21 January 2009

The Johannine Letters: I John 5: 1-12

A carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus … but the author of I John writes to the Church in Ephesus about more important signs of victory (Photograph © Patrick Comerford, 2008)

Patrick Comerford

I John 5: 1-12

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. 7 There are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. 9 If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. 10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 Πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὸν γεννήσαντα ἀγαπᾷ [καὶ] τὸν γεγεννημένον ἐξ αὐτοῦ. 2 ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἀγαπῶμεν τὰ τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅταν τὸν θεὸν ἀγαπῶμεν καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ ποιῶμεν. 3 αὕτη γάρ ἐστιν ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν: καὶ αἱ ἐντολαὶ αὐτοῦ βαρεῖαι οὐκ εἰσίν, 4 ὅτι πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον: καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. 5 τίς [δέ] ἐστιν ὁ νικῶν τὸν κόσμον εἰ μὴ ὁ πιστεύων ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ;

6 Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἐλθὼν δι' ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός: οὐκ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι μόνον ἀλλ' ἐν τῷ ὕδατι καὶ ἐν τῷ αἵματι: καὶ τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ μαρτυροῦν, ὅτι τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν ἡ ἀλήθεια. 7 ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες, 8 τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν. 9 εἰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν τῶν ἀνθρώπων λαμβάνομεν, ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ θεοῦ μείζων ἐστίν, ὅτι αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι μεμαρτύρηκεν περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ. 10 ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ἔχει τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἐν ἑαυτῷ: ὁ μὴ πιστεύων τῷ θεῷ ψεύστην πεποίηκεν αὐτόν, ὅτι οὐ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν μεμαρτύρηκεν ὁ θεὸς περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ. 11 καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία, ὅτι ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἔδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ θεός, καὶ αὕτη ἡ ζωὴ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν. 12 ὁ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν: ὁ μὴ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει.

A victory sign for little children

One the best-known symbols of globalisation is the Nike Swoosh logo. You find it tracksuits, on sweatshirts, on trainers, on sneakers, on T-shirts, all over the world. There must be very few people who do not recognise the Nike logo, which has been sported by the likes of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, and Venus and Serena Williams.

The company takes its name from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and the “Swoosh” was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching accounting classes and she started doing some freelance work for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS). BRS needed a new brand for a new line of athletic footwear it was preparing to introduce in 1972. Knight approached Davidson for some design ideas, and she agreed to provide them – at $2 an hour.

Carolyn Davidson quickly presented Knight and others at BRS with a number of designs, and they finally selected the mark now known globally as the Nike Swoosh – an abstract outline of an angel’s wing that some people think looks more like a checkmark or the tick used on some essays to indicate a positive mark.

The company first used the logo as its brand in 1971, when the word “Nike” was printed in orange over. The logo has been used on sports shoes since then, and is now so well-recognised all over the world, even by little children, that the company name itself is, perhaps, superfluous.

Carolyn Davidson’s bill for her work came to $35. Mind you, 12 years later, in 1983, Knight gave Davidson a gold Swoosh ring and an envelope filled with Nike stock to express his gratitude. It is surprising to realise, therefore, that Carolyn Davidson’s design was not registered as a trademark until 1995.

A logo representing victory is an appropriate and meaningful symbol for a company that manufactures and sells running shoes. The logo is used in tandem with the slogan, “Just do it” and the branding campaign was so successful in communicating to their target market that the meaning for the logo evolved into a battle cry and the way of life for an entire generation. A small symbol has brought victorious success to a once-small company.

But what is said to be one of the earliest inspirations for the Nike tick sign that I know is a carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus. But when Saint John was writing to the Church in Ephesus, he expressed very different ideas about victory to his company of “little children” as he discussed love and told them to “just do it.”

Verses 1-5:

As we come to the concluding passages of I John, we are introduced in this section (I John 5: 1-12) to the connection between faith and love, the two great themes of this epistle, and to victorious faith leading to eternal life. I John talks about a very different typer of victory than the victories associated with commercial branding, globalisation and the financial glory associated with brand names and over-commercialised sport. Instead, the writer emphasises the victories associated with faith and love ... faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the love of God and of one another that should be the victorious tick sign of Christians.

We are reminded that everyone who believes in Jesus as Christ and the Son of God is a child of God too. And so, if we believe in God and in Christ as his Son, we should love God and love his children, and this is the imperative for Christians to love one another.

But how do we know that we are doing this and showing that love? We know that know that we truly love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. Gestures of charity are simply not good enough – there must be a direct connection between loving others and living a life of holiness and sanctity.

But unlike the traditional observation and codification of the commandments, with their heavy-laden and burdensome listings and enumerations, the author tells us the love of God and love of others is not a great burden for the Christian. On the other hand, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, there is no cheap grace, there is a cost to discipleship. Nobody said it was going to be easy being a Christian. But, because we are children of God, we know that our faith is a victory (Nίκη) that conquers the world. Christ has overcome the world, and our faith in him enables us to conquer the world.

Verses 6-8:

The author of I John then refers to the baptism (water) and the death (blood) of Christ, or, perhaps, primarily to the death of Christ on the cross, when water mingled with his blood as they flowed from Christ’s side.

But water is also the symbol of the Spirit in the Johannine writings: think of the wedding at Cana or the conversations Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the Well and Nicodemus.

Raymond Browne suggests that the breakaway group in the Church in Ephesus may have emphasised the baptism of Jesus, where water and the Spirit are so closely linked, as the saving moment in the life of Christ. But here John shifts the emphasis to Christ’s death and resurrection.

Here I John is returning to the idea that the Spirit, present in us as Christians through our baptism, is the supreme witness to Christ, present in us as Christians, through our baptism.

The ‘Johannine comma’ (verses 7-8):

A longer reading of verse 7-8 reads: “There are three that testify [in heaven: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit; and these three are one; and there are three that testify on earth:] the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree” [or, are of one accord].

The words in [square brackets] are known as the Johannine comma. The word comma in this instance means not a punctuation mark but a part of a sentence. These words are missing from the texts of I John accepted by the Greek Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox traditions. However, they are quoted by Latin writers in North Africa and in Spain as early as the 3rd century as a dogmatic reflection on and an expansion of the “three that testify.”

Those writers understand the Spirit as the Father, the blood as the Son, and water as the Spirit. But this sequence of extra words is generally absent from the early Greek manuscripts and is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers. Indeed, it could be argued, had the Greek Fathers known these words they would most certainly have used them in the Trinitarian controversies with the Sabellians and the Arians.

The missing phrase makes its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215. The words were eventually incorporated into the text of most of the later Latin Vulgate manuscripts, and when the passage appears in a small number of Greek manuscripts, it appears to be a translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate, or as a variant reading written in the margin as a later addition to the manuscript.

It is often said that Erasmus promised to insert the Comma Johanneum in his editions of the New Testament if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found. Or was it made to order? It is often said that Erasmus later suspected that MS. 61 was written expressly to force him to do so. However, one Dutch specialist in Erasmian studies, Professor H.J. de Jonge, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Rijksuniversiteit in Leiden, says there is no explicit evidence to supports this assertion, and that “it is highly improbable that he included the difficult passage because he considered himself bound by any such promise.”

Through the work and influence of Erasmus, these words also appear in later versions of the Latin Vulgate and in the King James Version of the Bible.

Verses 9-12:

The principal witness to Christ, who is the truth, is the Holy Spirit, who has been sent by the Father to give testimony about his Son. The Spirit is the most convincing witness possible through the indwelling of the Spirit. To reject the Spirit is to reject life itself and to reject God.


In this section of I John, we are being told that love of God involves obedience to his will and love for God and for one another, and it brings Christians the promise of victory and everlasting life.

Love, for us as Christians, is the most important sign of victory in faith. As they say in the Nike advertising campaign: “Just do it.”

Next: I John 5: 13-21

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group on Wednesday 21 January 2009.

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