Authorship and Audience
By the testimony of the early Church, the Apostle John was the author of this book. Internally (that is, within the book itself), this is supported by the authority with which the author writes. While the audience is not mentioned by name, it is clear that the Apostle John knew his audience very well. The repeated references to "children", "little children", and "beloved" are evidence of this.
Date and Context
Because there are no references to historical events at the time the book was written, this book is difficult to date. Because John is addressing what appears to be an early form of Gnosticism in this letter, it is usually dated toward the end of John's life between 90 and 95 AD.
- QUESTIONS: What does it look like to have fellowship with God? and How can we be sure that we have fellowship with God? Based on the introduction to 1 John (1:1-4) and the thesis given in 5:13, I believe the primary purpose for this book is to detail what it looks like to have fellowship with God and how to know with certainty that we have this fellowship.
- PRINCIPLE 1: Like Father, Like Son. To answer the question, John assumes the following principle: Like Father, Like Son. That is: a child will naturally act like his/her parents. This is true of our biological families and, as described in this book, it is also true of our spiritual sonship with God. Simply put, if we are children of God, we will naturally display (to an extent appropriate with our position as creatures) the same attributes found in God. If God is kind and loving, the children of God should likewise be kind and loving. If God is not kind or loving, the children of God should be neither kind nor loving. Assuming this principle is true, the critical question now becomes: What are the attributes of God? with a specific view towards those attributes which are to be displayed in His children. This question is answered by principles two and three given below.
- PRINCIPLE 2: God is Light. God's essential Holiness (described as "light" in 1:5) is identified by the Apostle John as one of the attributes of God which must be displayed in His children (1:6-7).
- PRINCIPLE 3: God is Love. Like God's Holiness mentioned in the previous point, the fact that God is love forms the foundation for John's argument that the one who does not love, does not have fellowship with the God who is love (4:8). In other words, those who have fellowship with God will love because God, their father, also loved.
- ANSWER: Fellowship with God looks like displaying and pursuing God's holiness and love as His children. If we are truly children of God, we will live like our Heavenly Father. Increasingly living in this way gives us the confidence that we are true children of God and have fellowship with Him.
- The book of 1 John has a lot of thematic and theological overlap with the gospel of John. For example:
- The opening verses (1:1-4) are reminiscent of John 1:1-5.
- The reason why John wrote the letter given in 1 John 5:13 is very similar to the one given in John 20:31.
- It is interesting that in the Gospel of John, Jesus's "I am" statements are recorded and in this book there are two "God is" statements ("God is Light" (1:5) and "God is love" (4:8 and 16)).
- The gospel of John emphasizes Jesus' relationship with God the Father and the book of 1 John does the same thing for the believer. If you have been saved by believing Jesus' testimony, your life and character should look like your Father's character (especially in love and holiness). With only minor modifications, John 5:19 could be the theme verse for 1 John.
- In my opinion, this book is one of the most difficult books to outline. John is very repetitive and there are numerous topics that are brought up throughout the book which makes it hard to outline. For the time being, I am not going to publish an outline for this book as I do not think any the outlines I have come up with are sufficient to accurately capture this book.
- There are some apparent contradictions in this book, especially regarding sin in the life of the believer. For example, John says that "No one who abides in Him sins" (3:6) while he earlier (2:1) makes it clear that it is possible for true believers to sin. In most English translations, the word for "sin" is the same in both verses. In the Greek, however, the verb "sin" in 2:1 ("ἁμάρτητε") is in the Aorist) tense while the verb in 3:6 ("ἁμαρτάνει") is in the present tense. This implies that the two references to "sin" are not meant in the same sense. The reference in 2:1 describes the discrete action of sin without reference to the process of sinning or the consequences. The reference in 3:6 describes current sin (with the implication that sin is common and a habitual practice).