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At issue is why John is writing to the fathers in 1 John 2:13-14:

ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, πατέρες, ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς·

  • I am writing | to you | fathers | because | you have known | the | from | (the) beginning
  • I have written | to you | fathers | because | you have known | the | from | (the) beginning

I had always read this clause as You had known (him that is from the beginning), but recently I heard a sermon in which this verse was interpreted as:

You had known (him) from the beginning.

With the interpretation being that when you are a "Father", or mature in the faith, you shift your identity to Christ-in-you which comes from above. This allows you to see God working in your life in all the times before your conversion. Then they drew on the parallel with Israel descending to Egypt and then emerging -- e.g. Israel was not born in Egypt, it escaped Egypt, returning back home. A "father" recognizes his true home.

This was contrasted with the paidia, that know the Father, but not from the beginning - e.g. they see their spiritual life beginning with conversion as their identity has not shifted to christ-in-them.

The advantage of this reading is it provides an explanation for the father/child distinction in verse 13 as without it, it appears there is little difference between the father and child, which is something that's always troubled me about this passage.

At the time, while I really liked the message, I wasn't sure if the Greek in 1 John 2.13 could support such a reading. On purely grammatical grounds, is the clause sufficiently ambiguous to support this alternate reading?

P.S. After scouring all of my commentaries, I could only find the following note, on verse 14, from WBC:

[Codex Vaticanus] reads τὸ ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς (“that which has been from the beginning”) for τὸν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς (“him who has existed from the beginning”); in which case the reference is (impersonally) to the “ancient teaching” which the “fathers” knew, rather than (personally) to their knowledge of the Word of God (see the comment below). The impersonal reference is adopted by O’Neill (Puzzle, 20), who believes that vv 12 and 13 are the work of a Christian editor, and that an original τὸ ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς in v 14, in a non-Christian section of teaching (vv 14–17), has been assimilated to the parallel in v 13 (τὸν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς) by “careless scribes.” O’Neill compares 2:24 and 2:7. But the personal reference is undoubtedly present in both vv, 13 and 14; see the comment on 1:1 (ὃ ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, “what was there from the beginning”). Marshall (140 n.27) speculates, hesitantly, that John’s first draft may have read ἐγνώκατε ἀυτὸν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς: “you have known him (Jesus) from the beginning” (i.e. for a long time; cf. the use of ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς in 2:7).

Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 51, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1984).

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  • I believe the passage may only be correctly understood by recognizing John is writing to "little children" who are called τεκνία (v. 12), but he has written to "little children" who are called παιδία (v. 13) [fathers and young men are the same throughout]. This distinction must be considered and be consistent with how the overall passage is understood. Aug 19, 2022 at 6:12
  • I don't believe this question is about the use of both paidia/teknion, as I am concerned about whether Greek grammar allows a certain reading of a different clause. I'm not even asking if it's the correct reading, from a theological point of view, just whether the grammar is as ambiguous as the english "You have known him from the beginning".
    – Robert
    Aug 19, 2022 at 16:04
  • The passage can be divided into 2 parts each with 3 items. There are two parallel features: 1) the verb for the first three items is always γράφω and for the second three is always ἔγραψα. 2) the sequence of τεκνία-πατέρες-νεανίσκοι is followed by an inverse παιδία-πατέρες-νεανίσκοι. πατέρες does have the same position but the meaning cannot be excised from the writer's overall structure. "Naturally" speaking, "fathers" is "misplaced" in both groups; yet "doctrinally" each side is "centered" on fathers. The grammar should not be understood in a vacuum, apart from the complete structure. Aug 19, 2022 at 18:58

1 Answer 1

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+100

Whose Beginning?

The Greek and literal English are ambiguous indeed. It doesn't mention the referent of the beginning, but context makes it clear. The fathers' beginning is more natural and apparent. The Authorized KJV clarifies the inserted words in italics.

AKJV I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning

But some of the more literal versions simply put it better without the supplied interpretation, such as Julia Smith Literal, LITV, ACV, Diaglott, Living Oracles.

JuliaSmith I write to you, fathers, for ye have known him from the beginning.
Diaglott I write to you, O fathers, because you have known him from a beginning;

O’Neill's argument or conjecture is perfectly valid that neuter το instead of τον is better for context, as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Athous Lavrensis (044, 9th century) reads. οτι εγνωκατε το απ αρχης· See ECM unedited collation for the mention of 044.

The masculine accusative article τον can be the impersonal logos teaching/word or even Pragma (things), as Neill says, referring to the various mentions in 1John 2:24, 2:7, 3:11, 2John 1:6, 5:5-6.

NHEB Acts 26:4 "Indeed, all Jews know my way of life from my youth up, which was from the beginning among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
SBL Τὴν μὲν οὖν βίωσίν μου τὴν ἐκ νεότητος τὴν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς γενομένην ἐν τῷ ἔθνει μου ἔν τε Ἱεροσολύμοις ἴσασι πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι,

1 John 2:13-14 should be understood as

I am writing to you, fathers, because you know [it/him] from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, little children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know [the message or him] from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the message/word of God remains in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Marshall's view is also valid, because the pronoun αυτον should be present if he is referring to Jesus or God, rather than simply accusative article "the" τον. But in any case it still doesn't imply that "from the beginning" refers to "him", rather than the fathers.

You have known him from [your] beginning/old days. This makes more sense contextually, because it's the father's quality he is listing, as he has mentioned the qualities of youngsters. Christ's beginning makes no sense in the context, and it's very unnecessary as the mention of his beginning has been mentioned many times. The fathers are the ἀρχαίοις (archaiois) forefathers (see references) of the ancient times, they have known (things/or God) from the ancient.

The traditional translation must have come from the Latin Vulgate which adds eum qui ab initio est (who is from the beginning: DouayRheims), and all the English and Latin theologians follow. I doubt we can find any commentator mentioning this interpretation, the Word Biblical Commentary's reference must be a very rare example. The commentators follow the Latin traditional theology and translation. To me the traditional translation seems unnatural and weird in the context. I encourage readers to not rely on the mainstream versions such as ESV, NASB, but use NHEB, and SLT etc. like plain versions for parallel comparison.

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  • Thanks Michael. Unless there is a better counter argument (from the Greek grammar) I will award you the bounty.
    – Robert
    Aug 30, 2022 at 20:52

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