CHAPTER 3: EPISTEMOLOGICAL QUESTIONS OF 1 JOHN
This chapter will engage in a dialog with past commentators about the epistemological questions of 1 John: occasion for writing (date, author, location, recipients, opponents, purpose, and relationship to the Gospel of John), genre, and structure. An evaluation of the history of scholarly opinion will relate each aspect to the title and purpose of the thesis. In several cases this evaluation will show that further research in the various textures will be able to bring new proposals to the scholarly dialog related to the epistemological questions of 1 John. Proposed solutions will be developed more fully in chapter four.
An historical word picture begins the dialog by introducing a possible scenario for the occasion of the writing of 1 John. This is followed by an extended narrational hypothesis to introduce many of the points that will be discussed throughout this chapter related to the occasion for writing. Following this suggested description of the occasion for the writing of 1 John, an interactive summary will compare the hypotheses presented here to the views of representative Johannine scholars. These hypotheses and evaluations are based on the research that will be described in detail in the sections of chapter four relating to inner texture, oral-scribal inter-texture, historical inter-texture, and cultural inter-texture.
Once the occasion for the writing of 1 John has been thoroughly examined, with the purpose in mind of the contribution each aspect makes toward understanding the meaning of the phrase, “the works of the devil,” the genre and structure will also be discussed through a comparison of commentators’ opinions, with findings from inner texture and social-cultural texture research. The details for the conclusions relating to genre and structure will be given in chapter four.
OCCASION FOR THE WRITING OF 1 JOHN
Narrative Hypotheses of the Occasion for the Writing of 1 John
Picture a person named John, reputedly the author of the Gospel 58 and a disciple of Jesus, now a man of about 80, running out of a public bath-house in Ephesus, towel flying, cryingout, “Fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” Further imagine a young boy named Polycarp (70–155 C.E.), who would later become one of the bishops of the Early Church, standing by with open mouth as this scene impresses itself on his mind. 59 The moral of this humorous story is found at the end of 1 John: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (5:21). 60
John was not the only one who felt strongly about not associating with “enemies of truth” or “idols,” in the sense of false beliefs. 61 The members of the Qumran community (interchangeably referred to here as Essenes 62) regularly heard a ritual as new members were sworn in: “Cursed be the man who enters this Covenant while walking among the idols of his heart … God’s wrath … shall consume him in everlasting destruction. He shall be cut off from the midst of all the sons of light” (1QS II, 11, 15, 16). If the John in Polycarp’s story knew about these curses, it is no wonder he ran out of the bathhouse—in case the curses might happen to fall on the enemy of truth while John himself was inside! (Compare 1 John 3:8: “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.” To some extent the enemies of truth may have been seen as a “work of the devil” by the author of 1 John. This possibility will be explored in later sections.)
How likely is it that John the purported writer of the Gospel (the “Evangelist”), an important member of the Johannine community if not its founder and lead writer, would have known about the beliefs of the Qumran community? Brown postulates a connection between John the Evangelist, traditionally considered to be the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist in John 1:40, and the Essenes. “An hypothesis might be constructed that John the Baptist was familiar with the Qumran Essenes and their thought, and that through him certain of these ideas passed on to his disciples, including John the Evangelist” 63 The hypothesis pictured here about the occasion for the writing of 1 John is that a group of Essenes, who were displaced in 68–70 C.E. by the Roman destruction of the land, 64 were attracted through missionary activity to the Johannine community in Ephesus, whose members were originally followers of John the Baptist.
Like the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19:1, 3-5, the displaced Essenes were persuaded to consider following Jesus. But, based on their own religious background, their initial concept of Jesus would likely have been that he was simply a great teacher of righteousness. Perhaps they “only knew” (as with disciples of John the Baptist who “only knew” the baptism of John) some of Jesus’ teachings. The hymn recorded in the Prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) would have resonated with some of their Qumran writings, 66 as would Jesus’ teaching about the “Spirit of Truth” in John 15:26; 16:13. While their knowledge was still incomplete, according to this hypothesis, they decided to become followers of Jesus while remaining part of their original (displaced) community and retaining their Essene distinctives. 67 (Contemporary missiologists call this an “insider movement.” 68)
The two groups had much in common: a commitment to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible; a worldview that spiritual reality consists of polar opposites (something is either true or false, light or dark, righteous or evil); practical demonstrations of love for fellow community members. (See Appendix 1 for numerous other concepts the two groups held in common. This chart will be referred to again in the inter-texture discussion of echoes in 1 John of Qumran literature.)
But apparently these new followers of Jesus never fully accepted Jesus as the Christ. Assuming them to have become the “opponents” of 1 John, Johannine texts indicate they did not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh to take away the sin of the world (John 1: 29; 1 John 3:5) and to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8, also see John 12:31). Perhaps one of the surviving Qumran community leaders may have eventually visited the city and convinced the Essenes that their new beliefs were not compatible with the community’s core teachings.
Then the tables were turned and the Essene would-be followers of Jesus themselves became “missionaries” trying to convince the others to return to what they perceived to be the truth, as described in the Qumran literature, resulting in much confusion. To those who resisted their “evangelism,” The Essenes may have applied what they had learned from the Qumran Manual of Discipline (1QS), treating them as outsiders to be shunned and condemned to eternal damnation. Instead of showing love for the “brothers”
69 (a strong value for both the Johannine and Qumran communities), they began demonstrating rejection and hatred for those who had formerly considered them to be close community members.
In this conflict situation, a leader in the Johannine community wrote 1 John as a combination of rituals, according to the hypothesis of this narrative,—one to denounce the “children of the devil” and the other to label believers as “children of God.” 70 The resulting combination of rituals could be viewed as a liturgy to confirm Johannine believers in the truth and to prevent them from being deceived by the contentious Qumran-Essene believers. Perhaps this liturgy was compiled in response to a request from one of the local Johannine communities for relevant teachings of John the Evangelist. (A precedent exists for this in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians [13:2], in which he mentions that a church had asked him to send Ignatius’ letters.)
In addressing the conflicting perspectives of the Johannine community and the opponents from the Essene community, the author of 1 John reinterpreted a variety of concepts found in the first Qumran Scroll in light of the Johannine concept of Jesus. The antithetical statements throughout 1 John showcase the difference the author sees in the behavior and beliefs of those following Jesus (“walking in the light as he is in the light,” 1 John 1:7), and those who do not acknowledge the authority and example of Jesus in their lives (“walking in the dark and not knowing where he is going” 1 John 2:11).
The author or editor of this liturgy saw no hope for reconciliation between the two groups, so he gave a final indirect rebuke to the combative Essenes in 5:21 by telling his “little children” to “keep themselves from idols.” The audience would have known very well what he meant. Their opponents were being accused of being in the same category with idols, false representations of God, enemies of the truth. The Essene and Johannine believers, each had to choose who to follow. The full text of 1 John was written to confirm believers in making the right choice; to separate themselves from the teachings of Qumran or any of the false religions and heresies rampant in Ephesus and the Mediterranean world at that time. 71 Living in Ephesus, the author of 1 John must have been familiar with Paul’s writings, including his second letter to the Corinthians that contains significant echoes of Johannine and Qumran themes (underlined): “Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness? And what agreement does Christ have with Belial?Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever? And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
So once again, envision the elderly John flying from the bathhouse to escape the fate of those whose false beliefs associate them with “idols,” an image preserved at the end of 1 John in the hope of confirming the believers’ decision to remain connected to true teaching and eternal life: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Basis for Comparison of Hypotheses to Views of Johannine Scholars
This scenario has incorporated a number of choices among the options discussed by commentators related to the occasion for the writing of 1 John. In the following discussion, the choices and assumptions made above about the each of the various aspects of the occasion for writing will be stated and reasons given. The views of the following representative commentators will be referenced and critiqued in light of their relevance for arriving at an understanding of the phrase, “the works of the devil”: 72
Raymond Brown, an American Roman Catholic, provides the most comprehensive and respected work since Schnackenburg on the Johannine Epistles.
Ruth B. Edwards brings a womans’ perspective from the British academic world. Martin Hengel is an older German scholar who has written extensively on the Hellenistic period of Judaism and early Christianity.
Colin Kruse, of Australia, represents the scholarly Protestant evangelical world. Celestino G. Lingad, Jr. is a younger Roman Catholic, active in pastoring, from Manilla, Philippines.
Rudolf Schnackenburg represents an older German Protestant perspective. His commentary in German on the Johannine Epistles was written in 1963, although not translated into English until 1992.
The views of these scholars on the various aspects of the occasion for the writing of 1 John will next be compared and critiqued.
Was John, the disciple of Jesus, the author of 1 John? This is a much-debated question, but for the purposes of the present research it is not particularly crucial to determine if the author was the John the son of Zebedee, 73 another disciple named John (the elder) to whom Papias of Hierapolis refers, 74 one or more editors from the Johannin school, 75 or even perhaps Polycarp, a bridge person between the apostles and the early church who knew one or both Johns, 76 and whose Letter to the Philippians (7:1) contains an echo of 1 John 4:3 (and 2 John 7) and possibly other allusions as well.77 The important aspect of authorship for the purposes of the present research is that an individual or group with knowledge of the original teachings in the Gospel of John wrote or compiled an authoritative document that purports to represent teaching “from the beginning,” and that exhibits a central concern about the work of the devil in the world (1 John 2:13, 14; 3:8, 10; 5:19; John 12:31; 14:30, 16:11, 33). All the theories of authorship meet these conditions.
The date of writing was sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Qumran Caves in 60–75 C.E., after there had been time for differences of opinion on how to follow Jesus’ teachings to develop among those who knew the Gospel of John. Scholars are basically in agreement that 1 John was written near the end of the first century C.E. 78 By that date there were plenty of heresies and problems in the church that could be potentially labeled as “works of the devil.”
Location and Historical Circumstances
It is necessary to rely on historical inter-texture to try to discern the historical circumstances of the writing of 1 John since none are stated in the text. The most likely location from which the author wrote was the city of Ephesus, where Irenaeus’ report of the apostle John’s encounter with Cerinthus took place. 79 Known circumstances during the 1st century C.E. in the vicinity of Ephesus include the prevalence of many false teachings and pagan cults (see Acts 19), the school and common practice of rhetoric in Asia Minor, 80 the ministry and martyrdom of Ignatius whose letter to the Ephesians echoes phrases from 1 John, 81 and Polycarp’s writings and ministry in the near-by city of Smyrna. 82 An additional historical circumstance seen in the writings of Ignatius and others was the development of strong leadership (bishops) in the churches, very different from the Johannine community’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to teach them “all things” (John 14:26; 1 John 2:20, 27). Brown states, “after the Epistles there is no further trace of a distinct Johaninne Community. … [It is] likely that most of the author’s adherents were swallowed up by the ‘Great Church.’” 83
CHAPTER 1. GENERAL INTRODUCTION AND HISTORICAL SURVEY 1
1.1. GENERAL STATEMENT OF AREA OF INTEREST
1.2. OVERVIEW OF THE THESIS CHAPTERS
1.3. ANALYTICAL HISTORICAL SURVEY OF RELEVANT LITERATURE
1.4. PURPOSES OF THE THESIS
1.5. RESEARCH PROBLEMS TO BE ADDRESSED
1.6. PERICOPES TO BE STUDIED
1.7. ACADEMIC CONTRIBUTIONS
1.8. CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY OF THE NEED FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
CHAPTER 2: METHODOLOGY 2
2.1. INNER TEXTURE DEFINED AND ADAPTED
2.2. INTER-TEXTURE DEFINED AND LIMITATIONS STATED
2.3. SOCIAL-CULTURAL TEXTURE DEFINED, SUPPLEMENTED BY SOCIALSCIENCE METHODOLOGY
2.4. IDEOLOGICAL TEXTURE DEFINED AND LIMITATIONS STATED
2.5. THEOLOGICAL TEXTURE DEFINED
2.6. SUMMARY AND REASONS FOR CHOICES OF METHODOLOGY
CHAPTER 3: EPISTEMOLOGICAL QUESTIONS OF 1 JOHN
3.1. OCCASION FOR THE WRITING OF 1 JOHN
3.4. SUMMARY AND EVALUATION OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF EPISTEMOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER 4: EXEGESIS: A SOCIO-RHETORICAL READING OF 1 JOHN 3:4-18 WITH AN EMPHASIS ON 3:8
4.1. INNER TEXTURE
4.3. SOCIAL-CULTURAL TEXTURE
4.4. IDEOLOGICAL TEXTURE AND PERSPECTIVE
4.5. THEOLOGICAL OR SACRED TEXTURE
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS: A SYNTHESIS OF EXEGETICAL FINDINGS AND ORIGINAL INDUCTIVE RESEARCH
5.1. INSIGHTS RELATED TO THE OCCASION FOR THE WRITING OF 1 JOHN
5.2. APPLICATION OF GROUP THEORY TO 1 JOHN
5.3. INSIGHTS FROM INNER TEXTURE STUDIES
5.4. INSIGHTS FROM INTER-TEXTURE ANALYSIS
5.5. HYPOTHESES PRESENTED IN THIS RESEARCH
5.6. CONTRIBUTIONS MADE TO JOHANNINE LITERATURE
5.7. FUTURE STUDIES
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
A SOCIO-RHETORICAL INVESTIGATION OF THE JOHANNINE UNDERSTANDING OF “THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL” IN 1 JOHN 3:8