Hansjörg Schmidt, «How to Read the First Epistle of John Non-Polemically», Vol. 85 (2004) 24-41
When reading 1 John most contemporary interpretors stress its polemical character and use the opponents as a key for the whole text. In contrast to them, this article proposes a non-polemical reading which treats the opponents only as a minor feature of 1 John and denies the possibility of mirror-reading the epistle. The article shows the merits, but also the inconsistencies of already existing non-polemical readings of 1 John. It describes the relationship between 1 John and John as an intertextual reading-process and views the opponents as literary contrasting figures. They form a part of an apocalyptic scenario and are related to the main ethical theme of 1 John. The pragmatic function of the excursus-like opponent texts(1 John 2,18-27; 4,1-6) is to strengthen and reassure the reader by demonstrating that he or she is immune to the opponent’s denial of the christological confession. On this basis, the ethical parenesis takes place, the urgency of which is stressed by the apocalyptic motifs. As a result, the reader tries to avoid an ethical transgression by which he or she would become like the christological opponents, who thus function as a counter-concept to the community.
How to Read the First Epistle of John Non-Polemically 25
of 1 John serves as a window for the world behind, representing one
stage of the history of the Johannine community.
(2) On the other hand, the opponents and the conflict between
them and the orthodox Johannine community serve as a hermeneutical
key to the text, which is nearly always interpreted in the light of the
(3) Therefore, not only are 2,18-27; 4,1-6 defined as opponent
texts, but also many other slogans and verses are viewed in relation to
the opponents. Among these verses are 1,6.8.10; 2,4.6.9; 4,20; 5,6-
8 (3), where contradictory statements as to sin (1,8 versus 3,6.9; 5,18)
are seen as a reflection of the opponentsâ€™ position (4), the sin unto death
(5,16.17) is viewed as referring to the opponents (5) and the whole
ethical parenesis is understood as a response to them guaranteeing the
communityâ€™s cohesion (6).
(4) Altogether, the polemical function of 1 John is stressed, which
is considered as a text greatly determined by its original situation, even
by authors who view the Gospel of John more generally (7). Though
being addressed to the Johannine community, 1 John is seen as a part
of the struggle against the hostile influence of the opponents.
Rapids 2000) 15-28; D. RENSBERGER, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John (Abingdon New
Testament Commentaries; Nashville 1997) 21-25; G. STRECKER, Die Johannes-
briefe (KEK 14; GÃ¶ttingen 1989) 132.
(2) This is evident not only in R.E. Brownâ€™s writings, but in most
commentaries on 1 John.
(3) E.g. BROWN, Epistles, 47-49 passim; KRUSE, Letters, 16-17; J. PAINTER,
â€œThe â€˜Opponentsâ€™ in 1 Johnâ€, NTS 32 (1986) 48-71 (54-64).
(4) KLAUCK, 1. Johannesbrief, 197-198.
(5) E.g. BROWN, Epistles, 617-618; K. GRAYSTON, The Johannine Epistles
(NCBC; Grand Rapids 1984) 144; RENSBERGER, 1â€“3 John, 140.
(6) U.C. VAN WAHLDE, The Johannine Commandments. 1 John and the
Struggle for the Johannine Tradition (Theological Inquiries; New York 1990)
especially 105-137; R.A. WHITACRE, Johannine Polemic. The Role of Tradition
and Theology (SBLDS 67; Chico, CA 1982) 133-140.
(7) The traditional diachronic readings of John read it also polemically and as
a record of the conflicts the community was confronted with. This polemical
reading of John is still widespread in R.E. Brownâ€™s exegesis (BROWN, Epistles,
92 passim; ID., The Gospel according to John [AncB 29; New York 1966] I,
XXXIV-XXXIX). Elsewhere, there is a tendency to read John more generally, but
not 1 John. This is the case in K. SCHOLTISSEK, In ihm sein und bleiben. Die
Sprache der Immanenz in den johanneischen Schriften (Herders Biblische Studien
21; Freiburg 2000) 364 (John) respectively 340-343 (1 John); O. SCHWANKL,
Licht und Finsternis. Ein metaphorisches Paradigma in den johanneischen
Schriften (Herders Biblische Studien 5; Freiburg 1995) 281-287.