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First Epistle of John

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A series of articles on
"John" in the Bible
Johannine literature
Gospel of John · First Epistle of John · Second Epistle of John · Third Epistle of John · Revelation · Authorship
Names
John the Apostle · Disciple whom Jesus loved · John the Presbyter · John the Evangelist · John of Patmos
Communities
Twelve Apostles · The Early Church
Related literature
Apocryphon of John · Acts of John · Logos · Signs Gospel

In the Christian New Testament, the First Epistle of John is the fourth catholic or "general" epistle. Written in Ephesus about AD 100-110,[1] the epistle is traditionally attributed to John the Evangelist, also the traditional author of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles of John. Not actually an epistle (or letter), the work is a sermon written to counter heresies that Jesus did not come "in the flesh," but only as a spirit. It also defines how Christians are to discern true teachers: by their ethics, their proclamation of Jesus in the flesh, and by their love.[1]

Authorship

The epistle is traditionally held to have been written by John the Evangelist, and probably also at Ephesus, and when the writer was in advanced age. The epistle's content, language and conceptual style indicate that it may have had the same author as the Gospel of John, 2 John, and 3 John.[1] Modern scholars believe that the apostle John wrote none of the New Testament books traditionally attributed to him.[2]

Purpose

The author wrote the Epistle so that the joy of his audience would "be full" (1.4) and that they would "sin not" (2.1) and that "you who believe in the name of the Son of God... may know that you have eternal life." (5.13) It appears as though the author was concerned about heretical teachers that had been influencing churches under his care. Such teachers were considered Antichrists (2.18-19) who had once been church leaders but whose teaching became heterodox. It appears that these teachers taught that Jesus Christ was a Spirit being without a body (4.2), that his death on the cross was not as an atonement for sins (1.7) and that they were no longer able to sin (1.8-10). It appears that John might have also been rebuking a proto-Gnostic named Cerinthus, who also denied the humanity of Christ.

The purpose of the author (1:1-4) is to declare the Word of Life to those to whom he writes, in order that they might be united in fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. He shows that the means of union with God are, (1) on the part of Christ, his atoning work (1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10, 14; 5:11, 12) and his advocacy (2:1); and (2), on the part of man, holiness (1:6), obedience (2:3), purity (3:3), faith (3:23; 4:3; 5:5), and love (2:7, 8; 3:14; 4:7; 5:1).

Comma Johanneum

Among the most controversial verses of the Bible is an explicit reference to what some people consider the trinity, the Comma Johanneum, (1 John 5:7-8). These verses do not appear in any version of the text prior to the ninth century, but do appear in the King James Bible, something Isaac Newton commented on in An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. This is sometimes used as evidence to counter the King-James-Only Movement. About the year 800, the Comma appeared in some texts of the Latin Vulgate, and was subsequently translated into Greek and added to later Greek manuscripts. Bart Ehrman suggests in his book Misquoting Jesus that the King James Version would not have included the passage if Desiderius Erasmus had not given in to pressure to include it in the Textus Receptus even though he doubted its authenticity.

The majority of modern translations (for example New International Version, English Standard Version and New American Standard Bible) do not include this text. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) said regarding its authenticity:

On the whole, therefore, the evidence seems to me to be clear that this passage is not a genuine portion of the inspired writings, and should not be appealed to in proof of the doctrine of the Trinity.[3]


Footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985) "1 John," p. 355-356
  2. "Although ancient traditions attributed to the Apostle John the Fourth Gospel, the Book of Revelation, and the three Epistles of John, modern scholars believe that he wrote none of them." Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985) p. 355
  3. Barnes, Albert (2007-02-07). "Albert Barnes New Testament Notes". StudyLight.org. http://www.studylight.org/com/bnn/view.cgi?book=1jo&chapter=005. Retrieved 2007-02-07. 

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