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1 John 4:8 ESV

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Nestle GNT 1904

ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν Θεόν, ὅτι ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.

Tischendorf 8th Edition

ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.

Is John saying that God is not hate? < rhetorical> Doesn't this conflict with the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient nature of God? < /rhetorical>

The Greek word 'ἀγάπη' can only be translated as 'love'. What is John trying to say or am I over thinking this?

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There's an interesting take on 1 John 4:8 at the IVP New Testament Commentaries titled Let Us Love One Another

"In exploring the relationship between God's love for us and our love for each other, the Elder makes two statements: love comes from God (v. 7), and God is love (v. 8). The second statement is more far-reaching than the first. To comprehend the sweeping character of the statement God is love, substitute the name of anyone you know--your mother, pastor, friend, a well-known Christian or hero of the faith or even yourself--for "God." Few are the people we would describe simply with the word love. Mom may be the most loving person you have known. She may have shown you what mature, self-giving, genuine love is like. But no matter how full, rich and steadfast her love, the statement "Mom is loving," can never be changed into "Mom is love." For love does not characterize her as it characterizes God."

The Orthodox Study Bible, in the introduction for 1 John, notes:

"First John is a polemic against two identifiable groups: (a) false teachers with a gnostic bent; and (b) former members of the Church who were a threat to the faith of those remaining (2:27,3:7). The polemic is mostly pastoral and positive, to protect God's people. While the addressee is not mentioned, this may be an encyclical to John's diocese in Asia."

Given that 1 John 4 begins with advice to test the spirits, this line you ask about is giving the addressee some very practical advice on how to be good Christians. Look at it in context, especially lines 4:13-16 to see the "pastoral advice" aspect of this.

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  • I still feel like I have not quite met the "show my work" requirement for this site so any suggestions are quite welcome to improve the answer, thank you in advance. – JimLohse Feb 22 '16 at 14:25
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First John is a polemic, whether - as stated in the Orthodox Study Bible introduction for 1 John - against two distinct groups, gnostics and former members, or against former members who are now members of the gnostic grouping.

Burton L. Mack, in Who Wrote the New Testament, pages 215-218, believes that a split took place in the Johannine community shortly after the turn of the second century. One faction thought it best to merge with other Christian groups of a more centrist leaning. Another party refused, holding to the enlightenment tradition of the community and developed in the direction of a Christian gnosticism.

In keeping with this polemic, the elder accuses the former members of the community of hating those who remained, and therefore of being liars if they say they love God:

1 John 4:20 (KJV): If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

1 John 4:8 builds up to the polemic of 4:20, not yet accusing the others of hatred, but saying that he who does not love can not know God because, after all, God is love:

1 John 4:8: He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

The elder leavens his diatribe against his former compatriots with verses about the love that those who remain behind have for each other and for God, but the meaning of 4:8 and 4:20 is clear: the elder's opponents are devoid of love.

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No you're not over thinking this. God is love and He is not hate. The "omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient nature" is never given to God in the Scriptures. These are terms man made up and then try to reconcile with Scripture based on false premises. The fact that God is love does not contradict with God's word, which says:

"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I YHVH do all these things." Isaiah 45:7

But how can God be love if He prepares evil? The answer is in Genesis:

"And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded (Heb: charged) thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life" Genesis 3:7

God prepares evil for our sake. The author of Ecclesiastes confirms this:

"And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore (רע: evil) travail (ענין: task experience) hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised (לענות: brought low, humbled) therewith." Ecclesiastes 1:13

God prepares evil to humble us, because when we are humbled we learn good, and God wants us to learn good because He is Love.

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  • Of note, KJV which you quote is almost certainly taking ענה there as "to be occupied" rather than the homonymous ענה "to be humbled" as glossed. – Susan Jul 22 '16 at 19:29
  • Hey @Susan I agree, but I consider "exercised" to mean "occupied to exhaustion", which would definitely cause one to be "brought low". The English "occupy" was a word the translators were familiar with, so if exercise has to do with exhaustion, this seems to be the best English word for ענה. What do you think? – Cannabijoy Jul 22 '16 at 19:54
  • I think it's two different words, and I think the KJV was aiming at "to occupy" (per HALOT also can be "to be concerned with", from Semitic root ʿny rather than ʿnw "to be humbled"). It has a cognate in the noun translated "task": "a task to be tasked with (it)", which is why it's pretty clear that this is the meaning. (That was kind of fun to figure out, so thanks. :-)) – Susan Jul 22 '16 at 22:14
  • Hey that's pretty interesting. This is common in Hebrew, so maybe. The LXX says: ὁ θεὸς τοῖς υἱοῖς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τοῦ περισπᾶσθαι ἐν αὐτῷ. Notice περισπᾶσθαι in Luke 10:40- biblehub.com/greek/4049.htm where it seems to mean "over-occupied" or "mentally distracted". The Hebrew לענות is only used in Ecclesiastes, and both times it's the same sentence. So who knows? Do you believe God has subjected us to evil to keep us occupied? This might be a good question to post, but I'm interested in what this means to you. Thanks Susan. – Cannabijoy Jul 23 '16 at 1:47
  • I believe Ecc 5:19 is the third use of this word (also LXX περισπάω); cf. the noun ʿinyān, also only in Ecc: 2:23, 26; 3:10; 4:8; 5:2, 13; 8:16 -- always περισπασμὸς (the Gr. translator was nothing if not consistent!). Comments aren't for extended discussion, though, so if you want to discuss further please head over to Biblical Hermeneutics Chat. Thanks! – Susan Jul 23 '16 at 2:46
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Throughout the letter the writer uses repetition and contrast between opposites. For example:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1:5) 1

Therefore the phrase “God is love” leads one to expect to find it placed in conjunction with its opposite: “God is love, in whom there is no hate at all.” Yet hate is missing from the phrase and raises the question: "Is John saying that God does not hate?"

I do not believe that is John's message. Rather the absence of hate is that he does not see love and hate as opposites.

“God is love” is repeated:

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (4:8)
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (4:16)

In this case the repetition allows comparison of the contrasting elements:

4:8: Anyone who does not love/God is love
4:16: God has love for us/God is love

Throughout the letter the writer encourages the reader to love. He is to love his brother (2:10, 3:10, 4:20, 4:21) and to love one another (3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12) and to love God (5:2). So in the case of the first “God is love” the corresponding partner is given in positive terms in the preceding verse:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (4:7)

4:7-8: Love one another + anyone who does not love/God is love

The first God is love is paired with both a positive and a negative element.

Also in contrast with light and dark, God is placed second and the sequence is inverted. The reader can rearrange the verses to place “God is love” as the primary condition:

4:16: God is love/God has love for us
4:7-8: God is love/love one another and failure to love means one does not know God

The writer’s point is that the opposite of love is a failure to love.

In addition, the writer defines love as an action:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (3:17)
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (3:18)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

If love is an action then:

4:16: God is love/God has love for us and will not fail to show His love
4:7-8: God is love/love one another and failure to show love means one does not know God

In essence the writer has said love is an action directed toward others. So since God’s nature is love, He will always show His love. Or put in terms of opposites like light and dark:

God is love in whom there is no failure to demonstrate His love.

As for hate:

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob's brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated... (Malachi 1:2-3)

Whatever meaning or significance one derives from "Esau I have hated," has no bearing on God's love. Hatred is not a limiting element or restriction on God's love. Hatred did not stop God from sending Jesus. Hatred did not stop Jesus from laying His life down for all, including Esau.


1. English Standard Version

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