Word Study 1 John 3:9
σπέρμα - sperma
I. Diachronic Study
A. Classical Usage
1. Seed of plants: Homerus, Homeric Hymns, 2.307; Herodotus, The Histories, 3.97; Xenophon, Economics, 17.8, 10
a. Seed of fruit: Antiphanes, Comicus, 58.4, iv B.C.
i. Products of earth, of corn stalks: Anthologia Graeca, Philippus Epigrammaticus,, 9.89 I A.D.
ii. Crops in general, Supp.Epigr. in LSJ, ii B.C.
i. Germ, origin of anything: Homer, Odyssey, 5.490; Pindar, Olympian Odes, 7.48 v B.C.
ii. Elements: Anaxagoras, Philosophus, 4, v B.C.; Epicurus, Philosophus Ep, 2p.38, Fr.250 iv/iii B.C. ; Demosthenes, On the Crown, 18.159, 25.48; Plutarchus , Marius, 10; Zeno, Fragments 102, 108
c. Seed-time, sowing: Hesiod, Works and Days, 781
d. Seed of animals, semen: Pindar, Pythia, 3.15, 10.17 v B.C.; Timaeus Locrus, Philosophus, 100b,; Plato, Timaeus, 86c; Euripides, Orestes, 553; Plutarch, Lycurgus, 15;
i. Race, origin, descent: Sophocles, Tragicus, 214, 1077 v B.C.; Aeschylus, Supp., 290; Aeschylus, Tragicus, 236 vi/v B.C., Sophocles, Antigone, 981; Pinda, Olympia, 7.93
ii. In Poets, seed, offspring: Aeschylus, Tragicus, 503,
1ο. Of a single person: Pinda, Olympia, 9.61; Aeschylus, PB, 705; Sophocles, Philoctes, 364
B. Septuagint Usage 280x
1. Of plants: Gen 47:19
2. Seed time, sowing: Gen 8:22
3. The male seed, semen: Lv 18:21
4. Seed, offspring (of men): Gen 9:9
5. Seed, offspring (of animals): Gen 3:15
6. Descendants, children, posterity: 4 Mc 18:1
7. Crops: 1 Sam 8:15
8. Emission of seed, intercourse: Lv 15:16
9. Seed for sowing: Lv 11:37
10. Yielding seed: Gen 1:11
11. Sower: Jer 50:16
12. Arm for MT: Ez 31:17, 1Sam 2:31, Is 17:5
C. LXX usage compared with Classical usage:
1. Classical Hellinism: In Hellinistic literature the sense is often seed of a plant (Homerus, Homeric Hymns, 2.307). Also it is used for human or animal progeny (Pindar, Pythia, 3.15, 10.17). These convey a literal meaning. There is a transferred sense to mean offspring (Pindar, Pythia, 3.15, 10.17), or origin of anything (Homer, Odyssey, 5.490). There is an elemental sense dealing with a divine seed (Epicurus, Philosophus Ep, 2p.38, Fr.250 iv/iii B.C).
2. Septuagint: Common with Hellenistic literature is the literal senses of seed of a plant and seed of an animal or human. Also analogous to Hellenistic usage is the transferred sense of σπέρμα as offspring ranging from immediate offspring (Gen 4:25) child or son, to children, descendants, or posterity (Gen 12:7), race or nation (Wis. Of Sol. 10:15), and entire human race (Tobit 8:6). Differing is the usage in the MT meaning arm (Is 17:5) Theologically σπέρμα is developed as the promised seed (Gen 3:15) throughout the entire OT.
II. Synchronic Study
A. Koine usage:
1. Seed: Zenon Papyri I. 59097 257B.C., Paris Papyri II 63 165B.C., Berlin: Griechische Urkunden II 597 75AD, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri I 117 ii/iiiA.D.
B. New Testament usage 43x:
1. Individual Usage
a. Matthew: seed, 13:24, 13:27, 13:32, 13:37, 13:38; children, 22:24, 22:25
b. Mark: seed, 4:31; children, 12:19, 12:20, 12:21, 12:22
c. Luke-Acts: seed, Ac 3:25; descendant, Lk 1:55, Ac 7:5, 7:6, 13:23; children, Lk 20:28
d. John: seed, 1Jn 3:9; descendant, Jn 7:42, 8:33, 8:37
e. Pauline: seed, 1Cor 15:38, Ga 3:16, 3:19; descendant, Ro 1:3, 4:13, 4:16, 4:18, 9:7, 9:8, 11:1, 2Cor 11:12, Ga 3:29, 2 Ti 2:8; posterity, Ro 9:29
f. Hebrews: descendant, 2:16, 11:18; to conceive, 11:11
g. James: None
h. Petrine: None
i. Jude: None
j. Revelation: children 12:17
2. NT usage compared with Koine, LXX, and Classical: The semantic range in maintains the same sense of a literal seed and a transferred meaning of offspring.
3. Usage in 1 John 3:9: Translators have rendered the translation "seed" traditionally. Interesting is a more complex contextual meaing sometimes rendered in this particular passage. Due to the depth of information I will give the local entry from BDAG and a summery of the information presented: "genetic character, nature, disposition, character, of the divine σπέρμα (acc. to BWeiss = the word of God; acc. to EHaupt, Westcott, HHoltzmann, OBaumgarten, OHoltzmann, HHWendt, FHauck = the beginning or germ of a new life, planted in us by the Spirit of God; acc. to HWindisch and THaering, who are uncertain, = word or spirit; acc. to WWrede = the grace that makes us holy; RSV et al. ‘nature’) that dwells in one who is γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (γεννάω 1b) and makes it ‘impossible for such a pers. to sin’ 1J 3:9 (JPainter, NTS 32, ’86, 48–71). The imagery suggests a person of exceptional merit, in Greco-Roman circles a model citizen, possesser of ἀρετή (q.v.; on the importance of ancestral virtue s. Pind., O. 7, 90–92; P. 10, 11–14; N. 3, 40–42; 6, 8–16; cp. Epict. 1, 13, 3: the slave has, just as you do, τὸν Δία πρόγονον, ὥσπερ υἱὸς ἐκ τῶν αὐτῶν σπερμάτων γέγονεν; s. also Herm. Wr. 9, 3; 4a; 6 ἀπὸ τ. θεοῦ λαβὼν τὰ σπέρματα; Philo, Ebr. 30 τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ σπέρματα al.; Synes., Ep. 151 p. 289b τὸ σπ. τὸ θεῖον; Just. A I, 32, 8 τὸ παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ σπέρμα, ὁ λόγο.—Musonius p. 8, 1 ἀρετῆς σπ. Maximus Tyr. 10, 4g σπ. ψυχῆς.—Pind., P. 3, 15 σπέρμα θεοῦ καθαρόν refers to Asclepius, Apollo’s son by Coronis.).—B. 505. DELG s.v. σπείρω. M-M. EDNT. TW."
In this pericope "seed" has been viewd as Offspring, Spirit, Word, and Divine Nature by various commentators in interpreting the text. The phrase σπέρμα αὐτοῦ meaning literally "His (God's) seed" is unique in this context within the NT providing problematic interpretation. The interpretation concluding in "offspring" is viable and has the most lexical support; from the RSV "for the offspring of God abide in Him". The objections to this interpretation (Dodd, 75) are the lack of a definate article and this rendering producing an unnecessary repition, yet both of these objections are not serious (Bruce, 92). The Spirit interpretation brings fourth the concept of the Holy Spirit similar to John 3:6. In John 3:24 and 4:13 divine abiding is associated with the Spirit. The objection lies in the inadequate lexical support and a failure to distinguish between the sense and referent of the word. The interpretation of "word or gospel" rests in the identifications found in 1 Pt. 1:23 and Lk 8:4-15 where Peter speaks of begetting through the seed and Luke gives the parable of the sower. The objection to this is σπορᾶς is used by these authors and not σπέρμα; σπέρμα is never used to refer to the word of God. Divine Nature is the final addressed interpretation and the preferred rendering. This rendering keeps intact the context of σπέρμα and explains the phrase σπέρμα αὐτοῦ against a Jewish and Christian background by combining the concepts of "Spirit" and "word". It also falls within the semantic range of the word within the synchronic study. In the OT the ability to renounce sin derives from God's word or Law (Ps 37:31,119:11). According to the prophets the messanic age was to be characterized by the cleansing of believers in whom abide the Law and Spirit of God (Jer 31:33-34; Ezek 36:25-27). This interpretation also harmonizes with the annointing John speaks of which indwells the believer (2:20, 27) as well as the purification from sin resulting from the indwelling word and Spirit of God elsewhere in the NT (John 15:2-4; Acts 15:8-9).
4. Comparison with the EDNT: The definitions of seeds of plants, sperm, and descendants are given. Regarding 1 John 3:9 it is suggested John is using an ontological citation from Gnostic adversaries speaking of God's sperm. The context is a metaphor of procreation by God where seed refers to the Spirit or the event of the word, whereby God's sperm characterizes one's actions.
5. Comparison with the TDNT: In the Johannine tradition the word is found a total of 5 times always referring to the transferred meaning of offspring or progeny except in 1 Jn 3:9. It is noted the idea of God's seed does not occur in Pharisaic or Essene circles yet is common in Hellenistic Judaism and the mystery religions. The seed of God is the Spirit who manifests Himself in His Word.
6. Comparison with the NIDNTTE: The idea of an echoing of the Philonic concept of the "divine seed" is discredited. The divine principle of life in the believer (God's word? The Spirit? Grace?) is what John has in mind. The physical seed was the generator of life in the creative order (Gen 1:11-12). The divine σπέρμα is origin of life in the new order of recreated humanity.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.