Bible Book Number 62—1 John
Writer: Apostle John
Place Written: Ephesus, or near
Writing Completed: c. 98 C.E.
1. (a) What quality permeates John’s writings, yet what shows he was no sentimentalist? (b) Why were his three letters timely?
JOHN, the beloved apostle of Jesus Christ, had a strong love for righteousness. This helped give him a keen insight into the mind of Jesus. We are therefore not surprised that the theme of love dominates his writings. He was no sentimentalist, however, for Jesus referred to him as one of the “Sons of Thunder [Boanerges].” (Mark 3:17) In fact, it was in defense of truth and righteousness that he wrote his three letters, for the apostasy foretold by the apostle Paul had become evident. John’s three letters were indeed timely, for they were an aid in strengthening the early Christians in their fight against the encroachments of “the wicked one.”—2 Thess. 2:3, 4; 1 John 2:13, 14; 5:18, 19.
2. (a) What indicates that John’s letters were written much later than Matthew, Mark, and the missionary letters? (b) When and where do the letters appear to have been written?
2 Judging from the contents, these letters belong to a period much later than the Gospels of Matthew and Mark—later, also, than the missionary letters of Peter and Paul. Times had changed. There is no reference to Judaism, the big threat to the congregations in the days of their infancy; and there does not appear to be a single direct quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures. On the other hand, John talks about “the last hour” and the appearance of “many antichrists.” (1 John 2:18) He refers to his readers by expressions such as “my little children” and to himself as “the older man.” (1 John 2:1, 12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; 2 John 1; 3 John 1) All of this suggests a late date for his three letters. Also, 1 John 1:3, 4 seems to indicate that John’s Gospel was written about the same time. It is generally believed that John’s three letters were completed about 98 C.E., shortly before the apostle’s death, and that they were written in the vicinity of Ephesus.
3. (a) What testifies to the writership and authenticity of First John? (b) What material was added later, but what proves it to be spurious?
3 That First John was actually written by John the apostle is indicated by its close resemblance to the fourth Gospel, which he unmistakably wrote. For example, he introduces the letter by describing himself as an eyewitness who has seen “the word of life . . . , the everlasting life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us,” expressions strikingly similar to those with which John’s Gospel opens. Its authenticity is attested by the Muratorian Fragment and by such early writers as Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Papias, all of the second century C.E.a According to Eusebius (c. 260-342 C.E.), the authenticity of First John was never questioned.b However, it is to be noted that some older translations have added to chapter 5 the following words at the end of 5 verse 7b and the beginning of 5 verse 8a: “In heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” (King James Version) But this text is not found in any of the early Greek manuscripts and has obviously been added to bolster the Trinity doctrine. Most modern translations, both Catholic and Protestant, do not include these words in the main body of the text.—1 John 1:1, 2.c
4. Against whom is John seeking to protect his fellow Christians, and what false teachings does he refute?
4 John writes to protect his “beloved ones,” his “young children,” against the wrong teachings of the “many antichrists” that have gone out from among them and that are trying to seduce them away from the truth. (2:7, 18) These apostate antichrists may have been influenced by Greek philosophy, including early Gnosticism, whose adherents claimed special knowledge of a mystical sort from God.d Taking a firm stand against apostasy, John deals extensively with three themes: sin, love, and the antichrist. His statements on sin, and in support of Jesus’ sacrifice for sins, indicate that these antichrists were self-righteously claiming that they were without sin and had no need of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. Their self-centered “knowledge” had made them selfish and loveless, a condition that John exposes as he continually emphasizes true Christian love. Moreover, John is apparently combating their false doctrine as he expounds that Jesus is the Christ, that he had a prehuman existence, and that he came in the flesh as the Son of God to provide salvation for believing men. (1:7-10; 2:1, 2; 4:16-21; 2:22; 1:1, 2; 4:2, 3, 14, 15) John brands these false teachers plainly as “antichrists,” and he gives a number of ways in which the children of God and the children of the Devil can be recognized.—2:18, 22; 4:3.
5. What indicates that First John was intended for the entire Christian congregation?
5 Since no particular congregation is addressed, the letter was evidently intended for the entire Christian association. The lack of a greeting at the beginning and a salutation at the end would also indicate this. Some have even described this writing as a treatise rather than a letter. The use of the plural “you” throughout (as indicated by capitals in the New World Translation) shows that the writer directed his words to a group rather than to an individual.
CONTENTS OF FIRST JOHN
6. What contrast does John make between those who walk in the light and those who are in darkness?
6 Walking in the light, not in the darkness (1:1–2:29). “We are writing these things,” says John, “that our joy may be in full measure.” Since “God is light,” only those “walking in the light” are having “a sharing with him” and with one another. These are cleansed from sin by “the blood of Jesus his Son.” On the other hand, those who “go on walking in the darkness” and who claim, “We have no sin,” are misleading themselves, and the truth is not in them. If they confess their sins, God will be faithful and forgive them.—1:4-8.
7. (a) How does a person show that he knows and loves God? (b) How is the antichrist identified?
7 Jesus Christ is identified as “a propitiatory sacrifice” for sins, one who is “a helper with the Father.” He that claims to know God but does not observe His commandments is a liar. He that loves his brother remains in the light, but he that hates his brother is walking in the darkness. John strongly counsels not to love the world or the things in the world, for, he says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Many antichrists have come, and “they went out from us,” explains John, for “they were not of our sort.” The antichrist is the one that denies that Jesus is the Christ. He denies both the Father and the Son. Let the “little children” stay with what they have learned from the beginning so as to “abide in union with the Son and in union with the Father,” according to the anointing received from him, which is true.—2:1, 2, 15, 18, 19, 24.
8. (a) What distinguishes the children of God from those of the Devil? (b) How have the “little children” come to know love, and what check must they continually make on their hearts?
8 Children of God do not practice sin (3:1-24). Because of the Father’s love, they are called “children of God,” and at God’s manifestation they are to be like him and to “see him just as he is.” Sin is lawlessness, and those who are remaining in union with Christ do not practice it. The one who does carry on sin originates with the Devil, whose works the Son of God will break up. The children of God and the children of the Devil are thus evident: Those originating with God have love for one another, but those originating with the wicked one are like Cain, who hated and slew his brother. John tells the “little children” that they have come to know love because “that one surrendered his soul” for them, and he admonishes them not to ‘shut the door of tender compassions’ on their brothers. Let them “love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” To determine whether they “originate with the truth,” they must check what is in their hearts and see if they “are doing the things that are pleasing in [God’s] eyes.” They must observe his commandment to “have faith in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and be loving one another.” Thus they will know that they are remaining in union with him, and he with them by spirit.—3:1, 2, 16-19, 22, 23.
9. (a) What test is to be made of the inspired expressions? (b) What emphasizes the obligation to love one another?
9 Loving one another in union with God (4:1–5:21). The inspired expressions are to be tested. Those expressions that deny that Christ came in the flesh do “not originate with God” but are the antichrist’s. They originate with the world and are in union with it, but the inspired expression of truth is from God. John says: “God is love,” and “the love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.” How great the obligation, then, to love one another! Those who love others have God remain in union with them, and thus love has been made perfect that they “may have freeness of speech,” throwing fear outside. “As for us,” says John, “we love, because he first loved us.” “The one who loves God should be loving his brother also.”—4:3, 8, 10, 17, 19, 21.
10. (a) How may the children of God conquer the world, and what confidence do they have? (b) What attitude must they have toward sin and idolatry?
10 Showing love as children of God means observing his commandments, and this results in conquering the world, through faith. Concerning those putting faith in the Son of God, God gives witness that He gave them “everlasting life, and this life is in his Son.” Thus, they may have confidence that he will hear them in whatever they ask him according to his will. All unrighteousness is sin, yet there is a sin that does not incur death. Everyone born from God does not make a practice of sin. Though “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one . . . , the Son of God has come,” and he has given his disciples the “intellectual capacity” for gaining knowledge of the true God, with whom they are now in union “by means of his Son Jesus Christ.” They must also guard themselves from idols!—5:11, 19, 20.
11. How may Christians today combat antichrists and worldly desires?
11 Just as in the closing years of the first century of the Common Era, so today there are “many antichrists” against whom true Christians must be warned. These true Christians must hold fast to ‘the message which they heard from the beginning, have love for one another,’ and remain in union with God and the true teaching, practicing righteousness with freeness of speech. (2:18; 3:11; 2:27-29) Most important also is the warning against “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life,” those materialistic, worldly evils that have engulfed most professing Christians. True Christians will shun the world and its desire, knowing that “he that does the will of God remains forever.” In this age of worldly desire, sectarianism, and hatred, how beneficial it is, indeed, to study God’s will through the inspired Scriptures and to do that will!—2:15-17.
12. What contrasts does First John make for our benefit, and how may we conquer the world?
12 It is for our benefit that First John makes clear the contrasts between the light that emanates from the Father and the truth-destroying darkness from the evil one, between the life-giving teachings of God and the deceptive lies of the antichrist, between the love that pervades the entire congregation of those in union with the Father along with the Son and the murderous Cainlike hatred that is in those who “went out from us . . . that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort.” (2:19; 1:5-7; 2:8-11, 22-25; 3:23, 24, 11, 12) Having this appreciation, it should be our fervent desire to ‘conquer the world.’ And how may we do this? By having strong faith and by having “the love of God,” which means observing his commandments.—5:3, 4.
13. (a) How is the love of God highlighted as a practical force? (b) Of what kind should the Christian’s love be, resulting in what union?
13 “The love of God”—how wonderfully is this motivating force highlighted throughout the letter! In chapter 2 we find the sharp contrast made between the love of the world and the love of the Father. Later it is called to our attention that “God is love.” (4:8, 16) And what a practical love this is! It found its magnificent expression in the Father’s sending forth “his Son as Savior of the world.” (4:14) This should stir in our hearts an appreciative, fearless love, in line with the apostle’s words: “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.” (4:19) Our love should be of the same kind as that of the Father and the Son—a practical, self-sacrificing love. Just as Jesus surrendered his soul for us, so “we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers,” yes, to open the door of our tender compassions so as to love our brothers, not in words only, but “in deed and truth.” (3:16-18) As John’s letter so clearly shows, it is this love, combined with the true knowledge of God, that binds those who go on walking with God in unbreakable union with the Father and the Son. (2:5, 6) It is to the Kingdom heirs in this blessed bond of love that John says: “And we are in union with the true one, by means of his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and life everlasting.”—5:20.
a The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 1982, edited by G. W. Bromiley, pages 1095-6.
b The Ecclesiastical History, III, XXIV, 17.
d New Bible Dictionary, second edition, 1986, edited by J. D. Douglas, pages 426, 604.