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The Epistles of John (Part 35): 1 John 4:7-8

by Stephen Hebert on Thursday - 25 June 2009

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

This is the 35th part in an ongoing series on the epistles of John.

English Standard Version Nestle-Aland 27
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Ἀγαπητοί, ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, ὅτι ἡ ἀγάπη ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται καὶ γινώσκει τὸν θεόν. ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.

Now we start getting into some real crazy theological meat.

GOD IS LOVE

Over the years this has been a particularly difficult statement for me to understand. It conjures up all sorts of problematic questions, mostly about whether or not a god who is love could possibly allow all of the evil that is in the world. Theodicy is not my forte, I’m afraid.

Further, I have always found the Greek here a little problematic. When I was learning Greek, I was taught two interesting things about “to be”:

  • The verb “to be” is usually not necessary and, therefore, often omitted.
  • The verb “to be” can be taken as an equal sign — meaning that you can reverse the order and nothing bad happens. (You can think of the symmetric property of equality in mathematics.)

In this case, the last portion of v. 8 chooses not to omit the verb: ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. This could mean that the relationship between God and Love is really being intensified, hammered home. I like that idea. I think it is important to the author that this statement be hammered home. After all, the author is using this notion to show the reason why love is so important to understanding who is from God and who is not.

Here’s a question, though: Can the order be reversed? Can we say: LOVE IS GOD?

In translation, the idea that “love is god” feels very different from the idea of “God is love.” Ergo, I would say that the order cannot be reversed. It is not love for the sake of love that we worship as some sort of god. That would be idolatry. Rather, we worship God — capital G.

Recently, a friend of mine was preparing a text for a sermon. He had never really sermonized before, and he has only a rudimentary understanding of Greek (to his credit, he really wants to fix that particular issue — I just haven’t taken the time to work with him). In his preparation he continually translated θεός as YHWH (i.e., Yahweh). At first, I was bothered a bit by this. Why would he do such a thing?

This particular passage is one where I think the notion of θεός as YHWH is particularly helpful. If we look at the idea expressed in 4:8b, we’ll see how different it feels when considering the issue of “to be” as equal sign:

GOD IS LOVE :: LOVE IS GOD
YHWH IS LOVE :: LOVE IS YHWH

Now that we’ve personalized God by using his name, it feels much more uncomfortable to say that LOVE IS YHWH. Likewise, it would be uncomfortable to say that LOVE IS STEPHEN (truth aside) simply because that metaphor is a difficult leap to make and seems to de-emphasize the personality of the individual.

What am I getting at here?

The idea that God is love, while troubling for reasons of theodicy and the problem of evil, is a wonderful statement of who God is. Further, as we have read in this passage, it is this love that is the marker of who is and who is not “born of God.” Those who are not sent from God, or those who do not yet know God, do not have this love inside of them.

The biggest question is this: What does that love look like?

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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