The epistle’s title has always been “1 John.”
It is the first and largest in a series of 3 epistles that bear the
Apostle John’s name.
Since the letter identifies no specific church, location, or individual to whom it was sent, its classification
is as a “general epistle.”
Although 1 John does not exhibit some of the general characteristics of an epistle common to that time (e.g., no introduction, greeting, or concluding salutation), its
intimate tone and content
indicate that the term “epistle” still applies to it.
Author and Date
The epistle does not identify the author, but the strong,
consistent and earliest testimony of the church ascribes it to
John the disciple and apostle
(cf. Luke 6:13,14). This anonymity strongly affirms the early church’s
identification of the epistle with John the apostle,
for only someone of John’s well known and preeminent status
as an apostle
would be able to write with
such unmistakable authority,
expecting complete obedience
from his readers, without clearly
identifying himself (e.g., 4:6).
He was well known to the readers so
he didn’t need to mention his name.
John and James, his older brother (Acts 12:2), were known as “the sons of Zebedee” (Matt.10:2–4), whom Jesus gave the name “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). John was one of the 3most intimate associates of Jesus (along with Peter and James—cf. Matt. 17:1; 26:37), beingan eyewitness to and participant in Jesus’ earthly ministry (1:1–4). In addition to the 3 epistles,John also authored the fourth gospel, in which he identified himself as the disciple “whomJesus loved” and as the one who reclined on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper (John 13:23;19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). He also wrote the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:1).
Precise dating is difficult because no clear historical indications of date exist in 1 John. Most likely John composed this work in the latter part of the first century. Church tradition consistently identifies John in his advanced age as living and actively writing during this time at Ephesus in Asia Minor. The tone of the epistle supports this evidence since the writer gives the strong impression that he is much older than his readers (e.g., “my little children”—2:1,18,28). The epistle and John’s gospel reflect similar vocabulary and manner of expression(see Historical and Theological Themes). Such similarity causes many to date the writing of
John’s epistles as occurring soon after he composed his gospel. Since many date the gospel during the later part of the first century, they also prefer a similar date for the epistles. Furthermore, the heresy John combats most likely reflects the beginnings of Gnosticism (see Background and Setting) which was in its early stages during the latter third of the first century when John was actively writing. Since no mention is made of the persecution under Domitian, which began about A.D. 95, it may have been written before that began. In light of such factors, a reasonable date for 1 John is ca. A.D. 90–95. It was likely written from Ephesus to the churches of Asia Minor over which John exercised apostolic leadership.
Background and Setting
Although he was greatly advanced in age when he penned this epistle, John was still actively ministering to churches.
He was the sole remaining apostolic survivor
who had intimate,
eyewitness association with Jesus throughout
His earthly ministry, death, resurrection,
The church Fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius) indicate that after that time, John lived at Ephesus in Asia Minor, carrying out an extensive evangelistic program, overseeing many of the churches that had arisen, and conducting an extensive writing ministry (e.g., epistles, The Gospel of John, and Revelation). One church Father (Papias) who had direct contact with John described him
as a “living and abiding voice.”
As the last remaining apostle,
John’s testimony was highly authoritative
among the churches.
Many eagerly sought to hear the one who
experience with the Lord Jesus.
Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:10) lay within the intellectual center of Asia Minor. As predicted years before by the Apostle Paul (Acts 20:28–31), false teachers arising from within the church’s own ranks, saturated with the prevailing climate of philosophical trends, began infecting the church with false doctrine, perverting fundamental apostolic teaching. These false teachers advocated new ideas which eventually became known as “Gnosticism” (from the Gr. word “knowledge”). After the Pauline battle for freedom from the law, Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first 3 centuries. Most likely, John was combating the beginnings of this virulent heresy that threatened to destroy the fundamentals of the faith and the churches (see Interpretive Challenges).
Gnosticism, influenced by such philosophers as Plato, advocated a dualism asserting that matter was inherently evil and spirit was good. As a result of this presupposition, these false teachers, although attributing some form of deity to Christ, denied his true humanity to preserve Him from evil. It also claimed elevated knowledge, a higher truth known only to those in on the deep things.
Only the initiated had the mystical knowledge of truth that was higher even than the Scripture
Instead of divine revelation standing as judge over man’s ideas,
man’s ideas judged God’s revelation (2:15–17).
The heresy featured two basic forms. First, some asserted that Jesus’ physical body was not real but only “seemed” to be physical (known as “Docetism” from a Gr. word that means “to appear”). John forcefully affirmed the physical reality of Jesus by reminding his readers that he was an eyewitness to Him (“heard,” “seen,” “ handled,” “JesusChrist has come in the flesh”—1:1–4; 4:2,3).
According to early tradition (Irenaeus), another form of this heresy which John may have attacked was led by a man named Cerinthus, who contended that the Christ’s “spirit” descended on the human Jesus at his baptism but left him just before his crucifixion. John wrote that the Jesus who was baptized at the beginning of His ministry was the same person who was crucified on the cross (5:6).
Such heretical views destroy not
only the true humanity of Jesus,
but also the atonement, for Jesus must not only have been truly
God, but also the truly human
(and physically real) man who actually suffered and died
upon the cross in order
to be the acceptable substitutionary sacrifice for sin
(cf. Heb. 2:14–17).
The biblical view of Jesus affirms His complete humanity
as well as His full deity.
The gnostic idea that matter was evil and only spirit was good led to the idea that either the body should be treated harshly, a form of asceticism (e.g., Colossians 2:21–23), or sin committed in the body had no connection or effect on one’s spirit. This led some, especially John’s opponents, to conclude that sin committed in the physical body did not matter; absolute indulgence in immorality was permissible; one could deny sin even existed (1:8–10) and disregard God’s law (3:4). John emphasized the need for obedience to God’s laws, for he defined the true love of God as obedience to His commandments (5:3).
A lack of love for fellow believers
characterizes false teachers,
especially as they react against
anyone rejecting their new way of thinking (3:10–18).
their deceived followers from the fellowship of those
who remained faithful to apostolic teaching,
leading John to reply that such separation
outwardly manifested that those who followed false teachers
lacked genuine salvation
(2:19). Their departure left the other believers,
who remained faithful to apostolic doctrine, shaken.
Responding to this crisis,
the aged apostle wrote to reassure those
remaining faithful and to combat this grave
threat to the church.
Since the heresy
was so acutely dangerous and the time period
was so critical for the church in danger of being
overwhelmed by false teaching,
John gently, lovingly, but with unquestionable
sent this letter to churches in his sphere of influence to
stem this spreading plague of false doctrine.
Historical and Theological Themes
In light of the circumstances of the epistle, the overall theme of 1 John is “a recall to the fundamentals of the faith” or “back to the basics of Christianity.” The apostle deals with certainties, not opinions or conjecture. He expresses the absolute character of Christianity in very simple terms; terms that are clear and unmistakable, leaving no doubt as to the fundamental nature of those truths. A warm, conversational, and above all, loving tone occurs, like a father having a tender, intimate conversation with his children.
First John also is pastoral, written from the heart of a pastor who has concern for his people. As a shepherd, John communicated to his flock some very basic, but vitally essential, principles reassuring them regarding the basics of the faith. He desired them to have joy regarding the certainty of their faith rather than being upset by the false teaching and current defections of some (1:4).
The book’s viewpoint, however, is not only pastoral but also polemical; not only positive but also negative. John’s refutes the defectors from sound doctrine, exhibiting no tolerance for those who pervert divine truth. He labels those departing from the truth as “false prophets” (4:1), “those who try to deceive” (2:26; 3:7), and “antichrists” (2:18). He pointedly identifies the ultimate source of all such defection from sound doctrine as demonic (4:1–7).
The constant repetition of 3 sub-themes reinforces the overall theme regarding faithfulness to the basics of Christianity: happiness (1:4), holiness (2:1), and security (5:13). By faithfulness to the basics, his readers will experience these 3 results continually in their lives. These 3 factors also reveal the key cycle of true spirituality in 1 John: a proper belief in Jesus produces obedience to His commands; obedience issues in love for God and fellow believers (e.g., 3:23,24). When these 3 (sound faith, obedience, love) operate in concert together, they result in happiness, holiness and assurance.
They constitute the evidence, the litmus test, of a
Theologians debate the precise nature of the false teachers’ beliefs in 1 John, because John does not directly specify their beliefs, but rather combats the heretics mainly through a positive restatement of the fundamentals of the faith.
The main feature of the heresy, as noted above, seems to be a denial of the
incarnation, i.e., Christ had not come in the flesh.
This was most likely an incipient or beginning form of Gnosticism, as was pointed out.
The interpreter is also challenged by the rigidity of John’s theology.
John presents the basics or fundamentals of the Christian life in absolute,
not relative, terms. Unlike Paul, who presented exceptions, and dealt so often with
believers’ failures to meet the divine standard,
John does not deal with the “what if I fail” issues. Only in 2:1,2 does he give some relief from the absolutes. The rest of the book presents truths in black and white rather than shades of gray, often through a stark contrast, e.g.,
“light” vs. “darkness” (1:5,7; 2:8–11); truth vs. lies (2:21,22; 4:1); children of God vs. children of the devil (3:10).
Those who claim to be Christians must absolutely display the
characteristics of genuine
sound doctrine, obedience, and love.
Those who are truly born again have been given a new nature, which givesevidence of itself. Those who do not display characteristics of the new nature don’t have it, sowere never truly born again.
The issues do not center (as much of Paul’s writing does) inmaintaining temporal or daily fellowship with God but the
application of basic tests in one’slife
that salvation has truly occurred.
Such absolute distinctions were alsocharacteristic of John’s gospel.
In a unique fashion, John challenges the interpreter by his repetition of similar themes over and over to emphasize the basic
truths about genuine Christianity.
Some have likened John’s repetition to a spiral that moves outward, becoming larger and larger, each time spreading the same truth over a wider area and encompassing more territory. Others have seen the spiral as moving inward, penetrating deeper and deeper into the same themes while expanding on his thoughts. However one views the spiraling pattern, John uses repetition of basic truths as a means to accentuate their importance and to help his readers understandand remember them.
The epistle’s title is “2 John.” It is the second in a series of 3 epistles that bear the Apostle John’s name. Second and Third John present the closest approximation in the NT to the conventional letter form of the contemporary Greco-Roman world, since they were addressed from an individual to individuals. Second and Third John are the shortest epistles in the NT, each containing less than 300 Greek words. Each letter could fit on a single papyrus sheet (cf.3 John 13).
Author and Date
The author is the Apostle John.
He describes himself in
2 John 1 as “The Elder”
which conveys the advanced age of the
apostle, his authority, and status
during the foundational period of Christianity
when he was
involved with Jesus’ ministry.
The precise date of the epistle cannot be determined. Since the wording, subject matter, and circumstances of 2 John closely approximate 1 John (v. 5 [cf. 1 John 2:7; 3:11]; v. 6 [cf. 1 John 5:3]; v. 7 [cf. 1 John 2:18–26]; v. 9 [cf. 1 John 2:23]; v. 12; [cf. 1 John 1:4]), most likely John composed the letter at the same time or soon after 1 John, ca. A. D. 90–95, during his ministry at Ephesus in the latterpart of his life.
Background and Setting
Second John deals with the same problem as 1 John
(see Introduction to 1 John: Background and Setting).
False teachers influenced
by the beginnings of Gnostic thought were threatening the church
(v. 7; cf. 1 John 2:18,19,22,23; 4:1–3). The strategic difference is that while 1 John has no specific individual or church specified to whom it was addressed, 2John has a particular local group or house-church in mind (v. 1).
The focus of 2 John is that the false teachers were conducting an itinerant ministry among John’s congregations, seeking to make converts, and taking advantage of Christian hospitality to advance their cause (vv. 10,11; cf. Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9). The individual addressed in the greeting (v. 1) inadvertently or unwisely may have
shown these false prophets hospitality,
or John may have feared that the
would attempt to take advantage of her kindness (vv. 10,11).
The apostle seriously warns
his readers against showing hospitality
to such deceivers (vv. 10,11).
Although his exhortation may
appear on the surface to be
harsh or unloving,
the acutely dangerous nature
their teaching justified such actions,
especially since it threatened to
very foundations of the faith
Historical and Theological Themes
The overall theme of 2 John closely parallels 1 John’s theme of a “recall to the fundamentals of the faith” or “back to the basics of Christianity” (vv. 4–6). For John, the basics of Christianity are summarized by adherence to the truth (v. 4), love (v. 5), and obedience (v.6).
The apostle, however, conveys an additional but related theme in 2 John: “the biblical guidelines for hospitality.” Not only are Christians to adhere to the fundamentals of the faith, but the gracious hospitality that is commanded of them (Rom. 12:13) must be discriminating.
The basis of hospitality must be common love of or interest in the truth, and Christians must share their love within the confines of that truth.
They are not called to universal acceptance of anyone who claims to be a believer.
Love must be discerning.
Hospitality and kindness must be focused on those who are
adhering to the fundamentals of the faith.
Otherwise, Christians may actually aid those who are attempting to destroy those
basic truths of the-faith.
Sound doctrine must serve as the
test of fellowship and the basis of separation between those
who profess to be Christians and those who actually are
(vv. 10,11; cf. Rom. 16:17; Gal.1:8,9; 2 Thess. 3:6,14; Titus 3:10).
Second John stands in direct antithesis to the frequent cry for ecumenism and Christian unity among believers.
Love and truth are inseparable
Truth must always guide
the exercise of love
(cf. Eph. 4:15).
Love must stand the test of truth.
The main lesson of this book is that truth determines the
bounds of love, and as a consequence, of unity.
Therefore, truth must exist before love can unite,
for truth generates love (1 Pet. 1:22).
When someone compromises the truth, true Christian love
and unity are destroyed.
Only a shallow sentimentalism exists where the
truth is not the foundation of unity.
The reference to
the “elect lady and her children”
(v. 1) should be understood in a normal, plain sense referring to a particular woman and her children rather than interpreted in a non- literal sense as a church and its membership.
Similarly, the reference to “the children of your elect sister” (v. 13) should be understood as a reference to the nieces and/or nephews of the individual addressed in verse 1,
rather than metaphorically to a sister church and its membership.
In these verses,
John conveys greetings to personal acquaintances that he has come to know through his ministry.
The epistle’s title is “3 John.” It is the third in a series of 3 epistles that bear the Apostle John’s name. Third John and 2 John present the closest approximation in the New Testament to the conventional letter form of the contemporary Greco-Roman world, since they were addressed from an individual to individuals. Both 2 and 3 John are the shortest epistles in the NT, each containing less than 300 Greek words, so as to fit on a single papyrus sheet (cf. v. 13).
Author and Date
The author is the Apostle John. He describes himself in v. 1 as
which conveys the advanced age of the apostle,
his authority and his eyewitness status especially
foundational period of Christianity
John was involved with Jesus’ ministry
(cf. 2 John 1).
The precise date of the epistle cannot be determined. Since the structure, style, and vocabulary closely approximate 2 John (v. 1 [cf. 2 John 1]; v. 4 [cf. 2 John 4]; v. 13 [cf. 2 John 12]; v. 14 [cf. 2 John 12]), most likely John composed the letter at the same time or soon after 2 John, ca. A.D. 90–95.
As with 1 and 2 John, the apostle probably composed the letter during his ministry at Ephesus in the latter part of his life.
Background and Setting
Third John is perhaps the most personal of John’s 3 epistles. While 1 John appears to be a general letter addressed to congregations scattered throughout Asia Minor, and 2
John was sent to a lady and her family
(2 John 1), in 3 John the apostle clearly names the sole
recipient as “the beloved Gaius” (v. 1).
This makes the epistle one of a few letters in the NT addressed
strictly to an individual
(cf. Philemon). The name “Gaius” was very common in the
(e.g., Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), but nothing is
known of this individual beyond John’s salutation, from which it is inferred that he was a member of one of the churches under
John’s spiritual oversight.
As with 2 John, 3 John focuses on the basic issue of hospitality
but from a different perspective. While 2
John warns against showing
hospitality to false teachers
(2 John 7–11),
3 John condemns the
lack of hospitality shown to faithful
ministers of the Word (vv. 9,10).
Reports came back to the apostle that itinerant teachers
known and approved by him (vv. 5–8) had traveled to a
certain congregation where they were refused hospitality
(e.g., lodging and provision) by an individual named Diotrephes who domineered the assembly (v. 10). Diotrephes went even further,
for he also verbally slandered the Apostle John
with malicious accusations and excluded anyone from the
assembly who dared challenge him (v. 10).
In contrast, Gaius, a beloved friend of the apostle
and faithful adherent to the truth (vv. 1–4),
extended the correct standard of Christian hospitality to itinerant ministers. John wrote to commend the type of hospitality exhibited by Gaius to worthy representatives of the gospel (vv. 6–8) and to condemn the high-handed actions of Diotrephes (v. 10). The apostle promised to correct the situation personally and sent this letter through an individual named Demetrius, whom he commended for his good testimony among the brethren (vv. 10–12).
Historical and Theological Themes
The theme of 3 John is the commendation of the proper standards of Christian hospitality and the condemnation for failure to follow those standards.
Some think that Diotrephes may either have been a heretical teacher or at least favored the false teachers who were condemned by 2 John. However, the epistle gives no clear evidence to warrant such a conclusion, especially since one might expect that John would have mentioned Diotrephes’ heretical views. The epistle indicates that his problems centered around arrogance and disobedience, which is a problem for the orthodox as well as the heretic.