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1 John 5:4

Context
5:4 because 1  everyone 2  who has been fathered by God 3  conquers 4  the world. 5 

Testimony About the Son

This 6  is the conquering power 7  that has conquered 8  the world: our faith.

1 John 5:18

Context

5:18 We know that everyone fathered 9  by God does not sin, but God 10  protects 11  the one he has fathered, and the evil one cannot touch him.

1 tn The explicit reason the commandments of God are not burdensome to the believer is given by the ὅτι (Joti) clause at the beginning of 5:4. It is because “everyone who is begotten by God conquers the world.”

2 tn The masculine might have been expected here rather than the neuter πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (pan to gegennhmenon ek tou qeou) to refer to the person who is fathered by God. However, BDF §138.1 explains that “the neuter is sometimes used with respect to persons if it is not the individuals but a generic quality that is to be emphasized”; this seems to be the case here, where a collective aspect is in view: As a group, all those who have been begotten by God, that is, all true believers, overcome the world.

3 sn The author is once more looking at the situation antithetically (in ‘either/or’ terms) as he sees the readers on the one hand as true believers (everyone who is fathered by God) who have overcome the world through their faith, and the opponents on the other as those who have claimed to have a relationship with God but really do not; they belong to the world in spite of their claims.

4 tn Or “overcomes.”

5 sn Conquers the world. Once again, the author’s language is far from clear at this point, and so is his meaning, but the author has used the verb conquers (νικάω, nikaw) previously to describe the believer’s victory over the enemy, the evil one himself, in 2:13-14, and over the secessionist opponents, described as “false prophets” in 4:4. This suggests that what the author has in mind here is a victory over the opponents, who now belong to the world and speak its language (cf. 4:5). In the face of the opponents’ attempts through their false teaching to confuse the readers (true believers) about who it is they are supposed to love, the author assures the readers that loving God and keeping his commandments assures us that we really do love God’s children, and because we have already achieved victory over the world through our faith, keeping God’s commandments is not a difficult matter.

6 tn Grk “And this.”

7 tn The standard English translation for ἡ νίκη (Jh nikh) is “victory” (BDAG 673 s.v.) but this does not preserve the relationship with the cognate verb νικάω (nikaw; used in 2:13,14 and present in this context in participial form in 5:4b and 5:5). One alternative would be “conquest,” although R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 570) suggests “conquering power” as a translation for ἡ νίκη since here it is a metonymy for the means of victory or the power that gives victory, referring to believers’ faith.

8 tn The use of the aorist participle (ἡ νικήσασα, Jh nikhsasa) to refer to faith as the conquering power that “has conquered the world” in 5:4b is problematic. Debate here centers over the temporal value of the aorist participle: (1) It may indicate an action contemporaneous with the (present tense) main verb, in which case the alternation between aorist participle in 5:4b and present participle in 5:5 is one more example of the author’s love of stylistic variation with no difference in meaning. (2) Nevertheless, an aorist participle with a present tense main verb would normally indicate an action antecedent to that of the main verb, so that the aorist participle would describe a past action. That is the most probable here. Thus the aorist participle stresses that the conquest of the world is something that has already been accomplished.

9 tn The concept represented by the verb γεννάω (gennaw) here means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The imagery in 1 John is that of the male parent who fathers children (see 2:29).

10 tn Grk “he”; see the note on the following word “protects.”

11 tn The meaning of the phrase ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ αὐτόν (Jo gennhqeis ek tou qeou threi auton) in 5:18 is extraordinarily difficult. Again the author’s capacity for making obscure statements results in several possible meanings for this phrase: (1) “The fathering by God protects him [the Christian].” Here a textual variant for ὁ γεννηθείς (ἡ γέννησις, Jh gennhsi") has suggested to some that the passive participle should be understood as a noun (“fathering” or perhaps “birth”), but the ms evidence is extremely slight (1505 1852 2138 latt [syh] bo). This almost certainly represents a scribal attempt to clarify an obscure phrase. (2) “The One fathered by God [Jesus] protects him [the Christian].” This is a popular interpretation, and is certainly possible grammatically. Yet the introduction of a reference to Jesus in this context is sudden; to be unambiguous the author could have mentioned the “Son of God” here, or used the pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) as a reference to Jesus as he consistently does elsewhere in 1 John. This interpretation, while possible, seems in context highly unlikely. (3) “The one fathered by God [the Christian] protects himself.” Again a textual problem is behind this alternative, since a number of mss (א Ac P Ψ 33 1739 Ï) supply the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτόν (Jeauton) in place of αὐτόν in 5:18. On the basis of the external evidence this has a good possibility of being the original reading, but internal evidence favors αὐτόν as the more difficult reading, since ἑαυτόν may be explained as a scribal attempt at grammatical smoothness. From a logical standpoint, however, it is difficult to make much more sense out of ἑαυτόν; to say what “the Christian protects himself” means in the context is far from clear. (4) “The one fathered by God [the Christian] holds on to him [God].” This results in further awkwardness, because the third person pronoun (αὐτοῦ, autou) in the following clause must refer to the Christian, not God. Furthermore, although τηρέω (threw) can mean “hold on to” (BDAG 1002 s.v. 2.c), this is not a common meaning for the verb in Johannine usage, occurring elsewhere only in Rev 3:3. (5) “The one fathered by God [the Christian], he [God] protects him [the Christian].” This involves a pendant nominative construction (ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ) where a description of something within the clause is placed in the nominative case and moved forward ahead of the clause for emphatic reasons. This may be influenced by Semitic style; such a construction is also present in John 17:2 (“in order that everyone whom You have given to him, he may give to them eternal life”). This view is defended by K. Beyer (Semitische Syntax im Neuen Testament [SUNT], 1:216ff.) and appears to be the most probable in terms both of syntax and of sense. It makes God the protector of the Christian (rather than the Christian himself), which fits the context much better, and there is precedent in Johannine literature for such syntactical structure.



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