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 31
Peter and the twelve) or to leave (like many of Jesusâ€™ disciples), is
pragmatically more open than 1 John 2,18-27, where this choice no
longer exists and it is clear on which side the reader stands (e.g.
2,20.24.27). The climax of John 6,60-71 is Peterâ€™s exemplary
confession (6,68.69) and thus an individual model, whereas in 1 John
the adequate christological confession is a general conditio sine qua
non. The two texts constitute a narrative of and a reflection on the
christological border-crossing. Not remaining within the community
(1 John) corresponds to no longer walking with Jesus (John).
The reader of John following Jesus finds support in the clear
encouragement in 1 John 2,18-27, whereas the reader of 1 John will
find a pragmatic key in Peterâ€™s question in John 6,69 and in his
positive example. Therefore, the intertextual relationship of the two
texts is not necessarily a temporal one: one might begin telling the
story and then add reflections, but one might also extend the reflection
into a story which is located within Jesusâ€™ journey with his disciples.
The differences in the two texts are not due to the date of composition
of the text but due to perspective and genre, and both reading-
directions are possible.
Thus, I propose an intertextual model constructed from the implicit
reader â€™s perspective which combines elements of intertextuality with
reader response criticism (31). Intertextuality is often seen from the
author â€™s perspective. But the less declared the intertextual relations
are, the more they are the readerâ€™s affair (32). This is the case with the
Johannine writings, as there is no quotation of John in 1 John or vice
versa and no explicit intertextual marker in John or 1 John. The
intertextual reader can thus start reading John and proceed to 1 John,
or he or she can start reading 1 John and proceed to John. Either text
receives an amplified meaning when it is read in the light of the other.
Therefore, their relationship can be described as complementary, and
the link between them is seen in the reading-process.
Essential for the special intertextual relationship of 1 John and
John is the fact that the function of the two texts is different in each
case: Whereas John introduces the reader to encountering stories about
(31) S. HOLTHUIS, IntertextualitÃ¤t. Aspekte einer rezeptionsorientierten
Konzeption (TÃ¼bingen 1993) 225.
(32) G. GENETTE, Palimpsestes. La littÃ©rature au second degrÃ© (Paris 1982) 16.
As Genetteâ€™s concept deals only with massively declared intertextuality and with
texts in a clearly temporal relationship (14, 433-434), it is not very helpful for the
relationship of John and 1 John.