Thursday, February 07, 2008

Looking Forward Or Back

Commentaries can be helpful, but at other times they only seem to raise questions that make things seem less clear (not to mention they can tend toward getting into ruts of interpretation and not notice other things that are there simply because the previous commentators did not focus on them as Dan Phillips was lamenting over a Pyromaniacs.)

My general approach to a text I will be preaching on is to first of all deal with the text, its immediate context and it overall context in the scriptures. I read it, pray about it, look at the original languages and the like repeatedly. Then I turn to commentaries. The problem is sometimes they don't answer a question that I have of the text on which I want additional input from godly men through their commentaries. Other times, they point out things that I had not thought of.

This coming Sunday evening I will be preaching on 1 John 2:7-8 (I may go further but from my study there is enough there for one sermon):

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
1 John 2:7-8 (ESV)

As with many people who have read this book of the Bible and the gospel according to John over many times in my life, my first thought when I read this is that it is referring to Jesus teaching in John 13 in his Upper Room discourse:

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:31-35 (ESV)

Thus, the first thing that comes to mind is the new commandment is the old commandment to love on another. This is supported by the fact that the next thing John wrote about in his first letter was a call to mutual love between believers. Most of us make that assumption without actually considering it.

However, reading the commentaries I found that a few of them (Matthew Henry, Robert S. Candlish and Albert Barnes) who ask the question if he is looking forward to the command of love that Christ gave which John would deal with next, or whether John was looking back at what he has just wrote and was affirming that none of this was new, but was know by those he was writing to from the beginning when they received Christ.

I had never thought of even asking that question. The points for this looking back make sense. John writes and a clear style and it would seem more likely that he was dealing with something he had already wrote rather that something he was about to speak of, especially since he does not mention love at all until the following verses. The reference to the beginning (see 1 John 1:1 and John 1:1ff) and the mention of the true light already shining all fall into the argument why this is looking back. The point of looking back is that what John had just written about could have been under attack by the false teachers who left the church as a 'new' or 'novel' teaching, and because of it strong call to a life transformed by grace.

On the other hand looking forward fits nicely with John 13 and the coming call to love.

So what do those who read this blog think? Is John looking back or forward with these verses and why?


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