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.
28 HansjÃ¶rg Schmid
clearly speaks of a â€œbackgroundâ€(18) and the tendency of â€œa group of
Johannine Christians to revert to Judaismâ€(19), thereby locating the
schism in the process of the parting of the ways between Christianity
and Judaism. To be sure, he plays down the polemical character, but
judged critically, his proposal is not as new as one might expect from
the title of his paper. While most polemical readings view the text as
an internal reassurance of the community facing a certain conflict,
Griffith just chooses one of these conflicts â€” thereby adopting a
position shared by many authors before him (20) â€” and so partly falls
back into polemical dimensions (21). Therefore, how does the
background help if it cannot be reconstructed and functions merely as
a dark cipher?
Let us proceed, then, to the author who is more radical in this
respect: D. Neufeld (22). He strongly criticizes the vague and
contradictory reconstructions of many authors and comes to the
conclusion that â€œto establish the meaning and significance of the texts
on these tentative proposals should not be our starting pointâ€. By
contrast, his thesis is â€œthat the author in an imaginative and creative
outburst created a linguistic context of an apocalyptic type in which
the boasts, confessions, and denials make senseâ€(23). Thus, Neufeld is
the first who leaves speculations about the history of the Johannine
(18) GRIFFITH, â€œReadingâ€, 275.
(19) GRIFFITH, â€œReadingâ€, 269. Similarly ID., Keep yourselves from idols,
(20) A pioneer in this was A. WURM, Die Irrlehrer im ersten Johannesbrief
(BibS[F] 8,1; Freiburg 1903). Others who picked up this idea were L. SCHENKE,
â€œThe Johannine Schism and the Twelveâ€, Critical Readings of John 6 (ed. R.A.
CULPEPPER) (Biblical Interpretation Series 22; Leiden 1997) 205-219 (206-207);
H. THYEN, â€œJohannesbriefeâ€, TRE 17 (1988) 186-200 (193-194). This thesis is
again countered by W. UEBELE, â€œViele VerfÃ¼hrer sind in die Welt ausgegangenâ€.
Die Gegner in den Briefen des Ignatius von Antiochien und in den
Johannesbriefen (BWANT 151; Stuttgart 2001) 134.
(21) Similar to Griffithâ€™s approach is that of J.V. HILLS, â€œSin Is Lawlessness
(1 John 3:4)â€, Common Life in the Early Church. Essays Honoring Graydon F.
Snyder (eds. J.V. HILLS â€“ R.B. GARDNER) (Harrisburg, PA 1998) 286-299, who
stresses the perspective of 1 John 3 as â€œcommunal self-definitionâ€, but does not
extend this thesis to 1 John 2. Consequently he describes the genre of 1 John as
community order (J.V. HILLS, â€œA Genre for 1 Johnâ€, The Future of Early
Christianity. Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester [eds. B.A. PEARSON â€“ A.T.
KRAABEL] [Minneapolis 1991] 367-377).
(22) D. NEUFELD, Reconceiving Texts as Speech Acts. An Analysis of 1 John
(Biblical Interpretation Series 7; Leiden 1994).
(23) NEUFELD, Speech Acts, 133.