First Edition, 1931
© 2001 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
Neptune, New Jersey
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the King James version of the Bible.
Introductory Notes taken from
Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
© 1970,1985 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
by Arno C. Gaebelein
First John is not addressed to any one church nor does it mention, like the other New Testament Epistles, the author of the document; it is anonymous. However, we are not left in doubt as to who wrote this Epistle. There can be no question that the author of the fourth Gospel is also the author of 1 John. Its opening statement is linked with the opening of the Gospel, and throughout the Epistle are found the thoughts and language of the fourth Gospel. Inasmuch then as that Gospel is indisputably the work of the apostle John, this Epistle is also the work of his inspired pen.
While the internal testimony confirms conclusively the Johannine authorship of the Epistle, there is also a mass of historical evidence that attributes the Epistle to the beloved disciple. The oldest testimony as to the genuineness and the authorship of this Epistle is that of Polycarp, who was personally acquainted with the apostle John. Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, frequently quoted the Epistle and stated that it was John’s. After Polycarp and Irenaeus, every authority among the church fathers mentioned this Epistle as being the work of the apostle John. In harmony with this evidence is the testimony of the oldest fourth century Greek manuscripts, which give the title of the Epistle as
Joannou-A—that is, “John 1.”
When and Where Was It Written?
The Epistle itself gives no definite answers to these questions. Some have attempted to fix the date as being before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year a.d. 70. They base their assumption on 1 John 2:18 and claim that “the last time” means the closing days for Jerusalem, which is incorrect. The phrase “the last time” has in this Epistle the same meaning as in 1 Timothy 4:1 and 2 Timothy 3:1 and therefore does not mean the last days before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed.
It is clear that John wrote the fourth Gospel record first and this Epistle after that. The Gospel and this Epistle were written possibly about the year 90, preceding the Revelation, which was written about the year 96.
Irenaeus stated that the Gospel was written by John in Ephesus, and an ancient tradition states that the Epistle was written from the same place.
To Whom Was It Written?
The fact that, unlike the other Epistles, 1 John starts without any address or introductory greeting and ends without any closing salutation, has led some to call it a treatise rather than an Epistle. But the personal address and appeal at the end and the style throughout fully sustain the epistolary character. Others such as Michaelis have termed the Epistle a second part of the Gospel, while still others speak of it as an introduction to the Gospel. That the Epistle is closely related to the Gospel is very true, but that does not necessitate a closer external relationship.
Dr. Bullinger, in
The Companion Bible, suggested that this Epistle was originally addressed to believing Hebrews in the dispersion. This view was held by others such as Benson before him, but there is nothing whatever in the Epistle to warrant such a conclusion. On account of a remark by Augustinus that John wrote “to the Parthians,” many commentators have adopted this view; however, it is without any foundation whatever.
The Epistle was evidently addressed to believers in a number of different churches. John was acquainted with these believers, who seem to have been mostly Gentile converts (see 5:21). If the tradition is true that the Epistle was written in Ephesus, it is not improbable that it was sent to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea—the churches to whom the Lord sent messages a few years later when John was in Patmos.
The Purpose of the Epistle
The purpose of the Epistle was stated by the writer in two places: the first, 1:4, says, “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full”; the second, 5:13, says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” According to John 20:31 this is also the purpose of the Gospel. The apostle wrote to those who believe on the Son of God and have that eternal life which was manifested in the Lord Jesus, which is imparted to all who believe on the Son of God, and which establishes fellowship with the Father and the Son. The Epistle has been rightly called a family letter; that is, believers are viewed as the family of God, and thus the word
teknia (“children”) is used repeatedly.
The Gospel of John was written on account of the false teachings concerning the person of Christ that began in the second half of the first century; and 1 John is very outspoken against errors regarding the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrificial work. Those errors flourished later under such names as gnosticism, docetism, and Montanism. While these evil doctrines and denials were not yet fully developed in John’s day, they existed and increased, which explains the inclusion of the warnings in 2:18-26 and 4:1-6. What “antichristianity” is can be learned from these passages. All the evil systems of today, which are sweeping with increasing force through Christendom toward their divinely appointed and revealed doom, are exposed in this Epistle in their true character. These systems are branded by John as antichrists, all of which are finally to be merged into a personal antichrist, the “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
The Epistle has a deep spiritual message for the children of God. Because of the eternal life that God has imparted to believers, they should demonstrate the same characteristics that His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, displayed in His blessed life. As born of God, they have God as their Father; they are children of God. God is light and God is love and therefore those who are born of God must also manifest light and love and walk in righteousness and in love.