1 John 5:13 & Bible Interpretation

Yesterday I posted the following version of 1 John from the Once Saved, Always Saved Study Bible (OSAS) which I am writing. I wrote a long intro yesterday, but I forgot to mention that all of the OSAS Study Bible is based on (or going to be based on) actual experience of phenomenally bad Bible interpretation.

So here’s 1 John in the OSAS Bible. (If all the books were like this, it would be a very short version.)

1 John 1-5 (OSAS)

Italics indicate additions or notes:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

16 By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us …

It is amazing that John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 have the same message of God’s love through the death of Jesus by faith alone. Is it possible that God did this on purpose to get us to focus on these two verses?

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Obviously, since he wrote everything else in this letter (“these things”) so that those of us who believe on the name of the Son of God will know we have eternal life, we can ignore the rest of this letter. We already know we have eternal life, so why bother with all that other stuff, some of which is pretty shocking.

There it is, that’s the whole thing.

Here’s why it’s like that:

1 John 5:13

I have been through several evangelism classes: Evangelism Explosion (Dr. D. James Kennedy’s 1980’s bestseller), Continuing Witness Training (Southern Baptist), and Evangelism Challenge (Pentecostal Church of God version of Evangelism Explosion).

Everyone used 1 John 5:13 the same way. They quoted it, and then they interpreted it to mean that everyone who believes in Jesus ought to know they have eternal life just for believing in Jesus.

No one ever asked, “What are ‘these things’?”

“These things” are the things written in John’s letter. “These things” include “He who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.”

“These things” include “Little children, do not be deceived. He who continues doing righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. He who continues sinning is of the devil.”

Bible Interpretation

Some of the most popular shows on television are “whodunit” shows. Numb3rs, NCIS, The Mentalist, Psych, and who knows how many others. They all have their quirks to separate from the others, but they are all “whodunit” programs.

People have loved mysteries for centuries. Not being a classics reader (#Shame), like my kids are (#ShameRemoved), I don’t know how much of English literature are mysteries. I do know that Agathie Christie novels, and even a TV show, were wildly popular. In fact, the term “whodunit” is not an colloquiallism, it is a term invented to describe mystery novels.

We love trying to figure out “who done it.” I sat and fought cases as a child with Perry Mason. I allow myself only one TV show at any time in my life, which I now watch free on the internet. My family’s latest is Numb3rs, and it’s not because any of us really understand Heidelberg’s uncertainty principle or could solve any of Charlie’s equations. Solve? We can’t even read them.

But we love guessing who done it. We will wrack our brains, put the TV on pause, and present our cases. We are exercising logic and working at attention to detail. It’s some of the most stimulating mental work, but we love it.

How about Sudoku puzzles? Crossword puzzles?

In the right context, we love to think. We love to find the right answers.

Maybe we actually love to think when it comes to the Bible, too. Maybe the problem is whether we want to find the right answer or the most comfortable answer.

Pharisees and the Most Convenient Bible Interpretation

Do you remember the time when the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him by what authority he was teaching?

Jesus said he would only answer their question if they answered his. His was, “The baptism of John. Was it of God or from man?”

The basis upon which they decided their answer should chill us. They debated what would happen to them if they said yes, and they debated what would happen to them if they said no. They never discussed whether the baptism of John was from God or from man. They didn’t care what was true. They only cared about what would happen to them if they answered one way or another.

How often do we do this?

How Does This Apply to Bible Interpretation?

1 John 5:13 is a wonderful verse to assure someone of salvation if you pull it out of context and ignore the central point it is making. 1 John 5:13 is not primarily talking about believers knowing they have eternal life. It is primarily talking about the reason that John wrote his letter. That reason happens to include, among several other reasons mentioned in the letter, helping believers, or supposed believers, know whether they are children of God or children of the devil (cf. 3:7-10).

It’s possible for us to figure that out. We ponder and pore over NCIS so that we can beat Gibbs to finding the culprit. Sometimes we’re smart enough to do it.

It is not a difficult or complex thought process to figure out that we ought to look further at what “these things” are in 1 John 5:13. If someone walked up to us and said, “These things will make you healthier,” but they were empty-handed, you would say, “What things?”

What things will let us know we have eternal life?

The answer is obvious. It’s much easier than solving a “whodunit.” Let’s read the letter and find out!

Somehow, though, in all those years of evangelism, no one suggested that we actually pay attention to what John was saying in 1 John 5:13. All we cared about was what we wanted to say from 1 John 5:13.

The Once Saved Always Saved Bible

There’s not much in 1 John that works well for those that believe that you’ll go to heaven no matter what you do as long as you believe. In fact, the whole book was written to say that the false doctrine and terrible behavior of the docetists (a version of gnosticism) proves that despite their claims to believe, they do not have eternal life. In fact, they are antichrists.

As a result, the OSAS version includes only 1 John 5:13 because I have met people for whom that was the only useful part of 1 John. The rest was ignored and certainly never quoted.

I also added 1 John 3:16 because of its relation to John 3:16. It’s possible I should have added 1 John 4:7-8 because it’s been put to music, and the short song used to be very popular.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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