Though the writer of 1 John doesn’t directly state his name, church tradition and also comparisons of language make it clear that this letter is written by the apostle John, son of Zebedee. He writes at a time when all other apostles have already died as martyrs, John being the only eye witness left.
By this time Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans (70 AD) and the traditional homelands of the Jews in Galilee and Judea have been depopulated. But the church is thriving in various places of the Roman Empire, not least in Ephesus, a city in Asia in the Province of Asia Minor, the place where John is said to have lived his final years.
The churches are growing and spreading, but are increasingly battling different types of false teachings. The false teachings seem to be of the gnostic kind, with some leaning to asceticism and others to libertinism. Gnosticism was a syncretistic teaching that challenged the early church for decades, even centuries, and most of John’s writings, as well as the writings of many later church fathers were addressing this heresy.
Gnosticism claims that some people have a divine spark within, and that through knowledge and enlightenment they can become enlightened gnostics. It is therefore an elitist teaching holding that only few people are able to reach divinity. Everything depends on special knowledge. Gnosticism also taught that the divine spark within, a spirit emission from God, is trapped in the evil human body. This dualist view of leads to either asceticism (control the body by spiritual discipline) or more frequently to libertinism (one can do as one likes with the body, because the divine spark within is not affected by this world). To gnostics, being in fellowship with God therefore has nothing to do with repentance, forgiveness or an obedient, holy lifestyle. Gnosticism separates everything: divine spirit from evil body, knowledge from practice and divinity from morality. It fosters an attitude of pride, condescension and utter carelessness towards ‘normal humans’. How did Gnosticism see Jesus? He is a Spirit who came to enlighten men, who possessed the man Jesus at his baptism, but who did not sully himself with suffering or death on a cross. This particular teaching is called doceticism. The incarnation, Jesus’ death on the cross, resurrection and God’s promise of total restoration of the cosmos in the future all are not really considered important in Gnosticism.
In answer to this John strongly asserts that Jesus is both entirely God (Jesus is God, he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the eternal life that God offers) and also entirely human (Jesus came in the flesh, suffered death and resurrected bodily). To deny either of the two is to deny Christ, to deny the Trinity, to deny the Father. John calls those who teach such things antichrists, a term he uses in the plural form for false teachers who are currently confusing the church.
In answer John in this beautiful letter links everything that the gnostic teachers are separating: In a weaving, repetitive way and with great authority John declares that everything is connected: To know God means to obey God’s commandments. One cannot know God and at the same time disobey him. To be in fellowship with God means to walk in the light, to respond to conviction, to confess sin, to receive forgiveness, to walk in holiness. To be in fellowship with God means to be in fellowship with one’s neighbor, to love God means to love one’s neighbor. Knowledge and practice cannot be separated. Spirituality and morality belong together. God’s approval is only on those who love their fellow humans. An enlightened life is a practical affair.
The author of 1 John
The author of 1 John doesn’t directly state his name at the beginning of the letter. But there is a unanimous witness from the writings of the church fathers that the author is John, son of Zebedee, brother of James, one of the twelve apostles. Church Father Irenaeus (140-203 AD), Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen all identify John as the author and there is no record of anybody else being suggested for centuries.
It is clear that the author is one of the original eye witnesses, having been with Jesus for most, if not all of his ministry time (1 Jhn 1:1-3). The author also seems to be of quite some age, as he addresses his readers with “my children” or even “my little children” (1 Jhn 2:1, 2:18). He is definitely speaking with great authority throughout this letter. There are very clear parallels between 1 John and the Gospel of John, and even 2 and 3 John, where John is more clear in referring to himself as the author, though also not out-rightly stating it. Many key words and expressions as well as important themes are the same:
Key word John 1 John 2 John 3 John
truth Jhn 1:14, 8:32,14:6; 17:8,17-19
1 Jhn 1:6-8 2:27, 3:18, 4:1-6
2 Jhn 1, 3, 4
3 Jhn 3, 4, 8, 12
Little children Jhn 13:33 1 Jhn 2:1, 3:7
Jesus, the Father’s (only) Son Jhn 1:14,1:34 1 Jhn 2:22-25 2 Jhn 3
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah Jhn 21:31 1 Jhn 2:22
Jesus the word of God / word of life Jhn 1:1 1 Jhn 1:1
Life, eternal life Jhn 1:4, 3:16, 11:25 1 Jhn 1:2, 3:15
Light Jhn 1:4-9 1 Jhn 1:5-7, 2:8-9
Contrasts: light – darkness, love – hate, life- death, faith – unbelief. Truth – lie
Example: Jhn 1:5, 13:30 1 Jhn 2:27, 1:6-8
A new command, no new command, his command
Jhn 13:3-4, 15:17 1 Jhn 2:7, 3:23 2 Jhn 5
love one another Jhn 13:34 1 Jhn 3:11 2 Jhn 5
In / from the beginning Jhn 1:1-2 1 Jhn 1:1, 2:7 2 Jhn 5
abide in Christ / this teaching Jhn 15:4-10 1 Jhn 2:6, 3:6 2 Jhn 9
joy will be full / complete Jhn 16:24 1 Jhn 1:4 2 Jhn 4,12
the coming hour / last hour Jhn 5:25 1 Jhn 2:18
deception 1 Jhn 2:26 2 Jhn 7
enemies of Christ / Antichrists 1 Jhn 2:18, 22 2 Jhn 7
world Jhn 17:15-18 1 Jhn 2:15-17, 4:4-5
Over-comers /Jesus conquered world Jhn 16:33 1 Jhn 4:4-5, 5:4-5
The author states his purpose clearly as summary at the end of his writing Jhn 20:30-31 1 Jhn 5:13,18-20
The Life of John
John, together with his older brother James are fishermen, who together with their father Zebedee have a small fishing business. They are partners with the brothers Peter and Andrew, also fishermen in Capernaum. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee Jesus calls them to be his disciples.
John, James and Peter are part of the twelve disciples, but besides that Jesus takes them aside for some special moments, like the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration on the mountain. Jesus gives John and James the nickname “sons of thunder”, due to their passionate, even hot-headed personalities. This is seen when they want to call down fire on a Samaritan village for not hosting Jesus (Luk 9:51-56) and John once takes offense with a person casting out demons in Jesus’ name but not being one of the disciples (Luk 9:49-50). There is loyalty in John, but he is also thinking about position and power.
In a very telling incident James and John have their mother approach Jesus to get them prime positions of power in Jesus’ future kingdom (Mth 20:20-23, Mrk 10:35-40), which Jesus won’t promise. He predicts, though, that both brothers will embrace suffering for him.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection and with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is Peter, often with John at his side who takes the lead (Acts 3-4). Within about fifteen years of the church being founded John’s brother James is beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in a renewed wave of persecution (Acts 12:1). James is the first of the twelve apostles to die as a martyr and his death must have affected John. John on the other hand survives the other apostles, who all die martyr’s deaths in the 50s and 60s AD. John is the only one of the twelve to die a natural death, though according to church tradition he was also tortured and imprisoned various times. With the bloody Jewish Roman war the Jewish heartlands (Galilee and Judea) as well as Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed (66-70 AD) and depopulated by force. The remaining Jews now find themselves in the diaspora, as so many Jews before them. Church tradition states that John moves to Ephesus, taking Jesus’ mother Mary with him. There he spends the rest of his life (till his death in approximately 98 AD), ministering in Ephesus, Asia and the larger Asia Minor region. It is also to this region that he probably writes his letters (1, 2, 3 John) and his gospel (Gospel of John).
Historical Background on Asia Minor
The Roman Province Asia Minor is roughly today’s country of Turkey. It had a mixed population, mostly Greek speaking people worshiping various Greek gods. Ever since Alexander conquered the area, the influence of Greek philosophy has been strong, but also Eastern mystery cults and sizable Jewish minorities make their presence felt. The gospel comes to the area possibly as early as 30 AD, with Jews returning to the area as new believers after Pentecost. Acts 2:10 mentions people from Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia being present at Pentecost, all areas of Asia Minor). By about 47 AD Paul and Barnabas start preaching in the South of Galatia and Pamphylia. By 52 AD Prisca and Aquila are working in Ephesus, shortly after joined by Paul, who makes Ephesus his ministry center for the years of 53-56 AD. New converts become church planters, like Epaphras (Col 1:7), and much lateral growth happens. The writer of Acts summarizes this time with the comment that “all Asia” heard the word of God (Acts 19:8-10).
Asia Minor receives quite a few apostolic writings: Paul writes Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 Timothy and possibly 2 Timothy to this region, Peter writes 1 Peter and probably 2 Peter.
For the time between 70-98 AD we do not have much specific knowledge about the area of Asia Minor, but it can be said in general that:
- the church keeps growing rapidly
- the churches come into the second and third generation
- only John is left as one of the twelve original apostles
- false teaching becomes a sore challenge to the church
- slowly Emperor worship starts challenging the church, leading to a widespread persecution under emperor Domitian from 81 AD onward.
We do not know exactly when John writes the letter of 1 John, but since it specifically addresses these false teachings, it must be written within the frame of 70-98 AD.
Gnosticism – a false teaching challenging the church
Gnosticism is a syncretistic teaching that challenged the early church for decades, even centuries, and most of John’s writings as well as the writings of many later church fathers are addressing this heresy.
Gnosticism comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’ which means knowledge. Knowledge is understood to be secret spiritual insight, that leads to enlightenment, which considered the equivalent of salvation.
Gnosticism is strongly dualist: matter is evil, spirit is good. Gnosticism acknowledges a supreme God, who is good, but he is also completely transcendent, separated from this evil material world and can have nothing to do with it. God has no personality and cannot be known. In gnostic understanding ‘knowing’ means ‘mastering’, and since God can’t be mastered, he therefore cannot be known.
But how then did this evil material world ever come about? Gnosticism gives a very complicated explanation: God has spirit emanations (something going forth from him), which all are good, but less so than him. This creates a hierarchy of spiritual beings (called ‘aeons’), with lesser and lesser God-likeness. One of these emanations or spirit beings created the physical world by accident or out of foolishness or out of rebellion. Some Gnostics associated this bad emanation that is responsible with creating the evil physical world with the Creator God of the Old Testament. Gnostics therefore despised the Old Testament, though they heavily borrowed from the New Testament writings.
Gnosticism asserts that some divinity of God broke to pieces and some of these pieces are incarcerated in evil matter, that is: incarcerated in human bodies. Gnosticism therefore says that there are three types of people:
- Gnostics, who are enlightened. If they have major spiritual experiences they might escape reincarnation and be reunited with God when dying.
- Psychics, lesser men but still with a hope to get enlightened. In gnostic eyes most Christians are psychics.
- Hycics, completely material men with no hope of enlightenment and no chance of salvation. They are destined for destruction.
Gnosticism borrowed from Christianity a concept of a Redeemer sent from God, who brings the necessary knowledge of man’s origin, identity and destiny. By being initiated into this knowledge, the divine spark is set free at death and is reunited with the godhead. In Gnosticism a man’s real problem is not sin (bad choices), but his body (physical matter). Salvation is not redemption from sin, but the escape of the divine spark from the body, the material world by revelation and enlightenment. Salvation is to recognize one’s divinity or the spark within.
This special revelation or enlightenment is attainable only through knowledge to only an elite. Therefore Gnosticism is an elitist, exclusive cult with special knowledge, initiation, ranks of spirituality and limited access. Gnostics claim, that they are not capable of sinning because of their superior enlightenment. Moral conduct is not important, since salvation only depends on the divine spark, special knowledge and enlightenment. If one’s spirit is enlightened, it doesn’t matter any more what a person does with the body.
Gnosticism, therefore, doesn’t really believe in Jesus’ incarnation. It holds that a Redeemer from the spiritual world could not possibly defile himself by becoming flesh. How then is Jesus’ story understood? Some gnostics believed that Jesus is only a Spirit, appearing like a man but not being touchable and real but rather floating on the ground like a ghost, leaving no footprints. Other gnostics came up with what is called ‘doceticism’, the teaching that Jesus is a normal, good human who at baptism is possessed by the divine spirit called Christ. Christ, being a pure spirit cannot suffer or be sullied by suffering and death. Therefore docetists claimed that the Christ spirit left the man Jesus before his suffering and death.
Problems with Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a dangerous false teaching that has no real acknowledgement of sin and no need for confession, repentance or forgiveness. Also there is no demand of a changed life resulting from salvation: holiness, moral behavior, selflessness, service or love are not considered necessary. Gnosticism is not a pursuit of forgiveness nor of Christ-like character, but a pursuit of knowledge, revelation and special spiritual experiences. Gnosticism is an excluding, elitist, ‘initiates only’ religion, denying access to most. Gnosticism therefore fosters pride and superiority for the enlightened (gnostics), doubt for the believers (psychics) and hopelessness for everybody else (hychics). It is flying in the face of the universal gospel of faith and salvation for all though Jesus.
In Gnosticism the real issue is not a person’s response to the Gospel, nor a person’s attitude or heart. The issue is divinity, leading to permissible pride, classification into higher and lower men, to loveless and selfish behavior.
Gnosticism doesn’t really believe in the incarnation (Why should a pure God contaminate himself with this evil world?), nor in resurrection (Why would you want another body?), nor in the restoration of all things at the end of time (Why would God recreate the physical world?).
John is contradicting gnosticism and affirming gospel truth
Assurance: you are God’s children, you have eternal life
Gnosticism declares many people lost, or almost certainly lost, shaking people’s assurance of salvation and eternal life. So John counters with a strong affirmation of the believers having received son-ship and eternal life: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 Jhn 3:1). “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” (1 Jhn 5:13). The metaphor “son” or “child” is important, it implies an irreversible relationship with God, for a son remains his father’s son whatever he might do.
Assurance: you know the truth
John as an original eye witness declares with authority that the gospel these believers have received and responded to is the truth: “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth” (1 Jhn 2:21).
Assurance: Jesus is fully God and became fully man
John starts off his letter by a strong anti-docetist paragraph. He says referring to Jesus: “we declare to you what … we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 Jhn 1:1). Jesus is not a spirit floating about, he is a real human with a real physical body. Jesus, though God, really became man. He is fully human: Jesus came in the flesh (1 Jhn 4:1-3), he lived a normal human life and could be seen, heard, touched, felt. On the other hand John strongly asserts that Jesus was is also entirely God: He is God himself, he is sent by the Father, he is eternal life and no one who denies the Son has the Father (1 Jhn 2:21-25).
He calls all teachers who deny either one of these truths – that Jesus is fully God and that he is fully human – ‘antichrists’. Antichrist therefore does not mean a scary spiritual entity in the future apocalypse, but simply anyone who denies Christ as God and human, and who therefore denies the Trinity (1 Jhn 2:18-25, 4:1-6).
Challenge: everything is linked, nothing can be separated
But probably most importantly, John in this beautiful letter links everything that the gnostic teachers are separating. John uses a weaving, repetitive writing style with many “if…then” statements and relative sentences. He keeps linking things, going over the same concepts again and again, weaving things together like the petals of a flower. By this John declares that everything is connected:
- To know God means to obey God’s commandments.
- One cannot know God and at the same time disobey him.
- To be in fellowship with God means to walk in the light.
- To walk in the light means to respond to conviction, to confess sin, to receive forgiveness.
- To claim one has no sin means to not be in fellowship with God.
- To walk in the light means to walk in holiness.
- To know God means to love God.
- To love God means to love my neighbor.
- To be in fellowship with God means to be in fellowship with my neighbor.
- Knowledge and practice cannot be separated.
- Spirituality and morality belong together.
The gnostics declare a prideful, knowledge-based, self-focused spirituality with no obligation to living good lives nor caring about others. They separate spirit from matter, spirituality from holy living, being divine from being good, knowledge from application, loving God from loving humans. John will have none of it: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (1 Jhn 1:6). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jhn 1:8). “Whoever says ‘I have come to know him’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist” (1 Jhn 2:4). “Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been from of God” (1 Jhn 3:9). “If we love one another, God lives in us” (1 Jhn 4:12). John exposes the gnostic teachers as loveless deceivers, with no moral authority or care for people.
He assures the believers that their response of faith to the gospel, their understanding of truth, their obedience to God and growth in holiness is exactly what God wants. Nothing else is needed. The gnostics’ prideful and exclusive claim to spirituality is simply a lie. It is the believers who are God’s children, saved, adopted, endowed with eternal life and agents of God’s love in this world.
Many do not like John’s writings, especially 1 John, finding it confusing, a circular repetitive mesh where everything sounds similar, but one is never sure whether one understood it. Many also find 1 John condemning: ‘if you love you have eternal life’ … what if you don’t love? Some say it seems to prove that no one is really saved, then.
Especially if one approaches 1 John in a systematic way one might find it difficult. If you w. In order to understand it better, if one wrote down all conditional statements and relative sentences on a chart and drew lines and links (a linear approach to a non linear writing!) it turns into a huge web with a thousand side branches, quite confusing.
John is better read in a more meditative style. Let John be John. Learn to enjoy a very different writing style. Let it sink in as he weaves loop after loop, as he ties link after link.
The Author of the Letter
This letter has no identification (as do Paul’s or Peter’s letters), so who wrote it? He was an eye witness of Jesus, one who was with Him, touched Him, heard Him (1 Jn 1:1-3). This makes it sound like the writer is one of the twelve disciples.
Whoever the writer was, he was a prominent man with authority. He calls people liars, deceivers, antichrists and gives many direct commands. He also lais down tests for true and false believers. This is the sort of authority that an apostle would rightly have. The writer also in no way tries to defend his authority, he assumes it and uses it as Paul does by direct commands in for example 2 Thess 3:4,6.
There are many parallels between 1 John and the Gospel of John in themes and the use of key words. Both major on showing that Jesus is the Christ. John 20:30-31 puts it like this “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Song of God and that through believing you may have life in his name.” This is a summary that would also work well for 1 John.
There are many parallels between the four writings ascribed to John:
Topic / word Gospel of John 1 John 2 John 3 John
truth Jn 1:14, 8:32, 14:6; 17:8,17-19
1 Jn 1:6-8 2:27, 3:18, 4:1-6
2 Jn 1, 3, 4
3 Jn 3, 4, 8, 12
whom I love in the truth 2 Jn 1 3 Jn 1
children walk in the truth 2 Jn 4 3 Jn 4
Little children Jn 13:33 1 Jn 2:1, 3:7
Jesus, Father’s (only) Son Jn 1:14, 1:34 1 Jn 2:22-25 2 Jn 3
Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) Jn 21:31 1 Jn 2:22
Jesus the word of God / word of life Jn 1:1 1 Jn 1:1
Life, eternal life Jn 1:4, 3:16, 11:25 1 Jn 1:2, 3:15
Light Jn 1:4-9 1 Jn 1:5-7, 2:8-9
Contrasts: light – darkness, love – hate, life- death, faith – unbelief. Truth – lie
Example: Jn 1:5, 13:30 1 Jn 2:27, 1:6-8
A new command, no new command, his command
Jn 13:3-4, 15:17 1 Jn 2:7, 3:23 2 Jn 5
love one another Jn 13:34 1 Jn 3:11 2 Jn 5
In / from the beginning Jn 1:1-2 1 Jn 1:1, 2:7 2 Jn 5
abide in Christ / in this teaching Jn 15:4-10 1 Jn 2:6, 3:6 2 Jn 9
joy will be full / complete Jn 16:24 1 Jn 1:4 2 Jn 4,12
the coming hour / the last hour Jn 5:25 1 Jn 2:18
deception 1 Jn 2:26 2 Jn 7
enemies of Christ / Antichrists 1 Jn 2:18, 22 2 Jn 7
doing evil = not from God / haven’t seen God 1 Jn 3:10 3 Jn 11
world Jn 17:15-18 1 Jn 2:15-17, 4:4-5
hospitality Jn 2:1-11 2 Jn 10-11 3 Jn 5-8,10
Over-comers / Jesus conquered the world Jn 16:33 1 Jn 4:4-5, 5:4-5
The author states his purpose clearly as summary at the end of his writing Jn 20:30-31 1 Jn 5:13, 18-20
final greetings 2 Jn 12-13 3 Jn 13-15
Advanced age of the author, calling the believers ‘my little children’ agrees with John’s age and seniority, as the only apostle left after about 68 AD.
The strong language against heretics in this writings (“liar”, “antichrist”, “children of the devil”), might illustrate the name given by Jesus: sons of Boanerges, the sons of thunder (Mk 3:17). The writings of the church fathers strongly point to John, son of Zebedee. Irenaeus (140-203 AD), Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen all identify John as the author. There is no record of other suggestions.
Life of John, son of Zebedee
John, brother of James, is one of the twelve disciples. He is the son of Zebedee, daughter of Mary, possibly a sister or cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary (Mt 27:56, Mk 16:1, Jn 19:25). John, together with his older brother James are fishermen, who together with their father Zebedee have a small fishing business. They are partners with the brothers Peter and Andrew, also fishermen in Capernaum. Jesus calls them to be disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
John, James and Peter are part of the twelve disciples, but besides that Jesus takes them aside for some special moments, like the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration on the mountain. Jesus gives John and James the nickname ‘sons of thunder’, due to their passionate, even hot-headed personalities. This is seen when they want to call down fire on a Samaritan village for not hosting Jesus (Lu 9:51-56) and John once takes offense with a person casting out demons in Jesus’ name but not being one of the disciples (Lu 9:49-50). There is loyalty in John, but he is also thinking about position and power.
In a very telling incident James and John have their mother approach Jesus to get them prime positions of power in Jesus’ future kingdom (Mt 20:20-23, Mk 10:35-40), which Jesus won’t promise. He predicts, though, that both brothers will embrace suffering for him.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection and with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is Peter, often with John at his side who takes the lead (Acts 3-4). Within about 15 years of the church being founded John’s brother James is beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in a renewed wave of persecution (Acts 12:1). James is the first of the twelve apostles to die as a martyr and his death must have affected John. John on the other hand survives the other apostles, who all die martyr’s deaths in the 50s and 60s AD John is the only of the twelve to die a natural death, though according to church tradition he is also tortured and imprisoned various times. With the bloody Jewish Roman war the Jewish heartlands (Galilee and Judeah) as well as Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed (66-70 AD) and depopulated by force. The remaining Jews now find themselves in the diaspora, as so many Jews before them. Church tradition states that John moves to Ephesus, taking Jesus’ mother Mary with him. There he spends the rest of his life (till his death in approximately 98 AD), ministering in Ephesus, Asia and the larger Asia Minor region. It is also to this region that he probably writes his letters (1, 2, 3 John) and his gospel (Gospel of John).
The Readers of the Letter
The addressees of this letter are not stated in the text, so there is no direct evidence. Church tradition (Irenaeus) says that John spend his later life based in Ephesus (70-96 AD), working and traveling in Asia Minor.
The earliest traditions associate 1 John with Asia, especially with the city of Ephesus. 1 John probably was a circular letter from Ephesus (hence no specific greeting), addressing churches in Asia, possibly the whole of Asia Minor.
The Date of writing the Letter
It is unknown when exactly the letter was written. John seems to be of considerable age, calling the readers “my little children”, for example 1 Jn 2:1, the churches seem to be well established and not young (‘I am writing to you no new commandment’ 1 Jn 2:7).
Early forms of gnosticism have already arisen, though the full flower will occur during the 2nd century AD.
There is no mention in the letter of persecution, but of heresy. There is persecution of Christians under emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) and Trajan (AD 98-117), so the letter may well be written before Domitian.
3 John 14 suggests that John is still travelling to and from the churches he addresses. If we assume John to be of similar age than Jesus he was born around 0 AD. Therefore by the time he lives in Ephesus he is about 70 years old. He dies in good old age, in the days of Trajan, probably 98 AD. So in summary it can be said that 1 John war written in the time range of 70-98 AD, which is John’s time in Ephesus (70 AD being the destruction of Jerusalem and 98 AD being John’s year of death). It is likely it was written before Domitian in 81 AD.
Some argue that John’s writings are earlier, because in Jn 5:2 he mentions that ‘in Jerusalem by the Sheep gate there is a pool’ in present tense, meaning Jerusalem is still standing, which would require a date before 70 AD.
There in no direct evidence in the text. If the above is correct (John as author, 70-98 AD for date) it was written most likely from Ephesus.
Historical background – Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a combination of Greek philosophy, mystery religions, Jewish faith and Christianity. From Greek philosophy it took dualism of spirit and matter, from the Jewish faith angelic beings, hierarchies and legalism, from Christianity the concept of a Redeemer coming down, from mystery religions the idea of secret knowledge and initiation.
Even though Gnosticism isn’t in full flower till the 2nd century (around 140 AD) with greatest influence in Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor, Gnostic views had begun to affect the churches in that area: Ephesus, Colossae, Pergamum, Thyatira, etc.
Gnosticism comes from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning knowledge. Though there was different groupings within Gnosticism, they all had in common an emphasis on knowledge (meaning: secret spiritual truth) leading to salvation.
Gnosticism was strongly dualist: matter and spirit. Matter was inherently evil, spirit was good. Gnosticism acknowleged a supreme God, who is good, but he is also completely transcendent, separated from the evil material world (as in Aristotle), can have nothing to do with it. God has no personality and is unknowable. In their understanding: ‘knowing’ means ‘mastering’, and since God can’t be mastered, he therefore can’t be known.
If that is so, a problem arises: how did this evil material world ever come about? Gnosticism gave a very complicated explanation: God has emanations (something going forth from him), which all are good, but less so than him > hierarchy of spiritual beings, with lesser and lesser God-likeness. They are called aeons, together they make up the fullness ‘pleroma’ of God.
One of these emanations or spirit beings created the world by accident or out of foolishness or out of rebellion. Some gnostics associated this bad emanation with the God of the Old Testament, therefore gnostics despised the Old Testament, though they heavily borrowed from the New Testament writings.
They claimed some divinity of God broke to pieces, some of these pieces were incarcerated into evil matter (human bodies) > so some humans have a divine spark in them. Therefore there are 3 types of people:
- Gnostics, who are enlightened, if major spiritual experiences they might escape reincarnation and be reunited with God when dying.
- Psychics, lesser men but still with a hope to get enlightened, in gnostic eyes most Christians fit this category.
- Hycics, completely material men, no hope of enlightenment, cannot be saved, destined for destruction
In order to make this salvation possible, the supreme God had sent a Redeemer, who brought the necessary knowledge of who man was and of his origin and destiny. By being initiated into this knowledge, the divine spark is set free at death and is reunited with the godhead.
The problem of evil in gnosticism is therefore not so much one of sin, but one of matter. Salvation was not redemption from sin, but the escape of the divine spark from the material world by revelation and enlightenment. Salvation is to recognize one’s divinity or the spark within. This special revelation or enlightenment was released only through knowledge, to only the “elite” > elite, exclusivity cult with special knowledge, initiation, , ranks of spirituality, limited access.
Gnostics claimed, that they were not capable of sinning because of superior enlightenment. Moral conduct was not important, since salvation depended on the diving spark, special knowledge or enlightenment. The body was seen as sinful, the spirit as separated and good. If one’s spirit was enlightened, it didn’t matter what a person did with the body, the total dichotomy of spirit and body.
Again two schools of thought arose from this dichotomy: Aceticism (gaining control over matter by denying, controlling, punishing the body) or Libertinism (since spirit cannot be infected or affected by matter, the body is of no importance and one can do what one likes with it).
Gnosticism doesn’t really believe in Jesus’ incarnation, for a Redeemer from the spiritual world could not possibly defile himself by becoming flesh. How then is Jesus’ story understood?
Doceticism, a Gnostic heresy of Christianity
The following points are taken from Church Father Irenaeus’ writing Book 1 ‘Against Heresies’ where he describes doceticism of Cerinthius (a docetist gnostic and contemporary of John in Ephesus) as follows:
Jesus not born of a virgin but Mary and Joseph’s natural child, though more righteous, prudent and wise than other men. At his baptism, the spirit ‘Christ’ (another emanation from the supreme ruler) descended upon human Jesus in the form of a dove. Christ=Jesus is a gnostic, a good human possessed by a divine spirit, proclaiming the unknown father. Christ=Jesus is not from this world, he is not tempted, impassable (not liable to pain of injury), a spiritual being untouched by the world. Some taught that Jesus left no foot prints in the dust or sand but floated about.
The spirit Christ departed from Jesus before the suffering. Spirit cannot be suffering, be humiliated, be infected, be defiled nor be associated with death. Only the human Jesus suffered. Church father Irenaeus calls docetists “those who separate Jesus from Christ” (Book 1 of Against Heresies). One interesting story recorded by Irenaeus tells that John was going into the bath house at Ephesus and finding Cerinthus there rushed out without bathing exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest the bath house fall down because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth is within!” Tradition also links Cerinthus with immorality. He was, it seems, anticipating a thoroughly sensual millennium, he was also connected to the “Nicolaitans” mentioned in Rev 11:6,14,15. These people are guilty of immorality.
So Gnosticism doesn’t really believe in Jesus’ death (how could a good spirit die?), not resurrection (why would you want a new body?) nor in Jesus’ 2nd coming (why would this world be redeemed & restored?). In the commentary of Jerome on Gal 6:10 he tells the famous story of John in extreme old age at Ephesus. He used to be carried into the congregation in the arms of the disciples and was unable to say anything except “Little children, love one another!” At last wearied that he always spoke the same words, they asked “Master, why do you always say this?” “Because”, he replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if only this is done, it is enough”.
Problems with Gnosticism
Gnosticism has no acknowledgement of sin, no need for confession, repentance forgiveness, change. It has no need for holiness, moral behavior, selflessness, service, love. In Gnosticism the pursuit is not of character, but of knowledge, revelation, spiritual experience.
Gnosticism is exclusive, excluding, elitist, and initiates’ only religion, denying access to most, leading to pride, superiority on the one hand and hopelessness on the other. It is flying in the face of the universal gospel of faith and salvation for all.
In gnosticism the issue is not response to the gospel, not attitude nor heart. The issue is divinity leading to deep pride, excluding others, loveless, prideful and selfish behavior. Gnosticism declares everybody else as pretty much lost, or almost lost, so it is shaking up people’s assurance of salvation and eternal life (as exemplified in Colossians).
Gnosticism is a fascination with knowledge, revelation, enlightenment, light, spirit, special access, secrecy spiritual experience, it sets its followers up for all kinds of deception and immorality
John combating gnosticism
All throughout the text of 1 John we see that John exposes the error of these false teachers and then affirms the truth. Basically everything he says is anti-gnostic. Every sentence is re-affirming gospel truth.
John assures his little children of their salvation and confidence of eternal life. They are in truth, in the light, in life, in love … for all eternity. 1 Jn 1:5 says “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”
It is obvious to see that these false teachers were not walking in light or humility or morality nor were they walking in love as John exhorts his readers to. John denounces those who are sinning, lawless, make light of moral living and good behavior. John denounces those who are loveless, selfish, prideful, which are the characteristics of the gnostics.
John taught three important marks of a true believer: a true believer confesses Jesus as the Christ, obeys commands of Jesus, loves.
The founding of the Readers’ churches
If Asia Minor is assumed as readership, then the founding was possibly from
- 30 AD Pentecost Acts 2:9 Jews from Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia)
- 47-48 AD 1st missionary journey Acts 13-14 churches of Galatia founded
- 50 AD 2nd missionary journey Acts 16:1-3 Paul travels through Galatia shortly
- 53-57 AD 3rd missionary journey Acts 19:8-10 Ephesus as center, gospel spreading from there
- before 64 AD Peter most likely visited 1 Peter 1:1 him writing to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia
The area received several New Testament writings: Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy
Groups in the Readers’ churches
There are believers of most likely both Jew and Gentile background. Specifically mentioned are fathers, young men, ‘little children” (a metaphor for the believers in general). The are believers who have been influenced by gnosticism-influenced believers, maybe even targetted by gnostic teachers themselves.
The Readers’ churches’ strengths
- 1 Jn 3:1, 5:13 saved
- 1 Jn 2:21, 2:27 “you know”. John acknowledges their solid knowledge about Jesus and God’s character by the help of the Spirit
- the churches have maturity and is trusted by John
The Readers’ churches’ weaknesses
The believers are at least partially influenced by gnostic (and possibly other heretical) teaching. Therefore they are in danger of denying Jesus humanity, of valuing knowledge and discernment over love and service, of asceticism or libertinism, of stepping down from their high calling into being impressed with eloquent, so-called wise exclusivity teachers. In 1 Jn 5:21 John warns them directly against idol worship.
The letter is mostly prose > literal interpretation. There is some poetry (1 Jn 2:12-14) > figurative interpretation. There are also many figures of speech > figurative interpretation.
1 John is a letter, but does not follow Greek style. There is no usual beginning mentioning author, audience, blessing or prayer (1 Jn 1:1), rather a start like John’s gospel. There is also no usual greetings and blessing at the end (1 Jn 5:21).
The purpose of the letter is stated clearly, though, in 1 Jn 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.” So the letter is written to assure the believers in their faith, salvation, eternal life and the divinity of Jesus.
Many think 1 John has no structure, since John did not present themes serially, develop them and draw a conclusion, and he definitely does not argue systematically like Paul.
Some see a structure based on John’s statements of God: He is light (1 Jn 1:5), life (1 Jn 2:25) and love (1 Jn 4:8). Mostly it is weaving sort of writing, where themes get visited again and again with deepening understanding and links.
1 John has some characteristics of an ‘eye witness account’, it is very personal and pastoral. John makes ample use of contrast, for example, light and darkness, truth and error, God and devil. John also makes ample use of repetition, a good teaching method. His points are few but repeated, again weaving or like petals of a flower, that are revisited time and again.
John also uses the Hebrew form of Parallelism: “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8) or “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
Main ideas / topics
John is assuring the believers in their faith, salvation, knowledge of truth and eternal life through Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Father in heaven, fully God and fully man. Faith of a willing heart is more important than knowledge, insight, enlightenment or spiritual experiences. To really know God means to love God means to obey God means to love one another.
• Characteristics & doctrine of false teachers, recognize and withstand them, live differently
Main reasons / purpose
• writing to safeguard the church from false teachers, exposing and correcting their false doctrine (gnosticism)
• Reassure / encourage the churches in their sufficient faith & knowledge, that they are in the truth, so stay in the truth
• giving the saints a number of ways to know a true believer and thus be encouraged.
• Exhortation to grow in a godly life-style of love, service, humility and repentance as a way to safeguard truth and faith.
1 JOHN – TEXT
Opening paragraph Jesus is fully human
• 1 John 1:1-2 … We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed and we testify to it …
• John as authoritative eyewitness to a historic, physical, spiritual reality: Jesus. Jesus could be seen, heard, smelled, felt …
• Anti-gnostic: John strongly asserts Jesus’ humanity, he is 100% human. Jesus was a real human being, not an appearance or a ghost floating about.
• God – who is life and the source of all life – really cares for this world. Jesus – his Son – is the word, the life, the one sent from the Father, the one who did not shy away from taking on flesh and getting down on this earth. It is in him that we have salvation.
• Need for apologetics. Need to uphold the historicity and objective truth of what the gospel, the OT and NT describes. Jesus is not a ‘superior moral teaching’, he is not a ‘noble idea’, he is not an extentialist’s ‘inner world’. Jesus is not ‘in our minds’. Truth is not relative … the pitfall of Existentialism.
• From the beginning … the Word of life, the eternal life that was with the Father, was revealed to us … many parallels to John 1:1-18, where it is the ‘word of God’
• ‘fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’. … parallel to Jn 6 (and more passages) where to have the Father means to have the Son, to see the Son means to see the Father, you cannot have the Father unless you have the Son … Jn 14:6 no way to the Father except through Jesus.
• You cannot take the two apart. Clear teaching on the Trinity, also on the unity of both, on Jesus being God.
Contrasts used by John
1 Jn 1:6 fellowship walking in darkness, lie, not living according to truth.
1 Jn 1:5 light darkness.
1 Jn 1:7,8 cleansing from sin saying we have no sin, self-deception
1 Jn 1:9,10 confessing sin not of truth, word not in us.
1 Jn 2:3,4 keep his commandments saying “I know him” but disobeys liar, truth not in him.
1 Jn 2:8,9 true light, darkness passing away hating brother and being in darkness.
1 Jn 2:10,11 love of brother, walk in light, no stumbling hating brother, walk in darkness, does not know where going
1 Jn 2:15 love of father love of world.
1 Jn 2:17 he who abides forever world passing away.
1 Jn 2:19 those that continue those that went out from us.
1 Jn 2:21 those who know truth liar who denies Jesus is Christ
1 Jn 2:27 those taught by anointing those who would deceive you (1 Jn 1:26)
1 Jn 3:9 those who do not habitually sin those who commit sin (1 Jn 3:8), those who do not do right (3:9)
1 Jn 3:1,9,10 children of God, those born of God children of devil
1 Jn 3:11 love brother hating brother, murderers, abiding in death
1 Jn 3:16 God’s love those who close hearts (1 Jn 3:17)
1 Jn 4:2 Spirit of God Spirit of Antichrist (1 Jn 4:3)
1 Jn 4:4 he in you he in world.
1 Jn 4:6 Spirit of truth spirit of error.
1 Jn 4:7 those who love, born of God those who do not love, do not know (1 Jn 4:8)
1 Jn 5:11 those who have life those who do not have life (1 Jn 5:11)
1 Jn 5:19 those that are of God those under power of evil one (1 Jn 5:19)
Repeated Theme Assurance of Salvation, Adoption, Truth
Giving Assurance of salvation, of knowing God, of knowing truth, of being his children
1 Jn 2:12-14 “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
1 Jn 2:20,21* “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth.”
1 Jn 2:27 “As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you…”
1 Jn 3:1,2* “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
1 Jn 4:4* “Little children, you are from God…:
1 Jn 4:6 “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us…”
1 Jn 4:13* “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
1 Jn 4:15 “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.”
1 Jn 5:1* “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…”
1 Jn 5:10-13 “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts…And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 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.”
1 Jn 5:19* “We know that we are God’s children…”
1 Jn 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God have come and given us understanding so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ…”
• This is a huge repeated theme: John is assuring the believers that they are saved indeed, have eternal life indeed, have received Jesus indeed, have become God’s children indeed, have his Spirit indeed, have received the truth indeed … John is affirming, assuring, encouraging, steadying …
• He is hacking and slashing at their fear, their worry about ‘being spiritual enough’, their over-impressedness with the spirituality of these self-declared enlightened people. He says: Hey, hey – Jesus is enough! If you have him, you have everything! Don’t worry! Don’t take pressure. Very much like Colossians.
• Still today many feel as preachers it is our duty to scare people, to undermine their assurance, … we feel that this is the way to get co-operation, obedience, faithfulness. This is one reason the few scary Scriptures are totally over-taught, like the famous ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’. John doesn’t agree. Neither does Jesus. It is God’s goodness that leads us to repentance (remember Ro 2:4), it is experiencing his Father heart that makes us really want to be obedient.
• Do not be a condemnation preacher. We may need to challenge people to wholeheartedness, but our approach should be by basically saying: Look at this amazing God! Why wouldn’t you trust him? Why wouldn’t you obey him?
• It is out of knowing God’s goodness, that everything else comes.
• Remember, ‘to know God, and to make him known’ … God’s character is the basis for all ministry.
Repeated Theme ‘we know’, ‘you know’, ‘you may be sure’
• 1 Jn 2:3* sure we know him if we keep his commandments
• 1 Jn 2:5* sure that we are in him…if we walk the same way he walked
• 1 Jn 2:21* I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, know that no lie is of the truth
• 1 Jn 2:29 if you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him
• 1 Jn 3:5 you know that he appeared to take away sins
• 1 Jn 3:14 we know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren
• 1 Jn 3:16 by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us
• 1 Jn 3:19 by this we shall know that we are of the truth
• 1 Jn 3:24* we know that he abides in us by the Holy Spirit which he has given us
• 1 Jn 4:13* we know that we abide…given us own spirit
• 1 Jn 4:2 by this we know the spirit of God
• 1 Jn 4:6 by this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error
• 1 Jn 4:7* who loves is born of God and knows God
• 1 Jn 4:16 so we know and believe the love God has for us
• 1 Jn 5:2 by this we know and that we love the children of God
The Final section 1 Jn 5:13-21 climaxes the certainty theme. These verses contain 7 “knows” (septett!)
• 1 Jn 5:13 may know that you have eternal life 1
• 1 Jn 5:15 if we know that he hears us, we know that we have obtained the requests 2, 3
• 1 Jn 5:18 we know that anyone born of God does not sin 4
• 1 Jn 5:19 we know that we are of God 5
• 1 Jn 5:20 we know that the Son of God had come and has given us understanding to know who is true 6, 7
• John doesn’t say these to make them insecure or to condemn them for their lack of knowledge but rather to assure them of their true understanding, to show them the importance of staying in this, going the right direction
• again John’s goal is reassurance of the foundational truths and realities against a gnostic background
Repeated Theme ‘Reassurance’ / Checks for a true believer
To reassure these Christians that they have eternal life, John sets forth the marks of a believer; they can check themselves. At least eight ways are mentioned and repeated:
A. Fellowship the Christian has fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:3) and with his fellow Christians (1 Jn 1:3,7). We keep in fellowship because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7). Believers can’t be out of fellowship with any since all are dependent on each other. Sin breaks down fellowship and the way back to fellowship is confession. Fellowship is a joint participation with someone else in things held in common by both. To be in fellowship with Jesus we must think like Him, and have things in common with Him.
B. Sin the Christian does not habitually sin (without confession), but if he does sin he confesses it and receives cleansing and forgiveness. (1 Jn 1:8,9; 3:6,9; 5:18; 1:7) Keeps himself from idols.
C. Holy Spirit the Christian knows that he is abiding in the Lord because of the Holy Spirit which has been given to him. (1 Jn 3:24; 4:13)
Do you have the Holy Spirit? The False Teachers don’t! It is the Holy Spirit (anointing) that teaches us to distinguish between truth and falsehood, because the Spirit teaches us about Jesus. (1 Jn 2:20, 26, 27). The Spirit is a witness (5:7). It is the Holy Spirit that tests the Spirits, who gives discernment. Ultimately the Holy Spirit and the Word are teachers, the readers are not at the mercy of the False Teachers
D. Confess Christ: the believer confesses Jesus as the Son of God. (1 Jn 2:23) (4:15; 5:1, 10-12) He has testimony in himself 1 Jn 5:10. He holds true doctrine of Jesus. False teachers wouldn’t submit to what God said about His Son. If they don’t believe what God says about His son then they are calling God a liar. Doctrine and theology are important.
E. Confidence at His coming, in His presence: 1 Jn 2:28 “abide (continuous, remain) in him so that when he comes we may have confidence for the day of judgment. (1 Jn 3:21; 4:17,18; 5:14) (boldness, keep clean account)
F. Overcomers 1 Jn 2:12, 14. “because you have overcome the evil one”. (1 Jn 3:8; 4:4; 5:4,5)
G. keep commandments (not slavishly, conditionally the law, but precepts of Jesus to love God and brother. John
6:28,29. 1 Jn 3:23 -and this is his command, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another. (1 Jn 2:2-4,5b, 8-11, 29; 3:10, 14, 18; 4:7-8, 10-11, 16,20; 5:2)
H. Keeps to the teaching given in the beginning: the believer doesn’t doctor up the message, sticking to the truth vs error. 1 Jn 1:1 -key, starts out with it. 1 Jn 1:5, 7. “I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.” . 1 Jn 2:24 ‘If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son.’
Repeated Conditionals / Repeated Relative Sentences
1 Jn 1:6 (-) ‘If we say we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true’
1 Jn 1:7 (+) “…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.’
1 Jn 1:8 (-) ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’
1 Jn 1:9 (+) “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
1 Jn 1:10 (-) ‘If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and the word is not in us.’
1 Jn 2:3 (+) Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments
1 Jn 2:4 (-) Whoever says ‘I have come to know him’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist.’
1 Jn 2:5 (+) But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.
1 Jn 2:6 (+) By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked
1 Jn 2:10 (+) Whoever loves a brother or a sister lives in the light.
1 Jn 2:11 (-) But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go because darkness has brought on blindness.
1 Jn 2:29 (+) If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.
1 Jn 3:7 (+) Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
1 Jn 3:8 (-) Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil for the devil has been sinning from the beginning
1 Jn 3:9 (+) Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been from of God.
1 Jn 3:14 (+) We know that we have passed from death to life because we love on another.
1 Jn 3:19 (+) And by this (active love) we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him.”
1 Jn 3:24 (+) All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”
1 Jn 4:2 (+) every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
1 Jn 4:7-21
1 Jn 4:7 (+) everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
1 Jn 4:12 (+) if we love one another, God lives in us.”
1 Jn 4:16 (+) So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
1 Jn 5:1-5 1
1 Jn 5:18 (+) We know that those who are born of God do not sin…”
Major points from this exercise
• he is weaving / revisiting / showing from a different aspect … a bit complicated in one sense, but very simple in another
• know God = love God = obey God = keep commandments = love neighbor = live in fellowship
• know God = know truth = confess Jesus is God & man = live in truth = live in light = confess sins = be honest
• basically he shows what must connect / link / be present together / can’t be separated … all these … CONNECTION
• and also he shows what is mutually exclusive / what will not go together / what can’t co-exist … DICHOTOMY
• He connects what the gnostics separate: spirit and matter, morality and knowledge, God and loving neighbor, …
• But: what then makes the big divide? > Heart & Attitude … my heart’s response to grace > faith, love, obedience
• The divide is NOT over what the gnostics claim: divine spark / superior knowledge / special revelation / good luck … spirit and matter.
• This is deeply anti-gnostic: no splits, no separation, all things are linked, all things matter.
• If nothing else this should convince us of the utter justice and fairness of God & Christianity: the only one thing which really matters, the only one thing that God really wants, is the only one thing that everybody is equally able to give: your heart.
• Know that for God in the whole universe there is no greater good, no thing he desires more than our hearts … all else is his anyway. It’s the one thing he gave to us, so we would willingly and freely give it back to him.
• Remember Jude (Jd 20) ‘your most holy faith’ … and Peter (1 Pe 1:7, 2 Pe 1:1) … your faith, being more precious than gold … you have received a faith as precious as ours
• Your faith, your love, your obedience is the great price of the universe, the great pearl that God seeks.
• John echoes the heart of God when he says in his 3rd letter (3 Jn 4) … “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”
Warning again about false teachings
• Sometimes you can fully know that a teaching is false, without even going into any details or argument
• Any teaching that is exclusive, limited access, only for the initiates, only us, 2 class humans with nothing to change that
• Any teaching that sanctions sin, bad attitude, domination, selfishness, pride for part of humanity but not for others
• Any teaching that does not awaken your conscience but rather indulges your ‘lower instincts’ …
Repeated Theme False teachers / Antichrists
1 Jn 2:18-25 anti-christs sow doubts about Jesus’ divinity
John first mentions the false teachers in 1 Jn 2:18 and reminds them of the teaching they have received that “antichrists would come” and states that time has arrived and antichrists are already about. Of the antichrist we learn:
• 1 Jn 2:18 He is coming at last hour (therefore last hour has come)
• 1 Jn 2:18 There is more than one
• 1 Jn 2:19 They went from us (came out of the church)
• 1 Jn 2:19 but they didn’t belong to us (ie. never saved? Or loss of salvation?)
• C.S. Lewis less stress on the sinner’s prayer, but more of the sum total of our life choices (The great divorce)
• 1 Jn 2:22 antichrist denies that Jesus is the Christ this is really the simple and relevant definition, nothing else needed
• 1 Jn 2:22 He is a liar like Satan
• 1 Jn 2:22 Denies the Father and the Son he messes with the Trinity, the Incarnation
• 1 Jn 2:23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also as Jn 6
• 1 Jn 2:24 If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will abide in the Son and in the Father
• 1 Jn 2:25 and this is what he promised us, eternal life. Accept gospel = confess Jesus = abide in truth = eternal life
1 Jn 4:1-6 anti-christs sow doubts about Jesus’ humanity
He then returns to the subject in 1 Jn 4:1-6, where he entreats the saints not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits. From this passage, we learn of the antichrist:
• 1 Jn 4:1 They are false prophets (teachers).
• 1 Jn 4:2 They do not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh this is directly anti-docetist (Christ Spirit floating)
• 1 Jn 4:3 This spirit of antichrist is in the world already this is not a ‘far future’ or ‘future only’ event
• 1 Jn 4:5 World listens to them as they are of the world unless I have a solid gospel basis, I will fall for it
John not only speaks about false teachers but exposes their doctrine:
• 1 Jn 2:24-25 teaching things contrary to what they had heard in the beginning, teaching things beyond what they had heard. “Let what you heard in the beginning abide in you.”
• 1 Jn 1:8 They said they had no sin
• 1 Jn 2:9-11 They were lacking in Love
• 1 Jn 3:7 Actually they were sinning though they said they weren’t
▪ licentiousness 1 Jn 3:7
▪ idolatry 1 Jn 5:21
▪ deceived the people 1 Jn 2:26, 3:7
• 1 Jn 1:1-3 John opens his letter right at the beginning by confuting the false doctrine: “That which was from the beginning – the Word of life – they had heard, seen with eyes, looked upon, touched with hands, saw, seen, heard”
• again this is John combating Gnosticism / Doceticism: these are true, physical realities, and God is not ashamed of that, but decisively and intimately involved
• 1 Jn 4:2 John combats those who deny that Jesus has come in the flesh.
1 Jn 5:6-12 the witness of truth
• John gives three proofs of the physical humanity of Jesus
• Jesus came by water (5:6) > referring to Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descending, the Father affirming the physical Jesus as ‘of God’, John’s witness recognizing him as the one sent by God, the Lamb
• Jesus came by blood (5:6) > Jesus is flesh & blood, Jesus died physically and rose again physically
• Spirit (5:7) > refers to in the testimony of God in us 5:10 … these 3 agree (witness)
John exposes the teachers’ false claims and their bad conduct
We have fellowship with Him (6) They walk in darkness (i.e. hating one another 1:6)
We have no sin. (v8) They deceive themselves. (1:8)
We have not sinned. (10) They make God a liar. (1:10)
We have come to know Him. (2:4) They disobey His commands. (2:4) … liar without truth
We abide in Him. (2:6) They do not walk as He walked. (2:6)
We are in the light. (2:9) They hate their brothers. (2:10)
John assures the believers of 3 safeguards they have against the false teachers / doctrines
• 1 Jn 2:20-21: They have been anointed by the Holy One (Spirit) and know truth v24. they should let what they have heard from the beginning abide in them ‑ i.e. He is saying they have been fully taught, they should recall and stand by that teaching. In fact, he says they all know v.20, a fully taught church. Test ‑ The Word.
• 1 Jn 2:26-27: They have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guard them against deception. “v.27 his anointing teaches you about everything‑”. they did not have to rely on or be at the mercy of teachers, but the indwelling Holy Spirit was their personal teacher. Test ‑ The indwelling Spirit.
• 1 Jn 4:1-6: They were to test the spirits and they would know the true spirits by their confessions. Test ‑ The Word.
• They know truth, the have heard it when the gospel was preached to them, they have responded and accepted truth from the eyewitness accounts of the apostles.
Repeated Theme Claims of the false teachers
Claim 1 I have fellowship with God This couldn’t possibly be true because there is no darkness in God. One cannot participate with light when he is in darkness. Darkness and Light are incompatible. Consequences / description: they are lost and blind (1 John 2:11).
1 John 1:6 “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie.”
Claim 2 I have no sin A true disciple is marked by openness, humility and a willingness to admit weakness and confess sin. Only confession and asking Jesus for forgiveness leads to cleansing, purity. Consequences / description: they are deceived, the truth is not in them (1 John 1:18).
1 John 1:8 “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”
Claim 3 I have no sin Not does this attitude prevent repentance and forgiveness, it is also rebellion against what God has revealed to be true (Rom 1:18), thus calling God a liar
1 John 1:10 “if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar. “
Claim 3 I know him To truly know God, one is compelled to obey Him. John seems to be saying that obedience to revelation will enable us to have more revelation. Therefore, disobedience turns off the revelation.
1 John 2:4 “he who says “I know Him” but disobeys His commandments is a liar.”
Claim 4 I abide in him The thought of abiding in someone, results in actions consistent with that person (John 15). Contrary actions show that there actually isn’t an abiding relationship.
1 John 2:6 “he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way He walked.”
Claim 5 I am in the light Light is usually symbolic of righteousness. Hate is shown to be unrighteousness and something which condemns a person (1 John 3:15). Hate and enlightenment are incompatible. Consequences / description: they are still in darkness (1 John 2:8).
1 John 2:9 “he who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.”
Claim 6 I love God John has just said that he who loves someone else is born of God and loves God (1 John 4:7) Jesus summed up the whole law with two imperative commands “Love god and Love man.” (Mt 22:37-40)
1 John 4:20 “if any one says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar.”
Repeated Theme ‘I am writing to you’
I am writing to you …
… that our joy may be complete 1 John 1:4 Unbroken Fellowship
… so that you may not sin 1 John 2:1 Understanding of Sin
… children because your sins are forgiven 1 John 2:12 Unconditional Forgiveness
… fathers because you know Him who is from the beginning 1 John 2:13 Undeniable Facts
… young men because you have overcome the evil one 1 John 2:13 Unquestionable Experience
… children because you know the Father 1 John 2:14 Unadulterated Relationship
… fathers because you know Him who is from the beginning 1 John 2:14 Undeniable Facts
… young men because you are strong, the word abides in you, you have overcome 1 John 2:14 Unquestionable Experience
… because you know the truth 1 John 2:21 Unfailing Doctrine
… about those who would deceive you 1 John 2:26 Undermining Heresies
Repeated Theme ‘This is…’
1 John 1:5 This is the message…
1 John 2:25 This is what he has promised
1 John 3:11 This is the message…
1 John 3:23 This is his commandment
1 John 4:3 This is the spirit of antichrist
1 John 4:9 This is God’s love made manifest
1 John 4:10 This is love
1 John 4:17 This is love perfected
1 John 5:3 This is God’s love
1 John 5:4 This is the victory that overcomes…
1 John 5:6 This is He who came by water and blood
1 John 5:11 This is the testimony of God
1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in Him
1 John 5:20 This is the true God and eternal life
These are all emphatic statements, where John – with authority – defines what these things mean. All these sentences comment on either the character of God of the core content of the gospel. John gives correcting definitions where heresies would deviate from the primary message and attempt to undermine the truth about God’s character.
Sometimes truth just needs to stated. Sometimes we get too careful about saying what we believe.
Difficult Passage Mortal or not mortal sin
1 Jn 5:14-15 ‘And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.’
• Being so in fellowship with God, so in sync with him, so understanding his will and ways that whatever we ask in prayer is so appropriate, God can actually hear it.
• This is not a mystical method to answer the question: ‘how to get God to do what I want?’ If a request is ‘according to his will’, we will not have to push him to hear it.
1 Jn 5:16-17 ‘If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one – to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal: I do not say that your should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there s sin that is not mortal.’
• Mortal sin here is defined as something that is no longer in the category where intercessory prayer can reach it. It seems the time or possibility of repentance is past.
• This must refer to false teachers that have so long intentionally deceived, so persistently gone against conscience that repentance is no longer possible. They are ‘past the point of return’, similar to the Pharaoh in the later part of the plague.
• Remember Jude 20-23 … rescue operations for the different stages of deception. God’s heart is always to forgive. But here (in the case of mortal sin) we are past that. Mortal sin means leading to death, with no alternative anymore
• But basically sin is forgiveable, and repentance is possible and God is willing to forgive anyone who repents. So this passage is parallel Jude 20-23: pray for people who have come under the influence of false teachers or have become false teachers themselves. Be careful but be hopeful, willing and wishing the best for these people, even after various hurts, dissensions, betrayals, attempts to deceive as would be typical of this situation.
• A heart to restore even people who have hurt me, prayer for those afflicted, not taking offense personally,
John states the purpose of his letter
• This is stated as the main purpose of the letter in 1 Jn 5:13 … “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know (knowledge of a fact once for all) that you have eternal life”.
• One of the key words in the book is “know” (Greek: ‘gnosko’, > Gnosticism) which plays upon the false teachers’ saying that they had higher knowledge and knowing.
• 1 Jn 1:2 The book begins with John saying “and we proclaim to you the eternal life”
• 1 Jn 5:11 The eternal life is not some abstract idea, but it is in Jesus Himself. No eternal life apart from Jesus.
• 1 Jn 5:20 Jesus himself is eternal life … if choose him, we get him, and in him all that is good.
• 1 Jn 1:1-2 Eternal life is not special spiritual knowledge. It is down-to-earth, hands-on, matter-experienced, all-can-see knowledge > neither hidden, nor exclusive, nor limited access, nor removed-spiritual:
• “That which was from the beginning (Jesus was from the beginning), which we have heard (they heard Jesus), which we have seen (they saw Jesus) with our eyes, which we have looked (eyes) upon and touched (touch) with our hands, concerning the word of life- the life (eternal life in Jesus) was made manifest, and we saw it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”
• The book thus begins and ends with Eternal life (called an Inclusio).
• Throughout the book eternal life, is mentioned:
◦ 1 Jn 2:17 he who does the will of God abides forever.
◦ 1 Jn 2:25 and this is what he has promised us, eternal life
◦ 1 Jn 3:15 no murderer has eternal life abiding in him
◦ 1 Jn 5:11 and this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
◦ 1 Jn 5:13 that you may know that you have eternal life
◦ 1 Jn 5:20 this is the true God and eternal life
• Why this stress? How does this answer gnostic heresy or prevent gnostic thought?
◦ Gnosticism has only few humans having only sparks of diving, hierarchies of measures of divine life in them
◦ Gnosticism has only initiate few having part of this divinity
◦ Gnosticism would have denied believers having ‘God living in them, Jesus and the Spirit dwelling in them, them having full eternal life and full access to God on no exclusive elusive basis, but just on faith
Repeated Theme ‘all’
• the relative sentences are totally inclusive: ‘whoever’ … ‘as many as’ … ‘those who’ … ‘if you’
• 1 Jn 2:2 ‘Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.’
• no separation, no difference, no different classes of humanity, not ‘special initiate people with the spark within’
• rather stress on the choice of the human heart, which is the same for all
The way of light – Parallelisms
1 Jn 1:7 We walk in the light and have fellowship with one another Jesus’ blood cleanses us
1 Jn 1:9 We confess our sins and He forgives us He cleanses us
1 Jn 2:1 ff If we sin we have an advocate we have an atoning sacrifice
1 Jn 2:3-5 We are sure we know Him bc we keep His commandments His love is perfected in us
1 Jn 2:5 ff We are sure we are in Him bc we keep His word we walk as He walked. (2:5ff)
1 Jn 2:10 We abide in the light and we love our brothers no cause for stumbling. (2:10)