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1 John 3:18-24

Context

3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth. 1  3:19 And by this 2  we will know that we are of the truth and will convince 3  our conscience 4  in his presence, 5  3:20 that 6  if our conscience condemns 7  us, that 8  God is greater than our conscience and knows all things. 3:21 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, 3:22 and 9  whatever we ask we receive from him, because 10  we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him. 3:23 Now 11  this is his commandment: 12  that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave 13  us the commandment. 3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides 14  in God, 15  and God 16  in him. Now by this 17  we know that God 18  resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.

1 sn The noun truth here has been interpreted in various ways: (1) There are a number of interpreters who understand the final noun in this series, truth (ἀληθείᾳ, alhqeia) in an adverbial sense (“truly” or “in sincerity”), describing the way in which believers are to love. If the two pairs of nouns are compared, however, it is hard to see how the second noun with tongue (γλώσσῃ, glwssh) in the first pair can have an adverbial sense. (2) It seems better to understand the first noun in each pair as produced by the second noun: Words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are to love one another are produced by the truth.

2 tn Once again there is the problem of deciding whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. When an explanatory or epexegetical ὅτι (Joti) clause follows, and the ὅτι clause is not grammatically unrelated to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ, then the ἐν τούτῳ is best understood as referring to what follows. Here in 3:19-20 there are no less than three ὅτι clauses that follow, one in 3:19 and two in 3:20, and thus there is the difficulty of trying to determine whether any one of them is related to the ἐν τούτῳ phrase in 3:19. It is relatively easy to eliminate the first ὅτι clause (in 3:19) from consideration, because it is related not to ἐν τούτῳ but to the verb γνωσόμεθα (gnwsomeqa) as an indirect discourse clause giving the content of what believers know (“that we are of the truth”). As far as the two ὅτι clauses in 3:20 are concerned, it is difficult to see how believers could know that they belong to the truth (19a) by means of either, since the first speaks of a situation where they are under self-condemnation (“if our heart condemns us…”) and the second ὅτι clause seems to give a further explanation related to the first (“that God is greater than our heart…”). Therefore it seems better to understand the phrase ἐν τούτῳ in 3:19 as referring to the preceding context, and this makes perfectly good sense, because 3:18 concludes with a reference to the righteous deeds with which believers are to love one another, which are produced by the truth.

sn By this refers to the righteous deeds mentioned at the end of 3:18, the expressions of love. It is by doing these deeds that believers assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of their relationship with God. Put another way, ‘conduct is the clue to paternity.’

3 tn The verb πείθω (peiqw) in the active voice (with the exception of the second perfect and pluperfect) means (a) “to convince”; (b) “to persuade, appeal to”; (c) “to win over, strive to please”; or (d) “to conciliate, pacify, set at ease or rest” (see BDAG 791 s.v. πείθω). Interpreters are generally divided between meaning (a) and meaning (d) for the verb in the present context, with BDAG opting for the latter (although it is pointed out that “the text is not in good order”). In any case the object of the verb πείθω in this context is καρδία (kardia), and this leads to further problems because the meaning of καρδία will affect one’s understanding of πείσομεν (peisomen) here.

4 tn Further difficulties are created by the meaning of καρδία (kardia) in 3:19. Although it may be agreed that the term generally refers to the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition” (BDAG 508 s.v. l.b), this may be further subdivided into references to (a) “the faculty of thought…as the organ of natural and spiritual enlightenment,” that is, the mind; (b) “the will and its decisions”; (c) “the emotions, wishes, desires,” i.e., the emotions or feelings; or (d) “moral decisions, the moral life,” that is, the part of the individual where moral decisions are made, which is commonly called the conscience. Thus καρδία in 3:19 could refer to either the mind, the will, the emotions, or the conscience, and it is not transparently clear which concept the author has primarily in view. In light of the overall context, which seems to discuss the believer’s assurance of his or her standing before God (ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ [emprosqen autou] in 3:19 and the mention of παρρησία [parrhsia, “boldness” or “confidence”] in 3:21) it seems probable that the conscience, that aspect of one’s καρδία which involves moral choices and the guilt or approval for having made them, is primarily in view here. Thus the meaning “convince” is preferred for the verb πείθω (peiqw), since the overall subject seems to be the believer’s assurance of his or her standing before God, especially in the case when (v. 20) the believer’s conscience attempts to condemn him on account of sin.

5 tn Both ἔμπροσθεν (emprosqen) in 3:19 and ἐνώπιον (enwpion) in 3:22 are improper prepositions and both express the meaning “before” in the sense of “in the presence of.” (1) Some interpreters have tried to see a subtle distinction in meaning between the two in 3:19 and 22, but (2) as BDF §214.6 points out, ἔμπροσθεν and ἐνώπιον, along with a third classical expression ἐναντίον (enantion), all refer to being in someone’s presence and are essentially interchangeable. There can be little doubt that once more the author’s fondness for stylistic variation in terminology is at work here.

6 tn The first ὅτι (Joti) in 3:20 may be understood either (1) as causal, “because if our heart condemns us,” or (2) as epexegetical (explanatory), “that if our heart condemns us.” There are two other instances of the combination ὅτι ἐάν (Joti ean) in 1 John, 3:2 and 5:14. In 3:14 the ὅτι clearly introduces an indirect discourse (content) clause following οἴδαμεν (oidamen). In 5:14 the ὅτι is epexegetical to a preceding statement (“and this is the confidence [ἡ παρρησία, Jh parrhsia] which we have before him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”). This is analogous to the present situation, and the subject under discussion (the believer’s confidence before God) is also similar (cf. 3:21-22). It is thus more likely, by analogy, that the first ὅτι clause in 3:20, ὅτι ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία ({oti ean kataginwskh Jhmwn Jh kardia), should also be understood as epexegetical to the preceding clause, ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πείσομεν τὴν καρδίαν (emprosqen autou peisomen thn kardian, “and we convince our heart before him”).

7 tn In Deut 25:1 LXX καταγινώσκω (kataginwskw) means “to condemn” in a context where it is in opposition to δικαιοῦν (dikaioun, “to acquit”). In Job 42:6 LXX (Symmachus) and Ezek 16:61 LXX (Symmachus) it is used of self-judgment or self-condemnation, and this usage is also found in the intertestamental literature (Sir 14:2). Testament of Gad 5:3 describes a person οὐχ ὑπ᾿ ἄλλου καταγινωσκόμενος ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας καρδίας (ouc Jupa[llou kataginwskomeno" allJupo th" idia" kardia", “condemned not by another but by his own heart”). Thus the word has legal or forensic connotations, and in this context refers to the believer’s self-condemnation resulting from a guilty conscience concerning sin.

8 tn The use of two ὅτι (Joti) clauses in close succession is somewhat awkward, but this is nothing new for the author; and indeed he has twice previously used two ὅτι clauses in close proximity in 3:2 and 14. In both those instances the second ὅτι was understood as causal, and (1) some interpreters would do the same here. Unless one understands both of the ὅτι clauses in 3:20 as causal, however (an option rejected based on the analogy with 5:14, see the discussion in the note on “that” at the beginning of the present verse), the first ὅτι clause must be understood as parenthetical in order for the second to be causal. This results in an even more awkward construction. It seems most probable that (2) the second ὅτι clause in 3:20 should also be understood as epexegetical (explanatory), and resumptive to the first. The resultant meaning is as follows: “and we convince our heart before him, that if our heart condemns us, that God is greater than our heart and knows all things.”

9 tn The conjunction καί (kai) which begins 3:22 is epexegetical (explanatory), relating a further implication of the “confidence” (παρρησίαν, parrhsian) which believers have before God when their heart (conscience) does not condemn them. They can ask things of God with the expectation of receiving their requests.

10 tn The ὅτι (Joti) is clearly causal, giving the reason why believers receive what they ask.

11 tn The καί (kai) is epexegetical/explanatory (or perhaps resumptive) of the commandment(s) mentioned in the preceding verse.

12 tn This verse begins with the phrase καὶ αὕτη ἐστίν (kai {auth estin; cf. the similar phrase in 3:11 and 1:5), which is explained by the following ἵνα (Jina) clause, “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” The ἵνα thus introduces a clause which is (1) epexegetical (explanatory) or (2) appositional. By analogy the similar phrase in 3:11 is also followed by an epexegetical ἵνα clause and the phrase in 1:5 by an epexegetical ὅτι (Joti) clause.

sn His commandment refers to what follows – the commandment from God is to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another.

13 sn The author of 1 John repeatedly attributes the commandments given to believers as given by God the Father, even though in John 13:34-35 it was Jesus who gave the commandment to love one another. 2 John 4-5 also attributes the commandment to love one another directly to the Father. Thus it is clear that God the Father is the subject of the verb gave here in 3:23.

14 tn The verb μένω (menw) has been translated “resides” here because this verse refers to the mutual and reciprocal relationship between God and the believer.

sn The verb resides (μένω, menw) here and again in the second clause of 3:24 refers to the permanence of relationship between God and the believer, as also in 2:6; 4:12, 13, 15, and 16 (3x).

15 tn Grk “in him.” In context this is almost certainly a reference to God (note the phrase “his Son Jesus Christ” in 3:23).

16 tn Grk “he.” In context this is almost certainly a reference to God (note the phrase “his Son Jesus Christ” in 3:23).

17 tn Once again there is the (by now familiar) question of whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) refers to what precedes or to what follows. In this case, the following phrase ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος (ek tou pneumato") explains the ἐν τούτῳ phrase, and so it refers to what follows.

18 tn Grk “he.” In context this is almost certainly a reference to God (note the phrase “his Son Jesus Christ” in 3:23).



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