Oh man, here we go again. This is reminiscent of the gospel of John – we’re back to The Word, and the Light of the World, and stuff like that. (The gospel and these 3 epistles might have been written by the same author, but that’s not certain. But whoever the author(s) was, it was definitely not Jesus’ disciple John.)
It’s only a short chapter, and it’s mostly just platitudes, but the author talks in circles, like that “Who’s on first, What’s on second” skit. Makes my brain hurt trying to follow the guy’s train of thought. (And I hardly even care at this point – we’re so close to finishing this horrible book!) Like seriously, v 5-7 go in circles about dark and light – so are we living in dark or light, and what does that have to do with blood washing away sin?
Likewise, v 8-10 talk about sin. V 8-9 make some sense, but I cannot figure out the premise in v 10 “If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar…”. Why does claiming we have not sinned make god a liar?
V 1-2 “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” I listened to the priest recite this passage every Sunday for 30 years, as part of the Holy Communion service in the Book of Common Prayer. Not once during those 30 years did I bother to look up the meaning of the word ‘propitiation’. But I did now – it means to appease a deity in order to seek divine favor or avoid divine retribution. The meaning becomes more clear in a modern translation “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father”.
V 7-11 appear to be well-intended and positive advice advocating that Christians should love and care for one another. So I’ll give the author credit for that, even though the words are heavily steeped in Christianese, talking about light and dark again. (And what about non-believers? I bet they are not included.) V 12-14 continue with the Christian platitudes, but in poetry form this time.
V 15-17 are not just downright nasty – they are harmful. Harmful to the environment, harmful to our fellow creatures on this planet, harmful to our emotional well-being. Here’s the message I get – Don’t care about the world; it’s ending soon anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Physical pleasure and pride in achievement are bad because they’re worldly. So enjoying life and taking care of our planet doesn’t matter. No wonder US Republicans are so f*cked up!
The term ‘Anti-Christ’ appears only 5 times in the bible; all 5 are in the letters of John, and 3 of those are in this next passage (v 18-27). It’s not a familiar concept to me at all. Wikipedia says
“In some Christian belief systems, Jesus the Messiah will appear in his Second Coming to Earth to face the emergence of the Antichrist figure, who will be the greatest false messiah in Christianity. Just as Christ is the savior and the ideal model for humanity, his opponent in the end time will be a single figure of concentrated evil…”.
OK then! From reading v 18, it appears that Anti-Christ is just a term “John” has coined for all the false messiahs floating around Judea at that time (it was common). So really, no big deal. (Says someone who wasn’t raised to believe in this crap.) John is sure that the presence of so many false messiahs is an indication of end-times. Well guess what – he was wrong. And he’s sure that the apostates who left the church were never true believers anyway, or they wouldn’t have left (that’s the No True Scotsman argument). And then we come to the real intolerance – anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as the messiah is an anti-Christ. (v 22) Religion – the source of so much conflict and hatred in the world. The rest of the chapter is just the usual Christianese.
V 1-3 sound like a quote from a lesson on Sermons 101 zzzz. And with v 4-10 we’re back to the question of whether or not Christians sin. It sounds like the ‘Whose on first, What’s on second’ skit all over again. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it in chapter 1, and I can’t again now. So I’m movin’ on.
V 11-24 are subtitled (in my edition) ‘love one another’, so I thought they would be an improvement. But no, right off they digress into a critique of Cain and Abel – “We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous.” (NLT) I take exception to that – what did Cain do that was evil? There is nothing about that in the Genesis 4; only that Cain was a farmer while Abel was a shepherd. And that Yahweh preferred Abel’s offering to Cain’s. Well tough for Yahweh! Someone’s gotta grow crops, and farmers are not evil!
It does get better in v 14-19 with the admonition to love one another; but even so, the wording in the translations I’m reading doesn’t make clear whether this applies to only fellow believers, or to everyone. However, I see a footnote in the NIV that says in v 13 and 16, “the Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family”. So I’d say the advice applies to believers only. Figures. And the implied motivation is to gain favor with god and eternal life, rather than simply to be good for goodness’ sake. So even what sounds promising, doesn’t turn out to really be good on evaluation.
If you’re ever looking for a verse that’s demonstrably flat-out wrong, 1 John 3:22 is the one. Bookmark it. And it’s psychologically harmful, too. Many a devout Christian has been made to feel guilty because if they pray and don’t receive what they ask for, they are told that they must have somehow sinned and it’s their fault.
V 1-3 presume to tell me that I should test prophets to see if what they preach is true or not. And the way to tell is that if they believe in Jesus, they are true; if not, they are the Anti-Christ (false and evil). Well, that’s scientific!
The rest of the chapter is a cute little oration that I would title ‘god is love’. It sounds warm and fuzzy, and it even gets a thumbs-up from the SAB. So I guess I’m the party-pooper – maybe I’m must too tired of this &*^%$ book, but I don’t see what’s so great about it. Reading between the lines, this is what I see – god is love, and love comes from god. Therefore, you can only love properly if you believe in god. (v 7-8) If we love each other, god lives in us (v 12 and 16). That’s just creepy. If we live like Jesus, then we can face god with confidence on Judgement Day – ie, god is love, but if you screw up, you’re still going to hell. (v 17) V 10 is familiar; I know I’ve heard that read in church. Of course; it’s a perfect passage to cherry-pick.
V 1-6 are just blah blah blah, and then we get to v 7 and WOW – a whole can of worms just opened up. A controversy around something called the Johannine Comma. Never heard of it before – but it’s pretty important, because it’s about the doctrine of the Trinity – another core Belief of Christianity.
18. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three consubstantial persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit; “one God in three persons”. The three persons are distinct, yet are one substance.
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – a pretty familiar concept to most of us. It’s in the lyrics to American Pie, for heaven’s sake!
So here, in the KJV, are the words that are disputed:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” (v 7-8)
And here’s the NLT
“So we have these three witnesses— the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree” (v 7-8; NIV is similar).
See what’s left out? The part about the Father, ‘Word’, and Holy Ghost.
The reason that modern translations leave that part out is because it wasn’t found in the early Greek manuscripts, so it’s not original. A footnote to the NLT at v 7 says “a few very late manuscripts add…” and then the missing phrase. And a footnote to the NIV says “late manuscripts of the Vulgate add [the missing phrase]”, and then “(not found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century)”.
Wikipedia has a page a mile long on the Johannine Comma – my eyes glazed over just looking at it. It lists the names of every bible scholar who believes that the disputed passage is
- authentic and that’s its omission from early manuscripts was an error,
- an error, like a margin note that was accidentally transcribed into later manuscripts, or
- a deliberate forgery; and the rationale for each argument.
If you want to read all that and judge for yourself, go right ahead. For me it’s enough to know that the whole concept of the Trinity is probably a fabrication. Hahaha.
The rest of the chapter is just more blah blah blah Christianese not even worth the bother.