What’s a Janus? (1 John 3:19) – Mondays with Mounce

Bill Mounce on July 11th, 2016. Tagged under ,,,.

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

Every once in a while we come across a phrase that can either look back to the previous or forward to the next. Sometimes the phrase or verse is truly a Janus, looking both directions. But other times it only goes one way or another.

Bruce Waltke introduced me to the expression “Janus.” It refers to a mythical god with two heads, one looking forward and the other looking back. Wikipedia comments, “In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.”

A common example is 1 Timothy 4:11. “Command and teach these things.” “These things” could be the previous instructions to avoid the false teachers in Ephesus, and it could just as easily point forward to Paul’s personal instructions to Timothy. Or, it could be a transitional statement, functioning as a Janus.

A more difficult passage is 1 John 3:19. Here is the 2011 NIV of vv 18-20. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how (ἐν τούτῳ) we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” The NIV has taken the exegetical position that ἐν τούτῳ points forward; we know we belong to God because when we feel condemned, we know that God is greater than our feelings. The period and the colon make this clear. See also the HCSB and I suspect the NRSV. The ESV seems to agree, but it is a tad ambiguous (by design no doubt).

This seems to be a reversal from the 1984, which reads, “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.” The argument for this interpretation is that the topic of the passage is assurance. V 19 is teaching that the actions prescribed in v 18 are the evidence that we belong to the truth. See the NET and its note.”And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence.” The NLT makes this clear. “Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (see also the KJV).

One thing you may want to do is see how a writer uses ἐν τούτῳ and see if there is a pattern. But whatever side you come down exegetically, it makes for a interesting bit of Greek grammar.


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  • Joe Rutherford 3 years ago

    We in the church know that GOD created the heavens and the earth. We also know, looking back, that pagens attached names to stars and planets from thier false religions of idolitry. Looking forward, it would be good for the church to overcome the use of such words when speaking about the holy works of GOD. I confess that I have been guilty and gullable, but from now on will weed out those pagen words from my vocabulary, and not use them as names for any work of GOD. For example, mars is a word from pagen idolitry and not a proper name for the 4th planet from the sun.