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Reference: John, The Epistles Of


FIRST EPISTLE. Genuineness. Polycarp, John's disciple (ad Philippians 7), quotes 1Jo 4:3. Eusebius (H. E., iii. 39) says of Papias, John's hearer, "he used testimonies from the first epistle of John." Irenaeus (Eusebius, H. E., v. 8) often quoted it; he quotes (Haeres. iii. 15, sections 5,8) from John by name 1Jo 2:18; and in 1Jo 3:16, section 7 he quotes 1Jo 4:1-3; 5:1; 2Jo 1:7-8. Clement Alex. (Strom. ii. 66, p. 664) refers to 1Jo 5:16 as in John's larger epistle; compare Strom. iii. 32,42; iv. 102. Tertullian adv. Marcion, vi. 16, refers to 1Jo 4:1; adv. Praxean xv to 1Jo 1:1; also 1Jo 1:10, and contra Gnost. 12. Cyprian (Ep. 28:24) quotes 1Jo 2:3-4 as John's; and, de Orat. Domini, 5, quotes 1Jo 2:15-17; De opere et Eleemos. quotes 1Jo 1:8; De bono Patientiae quotes 1Jo 2:6.

Muratori's Fragment on the Canon states "there are two (the Gospel and epistle) of John esteemed universal," quoting 1Jo 1:3. The Peshito Syriac has it. Origen (Eusebius vi. 25) designates the first epistle genuine, and "probably second and third epistles, though all do not recognize the latter two"; he quotes 1Jo 1:5 (tom. 13 vol. 2). Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen's scholar, cites this epistle's words as the evangelist John's. Eusebius (H. E., iii. 24) says John's first epistle and Gospel are "acknowledged without question by those of the present day, as well as by the ancients." So Jerome (Catalog. Ecclesiastes Script.). Marcion opposed it only because it was opposed to his heresies. The Gospel and the first epistle are alike in style, yet evidently not mere copies either of the other. The individual notices, it being a universal epistle, are fewer than in Paul's epistles; but what there are accord with John's position.

He implies his apostleship (1Jo 2:7,26), alludes to his Gospel (Joh 1:1, compare Joh 1:14; 20:27), and the affectionate He uniting him as an aged pastor to his spiritual "children" (1Jo 2:18-19). In 1Jo 4:1-3 he alludes to the false teachers as known to his readers; in 1Jo 5:21 he warns them against the idols of the world around. Docetism existed in germ already, though the Docete by name appear first in the second century (Col 1:15-18; 1Ti 3:16; Heb 1:1-3). Hence 1Jo 4:1-3 denounces as "not of God every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" (compare Joh 2:22-23). Presciently the Spirit through John forearms the church against the coming heresy.

TO WHOM THE EPISTLES WERE ADDRESSED. Augustine (Quaest. Evang. 2:39) says it was addressed to the Parthians, i.e. the Christians beyond the Euphrates, outside the Roman empire, "the church at Babylon elected together with" (1Pe 5:13) the churches in the Ephesian region, where Peter sent his epistles (1Pe 1:1; Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia). As Peter addressed the Asiatic flock tended first by Paul, then by John, so John, Peter's close companion, addresses the flock among whom Peter was when he wrote. Thus "the elect lady" (2Jo 1:1) answers to "the church elected together."

TIME AND PLACE. This epistle is subsequent to the Gospel, for it assumes the reader's acquaintance with the Gospel facts and Christ's speeches, and His aspect as the incarnate Word God manifest in the flesh, set forth in John's Gospel. His fatherly tone addressing his "little children" implies it was written in old age, perhaps A.D. 90. The rise of antichristian teachers he marks as a sign of "the last time" (1Jo 2:18), no other "age" or dispensation will be until Christ comes; for His coming the church is to be ever waiting; Heb 1:2, "these last days." The region of Ephesus, where Gnostic heresy sprang up, was probably the place, and the latter part of the apostolic age the time, of writing. Contents. Fellowship with the Father and the Son is the subject and object (1Jo 1:3). Two divisions occur:

(1) 1 John 1:5 - 2:28, God is light without darkness; consequently, to have fellowship with Him necessitates walking in the light. Confession and consequent forgiveness of sins, through Christ's propitiation for the world and advocacy for believers, are a necessary preliminary; a further step is positive keeping God's commandments, the sum of which is love as contrasted with hatred, the sum of disobedience. According to their several stages of spiritual growth, children, fathers, young men, as respectively forgiven, knowing the Father, and having overcome the wicked one, John exhorts them not to love the world, which is incompatible with the indwelling of the Father's love. This anointing love dwelling in us, and our continuing to abide in the Son and in the Father, is the antidote against the antichristian teachers in the world, who are of the world, not of the church, and therefore have gone out from it.

(2) 1 John 2:29 - 5:5 handles the opening thesis: "He is righteous," therefore "every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him." Sonship involves present self purification, first because we desire now to be like Him, "even as He is pure," secondly because we hope hereafter to be perfectly like Him, our sonship now hidden shall be manifested, and we shall be made like Him when He shall be manifested (answering to Paul's Colossians 3), for our then "seeing him as He is" involves transfiguration into His likeness (compare 2Co 3:18; Php 3:21). In contrast, the children of the devil hate; the children of God love. Love assures of acceptance with God for ourselves and our prayers, accompanied as they are with obedience to His commandment to "believe on Jesus Christ, and love one another"; the seal is "the Spirit given us" (1Jo 3:24). In contrast (as in the first division), denial of Christ and adherence to the world characterize the false spirits (1Jo 4:1-6). The essential feature of sonship or birth of God is unslavish love to God, because God first loved us and gave His Son to die for us (1Jo 4:18-19), and consequent love to the brethren as being God's sons like ourselves, and so victory over the world through belief in Jesus as the Son of God (1Jo 5:4-5).

(3) 1Jo 5:6-21. Finally, the truth on which our fellowship with God rests is, Christ came by water in His baptism, the blood of atonement, and the witnessing Spirit which is truth, which correspond to our baptism with water and the Spirit, and our receiving the atonement by His blood and the witness of His Spirit. In the opening he rested this truth on his apostolic witness of the eye, the ear, and the touch; so at the close on God's witness, which the believer accepts, and by rejecting which the unbeliever makes God a liar. He adds his reason for writing (1Jo 5:13), corresponding to 1Jo 1:4 at the beginning, namely, that "believers may know they have (already) eternal life," the spring of "joy" (compare Joh 20:31), and so may have "confidence" in their prayers being answered (1Jo 5:14-15; compare 1Jo 3:22 in the second part), e.g. their intercessions for a brother sinning, provided his sin be not unto death (1Jo 5:16). He sums up with stating our knowledge of Him that is true, through His gift, our being in Him by virtue of being in His Son Jesus Christ; being "born of God" we keep ourselves so that the wicked one toucheth us not, in contrast to the world lying in the wicked one; therefore still, "little children, keep yourselves from idols" literal and spiritual.

STYLE. Aphorism and repetition of his own phrases abound. The affectionate hortatory tone, and the Hebraistic form which delights in parallelism of clauses (as contrasted with Paul's logical Grecian style), and his own simplicity of spirit dwelling fondly on the one grand theme, produce this repetition of fundamental truths again and again, enlarged, applied, and condensed by turns. Contemplative rather than argumentative, he dwells on the inner rather than the outer Christian life. The thoughts do not move forward by progressive steps, as in Paul, but in circles round one central thought, viewed now under the positive now under the negative aspect. His Lord's contrasted phrases in the Gospel John adopts in his epistles, "flesh," "spirit," "light," "darkness," "life," "death," "abide in Him"; "fellowship with the Father and Son, and with one another" is a phrase not in the Gospel, but in Acts and Paul's e

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