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Bible Commentaries

Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

1 John

- 1 John

by Heinrich Meyer














































I N the new revision of this Commentary the following works have been chiefly examined. H. Bouman, Comment. perpet. in Jac. ep. , ed. 1863, the exposition of the Epistle by Lange (second edition, 1866) in Lange’s Bibelwerk , and the third edition of de Wette’s exposition edited by Brückner. Whilst in the first of these works a deep and thorough examination of the thoughts of the Epistle is awanting, the work of Lange is too defective in exegetical carefulness, which alone can lead to sure results. In order to comprehend the Epistle historically, Lange proceeds from the most arbitrary hypotheses, which often mislead him into very rash, and sometimes strange explanations. It is to be regretted that, with all his spiritual feeling and acuteness, he has not been able to put a proper bridle upon his imagination. The second edition of de Wette’s Handbook, containing the exposition of the Epistles of Peter, Jude, and James, had been previously prepared by Brückner. When in the preface to the third edition he says that he has subjected this portion of the Handbook to a thorough revision, and, as far as possible, has made the necessary additions and corrections, this assertion is completely justified by the work. Although the remarks of Brückner are condensed, yet they are highly deserving of attention, being the result of a true exegetical insight. It were to be wished that Brückner had been less trammelled by “the duty to preserve the work of de Wette as much as possible uncurtailed.” Of the recent examinations on the relation of the Pauline view of justification to that of James, I will only here mention the familiar dissertation of Hengstenberg: “the Epistle of James,” in Nos. 91 94 of the Evangelical Church Magazine , 1866; and the explanation of James 2:24-26 , by Philippi in his Dogmaties , vol. I. pp. 297 315. Both, without assenting to my explanation, agree with me in this, that there is no essential difference between the doctrines of Paul and James. Hengstenberg arrives at this result by supposing, on the assumption of a justification gradually developed, that James speaks of a different stage of justification from that of Paul; whilst Philippi attributes to δικαιοῦν with James another meaning than that which it has with Paul. I can approve neither of the one method nor of the other; not of the former, because by it the idea of justification is altered in a most serious manner; nor of the latter, because it is wanting in linguistic correctness, and, moreover, thoughts are by it given which are wholly unimportant. I will not here resume the controversy with Frank, to which I felt constrained in the publication of the second edition, only remarking that after a careful examination I have not been able to alter my earlier expressed view of James’ doctrine of justification, the less so as it had not its origin from dogmatic prepossession, but was demanded by exegetical conviction. Moreover, I am no less convinced than formerly that in the deductions made by me nothing is contained which contradicts the doctrine of the church regarding justification.

With regard to the question whether the author of this Epistle, the brother of the Lord, is or is not identical with the Apostle James, I have not been able to change my earlier convictions. If in more recent times the opposite view has been occasionally maintained, this is either in the way of simple assertion, or on grounds which proceed from unjustified suppositions. This present edition will show that I have exercised as impartial a criticism as possible with regard to my own views, as well as with regard to the views of others.

The quotations from Rauch and Gunkel refer to their reviews of this commentary published before the second edition; the one is found in No. 20 of the Theol. Literaturblatt of the allgem. Kirchenzeitung of the year 1858; and the other in the Göttingen gel. Anz. , Parts 109 112 of the year 1859. I have occasionally quoted Cremer’s biblischtheol. Wörterbuch des neutest. Gräcität. The more I know of the value of this work, the more I regret that it does not answer to its title, inasmuch as those words are only treated which the author considers to be the expressions of spiritual, moral, and religious life. A distinction is here made which can only with difficulty be maintained. I have quoted Winer’s Grammar , not only according to the sixth, but also according to the seventh edition, edited by Lünemann.

I again close this preface with the hope that my labour may help to make the truly apostolic spirit of the Epistle of James more valued, and to render its ethical teaching more useful to the church.







The entire development of the argument of the Epistle is based upon the single fundamental conviction of the antagonism subsisting between the “ world ” and “ believers. ” Whilst the former are under the power and dominion of the devil, the latter are in fellowship with God. Those who belong to the world are the children of the devil , the others are the children of God. The objective basis of believers’ life-fellowship with God is the mission of the Son of God, originating in His love, for the reconciliation of the world, or the incarnation of the Son of God (the Eternal Life which was with God from eternity), and His self-sacrifice unto death; its subjective basis is faith in this fact of the divine love. Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, belongs no more to the world, but has been born of divine seed, a child of God. The Christian must therefore, above all things, be on his guard against the false doctrine which, making a distinction between Jesus and the Son of God (or Christ), denies the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, and, consequently, the fact of the revelation of divine love, and thereby abolishes the ground of the life-fellowship with God.

In the communion which the believer, anointed with the Holy Ghost, enjoys with God in Christ, he possesses not only true knowledge , but also righteousness. Whilst the world is dominated by darkness, and those who belong to it know not whither they go, believers walk in the light. Enlightened by the Holy Ghost, they know God in the truth of His being, and are able to distinguish between truth and falsehood. At the same time their life is in sharpest contrast to sin. The latter is so opposed to their nature, that, as those who are born of God, they do not, nay, cannot sin, but, on the contrary, in harmony with the pattern of Christ, do righteousness; whereas those who belong to the world, as children of the devil, commit sin, which is the principle of their life. It is true the Christian is conscious that he also still has sin; but inasmuch as he does not deny, but, on the contrary, confesses it openly, the blood of Christ cleanses him; and, further, in the consciousness that Christ, the Righteous One, is his Paraclete with the Father, he also purifies himself , as Christ is pure.

The essence of the believer’s righteousness is love to God , which manifests itself in obedience to His commandments , the sum of which is love to the brethren.

Whilst the world, following the example of Cain, who hated and slew his brother on account of his righteous life, hates the children of God, and in the spirit of hatred incurs the guilt of murder, the believer, imitating the pattern of Christ, feels himself bound, not in word only, but in deed as well, to love his brother, and to give his life for him if necessary. In love like this he possesses evidence of his divine adoption, and therein eternal life. Whilst the world continues in death, he has passed out of death into life; and in this new life he is free from fear and full of joyful confidence. He knows that his prayers are heard of God, and looks forward with confidence to the day of judgment, when he shall not be put to shame, but shall be like God, inasmuch as he shall see Him as He is.

The period still continues during which the world manifests its antagonism to the believer, who is also tempted by the devil; but in his faith, which is the victory over the world, he has vanquished these enemies, and the devil can accomplish nothing against him. Moreover, the world has already begun to vanish; it is the last time, as the appearance of Antichrist clearly proves soon Christ shall appear, and with Him the perfecting of His own.

2. Line of Argument.

At the outset we have an introduction, in which the apostle announces the appearing of that Eternal Life which was with the Father to be the theme of his apostolic message, and indicates the perfecting of his readers’ joy, in their communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, as the end aimed at in his Epistle, chap. 1 John 1:1-4 . The letter itself he begins with the thought that God is Light (1 John 1:5 ), from which he infers that if a man asserts that he has fellowship with God, whilst walking in darkness, it is a lie (1 John 1:6 ); and, on the other hand, that the fellowship of Christians with each other, and purification through the blood of Christ, are conditioned by a walk in the light (1 John 1:7 ). In connection with the purification mentioned, he urges that whosoever claims to be without sin deceives himself, and makes God a liar, whereas in case of an honest confession of sin God manifests His faithfulness and justice by forgiving the sin and cleansing from it (1 John 1:8-10 ); and with this consciousness, in case he sin, the Christian may comfort himself, since he has Jesus Christ the Righteous, who is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, as his Paraclete with the Father (1 John 2:1-2 ). In 1 John 2:3 the apostle returns again to the starting-point in his argument, by showing that (just as fellowship with God can only be enjoyed whilst walking in the light) the knowledge of God can only exist in obedience to His commandments, and the being in Him in following after Christ (1 John 2:3-6 ). The command involved in this for the readers, says the apostle, is the old one which they had heard from the beginning, and which he now once more impresses on them because the darkness is already beginning to vanish. He then describes (1 John 2:7-8 ) walking in the light as walking in brotherly love, whereas the man who hates his brother is in darkness (1 John 2:9-11 ); and turns directly to his readers, whom he addresses as true Christians who have obtained forgiveness, known the Father, and conquered the evil one (1 John 2:12-14 ), in order to warn them against love of the world and seduction by false teachers. The exhortation: “love not the world,” he bases on a reference to the incompatibility of love of the world with love of God, and on the passing away of the world and its lust (1 John 2:15-17 ). The necessity for this exhortation the apostle discovers in the fact that it is the last time, as the appearance of the antichrists shows (1 John 2:18 ). The line of thought thus passes on to the consideration of these antichrists. The apostle mentions, first of all, their relation to the Christian church. “They have,” he says, “gone out from us, but they were not of us;” and he then describes them, after the interjectory remark that his readers, as the anointed of the Holy One, know the truth, as those who deny that Jesus is the Christ ( i.e. as deniers of the identity of Jesus and Christ), whereby they deny the Father as well as the Son (1 John 2:19-23 ). After an exhortation to his readers to abide by what they had heard from the beginning, whereby they should continue in the Son and in the Father, and enjoy everlasting life, he expresses his confidence towards them that the unction they had received remains in them, that therefore they require no human teacher; and exhorts them to abide in Christ in order that they may not be put to shame at His coming (1 John 2:24-28 ).

In like manner as the apostle, in chap. 1 John 1:5 , inferred from the light-nature of God that only the person who walks in light can have fellowship with Him, so now he argues from the righteousness of God, that only the person who practises righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29 ). But since Christians are the children of God, and as such entertain the hope of one day being like Him, therefore this hope is, as it were, an incentive to them to purify themselves even as Christ is pure, and consequently to avoid sin, which is disobedience to the law; and this is all the more since Christ has appeared for the very purpose of taking away sin, and is Himself free from it. From the sinlessness of Christ it follows that whosoever is in Him does not sin; but, on the contrary, whosoever sinneth hath not truly known Him (1 John 3:1-6 ). The apostle, having pointed out that he alone is righteous according to the pattern of Christ who doeth righteousness (1 John 3:7 ), sharply contrasts those who commit sin, as children of the devil, with those who are born of God, and therefore cannot sin, because the divine seed remaineth in them (1 John 3:8-10 ), and then indicates, as the righteousness which the children of God practise, that brotherly love which he describes as the theme of the message which Christians had heard from the beginning (1 John 3:10-11 ). Warningly does the apostle point to the world, which, following the type of Cain, hates the children of God, and is in death; whereas the believer shows by love that he has passed from death unto life (1 John 3:12-15 ). The pattern of Christian love is Christ; as He gave His life for us, so also must the Christian give his life for the brethren; nor may he content himself with a mere apparent love, but must love in deed and in truth (1 John 3:16-18 ). Love like this bears its own blessing with it; he who practises it knows that he is of the truth, and, whilst he overcomes thereby the accusation of his own heart, he has confidence towards God in the consciousness that God hears his prayers because he keeps the commandments of God (1 John 3:19-22 ). With the foregoing the apostle then immediately connects the idea that God’s commandment embraces a twofold element, viz. (1) that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ; and (2) that we love one another (1 John 3:23 ); and then proceeds, after remarking that whosoever obeys the commandments of God stands in communion with Him (he in God, and God in him), and is conscious of this fellowship through the Spirit given him of God (1 John 3:24 ), to a further reference to the false teachers, which he commences with the warning: “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” He gives the characteristic mark of the Spirit that is of God, and also of the spirit of Antichrist, assures the believers of victory over false teachers, and presents the difference between them and the true apostolic teachers: “They are of the world, wherefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them; we are of God, whosoever knoweth God heareth us” (1 John 4:1-6 ).

Without introducing any ideas to mark the transition thereto, the apostle now utters the exhortation: “Let us love one another,” which he establishes by saying that love is of God, or as he also says that God is love. God has proved His love by sending His Son to be a propitiation for our sins; but if God has loved us so much, we ought also to love one another. When we do this, then God is in us, and lets us know that He is by His Spirit (1 John 4:7-13 ). Having pointed out that the manifestation of the love of God is the substance of apostolic testimony, and faith therein the condition of fellowship with God, the apostle once more utters the thought that God is love, in order to urge that communion with Him can consist only in love, and that this love manifests itself as perfect by our having confidence on the day of judgment, since love drives out all fear (1 John 4:16-18 ). But if the love of God compels us to love Him in return, we must remember that we really love God only in case we love the brethren; for the man who does not love the person whom he sees, cannot possibly love God whom he does not see (1 John 4:19-21 ). That the believer loves the brethren, the apostle then infers from the fact that he is born of God; for if, as such, he loves God who has begotten Himself, he must also necessarily love those who are begotten of God, i.e. his own brethren (1 John 5:1 ); and he is conscious of this love in that he loves God and keeps His commandments. After remarking that love to God consists in keeping His commandments, and that God’s commandments are not hard to the believer, because being born of God he conquers the world by faith (1 John 5:3-5 ), the apostle proceeds to refer to the divine evidence of the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. He describes the latter as having come by water and blood, and in proof of this appeals to the testimony of the Spirit. This testimony is all the stronger inasmuch as it is a threefold one, viz. that of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. If human evidence is accepted, much more ought the witness of God to be received. To the believer, however, this witness is not merely an external, but also, at the same time, an inward thing, viz. the eternal life which has been given him in the Son of God (1 John 5:6-12 ). As already previously, so also here again, the apostle sets forth, as a main element in the believer’s eternal life, his confidence that God hears his prayers, and couples with this the exhortation to make intercession for the brother who may chance to sin. At the same time, however, he distinguishes between the case of the man who sins unto death and the man who does not, and explains that his precept anent intercession only refers to those who do not sin unto death (1 John 5:13-17 ).

In bringing his Epistle to a close, the apostle once more announces, in three propositions, its leading thoughts, viz. that he who is born of God does not commit sin; that they, the Christians, are born of God, whilst the world, on the other hand, belongs to the evil one; and that they have received, through the Son of God, the faculty to recognise Him that is true as the substance of their Christian consciousness. After the remark, that being in Christ we are in Him that is true, and that He is the Son of God and eternal life, the Epistle closes with the exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Concerning the various theories as to the construction of the Epistle, compare especially Erdmann, Primae Joannis ep. argumentum , etc., I. 1855; Lücke’s Kommentar , § 4, 3d ed. 1856; and Luthardt’s Programm: de primae Jo. ep. compositione , 1860. Pre-Reformation commentators hardly troubled themselves about the construction of the Epistle at all. After the Reformation, the theory which first prevailed was that a systematic, logically arranged sequence of ideas of any kind is entirely absent from the work (Calvin: sparsim docendo et exhortando varius est). After the time of Matth. Flaccius, some expositors assumed that it was made up of a number of isolated aphorisms, only loosely jointed together, and in which various subjects were discussed; though others (Calvin, Hunnius), notwithstanding, laboured to show a close sequence of ideas in accordance with a dogmatic plan. The most ingenious attempt of this kind was that made by Bengel, who, basing his argument upon the passage in 1 John 5:7 ( Receptus ), traced the construction of the Epistle to the dogma of the Trinity; a view adopted also by Sander. The right point of view from which to gain an insight into the structure of the Epistle was first discovered by Joach. Operinus in his work, Johannis ap. paraenesis ad primos christianos de constanter tenenda communione cum patre ac filio ejus Jesu Christi , etc., Götting. 1741, in which he shows that the purpose which John himself has announced in the preface is the same by which he was led in the composition of the Epistle throughout. Nearly all modern expositors, with the exception of a few of the earlier ones, have followed in the path opened up for them by Operinus. But with regard to the coupling of the ideas, unanimity has not been attained.

Whilst Lücke, in dividing the argument into eight groups of ideas, approaches at least the aphoristic method, the other modern commentators have laboured to prove a more stringent arrangement of the thoughts conveyed in the book. It is plain, however, on closer study of the work, that none of these attempts has really succeeded. The Epistle has indeed been divided into different sections, and to each section a separate superscription been given, expressive of the main idea which informs the entire argument of that particular portion; but, on the one hand, the same ideas are found repeating themselves in the various sections, and, on the other, the leading thought suggested for a particular section does not invariably so inform that portion, that it might serve as the point of departure for studying its details. In the first edition of this commentary it is asserted following the view of de Wette that the Epistle from 1 John 1:5 till 5 1 John 5:17 , may be divided into three groups of ideas, distinguishable from each other by the fact that at the outset of each, as it were, a chord is struck which, more or less, gives tone to the melody throughout the entire part which it marks. As keynotes for the three sections suggested, the three truths are indicated 1st, God is light, 1 John 1:5 ; 1 John 2:0 d, Christ (or God) is righteous, 1 John 2:28 ; 1 John 1:0 John , 3 d, God is love. But that these keynotes actually sound throughout the whole of the parts they are respectively supposed to lead, is not, and cannot be proved.


That the theories respecting the argument suggested by other commentators, ancient as well as modern, are insufficient, has been shown by Luthardt in the work already quoted; the same remark, however, applies also to the construction which he himself following in the lead of Hofmann ( Schriftbew. 2d ed. II. 2, p. 353 ff.) has proposed, and which divides the Epistle into the following five parts: 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11 ; 1 John 2:12-27 ; 1 John 2:28 to 1 John 3:24 a ; 1 John 3:24-21; 1 John 3:24-211 John 3:24-21 ; 1 John 5:1-21 . For, when he thus defines the contents of the third part: salutis futurae spes christiana quantum afferat ad vitam sancte agendam, exponitur, it is manifestly inappropriate, since the apostle throughout the entire section only refers to the Christian hope in 1 John 2:2 , from which it is plain that this is not the informing main idea of it. Again, when he represents the fourth part as treating of the Holy Ghost, his view is indeed so far correct, that, especially in the beginning, the discourse does turn upon the Spirit of God; but from 1 John 4:7 onwards the development of the argument proceeds independently, without any reference to the Spirit, and only in 1 John 2:13 and even then merely in passing is there any mention of Him made whatever. Much more decidedly does the apostle refer to Him in 1 John 5:6 ff., which passage, however, according to Luthardt, belongs not to the fourth, but to the fifth part, in which the subject treated of is faith. But even this definition is doubtful, since faith is discussed not only in 1 John 5:1 ff., but also, and very distinctly, long previously, in 1 John 3:23 and 1 John 4:13-16 . Braune hardly attempts a disposition of the Epistle at all. It is true he divides it into four parts, namely

Introduction, 1 John 1:1-4 ; first main division, 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:28 ; second main division, 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 5:11 ; conclusion, 1 John 5:12-21 . He also suggests leading chief topics for the two main divisions (viz. for the first, God is light; for the second, Whosoever is born of the righteous God doeth righteousness). But he only indicates as leading main topics the ideas which the apostle expresses in 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 2:29 , that is, at the beginning of the passages which Braune has marked as the chief sections, without showing how these thoughts inform the various groups of ideas which follow them. He contents himself with pointing out the simple sequence of the ideas as they follow each other in the development of the argument.

In order to understand the construction of the Epistle, the following three points are especially to be observed: 1st, The apostle’s object is to preserve the readers in the fellowship of God, that their joy may be perfect. 2d, That the apostle, in order to achieve his end, unfolds especially the ideas that fellowship with God is only possible in the case of one whose life, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ, and harmonizing in holiness with the nature of God, is in love, and that the Christian is not only bound to such a life, but also in virtue of his divine birth (which has placed him in a relation of absolute antagonism to the world, which is ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ) is impelled by an inward necessity to lead it. 3d, That the apostle developes these ideas under the conviction that the antichristian lie is present in the world, and also that the second advent of Christ is rapidly approaching. Keeping these elements in view, it depends upon the identification of the various points in the unfolding of the argument in the Epistle when the latter takes such a turn that a new feature may be said to enter and to inform the discourse which follows. Nearly all commentators are agreed, and rightly, that the verses from 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11 form one self-contained group of ideas. The informing and ruling idea of this passage, however, is not a distinct and specific doctrinal proposition, intended to be explained in its several parts, but rather the antithesis to that indifferentism which ignores the antagonism between fellowship with God and a life in sin, in opposition to which the apostle urges that only the man who walks in light or who keeps the divine commandments and loves his brother is in communion with God, and knows Him. The close relation in which these propositions stand to each other is shown also outwardly by the phrases: ἐὰν εἴπωμεν κ . τ . λ ., chap. 1 John 1:6 ; 1 John 1:8 ; 1 John 1:10 , and ὁ λέγων κ . τ . λ ., 1 John 2:4 ; 1Jn 2:6 ; 1 John 2:8 , which are only found here, and is proved by the fact that 1 John 2:10-11 manifestly refers backwards to 1 John 1:5-6 .

The argument takes a new turn, as most commentators also have noticed, with 1 John 2:12 , in which the apostle, after reminding his readers of their happy experiences in salvation, and indicating these as the ground of his writing to them, in direct exhortation warns them against the love of the world. With this warning is coupled the reference to the antichrists which has impelled the apostle to exhort his readers to abide by what they had heard from the beginning, because thus alone can they abide in the Son and in the Father, and enjoy everlasting life, so that they may not be put to shame on the day of judgment. The last turn in the argument shows how closely the apostle has kept in view, throughout this exhortation, the intention of the entire Epistle (1 John 1:4 ). Moreover, the fact that the ἀντίχριστοι as the apostle himself asserts subsequently are ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου , justifies our joining together in one whole the warning reference to the antichrists, and that against the love of the world.

In the foregoing the apostle has indeed shown that if Christians are to glory in their communion with God they must walk in the light (that is, in obedience towards God, and in love towards the brethren), abstain from fellowship with the world, and faithfully abide by the Word of God; but he has not yet shown how they stand, in accordance with their nature , in antagonism to sin, and therefore also to the world. To this proof he proceeds in 1 John 2:29 , from which onwards he explains in detail how Christians as such are born of God, and therefore the children of God, who necessarily sanctify themselves in the hope of the future glory, do righteousness and abstain from sin, nay, cannot sin, because the divine seed remains in them; whilst, on the other hand, those who commit sin, and therefore belong to the world, are the children of the devil. This explanation the apostle gives from 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:10 , where, with the words καὶ ὃς μὴ ἀγαπῶν κ . τ . λ ., he begins to discourse about brotherly love. But that a new section, properly speaking, does not open herewith, notwithstanding that the conception of the divine birth recedes into the background, appears not only from the nature of the connection with the foregoing, but also from the fact that the apostle at the outset holds fast to the contrast which he had so sharply defined at the close of the preceding directing the attention of his readers to Cain, who was ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ , as the representative of the world. The immediate transition from the conception of the δικαιοσύνη to that of the ἀγάπη cannot excite surprise if we consider that to the mind of the apostle the latter was not something added to the former, but is the δικαιοσύνη itself in its practical manifestation. The propositions which treat of love, and in which the line of argument is so plainly defined by the intention of the work, hang so closely together down to 1 John 3:22 , that although one new element after another is introduced, still it is impossible to make a new section until, in 1 John 3:23 , to the conception of brotherly love there is added that of faith in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God. This, however, dare all the less be overlooked, since in the whole discussion hitherto the element of faith, so weighty for the purpose of the work, has nowhere been exhaustively considered, nor even the word πιστεύειν been once introduced. It is true the apostle seems immediately afterwards to pass on to something else, since in 1 John 4:1-6 he discourses of the difference between the antichristian spirit and the Spirit of God, and in 1 John 4:7-21 of the love of the brethren; nevertheless, on closer examination it is manifest that in these sections the reference to faith is maintained throughout. In the section 1 John 4:1-6 , namely, the ὁμολογεῖν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν κ . τ . λ . is given as the characteristic of the Spirit of God. This ὁμολογεῖν , however, is nothing else than the belief εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τ . υἱοῦ Θεοῦ Ἰ . Χριστοῦ , expressing itself in words. That the apostle, while he would exhort his readers to hold fast their faith, first of all calls on them to try the spirits, need not surprise us when we think of the danger threatened to believers by the false teachers that had arisen. It may appear more strange that in 1 John 4:7 , with the exhortation ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους , there is a transition to a train of thought that treats of love; but it is to be observed, not only that in 1 John 3:23 ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους is closely connected with πιστεύσωμεν κ . τ . λ ., but also that the further statements about love serve exactly to explain its connection with faith. The thought of the apostle is this: He only lives in God who loves God: God can only be loved because He is love; God has revealed Himself as love by the sending of His Son to be a propitiation for sin, therefore love to God is conditioned by faith in this act of the divine love. But while the believing Christian, who as such is born of God, now loves God, his love extends also to his brethren who, as he is, are born of God. In the development of these ideas, not only do the preceding statements of the apostle about brotherly love obtain their special confirmation, but the necessity of faith for fellowship with God is also set forth, so that the apostle in what follows, after referring to the world-overcoming power of faith, can proceed to treat of the divine evidences for faith, and emphasize the fact that the believer has eternal life, and therein possesses παῤῥησία πρὸς τὸν Θεόν . The ideas from 1 John 3:23 to 1 John 5:17 are so grouped into a whole, as indeed may be perceived in them, that 1 John 5:13 ( οἱ πιστεύοντες εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ ) plainly refers backwards to 1 John 3:23 , in addition to which it is to be observed that the concluding thought here bears the same reference to the purpose stated in 1 John 1:4 as the concluding thought of the preceding group.

From this explanation it is clear that, if we lay aside the preface, 1 John 1:1-4 , and the conclusion, 1 John 5:18-21 , three points are to be noticed in the Epistle, at which the development of ideas takes such a direction that a newly-introduced point of view dominates what follows, and that the Epistle therefore divides itself into four leading sections, namely 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11 ; 1 John 2:12-28 ; 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:22 , and 1 John 3:23 to 1 John 5:17 . In order to fulfil in his readers the purpose of his writing, the apostle in the first section attacks the moral indifference which endangers them; in the second he warns them of love of the world and of Antichrist; in the third he shows that only a righteous life of brotherly love corresponds to the nature of the Christian; and in the fourth he points them to faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as that which is testified by God to be the basis of Christian life. [1]

[1] We may also unite the first and second sections more closely in one whole; for the former contains the premises for the warning uttered in the latter. In the threefold division which then arises, the conclusion of each part points to the joy of which the Christian partakes in fellowship with God.

3. Motive.

From chap. 1 John 2:18 ff. and 1 John 4:1 ff. it is to be understood that the appearance of the false teachers, spoken of by him as ἀντίχριστοι , furnished the special motive for the production of this Epistle. These are neither different false teachers (according to Storr, Sabians and Docetans; according to Sander, Ebionites and Docetans), nor even “ true Jews as deniers of the Messiahship of Jesus” (Löftler, Dissert, hist. exeg. Joannis Ep. I. gnosticos impugnari negans , 1784, and Commt. theol. , ed. Velthusen, vol. I.), nor “practical false teachers, proceeding from heathenism” (Baumgarten-Crusius), nor “such men as partly had suffered shipwreck of their faith, and partly did not practise worthily the Christian belief in their lives” (Bleek); but Docetans , and indeed such Docetans as denied the identity of Jesus and Christ, and so adhered to that false doctrine which Irenaeus ascribes to Cerinthus in the words: Cerinthus … subjecit, Jesum … fuisse … Joseph et Mariae filium … post baptismum descendisse in cum … Christum, … in fine autem revolasse iterum Christum de Jesu. Not only the passages named, but also 1 John 5:5-6 , 1 John 1:3 , 1 John 3:23 , 1 John 4:15 , point to this form of Docetism only (so also Braune). Without foundation is the view of several commentators (Sander, Lücke, Ewald, also Thiersch, Hilgenfeld, who, however, is not definitely decided, and others), that the polemical purpose of the apostle was equally, or even alone, directed against the stricter Docetism which ascribed to Christ only an apparent body, on behalf of which appeal is erroneously made to 1 John 1:1 ; 1 John 4:2 ; 2 John 1:7 .

That the former Docetans had a distinct antinomian direction, or in their darkness of knowledge in regard to duty felt themselves elevated to a moral course of life (Hilgenfeld, Thiersch, Guericke, Ewald, etc.), cannot be inferred from the moral exhortations of the apostle (comp. Brückner); it is much rather to be observed, that nowhere in these exhortations does the apostle refer to the antichristians, and that where he does mention them he nowhere characterizes them as Antinomians. [2]

[2] In opposition to the view that the passage, 1 John 3:4 , bears evidence for the Antinomianism of the false doctrine, Neander ( Gesch. d. Pflanzung der Kirche durch d. Ap. p. 377) rightly remarks that the apostle against Antinomians would have had to say: Whosoever transgresseth the law committeth sin, for transgression of the law is sin.

According to Lücke and Erdmann, the Epistle was occasioned not only by the appearance of the antichristians, but also by the critical state of the churches to which it is addressed (which Erdmann describes as a state of moral depravity). But although some of it, especially the antithetical import of the section, 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11 , indicates that in the case of many indifference to holiness of life was not wanting, yet nowhere do we find any blame expressed in regard to the moral condition of the churches on the whole. The apostle does not exhort his readers to return to the moral earnestness originally displayed by the Christians, but to perseverance in that which they are and have.


1. The Form.

While the mass of ancient writers regarded this composition as a letter , Heidegger first speaks of it in his Enchiridion bibl. 1681, p. 986, as: brevis quaedam christianae doctrinae epitome et evangelii a Joanne scripti succinctum quoddam enchiridion. Similarly Michaelis judges, who understands it as a “treatise,” and indeed as the second part of the Gospel; so also Berger ( Versuch ciner moralischen Einl. ins N. T. ) and Storr ( Ueber den Zweck der evangel. Gesch. u. Briefe Johannis ), only that the former speaks of it as the practical , the latter as the polemical part of the Gospel. Even Bengel ( Gnomon , 2d ed.) thinks it is to be called rather a libellus than a letter; his reason is, that a letter ad absentes mittitur, Joannes autem apud eos, quibus scribebat, eodem tempore fuisse videtur. Reuss ( die Gesch. der heil. Schriften N. T. p. 217) expresses himself similarly, when he would prefer to call it “a homiletical essay, at the most a pastoral, the readers of which are present,” rather than an epistle. But, in opposition to these views, the work proves itself by the form of its contents to be a real epistle. The author shows himself throughout in the most lively interchange of thought with his readers; and even though not infrequently the objective development of thought predominates, as is peculiar to a treatise, which, however, is found no less in other Epistles of the N. T., yet the language always returns involuntarily to the form of an address, in which is specially to be observed “the oft-recurring distinctive epistolary formula: ταῦτα γράφομεν , or γράφω , or even ἔγραψα ὑμῖν in contrast particularly with the formula in the more general historical writing, the Fourth Gospel: ταῦτα γέγραπται without ὑμῖν , John 20:31 ; comp. John 19:35 and John 21:24 ” (Lücke). Düsterdieck rightly remarks that “the epistolary nature expresses itself in the whole import and progress of the work,” inasmuch as in it “there dominates that easy naturalness and freedom in the composition and presentation, which corresponds with the immediate practical interest, and with the practical purpose of an epistle” (comp. Bleek, Einl. in d. N. T. p. 589, and Braune, Einl. § 5).

The absence of a blessing or a doxology at the close occurs also in the Epistle of James, and there is nothing strange in it; but it is rather striking that the epistolary introduction is also wanting to the work, as the author neither mentions himself nor the readers to whom he is writing; in the Epistle to the Hebrews, however, such an introduction is also omitted. We must explain this want in this way, that, on the one hand, the apostle presupposed that the readers would recognise him as the author of the Epistle without his naming himself in it, and, on the other, that he did not intend it for a single church or for a limited circle of churches. [3] The description of this work as a second part of the Gospel is so much the more arbitrary, as each of those works forms in itself a completed whole.

The view of some critics and commentators (Augusti, who calls the Epistle a summary of the Gospel; Hug, Frommann in the Studien und Kritiken , 1840, Heft 4; Thiersch in Versuch zur Herstellung des hist. Stdpktes. p. 78, and die Kirche im apostol. Zeitalter , p. 266; Ebrard in Kritik der evangel. Geschichte , p. 148, and in his Commentary ), that the Epistle is a companion-work of the Gospel, is opposed by the contents of the Epistle, which follow an individual aim, as well as by the complete absence of a distinctly indicated reference to the written Gospel. [4] In opposition to Reuss, according to whose view the Epistle “was destined to bring home to the readers of the Gospel the practical side of the Gnosis there laid down,” it is to be observed that neither is the practical side wanting in the Gospel, nor the Gnosis in the Epistle.

[3] In opposition to Ebrard, who, admitting the epistolary character of the work, thinks that this want may be easily explained if the epistle “had no individual aim in itself, but depended on something else,” inasmuch as “by its form it bears the nature of a sort of preface or of an epistola dedicatoria,” it is to be remarked that the Epistle, from its whole character, cannot be at all compared to a preface , and that in an epistola dedicatoria this want would be just as striking as in any other epistle.

[4] Ebrard derives the proof for his opinion from 1 John 1:1-4 and from 1 John 2:12-14 , referring ἀπαγγέλλομεν in the former passage, and the thrice-repeated ἔγραψα in the latter, to the writing of the Gospel. That this is without adequate ground, comp. the commentary on these; but even if this reference were correct, yet the description of the Epistle as a “sort of dedicatory epistle” would still remain unjustified, for its purpose is clearly quite other than to dedicate the Gospel to its readers. We would then have to call every epistle, in which reference is made to another work, a dedicatory epistle. Even the designation “companion-work” is unsatisfactory, because it does not at all appropriately state the true character of the Epistle in accordance with its actual contents.

2. The Character.

The same peculiarity of conception, development of thought, and form of expression, which characterizes the Gospel of John, penetrates the Epistle also, and distinguishes it from all other Epistles of the N. T. There dominates in it the same spiritual tendency, and the same preference for the concrete and abstract ideas: ὃ ἦν κ . τ . λ ., φῶς , ζωή , ζωὴ αἰώνιος , ἱλασμός ; ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν , π . τὴν ἀνομίαν , π . τὴν δικαιοσύνην ; εἶναι ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας etc.; the same combination of antitheses: φῶςσκοτία ; ἀλήθειαψεῦδος ; ἀγαπᾶνμισεῖν ; ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρός … ἡ ἀγ . τοῦ κόσμου ; ποιεῖν τὴν δικαιοσύνην … π . τὴν ἀμαρτίαν ; τὰ τέκνα τοῦ Θεοῦτὰ τ . τοῦ διαβόλου ; τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας … τ . πν . τῆς πλάνης ; ἁμαρτία οὐ πρὸς θάνατονἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον ; ζωήθάνατος , etc.; the same continuation of the thought by the resumption of an idea that has preceded, and the accompanying and correspondingly unusual application of the relative pronoun; the same juxtaposition of the positive and negative expression of a thought. Both works, as Ebrard brings out, bear the same impress, not only in style and construction, but also in the sphere of ideas and in the dogmatic views; comp. also Ewald, Dic Joh. Schriften , I. p. 429 ff.

With regard to the Epistle specially, here, in contrast to the dialectical development of thought, which is characteristic of the Pauline Epistles particularly, the individual propositions follow one another in gnomon fashion, [5] and unitedly form groups of ideas, which are sometimes strung together without any mark of the transition. [6] Even the proof of an idea takes place in the simplest manner by reference to a truth self-evident to the Christian consciousness. By the peculiar manner of connection of the ideas arises the appearance of rather frequent repetition of the same thoughts; but on closer observation it is evident that even where the negative expression follows the positive, or vice, versâ , generally both expressions do not say the same thing , but that in the second a new element is taken up, a new direction is prepared for. Characteristic is the simplicity and plainness of statement. Whether the apostle states divine truths by themselves, whether he discourses in exhortation or in warning to his readers, his language always retains the same calmness and precision. He nowhere shows a disposition excited by passion. Everywhere the stillness of a heart reposing in happy peace is mirrored, and having this he is sure that the simple utterance of the truth is enough to procure for his discourse an entrance into the minds of his readers. At the same time, a firm, manly tone pervades the Epistle, in contrast with every weak fanaticism of sentiment, which is so little characteristic of the apostle, that he, along with the internal character of life, constantly urges that the reality of it is proved by action. It is also worthy of notice that, on the one hand, he speaks to his readers as a father to his children, but, on the other hand, does not ignore the fact that they are no longer minors, to whom he has some new information to give, but are quite like himself, and are, like himself, in possession of all the truth which he utters, of all the life which he is anxious, not to produce in them for the first time, but only to maintain in them. Against the reproach that the Epistle bears “the clearest traces of the feebleness of old age” (S. G. Lange), or that as Baur says “it is wanting in the fresh colour of direct life,” that “the tenderness and fervour of John’s manner of conception and representation have relaxed far too much into a tone of childlike feebleness, which loses itself in indefiniteness, falls into continual repetitions, and is lacking in logical force,” it must be maintained that the Epistle bears the impress of directness, freshness, definiteness, and vigorous clearness in no degree less than the Gospel of John. [7]

[5] Comp. on this, Ewald, D. Joh. Schriften , I. p. 441.

[6] Düsterdieck finds the peculiarity of the manner of development and statement of thought in the Epistle in this, “that the ideas move, combine, and circle round certain leading propositions as points of support and connection.” But it might be more appropriate to perceive it in this, that the apostle by single leading thoughts strikes as it were chords, which he allows to sound for a while in the thoughts deduced for them, until a new chord results, which leads to a new strain.

[7] Hilgenfeld rightly states, in opposition to Baur, that the Epistle belongs to the most beautiful writings of the N. T., that it is specially rich and original “exactly in what relates to the subjective, inner life of Christianity;” “that the fresh, vivid, attractive character of the Epistle consists exactly in this, that it conducts us with such a predilection into the inner experience of genuine Christian life.”


According to the testimony of antiquity, the Epistle was written by the Apostle John, which is confirmed by the Epistle itself, in so far as that the author, in the whole tone in which he speaks to his readers, and in particular expressions (1 John 1:1 , 1 John 3:5 , 1 John 4:14 ), may be recognised as an apostle, and that the agreement with the Gospel of John favours the conclusion that both works proceed from the same author. Eusebius ( H. E. iii. 24, 25) rightly reckons it among the Homologoumena; and Hieronymus ( de viris illustr. c. 9) says: ab universis ecclesiasticis eruditis viris probatur.

In the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, it is true, the Epistle is not considered in a definite way, but the passage found in Polycarp, cap. vii.: πᾶς γὰρ ὃς ἂν μὴ ὁμολογῇ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθέναι , ἀντίχριστός ἐστιν , etc., may be recognised as a “natural use of 1 John 4:2-3 ” (Düsterdieck), by deduction from particular resemblances to some expression or other of the Epistle; [8] and Eusebius ( H. E. iii. 39) states of Papias: κέχρηται δʼ ὁ αὐτὸς μαρτυρίαις ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰωάννου προτέρας ἐπιστολῆς καὶ τῆς Πέτρου ὁμοίως .

By the Fathers of the church: Tertullian ( adv. Prax. c. 15; Scorp. c. 12; adv Marc. iii. 8; de Praescript. c. 33; de carne Christi , c. 24), Irenaeus ( adv. Haeret. iii. 16), Clemens Alex. ( Strom. l. ii. c. 15, l. iii. c. 4, 5, 6; Paedag. iii. 11, 12, etc.), Origen (in Euseb. H. E. vi. 25), Cyprian ( de orat. Dom. and Ep. 25), passages are frequently quoted from it, often with explicit mention of the apostle. Dionysius Alex. uses it, along with the Gospel, to prove the spuriousness of the Apocalypse; the Peshito and the Muratorian Fragment [9] also testify to its genuineness. That the Alogi rejected it, as Epiphanius conjectures, and that Marcion did not admit it into his canon, is of no importance; just as little is the highly obscure account of Cosmas in his Topogr. Christ. l. vii., according to which some maintain that all the catholic Epistles were composed, not by apostles, but by presbyters; and the remark of Leontius Byz. ( contra Nestor. et Eutychian. iii. 14) in regard to Theodore of Mopsv.: epistolam Jacobi et alias deinceps aliorum catholicas abrogat et antiquat; comp. on this Lücke’s Comment. Introd. § 8, 4, p. 135 ff., 3d ed.

The genuineness continued unchallenged until first Jos. Scaliger came forward with the assertion: tres epistolae Joannis non sunt apostoli Joannis; since then it has been variously disputed. Sam. J. Lange, indeed, recognised the unanimous testimony of antiquity as too significant to permit of denial of the apostolic authorship of the Epistle, but he nevertheless regarded it as a writing not worthy of the apostle; Claudius ( Uransichten des Christenth. p. 52 ff.) went further, explaining it as the performance of a Jewish Christian, which was revised by a Gnostic. Bretschneider (in his Probabilien ) and Paulus ascribe it to the Presbyter John, while they, however, at the same time maintained the identity of the author of the Epistle and the author of the Gospel; Horst ( Museum für Religionswissensch. Henke , 1803, vol. I.) declared himself against this.

The later Tübingen school cannot, in consequence of their conception of the development of Christianity, regard either the Gospel or the Epistle as the work of the apostle; the admission of the genuineness of one of these writings would overthrow their whole historical construction. Since, therefore, the adherents of this school are agreed in denying the genuineness of both writings, they nevertheless explain in different ways the relation of them to one another. K. R. Köstlin ( Lehrbegr. des Ev. etc.) and W. Georgii ( Ueber die eschatolog. Vorstellungen der N. T. Schriftsteller; Theol. Jahrb. , Tübingen 1845) ascribe both writings (even the second and third Epistles) to the same author. After Zeller, who in his “Beiträgen zur Einl. in die Apokalypse” (in the Theol. Jahrb. , Tübing. 1842) presupposed the identity of the author in his review of Köstlin’s writings ( Theol. Jahrb. 845), and K. Planck (“Judenthum und Urchristenth.” in the Theol. Jahrb. 1847) had intimated the opposite view, the former position was strongly defended by Baur (“Die Joh. Briefe,” in the Theol. Jahrb. 1848, 3) and by Hilgenfeld ( Das Evang. u. die Briefe Joh. 1849, and “d. joh. Briefe” in the Tüb. theol. Jahrb. 1855, Part iv.); but with this difference, that the former explains the Epistle as the copy , the latter as the pattern of the Gospel.

[8] In the Ep. ad Diognet. several expressions appear, which point back to John’s mode of thought; so cap. 6: Χριστιανοὶ ἐν κόσμῳ οἰκοῦσιν , οὐκ εἰσὶ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ; cap. 7: ὁ … Θεὸςτὴν ἀλήθειαν καὶ τὸν λόγον τὸν ἅγιον καὶ ἀπερινόητον ἀνθρώποις ἑνέδρυσι ; cap. 11: οὗτοςἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ; as also in the Shepherd of Hermas, lib. ii. mand. 9: πιστεύει τῷ Θεῷ . ὅτι πάντα τὰ αἰτήματά σου , ἃ αἰτῇ , λήψῃ (comp. 1 John 3:23 ; 1 John 4:15 ); lib. ii. mand. 12: εὐκόλως αὐτὰς ( i.e. τὰς ἐντολὰς τοῦ Θεοῦ ) φυλάξεις , καὶ οὐκ ἔσονται σκληραί (comp. 1 John 5:3 ).

[9] By the words: epistola sane Jude et superscriptio [superscripti; or, according to Laurent, Neutest. Studien , pp. 201, 205: superscriptae = “provided with superscriptions”] Joannis duas [duae] in catholica habentur, are not meant, as Braune supposes, the first and second, but the second and third Epistles. When, however, it is previously written: Quid ergo mirum, si Johannes tam constanter singula etiam in epistolis suis proferat dicens in semet ipso; quae vidimus oculis nostris et auribus audivimus et manus nostrae palpaverunt, haec scripsimus, this is a clear evidence for the composition of the First Epistle by the Apostle John. The reviewer of the first edition of this commentary, in the theol. Literaturblat zur allg. Kirchenztg. 1855, No. 92, thinks, indeed, that in the words: quarti evangeliorum Joannis ex discipulis, the Presbyter John is indicated as the author of the Gospel, because it is not said ex apostolis; but that the author of the Fragment indicates by the expression discipuli such disciples of Jesus as were not apostles, can neither be proved by the fact that Papias (in Euseb. H. E. iii. 39) calls the Presbyter John a disciple ( μαθητής ) of Jesus, nor by the fact that afterwards “ex apostolis” is added to characterize Andrew. If the author of the Fragment had regarded as the author of the Gospel, not the apostle, but the Presbyter John, he would certainly have expressed this definitely. The expression ex discipulis presented itself to him here so much the more naturally, as he had immediately before spoken of Luke, and said of him: Dominum nec ipse vidit in carne. Rightly, therefore, Lücke, Düsterdieck, Ebrard, and others (comp. also Meyer in his Comment. on Gospel of John , and Laurent as above) have regarded the Murat. Fragm. as evidence for the apostolic origin of the Epistle.

For the non-identity of the authors , it is specially advanced that in the Gospel a “more ideal and internal,” in the Epistle, on the other hand, “a more material and external” mode of thought dominates. This difference is to be chiefly recognised in the eschatological ideas. While the author of the Epistle expects a visible “ material ” (!) Parousia of Christ, the evangelist is held to know only of a “reappearance of Christ in the spirit of His disciples,” and of a merely “present” judgment, because for him “the future has already become the present.” How incorrect, however, this assertion is, is proved by passages such as Gospel of John 5:28-29 ; John 6:39-40 ; John 6:44 ; John 6:54 , in which distinctly enough a future day of resurrection of the dead and of judgment by Christ is spoken of (comp. Weiss, p. 179 ff.); and as in this the Gospel is quite in agreement with the Epistle, so, on the other hand, the Epistle expresses, no less distinctly than the Gospel, the idea of a resurrection, already accomplished in belief, of Christians from the dead. [10] The fundamental conceptions, therefore, are the same in both writings; the only difference is, that in the Epistle the thought is expressed that the ἐσχάτη ὥρα is already, but in the Gospel there was plainly no room for the expression of this thought.

For that difference between the material and the ideal conception, Baur appeals, moreover, to 1 John 5:6 comp. with Gospel John 19:34 , and Hilgenfeld (1849) to 1Jn 1:5 ; 1 John 1:7 . Baur asserts that in place of the ideal import which the two symbols, blood and water, have in the Gospel, the sacramental appears in the Epistle. This assertion, however, is based on a false interpretation of both of those passages, since neither has the circumstance recorded in the Gospel John 19:34 the meaning: “that death (of which the blood is the symbol) is the necessary preliminary condition under which alone the Spirit (of which the water is the symbol (!)) can be communicated to the believer;” nor is 1 John 5:6 to be directly interpreted of the coming of Christ in or through the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Besides, it is rather strange to call the conception of water and blood as the two sacraments, a material one.

Hilgenfeld thinks that when in 1 John 1:5 ; 1 John 1:7 it is said of God that He is φῶς , nay, that He is ἐν τῷ φωτί , a representation is expressed which “has too much the ideas of matter and of space in it for the evangelist to have any connection with it,” since he uses φῶς only as predicate of the Logos. But from the application which is made in the Epistle of the thought there expressed, it is clear that the writer of the Epistle, in the idea φῶς , did not think less of anything than of something “pertaining to matter and space.” That alleged difference, therefore, does not exist; the groundless pretence of it proves neither the hypothesis of Baur, that the Epistle is the performance of an imitator of the Gospel, nor that of Hilgenfeld, that it belongs to an earlier stage of development than the latter. Nevertheless, according to Baur, we may recognise the imitative hand, not only in the character of the whole Epistle (see on this Sec. 2), but in the passages 1 John 1:1-4 and 1 John 5:6-9 ; according to Hilgenfeld (1849), the earlier stage of development may be perceived in the O. T. conception expressed in the Epistle, and in its view of the Logos and of the Holy Spirit. In regard to the passage 1 John 1:1-4 , Baur says: “in all the features, in which the author himself would give us a picture of his personality, the premeditated most anxious concern cannot be mistaken, to be regarded as one person with the evangelist;” but that those verses are only to serve “to give a picture of the personality of the author,” is a groundless supposition of Baur. In the other passage (1 John 5:6-9 comp. with John 8:16 ff.) Baur sees nothing but a mere playing on words, “for the μαρτυρία τοῦ Θεοῦ has the same subject as the μαρτυρία τῶν ἀνθρώπων , and the latter differs from the former only in this, that the three: spirit, water, and blood, are counted as three, and it therefore consists of nothing else than the numerical relation of those three to one another, which again is immediately annulled when it is said that it is God that bears witness in those three.” But this entire conclusion is purely fanciful; for, on the one hand, the μαρτυρία τῶν ἀνθρώπων is not at all spoken of, in regard to its subject, as identical with the μαρτυρία τοῦ Θεοῦ ; and, on the other hand, in the mention of the former μαρτυρία the numerical relation is not alluded to by a single syllable.

Hilgenfeld asserts that the Epistle stands in a more intimate relationship to the O. T. law than the Gospel does. The proof of this is supposed to lie in the passages 1 John 3:4 ; 1 John 2:7-8 ; but with regard to the first passage, the idea ἀνομία in no way hints at the Mosaic law; and besides, if the author attached a higher importance to the Mosaic νόμος than the evangelist, he would somewhere state its signification; this, however, he is so far from doing, that the idea νόμος never appears in his work at all. With regard to the second passage, Hilgenfeld, indeed, admits that ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς refers to the transition to Christianity, but thinks that “this old commandment of love is not set forth as it is in the Gospel, as an absolutely new one which first receives its rule through the love of the Saviour to His people;” but, apart from the explanation of that passage itself, the immediately preceding verse, and, moreover, what is written in 1 John 3:16 and 1 John 4:7 ff. about love, shows how unfounded is the assertion of Hilgenfeld. It is not anything better with the remark of Hilgenfeld (1849), that “the greatest probability is in favour of the statement that the idea of the personal Logos is still foreign to the Epistle, whilst it is distinctly expressed in the Gospel;” this Hilgenfeld infers from this, that for description of what is loftier in Christ the expression ὁ λόγος is not used in the Epistle. [11] But even if in the expression ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς the idea λόγος had the meaning of “doctrine,” yet the supposition of Hilgenfeld would still be unjustified, since it cannot be denied that ἡ ζωὴ ( ἡ ζωὴ αἰώνιος ), whereby the superhuman that appeared in Christ is indicated, is considered by the writer of the Epistle as hypostatic nature, nor that the υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ is identical with Him who in the Gospel is called ὁ λόγος . Nay, the whole Epistle in the most unmistakeable manner presupposes the hypostatic nature of the Son of God.

That, finally, the writer of the Epistle ascribed no personality to the Holy Spirit, can neither be proved by this, that he does not call Him ὁ παράκλητος , nor by this, that He indicates Him by the expression χρῖσμα ; the words τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστι τὸ μαρτυροῦν especially, 1 John 5:6 comp. with John 15:26 , presuppose His personality. [12]

For proof of the non-identity Baur finally appeals to this, that the “representation of Christ as the ΠΑΡΆΚΛΗΤΟς , i.e. the interceding High Priest, accords more with the sphere of ideas of the Epistle to the Hebrews than with that of the Gospel, that thereby intervening thoughts are inserted into John’s view of the relation of Jesus to those who believe on Him, which lay far from the horizon of the evangelist.” But if Baur were right in this assertion, then there would exist not only a difference between the Epistle and the Gospel, but a difference between the Epistle and itself, since, apart from those representations, quite the same view of the relation of Jesus to believers dominates in the Epistle as in the Gospel; with regard, however, to those representations, they are not peculiar to the Epistle to the Hebrews only, but are a common property of the apostles, as they are expressed in the Epistle to the Romans (comp. chap. Romans 3:25 and Romans 8:34 ) with no less distinctness than in the former.

[10] In the article of Hilgenfeld, quoted above, he thinks that “there is undeniably a different representation of the last day, when the author of the Epistle exhorts his readers so to deport themselves that they may meet the judgment day without shame, and when, on the other hand, the evangelist excludes believers from the judgment;” but neither of these views is at all exclusive of the other; it is only to be remembered that the future judgment for those who here already have passed from death into life, who here already possess the ζωὴ αἰώνιος (1 John 5:13 ), is such that for them it is not a judgment in that sense in which it is a judgment for the wicked.

[11] In the article of 1855 this is merely noticed, without the former inference being drawn from it.

[12] In the article of 1855, Hilgenfeld finds the difference only in this, that in the Epistle the Holy Spirit is not called παράκλητος , but χρῖσμα and σπίρμα . Along with this he admits, however, that the Gospel, in the expression ἄλλος παράκλητος shows an agreement with the Epistle, in which Christ is spoken of as παράκλητος .

The reasons adduced by Baur and Hilgenfeld are therefore unable to shake the conviction of combined antiquity, that both writings come from one and the same author. That each of the works along with all unity of conception and of expression has its own peculiarities, is naturally caused both by the difference of their object, and by the living activity of the Spirit from whom they both proceeded. It is also to be observed, that in the Gospel it is chiefly the Master, in the Epistle the disciple, that speaks, a fact to which the Tübingen critics can certainly attach no importance. There is, however, the further question as to the character of the reasons which are said to be opposed to the genuineness of the Epistle, and to prove that the author of it could not be the Apostle John. When S. G. Lange says that on account of “its lack of all individual references, its slavish imitation of the Gospel, the too great generality of the thoughts, the traces of the feebleness of old age, the non-reference to the destruction of Jerusalem,” he only reluctantly regards the Epistle as the work of an apostle; these reasons are of such arbitrarily subjective character as to require no refutation. Of greater importance, indeed, is the frequently-expressed assertion, that the Epistle refers to circumstances which first belong to a time later than that of the apostles. As such Bretschneider regarded the doctrine of the Logos and the Docetism contended against in the Epistle; but “without the previous existence and assurance of a canonical doctrine of the Logos, the patristic doctrine from Justin on would be almost inexplicable” (Lücke), and that Docetism to which the Jewish as well as the heathen speculation must be added, when, without giving itself up, it amalgamated with Christianity first belonged to the post-apostolic age, is historically an unjustifiable assertion.

After Planck (in the article already quoted) advanced the view, that the author of the Epistle moves in the Montanist sphere of thought, as he “seeks to transform the external Jewish-Christian mode of conception into the deeper, more internal mode of John,” Baur developed it further. He explains the Epistle directly as a writing belonging to Montanism. His proofs of this are (1) the thought that the fellowship of Christians is sinless, holy; (2) the mention of the χρῖσμα , and (3) the distinction between venial and mortal sins. But how weak are these reasons! If the Montanists considered themselves as the Spirituales, in contrast to the rest of the Christians , who in their eyes were Psychici, this is plainly something very different from the representation of the Epistle that believing Christians in contrast to the unholy world form a holy fellowship. If the Epistle says that Christians possess the holy χρῖσμα , there lies therein nothing but an allusion to the custom, first mentioned by Tertullian, of anointing candidates for baptism with holy oil. And if in 1 John 5:16 the ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον is distinguished from the ἁμαρτία οὐ πρὸς θάνατον , this distinction is of a very different character from the Montanist distinction between venial and mortal sins. Baur, indeed, maintains that in the Epistle the same sins are called mortal sins as in Tertullian; but while Tertullian represents as mortal sins: homicidium, idololatria, frans, negatio, blasphemia, moechia et fornicatio, et si qua alia violatio templi Dei, Baur arbitrarily selects only three of these, namely idolatry, murder, adultery or fornication, which are alleged to be spoken of in the Epistle as mortal sins. To idolatry, namely, not only chap. 1 John 5:21 , but also chap. 1 John 3:4 , is alleged to refer; to murder, chap. 1 John 3:15 ; [13] and to πορνεία , which is nowhere mentioned in the Epistle itself, the superscription that appears in Augustin (corrupted from ΠΡῸς ΠΑΡΘΈΝΟΥς ): ad Parthos.

The hypothesis so feebly established (comp. Lücke’s incisive refutation in the 3d ed. of his comment.) of the Montanism of the writer of the Epistle, found in Hilgenfeld an opponent in the Tübingen school itself. In opposition to it, [14] Hilgenfeld has attempted to show that not only the false doctrine of the antichristians who are contended against in the Epistle, but also many of the views of the author himself, would go to prove that the appearance of the Epistle is to be fixed at the time immediately preceding that in which Gnosticism was at its prime. As Gnostic elements in the system of the Epistle, Hilgenfeld specifies the idea of the σπέρμα (1 John 3:9 ); the thought that we should not fear, but only love God (1 John 4:18-19 ), and the idea of the χρῖσμα (1 John 2:20 ); but these ideas are so essential to the Christian consciousness, that it cannot at all be thought of without them. At the most, the expressions σπέρμα and χρῖσμα might seem strange, but the former so naturally suggested itself in connection with the idea of being born of God, and of God’s being in him who is born of Him, [15] and the latter from the antithesis of the Christian to the ἀντίχριστος , especially with the O. T. type of anointing, that a derivation of them from Gnostic fancies is entirely unjustified; quite apart from the fact that these ideas play quite another part in the Gnostic systems from that which they fulfil in this Epistle. Even if it be conceded to Hilgenfeld further, that the false doctrine contended against is Gnostic, yet it cannot be admitted that Gnosticism also, as regards its beginnings, belongs first to the post-apostolic time. Hilgenfeld rightly says that the features alluded to by the author of the Epistle do not mark a completely definite Gnostic system, but wrongly, that therefore the doctrine of Cerinthus must not be thought of, because this represents a form of Gnosis as yet quite incomplete. The whole character of the polemic of the writer of the Epistle shows, however, that he has to do with a system of Gnosticism which, in comparison with the systems of the second century, had a form still incomplete. For there is only one point which he brings forward, namely Docetism , and indeed that form of it which consists of the distinction of the Son of God from the man Jesus, and therefore the same as was propounded by Cerinthus; comp. Dorner, Lehre von der Person Christi , I. p. 314 ff.

That this Docetism was associated with an antinomian sentiment “which set itself far above all the moral laws of life,” by no means follows, as has already been remarked in Sec. 2, from the polemic of the Epistle.

Against the assertion of Baur, that even the form of the polemic is decisive against the genuineness of the Epistle, since “nothing further is said than just that the false teachers of Docetism are antichristians,” it is to be observed that the main force of the apostle’s polemic throughout does not consist in negation, but in the positive presentment of the truth, in the light of which the antagonistic doctrine is manifested as a lie (see on this the excellent exposition of Thiersch, Versuch , etc., p. 255).

[13] Baur himself admits that with regard to these two points the author does not mean “the outward action,” but “altogether the inner character of the moral sentiment;” but if that be the case, then it is clear that his position is not in Montanism, but outside it, since in Montanism it is preeisely actions , and indeed particular, definite actions, that are referred to in that distinction of sins. Tertullian ( de pudicit. c. 19): Cui non accidit, aut irasci inique et ultra solis occasum, aut et manum immittere, aut facile maledicere, aut temere jnrare, aut fidem pacti destruere, aut vereeundia aut necessitate mentiri. In negotiis, in officiis, in quaestu, in victn, in visu, in auditu quanta tentamur, ut si nulla sit venia istorum, nemini salus competat, etc.

[14] Hilgenfeld urges especially that it is impossible to conceive that a Montanist author would not have known to begin with the idea of the Paraclete; and also that the idea of special mortal sins already occurs in the Περίοδοι Πέτρου (Rec. iv. 36), which belong to the pre-Montanist psuedo-Clementine literature.

[15] In his article of 1855, Hilgenfeld attaches the chief importance to the idea of the σπέρμα , and tries to deduce from 1 John 5:1 , that according to the representation of the author of the Epistle, “being born of God is to be regarded as the presupposition of Christian faith,” and therefore that the σπέρμα is, according to him, “the metaphysical ground of existence” from which faith proceeds. But if the distinction between the τέκνα τοῦ Θεοῦ and the τέκνα τοῦ διαβόλου has, according to the author, a metaphysical ground lying beyond faith, and if the former, by virtue of the σπέρμα which is peculiar to them by nature, cannot sin how does this accord with the Soteriology which is so clearly expressed in the Epistle, and according to which Christ is the ἱλασμὸς περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν , and the blood of Christ cleanses us ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας ? In this article also Hilgenfeld derives the “repeated assurance that God is love,” from the influence of Gnosticism on the author, without any regard to the close connection with the fundamental essential truth of Christianity in which this is brought forward by the author.

The spuriousness of the Epistle (as also of the Gospel, and of John’s two other Epistles) also follows, according to Hilgenfeld (article of 1855), from the relation of these writings to the Apocalypse. While, namely, he presupposes the genuineness of the latter, he maintains that “the contrast between it and the Epistles must not be ignored,” and that “the latter occupy a middle place between the two most extreme contrasts of the Apocalypse and the Gospel.” The contrast is seen, according to him, 1st, in the language (in the Epistles not indeed an Attic, but an easy and versatile Greek style; in the Apocalypse, on the other hand, a strongly Hebraizing impress), and 2dly, in the sphere of thought, although he recognises “between the spheres of thought on both sides very essential points of contact.” But against these instances it is to be observed 1. That the composition of the Apocalypse by the Apostle John is by no means so surely established as Hilgenfeld assumes, and is certainly not to be proved by stating that it is the product of a still judaistically-narrowed mode of conception; 2. That in the explanation of the Hebrew-coloured style of the Apocalypse, attention is to be paid to the fact that it stands in close connection with O. T. prophecy; 3. That the appearance of the contrast, alleged by Hilgenfeld, between the spheres of thought on both sides, disappears when with the necessary critical impartiality they are taken hold of with consideration of the entire individual elements which constitute them. [16]

[16] Hilgenfeld proceeds uncritically in his demonstration of the contrast between the spheres of thought, inasmuch as he not only adduces, as antithetical, ideas which are not so, but also ascribes to one or the other writing views which are not contained in it. The former is, for example, the case when he thinks that the idea of an angry God, as is peculiar to the Apocalypse, and the idea of a God who is love , as we find it expressed in the Epistle, contradict one another; or when he asserts that the conception of the divine justice, according to which it is shown as the punishment of the wicked, is in contradiction to that, according to which it appears as the forgiveness of sins; when he supposes a contrast between the representation of the apocalyptic judgment and the idea of the spiritual victory of the Christian over the devil and the world, accomplished by means of morality and faith. He does the latter when, for example, he says that the Apocalypse considers “the political world-power of the Roman Empire” as Antichrist, whereas the name ἀντίχριστος is never once mentioned in the Apocalypse; or when he ascribes to the Epistle the idea of a metaphysical antagonism between the children of God and the children of the devil, which is found in the Gnostics. For the rest, it must not be denied that the difference in character between the Apocalypse and the other writings of John is considerable enough to allow the view, that it does not proceed from the same author, to appear not unjustified. While that difference, on the one side, is often not sufficiently estimated, on the other side, with the object of bringing it more clearly out, the mistake is not infrequently made, of not keeping strictly enough within the truth. But, as may hold good of the origin of the Apocalypse also, the Gospel and the First Epistle of John are too strongly attested, both by their whole character and by the external evidences, as writings of the Apostle John, to allow their genuineness to be denied on account of the Apocalypse.

As the internal tests, which have been asserted to be opposed to the genuineness of the Epistle, do not prove the alleged spuriousness, as the Epistle much rather bears on the face of it quite the impress of an apostolic writing, as it also as even Hilgenfeld admits “belongs to the writings of the N. T., the genuineness of which was never disputed in the ancient church, and the chain of witnesses who have made use of it begins as far back as Papias,” the composition of it by the Apostle John is as surely established as it can ever be.


1. The Readers.

Augustin says in his Quaest. Evang. ii. 39, when he is quoting the passage 1 John 3:2 : scriptum est a Joanne in Epistola ad Parthos; this more particular determination of the Epistle is also found (only, however, in the Benedictine edition of Augustin’s works) in the superscription of his treatises on the Epistle; and similarly in Possidius, in his Indiculus operum S. Augustini , as he introduces those treatises with the words: de ep. Joannis ad Parthos sermones decem. The same statement, it is true, frequently appears later; thus in the work of Vigilius Tapsensis (end of the fifth century), published under the name of Idacius Clarus, contra Varimadum Arianum; in Cassiodorus, de institut. divin. script. c. 14, who, however, refers the words ad Parthos to all the three Epistles; in Col. 62 of Griesb. and in several lat. codd. (see Guericke, Gesammtgesch. des N. T. 1854, p. 486, note 2); but the whole Greek Church, and similarly the Latin Church before Augustin, knows nothing of it. [17] It is therefore of no importance even for the determination of the original readers of the Epistle (against Grotius), nay, it cannot even be said that in it was retained an old tradition in regard to the determination of the Epistle or the activity of John (Baumgarten-Crusius), and still less that it “refers to its designation for Further and Central Asia, as formerly Persian lands” (Guericke as above, p. 487). It might no doubt be possible that Augustin thereby expressed his own conjecture (Michaelis), but then he would hardly have proceeded with the Epistle under this designation without further remark. Perhaps a mistake is at the bottom of it. Some critics assume a corruption of the reading in Augustin; Serrarius conjectures as the original reading: ad Pathmios; Wetstein: ad sparsos; Semler: adpertius. Most explain the words as originating in a Greek expression; quite arbitrarily, Paulus ( Heidelb. Jahrb. 1832, p. 1071) thinks they might have arisen through misunderstanding of a probable inscription πρὸς πάντας ; it is more natural to have recourse, with most critics, to the Greek word παρθένος , and to regard ad Parthos as originating in πρὸς παρθένους . Whiston considers πρὸς παρθένους as the description of the yet uncorrupted, virgin condition of the churches of John; according to Hug’s view, the inscription of some manuscripts of the Second Epistle: πρὸς πάρθους ( i.e. πρὸς παρθένους ), was transferred to the First Epistle, because that designation was regarded as unsuitable to the Second Epistle; Gieseler ( Lehrbuch der Kirchengeseh , 4th ed. vol. 1 Peter 1:0 , p. 139, note 1), with whom Löcke (3d ed. p. 52 f.) agrees, supposes that the inscription of the First and of the Second Epistle was: ἐπιστολὴ Ἰοάννου τοῦ παρθένου ; this is certainly not found in any codex of the Epistle, but the inscription of the Apocalypse in Cod. Guelpherit. (30 of Griesb.) runs thus: τοῦ ἁγίουἀποστόλου καὶ εὐαγγελιστοῦ παρθένου ἠγαπημένου ἐπιστηθίου Ἰοάννου θεολόγου . The simplest supposition might be that Augustin misunderstood the remark of Clemens Alex. ( Opp. ed. Potter. Fragm. 1011) that the Second Epistle was written πρὸς παρθένους ( ad virgines ) (see Introd. to Second and Third Epistle, Sec. 1) and then by mistake referred it to the First Epistle.

But whatever be the origin of this ad Parthos , it can be of no value as an historical evidence for the original place of destination of the Epistle. As John, according to the unquestionable accounts of antiquity, after the death of the Apostle Paul, took up his place in Asia Minor; and as in Asia Minor, as the Epistle to the Colossians testifies, heretical tendencies of Gnostic character already appeared at an early date, it is to be assumed, with most critics, that the Epistle was originally directed to the churches of Asia Minor; not to one of them (according to Hug, to that of Ephesus), but as ἐπιστολὴ ἐγκυκλική (Oec.) to several (perhaps to “John’s Ephesian circle of churches,” Lücke), perhaps to all of those to which the personal activity of the apostle extended, for the Epistle would otherwise certainly touch at individual circumstances of the single church. [18] It is clearly quite arbitrary to regard as its place of destination, with Benson, Palestine, or, with Lightfoot, Corinth.

[17] Against this fact the strange remark of Bede in the Prologus super septem epistolas canonicas (printed in Care’s Script. eccles. hist. liter. ): Multi scriptorum ecclesiasticorum, in quibus est S. Athanasius, primam ejus ( i.e. Joannis) epistolam scriptam ad Parthos esse testantur, cannot of course be regarded as of any weight.

[18] Hilgenfeld thinks that the Epistle was addressed to the whole of orthodox Christendom, in so far as it did not belong to the immediate sphere of the apostle’s labours; but even if the apostle mentions no specific limit of his sphere of readers, such a limit is nevertheless indicated in the warning reference to the Docetan heresy.

2. The Place of Composition.

This is just as little stated in the Epistle as the place of destination; the prevailing opinion, that John wrote it in Ephesus, has at least nothing against it. Hug and Ebrard, who regard it though without tenable reason as a companion work of the Gospel, suppose that it was written with the latter in Patmos; but even though the statement is found in some of the later Fathers, that the Gospel was written in Patmos, the more ancient tradition names Ephesus as its place of composition; comp. Meyer’s Comment. on the Gospel , 3d ed. p. 39.

Hug appeals also to 2Jn 1:12-13 , 3 John 1:13 ; unwarrantably, however, for a want of writing materials is here in no way hinted at.

3. The Time of Composition.

That the Epistle belongs, not to the earlier, but to the later apostolic time, i.e. the time after the departure of the Apostle Paul, is not to be disputed. The whole tone in which it is written leaves us in no mistake as to the advanced age of the writer; moreover, the somewhat prolonged existence of the Christian churches to which it is addressed is brought out pretty clearly; and there is the additional fact that the antagonism between Jewish and Gentile Christianity is no longer the subject, and that the Docetism therein opposed points also to the later time. With this corresponds the tradition, according to which it was written by John during his sojourn in Ephesus. As, however, the tradition states indeed the end (Iren. Haer. iii. 3, 4, in Euseb. iv. 14: Ἰωάννου δὲ παραμείναντος αὐτοῖς μέχρι τοῦ Τραϊανοῦ χρόνων ), but not the beginning of this sojourn, the time of composition of the Epistle is only indefinitely fixed by it. This much only seems to be indisputable, that John first settled in Ephesus after the death of the Apostle Paul, in order from there to direct the churches of Asia Minor, especially those in the proconsulate; against which, the view that he remained in that city until the destruction of Jerusalem (Ewald, Gesch. d. Volkes Israel , VII. p. 202 ff.) lacks any certain ground. The composition of the Epistle before the destruction of Jerusalem, Grotius, Hammond, and Düsterdieck infer from chap. 1 John 2:18 ; Ziegler, Fritzsche, and others, from the circumstance that that event, so important for Christianity, is not mentioned in the Epistle. But 1 John 2:18 refers, indeed, to the nearness of the Parousia of Christ, not, however, to the fall of Jerusalem; that even later the time reaching to the Parousia of Christ was considered as the “last time,” is shown by the passage in Ignat. ep. ad Ephes. c. xi.: ἔσχατοι καιροὶ λοιπὸν αἰσχυνθῶμεν , φοβηθῶμεν τὴν μακροθυμίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ , ἵνα μὴ ἡμῖν εἰς κρίμα γένηται . And that the destruction of Jerusalem is not mentioned might be explained in this way, that when the Epistle was written a considerable time might have already elapsed since that event. Most commentators place the composition in the time after the destruction of Jerusalem, especially because, as they think, the state of the churches brought out in the Epistle was such as was appropriate only to the end of the apostolic age. But even this conclusion is at least not quite sure, since even already Paul in his later Epistles had to take notice of moral indifferentism, nay, Antinomianism and Gnostic error; [19] and the disturbing influence of the judaistically-inclined Christians on the Gentile-Christian churches must be regarded as already overcome by the labours of the Apostle Paul, inasmuch as even Paul himself does not combat it in his later Epistles in the way in which he had done in the earlier ones.

Thiersch appeals, in favour of a comparatively late appearance of the Epistle, to this, that according to chap. 1 John 2:19 , “the separation of the heretics from the Christian community was already accomplished,” though they still, according to the Epistle of Jude, revelled at the Agapae; but, on the one hand, it is to be observed that from the former passage it is not clear how far a formal separation was at that time already carried out (the church-forming activity of the heretics belongs first to the second century); and, on the other hand, it is at least uncertain whether John and Jude had to do with heretics of the same kind, for the one class are depicted as Antinomians, the other as Docetans.

Ebrard fixes as the time of composition the year 95 aer. Dion.; his reasons for this are: the Epistle was written at the same time as the Gospel, as its dedicatory Epistle; the Gospel was composed at Patmos; John was at Patmos in the 15th year of Domitian; but these premisses lack any certain foundation.

By most critics it is considered that the Epistle was written later than the Gospel, and that the latter was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. As regards the first part, appeal is made in its favour especially to this, that in the Epistle reference is sometimes made to the Gospel. This, however, is not the case; there is (as Bleek, as above, also remarks) in the whole Epistle not a single passage which assumes the written Gospel as known [20] (Guericke). It would seem on the face of it more probable that John, induced by the false teachers, first wrote the Epistle to warn and exhort the churches entrusted to him, and then wrote the Gospel for entire Christendom, as “a consecrated record of the historical foundation of salvation” (Thiersch), than that he first wrote the latter and then the former. [21] Some of the very passages by which it is thought the dependence of the Epistle upon the Gospel can be proved seem to tell in favour of this. The passage, 1 John 1:1-4 , appears, when compared with Gospel 1 John 1:1 ff., to be not the later, but the earlier one, since the apostle in the former is still striving to give to the idea the suitable expression, whereas in the latter he has already found it. None the less, compared with the expression “ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο ,” is the expression “ Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθώς ” the more indefinite, and therefore no doubt the earlier. Besides, the affinity of the two works permits the conjecture that the dates of their composition do not lie far from one another (comp. Bleek, p. 590; differently Brückner), especially as this appears not only in their peculiar character, but also in the form, to such an extent that not only do they both begin with a Prooemium containing the same ideas, but even the thoughts expressed at the close completely correspond with each other: Gospel of John 20:31 : ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται , ἵνα πιστεύσητε , ὅτιἸησοῦς ἐστινΧριστός , ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ , καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ , and 1 John 5:13 : ταῦτα ἔγραψα ὑμῖν , ἵνα εἰδῆτε , ὅτι ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἔχετε οἱ πιστεύοντες εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ .

As regards the second point, no exact proof can indeed be drawn from the Gospel itself in favour of its composition after the destruction of Jerusalem; [22] but, on the other hand, there lies in this no ground to contradict the old tradition, that John wrote it in his more advanced age. It is also not improbable that it was not already circulated in the lifetime of the apostle; at least it is more natural to suppose that the 21st chapter was added to it immediately on its appearance than later, when it had already become a possession of the Christian churches. [23] In that case, John composed the Gospel as a legacy for the age after his death; hence, however, it would result as to the Epistle, that it also was written only in the advanced age of the apostle, although before the Gospel. True, the apostle nowhere says that his readers have heard the Gospel from him , often though he speaks of their acquaintance with it, nor is there any passage from which it could be proved that he himself already laboured among them in person; but from this the conclusion cannot be drawn, that “John composed the Epistle when he took up his place in Asia Minor after the death of the Apostle Paul, and indeed in order, by means of it as a pastoral Epistle, to introduce his labours there” (1st ed. of this comment); for, on the one hand, such a purpose of the Epistle is nowhere hinted at; and, on the other hand, that circumstance might arise from this, that the Epistle was not exclusively destined for those churches in which the apostle had already laboured by oral preaching, but was equally for others which he had not yet visited. On impartial consideration of all points, it appears probable that the Epistle of John was written in the last quarter of the apostolic age.

[19] Still it cannot remain unobserved, that the heretics, against whom Paul directs his polemic, are never accused of Docetism; that Cerinthus probably appeared only towards the end of the apostolic age; and that the heretical error which the Ignatian Epistles contend against was of specially Docetan character.

[20] Reuss (as above, p. 218) rightly says: “For us the Epistle requires the Gospel as a commentary; but as it once had this in the oral instruction of its author it is not thereby proved that it is the later.”

[21] What Thiersch ( Versuch f. d. Kritik ; p. 79) says generally: “As a general rule, the proposition may be proved to be historically true, that the writings of momentary design, to which most of the Epistles belong, appeared earlier, and the writings of permanent design, especially the Gospels, later,” may also be applied to the relation of the Gospel and the Epistle of John.

[22] From the use of ἦν in the passages of the Gospel of John 11:18 ; John 18:1 ; John 19:41 , nothing can be inferred, as it is entirely explained “by the context of historical narrative;” on the other hand, however, the ἐστί , John 5:2 , does not prove that Jerusalem was not yet destroyed at the time when John wrote this, for John in his account of the past event might represent to himself that which no longer existed as still existing (comp. Ebrard, Comment. p. 40 ff.).

[23] Ewald ( Gesch. Israels , VII. p. 217 ff.) thinks that the Gospel was written about the year 80, but was first circulated later, shortly before the death of John, with the supplementary chap. 21 added by him; and that the First Epistle was written later than the Gospel, though independently of it, but was circulated earlier than it, immediately after its composition. For this, however, there is quite as little certain proof as there is for the opinion that both the Gospel and the Epistle of John were composed only at the special urgency of his friends.