New Defender's Study Bible Notes
Introduction to I John
The three epistles of John nowhere include John’s own name as writer. Nevertheless, the concepts and vocabulary are all so similar to those of the gospel of John, and even to those in the book of Revelation, that there should be little doubt that the same writer wrote all five books, and that that writer was the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, brother of James, and “beloved disciple” of Jesus.
In reference to vocabulary, such words as know, love, light, truth, abide, witness, keep, overcome, eternal, and many others occur in John’s gospel more than in any other gospel. Likewise, they all occur in the epistle of I John more than in any other epistle. These very words represent the great themes of both the gospel and the epistles of John. Furthermore, the unbroken tradition of the ancient church is that the Apostle John wrote both the gospel and the three epistles. There is, therefore, every reason to accept all of these as authentic and inspired writings of John.
As Jesus had implied (John 21:22), John long outlived all the other apostles. He is last mentioned in Acts in connection with the martyrdom of his brother James (Acts 12:2), and last mentioned in the other epistles in connection with Paul’s visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). The rest of his life was undoubtedly marked by active ministry, but little is known of it except that, according to the uniform tradition of the early church fathers (such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Papias, and others) the last decade or more of John’s life was centered in Ephesus, from which he kept in touch with many of the churches in Asia, probably especially those referred to by him in Revelation 2 and 3. It was there, according to the same church fathers, that he wrote I John and, indeed, probably all four of his other books. All were written after the other eleven apostles had died, probably by martyrdom. Furthermore, the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was also past history when John wrote. Neither John’s gospel, nor his first epistle, therefore, was meant either for the Jews or for a specific church, but rather for all people everywhere, though probably I John was intended especially for the churches in Asia, centered around Ephesus, among whom John was ministering. This was all probably in the decade from A.D. 85 to 95.
As the gospel of John was written specifically to stress the deity of Christ and to win unbelievers to saving faith in Him (John 20:31), so the epistle of I John was written to stress the full (though sinless) humanity of Jesus and to assure believers of the certainty of their gift of eternal life (I John 5:11-13).
A further purpose of I John was to refute those Christians who were seeking to accommodate Gnostic philosophies and practices into their Christian faith and life. Gnosticism was a pagan evolutionary philosophy which was in existence well before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ but, by the middle of the first century many Christians were compromising with it. There were many varieties of Gnostics, but all rejected the concept of special creation by the transcendent God of the Bible, and either the true deity or true humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Further, their practice involved either extreme asceticism within one group of Gnostics or anti-nomianism and libertinism among other groups. In his epistle, John was combating all these false teachings. The name “Gnostic” came from gnosis, meaning “knowledge,” since most Gnostics claimed to have occult knowledge of deep truths, amounting essentially to a form of mystical evolutionary pantheism.
This may well have been one reason for John’s strong emphasis on knowledge in his epistle, showing that the believer in Christ has genuine knowledge of salvation through faith in the atoning sacrifice of the God/man Jesus Christ. The word “know,” for example, occurs some thirty-eight times in I John, as translations of either ginosko or eido, both of which mean “know for certain.” Among other things, John lists several criteria by which the believer may assure himself that his salvation is genuine, and therefore certain and eternal (e.g., I John 2:3; 3:14; 5:13).
The theme of love is also very prominent in I John. The word “love” (Greek agape, agapao, or agapetos) occurs over fifty times in these five chapters. “Truth” occurs ten times and “life” fifteen times. Also of interest is the fact that “antichrist” occurs five times in John’s epistles, but nowhere else in the New Testament, even though the theme of the coming Antichrist is common throughout the Bible. The closing word in I John is a command to believers to keep away from idols (I John 5:21).
1:1 from the beginning. Note the similarity between the opening verses of John’s gospel and his first epistle, both starting with a reference back to creation. The gospel of John looks back before the beginning of time, when only God existed, and Jesus Christ was God. His epistle, on the other hand, proceeds forward from that beginning of time (Genesis 1:1) to the incarnation of the eternal “Word,” which became “the Word of life,” the manifestation of the Father in “His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3).
1:1 we. The author uses the plural “we,” referring undoubtedly to the twelve apostles, but later uses the first person singular when his epistle becomes more personal (e.g., I John 2:1). In any case, it is obvious that the author is the beloved disciple, John, even though he never identifies himself by name. The similarity in vocabulary between John’s gospel and his epistles is strikingly obvious. For example, the word “know” occurs more in the Gospel of John than in any of the other gospels, and occurs in I John more than in any other epistle. Exactly the same phenomenon is noted for many other vocabulary words. These include such words as love, light, truth, fellowship, commandment, abide, witness, eternal, manifest, keep, overcome, beginning, father, son, and others.
1:1 heard. John was writing this epistle late in the first century after all the other apostles were dead. Tradition suggests he was writing from Ephesus, where he served many years as bishop and pastor, possibly intending his letter to be circulated among all the churches of the region, including the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. He stressed to his readers of the younger generation that he and the other apostles had actually heard Jesus speak (note John 5:24), seen Him with their own eyes (John 1:18), “beheld” Him in His glory (John 1:14) and handled Him with their own hands (Luke 24:39).
1:2 life was manifested. When “the Word of life” (I John 1:1) “became flesh” (John 1:14), that eternal life “was manifested unto us.” Because we have been shown life in God as it really is, when we have seen Christ, we know that He is able to convey that same eternal life to us.
1:3 fellowship. “Fellowship” as used in Scripture does not refer to mere social companionship or camaraderie, as we tend to use the term today. The same word is translated “communion” (e.g., I Corinthians 10:16; II Corinthians 6:14). The basic meaning is “joint participation in things held in common.” The fellowship we can have with the Father through the Son (John 17:22,26) is the same fellowship we as believers can have with one another.
1:5 God is light. Since God is light, dwelling in light (I Timothy 6:16), He did not have to “create” light, but simply say: “Light, be!” (Genesis 1:3). On the other hand, He did create darkness (Isaiah 45:7) as the initial state of the unformed and uninhabited earth (Genesis 1:2). When light appeared to disperse the darkness, it could thereby become a model of the shining of spiritual light into a soul born in the darkness of innate sin (II Corinthians 4:6). Physically, God is the light of shining glory; intellectually, He is the light of truth; and morally He is the light of holiness. He is also the light of life (John 1:4) and of true guidance (John 8:12).
1:6 do not the truth. Note that the truth is not only something we should believe and teach, but also something we should do!
1:7 fellowship one with another. That is, we are in fellowship with the Lord, and therefore also with other believers who are in fellowship with Him. Since there is no darkness in God, if we truly walk in His light, there can be no reason for any error, sin, or ignorance of His will on our part.
1:7 cleanseth us. Literally this could read “keeps on cleansing us from all sin.” The blood of Christ was not like that of other men, for it was “the precious blood…without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19), uncontaminated either by inherited genetic mutations or inherent sin. Somehow, after it was all poured out at the foot of the cross (John 19:34) in atonement for our sins (Hebrews 9:22-28), “by His own blood [Christ] entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12).
1:7 all sin. All sin, whether known or unknown, is cleansed by His blood, as we walk in fellowship with Him.
1:8 deceive ourselves. The heresy of “perfectionism”—that is, the claim that our sin-nature has been completely eradicated, so that we no longer commit sin—is self-deception. It is related to the Gnostic heresy of the time which claimed that the soul had been set free from one’s sinful flesh.
1:9 confess our sins. To “confess” one’s sins does not mean merely to confess one’s sins in general, but rather to identify them specifically, and then to agree with God as to their specific sinful character, thus in reality repenting (that is, changing one’s mind) about them and viewing them as God does. Since Christ’s blood has already been shed to cover them, He is faithful to His Word and provides forgiveness in perfect justice.
1:9 cleanse us. The “confession” of this verse is not merely a pat formula that one can glibly apply and then all is well. When God forgives our sins, He also expects to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (not just from the penalty of unrighteousness). The Greek word for “cleanse” is katherizo (from which we get our English word “catharsis”) and is often translated “purify” and even “purge.”
1:10 have not sinned. To say either that we “have no sin” (I John 1:8) or “have not sinned” (I John 1:10) is presumptuous, blasphemous and false. Those who make such claims may deceive themselves, but others can easily discern sin in them.