Notes on 1 John – the background

I know at the end of my last post I said I would talk about observations on the occurrences of “know” in this letter I want to first share some of the background to the letter so that when I share these notes on “know” they will make more sense.  Also, note Sam’s comment in the comments section and let me know if this is too hard to read.

Background for understanding 1 John: Proto-Gnosticism

We could get really deep into all this (talking about intermediaries and aeons and angelic beings, etc) but I am just going to share some of the basics.

To really understand what is going on in this letter, 1 John, it is important to talk about a religious philosophy called Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a modern term for a complex of religious and philosophical ideas that began to take shape in the mid to late 1st century and was not really too prevalent or fully developed and practiced until well into the 2nd and 3rd centuries thus my basis for using the term “proto-Gnosticism” or one could say “incipient Gnosticism.” Gnosticism bases its foundations in the idea of knowledge and knowing, both intellectually and spiritually. The word itself comes from the Greek “gnosis” meaning “to know.”

At the time of mid-to late first century Gnosticism was fast becoming the prevailing religious philosophy of the day and it sucked in many people with it. While it may have begun 2000 years ago, it still rears its ugly head today.

As a religious philosophy, Gnosticism centers on a search for higher knowledge believing that through that knowledge one can obtain salvation from the material world. This knowledge was not merely some intellectual knowledge but a type of esoteric spiritual knowledge that could only be attained by certain kinds of Pneumatikoi or “special spiritual people.” This knowledge was supposedly not available to “ordinary” Christians. However, it was available to certain types and once the special spiritual knowledge was attained, according to Gnosticism, this person was saved.

There are two basic parts of Gnostic teaching:

The first major teaching of Gnosticism is the supremacy of knowledge.

  • Certain Pneumatikoi or “spiritual ones” claimed to have special knowledge of truth and spiritual realities. Ordinary Christians did not or could not possess this secret of higher knowledge.

The second major teaching of Gnosticism was the separation of spirit and matter.

  • All matter [e.g., bodies] was considered to be evil and the source of evil.
  • The spirit was considered to be good and impervious to defilement by anything the body (matter) did.

It important to know as well, Gnosticism was/is a parasitic belief – it built itself off another religious idea or philosophy. When it attached itself to Christianity it tried to take on a similar form so that it was difficult to see the subtleties in the errors in thinking. At the same time some of the attitudes that derived from Gnostic teaching were quite blatant and obvious.

Gnosticism claimed a so-called higher knowledge above and beyond that revealed by Jesus Christ and through the prophets. Its origins lie in Greco-Roman Philosophies and Eastern religions particularly those of Persia (modern day Iran) and India.

The Gnostics allegorized the Old Testament and undermined the veracity of the Word of God. They warped teachings on creation, sin, and the restoration of all things. Due to their belief that matter was evil, they failed to see how a supreme God, pure in spirit and essentially good, could create a universe of matter, which they considered evil.

Related to their views on matter being evil there were two major factions of Gnosticism we need to be aware of:
The Docetic Gnostics:

  • The Docetics denied the humanity of Christ. Docetic comes from the Greek dokeo – meaning generally “to seem.” According to the Docetics, it was impossible for God, who was spirit and good, to become flesh, which was matter and evil, in the person of Jesus Christ. They believed Jesus was a phantom; he didn’t possess a real flesh and blood body. He only “seemed” to have a body.

The Cerinthian Gnostics (followers of Cerinthian – a contemporary and opponent of John):

  • The Cerinthians separated the man Jesus from the aeon, the power of Christ. They believed when the dove came on Jesus at his Baptism, the power of Christ came and rested on the man Jesus then departed before his death on the cross. So it was simply the man Jesus who died, not Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.

These Gnostic heresies denied that God became human, a man, and walked this earth in the person of Jesus Christ to bring redemption and salvation to the world. They eliminated Jesus Christ as the only way to God and formed their own way to God through their inquiry and quest for knowledge. Faith and one’s deeds were viewed as having no significance in salvation or the life of a Christian.

For the Gnostics, salvation came from knowing theories and ideas over putting faith in a Savior. They wanted salvation to come through knowing rather than trusting. But deep down they did not actually believe that Jesus was who he said he was – the Greeks were steeped in their own mythology – the God’s came down and took human form but nobody actually believed they were human. There was also the problem of pride and a desire to put oneself above others. It was an elitist and loveless religious philosophy. They did not believe God loves everyone but only those deemed worthy of enlightenment of the aeons or spiritual powers.

Does the idea of the Gnostic Gospels make sense now? They have all have these supposed secret sayings of Jesus no one else ever heard, etc.

It rears its ugly head on many levels (often refurbished or recycled) – Oprah and her Tolle friend are ultimate New Age Gnostics. Ever watch “Christian” TV – lots of folks on their claiming some special revelation on the Bible no body’s ever heard before. Even unsuspecting Christians can give into it thinking maybe their pastor or someone in their life is super spiritual and seems to know god better then they do or can, etc.

Try reading through 1 John now in light of some of the basics of Gnostic ideas and let me know what you think.

Again, it was a very early form of it, very early – so we can’t take it too far but it can help set the letter of 1 John in context a bit.


Selected Bibliography

You can learn more of Gnosticism in one or more of the following resources (not exhaustive). You want to read the article on Gnosticism and on 1 John in the dictionaries/Encylopedia.

Precept Ministries The New Inductive Study Bible (Harvest House, 2000). This is an excellent Study Bible if you really want to dig in to the Word! It has an article on Gnosticism in the back (you can read all the other stuff on Gnosticism but this article cuts out all the fluff and simplifies the issues).

Robert H. Gundry. A Survey of the New Testament, 4th ed. (Zondervan, 2003). Lots of good NT Survey’s out there with lots of information (ie., DeSilva) but Gundry seems to cut the fluff and get to the point a little quicker than others. He notes the Cerinthians and the Docetics in his discussion of 1 John.

IVP’s Dictionary of the Later New Testament and it’s Developments (IVP, 1997).

Zondervan’s Pictorial Encylopedia of the Bible vol 2-3 (5 vol series) (Zondervan, 1975). I have the whole set and this has been a surprisingly useful resource – seems dated but when I did the reading in other material – is was not that dated – and I have found this to be true on a lot of the articles in this series.

Comfort and Driesbach’s The Many Gospels of Jesus: Sorting out the story of the life of Jesus (Tyndale, 2008). The chapter on Gnosticism in this book is so good it is worth the price of the book alone.

John Stott, The Letters of John (IVP, 2007). I have the 1988 edition. I can only imagine the update is that much better. (I am sure other commentaries may discuss this issue, though Stott is all I have at the moment).

Contrarian views can be found with Raymond Brown who thinks references to Gnosticism is exaggerated (a serious indictment). Luke Timothy Johnson makes no mention of Gnosticism in his NT Intro.

Notes on 1 John – reasons for writing

I am going to teach/preach through 1 John in my church. These are some of my notes.

It is generally a good idea to determine the reason a letter was written (was there an occasion?). Some letters in the NT make this easy, others not so.  John makes it easier when he has places in his letter where he says “I write, am writing,” etc.

Reasons John wrote this letter:

1:4 – We write this to make our joy complete. [One textual variant is “your.”]

2:1 – My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

2:12 – I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

2:13 – I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have overcome the evil one.

2:14 – I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

2:21 – I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

2:26 – I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.

5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

I see this letter a more encouragement than rebuke. There is some correction and strong reminders about truth – but I wonder if John’s toughness is more against the proto-gnostic false teachers than against those sincerely trying to follow Christ. It’s almost as if he is talking more to the false teachers than to the Christians (or like a lot of people do, talk to one person by speaking to another).

Next post: observations on occurrences of the word “know.”

Obama/Biden 2008

Is Joe Biden really Omaba’s CHOICE?  Why?

Here is a clip from Neal Boortz’s website from a couple days ago:

There has been so much speculation about the Vice Presidential choices for Obama and McCain. As close as we are to finding out Obama’s chosen one – we have to wait until August 29th for McCain’s – much speculation has landed on Delaware’s Joe Biden.

We won’t get into too much detail because we don’t know for sure whether Biden would be Obama’s choice, but just to give you an idea of who is at the top of Obama’s list … here are a few things to remember about Joseph Biden.

Let’s start with a few classic Biden moments:

–“In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” – July 2006

Barack Obama is a “clean” black person. – February 2007

One reason that so many District of Columbia schools fail is the city’s high minority population. – October 2007 (Now that may be true, but a liberal can’t say it.)

Ok, so let’s be honest … these aren’t the real reasons that Joe Biden would be a lousy (or good, depending on your politics) choice for a Vice President.  So the guy says what’s on his mind, politically correct or not.  The real reasons that you don’t want people like Joe Biden in the White House is because he has three priorities as a politician: Ending the war in Iraq, universal healthcare, and building up government schools.  Not to mention that he also believes in this global warming scam.

What Biden ads to Obama’s ticket is experience, particularly on foreign policy.  He is, after all, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee.  But what Obama doesn’t need is someone that emphasizes his own inexperience.  Biden himself has said that the White House isn’t the place where you learn on the job … the very criticism that many have of Barack Obama.  Take a look at a Biden campaign commercial from 1988.

Or maybe this is all just a distraction to keep us occupied. Frankly, I’m still occupied quite enough, than you, thinking about The Chosen One’s affinity for Marxism.

Now of course we want end the war in Iraq, but not under spurious terms or for political reasons (such as more votes or peace at all costs).  Universal heath care is bad because it will downgrade the quality of medicine, delay a multiplicity of medical procedures (esp. limit access to such things as CAT Scans and MRI tests – see the system in Canada as an example), make optional forms of medical care illegal meaning if you want to pick your own doctor or go to the hospital of your own choice without approval you could go to jail, etc.  The problems with universal health care are endless.   We could go on for a long time about the many problems of government education – more and more it is becoming politicized and more of a dumbing down process than anything else.   More government is not the solution.

I see a lot of problems with the Obama/Biden ticket.

Movie Review: The Great Debaters

I know this came out in 2007 – I just got to see it last night. This is a very good movie, yet a hard one to watch. It is an important movie from a historical perspective since it takes place in the 1930’s South (Texas). It was a time when they lynched blacks for no reason (never a good reason).

Perhaps you are white (I am, and a Yankee, I grew up mostly ignorant in WA state), and have trouble understanding why these kinds of things happened (and still happen) but they do and we need to face it. It was hard to watch the faulty arguments of the white guys from OK City University debating the Wiley College students say things like – “Yes, whites are racist, so it won’t be possible for blacks to get a good education in a State University” (all white at that time). Today, as then, when will it change? A lot has changed. Do we still have a long a way to go?

Even in the church there is still segregation with white churches, black churches, etc (I suppose there is nothing wrong with these – but is that the ideal? I think the ideal is seen in the Revelation, esp chs 4-5). Much reconciliation has taken place but I think some of it had been superficial. There are quite a few multi-cultural churches around, even multicultural staffs. We still have yet to get to the place where the barriers are few if any to integrated churches. Some denominational movements have a long way to go in diversifying their own executive leaderships. I am not arguing for racial quotas necessarily, I am just saying some groups need to openly and purposefully, move toward diversity in the leadership of their church groups. As I understand it, the Methodists are way a head of most groups in this issue – some may not agree, but at this point, I think they mandate diversity in their national leadership.

When will others follow?

See also,

thought for the day

Here is a lesson I learned this weekend in regards to preaching:

Just because it is true, doesn’t make it right! 

What do I mean by this?  Well, let’s just say that when it comes to issues of heaven and hell (for example) – tact, gentleness, respect and sensitivity are needed in discussing a topic where various viewpoints on such may be held.

Matthew 5:43-48 – NLT

Today, Dave Black posted a prayer request for some fellow worker and evangelists in Ethiopia who have been jailed for their faith (See post for Monday Aug 18th, 2008, 8:38 am).  He writes:

Here’s what I’m saying, friends.  Please listen carefully.  God is looking for disciples who will live for Him sacrificially. People who love their enemies.  People who do good to those who persecute them.  People who love those who hate them. And here’s the most amazing thing about it all: As much as God loves this wonderful couple, He loves their persecutors — He loves their daughter’s murderer! — to the very same degree.  I’ll put it plainly: If you do not love the enemies of Christianity, you are not my brother.  That’s because you are not a Jesus-follower.  If you are not willing to be martyred to share Jesus’ love with the persecutors of Jesus, you are not a Christian.  Don’t tell me about your church membership.  Don’t tell me about your tithing.  Don’t tell me about your perfect Sunday School attendance.  Do you love Muslims? (This is not a rhetorical question.  Please answer yes or no.)  Do you love Iraqis?  Do you love Iranians?  Do you love Hispanics?  Do you show it?  Do you prove it by your deeds?  I write in my forthcoming book The Downward Path of Jesus:

Radical disciples of Jesus embrace those on the other side of the dividing walls of hostility in our world, even including our “enemies.” Christianity transcendsall boundaries – cultural, racial, political, geographical, natural, even national.

Do you really believe that?  If so, while you are praying for this precious couple in Jesus as well as for their persecutors, it might also be a good time for you to remove those idolatrous American flags from your sanctuaries and get real about the Body of Christ. Friends, Jesus is not an American. He’s not a Democrat or a Republican.  He’s a foot washer.  Are you? Am I?

This is some serious stuff.  We Americans know and understand little what real persecution is – to us persecution might be a boss who won’t adjust our schedule for church or something.  Do we even know what it means to love our enemies?”  I wonder because too often we struggle enough to “love one another.” I think we hardly even know what that means too, loving one another.  

As I have shared before I am reading through Philip Comfort, Jason Driesbach’s The Many Gospels of Jesus (Tyndale, 2008), which has all four Gospels in it to compare with other gnostic and non-canonical Gospels to figure the real story of Jesus.  I am continually amazed at how the new updated NLT renders things.  Here is the passage from the “Sermon on the Mount” about loving our enemies: 

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?  Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?  Even pagans do that.  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

This has to be one of the more challenging parts of Jesus teachings for me than most others – when I know someone has a problem with me, in the sense of being an enemy – I really have a hard time getting along with them or even wanting to make the effort to work things out or continue to relate to him or her despite the tension – a really hard time.  Yet, what is Jesus challenging me to do?  He calls us to live for him sacrificially.  Why?  Because it is not about me or what I want – it is about the Kingdom and pursuing the purposes of God in both my life and in the life of others.  Are we willing to live the life God has called us to live?  It is up to us, it is up to you.

New Song on Grace

Adrian Warnock shares about a new grace song by Matt Giles that is touching and powerful.  I am sharing it here too.  It can be downloaded from Adrian’s blog here: The Grace of My God.

The Grace of My God.

  1. The grace of my God, an unbreakable chain,
    for those He redeems, He in grace will sustain.
    I will treasure the cross and rejoice in the Prize,
    This unspeakable Gift! This the gospel of Christ!
  2. Without Him my eyes would be downcast in guilt,
    And in trembling shame would my lips have been sealed.
    Yet my mouth fills with praise, when I call on His name
    And my eyes may delight in the wonders of Christ!

    Yes, wave upon wave of grace reaches me,
    He deals with my sin and He washes me clean.
    And each accusation is drowned by His blood,
    For Jesus has paid with immeasurable love!

  3. Without Him is hell, where His wrath will consume,
    In perpetual fire; an eternity doomed.
    Yet in Him is all love, and my soul is at rest,
    For hell’s gates have been barred through His glorious death!
  4. Without Him the darkness is all I can see,
    And the terror of sin would abound within me.
    Yet a boundless horizon of glory is mine,
    When Christ in the depths of my heart is all light!
  5. By grace my affection is drawn to the Lord,
    And by grace I’m renewed by the power of His word.
    It is grace that will strengthen my will and resolve
    To live for my Christ ’til I kneel at His throne!

    Matt Giles © 2008. Honeycomb Music Publishing Ltd.
    v1, v2, ch, v3, ch, v4, ch, ch (instrumental), v5, ch.