Discover more from Daniel Rogers - EFPG
The Shift from Death to Life
Some thoughts on First John chapter three
And we’re back with the third installment on our series from 1 John. For those of you who are just joining us, my friend Corri and I are going through Scot McKnight’s new translation of 1 John together on Tuesdays, and we have agreed to both write articles on each chapter. You can read hers on her blog Fearless and Joyful. You can find mine right here on my Substack, which you should subscribe to for free. :)
Daniel Rogers - EFPG is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
As we were reading through 1 John 3 together and making notes, drawing underlines, and putting symbols beside the passages to indicate common themes, we realized that there is a lot to cover in 1 John 3 compared to 1 John 1 and 2. I think one reason for this is that a lot of the themes introduced in the first two chapters are expounded upon here in chapter three along with a lot of references to Jesus’s teaching and call backs to previous statements by John in his gospel account.
With that being said, one blog post wouldn’t do this chapter justice, so I’ll just focus on one major idea of it for this article: “We know that we have shifted from Death into Life because we love the siblings” (1 John 3:14).
Loving the Siblings
Siblings or Brethren?
First, let’s talk about this word siblings. If you are using the NASB95 or the KJV, then you may be used to the word brethren in passages like this. The reason McKnight translates this word siblings instead is to point out that the Greek word adelphos includes both male and female Christians and not just the guys.
Sometimes, like in John 7:3, this can refer to an exclusively male group, but when addressing a congregation, it’s natural to assume that both men and women would be included. Bible translators have to use context to determine how to translate this word as they do all words. Newer translations, like McKnight’s, will often translate this word “siblings” or, more popularly, “brother and sisters” to make the inclusivity of adelphos apparent to an English-speaking audience.
Love in Chapters 1 and 2
Going back to 1 John, the idea of loving the siblings is a prominent theme throughout the book. While John doesn’t mention love in chapter one, he does force us to see common life (or fellowship) with God and common life with each other as an inseparable reality. By nature, Christianity is communal.
Not only is community necessary for corporate worship and communion, but community is necessary for survival. The common life of the disciples in Acts 2 wasn’t about following some sort of divinely mandated pattern of worship; it was a way to provide clothing and food to those who were in need while growing in faith together.
In 1 John, this level of community was necessary because of the intense persecution they were undergoing as well as the temptation to fight back against their enemies. Jesus didn’t go to the cross alone; he had the Father and the Spirit with him, but our ability to constantly live in the awareness of the Father’s presence becomes easier if we have the love of our brothers and sisters to depend on. If the kosmos (world) hates us, as John says, then we must look to each other for community (1 John 3:13).
In chapter two, John emphasizes love of God, the status of the believers as loved ones, love of brothers and sisters, and misplaced love of the kosmos in verses 5, 7, 9-11, and 15. In verses 9-11, the one who loves their siblings walks in the light, and there is no tripping in the person (McKnight’s translation). I think this is an important passage to understand when reading the challenging statements in 1 John 3:6, 9.
Love in Chapter 3 and Shifting to Life
In chapter 3, love shows up in verses 1, 11-18, 19, and 23. Love makes us God’s children. The announcement of the gospel leads to love for each other. Hating others is a sure sign that we remain in Death. And loving others is what John means when he talks about the “commandments.”
So when John starts talking about lawlessness (or “Covenant-code breaking”), he isn’t talking about general sin but a specific sin: hatred of others which leads to lying, violence, and a denial of Jesus as the Christ. This may be too much to get into now, but I think this has a lot to do with the identity of the "Anti-Christos” in chapter two.
The sin John has in mind in 1 John 3 is the sin of the Accuser, the sin which he did from the beginning. In John’s account of the gospel, Jesus says what this is: murder and lies. Through his lie, he killed Adam and Eve. And in Jesus’s ministry, the Accuser attempted to kill Jesus on several occasions. When he was tempted, the Accuser told Jesus to bow before him to receive the kingdoms of the earth. When Jesus said he would willingly die, the Accuser influenced Peter to violently defend Jesus. When he was arrested, the Accuser’s words about the power Jesus had over the angels came to him as he stood before Pilate.
But it is impossible for someone who has the love of God to live in hatred. The more the Light of Life shines, the more the Darkness of Death shrinks. So for John, those who have believed in Jesus and who love their siblings have already shifted from Death to Life (cf. John 4:24). From John’s perspective, the “Darkness is passing away and the True Light is already appearing,” and this shift was clearly seen in this lives of Jesus’s disciples.
To end, here is a passage from the end of our section in chapter 3. It shows the distinction between eternal life and the life the world offers by drawing from Jesus’s teaching on the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31ff:
In this we have known love, that he placed his self for us, and we ought to place [our] selves for the siblings. Whoever has Kosmos’s life and observes one’s sibling having need and shits one’s empathies from the person - how does God’s love remain in the person? Children, don’t love in word or tongue but in work and truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
This is especially important in the discussion of the role of women in the Christian community. In 1 Corinthians 14, the NASB95 and the KJV’s translation if adelphos as been used by some in discussions with me and responses to my posts to argue that it was only the men who should “desire earnestly to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:39). The problem with this is that women were told how to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11; they were not told to stop praying and prophesying. If Paul wanted them to stop praying and prophesying in the assembly, he would have told them to stop instead of involving himself in the debate on what they were wearing or not wearing on their head while they did. All through 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul is addressing the entire congregation. The same Spirit into which they were baptized in Corinth was poured out in Acts so that sons and daughters could prophesy.