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1 John 2:19

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Is "went out from us" something like this (for example):

  1. someone hates his/her brother or
  2. someone loves the world or
  3. someone moves to another religion or
  4. etc.

So, the examples above showed that from the beginning he/she is not "belong to us" → their going showed that none of them belonged to us


What does it mean "us" in the sentence "belong to us"? The elected group?


below is the addition, added on 11 Dec 2016.

I've just realized that in the verse 18, the author is talking about Anti Christ. Is it possible that the word "they" in verse 19 means the Anti Christ ? So... this "they" which among "us" in the first place are an intruders ? The purpose that they infiltrate "us" is to ruin "us" ?

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It is almost universally acknowledged that the Gospel of John and the Epistle 1 John have much in common. Regardless of whether these were written by the same person, the Epistle reflects the Gospel. David Smith summarizes the relationship between these two:

...the Epistle throughout has the Gospel as its background and is hardly intelligible without it. 1

The correspondence of the Epistle and Gospel is found right from the start:

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3) 2

The writer is an original disciple: theirs is also the Gospel experienced. They are not alone in the group; there are others, who like the writer experienced Jesus when He was alive. The writer seeks the fellowship of a reader. This fellowship is not just with the writer; it includes those other original disciples. And it is fellowship with The Father and His Son Jesus Christ. (Note that without identifying the issue, the theme of fellowship identifies the problem: those who left and broke fellowship.)

An original disciple had known and followed Jesus when He was alive. They believed their faith in Him made them children of God and now gave them life in His name (immediate fellowship with God)3:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Importantly, an original disciple has specific instructions to go and make disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey the commands Jesus gave His disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). In terms of John's Gospel, the writer of this Epistle is basing their desire of fellowship from this prayer of Jesus:

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

Jesus prayed for unity among those who would come to believe in Him through the word of the original disciples. This unity is the fellowship described and desired in the Epistle. Importantly, there is a purpose to this unity: so that the world may believe that you have sent me. In terms of the division which occurred, the lack of unity among the church is proof (to the world) that Jesus was not sent.

When read in conjunction with the Gospel the Epistle makes three points:

  1. As an original disciple their message is authentic.
  2. As one seeking fellowship their purpose is authentic.
  3. The purpose is "apostolic" evangelism: for the world to know Jesus was sent as a result of the message delivered by His original disciples.

The message of the Epistle (subtlety) incorporates a point central to the false teaching: Jesus was sent. The false teachers did not dispute whether Jesus came. Their belief was that He did not come in the flesh. To this the writer of the Epistle replies - "Jesus came so that those who believed through His original disciples would have a unique unity (with God and each other) which would prove to the world their message, Jesus was sent, is true."

Therefore, anyone who splits the group apart, is either not an original or true disciple and they never were part of that group. Their actions prove they were never true disciples, as the Gospel relates:

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, (John 8:31)

If there are original disciples, there are also those who originally turned away. These too could rightly claim they had seen His miracles and heard His teachings. In other words, the false teachers could make a claim to be original disciples. They too could say they had a message which they had seen and heard and handled. No doubt there were many who could say they had heard and seen the things Jesus had done; some of these claims could be false; some could be true.

The Epistle's answer to these "eye witness" claims (which might be valid) is that the fact they left (again?) proves they were never part of the group that stayed with Jesus when He was alive. In other words, the Gospel proves there are "eye witnesses" who stayed with Jesus and those who left Him and the Gospel also provides the means by which a reader may determine to which group a person making a claim belongs.

As original disciple, the writer of the Epistle presents two tests by which anyone in the Apostolic church can determine whether someone claiming to have an authentic eye witness is a true disciple:

  1. External: are they working for or against unity for all believers.
  2. Internal: does the Holy Spirit affirm the objective reality. (1 John 2:27)

The Epistle's answer to the question, "Did they go to a new religion?" is contemplative: "Did those who left in the Gospel ever accept what Jesus taught?" It also presents this question to a reader: "Who should you believe, an original disciple who stayed, or one who left?"

Since those that left were never part of the group, their most likely "next step" would be to return to their previous group. For the Gentile that would be their pagan religion and for the Jewish person that would be Judaism. If the Gospel is the basis for understanding the Epistle, then those who left returned to Judaism 4, like those described in John 6.


1. David Smith, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, volume 5 p 154 [Expositor's Greek Testament]

2. English Standard Version throughout.

3. The question focuses on the present tense situation. Fellowship also includes eternal life. The sequence for the original disciple is to become a child of God; go and make disciples of all nations teaching them to do what Jesus commanded (love one another); enjoy fellowship with one another (affirming the evangelistic message); receive eternal life.

4. Since Gnostic Judaism was present before the Christian Era, this might be a return to their previous type of gnosticism.

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  • Thank you for the explanation, Revelation Lad. It seems your answer is the same answer from Dick Harfield. "went out from us" = the one who moves to another religion because in the first place, this person is never belong to the rest who stayed with the elder. – karma Nov 28 '16 at 18:00
  • I wonder, (question) what about if today there is mr.A moves to another religion then tomorrow there is mr.B moves to another religion ? (answer) The total number of persons in "US" decreasing. If my answer is correct until here, isn't that mean any person in "US" never know each other which one is in the first place never "belong to us" ? – karma Nov 28 '16 at 18:01
  • @karma That is an interesting question. I have added to my answer to address that. I think the difference between the 2 answers is what the landscape looks like after the split. Yes the church is smaller, but did those that leave form an entirely new group or did they return to their previous group? At this stage in the development of the church, a return to their old group is the more likely choice. That is, since they were never part of the new group, they still held to their previous beliefs. – Revelation Lad Nov 28 '16 at 20:50
  • Oke. Thank you for your respond Revelation Lad. – karma Dec 2 '16 at 8:06
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Burton L. Mack says, in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 215, he believes that a split took place in the Johannine community shortly after the turn of the second century. The author of 1 John led a faction that thought it best to merge with other Christian groups of a more centrist leaning. The other party refused, holding to the enlightenment tradition of the community and developed in the direction of a Christian gnosticism.

First John is to a large extent a polemic against members of the other faction, who "went out from us". We only see one point of view and it is not possible to say that the departed comrades felt hatred for their former colleagues, or "brothers". So the meaning behind this passage relates to option 3, "someone moves to another religion".

The "us" is of course the faction that stayed with the elder (see 2 John 1:1) and joined what Mack calls the centrist branch of Christianity.

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  • Does Mack say that the group that received the letter (those that held to the teachings of the writer) were the Gnostic Christians? – Revelation Lad Nov 30 '16 at 15:14
  • Hi @RevelationLad No, he does not. Reading the text, it seems clear that the writer and those that held to the teachings of the writer were 'orthodox' in the sense that they joined what Mack calls the 'centrist' branch of Christianity, the forerunner of today's Catholic and Orthodox Churches. .../ – Dick Harfield Nov 30 '16 at 20:06
  • .../ The Presbyter's opponents seem to be Gnostic Christians, a view held by Mack, but I notice elsewhere a question based on the concept that they actually reverted to Gnostic Judaism, and I can see where that is coming from even if I disagree. – Dick Harfield Nov 30 '16 at 20:09
  • I asked as this part of your answer seems to say that Mack believed the group that stayed became the Christian Gnostics: "Another party refused, holding to the enlightenment tradition of the community and developed in the direction of a Christian gnosticism." Also, I think it would help if the full title of Mack's book was used: Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth since it will help people understand Mack's point of view. – Revelation Lad Nov 30 '16 at 20:24
  • @RevelationLad I had not realised my answer could be misunderstood, but I have now amended it to make it more clear that the writer was part of a faction that joined the centrist branch, while the "other party" developed in a more Gnostic direction. I hope this helps. – Dick Harfield Nov 30 '16 at 23:45
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In 1 John 2:19, it is written,

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us, they would have remained with us, but [they went out from us] so that they would be manifest that they all were not from us.

ΙΘʹ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθον, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν εἰ γὰρ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν, μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα φανερωθῶσιν ὅτι οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες ἐξ ἡμῶν TR, 1550

However, the preceding 1 John 2:18 states,

18 Little children, it is the last hour. And just as you heard that the antichrist comes, and now there are many antichrists, wherefore we know that it is the last hour.

ΙΗʹ Παιδία, ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν καὶ καθὼς ἠκούσατε ὅτι ὁ ἀντίχριστος ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἀντίχριστοι πολλοὶ γεγόνασιν, ὅθεν γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν TR, 1550

On the Greek verb ἐξέρχομαι, from which ἐξῆλθον is conjugated, Joseph Henry Thayer (translating Wilke) wrote,1

  1. figuratively;

    a. ἔκ τινων, ἐκ μέσου τινῶν, to go out from some assembly, i. e. to forsake it: 1 Jn. 2:19 (opp. to μεμενήκεισαν μεθʼ ἡμῶν); 2 Co. 6:17.

You are correct that the “many antichrists” were those who went out from us—“us” referring to the body of Christ, those who have “fellowship” or “communion with one another.”2 They went out from the Church so that it would be manifest—apparent or readily known—that they were not of the Church. Rather, they were anti-Christs (ἀντίχριστοι) or pseudo-Christs (ψευδόχριστοι)!

On the relationship between these two words, Chenevix Richard Trench wrote,3

The word ἀντίχριστος is peculiar to the Epistles of St. John, occurring five times in them (1 Ep. 2:18, bis; 2:22; 4:3; 2 Ep. 7); and nowhere else in the N. T. But if he alone has the word, St. Paul, in common with him, designates the person of this great adversary, and the marks by which he shall be recognized; for all expositors of weight, Grotius alone excepted, are agreed that St. Paul’s ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας, his υἱὸς τῆς ἀπολείας, his ἄνομος (2 Thess. 2:3, 8), is identical with St. John’s ἀντίχριστος (see Augustine, De Civ. Dei, xx. 19. 2); and, indeed, to St. Paul we are indebted for our fullest instruction concerning this arch-enemy of Christ and of God.


References

Trench, Chenevix Richard. Synonyms of the New Testament. 12th ed. London: Kegan, 1894.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry.Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Footnotes

1 p. 223
2 1 John 1:7
3 Ch. XXX, p. 105–110

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