John’s name does not appear on the letter.
But, the author:
1) Writes as one with spiritual authority
2) Has experience as an eyewitness to the life of Jesus
Early church fathers Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian credit it to John
The book is not addressed to anyone.
We do know they were believers. (2:1, 12-14, 19; 3:1; 5:13)
Since there is no address this letter was most likely a letter that circulated through the churches.
It is possible that this letter was written to the leaders of the churches that John oversaw. So that in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27 refers not to the entire church body but to the qualified and established leadership in each church.
“You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.” (2:20)
“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.” (2:27)
It does seem strange that he would tell the entire body of believers that they do not need anyone to teach them. If John were addressing only the leadership that had already been taught then it could be understood that the truth had already been established in those individuals.
The letter would have still been read and taught to the whole body of believers.
One of the main purposes of the church leadership is protecting against false teachers. (Acts 20:28-29 and Titus 1:9-11)
The reference to “children,” “fathers,” “young men” in 2:12-14 may be speaking to the various positions we find ourselves in as believers. We are children of God, fathers in the light of knowing God the Father from eternity and vigorous young men in our fight against evil.
The date of writing would be after the gospel of John was written around 85 AD but before John’s death which occurred after the persecution of Domitian in 95 AD. First John was written then around 90 AD. The church has developed by this time when compared to the time of the writing of James, Galatians, and First Thesalonica 40 years before.
If 2:19 refers to the false teachers as having
1) to promote true fellowship “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” (1:3)
2) to experience full joy by fulfilling his calling “We write this to make our joy complete.” (1:4)
3) to promote holiness through true fellowship “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (2:1, see “Theme”)
4) to give assurance of salvation “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (5:11-13)
5) to expose false teachers and guard against heresy “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” (2:26, see below)
The churches in
“Even now many antichrists have come.” (1 John 2:18)
“Do not let anyone lead you astray.” (3:7)
“Do not believe the spirits, but test the spirits.” (4:1)
These false teachers can be categorized into three basic classes:
a) Elements of Gnosticism - focused on the distinction between the spirit and the material. All matter is evil and freedom is gained through knowledge alone.
b) Docetism – based on the theology that Jesus’ humanity was not real and he only appeared to have a physical body.
c) Heresy of Cerinthus
- Cerinthus was a man who lived in
False teachings are identified and confronted by John with these thoughts:
1) The “antichrists” denied that Jesus is the Christ: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son.” (2:22)
2) The reality of the physical manifestation of the divine in the flesh when John writes: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1:1)
3) The claim of special revelations and secret “knowledge” is refuted: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” ( 2:3,4)
The false teachers were many and included many views, thoughts, theories, and assumptions.
“Even now many antichrists have come.” (2:18)
“Many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (4:1)
These false teachers were not necessarily organized nor were their doctrines systematic. They probably where a swirling conglomeration of heretical ideas that could not be clearly classified as Gnostic, Docetic, etc.
The heretical ingredients that John addressed were:
a) Denial of the person of Christ (1:1-4; 2:22)
b) A form of antinomianism (the belief that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.) (1:6; 2:15,16; 3:4-6)
c) Knowledge of God and godly character are separate issues. (2:4)
d) The attainability of perfection (1:8, 10) or ultimate sanctification.
e) New “revelations” and “commands” from God (2:7)
f) The false teachers started with the truth (most
g) Claims to anointings and positions of authority that were counterfeit (2:27)
h) Desire to live “as children of God” in glory and victory in the world instead of recognizing that these eschatological events will occur at Christ’s return (3:2).
a. Rejecting the hope of the future for satisfaction today. (3:2)
b. Living like the world today instead of purifying oneself. (3:3)
i) Rejection of the apostolic authority of the disciples (4:5,6). Seen today in the denial of the authenticity of the scripture.
j) Salvation through some means other than Jesus (5:12-13).
Fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3-7)
John is defining the nature of fellowship with God.
God is described as Light (1:5), Love (4:8, 16) and Life (1:1-2; 5:11-13).
To walk in fellowship with God means to walk in His Light (or, his divine view):
a) Experience His Life
b) Experience His Love for others
c) Experience His Righteousness
This letter gives a list of tests or proofs of this fellowship (Note: not tests of salvation!)