Post image for The Epistles of John (Part 37): 1 John 4:10

The Epistles of John (Part 37): 1 John 4:10

by Stephen Hebert on Sunday - 5 July 2009

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

This is the 37th part in an ongoing series on the epistles of John.

English Standard Version Nestle-Aland 27
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. ἐν τούτῳ ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐχ ὅτι ἡμεῖς ἠγαπήκαμεν τὸν θεὸν ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι αὐτὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἱλασμὸν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν.

First, from this verse, we must understand that the Gospel is not about our love for God, but God’s love for us. Yes, our love toward him is definitely part of the equation. It is not, however, the Gospel. Rather, our love for God is the response to the Gospel, our response when it takes hold of us. The sooner that we come to understand that the Gospel is less about us and more about God, the sooner we’ll begin to understand our place in the kosmos.

As if that weren’t difficult enough, now we come to the extremely difficult word in this verse: ἱλασμός (propitiation — the appeasing of God).

Recall that we talked about propitiation back in 1 John 2:2. These two verses are the only spots in the New Testament where this word appears. In the post on 1 John 2:2 I spoke at length about the cross and its importance to this whole system. Here, I would like to point out that neither 1 John 2:2 nor 1 John 4:10 are speaking directly about the cross. Here in 1 John 4:10 we are talking about God’s love.

What does God’s love have to do with the notion of propitiation?

An examination of the word ἱλασμός would show you that the notion of God’s appeasement is not the only thing at play. As the term is used both in Greco-Roman and Jewish traditions it seems to blend in with a notion of καθαρισμός — purification (often by ritual). Rather than just appeasing God (or gods, in the case of the Greeks and Romans), the ritual or act would also serve to expiate sin/wrongdoing — it would remove sin or wrongdoing from the individual.

This notion of expiation is extremely important in Jewish tradition. The sacrificial system of the Temple served an expiatory function. The performance of various rites at the Temple purified the one offering the sacrifice, taking the sin away. Various Jewish writings are full of the ideas of purification, expiation, and atonement in addition to the greater notion of propitiation.

Jesus represents the love of God because he is the one who has acted to take our sin away. He has functioned as the atonement, the expiation, the purification of all humankind. In so doing, he has appeased the wrath that God should have for us based on our inability to worship him alone. Jesus has stepped in the middle of all of this and taken it all away; he has given us a blank slate.

The Gospel Message is:

  • The love that God has for us.
  • The sacrifice that God has made for us.
  • The faithfulness of Jesus.
  • The purification of our minds, bodies, and souls that he has given us.

So often we make the mistake that John’s congregation might have made: we think about what it is that we have done. The Gospel is not at all about what we have done; rather, it is about what God has done for us.

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

Previous post:

Next post: