By: Raymond Harris
Note to the Reader
Each month we examine one book from the Bible, that book may be from the Old Testament or the New Testament. While we live in the New Covenant, everything is written for our learning (Romans 15.4, 2 Timothy 3.16); since this is true, then we seek God’s instructions and wisdom from everywhere within the Bible. This month, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of First John in conjunction with this article.
The Epistle of First John
As I was preparing for this article, I took a look at the list of books that have been our theme for the month. As I reviewed the list of books that have not been covered, First John seemed to draw my attention. Since God wants us to be attentive to his involvement in our lives, I chalked it up to God leading us to find something in John’s first letter. Whatever it is that God wants us to find, it may not be something that is discussed in our articles, but this letter is our focus this month so perhaps God will reveal that information to you during your reading. Sometimes God works in ways that are hard for humans to comprehend, truly making his ways not our ways.1
This first epistle of John does not actually provide a statement that identifies the original author. Based on similarities between First John and the Gospel of John it is with comparative analysis that some certitude is given that the author was John. What’s more is that this letter contains no internal evidence as to when it was written. It is assumed that John was an elderly man when it was written because of his twice used statement “my little children”2 and his repeated use of “little children”3 yet he also referred to them as “my brethren.”4
Conclusions about the author and the author’s age have been drawn because of these circumstances. Our minds want hard proof that John was the author and he was elderly; but the evidence seems better for ascribing John as the author, than saying he was elderly. The reader might ask, “Why?” The answer, it is a possibility that John’s “children” references could mean he was referring to their spiritual maturity instead of their physical maturity. If so, then John might have been a few to some years younger than elderly. In any event, these are all assumed conclusions based on various clues with the text of First John; perhaps someone like Eusebius would have information to shed light on the date of writing and John’s age.
Interestingly enough, the letter of First John does not have a specified recipient. The letter simply begins with a declaration5 that the apostles are speaking about the person of Jesus, with whom they had a great deal of human interaction. John ends his declaration by saying that this information is given so that the apostles’ joy could be complete.6 It is very interesting that John includes at the end of his declaration, “we write”7 by the use of “we” it appears that there may have been another author working with John. If so, this is exciting, is it not? If there are two or more authors then it becomes tremendously personal when John says, “I write”.8
As we continue, let us consider the Gnostics. The references of Gnostic and Gnosticism have their roots in the Greek word gnosis.9 Thayer has an in-depth definition for gnosis but includes, “knowledge [that] signifies general intelligence” but also “the deeper more perfect and enlarged knowledge of [our faith].”10 Gnostics and Gnosticism are marked by the concept of “dualism between God (spirit) and the world (matter).”11 It seems that the Gnostic concept of salvation was “for the [person’s] spirit to be awakened by knowledge so the inner person can be released from the earthly dungeon and return to the realm of light where the soul becomes reunited with God.”12 Additionally, formulas that pertained to development were revealed to the believers13 and the ethical behavior of Gnostics varied.14
Knowing that, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest that can enrich one’s reading of the Epistle of First John. The study Bible stated: “Look for John’s call for Christians to live in a godly manner: turning from sin, obeying God’s commands, showing love to other believers, abandoning worldly glory and holding fast to orthodox teachings about Jesus Christ.”15 Also consider this information regarding John’s letter:16
1. The Gnostics denied that their immoral actions were sinful (1:10).
2. The Gnostics insisted that the teaching of the apostles was to be supplemented with the “higher knowledge” they claimed to possess (2:27).
3. The Gnostics taught that the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at his baptism and then left him at the cross, so that it was only the man Jesus who died (4:2).
Gnosticism could be relegated to history, but the influence of it is alive and well today. As such, being aware of the adversary devices is helpful in our spiritual development. First John will be an encouraging study, it is my prayerful expectation that our Father will bless us as we examine John’s letter this month.
1. “His ways are not our ways.” Isaiah 55.8, NASB.
2. “My little children.” First John 2.1, 3.18, NASB.
3. “Little children.” First John 2.12, 2.13, 2.18, 2.28, 3.7, 4.4, 5.21, NASB.
4. “My brethren.” First John 3.13, NASB.
5. “John’s Declaration.” First John 1.1-4, NASB.
6. “Make joy complete.” First John 1.4; however the KJV translates the sentence saying “that your joy may be full” this makes the joy complete for the recipients of the letter not the sender.
7. “We write.” First John 1.4, NASB.
8. “I write.” First John 2.1, 2.7-8, 2.12-13, NASB.
9. “gnosis.” Strong’s Number G1108, e-sword version 7.9.8.
10. Thayer’s Greek Definitions, Strong’s Number G1108, e-sword version 7.9.8.
11. “Gnostic dualism.” Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “Gnosticism; Teachings of the Gnostics” pp. 500-501; ISBN 0-8407-2072-6.
12. “Spirit awakened.” ibid.
13. “Developmental formulas.” ibid.
14. “Ethical behavior varied.” ibid.
15. Introduction to First John; “As You Read” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 2024, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
16. Introduction to First John; “Did You Know?” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 2025, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.