by Robert Brow  March 1999

1 John 2:18

This epistle is written on the assumption that -eschaty ora estin- it is a last hour (2:18). The writer knows this because -nun antichristoi polloi gegonasin- many antichrists have now emerged, and -othen- because of that -ginoskomen oti eschaty ora estin- we know that it is a last hour. And in this last hour there would be the Lord's -parousia- coming to be present (2:28) -en ty ymera tys kriseos- in the day of exercising justice (4:17).

Various models of the timing of this last day and hour are discussed under -telos- (1 Corinthians 10:11) and -parousia-      (1 Thessalonians 4:15 & 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8). The model I prefer is that the early Christians expected, as Jesus had predicted, a Day of the Lord when he would come to topple the temple and city of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:28, 30, 37, exactly as he had in His coming to topple Babylon, Isaiah 13:6-13). This coming would occur in that generation (Matthew 23:36, 24:34), as in fact occured in AD 70.

The first Epistle of John therefore seems to be written in the -eschaty ora- the last hour before that traumatic event for the Jewish people (2:18). Jesus had predicted that the event would be preceded by the emergence of -pseudochristoi kai
pseudoprophytai- false messiahs and false prophets (Matthew 24:24, see 24:5, 23, 26). And in his letter John says that, as expected -antichristoi polloi gegonasin- many Christ opposers had already emerged (2:18).

John defines an -antichristos- as a Christ opposer, who says that -Iysous ouch estin o Christos- Jesus is not the Messiah (2:22). In other words -o arnoumenos ton patera kai ton uion- such a person denies the Father and Son relationship in the Godhead (2:22)

When the Epistle was written the world also abounded with - psudoprophytai- false prophets (4:1). Some of these made their way into the -ekklesiai-. Others emerged from a church (as Paul said would happen in Ephesus, Acts 20:29,30). All false
prophets were moved by -to tou antichristou- the spirit of opposing the Messiah (4:3). This was why it was so important for church congregations to -dokimazein- test the spirits of those who claimed to speak God's message (4:1). A true prophet would confess that -Iysoun Christon en sarki elyluthota ek tou theou- Jesus was the Messiah and that he had come from God and taken birth in human flesh (4:2-3).


The expression -poion tyn dikaiosuny- doing the righteousness (of God) occurs twice (2:29 and 3:10). Righteousness is therefore something that is done as the Holy Spirit works in us. And its fruit is -agapy- love (4:7-12, 20-21, 5:1-2). This shows that it is not helpful to translate -dikaiosuny- by the Latin law court term -justificatio- or the English word justification (see the Epistle to the Romans for a discussion of this).


It is easy enough for translators to translate -amartia pros thanaton- sin unto death. But that does not give us the meaning of this expression. Wittgenstein said the meaning of a word is its use in a particular language game. In this case John obviously had a meaning in mind when he wrote, and he expected his readers would understand. We don't, and so we have to try out some models. In Roman Catholic tradition sins were divided into mortal and venial. The mortal sins included such terribly grave behaviour as murder, adultery, gluttony, laziness, and pride. These become mortal if they are committed with a knowledge of their awfulness and with a deliberate intention of turning away from God. Mortal sins can be forgiven if they are confessed to a priest. From the earlier part of the Epistle we might assume that mortal sin was the attitude of the Messiah opposing prophets of that day (2:18, 22, 4:1-3).  But surely that does not mean we must stop praying for such people? (5:17).

It makes easier sense to base our interpretative model on what John wrote in his Gospel to explain the best known verse in the Bible (John 3:16). The Son of God is not in the business of condemning anyone (John 3:17). -auty de estin y krisis- but for the whole of humanity there is a critical dividing line (John 3:19). Some love -to phos to alythinon, o photizon panta anthropon- the true light which illuminates every single person in the world (John 1:9). That light became visible in the life and death of Jesus. The evil person -misei to phos kai ouch erchetai pros to phos- hates that light and shrinks away from it.

With that model in mind, we welcome badly behaved sinners to communion, warts and all (1 John 5:17). But if a person quite obviously hates the light of God, and Jesus in particular, there is -amartia pros ton theon- deadly eternal sin (5:16). There is no point in praying for forgiveness and superficial improvement. What is needed is total conversion. As the Lord said to Paul, his job was "to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18). Welcoming ordinary sinners to our congregation is one thing, turning outsiders from commitment to the darkness (John 3:19) is another. And I don't think either task is easier than the other.

2 John .....