Monday, November 07, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 44: “God Is Love” 1-3 John

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 44: “God Is Love”  
1-3 John

First John

The First Epistle of John is believed to have been written around 100-110 AD by John the Apostle.

Fighting the Heretic Gnostics

In this time period of early Christianity, the church was fighting various factions that taught different teachings regarding Christ.  Perhaps one of the most challenging groups of heretics would be the Gnostics.  The term Gnostic comes from the word “gnosis” which means a hidden knowledge or secret.  There were several different groups of Gnostics, each with varying beliefs. However, most had some concepts in common.  First, they believed they held secret knowledge from the apostles or through revelation that extended the gospel to another level.  Many would attend regular Christian meetings, but then also have their own meetings, where they believed the higher knowledge was taught.  For a time, some versions of Gnosticism dominated certain areas of the Christian world, and even threatened to overtake what is called the “proto-Orthodox” Christian Church.

       Heresy #1, good Jehovah and bad Elohim

1 John begins by telling us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5).  Many of the Gnostics believed that the Garden of Eden story was about a god that created mankind in order to mess with them.  This god, Elohim, did not want to bless mankind, but to toy with them.  Meanwhile, the god Yahweh/Jehovah sought to save the people from the cruelty of the god Elohim.

John was teaching that God Elohim was and is a God of light, and not an evil god. The apostle then explained that we are to follow God and Jesus in the light. The Gnostic concept is that man was sinless, because it was God that caused the Fall, not man. However, we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8).  Gnostics blamed sin on Elohim, and hoped for salvation through Yahweh.  Yet, John teaches that we are responsible for our own separation from God, through our own sins.

Early Christians saw that Jesus was the Messiah, or the mortal Yahweh. He is the Son of God and the Angel of God’s Presence (Shekinah).  There was no battle going on between Elohim (God the Father) and Yahweh (God the Son).  John emphasizes this concept:

“Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: [but] he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also” (2:22-23).

Connected to the concept of “God is Light” is that we must also seek the light, and reject the darkness.  This includes the concept that hatred equals darkness.  

“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (2:9-11).

    Heresy #2 - Christ as Spirit, Jesus as Man

Among the key heretic issues taught by many Gnostic sects  was a belief in the docetic (dual) nature of Jesus:
1. They believed that the man Jesus and the God Christ were separate individuals.  When Jesus was baptized, the God Christ entered into him (the dove descending), and God the Father spoke saying, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee....I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son” (Hebrews 1:5).  They did not think that Jesus the man was born the Son of God, but was begotten at baptism through a spiritual rebirth, when the God Christ entered into Jesus and became a part of him through mortality.

2. Christ did not suffer, Only Jesus did.  The Christ did the miracles and taught the people. But the man Jesus went through the suffering.  Upon the cross, “... about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46, Psalms 22:1).  In other words, prior to the suffering, the God Christ left Jesus to suffer and die alone.

3. The man Jesus was rewarded for his sacrifice by being the first to resurrect.  The God Christ, however, continued as a Spirit, never having been born , suffered, nor died as a mortal.

On this topic, John warns us about the danger of such a heresy:

“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (4:2-3).

As we can see from the Gnostic belief of a separate Jesus and Christ, they did not believe that Christ came in the flesh.  Here, John intentionally uses the full name Jesus Christ, to show that Jesus the man and Christ the god are both the same being.  Jesus is god and man, Christ is god and man. Jesus = Christ.

And this is a sign of an anti-Christ (not necessarily THE Anti-Christ of the last days), which was in the Christian world in 100AD.  The Gnostics believed Christ continued as a spirit, never suffering nor truly interacting with mankind directly, but indirectly through Jesus the man.  For the Gnostics, Christ never resurrected in the flesh, and never will have a resurrected body.

Today, we can partially judge a Christian Church by determining whether it believe Jesus came in the flesh (mortality), died on the cross, and resurrected.  Resurrection means he forever retains his physical body, just as he retains his spirit.  Resurrected Jesus is God.

  Modern heresy of the Athanasius creed

The current concept of the Trinity came about through two councils: the Council of Nicea and the Council of Chalcedon, both done in the 4th century AD.  Prior to this time, many Christians believed that Christ came in the flesh and resurrected.  They believed that God the Father and God the Son were two separate beings.  For example, the early Christian defender Origen taught that Jesus was a God subordinate to the Father.    

However, from the end of the second century to the fourth century AD, more and more Christian leaders embraced Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy and embedded several such concepts into Christian belief.  Among these was the concept that there is only one God and he is of a pure substance (Spirit) that is completely different than any other substance.  Bishop Athanasius pushed for a new creed or belief that would designate the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as only one Spirit with three persons.  Other bishops, such as Arius and the historian Eusebius disagreed, but lost when Constantine (not yet baptized as a Christian) accepted Athanasius’ creed and established it as the Nicene Creed.  Constantine sent  many “heretic” Christians, who did not accept the Trinity, to the copper mines, which essentially was a death sentence.

It would still take over a century for the Nicene Creed to become Christian doctrine, as it almost lost out again in the 4th century.  Still, the Nicene Creed left many questions.  How could Christ be spirit and still have a physical body?  At the end of the 4th Century, the Council of Chalcedon began and determined the duality of Christ.  Today, most Christian religions embrace the two creeds as doctrine, even though the Bible is rather silent on such issues.
In fact, early Christans intentionally changed First John to reflect the Trinity in it.  1 John 5:7-8 tells us:

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

This clearly sounds like evidence of the Trinity creed. However, scholars now call this the “Comma Johanneum”, or Johannine Comma or Clause.  The portion that was the later addition is: “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth”.

Without the clause, the verse originally stated, “For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

The clause does not appear in any texts prior to the ninth century AD.  Such an effort to intentionally change the feel and thought of First John goes entirely against his teaching in the epistle!  He stated that Christ resurrected and had a body, while also being the Son of God.  Historically, the comment was added in a later Bible version called the Textus Receptus, which was used in all Bible translations from 1522 onward until the past century.  Yes, it is even in the King James Bible, which is one reason why LDS believe the Bible to be correct and the word of God  insofar as it is translated correctly (Article of Faith 8).

Jesus taught that “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24), which is often used as evidence of the Trinity.  However, here John teaches that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  God as spirit and love show attributes of God, not a specific statement that God is only one thing.  God can be a spirit, love, resurrected being with a physical body, and many other things.  To define him only as a spirit is to delimit him and our understanding of whom he really is.

What we do know, John teaches us:

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he (God) is pure”  (1 John 3:2-3).


Nag Hammadi Library (Primarily Gnostic writings found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt):

First Peter - wikipedia:

“Condemned to the Mines, Copper Production and Christian Persecution”, Biblical Archaeological Review, Nov/Dec 2011, pg 30:

Comma Johanneum - wikepedia:

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