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The writer of 1 John uses repetition throughout the letter. Sometimes the repetition is also characterized by a change of tense. What is the meaning of the shift from present to aorist in 1 John 2:12-14?.

This technique allows the message to be considered along the aspect being repeated. For example the repetitive aspect to fathers and young men in 2:13-14 can be compared:

I write (γράφω) to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning...

I have written (ἔγραψα) to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I write (γράφω) to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one...

I have written (ἔγραψα) to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one

Before using this device the writer employs the technique of repetition without changing the tense:

Brethren, I write (γράφω) no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write (γράφω) to you... (1 John 2:7-8 NKJV)

While seemingly contradictory, the failure to change tense makes sense:

  1. The letter contains a command heard from the beginning (which I am writing).

  2. This letter contains a new command (which I am writing).

Repetition is built in to this message. The first part of the message can be paraphrased: "I am not writing a new command. I am repeating what has been written, which is not new. So I am (re)writing this old command. Also I am writing a new command."

The writer waits before writing the old command:

For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another (1 John 3:11 NKJV)

What is the new command in the Letter?

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The "new" commandment that John is not literally a commandment was never given before, but rather "new" in the sense that it is an old commandment that his readers have a new understanding of.

This is the explanation given by Augustine in his commentary on this epistle:

“Dearly beloved, I write unto you no new commandment, but the old commandment which ye had from the beginning.” What commandment calls he “old? Which ye had,” saith he, “from the beginning. Old” then, in this regard, that ye have already heard it: otherwise he will contradict the Lord, where He saith, “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.” [John 13:34]. But why an “old” commandment? Not as pertaining to the old man. But why? “Which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard.” Old then, in this regard, that ye have already heard it. And the selfsame he showeth to be new, saying, “Again, a new commandment write I unto you.” Not another, but the selfsame which he hath called old, the same is also new. Why? “Which thing is true in Him and in you.” Why old, ye have already heard: i.e., because ye knew it already. But why new? “Because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” Lo, whence it is new: because the darkness pertains to the old man, but the light to the new man. What saith the Apostle Paul? “Put ye off the old man, and put ye on the new.” [Col 3:9-10] And again what saith he? “Ye were sometime darkness, but now light in the Lord.” [Eph 5:8]

A later commentator - the 20th century Orthodox theologian Justin Popovic - points out that "old" and "new" are terms that may have temporal meaning for us, but that cannot circumscribe the divine:

Through divine power - which creates in man new life, new thoughts, new feelings, the new man - this old commandment is always new. For it always emanates from God and flows into man, through the holy virtues. There are no doubts: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), i.e. the same God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, and His salvific powers are always the same, always fresh, always old and new because they are eternal. The eternal does not age; it is always new and young and, therefore, life-creating and creative.

Commentary on the Epistles of St. John the Theologian (tr. from Serbian, Sebastian Press, 2009), p.24

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There is one thing in the letter which I do not believe is found elsewhere in Scripture:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15 ESV)

If the instruction not to love the world is unique, it would constitute "a new command."

Considered in the light of the Gospel, the basis for the new command is that "God so loved the world..." If man loves the world, they would be trying to take what belongs to God (the language of the Gospel) or the Father (the language of the letter).

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My own translation of 1 John 2:12-14:

12 I am writing to you little children, because through his name your sins have been forgiven. 13 I am writing to you fathers because you have known Him(a) from the beginning. I am writing to you young men because you have subdued the evil one.

I have written to you little children because you have known the Father. 14I have written to you fathers because you have known Him(a) from the beginning. I have written to you young men because you are strong men and the word of God abides in you, for you have subdued the evil one.


(a) properly, "the One"

Anything that is suggested about why this change of tense occurs, can only be conjecture.

My guess is, the letter was sent in two parts. The "I am writing..." sentences were the the last things written in the first part, and the "I have written..." sentences are the first things written in the second part — the writer having taken up from where he left off. Of course, he wouldn't have had a copy of the first, but he would remember the essence of how he finished it.

As possible evidence of this, τεκνία is the word for "little children" in the first part, but παιδία is used in the second. I think it unlikely that the writer would use different words in such close proximity if the epistle were continuous.

With regard to the "new commandment", I think a hint of it is given in verse 12, "because through his name your sins have been forgiven", but the full statement of it is not given until 1 John 3:23, which I would give like this:

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The "new commandment" is not really new, but the writer of the epistle is emphasizing the importance of the NAME of Jesus Christ. For example, if the brothers cared about the name of their Saviour, then they wouldn't bring shame upon it by boasting of being in the light while at the same time expressing hatred towards one another (1 John 2:9-11). The world is looking for reasons not to put faith in the name of Jesus, and those who behave in such a way give them greater cause not to.

"Loving one another" is unarguably the principle theme of this epistle. Chapter 4 in particular, where more than half of the verses contain the word "love". By way of example here is my translation of 1 John 4:8-11:

7 Dear ones! We should love one another, because love is from God. And all who love have been begotten from God, and know God. 8 He who does not love has not known God, because God is love.

9 The love of God was manifest in us in this way: God sent his son ‒ the only one ‒ into the world so that we might live through him.

10 Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that he, himself, loved us and sent forth his son ‒ an atonement for our sins.

Additional Comments

My translation of 1 John 2:7-8:

7 Dear ones! I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning. The commandment, the old one, is the word that you heard. 8 Then again (πάλιν), I am writing a new commandment to you, one that is true in him and in you, because the darkness has passed, and the light, the true light, is shining even now.

The word πάλιν (Strong's G3825) at the beginning of verse 8, is not being used by the author to indicate that what follows is a "reiteration" of something he has said before, but to indicate that he has had a "second thought" about what he has just written.

I can't help being moved to see a connection between the author's emphasis on the behaviour of those who make claim to the "name of Jesus" and the injunction of the third commandment:

Exodus 20:7 (KJV)

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

For the "name of Jesus" to stand out above all the rest, the behaviour of the brothers must be in keeping with the message of love in the Gospel, otherwise Jesus' name will mean "nothing", just another vanity -- an empty/worthless thing.

It is duplicitous for one's words to preach enlightenment and one's actions to preach something different. One who behaves in such a way WILL be seen for what they are, but the real damage is not done to them, but to "the name of Jesus". Jesus' name ends up becoming just another means of fooling the people for the purpose of exploiting them.

The bulk of what the author has to say is gentle and loving and uplifting as he, himself, cannot help but model the message of the words, but interspersed in the text are clear statements of what duplicitous behaviour looks like. For example my translations of 1 John 1:6 and 10:

6 If we were to say we have communion with him, but were to walk in darkness, then we have lied, for we do not do what is true...If we were to say we have not sinned, then we make him a liar. So, his word is not in us.

And 1 John 2:4,22:

He who says, "I have known him!" even while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.... Who is the liar, if not he who has denied, as though Jesus is not the Christ. This is he who is the antichrist ‒ the one who has denied the Father and the Son.

The author initially said he wasn't writing a new commandment, but when he gave it a second thought it stuck him that he was, indeed, giving his readers something new to think about in regard to the old commandment (John 13:34, John 15:12,17).

  • You make some good points. I agree that one of the main points in the letter is love for one another and the letter develops and builds on that theme. However, I see the importance of the NAME more along the lines of doctrine (developing the commandment); it is not a new command (as you state). Also I think if the writer said they are writing a new command, then there should be a new command. There should be a command in this letter that is not found (directly stated) anywhere else. – Revelation Lad Nov 8 '16 at 14:53
  • I will add my analysis of verses 7 and 8, because πάλιν its not being used to say that the author is reiterating something he has already written, but to say "on second thoughts". – enegue Nov 8 '16 at 19:23
  • True on the surface. But when the writer uses the element of old and new it has the same effect as changing the tense. IOW saying "I am writing an old command...and I am writing a new command..." is a subtle way of saying "I have written a command (old)...and I am writing a command (new)." Using old and new has exactly the same effect as changing the tense. And there should be a new command. – Revelation Lad Nov 8 '16 at 20:56
  • Well, all I can say is, I'm satisfied that the author was saying, "I'm not..., then again, I AM... The fact that you can't find a "new commandment" as you prefer to understand it, adds weight to my argument. What is the alternative... that the author is lying? – enegue Nov 8 '16 at 21:24

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