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The Epistles of John (Part 12): 1 John 2:14

by Stephen Hebert on Tuesday - 17 April 2007

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

This is the 12th part in an ongoing series on the Epistles of John.

English Standard Version Nestle-Aland 27
*I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, παιδία, ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν πατέρα. ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, πατέρες, ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς. ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, νεανίσκοι, ὅτι ἰσχυροί ἐστε καὶ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν μένει καὶ νενικήκατε τὸν πονηρόν.

*Initially, you might notice that my verse numbering is a little different. I am using the numbering in Nestle-Aland. I have no idea why my English translations include the sentence about children with 2:13. If anyone has any knowledge about that—please let me know!

OK, so we’ve reached the end of our bit of poetry. It’s a lovely piece of parallelism. Here are the items that are parallel:

  • Each sentence begins with a form of the verb “to write” (γράφω). We start with three present indicative active first singulars (“I am writing”), and then follow it with three aorist active indicative first singulars (“I write”—translated as the so-called epistolary aorist, meaning that it has more of a present force than past).
  • This is followed by the indirect object (“to you”).
  • Next comes the vocative (“children,” “fathers,” “young men”).
  • The first five instances then bring a verb.

The parallelism is broken in the last line—the line about young men. Rather than going directly to the perfect indicative active verb, John goes to an adjective: “strong.” From here the structure is destroyed as the sentence grows longer and longer, creating tension. Until, finally, we find our perfect indicative active verb (“you have overcome”) followed by its direct object. This is the resolution—it brings us back to our familiar pattern. Not only this, but it also perfectly replicates the end of verse 13: “you have overcome the evil one.”

While parallelism is certainly a feature of Greek poetry, it is far more important to Hebrew poetry. Is this a clue to John’s Jewish-ness? Just typing out loud…

OK, Nice…but what does it mean?

Let’s pick up on what’s different here: (a) the children knowing the Father, and (b) the young men being strong and having the word of God abide in them.

In both cases, I think there is a relationship with God implied. We could say that the children’s knowledge of the Father is purely an intellectual thing. However, this would be to state the obvious. If we look at other New Testament writings, knowledge of God is implied—everyone knows of God’s existence (see, for example, Romans 1:23–28). For this to be a remarkable attribute of John’s believing audience, shouldn’t this “know” be different in some way?

Likewise, the young men are strong and the word of God abides in them. This abiding of the word also implies some sort of relationship. We have seen how back in chapter 1, the word was from the beginning, and John hopes that we have some kind of fellowship with it…with God.

We have mentioned previously how this poem really defines John’s audience. I think it’s clear now, more than ever before, that John’s audience consists of like-minded people. What binds these people together is the relationship that they have vis-a-vis the eternal, almighty God.

Another Note on “Strong”

The leap I’m about to make is not necessarily implied by the text, but I’m going to make it anyway.

I would argue that with respect to the “young men” we can see a sequence of events. They are strong because the word of God abides in them—not the other way around. It would be false to say “because they are strong, the word of God abides in them.” The opposite is true. I’m basing this largely on experience.

The last element in this sequence is the victory. It’s only by the power granted to the young men by the word of God abiding in them that they are able to overcome the evil one.

Sequence: (1) Allow the word of God to abide in you, (2) Gain power/strength, (3) Overcome the evil one.

That’s the gospel.

Article Series - The Epistles of John

  1. The Epistles of John (Part 1): 1 John 1:1–4
  2. The Epistles of John (Part 2): 1 John 1:5
  3. The Epistles of John (Part 3): 1 John 1:6–7
  4. The Epistles of John (Part 4): 1 John 1:8–10
  5. The Epistles of John (Part 5): 1 John 2:1
  6. The Epistles of John (Part 6): 1 John 2:2
  7. The Epistles of John (Part 7): 1 John 2:3–6
  8. The Epistles of John (Part 8): 1 John 2:7–8
  9. The Epistles of John (Part 9): 1 John 2:9–11
  10. The Epistles of John (Part 10): 1 John 2:12
  11. The Epistles of John (Part 11): 1 John 2:13
  12. The Epistles of John (Part 12): 1 John 2:14
  13. The Epistles of John (Part 13): 1 John 2:15
  14. The Epistles of John (Part 14): 1 John 2:16
  15. The Epistles of John (Part 15): 1 John 2:17
  16. The Epistles of John (Part 16): 1 John 2:18
  17. The Epistles of John (Part 17): 1 John 2:19
  18. The Epistles of John (Part 18): 1 John 2:20
  19. The Epistles of John (Part 19): 1 John 2:21
  20. The Epistles of John (Part 20): 1 John 2:22
  21. The Epistles of John (Part 21): 1 John 2:23–25
  22. The Epistles of John (Part 22): 1 John 2:26–27
  23. The Epistles of John (Part 23): 1 John 2:28
  24. The Epistles of John (Part 24): 1 John 2:29
  25. The Epistles of John (Part 25): 1 John 3:1–3
  26. The Epistles of John (Part 26): 1 John 3:4–6
  27. The Epistles of John (Part 27): 1 John 3:7–10
  28. The Epistles of John (Part 28): 1 John 3:11–12
  29. The Epistles of John (Part 29): 1 John 3:13
  30. The Epistles of John (Part 30): 1 John 3:14-18
  31. The Epistles of John (Part 31): 1 John 3:19–22
  32. The Epistles of John (Part 32): 1 John 3:23–24
  33. The Epistles of John (Part 33): 1 John 4:1–3
  34. The Epistles of John (Part 34): 1 John 4:4–6
  35. The Epistles of John (Part 35): 1 John 4:7-8
  36. The Epistles of John (Part 36): 1 John 4:9
  37. The Epistles of John (Part 37): 1 John 4:10
  38. The Epistles of John (Part 38): 1 John 4:11-12
  39. The Epistles of John (Part 39): 1 John 4:13–14
  40. The Epistles of John (Part 40): 1 John 4:15
  41. The Epistles of John (Part 41): 1 John 4:16–17
  42. The Epistles of John (Part 42): 1 John 4:18–19
  43. The Epistles of John (Part 43): 1 John 4:20–21
  44. The Epistles of John (Part 44): 1 John 5:1
  45. The Epistles of John (Part 45): 1 John 5:2-3

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