The Dazzling Imagery of the Gospel of John and 1 John

The Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament is a unique commentary series. Targeted to students its aim is not a verse-by-verse commentary but rather focuses on larger rhetorical units. The “central aim” of the series is “not simply to impart information but to form the theological convictions and moral habits of their readers.” (From the Forward.) I find the series helps me see the larger contexts in ways that are genuinely helpful. The newest contribution is by George Parsenios on the epistles of John (First, Second, and Third John, Baker Academic). Here’s an example of what I like.

Parsenios notes that “[f]irst John relies on a relatively limited set of terms, themes, and syntactical structures, but it combines and then recombines these limited ingredients in a dazzlingly endless number of combinations. And yet, even as 1 John deploys an ever-greater constellation of images and ways of talking about God and those who believe rightly in God, it almost never strays from saying the same two things repeatedly.” (119) He says Harold Attridge observed the same “complicated imagery” in the Gospel of John. “Water appears throughout the early chapters of the Gospel. Jesus is baptized in water in chapter 1, he turns water into wine in chapter 2, and in chapter 3 he urges Nicodemus to be born of water and the Spirit. In chapter 4 Jesus speaks of ‘living water’ to the Samaritan woman, then heals the man in the pool in chapter 5, before walking on water in chapter 6. In chapter 7 Jesus speaks of the living water that rises up from within believers. Water imagery flows in many directions in the early chapters of John, but eventually all these directions lead to the cross. All manifestations of water in the early chapters of John find their meaning in the water that pours from the Jesus’s side in John 19:34.” (p. 120)

Parsenios continues, “The same can be said for the dazzlingly complex imagery in 1 John. Our attention is ever more focused on the interconnected poles of fellowship expressed in 1:3—a proper disposition toward God and a proper disposition toward fellow believers. The images multiply further throughout the letter, as our connection to God is expressed in the images of ‘being in,’ ‘abiding in,’ ‘being of,’ ‘being born of,’ and many more. Likewise, the relationship that we share with fellow believers is expressed in language of family and kinship, in loving one another, in resisting false teaching (which seduces one away from community), in hating the world and being hated by it, and much more. What Attridge says about the Fourth Gospel applies equally well to 1 John: ‘Complexity overdetermines, interconnects by anticipation, and yet and the same time focuses.’” (120)

The strength of the Paideia series is they don’t get bogged down in too many exegetical details but help the reader follow the flow and argument of the book. Each chapter contains a helpful “Theological Issues” section. Parsenios offers an outstanding discussion on the difficulty of harmonizing 1 John 1:10 (If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us) with 3:6 (Everyone who abides in him does not sin. Everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him). (See pp. 72-77) This is a must-have commentary on First, Second, and Third John.

First, Second, and Third John is a paperback with 208 pages and sells for $30.00.

George L. Parsenios (PhD, Yale University) is associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Departure and Consolation: The Johannine Farewell Discourses in Light of Greco-Roman Literature and Rhetoric and Drama in the Johannine Lawsuit Motif. His teaching and research explore the interaction of early Christianity with classical literature and the interpretation of the New Testament in the early church.




About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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