1 John: A Theommentary

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Theommentary started as an outlet for my own thoughts about times, texts, and themes in ways that I hope will extend my calling as a theological teacher. So far, it’s been a great joy for me (and I hope, occasionally, for you, too). But in large part, the first couple of months has been largely devoted to theological commentary on the times (particularly, it seems, federal elections!) and themes (like the nature of preaching and public reading of Scripture, the meaning of public theology, etc.). Most of these have been “occasional” pieces to comment on current happenings. I’ve also commented on various extra-biblical texts as I saw fit or as I had been requested to do.  (Barth would call these kinds of comments the work of “irregular dogmatics.”)

Without wanting to stop engaging in that kind of “irregular dogmatic” work, I’ve also wanted to move forward with a plan that I have had right from the inception of Theommentary,  mainly, to do a bit more “regular dogmatic” work by walking through and commenting systematically upon a biblical book. My goal, in other words, is to do some theological exegesis and commentary on a particular book of the Bible. And now the time has come for me to begin that taskand I invite you along for the ride.

Several biblical books came to mind as potential candidates for “theommentary.” I’ve always loved the Gospel of John for the richness of its trinitarian theology, but I quickly realized that is probably a bit much too much to take on at the outset. I’ve also thought about Ephesians, one of my favourite New Testament books, especially for the close connection of soteriology and ecclesiology therein. I’m also fascinating by the Christology of Colossians. But in the end, I’ve chosen to begin working through the book of 1 John for a variety of reasons:

1) I love how 1 John refuses to separate what we sometimes call the “theological” vs. the “practical.” For the author of 1 John, such a dichotomization between the “theoretical/theological” and the “practical/spiritual” would be non-sense. For John, the knowing of Christ (i.e., the “theological”) is intimately tied to our obedience to Christ (the “practical”). “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” (1 John 2:3). 

2) I love what I believe to the characteristic “deliberate ambiguities” in 1 John (e.g., Who is the one with whom we have fellowship with in 1:7? With Christ? Or with other Christians? Or both?) coupled with the “clear stark contrasts” in others (e.g., light and darkness, life and death, love and hate), and sometimes even ambiguity and contrast in the same sentence! Indeed, it is because of some of these ambiguities AND contrasts, that I am drawn to the book for what I would call a clear biblical example of “theological dialectic” at work.

3) I’ve always thought of 1 John as a letter of an old, wise apostle written primarily to those who are young and struggling in the faith without forgetting the older ones as well. So on the one hand, John treats us young followers of Christ with the gentleness that we need while still growing up in the faith. But on the other hand, John pulls no punches when we need a good theological black-eye (or perhaps a good warm theological behind?) to get us back on track or to put our pride in place, especially those of us who might be settling into a static form of faith as we get older. John’s theo-practical wisdom, in other words, lands exactly where it is needed: For the young children and young men who still find themselves struggling with sins they think they will never overcome, John reminds them of the promises of Christ’s work on their behalf; but for the old men and fathers who might wonder whether they are going to leave any kind of spiritual legacy, John gently reminds them that the legacy that counts most is a life lived abiding in Christ from the beginning.

4) It’s short.

5) The Greek of 1 John is some of the easiest to work with in the NT (i.e., I won’t need to spend as much time deciphering difficult Greek constructions!) and personally will be a good refresher for me (even though I did teach Introductory Greek eons ago!).

And the final reason: 

6) 1 John was the very first biblical book that I tried to teach to my teen Sunday School class in the summer after my first year of Bible College some 24 years (!) ago. I just wish I had kept my original notes to see if I’ve learned anything in the last 24 years!

Please keep in mind that I view this venture as a theological experiment and I make no claims to be dealing exhaustively with secondary literature. [That’s the nice thing about a blog. You can deliberately NOT have to be exhaustive!] Yes, I wil consult the commentaries as necessary, but neither will I feel compelled to try to exhaust all the exegetical issues. Indeed, I may deliberately avoid certain exegetical issues simply because I think they are distracting to the task at hand. So if you think I’ve missed something really important, by all means, point it out to me, but I reserve the right to deal with it or not. Don’t be too offended if I decide not to! And how long I intend to take? However long that it takes!

The driving theological impetus for me will be to try  (with the Spirit’s help) to hear what (or more properly, whom) it is that John and his apostolic associates first touched and saw and heard themselves, and which the he now passes on to us and expects us also to pass on and to preach and teach to others. I’m less interested in what John meant (although that is obviously fundamentally important at one level) and more interested in seeing (spiritually) what John saw and now testifies to for our benefit. And I do this all in the hope that in a small way, those who are reading who are engaged in a ministry of teaching and preaching (at whatever level that may be) will perhaps find a nugget or two that will help them in their own ministry of the Word.

And of course, comments and interaction is always welcome!

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2 thoughts on “1 John: A Theommentary

  1. David,

    I think that a jaunt through 1 John is a splendid idea, and I am looking forward to following you as you work through. But, I wanted to suggest that you take as your companion through this series Calvin’s commentary on 1 John. Over at my own blog I maintain a series called ‘Reading Scripture with John Calvin’ in which I comment upon Calvin’s comments on biblical books. So far I have made it almost all the way through 1 Peter. It has been a very rewarding exercise, and you may find it to be as well.

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