Significance of the Humanity of Christ; 1 John 1:1
We conclude from the historical background related to Cerinthus that there were certain trends in the thought of the Greco-Roman world at that time, especially in Asia-Minor, that influenced the culture at large and were having an impact in the church. One thing that we need to always remember is that the church is always pathetic in their understanding of doctrine, so much so that we (meaning the church as a whole) always tend to mirror or reflect the culture at large. So whatever kinds of thought trends are present in the outside culture we also tend to find those shaping theology in the church. It is a sad but true fact that in most Christian churches today what they teach as Christianity is merely a baptised form of the worldly concepts taught outside of the church rather than based on sound biblical exegesis and study. One reason for that is because what the Bible says usually runs so counter to what we have grown up thinking, what is popular among our culture, that to really trust the Bible as it is puts us in such opposition to the thinking that surrounds us that very few people have the courage to take a stand for the Word of God alone.
The second thing that was going on was an eclecticism. Eclecticism means that various ideas are brought together. They may not be consistent but they are brought together into a new religious system. For example, by the middle of the second century there was a thought form called Gnosticism. It was not fully developed in the first century but ideas that were present by the middle of the second century by 150 were present in the early church. Gnosticism is a blend of certain ideas in Judaism, some ideas in Christianity, ideas in oriental mysticism, dualism, ideas of reincarnationism from Platonism are evident, and these different disparate systems are borrowed from, different ideas are chosen and merged together in a new eclectic system.
Converts from that religious background brought that religious verbiage and that religious understanding into the church and often tried to interpret the Bible in light of their previous religious backgrounds. The result was that is skewed and distorted what was taught in the Scriptures. The most glaring example is the Judaisers who would come into various towns after Paul had been there and teaching that believers had to follow the Mosaic law. The Greeks often were coming out of a mystery religion background where they had worshipped gods through ecstatic involvement and they thought what the Bible said about speaking in tongues was the same thing, and it wasn't. This caused all of the problems with the church at Corinth. So converts would come from various backgrounds and bring their preconceived ideas with them into the church.
There is often a reinterpretation of Christian ideas from unbelievers. We have seen that in our modern day in the fact that Hegel, a 19th century philosopher and idealist, picked up the idea from Christianity that history is going towards an ultimate destination, and he used that to develop his concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis always moving towards an ultimate end. Marx then borrowed from him. That is why Marxism is often called a Christian heritage, because the ultimate ideas of the Marxist view of history is that history is linear and is going somewhere, whereas pagan thought has history as cyclical. So we see that Christian ideas have been picked and chosen and brought over into a pagan reinterpretation.
What was going on in the ancient world in the first century was that there was influence from Platonism and Greek philosophy. In Platonism the highest form of reality is in the realm of ideas. In Platonic thought there would be something like an ideal chair, for example, and there were different instances of chairs in reality, but these are merely shadow reflections of the ultimate reality. What we see in everyday life is simply an expression, a shadowy reflection of ultimate reality. So real significance is in the realm of ideas, which is why this is called a form of idealism, and what is down in the material world is less significant. As things developed matter became associated with things that are second best and in some systems is associated with that which is evil. The realm of the spirit was that which was good. So this creates a dualism between spirit and matter, what is material is evil, what is spirit is good, and that ended up with a concept of God that divorced God so far from actual creation and matter because a good God can have nothing to do with matter. If matter was evil then it would destroy God to come in contact with it. This "God" sent forth various creatures called eons, and it is these creatures that eventually create the earth. This "God" is just an impersonal force and is eventually renamed a demiurge which becomes identified with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. Then an even more shadowy "God" gets pushed further back so that He becomes so out of touch he is just an impersonal force. This reminds us of the slogans in movies like "The force be with you," and we start seeing the modern analogue in the new age movement to ancient Gnosticism. In Platonism God can't be associated with matter.
One particular view that came up in the early church is called Docetism. Docetism comes from the Greek word dokeo [dokew] which means to appear. Docestism taught that Christ's human body was just an illusion; He wasn't true humanity. He didn't have a physical body because if God was to align Himself with real matter then that would destroy God. Their slogan was, "If He suffered He was not God, and if he was God He did not suffer." This was a direct assault on the entire Christian teaching of suffering and the way God uses suffering in the life of the believer to bring them to maturity. Docetism was extremely popular among the Greeks since it rejected a physical body for Christ, and removed the scandal that was in the minds of many Greeks that there was a God who became actual man. So it is a compromise with worldly thinking in order to take away the offence of the incarnation.
Docetism then developed into another type of thinking called Gnosticism. We have to understand the problem of Gnosticism to some degree. But that is not to say that the problem in 1 John was Gnosticism. Gnosticism hasn't really developed yet, but these ideas in an unsophisticated form were present in the culture at the time.
What is Gnosticism?
1. It is difficult to define because it attached itself to various religious groups and absorbed religious ideas from just about everybody. It could take many forms. It primarily merged ideas from Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Platonism and oriental mysticism.
2. Gnosticism did not exist as a full-fledged system until the middle of the second century AD.
3. Gnosticism had two central beliefs. First, there was a belief in dualism. Ultimate reality was comprised of good and evil. We see dualism today in Buddhism and in eastern religions. There was belief in a secret code of knowledge: that somehow if I learned this secret knowledge I will be able to overcome life in the physical plain.
4. Gnostics believed that matter was evil and the spirit is good. Therefore they had a problem explaining how a good God could create an evil world.
5. In Gnosticism there is no necessity for an atonement. It is just a judicial penalty that the human Jesus had to put up with but the spirit of Christ disappeared or left the body before the cross because there is no way that the physical death could be related to the problem of evil.
6. In Gnosticism true knowledge comes through intuition. They just had these intuitive insights into the nature of reality, therefore they knew what truth was. They had this experience with gnosis, whereas in Christianity knowledge comes through the revelation of God that he has spoken into history through mankind, that He has directed men through the Holy Spirit in the process of inspiration so that His will and His Word would be accurately recorded without error in the original documents.
7. Gnosis means knowledge and simply relates to an academic and abstract knowledge which in itself becomes an object of worship. That is why we must always guard against making knowledge of Scripture the end-all of the Christian life. It is not; it is the filling of the Holy Spirit plus the knowledge of doctrine plus the application of doctrine that produces spiritual growth.
8. Gnosticism also has many parallels in modern society. What we see in the ethical system among the Gnostics is that they looked at the life of Jesus as something of a myth, so that in the early church they mythologised the life of Jesus. In some places like Corinth and Colosse they worshiped intermediate spirits, demons and angels. They also tried to demythologise the Scripture just to get the heart of who the real Jesus was and what the secret Gnostic teaching was in the Bible.
9. That has parallels in 19th century religious liberalism. That means that much of modern Christianity has been rendered vulnerable to the mystical insights of new age methodology which has come across especially in the more charismatic wing of Christianity because they claim to be open to the Spirit. But the failure in Pentecostal theology is to make a distinction between the intuitive insights of a Muslin or a Buddhist and their intuitive insights, and if we look at the Word of God when God reveals Himself to man, even if it is subjective, there is always objective verification; it is testable and verifiable. That is why Jesus performed the kind of miracles that he did. He gave sight to a man who was born blind. There were the healings of people who had leprosy. These had constitutional defects they could not have any psychosomatic root or solution.
In the church at Ephesus these false teachers who John says "went out from us but they weren't of us," were those who at one time had found doctrine but they had been seduced by these false teachings that were present in the culture. Now they were no longer "of us" and there is a breech in fellowship between "us" and them. He is saying in his essential message that this breech in fellowship with these false teachers and those who follow them is a breech based on false doctrine. Because they believe something other than what was revealed to the apostles they are not in fellowship with the apostles and consequently were not in fellowship with God because they are teaching false teaching. Therefore, fellowship is based not just on right behaviour but on right belief and right behaviour. It is on correct thinking and correct action. So the spiritual life, therefore, begins with what we believe and how we think, not just on how we act. So John is saying that by rejecting the two biblical doctrines about Christ these false teachers had cut themselves off from fellowship with the apostles and cut themselves off from fellowship with God. So the issue is going to be the person and work of Jesus Christ but he is going to approach it from the format of the apostolic message.
1 John 1:1 NASB "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—" This shouldn't be translated "Word of life," capital W, it should be translated "the message related to life." Remember, in John's Gospel Jesus said, "I came to give life and to give life abundantly." Giving of life phase one is eternal life. At the cross when we put our faith alone in Christ alone we are given eternal life. Secondly, Jesus said, "I came to give it abundantly." This is the Christian life, phase two. He is giving two things. What John is going to explain in 1 John is the second category, not how to enter into a relationship with God and have eternal life but how to have that abundant life; and it is based on a full understanding of the apostolic message. In verse 3 John is saying that having fellowship with the apostles is the same as having fellowship with God, and if you don't "have fellowship with us" you don't have fellowship with God. If you don't agree with our doctrine which we got from God you can't agree with God's doctrine. If you don't agree with God's doctrine then you are out of fellowship with God. Fellowship ultimately is not just based on right behaviour but on right and correct belief, belief that agrees with the apostolic body of truth. Then he says, v. 4, "These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." Ultimately the purpose is to reach that apex of Christian maturity where we have the inner happiness of Christ where He said, "My joy I give to you."
These first three verses is one of the most complex Greek constructions in the New Testament. John begins this letter without a salutation or formal address. That is a clue. It is unlikely that this was originally written as a letter but like James and like Hebrews it was a message, a sermon. He originally taught this and then he reduced it to writing so that it could be spread out among different churches.
Look at the end of verse 1, "concerning the Word of Life." Word of life is a message—logos [logoj] here is not a reference back to Jesus—and here it should be translated "the message of life." Notice in verse 2 he doesn't come back to talk about the logos, he is explaining life. That tells us that the emphasis in the phrase "word of life" is not on the logos, the title of Christ that he used in John chapter one, but he is talking about the word of life. "…and the life was manifested." So verse 2 helps us to interpret verse 1. But when he says "concerning the word of life" that is message of life, and you don't see a message and you don't behold a message, you don't handle a message. So when we get to the preposition peri [peri] in the Greek, "concerning the word of life," it doesn't modify the relative clauses "what we have seen, what we beheld with our eyes, what we have handled," it is going to modify the main verb. For that reason we say that "concerning the word of life" is our first digression, and then John has to explain what he means by the phrase "word of life," and that is the purpose of verse 2. So first we have to get a grasp of what this lengthy, complex sentence actually says.
The best way to do it is to take out verse 2 to see the flow of thought. Verse 2 is a parenthesis, it is merely there to explain and to help us to interpret the meaning. He starts off, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life… we proclaim to you also that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." That catches the main thrust of this opening sentence. The main clause is "we proclaim to you." The main verb is "proclaim." Everything else in this whole sentence modifies the verb. That tells us that we ought to look for something in the accusative case that will define the object of the proclamation. In Greek, as in English, the accusative case indicates the object of the verb. So we should look for the object to define the content of the proclamation. That is what John is emphasising here, the content of the proclamation: the fellowship is not based simply on right behaviour, it is based on a correct understanding of the content, i.e. right thinking and doctrine. In other words, he is saying that wrong doctrine destroys fellowship. Wrong doctrine is doctrine that is not in agreement with what the apostles taught. The apostles taught a body of doctrine that was revealed to them under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and taught to them by Jesus Christ during the three years that they were associated with Him in His public ministry. Therefore to break fellowship with their doctrine is the same as breaking fellowship with God's doctrine. So to break fellowship with them is tantamount to breaking fellowship with God.
John is writing so that we can have fellowship. There is a certain amount of disagreement about the meaning of fellowship. It comes from the Greek word koinonia [koinwnia] which means to share in something, to take part in something, to have something in common, to impart something, or to have rapport between people. A crucial question: Does this signify having a part in salvation and sharing in the suffering of Christ on the cross—like Romans 6:1-6—which then would make fellowship equivalent to salvation, or is fellowship here talking about our day-to-day relationship with God? If we look at 1 John 2:12-14 we will discover the answer NASB "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." This is not a description of unbelievers. He is writing to believers, those who are already saved. Obviously fellowship here is not talking about entering into a relationship with God but it is enjoying the benefits of that relationship. So it is the ongoing relationship of the believer with the Father in time.
In verse one wee see are some clauses: what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld, our hands handled. Those clauses all start off in the Greek with a particle followed by a first person plural verb. The subject is in the form of the verb and the subject is "we." The first clause is different; it is parallel though. It starts of with ho [o(], and then it has an imperfect third person singular verb from eimi [e)imi] meaning to be: "What was from the beginning." The difficult thing in understanding this in the Greek is that the particle is the same in different constructions. It can be a definite article that relates to a nominative (the subject of rhe verb) masculine singular noun, or it can be a relative pronoun in the accusative case. A lot of people have made the mistake over the years of interpreting that first ho as referring to the person of Jesus Christ. It doesn't relate to the person of Jesus Christ for the following reason. It is part of a parallel structure of five relative pronouns developed in verse 1 and repeated in verse 3. Those cannot be definite articles because it would be a third person singular definite article and in the other four clauses there is a plural verb, and you can't have a singular subject with a plural verb. The subject must agree in number with the verb. Therefore the only solution is that all of these are definite articles. Furthermore, when we understand that the main verb is "we proclaim" in verse 3 then we have to look for the direct object and the direct object is verse one. It is a complicated sentence. What John is giving us is the object of the verb in verse one and we don't even know what the verb is until we get to verse three, and we also need to know what he is explaining. What are we proclaiming? "Concerning the word of life."
To restructure this so that it makes a little more sense in the English. We are talking about the word of life, the message related to the abundant life. That is really the subject, so if we are going to paraphrase this, it starts off: "Concerning the word of life, what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled (then the parenthesis of v. 2) … what we have seen and what we heard we proclaim to you…" It is really saying, "Concerning the word of life which we proclaim to you." Then it is going to tell us important facets about what this message of life is: that this is not something that is merely spiritual, but this message has physical dimensions to it because it is not just the upper level abstract gnosis knowledge but it affects everything that goes on in the physical dimensions of our life. Because if Christ did not appear physically in the hypostatic union so that he was not only undiminished deity but also true humanity in every sense of the word, then we do not have a precedent for the spiritual life. What he is talking about is not entering into spiritual life, he is talking about developing and living the spiritual life. If Jesus did not appear in true hypostatic union then there is no basis for the spiritual life in the church age, because the precedent for the spiritual life in the church age is not the Mosaic law, it was the hypostatic union. Because Christ, even though he was undiminished deity, was true humanity, and in His humanity relied exclusively on the filling of God, the Holy Spirit to live the spiritual life. That is how He exemplifies for us and sets the pattern for the spiritual life for us in the church age.
John in the first four verses is talking about the message of life, and in the Gospel the message is the man and the man is the message; but what he is talking about here is not the man but the message. But since we can't separate the message from the man John wants us to understand it is the message but he doesn't want us to forget the man, so he uses a lot of double entendres here. John uses words that have two or three meanings. He is emphasising one but he wants the other two to be back-packed along with it into the concept so we don't forget it. That is why he uses phrases in verse one that remind us of John chapter one. When he comes to verse one here he is not talking about a person, these are neuter accusatives, and neuter doesn't refer to the person, it refers to the message. He is not talking about the person. But the message is the man, so don't forget the man because without the man you don't have the message. So he says, "What was from the beginning," but he doesn't use en arche [e)n a)rxh] which is the prepositional phrase he used in John one, he uses ap arche [a)p a)rxh], "from the beginning." It is not the same beginning. He uses ap arche several times in John and it is as non-technical phrase. Sometimes he is talking about the beginning of creation, sometimes about the beginning of the fall of Satan—he was a liar from the beginning. Sometimes it is talking about the beginning of Christ's public ministry, when He began to teach about the Gospel and the spiritual life, and this is what John is talking about: the message that was from the beginning of the incarnation. He is saying that from the first time the Christian message came we witnessed it.
That brings us to another point, the use of the first person plural: what we beheld, what we have seen, etc. Who is he talking about here? Obviously this includes the apostles, but John is using an editorial "we," which means he is really emphasising his own personal witness. This really helps us break apart verses 5-10 because there when he uses the "we" he is admitting the fact that he sins, that he can sin, that there is no secret spiritual life the believer enters into that frees him from sin, and that there is a solution for sin that he uses, just as every other Christian must, and that is 1 John 1:9.
"What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life." He is saying, I had the empirical evidence before me of what this abundant life is like. Jesus Christ demonstrated it in the incarnation and just as it was possible for Him because He did it not in His deity but in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, so that life can be our life if we rely upon it on the basis of the filling of God the Holy Spirit. That is the message of 1 John: what that abundant life is going to look like and how we as believers can advance in that spiritual life.