Introduction to the First Epistle General of John

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2016


Why study this book?

In this epistle John addressed the dangerous spread of apostate influences in the Church. He warned the Saints to have no fellowship with darkness and to stay in the safety of gospel light. Studying 1 John can help students become more discerning of false teachings about Jesus Christ, and following John’s counsel can help them maintain close fellowship with the Lord as they abide in the truth. In addition, studying this book can help students come to understand the great love Heavenly Father has for each of His children, which He manifested by offering His Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for all mankind.

Who wrote this book?

“In none of these three epistles does the writer mention himself by name; but tradition assigns them to John,” one of the original Twelve Apostles (Bible Dictionary, “John, Epistles of”).

The author of the Epistles of John was an eyewitness of the resurrected Savior, which was certainly true of John the Apostle (see 1 John 1:1–4; 4:14).

When and where was it written?

It is unknown exactly when and where 1 John was written. It was likely written sometime in the latter part of the first century A.D.

Although John spent much of the early part of his life in Palestine, the area was hostile to Christians and Jews following the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70. Tradition states that John left Palestine to live in Ephesus during his later years. If this was the case, John could have written the letter from Ephesus between A.D. 70 and 100.

To whom was it written and why?

The audience of 1 John is not explicitly stated, but it appears from his writings that John wrote to believers (see 1 John 1:3–4; 2:12–14), perhaps those in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), where some historical sources say John may have lived and ministered in the late first century A.D.

At this time, false teachers had created a schism, or division, among the Saints in the region (see 1 John 2:18–19, 22, 26; 4:1), and apostasy was spreading in the Church. A particular philosophy that was gaining popularity was Docetism. Docetism was part of a larger movement known as Gnosticism. A core teaching in many forms of Gnosticism was that the spirit was wholly good and that matter, including the physical body, was wholly evil.

Followers of Gnosticism believed that salvation was not achieved by being freed from sin but rather by freeing the spirit from matter, meaning the physical body. They also believed that salvation was achieved through special knowledge (gnosis) rather than through faith in Jesus Christ.

Followers of Docetism overemphasized Jesus’s spiritual nature to the point that they rejected the idea that He came to earth in actual bodily form. They believed that God was invisible, immortal, all-knowing, and immaterial, and they considered the physical world and the physical body to be base and evil. Therefore, they believed that since Jesus was the divine Son of God, He could not have experienced the limitations of being human. In their view, Jesus Christ was not literally born in the flesh, and He did not inhabit a tangible body, bleed, suffer, die, or rise with a physical resurrected body—He only seemed to do these things. Docetism comes from the Greek word dokeō, meaning “to seem” or “to appear.”

Although 1 John refutes these false teachings, they persisted and crept into the Church membership. These and other false doctrines are part of what led to the Great Apostasy.

What are some distinctive features of this book?

As one of Jesus Christ’s original Apostles, John was a special witness of the resurrected Savior. John began this letter by declaring that he had personally seen, heard, and touched Jesus Christ. Expanding on this personal witness, John invited his readers to have “fellowship … with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Love is a central theme of John’s First Epistle. John emphasized that those who say they love God but do not in turn love those around them are liars (see 1 John 4:20–21).

Outline

1 John 1–3 John teaches that through obedience, we can come to know God, have fellowship with Him, and become like Him. In the last days antichrists will arise. The Savior’s love for us is manifest through His atoning sacrifice.

1 John 4–5 John encourages the Saints to determine whether a teacher is of God. God is love, and because of His great love for us He sent His Son to suffer in our behalf. Those who love God will keep His commandments. Those who believe in Jesus Christ and are born of God will overcome the world.