International Standard Bible EncyclopediaJOHANNINE THEOLOGY
I. THE ANTECEDENTS
1. Personality of Writer
2. Earlier New Testament Writings
3. Christian Experience and Teaching of History
4. Widening Contact with Gentile World
5. The Odes of Solomon
6. Antagonism to Gnostic Speculation
II. THE DIVINE NATURE
1. God Is Spirit
2. God Is Life
3. God Is Light
4. Ethical Attributes
God Is Righteous
5. God Is Love
(1) The Love of God
(a) Primarily a Disposition
(b) Embodied in Christ's Self-Sacrifice
(c) Love in Redemption
(2) Love Is God's Nature
III. THE INCARNATION
1. Historical Antecedents of the Logos-Doctrine
2. The Logos-Doctrine in John
3. The Incarnation as Delineated in the Fourth Gospel
4. The Incarnation in the First Epistle
5. Practical Implications of the Incarnation
IV. THE HOLY SPIRIT
1. The Work of the Spirit-in the Fourth Gospel
Perpetuates, but also Intensifies the Consciousness of Christ
2. In the First Epistle
(1) A Divine Teacher
(2) Other Aspects
3. The Person of the Spirit
His Deity Implied
V. DOCTRINE OF SIN AND PROPITIATION
(1) In the Gospel
(2) In the Epistle
(3) One with New Testament Teaching
VI. ETERNAL LIFE
1. Ethical Rather than Eschatological
2. Metaphysical Aspect
Reply to Criticism
3. Development of Doctrine
(1) Source in God
(2) Mediated by Christ
(3) Through the Spirit
(4) The Divine "Begetting"
(5) The "Children of God"
(6) The Divine Abiding
VII. HUMAN NATURE AND ITS REGENERATION
1. The World
2. Two Classes in the Human Race
VIII. THE CHURCH AND SACRAMENTS
1. The Church
2. The Sacraments
(2) The Lord's Supper
1. Type of Thought Idealistic
2. Yet History Not Ignored
3. Nor Eschatology
4. Eschatological Ideas
(1) Eternal Life
(5) The Parousia
(a) A "Manifestation"
(b) Relation to Believers
The materials for the following sketch of the Johannine theology are necessarily drawn from the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles, chiefly the First Epistle, of John. The question of authorship is not here considered (see articles on the GOSPEL and on the JOHN, THE EPISTLES OF). These writings, whether by the same or by different authors, are equally saturated with that spiritual and theological atmosphere, equally characterized by that type of thought which we call Johannine, and which presents an interpretation of Christianity scarcely less distinctive and original than Paulinism. Where there are differences in the point of view, these will be indicated.
I. The Antecedents.
1. Personality of Writer:
To attempt a full account of the historical sources and antecedents of the Johannine theology is beyond the scope of the present article; but they may be briefly indicated. Much must be attributed to the personality of the great anonymous writer to whom we directly owe this latest development of New Testament thought. Only a thinker of first rank among the idealists and mystics, a mind of the Platonic order, moving instinctively in the world of supersensuous realities, absorbed in the passion for the infinite, possessing in a superlative degree the gift of spiritual intuition, could under any conditions have evolved a system of thought having the special characteristics of this theology.
2. Earlier New Testament Writings:
Yet with all his originality the builder has raised his structure upon the foundation already laid in the teaching represented by the earlier New Testament writings. The synoptic tradition, though freshly interpreted, is presupposed. At certain points there is a strong affinity with the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the main, however, the Johannine doctrine may be said to be a natural and inevitable development of Paulinism-the conclusion to which the earlier writer's mind is visibly moving in e.g. the Epistle to the Colossians.
3. Christian Experience and Teaching of History:
Among the influences which have stimulated and guided this development, the first place belongs to the natural growth of Christian experience and the teaching of history. In the closing decades of the 1st century, Christianity was compelled by the force of events to liberate itself more completely from the husk of Jewish Messianism in which its Divine seed had first been deposited. The faith of the first Christian generation in the Messiahship of Jesus and the triumph of His cause had expressed itself (necessarily so, under the historical conditions) in vivid expectation of His Second Coming. He was only waiting behind the clouds, and would speedily return to the earth for the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). But after the fall of Jerusalem this primitive apocalypticism became, with the passing years, more and more discredited; and the Christian faith had either to interpret itself afresh, both to its own consciousness and to the world, or confess itself "such stuff as dreams are made of." It would be difficult to overestimate the service which the Johannine theology must have rendered in this hazardous transition by transferring the emphasis of Christian faith from the apocalyptic to 'the spiritual, and leading the church to a profounder realization of its essential and inalienable resources in the new spiritual life it possessed through the ever-living Christ. Eternal life was not merely a future felicity, but a present possession; the most real coming of Christ, His coming in the Spirit. The Kingdom of God is here: the eternal is now. Such was the great message of John to his age, and to all ages.
4. Widening Contact with Gentile World:
In another direction, the widening contact of Christianity with the Gentileworld had stimulated the development of doctrine. A disentanglement from Jewish nationalism, more complete than even Paul had accomplished, had become a necessity. If Christianity was to find a home and a sphere of conquest in the Greek-Roman world-to recreate European thought and civilization-the person of Christ must be interpreted as having a vastly larger significance than that of the Jewish Messiah. That this necessity hastened the process of thought which reached its goal in the Loges-doctrine of John cannot well be doubted. The way had so far been prepared by Philo and the Jewish-Alexandrian school. And while it is probably mere coincidence that Ephesus, with which the activity of John's later years is associated by universal tradition, was also the city of Heraclitus, who, 500 years earlier, had used the term Logos to express the idea of an eternal and universal Reason, immanent in the world, there is as little room as there can be motive for questioning that in the Johannine theology Christian thought has been influenced and fertilized at certain points by contact with Hellenism.
5. The Odes of Solomon:
On the other hand it is possible that this influence has been overrated. Fresh material for the investigation of the sources and connections of the Johannine theology is furnished by the recent discovery of the Odes of Solomon (J. Rendel Harris, M.A., Odes and Psalms of Solomon, Cambridge, 1909; AdoIf Harnack, Ein judisch-christliches Psalmbuch aus dem ersten Jahrhundert, Leipzig, 1910). This collection of religious poems is regarded by its discoverer, Rendel Harris, as the work of a writer who, while not a Jew, was a member of a community of Christians who were for the most part of Jewish extraction and beliefs. But though the Odes in their present form contain distinctly Christian elements (references, e.g. to the Son, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the Passion, the Descensus ad inferos), Harnack's closer analysis tends to the conclusion that in their original form they were purely Jewish, and that they have been adapted to Christian use by a process of interpolation. For the original work Harnack gives as a possible date the beginning of the Christian era, the Christian redaction falling within the 1st century. Harnack recognizes a possibility that the redactor may have been acquainted with the Fourth Gospel. The religious feeling of the writer is throughout individual and mystical, rather than nationalistic and Messianic. The characteristic atmosphere is strongly Johannine (we may quote in, illustration only the noble sentence from the 12th ode: "The dwelling-place of the Word is man; and its truth is Love"). The Odes have, in common with the Johannine writings, such leading conceptions as "grace," "believing," "knowledge," "truth," "light," "living water," "life" (for a full exhibition of the parallelisms, see article by R.H. Strachan, The Expository Times, October, 1910). Harnack asserts deliberately (p. 99) that in the Odes we possess "the presuppositions of the Johannine theology, apart from the historical Jesus Christ, and without any Messianic doctrine." More recent criticism of the Odes, however, has resulted in great diversity of view regarding their origin. They have been assigned to Gnosticism, and on the contrary to Montanism; and again are described (Bernard) as Christian baptismal hymns. In view of this division of critical opinion, all that can be said in the meantime is that the Odes testify to a collateral mystical development, the recognition of which necessitates a revision of the estimates which have been made regarding the extent to which the Johannine theology is indebted to Hellenistic philosophy.
6. Antagonism to Gnostic Speculation:
One other factor in this theological development remains to be mentioned-antagonism to Gnostic speculation. In the Gospel this has left not a few traces, in the way both of statement and omission; in the 1st Epistle scarcely any other danger to the faith and life of the church is apprehended than the spreading influence of Gnostic tenets (see JOHN, THE EPISTLES OF). John himself has been charged with Gnostic tendencies; but the truth rather is that to him Gnosticism must have been the more hateful and have seemed the more dangerous because its conceptions were at some points the caricature of his own. In it he saw the real Antichrist, the "spirit of error," giving fatally misleading solutions of those problems which the human mind can never leave alone, but regarding which the one true light is the historic Christ. Gnosticism had lost all historical sense, all touch with reality. It moved in a world of sheer mythology and speculation; history became allegory; the incarnate Christ a phantasm. John took his stand only the more firmly upon historical fact, insisted the more strenuously upon the verified physical reality of the Incarnation. In many of its adherents Gnosticism had lost almost completely the moral sense; John the more vehemently asserts the inviolable moral purity of the Divine nature and of the regenerate life which is derived from it. Gnostic dualism had set God infinitely far from men as transcendent Being; John brings God infinitely near to men as Love; and sweeps away the whole complicated mythology of Gnostic emanations, eons and archons, by his doctrine of the Logos, coeternal and coequal with the Father, incarnate in Jesus, through whom humanity is made to participate in the very life of God-the life of all love, purity and truth.
II. The Divine Nature.
1. God Is Spirit:
One of the glories of the Johannine theology is its doctrine of God, its delineation of the Divine nature. This is given in a series of intuitional affirmations which, though the manner of statement indicates no attempt at correlation, unite to form a complete organic conception. The first of these affirmations defines what is the Divine order of being: God is Spirit (John 4:24). The central significance of this inexhaustible saying is defined by the context. The old local worships, whether at Jerusalem or Samaria, had implied some special local mode of Divine presence; and this naturally suggested, if it did not necessitate, the idea of some kind of materiality in the Divine nature. But God is spirit; and true worship must be an intercourse of spirit with spirit, having relation to no local or material, but only to moral conditions. Thus the concept of the Divine spirituality is both moral and metaphysical. The religious relation to God, as it exists for Christian faith, rests upon the fact that the Supreme Being is essentially moral, but also omnipresent and omniscient-the Divine Spirit whose will and percipiency act immediately and simultaneously at every point of existence. Such a Being we utterly lack the power to comprehend. But only such a Being can be God, can satisfy our religious need-a Being of whom we are assured that nothing that is in us, good or evil, true or false, and nothing that concerns us, past, present or future, is hid from His immediate vision or barred against the all-pervading operation of His will. To realize that God is such a Being is to be assured that He can be worshipped with no mechanical ritual or formal observance: they that worship Him must worship Him "in spirit and in truth."
2. God Is Life:
God, who is spirit, is further conceived as Life, Light, Righteousness and Love. Righteousness and Love are the primary ethical quailties of the Divine nature; Life the energy by which they act; Light the self-revelation in which they are manifested throughout the spiritual universe. God is Life. He is the ultimate eternal Reality. He was "in the beginning" (John 1:1), or "from the beginning" (1 John 1:1; 1 John 2:13). These statements are made of the Logos, therefore a fortiori of God. But the Divine nature is not mere abstract being, infinite and eternal; it is being filled with that inscrutable elemental energy which we call Life. In God this energy of life is self-originating and self-sustaining ("The Father hath life in himself," John 5:26), and is the source of all life (John 1:3, 4, the Revised Version (British and American) margin). For every finite being life is union with God according to its capacity.
But the lower potencies of the creative Life do not come within the scope of the Johannine theology. The term is restricted in usage to its highest ethical significance, as denoting that life of perfect, holy love which is "the eternal life," the possession of which in fellowship with God is the chief end for which every spiritual nature exists. The elements present in the conception of the Divine life are these:
(1) The ethical: the life God lives is one of absolute righteousness (1 John 2:29), and perfect love (1 John 4:9).
(2) The metaphysical: the Divine life is nothing else than the Divine nature itself regarded dynamically, as the ground and source of all its own activities, the animating principle or energy which makes Divine righteousness and love to be not mere abstractions but active realities.
(3) In Johannine thought the Divine life is especially an energy of self-reproduction. It is this by inherent moral necessity. Love cannot but seek to beget love, and righteousness to beget righteousness, in all beings capable of them. With John this generative activity of the Divine nature holds a place of unique prominence. It is this that constitutes the Fatherhood of God. Eternally the Father imparts Himself to the Son (John 5:26), the Word whose life from the beginning consisted in His relation to the Father (1 John 1:2). To men eternal life is communicated as the result of a Divine begetting (John 1:13; John 3:5 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7, etc.) by which they become "children of God" (John 1:12 1 John 3:1, etc.).
(4) But God is not only the transcendent final source, He is also the immanent source of life. This is clearly implied in all those passages, too numerous to be quoted, which speak of God's abiding in us and our abiding in Him. Life is maintained only through a continuous vitalizing union with Him, as of the branches with the vine (John 5:1-6). It must be observed, however, that John nowhere merges the idea of God in that of life. God is personal; life is impersonal. The eternal life is the element common to the personality of God, of the Loges, and of those who are the "children of God." Any pantheistic manner of thinking is as foreign to John as to every other Biblical writer.
3. God Is Light:
God is not life only; He is light also (1 John 1:5). That God is life means that He is and is self-imparting; that He is light means that the Divine nature is by inward necessity self-revealing.
(1) As the essential property of light is to shine, so God by His very nature of righteousness and love is necessitated to reveal Himself as being what He is, so as to become the Truth (he aletheia), the object of spiritual perception (ginoskein), and the source of spiritual illumination to every being capable of receiving the revelation. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." In God there is nothing that hides, nothing that is hidden. The Divine character is utterly transparent-goodness without a shadow of evil.
(2) This self-revelation of God is given in its perfect form in Jesus, the incarnate Word, who is the light of men (John 1:4), the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5), the true light (John 1:9 1 John 2:8).
(3) It is in their illumination by this Divine light that there exists, even for the sinful, a medium of moral fellowship with God. We can "come to the light" (John 3:19-21) and "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7). In the translucent atmosphere of the true light, we, even while morally imperfect and impure, may come to have a common view of spiritual facts with God (1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 2:9, 10). This is the basis of a spiritual religion, and distinguishes Christianity from all irrational superstitions and unethical ritualisms.
4. Ethical Attributes:
In Gnostic speculation the Divine nature was conceived as the ultimate spiritual essence, in eternal separation from all that is material and mutable. But while John also, as we have seen, conceives it in this way, with him the conception is primarily and intensely ethical. The Divine nature, the communication of which is life and the revelation of which is light, has, as its two great attributes, Righteousness and Love; and with his whole soul John labors to stamp on the minds of men that only in righteousness and love can they walk in the light and have fellowship in the life of God. It is characteristic of John's intuitional fashion of thought that there is no effort to correlate these two aspects of the ethical perfection of God; but, broadly, it may be said that they are respectively the negative and the positive. Love is the sum of all that is positively right; righteousness the antithesis of all that is wrong, in character and conduct.
God Is Righteous.
(1) That such righteousness-antagonism to all sin-belongs to, or rather is, the moral nature of God, and that this lies at the basis of Christian ethics is categorically affirmed. "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him" (1 John 2:29). (2) This righteousness which belongs to the inward character of God extends necessarily to all His actions: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). When on the ground of Christ's propitiation God forgives those who by confessing their sins make forgiveness possible, He acts righteously; and because He acts righteously, He acts also faithfully, that is, self-consistently. He does not "deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:13), but does what is in accordance with His own unchangeable character. (3) God's righteousness is related imperatively to the whole moral activity of His creatures, rendering sin inadmissible in them-inadmissible de jure in all, de facto in all who are "begotten of him." This John maintains with unexampled vigor (compare 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:6, 8-10; 5:18). It is true, however, that in its doctrine of Divine righteousness the Johannine theology makes no notable contribution to the sum of New Testament thought, but simply restates in peculiarly forceful fashion the conception of it which pervades the whole Biblical revelation.
5. God Is Love:
(1) The Love of God.
It is far otherwise with the next of the great affirmations which constitute its doctrine of God: God is Love. Here Gospel and Epistle rise to the summit of all revelation, and for the first time clearly and fully enunciate that truth which is the innermost secret of existence.
(a) Primarily a Disposition:
Love is primarily a disposition, a moral quality of the will. What this quality is is indicated by the fact that the typical object of love in human relation is invariably our "brother." It is the disposition to act toward others as it is natural for those to do who have all interests in common and who realize that the full self-existence of each can be attained only in a larger corporate existence. It is the mysterious power by which egoism and altruism meet and coalesce, the power to live not only for another but in another, to realize one's own fullest life in the fulfillment of other lives. It is self-communication which is also self-assertion.
(b) Embodied in Christ's Self-Sacrifice:
In history love has its one perfect embodiment in the self-sacrifice of Christ. "Hereby know we love (i.e. perceive what love is), because he laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). The world had never been without love; but till Jesus Christ came and laid down His life for the men that hated and mocked and slew him, it had not known what love in its greatness and purity could be.
(c) Love in Redemption:
But here history is the invisible translated into the visible. The self-sacrifice of Christ in laying down His life for us is the manifestation (1 John 4:9), under the conditions of time and sense, of the love of God, eternal and invisible. In the closely related parallel passages (John 3:16 1 John 4:9, 10) this is declared with matchless simplicity of statement. The Divine love is manifested in the magnitude of its gift-"his Son, his only begotten" (elsewhere the title is only "the Son" or "his Son" or "the Son of God"). Other gifts are only tokens of God's love; in Christ its all is bestowed (compare Romans 8:32 Genesis 22:12). The love of God is manifested further in the purpose of its gift-"that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." It is the self-determination of God, not only to rescue men from what is the sum and finality of all evils, but to impart the supreme and eternal good. But again, the love of God is manifested in the means by which this purpose is achieved. His son is sent as "the propitiation for our sins." God shrinks not from the uttermost cost of redemption; but in the person of His Son humbles Himself and suffers unto blood that He may take upon Himself the load of human guilt and shame. And the last element in the full conception of Divine love is its objects: "God so loved the world"; "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." Its ineffable mystery reveals itself in its absolute spontaneity, its self-origination. Its fires are self-kindled; it shines forth in its purest splendors upon the unattractive and unworthy. Such is the conception John sets before us. In this entirely spontaneous, self-determined devotion of God to sinful men; this Divine passion to rescue them from sin, the supreme evil, and to impart to them eternal life, the supreme good; in this, which is evoked not by their worthiness but by their need, and goes to the uttermost length of sacrifice in bearing the uttermost burden of their sin and its inevitable consequences; in this, which is forever revealed in the mission of Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, is love.
(2) Love Is God's Nature.
And God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
(a) God is love essentially. Love is not one of God's moral attributes, but that from which they all proceed, and in which they all unite. The spring of all His actions is love.
(b) Therefore also His love is universal. In a special sense He loves those who are spiritually His children (John 14:23); but His undivided and essential love is given also to the whole world (John 3:16 1 John 2:2). That is John's great truth. He does not attempt to reconcile with it other apparently conflicting truths in his theological scheme; possibly he was not conscious of any need to do so. But of this he is sure-God is love. That fact must, in ways we cannot yet discern, include all other facts.
(c) The love of God is eternal and unchangeable; for it does not depend on any merit or reciprocation in its object, but overflows from its own infinite fullness. We may refuse to it the inlet into our life which it seeks (John 3:19; John 5:40); we may so identify ourselves with evil as to turn it into an antagonistic force. But as our goodness did not call it forth, neither can our evil cause it to cease.
(d) If love is an essential, the essential attribute of God, it follows that we cannot ultimately conceive of God as a single simple personality. It is at this point that the fuller Johannine conception of multiple personality in the Godhead becomes most helpful, enabling us to think of the Divine life in itself not as an eternal solitude of self-contemplation and self-love, but as a life of fellowship (John 1:1 1 John 1:2). The Godhead is filled with love. "The Father loveth the Son" (John 3:35); and the prayer of the Son for His followers is "that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them" (John 17:26). The eternal giving and receiving of Divine love between the Father and the Son is, in the Johannine theology, an essential element of the Divine nature.
III. The Incarnation.
The 2nd great contribution of the Johannine writings to the development of Christian theology is their doctrine of Christ-the latest and most deliberate effort within New Testament times to relate intellectually the church's faith in Jesus to its faith in God. In these writings the superhuman personality of Jesus is expressed by three titles which are used as practically synonymous-"the Christ," "the Son" ("Son of God," "only begotten Son of God"), the "Word" (Logos). The last alone is distinctively Johannine.
1. Historical Antecedents of the Logos-Doctrine:
Historically, the Logos-doctrine of John has undoubted links of connection with certain speculative developments both of Greek and Hebrew thought. The Heraclitean use of the term "Logos" (see above, I) to express the idea of an eternal and all-embracing Reason immanent in the world was continued, while the conception was further elaborated, by the Stoics. On the other hand, the later developments of Hebrew thought show an increasing tendency to personify the self-revealing activity of God under such conceptions as the Angel, Glory, or Name of Yahweh, to attach a peculiar significance to the "Word" (me'mera') by which He created the heaven and the earth, and to describe "Wisdom" (Job, Proverbs) in something more than a figurative sense as His agent and coworker. These approximations of Greek pantheism and Hebrew monotheism were more verbal than real; and, naturally, Philo's attempt in his doctrine of the Logos to combine philosophies so radically divergent was less successful than it was courageous. How far, and whether directly or indirectly, John is indebted to Philo and his school, are questions to which widely different answers have been given; but some obligation, probably indirect, cannot reasonably be denied. It is evident, indeed, that both the idea and the term "Logos" were current in the Christian circles for which his Gospel and First Epistle were immediately written; in both its familiarity is assumed. Yet the Johannine doctrine has little in common with Philo's except the name; and it is just in its most essential features that it is most original and distinct.
As the Old Testament begins with the affirmation, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," so the Fourth Gospel begins with the similar affirmation, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). The Word was the medium of Divine action in creation (John 1:3).
2. The Logos-Doctrine in John:
In the Word was life, not merely self-existing but self-imparting, so that it became the light of men (John 1:4)-the true light, which, coming into the world, lighteth every man (John 1:9). And finally it is declared that this Divine Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, so that "we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Here faith in Jesus as Divine has been traced back to, and grounded in, a duality within the Godhead itself. In the twofold mode of the Divine existence, it is seen that there is God who is just God (so to say), God in Himself; and there is God-with-God, God who is God's other self, God going forth from Himself in thought and action. The first without the second would be essence without manifestation, mind without utterance, light without effulgence, life without life-giving, fatherhood without sonship. It is seen that within the Divine Being there is one through whom, as there is also one from whom, all Divine energy goes forth.
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