Friday, June 26, 2009

1 John 1:9 cont.

John's epistles were written around 90 AD. At this point in history, the temple had already been destroyed and John was an old man.

The overall message of John's epistles is the humanity of Christ (1 Jn 4:2, 3; 2 Jn 7). It is commonly held that at the time John wrote these books, Gnosticism had begun to infiltrate the church assemblies. And one of the reasons these epistles were written was to counteract these heretical teachings.

Gnosticism (after the Greek word gnôsis, meaning "knowledge" or "insight") flourished in the first and second centuries AD. Among its teachings were that (1) the nonliteral interpretation of Scripture is correct and can be understood only by a select few, (2) transcendental or intuitional knowledge (roughly translated as meaning ‘to look inside’ or ‘to contemplate’) is superior to virtue, (3) God could not be the only creator because evil exists in the world, (4) all matter is evil, only spirit is good, (5) the incarnation is unbelievable because deity cannot unite itself with anything material such as a body, and (6) there is no resurrection of the flesh.

Today we find some of these same doctrines taught through such groups as the Christian Scientists and other metaphysical "churches."

Another reason for writing these epistles was to make clear the distinguishing features of those who are born of God in contrast to those which mark the children of the evil one.

So as we begin the book of 1 John we read:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--(v 1-2).

"What" is referring to the Word Himself, Jesus Christ. "From the beginning" means from eternity, being equivalent with "in the beginning" in John 1:1. Regarding "concerning the Word of Life", Jesus Christ is termed the "Word" (John 1:1) and the "Life" (John 1:4); because He is the living Word of God.

The Gnostics denied that an actual physical human body of the Lord Jesus ever existed. It was declared to have been visible but not real. Jesus' deity was also denied. It seems John starts his first letter seeking to dispel this Gnostic heresy by stating that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God and that he (John) was an eye-witness. John, with the other apostles, had walked and talked with Jesus when He was on the earth. Indeed, John had seen the risen Christ and with his own hands had touched His wounds (Jn 20:19-21:25). So, to the assembly he is saying, I was there! And I saw and touched Jesus Christ, and heard and believed what He said.

John goes on to say, "and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete" (v 3-4). Right from the beginning John seems to be appealing to unbelievers in the assembly, that they too might come into fellowship with the apostles and ultimately with the Father and the Son.

John expounds further on the message itself in verses 5-7. The contrast between light and darkness—between believer and unbeliever—characterizes this section.

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk 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 (v 5-7).

Another prominent teaching of the Gnostics was that we don't have a sin nature, or even if we did, it doesn't matter. And when we look at the verses before and after verse 9, we see that John addresses that heresy, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (v 8)." and "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (v 10)." Second John 1 and 2 help to clarify that these verses are written about unbelievers:

The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever (2 John 1,2).

Compare these verses with 1 John 1:8, which says, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." If the truth abides in us as believers and will be with us forever, then can we ever say that the truth is not in us? How can these two verses both be referring to the believer? It only makes sense that those who claim to be without sin in 1 John 1:8 are lost.

Which of course brings us to 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Some say that verses 8 and 10 are merely contrasts to verse 9 and that verse 9 is indeed for the Christian. But that certainly is a stretch, especially considering the content of the verse itself. I believe it makes much more sense to interpret it as being for the unbeliever as well.

Dr. John Best, a foremost Greek language professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, had for years accepted the common explanation that 1 John 1:9 is written to the Christian. However, when he investigated deeper, he is now certain that it is written to the unbeliever. He explains it like this:

First of all, it is addressed to the lost Gnostics who claim to be without sin. To them the Apostle John states, "If we [an editorial we] claim to be without sin, we are deceiving ourselves and God's truth is not in us." Now for the "if." In 1 John 1:9, the phrase, "if we confess our sins," is classified as a third-class conditional clause, which means that the condition stated by the "if" clause is in question. The Apostle John was not sure whether or not the Gnostics would agree with God concerning their sins and turn to Him for salvation. The Greek structure of this passage forces the following interpretation: "I don't know if you are ever going to come to your senses or not and agree with God concerning your sins. But, if at anytime—today, tomorrow, or whenever—you should decide to turn to Him, God can be depended upon to have forgiven your sins and to have cleansed you of all unrighteousness." (Note the past tense.)

So, 1 John in context appears to have been written to an assembly that included both believers and unbelieving Gnostics, and 1 John 1:9 was written to these unbelievers, not the believers. It is similar to when my pastor invites those in the congregation who have never placed their faith in Jesus Christ to do so. And although many believers are listening and being built up in their faith, his appeal is to the unbelievers.

This is the only interpretation that makes sense to me, and it does not violate the interpretation of other post-cross Scripture.

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