1 John Bible Study Notes.
John wrote his first epistle to combat Gnostic doctrines, such as Christ had only come in the spirit and not in the flesh, that were entering the Church. He also explained that true teachers could be discerned by their ethics and love as well as their proclamation that Jesus came in the flesh.
Overview of First John
The author of the Epistles of John is the same John that wrote the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of John. He is the brother of James, the son of Zebedee, and they are the James and John in “Peter, James, and John.” John was the youngest of the apostles as well as last surviving apostle. He sometimes refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. (This author completely disagrees with those who think there are two people known as John–John the Apostle and John the Elder–and the author of the Epistles of John was John the Elder; it is a minority view held by some scholars. This author, like most scholars, believes there was only one John.)
The Christians fled Jerusalem prior to its being destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Tradition holds that the apostle John took Mary, the mother of Jesus, with him to Ephesus when he departed Jerusalem. During the reign of Domitian he was banished to the isle of Patmos from about A.D. 92 to A.D. 96 being released when Trajan become emperor of Rome about A.D. 97. John wrote the Book of Revelation during his sojourn on Patmos. Following his release from Patmos John returned to Ephesus where he wrote the Gospel of John at the request of the faithful who wanted to know more about the life of Christ and to combat false doctrines, such as Gnosticism, by some Church members.
The collective works of the Apostle John—the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of John, and the three Epistles of John—are the last books of the New Testament to be written. John was an old man when he wrote them.
As is the case with most books in the New Testament, scholars disagree about when John wrote his epistles. Some believe the Johannine epistles (as the three epistles of John are sometimes called) were written around A.D. 90 to A.D. 92 at Ephesus before John was banished to Patmos. However, the majority of scholars believe John wrote his epistles at Ephesus between A.D. 100 and A.D. 110 after he wrote the Gospel of John.
The Gospel of John was written partly to counter false doctrines described below and partly to increase faith in Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of mankind. Chief among the false doctrines with which John had to contend was Gnosticism.
Gnosticism was a blending of Christianity, Jewish ideas, and Oriental mysticism. One of the main ideas of Gnosticism was that the spirit was good, that matter is evil and that spirit and matter can have no enduring relationship. (Many Gnostics believe that Christ did not have a physical body; that during his mortality he only had the appearance of a physical body.) Salvation was seen as escaping matter and moving into the realm of the spirit. The Gnostics believe this was done with the aid of hidden knowledge (know in Greek as gnosis, the term from which the movement received its name). There were three major Gnostic groups:
- The Ebonites were followers of Ebon. They denied the divinity of Christ and taught that He as only a creature.
- The Docetists denied the mortality of Christ. The taught he was a visionary being, a phantom, that he void of human nature and had not come in the flesh.
- The Cerinthinas were followers of Cerinthus. They denied the union of the two natures of Christ prior to his baptism.
Thus The First Epistle of John was written to counter the false doctrine that Jesus did not come “in the flesh,” but only as a spirit. It also defined how Christians are to discern true teachers: by their ethics, their proclamation of Jesus in the flesh, and by their love.