JOHN, THE LETTERS OF
Although the name of the apostle John nowhere appears within these letters, scholars have generally been in agreement with the traditional view that the writer of The Good News According to John and the three letters entitled the First, Second and Third of John are by the same hand. There are many similarities between them and the fourth Gospel.
The authenticity of these letters is well established. The internal evidence testifies to their harmoniousness with the rest of the Scriptures. Also, many early writers give testimony to their genuineness. Polycarp seems to quote from 1 John 4:3; Papias is said by Eusebius to have testified to the first letter; as did Tertullian and Cyprian, and it is contained in the Syriac Peshitta Version. Clement of Alexandria seemingly indicates knowledge of the other two letters; Irenaeus apparently quotes from 2 John 10, 11; Dionysius of Alexandria, according to Eusebius, alludes to them. These latter-mentioned writers also testify to the authenticity of First John.
Very likely John wrote the letters from Ephesus about 98 C.E., near the time when he wrote his Gospel account. The frequent expression “little [or, young] children” seems to indicate that they were written in his old age.
This “letter” is written more in the style of a treatise, since it has neither a greeting nor a conclusion. In the second chapter John addresses fathers, young children and young men, denoting that it was not a personal letter to an individual. It was very likely intended for a congregation or congregations and, in fact, applies to the entire association of those in union with Christ.—1 John 2:13, 14.
John was the last living apostle. It had been more than thirty years since the last of the other letters of the Christian Greek Scriptures had been written. Soon the apostles would all be off the scene. Years before this time, Paul had written to Timothy that he would not be with him much longer. (2 Tim. 4:6) He urged Timothy to keep holding the pattern of healthful words and to commit to faithful men the things he had heard from Paul so that these men could, in turn, teach others.—2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2.
The apostle Peter had warned of false teachers who would arise from among the congregation, bringing in destructive sects. (2 Pet. 2:1-3) Additionally, Paul had told the overseers of the congregation in Ephesus (where John’s letters were later written) that “oppressive wolves” would enter in, not treating the flock with tenderness. (Acts 20:29, 30) He foretold the great apostasy with its “man of lawlessness.” (2 Thess. 2:3-12) In 98 C.E. it was, therefore, as John said: “Young children, it is the last hour, and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there have come to be many antichrists; from which fact we gain the knowledge that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) Consequently, the letter was most timely and of vital importance for the strengthening of the faithful Christians as a bulwark against the apostasy.
However, John did not write merely to refute false teachings. Rather, his main purpose was to strengthen the faith of the early Christians in the truths they had received; often he contrasted these truths with the false teachings. Possibly, First John was sent as a circular letter to all the congregations in the area. This view is supported by the writer’s frequent use of the Greek plural form for “you.”
His argument is orderly and forceful, as the following consideration of the letter will show. The letter has strong emotional appeal, and it is clear that John wrote out of his great love for the truth and his abhorrence of error—his love for light and hatred of darkness.
Three primary themes
John dealt extensively with three themes in particular in his first letter: the antichrist, sin, and love.
Regarding the antichrist, he spoke very plainly. He said: “These things I write you about those who are trying to mislead you.” (1 John 2:26) These men were denying that Jesus Christ was the Son of God that had come in the flesh. He explained that they were once with the congregation, but had gone out in order that it might be shown that they were not of “our sort.” (2:19) They were not the loyal, loving sort that “have faith to the preserving alive of the soul,” but were the sort “that shrink back to destruction.”—Heb. 10:39.
As to sin, some of the high points made are: (1) that we all sin, and that those who say they do not sin do not have the truth and are making God out to be a liar (1 John 1:8-10); (2) that we are all to strive against sin (2:1); (3) that God has provided a propitiatory sacrifice for sins by Jesus Christ, whom we have as a helper with the Father (2:1; 4:10); (4) that those who are true Christians do not make a practice of sin; they do not carry on sin, although they may commit an act of sin at times (2:1; 3:4-10; 5:18); (5) that there are two kinds of sin, the kind that can be forgiven, and the willful, deliberate kind that is not forgivable.—5:16, 17.
On the subject of love, John writes more freely. He declares: (1) that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16); (2) that God showed his love by having his Son die as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins; also, by providing through Christ that his anointed ones become children of God (3:1; 4:10); (3) that the love of God and Christ puts us under obligation to show love to our brothers (3:16; 4:11); (4) that the love of God means to observe his commandments (5:2, 3); (5) that Perfect love throws fear outside, removing restraint from freeness of speech to God (4:17, 18); (6) that love of brothers is not just a matter of words but of deeds, giving them things that we have if they are in need (3:17, 18); (7) that anyone who hates his brother is a manslayer (3:15); and (8) that Christians are not to love the world and the things in it.—2:15.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction: The physical reality of Christ’s manifestation in the flesh as “the word of life” (1:1, 2)
II. Purpose of the letter: That its readers may have “a sharing with us” and with the Father and his Son, “that our joy may be in full measure” (1:3, 4)
III. Walking in the light, not in the darkness (1:5–2:29)
A. God is light and in union with him there is no darkness (1:5, 6)
B. If we walk in the light, Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin (1:7)
C. Acknowledgment and confession of sins necessary (1:8–2:2)
1. One not acknowledging his sins is a liar (1:8-10)
2. Jesus Christ the helper and propitiatory sacrifice for “our” sins as well as for the whole world’s (2:1, 2)
D. Those who know Christ keep his commandments; in such ones the love of God has been made perfect (2:3-6)
E. Hatred of brother reveals one is not in the light (2:7-11)
F. Various members of Christian congregation—children, young men and fathers—commended (2:12-14)
G. Love of world is not love of Father; world is passing away (2:15-17)
H. Presence of antichrists proves it is last hour (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10); these went out, proving that “not all are of our sort” (2:18-29)
IV. Children of God do not practice sin (3:1-24)
A. Anointed ones now children of God; in time will see God and be like him (3:1-3)
B. Children of God and children of Devil identified (3:4-18)
1. Child of Devil carries on sin; sinners originate with the Devil; Son of God manifested to break up Devil’s works (3:4-8)
2. Child of God carries on righteousness, and loves others, not like Cain who slaughtered his brother; “His reproductive seed” in such one keeps him from practicing sin (3:9-12)
3. Conflict with world, which hates Christians (3:13, 14)
4. Christians must love their brothers; to hate them is manslaughter (3:15-18)
C. We should have faith in the name of Jesus Christ and freeness of speech before God, who knows our hearts (3:19-24)
V. Loving one another in union with God (4:1-21)
A. Testing the inspired expressions (4:1-3)
1. One confessing that Jesus Christ came in the flesh originates with God (4:2)
2. One not confessing thus is antichrist (4:3)
B. Those of God listen to his servants; those of world, to world’s inspired expression of error (4:4-6)
C. God is love; those knowing God love him and their brothers (4:7-21)
VI. Love of God means keeping his commandments (5:1-21)
A. God’s commandments are not burdensome; following them leads to conquering world (5:1-4)
B. Faith in Jesus Christ makes one conquer (5:5-12)
1. Three things, spirit, water and blood, bear witness to Jesus Christ as Son of God (5:5-8)
2. The witness God gives is that his gift of everlasting life to his anointed ones is in his Son; therefore faith in the Son is essential (5:9-13)
C. We should have faith that whatever we ask according to God’s will, he will grant (5:14, 15)
D. We can pray for a brother sinning, except for a sin that incurs death (5:16, 17)
E. One born from God will not practice sin; the world, however, is lying in the power of the wicked one (5:18, 19)
F. The Son of God has given faithful ones the intellectual capacity to gain the knowledge of God (5:20)
G. Those in union with God, “little children,” should guard against idolatry (5:21)
The second letter of John opens with the words: “The older man to the chosen lady and to her children.” Thus, in a tactful way, John indicates that he is the writer. He was indeed an “older man,” being, by this time, about 100 years of age. He was also older in the sense of Christian growth, and was a ‘pillar’ of the congregation. (Gal. 2:9) Peter used a similar expression, referring to himself as an “older man” at 1 Peter 5:1.
It is thought by some that this letter to “the chosen lady” is addressed to one of the Christian congregations and that the children are spiritual children, the children of the “sister” (vs. 13) being members of another congregation. On the other hand, some hold the idea that it actually was addressed to an individual, perhaps named Kyria (Greek for “lady”).
Many of the points made by John in his second letter are abbreviations of thoughts from his first letter. He speaks of the truth that remains in those who really know it, and of the undeserved kindness and peace from God. He rejoices that some continue to ‘walk in the truth.’ They show love for one another and keep God’s commandments. However, deceivers have gone forth into the world, the antichrist denying that God’s Son came in the flesh. (Compare 2 John 7 and 1 John 4:3.) In verses 10 and 11 he adds to the instruction in his first letter, showing the action that members of the congregation should take toward those who push ahead of the teaching of the Christ, and who come with a teaching of their own or of men. John commands that such should not be greeted or received into the Christian’s home.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction: The “older man” writes expressing the love of all believers for the “chosen lady” and her children (1-3)
II. Walk in the truth, showing love by obeying God’s commandments (4-11)
A. John rejoices that certain ones of chosen lady’s children are walking in truth and encourages showing love for one another (4-6)
B. Look out for deceivers, those who push ahead, not remaining in the teaching of the Christ (7-9)
C. Such a deceiver should not be received into one’s home or greeted, thereby avoiding having a share in his wicked works (10, 11)
III. Conclusion: The writer hopes to visit personally, and sends greetings from the children of a “sister” of the “lady” (12, 13)
The third letter was from the “older man” to Gaius, with greetings to others in the congregation. It was written in customary letter style. It is so like the first and second letters in style and material that it was clearly written by the same person, namely, the apostle John. Just who Gaius was is not certain. While there are several persons by this name mentioned in the Scriptures, this may have been yet another Gaius, since the letter was written thirty years or more after the letters by Paul, Peter, James and Jude.
John urges Christian hospitality, and says that one Diotrephes, who liked to have the first place in the congregation, did not receive the messages from John or other responsible ones with respect, nor did he demonstrate any respect for other traveling representatives of the early Christian congregation. He even wanted to throw out of the congregation those who did receive such brothers hospitably. Therefore John mentioned that if he came personally, as he hoped to do, he would set this matter straight. (Vss. 9, 10) He commends to Gaius a faithful brother named Demetrius, who may have been the bearer of the letter, urging Gaius to receive hospitably those who went forth to build up the Christian congregations.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction: The older man to Gaius, who is walking in the truth (1-4)
II. Gaius commended for showing hospitality to brothers visiting the congregation on a Christian mission (5-8)
A. Counseled to send them on their way with the same hospitality (6, 7)
B. Such hospitality is a Christian obligation (8)
III. Diotrephes, ambitious for position, shows disrespect for theocratic authority and tries to throw out those who receive the traveling brothers with respect; the writer confident he will set matters straight by a personal visit (9, 10)
IV. Gaius counseled to be an imitator of good; Demetrius mentioned as one to whom witness is borne (11, 12)
V. Closing words of peace and greetings (13, 14)
Throughout the three letters we find emphasized Christian unity, love for God by keeping his commandments, avoiding the darkness and walking in the light, showing love for the brothers and continuing to walk in the truth. Even in his old age this “older man” John was thus a great source of encouragement and strength to the congregations in Asia Minor, and to all Christians reading his letters.—See the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” pp. 254-258.