Re: Wallace & 1 John 5:20

From: GregStffrd (
Date: Tue May 05 1998 - 01:38:08 EDT

In a message dated 98-05-01 15:29:17 EDT, you write:

<< Greg,
         Thanks for your response. Besides differing genders, what
 mixed constituents does Wallace identify in 1 John 5:20? Also, what
 factor(s) made him lean towards applying GS's rule to the construction?
         Thank you.
 Chris Vlachos

Dear Chris:

I apologize for the delay in responding to you, but I am just now able to
answer your question.

Wallace has two concerns about classifying 1 John 5:20 as a legitimate GS

1) The postpositive adjective AIWNIOS: Does it break the construction?

2) Does the change in gender between THEOS and ZWH nullify the construction?

In regards to his first concern, Wallace admits that in other examples, such
as Rev. 20:1, "the postpositive adjective effectively breaks the construction"
(p. 272). Wallace then presents four reasons why 1 John 5:20 should be
considered a legitimate GS construction in spite of the postpositive

1) He believes the limited pool of examples containing a trailing adjective
with the second noun "is hardly a large enough data base on which to build a
compelling principle" (p. 273). (Of course, I have argued the same thing for
those examples containing a proper name with the second noun.)

2) He points to ZWH AIWNIOS as a rare example of an attributive adjective used
without the article in the noun-adjective order. This is a legitimate
observation, and should be carefully considered.

3) Wallace highlights what he initially calls "one parallel to 1 John 5:20 in
the papyri" (p. 273). He adds that the parallel is only in terms of the
adjective, and further notes that it is not even completely parallel in this
respect, since the adjective occurs with the first noun, not the second.
Still, he believes that "the principle is the same." But I fail to see how
this is so, since we are concerned with whether or not the postpositive
adjective used with the second noun in a KAI-joined phrase can account for its
use without the article. Also, Wallace's example (hUMAS . . . TOUS THEOUS
MEGISTOUS KAI ANTILHMPTORAS [P. Lond. 23:17-18]) contains plural nouns. Thus,
it is not at all parallel to 1 John 5:20.

4) Wallace argues that "the most natural reading of 1 John 5:20 is to see the
subject, hOUTOS, as referring to both THEOS and ZWH. This is a subjective
observation, and it may or may not be true. But in this context (see below) it
may be equally natural to understand THEOS and ZWH as having different
referents, though closely associated with each other. Compare Jesus' close
association of AIWNIOS ZWH with a knowledge of the Father (the only true God),
in John 17:3, with the fact that 1 John 5:20 speaks of the Son coming to give
us a knowledge of TON ALHTHINON, which leads to "everlasting life" (see

Regarding the change in gender, Wallace notes that no other GS construction in
NT contains this mixture (p. 274). He offers the following two considerations:

1) In mixed constructions of this sort the NT and the papyri regularly use a
second article.

2) Wallace sites only one example from a fourth century CE letter (P. Oxy.
1298) that contains a GS construction with two masculine nouns followed by a
feminine abstract noun, and where the nouns have the same referent. But there
is no postpositive adjective used with the feminine noun.

Wallace concludes by observing that of the seventy or so instances in which
hOUTOS has a personal referent, about forty-four of them refer to the Son.
This argument has little force behind it. If hOUTOS were used exclusively of
the Son, then there might be some significance to this observation, but since
it is used of Nicodemus, and even of the antichrist (!), it can hardly be
significant in this instance, as somehow limiting the referent to the
Son.-John 3:2; 2 John 7.

There are two very significant observations to keep in mind when considering 1
John 5:20, and for some reason Wallace does not consider either one of them.

The first has to do with the immediate context. In the first part of 1 John
5:20, we are told that the Son of God has come and given us the ability to
know TON ALHTHINON. This creates a distinction between the two, for one gives
us a knowledge of the other, but TON ALHTHINON also provides what I perceive
as that most natural antecedent for hO ALHTHINOS THEOS, who is distinguished
from Jesus (ZWH AIWNIOS [?]-cf. 1 John 1:2) hO hUIOS AUTOU.

The second is the fact that Jesus restricted the application of hO ALHTHINOS
THEOS to his Father in John 17:3 (note the use of MONOS). Thus, if hO
ALHTHINOS THEOS is a title that is said to belong "only" to the Father, and if
Jesus is the one commonly understood as ZWH AIWNIOS (1 John 1:2), then we may
have a situation where the nouns and accompanying adjectives created semantic
concepts in the minds of the readers which were only properly understood of
certain individuals.

I think many "ambiguous" texts can be resolved by appeal to the immediate and
larger theological context and habitual use of language of those who wrote and
read the texts in question. Grammar should always be considered carefully, but
not at the expense of other exegetically significant factors.

Greg Stafford
University of Wisconsin

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