Monday, February 2, 2009

Word Games

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach on I John 2:12-14 at The Gathering.

The ending of verse 14 says, "I have written to you young people, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have conquered the evil one."

I asked the question, "What did John mean by the phrase, 'the Word of God'?" In the sermon, I answered the question in relatively broad terms. The following is some of my expanded thoughts on the subject.

What did John mean by the phrase, "the Word of God?"

Obviously, these believers did not have the complete Bible, so to what is John referring? For certain, he is referring to the Jewish Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. Some Christians might have had access (or have known someone with access) to a copy of the Septuagint, which was a Greek translation of the OT.

As for the NT, it is possible that they had one of the synoptic Gospels. If we assume Mark was written c. 45 AD, that gives about 45 years for it to circulate, and possibly have gotten into the hands of John's audience. Matthew and Luke, written c. 70 AD (depending on your view), would have only had roughly 20 years. If you date Matthew and Luke in the 80's, it would be even more difficult for John's readers to have access to them. It is also possible that they had a small collection of two or three of Paul's epistles (written in the 50's and 60's). However, even if we assume the best possible scenario - that they had access to one gospel, and some Pauline epistles - we must remember that literacy rates were much lower, and copies of the scriptures were very, very few.

That said, there was another body of teaching that would have been passed on orally - the Kerygma. Kerygma is a term that means, "preaching, or proclamation". Kerygma is used to refer to the body of truth proclaimed by the early apostles about Christ, and the Christian message. Some of the elements of the Kerygma would have included, key points of Christ's earthly ministry; that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again, and was seen by many witnesses; and a proclamation of salvation through Christ. (SEE: I Corinthians 15:1-8; Acts 2:22-38; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 10:34-43; Acts 13:23-39) In short, the kerygma is the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ.

To sum up, when John uses the phrase, 'Word of God' he was referring to the OT, possibly one or two books in the NT, and the Kerygma - the apostolic teaching about Christ.

There is still another aspect that I didn't get into during the sermon. If John's readers had access to some NT books, would they have even viewed them as canonical at this point? In other words, would they themselves have viewed Mark, for example, as the Word of God in 90 AD?

Another question, is it possible that when John used the term, "Word of God", he was referring to a gift of prophetic revelation? That is, did the readers of I John really did have the Word of God abiding\residing in them? In I John 2:20 it says, "Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.", skip to verse 27, "Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides (same grk word as v.14) in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him." The context of these verses is a warning against false teachers. Teachers who may have claimed some type of elite secret knowledge about Christ. In this type of context, the anointing seems to be aiding in the discernment process - discerning between false teaching about Christ, and correct teaching about Christ. Thus, it isn't certain that by, "word of God", John was speaking about an inner prophetic gift. Even if this were the case, this does not negate the definition of "Word of God" given above (OT, parts of NT, and kerygma), it nearly expands the definition. Any genuine "Word of God" via prophecy from within, would have to conform with the OT, NT, and apostolic teaching (Kerygma).

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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