The book of 1 John (1 John 1)

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1 John does not name its author but has an enormous number of similarities to the Gospel of Jon (e.g. cf. 1 John 1:1 and John 1:1, 1 John 1:4 and John 16:24. 1 John 2:7 and John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:6 and John 8:47. 1 John 5:12 and John 3:36). Although some scholars have sought to point out differences between the Gospel and the epistle, the commonalities far outweigh the dissimilarities. In addition, the author of the epistle declared himself to have seen and touched Jesus (1 John 1:1).

There is no indication of when the book is written. However, since the author appears to have been elderly (note his repeated reference to his original readers as “children”; see 2:1, 3:7), many believe that this letter was written near the end of the first century. The possibility that the epistle was written to oppose an early form of Gnosticism, a second century heresy, supports this dating. Ephesus has been suggested as the place of writing.

1 John was apparently intended to be a circular letter; it does not specify any recipients or refer to any geographical locations. The earliest confirmed use of 1 John was in the Roman province of Asia (in modern Turkey), where Ephesus was located.

1 John 4:2 is the clearest indication that a kind of proto-Gnostic teaching may have been the heresy John was confronting. Because Gnostics considered physical matter to be innately evil, they could not comprehended the incarnation. For them, the divine Logos (“Word”) could not possibly have become flesh. Gnosticism denies the need for an incarnation or an atonement (the implied assertion that Jesus had a physical body in 1 John 1:1 may also be set against Gnostic teaching; see The Gnostics and their Scriptures under 1 John 4).

If John were confronting Gnosticism, however, readers might expect a more complete refutation of its doctrines. 1 John is surely nothing like the anti-Gnostic texts we see from the second century (such as Irenaeus’ Against Heresies). It seems best to suggest that John was aware of a rising tendency toward anti-incarnational thinking among some who called themselves Christians but that his letter is a general exhortation toward godliness.

As you read, look for John’s call for Christians to live in a godly manner: turning from sin, obeying God’s commands, showing love to other believers, abandoning worldly glory and holding fast to orthodox teachings about Jesus Christ.

Did you know that the Gnostics denied that their immoral actions were sinful (1:10)? Did you know that the Gnostics insisted that the teaching of the apostles was to be supplemented with the “higher knowledge” they claim to possess (2:27)? Did you know that the Gnostics taught that the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and then left Him at the cross, so that it was only the man Jesus who died (4:2)?


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