The writer of the Three Epistles of John does not name himself; but early Christian tradition said that the Apostle John is the author. Evidence inside the letters themselves also leads us to think that the same man wrote the Fourth Gospel and these three epistles. Many of the words and phrases that are found in John’s Gospel are also found in these three epistles (“light,” “darkness,” “new commandment,” “that your joy may be complete,” “walk in darkness,” etc.). Also the author of these epistles claims to have had personal contact with Jesus himself, as the Apostle John did (“we have heard … seen … our hands have touched”). The evidence is very strong that John wrote the three epistles that carry his name. For a brief biography of the Apostle John, see New Testament Lesson 7, or read a biography in a Bible dictionary.
JOHN’S FIRST EPISTLE
1st John does not name the people addressed; but it is generally assumed that it is a general letter shared by congregations in the province of Asia in Asia Minor. According to tradition, John served churches in Asia for about 30 years until the last part of the First Century. It is thought that John wrote from the city of Ephesus and that he was an old man at the time of his writing. We do not know which were written first, John’s Epistles or his Gospel. But both were probably written in the 90s A.D. What was the occasion among the churches of Asia that made it necessary for John to write his First Epistle? From the content of the letter we can see that false teachers had been hard at work among the congregations; and even when those teachers had separated themselves from the churches, they were still trying to spread their ideas (2:19 and 26). John calls these people “antichrists” (people who stand against Christ) and liars (2:18 and 22). His language is very strong because of the deadly lies being told by these people. What lies were they teaching? 1) They denied that Jesus was the Christ (2:22). 2) They denied that Jesus Christ actually came in the flesh; they said he was not a true human being with a real body (4:2-3). 3) They thought lightly of sin and easily excused their immoral lives. From John’s description of their teachings, it appears that these men were early spreaders of the heresy (false teaching) called Gnosticism. Gnostics claimed to have superior spiritual knowledge (their name comes from the Greek word “gnosis,” which means “knowledge”). They taught that Jesus of Nazareth was only a man and that at his baptism a “heavenly Christ” came upon him; but this “heavenly Christ” left him before his Passion; therefore, they said, only Jesus of Nazareth died and not the Christ. It is clear that the teaching of the Gnostics took away the truth that the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has purified us from all sin. A man by the name of Cerinthus was an early Gnostic heretic. The early Christian writer Irenaeus (d. ca. 195) wrote that John would have nothing to do with Cerinthus because of his deadly doctrine. According to Irenaeus, John even rushed out of a bathhouse without bathing when he learned Cerinthus was inside; he feared the bathhouse might fall down because the enemy of God’s truth was inside. What was John’s purpose in writing his First Epistle? He wrote to warn against the false teachers with their deadly lies about Christ and the way a Christian should live. But he wrote not only to oppose the heretics; he wrote to present what the true Christian life is, emphasizing Christian love. The special characteristic of 1 John is its strong emphasis on love – God’s love and the Christian’s for God and his brothers. This emphasis on love has given 1 John its nickname “The Epistle of Love” and its author, John, his nickname “The Apostle of love.” 1 John is filled with short passages that would be good to memorize.
“THE APOSTLE OF LOVE PRESENTS THE TESTS THAT PROVE THE TRUE CHRISTIAN LIFE”
Here are a few of the many important passages from 1 John: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son” (2:22). “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (3:15). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (3:16). “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). “This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:10-11). “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (4:16b). “We love because he first loved us” (4:19).
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