Who Wrote I John?
While there is no specific mention of authorship in the letter of 1 John, it is commonly held that this epistle shares authorship with the Gospel of John as well as 2 and 3 John. The earliest church fathers claimed that the letter was written by none other than John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.
John started to follow Jesus as a young man and was included in what some call the “inner circle” of disciples (James, Peter, and John). In the Gospel of John, he calls himself the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was one of Jesus’ most zealous followers. When writing the epistle, church history tells us that John was pastoring the church in Ephesus as an old man.
There is a tradition that says that in his old age, he was too weak to walk and couldn’t speak very much at the church gatherings. He would be carried in front of the congregation to give the word, the last living disciple of Jesus. When it was time to speak he would simply say, “Little children, love one another.”
Who Were the Recipients of I John?
This epistle was likely written in the latter half of the first century. This means that I John is written to second and third-generation Christians. The zeal and excitement that had been seen in the first half of the century have worn down. Those within and outside of the church were looking for higher enlightenment than the person of Jesus.
What is Gnosticism?
Most agree that many of the writings of John are combating a developing false teaching that had arisen in the church called Gnosticism. Gnosticism is based on the Greek word Gnosis, which means “knowledge.” It taught that the universe was divided into two realities, the created world, which was bad, and the spiritual world, which was good. The goal of Gnosticism was to escape the physical world and enter the spiritual. You did so by obtaining the secret knowledge which brought enlightenment. Only once you found the right knowledge could you gain salvation and become truly spiritual.
In many ways, this false teaching can sound similar to Christian teachings, however, it makes many grievous errors. Firstly, the created world was created by God and is good. Second, it’s not through knowledge alone that one obtains salvation. Two of the biggest errors of Gnosticism were how it influenced the doctrine of Jesus and how people treated their neighbors.
If everything in the physical world was evil, then the incarnation is a conundrum for Gnostics. How could the spirit of God ever be in close relation to a human body, other created beings, or worse yet, suffer? The Gnostic teachers denied that Christ was ever fully human. We can see John combating this in 2 John 7.
Lastly, Gnosticism usually leads to a lack of love. If someone was suffering, poor, or sick, to a gnostic that meant they were denying their physical nature and becoming more spiritual. Why would I help and make someone more dependent on their body when the destruction of their body is good? This was one of the major mistruths seeping into the church. Thus, in his letter, the apostle John is seeking to help the church navigate this difficult season of spiritual decay with a fresh look at what it means to abide in Christ.
My mentor Caleb pointed out that when John gave his simple 5-word sermons, it presupposed two things. First, to be “Little Children” implied that the church had a shared identity. They were children of the one true God through the finished work of Jesus. Second, they were to act out their new identity. Not in mental accent or theological argument; rather they were to “Love one another.”