimed means the reader has fellowship with him. “How to treat a false teacher” is the theme of 3 John (come back next week). The difference is in this letter the Elder tells his readers to refuse hospitality to anyone who does not confess Jesus properly, in 3 John one of the Elder’s representatives was refused hospitality by another house church.

Is the application of this command, do not engage Mormons or JWs when they knock on our door? Possibly, but a closer analogy would be allowing a Mormon who was visiting our church for a few weeks to teach a Sunday School class or preach a sermon. This is one of the functions of elders in 1 Timothy and Titus, guarding the deposit of the Faith against those who teach and behave in ways which are not consistent with biblical teaching. That Paul wrote to Ephesus with similar advice to John is significant, as is the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2.

John draws a clear line between what his community believed and the other deceptive teachers because it was very easy for the false teachers to come to a small congregation, share table fellowship and appear to be a sheep, when in fact they are wolves seeking to devour the members of the congregation.

1 John 5:21 – Keep Yourselves from Idols

Many have observed this is a strange ending for the letter, there is nothing about idolatry in the entire book so it seems odd for John to drop this line as a conclusion to the letter. Was there another paragraph which explained this line? Did the usual ending of an epistle get lost before the letter was added to the canon?


Artemis of Ephesus

That this is the seventh time John has called his readers children is significant. This is a planned statement not a last minute addition to fill out a page of papyri. In fact, Jobes says the original readers would have read this like a punchline, the rhetorical conclusion to the letter, answering the question the whole letter has been asking, if all this is true and we know what is real, can we really worship idols? (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 242).

For many interpreters, this is a command to avoid literal idolatry. Rejection of the Roman imperial cult led to some kind of persecution of John’s community. “Those who deny that Jesus is the Christ in this letter (2:22–23; 4:3; cf. 2 John 7) are people who yield to these pagan demands so as to avoid martyrdom” (Kruse, Epistles of John, 200).

For others, this command is a metaphor. Taking the word idol as “phantom,” Sugit argued this is a warning away from Docetism (J. N. Sugit, “I John 5:21,” JTS 36 (1985): 386–90). Raymond Brown took idolatry as a reference to the successionists, stay away from the liars and deceivers who John has called the antichrists (Epistles of John, 627–28).

“By idols he means not only images of the gods, but all false or counterfeit notions of God such as lead to the perversions of religion against which he has written” (Dodd, Johannine Epistles, 141)

“Most modern interpreters identify ‘idols’ with the idolatry of the secessionists who left the worship of the true God to follow after a false Christology” (C. Marvin Pate, The Writings of John, 316)

But idolatry is a strange metaphor for some kind of Christological error. The people who read this letter originally lived a world full of idolatry, it was impossible to avoid gods living in first century Ephesus!

Although this is necessarily speculative, I suggest the people who left John’s churches and claim not to sin offered worship to Rome or Artemis in order to avoid persecution. Several times in the letter John has implied that the opponents think that they do not sin. There’s no reason to think that sin would not include idolatry, so that worship of the Roman Empire in order to appear to be a good and loyal citizen would be perfectly acceptable to them. As I suggested in a previous post, few modern Christians consider pledging allegiance to the American flag to be idolatry. But for a person living in first century Ephesus, to “pledge loyalty” to the Roman Empire meant some kind of participation in the Imperial Cult.

Once again we find ourselves in the same territory as the seven letters of the Book of Revelation. There are several references there to people who participate in some form of idol worship, and certainly the rest of the book of revelation is about the worship of the beast, if the beast is Rome then the Roman imperial cult is not far from the surface.

1 John 5:16 – What is the Sin that Leads to Death?

Many readers assume John is referring to the so-called deadly sins (murder, adultery, etc.) One problem with this is that there is no list of deadly sins in the Bible. In the Law there are several examples of sin which is committed with the full intention of breaking the law as “unforgivable.” Leviticus 4:2 for example, the one who sins with a “high hand.” Even someone like Paul who caused the death of Stephen found forgiveness from that murder.

Jobes points out that Jesus taught anger is as bad as murder, and lust as bad as adultery (Matt 5:21–22, 27–28; Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 238). The gospels blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28–30), but this is a particular rejection of the Messiah by the Pharisees when they attributed the work of Jesus to the devil.

Cemetary GateIt is possible John has recanting one’s faith in the face of persecution in mind, as in Hebrews 6:4-6. Persecution is not obviously in view, unless the reference to idolatry in the last line of the letter refers to the imperial cult.

Some have considered the “unforgivable sin “to be the act of suicide. Aside from the fact suicide is not addressed as an unpardonable sin anywhere in scripture, it seems highly unlikely John would say “don’t bother praying for someone who has committed suicide.” But John cannot have in mind physical death, because all people die whether their sins are forgiven or not.

Colin Kruse suggests John “very likely that he has the sin of the secessionists in mind” (Kruse, Epistles of John, 192; Jobes agrees, 236). Although it seems extremely strange to say, “don’t pray for those unrepentant sinners,” Kruse points out the prophet Jeremiah was told not to pray for Israel “because her sins were so repugnant (Jer 7:16-18; 11:14; 14:11).”

The one who has been born of God does not “keep on sinning” (5:18-20). This final paragraph returns to a theme found throughout the letter that the one who has been born of God does not continue in their sin. As we have observed at other times in the letter, John does not say that the Christian never sins, but they don’t persist in a continual state of sin.

John has already mentioned the power of the devil several times in the letter, but here he promises that God will protect his children for the power of the evil one (vv. 10-20). This is extremely important since John’s congregation is living in the city of Ephesus where the power of Rome was on display for all to see. It is possible John’s congregation feared the power of Rome as Christianity grew.

Taking the book of Revelation into consideration, this is not a promise the Christian will never suffer, but rather a promise that God will overcome the power of the devil. Even though the church is persecuted, and some may even die for their faith, they still do not fall into the power of the devil.

I think this “sin that leads to death” has something to do with the enigmatic final line of the book, “keep yourself from idols.” Perhaps John’s opponents are teaching their followers they can perform some kind worship of the Emperor or veneration of Rome to avoid persecution. This would be analogous to an American Christian pledging allegiance to the flag. Just as most Christians do not see this pledge as an act of idolatry, so too John’s opponents may have interpreted Imperial worship as an oath of loyalty and not actual worship of gods. They may have considered eating meat sacrificed to idols or attending meals or banquets held at local temples to be “not a sin.”

If this is on the right track, then the “sin that leads to death” is putting oneself in a place where they may not be sinning (yet), but there is a real danger of returning to the worship of idols. This is a very real problem for Christians living in cultures where gods are worshiped regularly. For Christians living in places which venerate ancestors, there is a very real struggle for the Christian to return to those practices in order to keep the pace within a family. The willful choice to return to idolatry is, for John, a sin that is so dangerous is “leads to death.”

1 John 5:7-8 – What Does John Mean by the Water and the Blood?

Who is Jesus, the son of God? John says, “the one came by water and blood.” This is an obscure answer. Although there are many modern suggestions for what John meant, Karen Jobes suggests the original readers would have understood this allusion because they have firsthand knowledge of the teaching of the ones who have left the church. John only needs to briefly allude to them by means of these obscure words and they would understand what he meant (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 220).

Water and BloodIncluding the Spirit, there are three things are in agreement that Jesus is the Son of God. There are two possible allusion to the Gospel of John in these verses. In John 3:5, one cannot see the kingdom of Heaven without being born of water and the Spirit. In John 19:34, when Jesus is pierced water and blood flow from his side. When the soldiers approach Jesus, he is already dead but they confirm this by piercing his side with a spear.  As a result, blood and water flow, indicating that the blood was already separating.

The main point of this flow of water and blood was to confirm the death of Jesus. That he was “really dead” is important for the resurrection.  The Romans did not take a partially dead man from the cross who could “revive” with a little medical attention.  Indeed, Jesus was dead.  John may be alluding to Scripture, such as Exodus 17:6, “strike the rock and the water will flow.” Water is the source of life, certainly water from the hand of God in Exodus 17 is a symbol of salvation provided by God.  There are many verses which describe God himself as the Rock of Salvation Ps 18:31, for example).

John tells us the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side bears witness this is truly what happened. The beloved disciple also witnesses this piercing, so that John’s claim here in 1 John is “I am an eyewitness of the water and the blood.”

One option but interpreting the water and the blood to take them as a reference to literal water and blood. There are two possibilities here: First, Jesus’s birth and death. Here water refers to the breaking of the water prior to birth and the blood refers to the crucifixion. Similarly, Kruse observes there are ancient Jewish sources describing the human body as composed of two elements, water and blood (Kruse, The Letters of John, 176). However, he does not cite any sources which actually say this. Jesus’s baptism and death. Using the Gospel of John as a guide, the phrase “in water only appears in the Gospel with reference to John’s baptism (John 1:26, 31, 33; Kruse, Epistles of John, 175). This would then refer to Jesus’s whole ministry from baptism through the death on the cross.

A second option is to take the water and the blood as a metaphor relating to something in the Christian life or practice.  For example, some church fathers took the water as a reference to water baptism and the blood to the Eucharist (Tertullian, Augustine, Ambrose). Sometimes this “water and blood” was related to John 4 (living water) and John 6 (bread from heaven), both commonly taken as an allusion to the (later) practice of the Eucharist (Calvin and Luther? Find a reference to this). It is likely there are a few commentaries to be cited that see this as an indication of a later date for the letter and reflecting the growing importance of the Eucharist.

The real problem for “blood” as a reference to taking communion is the cup as “the blood of Jesus” is not found in John’s Gospel, and in the synoptic gospels the cup represents the blood which initiates the New Covenant. It is only in later Catholicism the cup is understood as the literal blood of Jesus.

More recently, To Thatcher suggested water is the Holy Spirit and blood refers to the physical death of Jesus on the Cross. This is attractive because the Old Testament often portrays the Holy Spirit in liquid terms, he is “poured out” on God’s people. In addition, Paul’s description of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 connects the Spirit with water as well.

So what is the “water and blood”? The first phrase in verse 6 refers to the life and atoning sacrifice of Jesus (from baptism to crucifixion); the second in verse 7 adds the Spirit as a witness since the Spirit applies the atoning sacrifice to the life of the believer.

How does the Spirit, water and the blood agree in their testimony Jesus is the Son of God? The tradition of “two or three witnesses” is based on the Law, Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, for example. Something is made certain by three witnesses. John may have in mind the witness of two at the baptism of Jesus (the Spirit descended on Jesus) and the two witnesses at the cross, the blood and water from the side of Jesus.

Bibliography: Tom Thatcher,“‘Water and Blood’ in Anti-Christ Christianity (1 John 5:6).” SCJ 4 (2001): 235–48; see also his commentary on these verses: “1 John,” “2 John,” “3 John.” Pages 414–538 in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 13 (Rev. ed. Edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006); (Ben Witherington, III, “The Waters of Birth: John 3:5 and 1 John 5:6–8,” NTS 35 (1989): 155–58).

1 John 5:7 – What Happened to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The one who overcomes the world believes that Jesus is the Son of God (5:6). John uses the full title of Jesus as the “Son of God.” He has described Jesus and the Father throughout the letter. In 1:3 our fellowship is with God the Father and with “Jesus Christ his son.” In the previous paragraph John stated the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world and that God will abide only those who acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God (4:13-16).

But there is a bit of controversy over the text of 1 John 5:7. Compare the KJV with any modern translation” The KJV reads “testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.” These words do not appear in most modern translations although they are usually in a footnote. The verse seems like solid proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity. So why do the words not appear in any modern translation?

Cut out of the BibleSome later manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate had “testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three that testify on earth:” These words were not in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century and did not appear in Latin Bibles until after AD 800. Likely this was a marginal comment which was introduced to the text by a scribe who thought it ought to be inserted. He was either mistaken, or thought it was a god place for a solid Trinity reference and he added it in.

The handful of Greek manuscripts which did have the words were influenced by the reading in the Latin Bible. Erasmus omitted the line from his first two editions of his Greek New Testament, and was criticized by Catholic scholars who used the Vulgate as a proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Erasmus told his critics that if even one Greek manuscript could be found with the line, he would add it to the next edition. A manuscript was quickly prepared (codex 61, the work of a Franciscan monk named Froy or Roy), and Erasmus added the line to the next addition of his GNT, although with a note explaining that he doubted the line was genuine. The four manuscripts that support the longer reading are ms. 61 (sixteenth century), ms. 88 (twelfth century), ms. 629 (fourteenth or fifteenth century), and ms. 635 (eleventh-century manuscript with the passage written in its margin during the seventeenth century).

Metzger reports that codex 61, which is housed at the library of Trinity College in Dublin, “almost opens of its own accord to 1 John 5–so often has it been consulted on this passage!” (The Text of the New Testament, 101, note 5). However, Peter Malik says the manuscript has an abundance of marginal notes added by two different hands after the codex was produced (in Hixson and Gurry, Myths and Mistakes, 158).

What does it matter? This is not a case of removing the Trinity from the Bible as some more conspiracy-minded people might suggest. This is a good example of textual critics doing their job and determining the most accurate form of the text from the existing variants. The doctrine of the Trinity does not stand (or fall) on 1 John 5:7. In fact, 1 John 5:6 mentions the Son and the Spirit together with God in verse 8. There are plenty of examples of Father-Son equality in the Gospel of John.

Does the lack of the words “the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” change any Christian’s faith in the Trinity?  If it does, then that faith was thin to begin with.

1 John 4:16-21 – How is Love Perfected?

The simple statement “God is love” is very complex. What does John mean by this? (4:16b). Love is a “defining characteristic of God” (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 190). If the father is love, then so too is the son. Those who have been born of God ought to have this same characteristic as their heavenly father.

Hanging JudgeRaymond Brown points out saying “God is love” is not the same as saying “God loves” (Brown, Epistles of John, 515). Since God is love, everything he does is an expression of his love. In this context, John mentions the coming Day of Judgment. Even rendering judgment and punishing those who remain in their sin is an act of love because God can only act in accordance to his loving character.

By abiding him God, his love has been perfected (4:17a). This is another example of John’s subtle use of grammar. He chooses the perfect passive form of τελειόω to emphasize God’s love has already been made perfect in the past and it remains perfect at the time he is writing.

By perfected (ESV), John means something like “brought to completion” or “reaches the intended goal.” This is not at all like the human emotion of love, which ebbs and wanes over the years. God’s love is not an emotional response; it is a real and concrete action based on his loving character to sacrifice everything on behalf of those who do not even recognize his existence or authority.

Because God’s love has been perfected in us, we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment (4:17b-19). The Day of Judgment is eschatological, looking forward to a time when the believer will stand before Jesus as a judge. This sounds as if one is judged on whether they are going to “go to heaven” or now, but that is not what John says. All he says here is when the one who has really grown mature in love or their brother and sister, they can have nothing to be ashamed about standing before the judge. They are “right with God” because God has provided his son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 4:7-10) and they know that they have this relationship with God because they (in fact) love their brother and sister.

There is no fear of punishment on that day: perfect love casts out fear. This verse is usually taken out of context. Unfortunately there are many people who do have genuine fear because of they have experienced terrible things at the hands of people who claimed to be Christians. This may be judgement because of sin, but too many people have been abused by people claiming to have spiritual authority.

If the church was really doing the love of God as demonstrated in the gracious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, then the church would be far more attractive to those who remain in the world. As John says in 4:20-21, one cannot claim to be a Christian if they hate their fellow Christian; how much more if they hate the unsaved?

The only reason we can love others are demonstrate that we abide in God is that God has loved us first and sent his some as savior.

One cannot claim to love God and hate a brother or sister in Christ (4:20-21). Once again John demands concrete action in the real world as evidence for one’s claim to love God. The person who claims to be a Christian and expresses hatred toward others is an impossibility for John.

1 John 4:11-16 – Love One Another

If God so loved as John has described in 1 John 4:7-10, then the  only possible response is to love one another (4:11-12). This is a conditional sentence that assumes the premise is true, something like “since God has loved us by sending his son, then we ought to love one another.”

The only way the world will see God is through behavior of his people. When we demonstrate our love for God by loving one another, we reveal God to the world.

This is challenging since the world does not usually associate love with the organized church. Whether this is the classic cranky nun teaching in a Catholic school or an abusive priest, the puritanical Baptist pastor ranting against sin, preaching hellfire and brimstone on the street corner; the gossiping old women judging the way a younger woman is dressed in church; judging the kid with tattoos and piercings and wearing his ball cap in the church (backwards of course).

The Holy Spirit is evidence we are abiding in God (4:13). Once again John states we “abide in him” and God “abides in us.” Does this plural pronoun mean, God abides in me as an individual, or God abides in the community of believers? This is ambiguous, and it is (perhaps intentionally) unclear whether John intended the reader as an individual to imagine God’s love abiding in them personally or whether John is describing how a local church ought to function as a living community.

Gift of the Holy Spirit promised in John 15. The Holy Spirit is also called the “Spirit of Truth” in the Gospel of John 14:17 and 16:13. Here in 1 John 4:6 (cf. 5:6) John describes the role of the Spirit of God as enabling the believer to discern true teaching from false. In Second Temple Period Judaism, the “spirit of truth” has a similar use of the phrase.

How does the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit express itself in love for one another?  In the letter John has already stated Jesus is the messiah and son of God sent in the flesh, Now John expands is view of Jesus to include “savior of the world” (4:14-15).

Would the opponents deny this? It is easy enough to believe a Jewish teacher named Jesus lived in Galilee and gathered some disciples, challenged Jewish Temple aristocracy and was falsely accused as attacking the Roman government, resulting in his crucifixion. But is this knowledge of a historical Jesus enough to be “born of God”? For John, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God revealed in the flesh, and the Savior of the world. These are not theological points people can pick one or two of and be born of God. This is a full package, all are required to “abide in God.”

It is remarkable Jesus is the savior of the world since in John’s Gospel the world is in active rebellion against God. Yet John 3:16 says God loved the world and sent his son to be an atoning sacrifice for the world. That Jesus “saved the world” is another gracious act in which God extends salvation to people who are in total rebellion against him, unable and unwilling to do anything to reconcile themselves to God.