What we have heard and seen
John's First Epistle
I thought I might write some posts just meditating on First John. I’ll cover about half a chapter a post. I don’t have a timeline, and I’m writing these just looking at the text, without a stack of commentaries open. Fun reader fact: my first ever sermon (in 2003, I believe) was on 1 John. Thankfully it was not recorded!
1 John 1:1-5:
That which was from the beginning - what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we saw and our hands handled, concerning the Logos of Life (and the Life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the Eternal Life who was with the Father and was revealed to us) - that which we have seen and have heard, we proclaim to you too, so that you might share in it along with us: and our sharing is [sharing] with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we write these things so that your1 joy might be fulfilled. And this is the proclamation which we have heard from him and proclaim to you: that God is light and darkness isn’t in him, nope, not one bit.
John’s first epistle opens with a fourfold description of the apostolic testimony of the Word of Life, a testimony grounded in hearing, sight, and handling. John reminds us from the outset that he, and the apostles with him, were eye-witnesses of, and physically encountered, the Word of Life.
The connections in this opening paragraph to key terminology and motifs of the gospel abound. First of these is the mention of the ‘Logos’, taking us back to John’s prologue. Secondly, again echoing the prologue, is ‘the Life’, as in John 1:4, “in him was life, and the Life was the light of humanity”; throughout John’s gospel, ‘life’, paired with ‘eternal’ is a repeated motif, in that Jesus is the source of true, abundant, ever living and everlasting life, and is himself life, with life in himself.
Thirdly, we are reminded that this life was “with the Father”, in a phrase very similar to John 1:1, the Word “was with God”.2
Fourthly, this life has been “revealed”, another repeated theme from the gospel.
All this, which the apostles came to know as first-hand witnesses, they proclaim. Indeed, what is the apostolic proclamation, except the divine revelation through and in Jesus Christ?
The second half of this opening paragraph then shifts to talking about the purpose for the apostles’ preaching. It is so that you (the recipients) might have fellowship/participation/sharing along with the apostles. But this sharing is not just a sharing with the apostles, it is a common participation “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”. Again, just as the gospel repeatedly emphasises the mutual indwelling of the Father, Son, and believers (John 14:20, 15:4, 17:20-21), so too the fellowship into which we enter is that of the Divine Being: Father, Son, and Spirit, which we share also with all other believers.
And so the letter’s purpose is furthermore that our (the author’s) joy might be fulfilled. Or, perhaps, your (the recipients’) joy. Either way, again we echo the gospel (Jn 15:11, and more verbally parallel 16.24). The participation of believers in the divine community is the source of joy and the goal of joy.
With this, John returns to the proclamation that is the heart of his message: God is light and in him there is no darkness. Once more, the gospel resounds with the motif of light and darkness, Jesus as the light of the world, come into the darkness to overcome it. The syntax of this last sentence here is emphatic, something like “and darkness is not in him, not one bit”. There is not a skerrick of a shadow in God, but he is light beyond all light, the light that banishes all darkness. And that light is Christ.
Or possible ‘our’.
1 John 1:2 ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα, cf. John 1:1 ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν.