Friday, September 10, 2010

Shedding μικρόν φωτόν (a little light) on "walking in the light" in First John

The more I read 1st John, the less I believe I fully understand it. But as I press on anyway, I find little nuggets of insight. Here is one such nugget.

In trying to understand how these four conditional statements related together I came up with the following chart and the enlightening conclusion below. (I was enlightened by it at any rate, and hope you will be as well.)

1 John 1:6-9


Resulting Reality
In fellowship with God
Walk in darkness
Do not do the truth
Walk in light
Fellowship with one another
The blood of Jesus cleanses (from ἁμαρτία)
Have not sinned
Lie to self
Devoid of truth
Confess sin
God's faithfulness and righteousness lead to
Forgiveness (ἁμαρτία) and cleansing (ἀδικία)

Verse 6 is the only one of the four containing both a claim and an incompatible action. The claim to have fellowship and the act of walking in darkness demonstrate that both the claim and the action are out of sync with the truth. The one who meets this compound condition lies (his claim is false) and does not do the truth (his actions are not in keeping with the truth). Verse 6 is parallel to v 8. This is especially noticeable in the apodosis of the conditional statements. In v 8, the protasis seems to have changed, but the outcome is essentially the same (a liar who does not live out the truth). This parallelism helps define the problem in v 6. The claim to fellowship is contradicted by walking in darkness not because one is characterized by the presence of sin and the other is not, but because walking in darkness is itself the denial of sin. John is not claiming that everyone who sins is out of fellowship with God, but only those who refuse to admit their sin. Notice the protasis in v 7 has no claim. It is simply stated that walking in the light is a sufficient condition for fellowship (with one another, not with God) and for cleansing from sin. So, if walking in the light is antecedent to forgiveness, it can’t possibly mean walking free of sin as many commentators assume. Rather, walking in the light is the very act of confession, of bringing sin into the light where it might be exposed and forgiven and the sinner might be cleansed. Similarly, walking in darkness is the denial of sin. Both walking in darkness (while claiming to have fellowship with God) and claiming be in a state of not having sinned (perfect tense) lead to the same conclusion – this person is deceived and a deceiver whose life does not accord with the truth. But the person who confesses her sin benefits from God’s faithfulness and righteousness. She receives forgiveness and cleansing. The two actions of forgiveness and cleansing are related to the two characteristics of God. His righteousness (δίκαιος) and our unrighteousness (ἀδικία) are lexically related; they are antonyms. Similarly, Gods faithfulness (πιστός) is an antonym to our sin (ἁμαρτία). God’s nature is antithetical to human sinfulness, just as light is antithetical to darkness. And just as light drives out the darkness, so God’s nature as faithful and righteous drives out sin and unrighteousness wherever it shines.   

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