Re: The Epistolary Plural in 1 John 1:4?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 17:55:04 EST

At 5:37 PM -0500 1/4/00, wrote:
>In a message dated 00-01-04 12:10:11 EST, writes:
><< I would think so and in fact I can't imagine an alternative to this view;
> certainly he does not list at the outset additional senders (as Paul
> frequently does, even when Paul writes in the first person singular). Of
> course 1 John is a treatise or sermon rather than a real letter, but it
> uses the literary form of the letter as was commonly done in antiquity for
> short treatises, and the first-plural or "editorial" we is pretty common.>>
>I asked this question because (1) I did not know if this use was prevalent in
>the first century (2) The usage in 1 John 1:4 has been debated.
>Young indicates that the plural in 1 John 1:4 is a literary plural. Smalley,
>in his Word Series Commentary, interprets the plural as "we (the writer, in
>solidarity with all the representatives of orthodoxy in the church) are
>writing this." Brown feels that what John writes "bears more than personal
>authorization--it is Community tradition from the Community
>tradition-bearers" (Young 73-74).
>Here is what Wallace writes:
>"Is the Elder writing alone or in association with others? Complicating the
>issue is the fact that in vv 5 and 6 the plural continues, but each time with
>a different force: In v 5 it seems to refer to the author and other
>ministers; in v 6, it is an inclusive WE (the author and audience together).
>The author uses GRAFW another dozen times in this letter, but each time in
>the singular" (Wallace 396).
>Hope this adds to the discussion,

Yes, it adds to the discussion (particularly when nobody on B-Greek has
significant input into your question) to "cite the learned authorities" and
find out that they hold to a variety of different views, some of which
overlap. More voices in the discussion. I would still say what I said
above. As for what the others say, I think Young is saying pretty much what
I'm saying. Smalley and Brown are interpreting on the basis of how they
feel the treatise was meant to be interpreted (as an assuring warranty that
the Johannine tradition is not really out of harmony with apostolic
orthodoxy, even if the language of it can be interpreted in gnostic terms.
It seems to me that Wallace deals more honestly with the actual evidence
and finds that it is insufficiently conclusive. Wherefore, I still must say
that the use of the plural in this situation is not at all uncommon (even
in alternation with a first-person singular), enough so that one needs to
show some convincing evidence that there's a different reason for use of
the first-plural here in 1 John than customary usage.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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