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“Abiding” in 1 John

Commentary on 1 John 2: 24-28

Over against the attraction of such doctrines, John exhorts his readers to “let what you heard in the beginning abide in you.” This introduces the theme of abiding, which had appeared earlier, almost in passing, in 2:6, 14, and 24. This theme is typically Johannine, for the verb “to abide” appears in this letter more than anywhere else in the New Testament, and the other book in which it also appears several times is the Gospel of John. Although John has used this verb earlier in the Epistle, it is at this point that it comes to the foreground by sheer repetition.

Note how often the verb “to abide” appears in the rest of chapter 2: three times in verse 24, twice in 27, and once again in verse 28. From this point on, this theme will recur, constantly reminding us of its importance. The word that the NRSV translates as “abiding” has also been translated as “indwelling,” or as “remaining.” Actually, the NRSV itself occasionally translates it as “remained”—for instance, in 1 Jn 2:19.

The combination of these various possible translations gives us a fuller flavor of the meaning of the word. It means to dwell permanently or to live, as when we say “I live in Kansas.” The word “abide” is somewhat archaic, but it expresses an essen¬tial idea in First John. In some older translations of the Bible, the words of the disciples to Jesus on the road to Emmaus are: “Abide with us. …” The NRSV translates this as “Stay with us. . .” (Lk 24:29). The famous hymn, “Abide with Me” is based on these words.

To abide means to continue, to remain, to dwell, to live in—as in John 15:4-8, where the NRSV translators felt it necessary to use the archaic words because “stay” did not convey the whole sense. The passage begins: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” To “abide” has more of the sense of dwelling in, being a part of. To “stay” does not mean the same. As a command to a dog it clearly separates the speaker from the dog, if the dog is obedient. But when Jesus tells us to abide in him, it is to be a part of him as he is part of us. This goes back to the mean¬ing of baptism as an engrafting into Christ, letting us dwell in him, and he in us.


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