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An Introduction To The Book Of 1 John

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A. Various people have been proposed as the author of this epistle:1

1. A second John known as “John the Elder” in view of suggestions that he wrote 2 and 3 John and from Papias’ reference to John the Elder (but this need not be distinct from John the Apostle)

2. A disciple of the Evangelist

3. The Apostle John who wrote the fourth gospel

B. External Evidence: From the earliest times the epistle was not only treated as scripture, but as written by the Apostle John2

1. Cited or alluded to by Polycarp (c. 110-50)

2. Cited or alluded to by Hermas (c. 115-40)

3. Named as authentic by Irenaeus (c. 130-202)

4. Named as authentic by Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215)

5. Cited or alluded to by Tertullian (c. 150-220)

6. Named as authentic by Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-86)

7. Named as authentic by Eusebius (c. 325-40)

8. Named as authentic by Jerome (c. 340-420)

9. Named as authentic by Augustine (c. 400)

10. Named as authentic by all of the canons (Muratorian (c. 170), Barococcio (c. 206), Apostolic (c. 300), Cheltenham (c. 360), Athanasuis (c. 367) except the Marcion (c. 140)

11. Named as authentic in the Old Latin (c. 200) and Old Syriac (c. 400) translations

12. Named as authentic in all of the councils (Nicea (c. 325-40), Hippo (392), Carthage (397) and Carthage (419).

C. Internal Evidence:

1. The writer claims to be an eyewitness to Christ (1:1-5)

2. The epistle contains the air of authority as he writes to “little children,” to be obeyed (4:6), in dogmatic terms

3. The relationship of this epistle to the fourth gospel in terms of thought, ideas, style, images, and expression identify its author as one and the same


A. This epistle may be tied to early (incipient) Gnosticism:

1. It was incipient because it was not really identifiable historically until the second century AD

2. It was a combination of Greek and Oriental (Judaism) thought--a dualism wherein the physical was bad and the spiritual was good

3. There were two possible types of incipient Gnosticism:

a. Docetic Gnosticism: Christ was not really a divine person in human flesh. He was only a phantom playing the human role. He only appeared to have real humanity

b. Cerinthian Gnosticism: The human Jesus was an ordinary man upon whom the λογος of God came at his baptism departing from him before the crucifixion. Only the human Jesus died upon the cross. The λογος was a kind of cape that the human Jesus wore during the period of public ministry. Cerinthus of Alexandria was linked by ancient tradition with John at Ephesus3 

B. Even if one cannot identify the specific heresy which was being propagated, false teachers who were once a part of the congregation were now involved in teaching the people error (cf. 4:1).

III. DATE:4 Though problematic, sometime between AD 85-95.

A. Gnosticism is incipient, but not yet fully developed. This would support a date towards the end of the first century

B. Similarity with the Gospel of John (c. AD 70) suggests a date during the same period, and may in fact follow it (depending upon the question of priority)

C. The upper limit is fixed by Ignatius’ letters.


A. To exhort the readers to obedience as opposed to disobedience

B. There are different views as to the purpose of 1 John in view of one’s understanding of the audience of the book:

1. Stott understands the audience to be mixed (believers and unbelievers), therefore, his stated purpose for the book is “to destroy the false assurance of the counterfeit as well as to confirm the right assurance of the genuine”5

2. Others understand the audience to be believers, therefore they identify the purpose around pastoral exhortation such as Henry Alford: “To certify believers of the truth and reality of the things in which they believe and to advance them in the carrying out of their practical consequences6

C. There is a pastoral and polemical design to the book.

D. My stated purpose would be: John writes (by guiding believers into a correct understanding and application of their relationship with God) to encourage fellowship with God and the saints so that the believer may have confidence and not shame when Christ returns

1 Guthrie, NTI, 867-69.

2 Guthrie, NTI, 864-65; Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, 193.

3 ZPEB, 648; Marshall, NICNT, 157-159, BKC, 881.

4 See Guthrie, 883-84; Barker, “1 John” EBC, 12:300-301. Burdick The Letters of John the Apostle, 38-44.

5 The Epistles of John, 52.

6 Henry Alford, 180.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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