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Bible Commentaries
1 John

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

- 1 John

by Thomas Constable



This epistle does not contain the name of its writer, but from its very early history the church believed the Apostle John wrote it. Several ancient writers referred to this book as John’s writing. [Note: E.g., Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian.] Though modern critics have challenged this view, they have not destroyed it. [Note: See Charles C. Ryrie, "The First Epistle of John," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, pp. 1464-65, for a concise discussion of views of authorship.]

Neither is there any reference to who the first recipients of this epistle were or where they lived other than that they were Christians (1Jn_2:12-14; 1Jn_2:21; 1Jn_5:13). They may have been the leaders of churches (1Jn_2:20; 1Jn_2:27). According to early church tradition John ministered in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, for many years after he left Palestine. We know that he knew the churches and Christians in that Roman province well from Revelation 2, 3. Perhaps his readers lived in that province. [Note: Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John, pp. 16-21.]

The false teachers and teachings to which he alluded suggest that John wrote about conditions that existed in Asia: Judaism, Gnosticism, Docetism, the teachings of Cerinthus (a prominent Gnostic), and others. Explanations of these will follow in the exposition. These philosophies extended beyond Asia, but they were present there during John’s lifetime.

This is one of the most difficult of all the New Testament books to date. One of the few references in the book that may help us date it is 1Jn_2:19. If John meant that the false teachers had departed from among the apostles, a date in the 60s seems possible. This could place it about A.D. 60-65, before the Jewish revolts of A.D. 66-70 scattered the Jews from Judea. In this case John may have written from Jerusalem. [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, "1 John," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 882.] However many conservative scholars believe John wrote this epistle much later, between about A.D. 85 and 97, when he evidently wrote the Gospel of John (ca. A.D. 85-95) and the Book of Revelation (ca. A.D. 95-96). [Note: E.g., B. F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, pp. xxx-xxxii; F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John, p. 31; and Yarbrough, p. 17.] I prefer a date in the 90s following the writing of John’s Gospel that 1 John seems to assume. [Note: Cf. Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, pp. xxii, xxxii; and Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 676-77.] In view of the nature and the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, which seems to be God’s final revelatory word to humankind, I think John probably composed his Epistles before that book. So a date for 1 John in the early 90s, A.D. 90-95, seems most probable to me. [Note: See Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 3:205-6.]

Since John ministered in and around Ephesus later in his life, Ephesus seems to be the most probable place from which he wrote this epistle. [Note: See D. Edmond Hiebert, An Introduction to the New Testament, 3:191-97.]

"The writer of 1 John was thus addressing a community, made up of a number of house-churches in and around Ephesus . . ., which was split in three ways. It consisted of the following: (a) Johannine Christians who were committed to the apostolic gospel of Jesus as they had received it; (b) heretically inclined members from a Jewish background; (c) heterodox followers from a Hellenistic (and/or pagan) background. The problems relating to the two ’heretical’ groups, (b) and (c), were primarily theological and (by extension) ethical; although related difficulties concerning eschatology and pneumatology may have been present also (see on 1Jn_2:18 and 1Jn_4:1 . . .). . . .

"To complete the picture, it should be noted that the life of the Johannine community was marked by the presence of a fourth group of people: the secessionists. Whereas the members of the first three groups could be found within John’s circle, the anti-Christian secessionists had begun to break away from it. These were heretically inclined adherents of the Johannine community. In some cases they may have been genuine, if uninformed, believers. But in other instances they perhaps never properly belonged to John’s church (although they thought they did), because they never really belonged to God (see on 1Jn_2:18-19; cf. also 1Jn_2:22-23)." [Note: Smalley, p. xxiv.]

"The Epistle is not a polemic primarily, but a letter for the edification of the readers in the truth and the life in Christ. And yet the errors of the Gnostics are constantly before John’s mind." [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6:200.]


The following outline reflects the structure of a typical deliberative oration that was common in John’s world. [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John, pp. 31-33, who followed George A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism.]

I.    Introduction: the purpose of the epistle 1Jn_1:1-4

II.    Living in the light of fellowship with God 1Jn_1:5 to 1Jn_2:11

A.    Staying on the path by walking in God’s light 1Jn_1:5 to 1Jn_2:2

B.    Reaching the goal by knowing the God of light 1Jn_2:3-11


III.    Resisting enemies 1Jn_2:12-27

A.    Appreciating spiritual advances 1Jn_2:12-14

B.    Recognizing spiritual adversaries 1Jn_2:15-27


1.    Resisting the world 1Jn_2:15-17

2.    Resisting the antichrists 1Jn_2:18-27


IV.    Living in anticipation of Christ’s judgment seat 1Jn_2:28 to 1Jn_4:19

A.    Abiding to face Christ confidently 1Jn_2:28

B.    Learning to see God’s children 1Jn_2:29 to 1Jn_3:10 a

C.    Learning to see Christian love 1Jn_3:10-23

1.    What love is not 1Jn_3:10-15

2.    What love is 1Jn_3:16-18

3.    What love does for believers 1Jn_3:19-23

D.    Learning to see the God of love 1Jn_3:24 to 1Jn_4:16

1.    God’s indwelling affirmed 1Jn_3:24

2.    God’s Spirit recognized 1Jn_4:1-6

3.    God’s indwelling recognized 1Jn_4:7-16

E.    Having boldness at Christ’s judgment seat 1Jn_4:17-19

V.    Learning how to live obediently 1Jn_4:20 to 1Jn_5:17

A.    The meaning of brotherly love 1Jn_4:20 to 1Jn_5:3 a

B.    The empowerment of brotherly love 1Jn_5:3-15

C.    The consequences of brotherly love 1Jn_5:16-17

VI.    Christian certainties 1Jn_5:18-21


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