Gnostics believed that they belonged to the "true church" of an elect few who were worthy; the orthodox Christians would not be saved because they were blind to the truth.
Part E -- Content - if we then combine the historical outline of the "reason" for John's writings with the overall message, we can conclude that there are at least five major paradigms present that are important in a contextual analysis of John.
John 5:13 - I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This seems to point that John saw a clear difference between those who believed in Jesus as the Son of God, but were unsure about eternal life. However, if we look back at other parts of his Gospel, we do find repetition of this theme. In John 1:5-7, for instance, he notes that some say they have fellowship with God, but still walk in darkness; in John 2:3-6, some say they know God, but do not keep his Commandments; and even in John 2:9-11, some say they love God, but hate their brother. These are all contradictions that, according to John clear up any confusion. Simply -- if the individual truly believes, with all their heart and soul, the may be confident (they may know) that they have eternal life.
John 5:14-15 - This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us -- whatever we ask -- we know that we have what we asked of him. John is aware of human foible, and also that even people who are devout and faithful have trouble believing. The key to this passage is not that humans can use prayer to receive anything they want, but instead, so they understand that they may ask for anything, but what they will receive according to his will. This makes sense if we look at God as the Father, and the Church as the familial unit. Unconditional love does not mean that the individual receives everything they "perceive" they want, rather, that they receive what is most appropriate. In fact, something quite similar appears in John 14: 13-14, Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. Again, the qualifier is my name, meaning the same thing as His will. If one comes to God in honest prayer, and the petition is one of honest and thoughtful action, it will be granted if it is the will of God. If we think of this passage as advice, it would be, pray to God as if Jesus were praying for you, then it is likely to be His will.
John 5: 15-17 - if you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. This part of John asks us, as Jesus did, to become active Christians, not passive believers. It is easier to stay on the sidelines and act according to our perceptions of belief, but far more difficult to intercede for others who have sinned. Our job is not to prevent their sin, that is their individual choice; rather, our job as Christians is to pray for them, asking God to forgive them and show them the light. John does, however, provide a clear exception to this rule -- when the person is committing a sin "unto death." This is one of the contextual difficulties of John -- what is a sin unto death? In the pragmatic sense, all sin leads to death -- but if we look at what was considered sin at the time, we might see that these were cultural or more traditional holdovers from Judaic tradition that were so terrible that the person would be unable to move out of the grievous sin.
John 5: 18-19 - We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. John needs humans to understand and acknowledge that Satan (evil) is present. However, it is important to also remember that this passage contradicts the modern "the devil made me do it," scenario. Instead, the promise of Jesus is that if we truly believe and accept Jesus into our hearts, the devil will not be able to influence us. Individuals are responsible for repentance and holiness, sin and temptation surround the world, but the choice is within the human character.
John 5:20-21 - We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. This is the major culminating promise of the Chapter -- if we know Jesus we know the truth. If we know Jesus, the path towards everlasting life is attainable. and, if we refrain from idolatry and instead believe in the one-true God, refrain from the superstitions that lead us away from the true path, then we can find salvation. John tells mankind, "Guard yourselves," but revel in the truth of God's love.
Thus, for John, the relationship between God and man is a progressive journey. If we analyze that journey historically, we find that the Bible was written in at least three different languages, three-four different continents, and comprised about 1500 years. One would not, then, expect a completely unified text, but instead, the notion that there are many paths to a unified journey. Thus, the God of the Old Testament interpreted either Judaically or as a comparison to the New Testament; the God of Jesus Christ; and the amalgamation of the two, is the same being -- the same source, the same entity.
That, truly, is the power of the Bible -- it matters not what language, what culture, or what time period -- the message is essentially the same, holding as true in the contemporary world as in the ancient lands. This is John's message -- the true words are in belief, in systems that are accountable, and in the path towards right. If humans follow that path, there is no question about salvation.
Part F -- Observational Analysis- a textual analysis of the passage shows a few interesting trends:
The inclusionary word "we" is used 13 times, 6% of the content
God is used 8 times, 3.3% of the content
The verb "to know" 7 times, or 3% of the content
Sin 6 times, or 2.5% of the content
One possible interpretation of this is that John wished to emphasize that it was the communal relationship with God that allowed for salvatation, and the way "to know" the right path was through mutual communion with Christ, against sin.
We also note the following observations when looking at the text directly:
Text reads as a benevlotent lesson, not a dialog.
Means to the right path are apparent in phrases: "if we know," "if we ask"
Means in what to expect: "God will keep them safe"
Specifics are given: "you should pray," "we are in him"
Hierarchy is still set up: "dear Children," like children needing guidance to find the right path
Lists: types of sin, although ill-defined
Cause and Effect -- if you do this, this will happen
Role of God -- as benevolent, but wise Father; "you will have eternal life," "God hears us," "God will keep them safe," "God has come and given us understanding."
Part G -- Application -- John 5 is extremely practical for the modern Christian. It is an affirmation of the tradition of Christology in that true belief is in Christ and his teachings. The traditional, or Orthodox view, is that the church is a necessary medium between the laity and God, and that without the church and the hierarchy of clergy, the congregation would be unable to attain the wisdom of God. They saw the coming of god's kingdom as a literal event. They also saw it preposterous thought to separate the body from human life. That is, they saw Jesus as both flesh and spirit that were inseparable. The Orthodox considered…
Sources Used in Document:
Raymond Brown, "Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?" Theological Studies.26: 1,
Clark, N. Interpreting the Resurrection. (London: SCM Press, 1967).
Hamilton, James. God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments.