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1 John


The Author:

Although traditionally the author was taken to be the Apostle John, none of the letters identify the author by name. In 2 and 3 John he is referred to as the Elder respectively to the Elect Lady and to Gaius. Some have suggested that the letters were written much later by one called Presbyter John who was still alive when Papias wrote (1st half of 2nd cent. AD) as the present tense of the verb ‘say’ in the quotation below seems to imply in contrast to the “said” associated with the disciple John. This is recorded by Eusebius of Caesarea:

If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,–what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord”s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.

Eusebius in his History of the Church (Book III, chapter 39)

Much vocabulary and style in common with John’s Gospel, however, appear to favor the same author.

The frequent address in these letters to “little children” has been taken to indicate the author’s old age and intimate relation with his addressees. While this seems evident on first take, the fact that such an address is common in wisdom and Jewish testamental literature perhaps makes such a conclusion less sure. That said, if John the Apostle wrote these letters in the 90”s A.D., he certainly would have been quite old. Also, John’s authorship would likely place the churches addressed in western Asia Minor as his ministry appears to have been located there, most likely in Ephesus. This is supported both by the churches addressed in Revelation and from tradition,

The Genre and Structure of 1 John: 1 John is not written in typical letter form, but the author frequently states that “I am writing to you,” etc. It is a mixture of teaching and exhortation. The style is aphoristic often with repetitions that state the same idea in a slightly different way. The ethical focus, the exhortation, and the instructional emphasis suggest it is a Christian writing that belongs to wisdom literature, possibly as a testament of a departing authority figure to be presented as a homily to one or more churches. It is too personal to qualify as a theological tract or manifesto given the warmth of tone and frequent addresses to the recipients.

As for the organization of the letter, the huge variety of structures and outlines testify to the difficulty of seeing a clear organization in a document that has an aphoristic style with frequent repetitions that have nuanced differences. How can one find any verifiable criteria for a meaning full structure of the letter that minimizes the interpreter’s subjective impositions of order? The present writer has suggested that if we attend to densities of recurring topical expressions we get the following sections:

Prologue: 1:1-4 (what we have heard/what we have seen)
Body: 1:5-2:11 (light/true/truth),
2:12-14 (I am writing to you/children/fathers/young men/the evil one),
2:15-17 (world),
2:18-27 (antichrist/anointing),
2:28-3:10 (he is/was manifested/born of God/children of God),
3:11-24 (love one another),
4:1-6 (spirit/ world/not of God/of God),
4:7-5:4a (love),
5:4b-13 (Son of God/witness/faith/believe),
5:14-20 (we know that), and
Conclusion: 5:21 is the curiously terse: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

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