Bible Commentaries
1 John

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

- 1 John

by Johann Peter Lange

General Superintendent, Etc., At Oldenburg


Rector Of St. Jame’s Church, Lancaster, Pa.

§ 1. Contents of the Epistle

I. THE EXORDIUM (1 John 1:1-4) states the object of the Apostolic annunciation (1 John 1:2) and its purpose (1 John 1:3); the design of the Epistle being superadded (1 John 1:4).

II. PRINCIPAL PART THE FIRST (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:18):

If ye walk in the light (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:2), in obedience to his law in general (1 John 2:3-6), and keeping the commandment of brotherly love in particular (1 John 2:7-14), not being misled by the lusts (1 John 2:15-17), and the lies of the world (1 John 2:18-23), ye shall hereafter abide before Christ.

1. The leading thought: “God is light” (1 John 1:5).

2. The first inference: true fellowship (1 John 1:6-7).

3. The second inference: perception and confession of sins (1 John 1:8-10).

5. The third inference: reconciliation and redemption (1 John 2:1-2).

6. Mark of the walk in the light; obedience to His commandments, especially brotherly love (1 John 2:3-11).

6. Consolatory warning against love of the world (1 John 2:12-17).

7. Warning and consolation against antichrist (1 John 2:18-28). Description of his forerunners, whose appearing points to the last time (1 John 2:18-23); Exhortation of the faithful to stedfastness in their assurance of having the truth and eternal life (1 John 2:24-28).

III. PRINCIPAL PART THE SECOND (1 John 2:29 to 1 John 5:12):

He that is born again (out) of (the Being of) God the Righteous (1 John 2:29), is a miracle of His love now and hereafter (1 John 3:1-3), is bound by His will (1 John 3:4-10 a), especially to practise brotherly love (1 John 3:10-18), is blessed before Him and in Him (1 John 3:19-24), trying, like God, the false spirits (1 John 4:1-6), he enjoys the love of god and exhibits brotherly love (1 John 4:7-21), he triumphs over the world and is sure of eternal life (1 John 5:1-12).

1. The leading thought: He that is born again of God the Righteous doeth righteousness (1 John 2:29).

2. The glory of the Sonship (1 John 3:1-3).

3. The way of God’s children passes through God’s law (1 John 3:4-10 a).

4. Brotherly love is the sum-total of the Divine law (1 John 3:10-18).

5. The blessed consequences of our adoption by God (1 John 3:19-24).

6. Warning and exhortation with reference to false teachers (1 John 4:1-6).

7. Brotherly love and Divine love as related to each other on the ground of Christ’s advent (1 John 4:7-21).

8. The power of faith (1 John 5:1-5), its testimony (1 John 5:6-10) and substance (1 John 5:11-12).

IV. THE CONCLUSION (1 John 5:12-21) reminds us of the gift of eternal life (1 John 5:13), of the confidence that our prayers are heard (1 John 5:14-15), exhorts us to intercede for erring brethren (1 John 5:16-17), and reminding us of the certainty of our redemption from sin (1 John 5:18), dehorts us in view of the world (1 John 5:19) and the redeemer (1 John 5:20) from idolatry (1 John 5:21).

This attempted analysis will have to be justified by the exposition, but the situation of the question has to be noted here in brief. Formerly nobody thought of seeking and finding in this Epistle a well-ordered train of thoughts, or even definite and connected groups of thought. Augustine (Expos. in Ep. Joh.) contented himself with the remark: “locuturus est multa et prope omnia de caritate.” Thus Luther in his two expositions says: “The main substance of this first Epistle relates to love.” “The Apostle’s object in this Epistle is to teach faith against heretics, and true love against the vicious.”—Calvin (in his Commentary on the New Testament) says: “doctrinam exhortatianibus mistam continet. Disserit enim de eterna Christi deitate, simul de incomparabili, quam mundo patefactus secum attulit, gratia; tum de omnibus in genere beneficiis, ac prœsertim inœstimabilem divinœ adoptionis gratiam commendat atque extollit. Inde sumit exhortandi materiam; et nunc qnidem in genere pie sancte vivendum admonet, nunc de caritate prœcipit. Verum nihil horum continua serie facit; nam sparsim docendo et exhortando varius est: præsertim vero multos est in urgenda fraterna intellectione. Alia quoque breviter attingit.” Lutheran expositors, e.g., Valentine Löscher and Rappolt thought that the Epistle was written without method; the latter described John’s method as aphoristic. Not until the 18th century, more definitely since the middle of that century, the programme of Joachim Oporin of Göttingen led to progress in the recognition of a plan and order in this Epistle. Bengel recognized the exordium (1 John 1:1-4), the tractatio (namely the special one 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 4:21, and the more general 1 John 1:1-10), and the conclusion (1 John 5:13-21).—Lücke with his ten sections approached again the aphoristic plan (1 John 1:1-4; 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:2; 1 John 2:3-17; 1 John 2:18-28; 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:10-24; 1 John 4:1-6; 1 John 4:7 to 1 John 5:5; 1 John 5:6-12; 1 John 5:13-21).—After v. Hoffmann’s lead (in Schriftbeweis 2, 2. p. 335–337), who, independently of the exordium (1 John 1:1-4), and the conclusion (1 John 5:18-21) divides the Epistle into four parts (1 John 1:1 to 1 John 2:11; 1 John 2:12-28; 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:22; 1 John 3:23 to 1 John 4:21; 1 John 5:1-17), Luthardt in his programme of 1860 adopted the following division after the exordium: 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11; 1 John 2:12 to 1 John 2:27; 1 John 2:27 to 1 John 3:24 a; 1 John 4:21; 1 John 4:21; 1 John 5:1-21.—Ebrard has six divisions; 1 John 1:1-4; 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:7 to 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:1-24; 1 John 4:1 to 1 John 5:3 a; 1 John 5:3-21.—Ewald has only three divisions: 1 John 1:1 to 1 John 2:17; 1 John 2:18 to 1 John 4:6; 1 John 4:7 to 1 John 5:21.—Huther, who, at the suggestion of de Wette, in the first edition of his commentary had grouped his divisions according to the three leading thoughts:—God is light (1 John 1:5), righteous (1 John 2:29), love (1 John 4:8), has abandoned this arrangement as untenable, and adopted the following division in the second edition of his work: 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11; 1 John 2:12 to 1 John 2:28; 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:22; 1 John 3:23 to 1 John 5:17, leaving it optional to combine the first and second into one. Düsterdieck has, after the exordium, 1 John 1:1-4, two main parts (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:28; 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 5:5), and a double conclusion (1 John 5:6-21).

Cf. Lücke, ch v. Düsterdieck, 1, p. XI.–XXVII.; Huther, p. 3–12.

§ 2. Character of the Epistle

1. The Epistle treats of the following subjects: God is light, love, righteous; being of God, being God’s child, born of God, being and abiding in God; His Son, who is from the beginning, sent by the Father, come in the flesh to destroy the works of the devil, who gave His life for us, who is the propitiation for all, for the sins of the whole world, our Paraclete, in whom is eternal life, in whom we are and abide, whom we shall see as He is: His Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of whom we have: His word, which is eternal; fellowship with the Apostles, with the Father and the Son, prayer, intercession, confidence even in the judgment, the faith which overcomes the world, love of the brethren even to the point of laying down our lives for them, hope that purifies itself;—the devil, the spirit of fraud, lying, darkness, antichrist, the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the sin which is formally lawlessness, inwardly unrighteousness, the sin unto death, being of the devil, the child of the devil, hatred, death, idols.—They are almost exclusively ethical ideas, very few dogmatical, and these are immediately delivered of the ethical references they contain, and thus linked into this chain of ethical ideas; e.g., the death of Christ (1 John 2:2; 1 John 3:16). The author hastens in this Epistle through the whole sphere of life, although his power to do so is derived from a very small circle of ethical ideas. The advent of the Son of God in the flesh, His walk and aim as well as His intercession make up the christology he sets in operation, and the life of the Christian, snatched away from the power of the devil by regeneration and united in church-fellowship with the Father and the Son in his way through the world with its seductive power in particular things and in groups to the bliss of eternal life after death,—this is the sphere of life, the extent of ethical contemplations in this Epistle. We have therefore to deal here as much with faith in the divinity of Christ transposed into life, then with the life in Christ, as with the life in Christ theologically thought-out and leading to faith in the divinity of Christ. While the Gospel seeks to strengthen and enlarge faith in Jesus (says v. Hoffmann, Schriftbeweis, 2, 2, p. 337), the Epistle shows forth the moral conduct which is necessary to faith and only possible to faith.

2. But our Epistle does not treat these ideas as abstractions of the mind, but as contemplations of life, experiences of life, as facts and concrete manifestations of life. “One cannot tell whether the artless ingenuousness of a childlike disposition strikes us more in this Epistle than the grave high-tonedness of a thoughtful man, because, in fact, both are intimately blended together.” (Düsterdieck). The author takes hold of the most weighty thoughts and ideas with a sure, light and dexterous hand; he is perfectly master of them, he has experienced them, they are his own, he is familiar with them. His object is to bring them home to the consciousness of his readers and to make them know them. Hence οἴδατε, οἴδαμεν, δοκιμάζετε, γινώσκετε, ἵνα γινώσκωμεν,ἵνα εἰδῆτε. Peculiar is the constant repetition of antithetical sentences, not by way of simple antithesis, but so that the predicate of a sentence becomes the subject of the antithesis or vice versa; the antithesis only brings out a new feature and thus carries on the thought, cf. e.g., 1 John 1:6 sq., 1 John 1:8 sq.; 1 John 2:4 to 1 John 4:9 sqq. 1Jn 4:22, sq.; 1 John 3:3-6. On the use of καὶ instead of δὲ, of ὅτι, ἵνα, etc., see Ebrard, p. 9. [He says: Style and construction remind us strongly of the didactic passages of the Gospel, e.g., John 1:1-18; John 3:27-36, etc. For we recognize in the Epistle the same mode of thinking in paratactic periods and the same preference for καὶ in connecting together the different members of a train of thought (cf. e.g., 1 John 2:1-3, where Paul would doubtless have used ἐὰν δὲ for καὶ ἐὰν, and surely have put αὐτὸς γὰρ ἱλασμός ἐστι for καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστι); cf. his taking up again the immediately preceding ὅτι in 1 John 3:20 with the anaphoras in John 1:33; John 4:6, etc., and in general his preference for the particle ὅτι which is used in so many different senses (cf. John 16:3-4; John 16:6; John 16:17; also 1 John 2:12 sqq. with John 16:9-11), and the use of the particles περὶ, ἵνα, ἀλλὰ. It is clear that the author of the Epistle, like the Evangelist, is in the habit of thinking in Hebrew, i.e., Aramaic, and moving within the narrow range of the particles כי ,ו or למעו ,די. To this must be added certain other modes of construction peculiar to a Hebrew cast of thought, e.g., the circumlocution of the Genitive by ἐκ, 1 John 4:13, cf. John 1:35; John 6:8; John 6:70 and many other passages, the solution of a relative sentence into a conditional sentence, (ἐάν τις.…οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ for ὅστις κ. τ. λ.) 1 John 2:15; 1 John 3:17; cf. John 6:43, etc. The solution of a simple antithesis into a final or causal sentence depending on a word to be supplied (οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν�’ ἵνα.…) 1 John 2:19; cf. John 1:8; John 3:28, etc. The circumlocution of the Dative of the instrument by ἐν, 1 John 2:3, etc., compared with John 1:26; John 1:33; John 16:30; and lastly the frequent use of θεωρεῖν and θεᾶσθαι, while ὁρᾶν is only used in the Perfect, and certain phrases such as τὴν ψυχὴν τιθέναι, θεὸς ὁ�, ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦ κόσμου ὁ Χριστός, κόσμος λαμβάνει, the use of φαίνειν, τεκνία,παιδία, etc.—M.].—John’s method is neither dialectical like that of Paul, nor rhetorical like that of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but speculative, contemplative, noting the substance of thought without marking the mutual relation of the thoughts themselves. Huther Strikingly illustrates the Apostle’s peculiarity by comparing his leading thought to a key-note that he strikes and causes to sound through the derivative thoughts until a new key-note is struck that leads to a new key. It is the dialectics of contemplation, of experience. “His simplicity and unadornedness of statement are characteristic: whether he refers to the Divine truths themselves, or addresses his readers by way of admonition or warning, his language preserves throughout the same calmness and decision; he never discloses a passionately excited frame of mind, but we see every where the reflection of the calmness of a heart resting in blissful peace, which makes him sure that the simple statement of the truth is sufficient to commend his words to the hearts of his readers. At the same time a firm, manly tone pervades the Epistle, contrary to all effeminate sentimentality of which the Apostle is so thoroughly free, that while enforcing spirituality of life, he uniformly insists upon the necessity of the exhibition of its truth in deeds [i.e., in the life and practice of men.—M.].—It is also noteworthy that while, on the one hand, he addresses his readers as a father speaks to his children, he does not forget, on the other, that they are no longer minors and do not require to be taught new things, but that they are his equals and joint-possessors with him of all the truth he enunciates and of the life which he wants not to create, but to preserve in them.” (Huther). This Epistle, “a deed of sacred love,” “is to the most simple reader whose heart has made experience of Christian saving truth, immediately intelligible, but also unfathomable to the profoundest Christian thinker, although equally dear and refreshing to both. The very method pursued by the author of our Epistle in taking hold of Christian living, believing and loving from their profoundest depth, and in their inexhaustible wealth, shows with peculiar clearness how the foolishness of God confounds all the wisdom of the world; for that which our Epistle declares with almost playful ease, or at least with the perfectly artless simplicity of a heart which in its real vital fellowship with the Lord possesses all the riches of Divine wisdom and communicates them in holy anxiety of love—that which it declares with the triumphant assurance and joyful confidence of indisputable truth concerning the source and nature of the Christian life, i.e., of eternal life, is infinitely more than all the wisdom of the world together can ever reach, and also more than even Christian wisdom can ever think out or fathom.” (Düsterdieck), One cannot fail to see how unexcelled gentleness, tenderness and thoroughness of love are wonderfully blended with the most decided sternness and deep-cutting keenness of judgment. “It does not seem as if only a father were addressing his beloved children, but as if a glorified saint were speaking to men from a higher world. The doctrine of heavenly love, calmly active, with indefatigable zeal essaying everything and never exhausting itself, has in no writing been so perfectly demonstrated as in this.” (Ewald). With such testimonies, triumphantly corroborated by the exposition, we may take comfort under the charges that the confusion of the Epistle betrays the senility of its author, who, either with planless abruptness, wanders from a thought he had suggested, or falls into the eternal sameness of an old man (S. G. Lange, Eichhorn, Ziegler). And the reproach of the master of the Tübingen school, of v. Baur, that the Epistle lacks the freshness of direct life, and that the tenderness and profound thoroughness of the Johannean mode of contemplation and statement had too much resolved themselves into a tone childishly effeminate, dissolving in indefiniteness, marked by constant repetitions and a lack of logical energy, may be met by Hilgenfeld’s declaration that this Epistle is one of the most beautiful writings of the New Testament, that it is peculiarly rich and original with reference to the subjective, intensive life of Christianity, and that the fresh, living and attractive character of the Epistle consists just in the marked preference with which it introduces us into the inward experience of the true Christian life.

[After all this, we may well say with Ebrard to the commentator and his readers: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”—M.]

§ 3. The Author of the Epistle

If we glance at the testimony of the ancient Church and pay close attention to the statements of the witnesses respecting the author of this Epistle, all doubt must vanish that the Apostle St. John was, without contradiction, considered to have been its author. The Apostolic Fathers contain several allusions and references to our Epistle. Ebrard gives them along with similar matter in the Introduction to his Commentary, pp. 14–16. [The paragraphs in question, besides the quotation from Polycarp, as given below, are these: Papias knew and used this Epistle: Κέχρηται δ’ ὁ αὐτὸς [Papias] μαρτυρίαις�. v. Euseb. H. E., III., 39.—The anonymous Epistle to Diognetus, written about the time of Justin Martyr, contains many passages, which imply an unquestionable dependence on this Epistle. Cf. Cap., X., with 1 John 4:9-11; XII. with 1Jn 2:18-25; 1 John 4:4-6; 1 John 5:6-12; also Cap., V.–VII.; XI. The Epistle of Vienna and Lyons [Euseb., V., 1] contains an unmistakable allusion to 1 John 3:16; ὁ διὰ τοῦ πληρώματος τῆς�, εὐδοχήσας ὑπέρ τῆς τῶν�.—Carpocrates, a Gnostic, who flourished about the beginning of the second century at Alexandria, sought to use for his purpose, 1 John 5:19. “Mundus in maligno positus est,” see Origen in Genes., cap. I., Opp., I. p. 23,—M.].—The most important testimony is that of Polycarp, the disciple of John, who suffered martyrdom, A. D. 168, as found in his Epistle to the Philippians c. 1John 7: πᾶς γὰρ ὃς ἄν μὴ ὁμολογῇ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθέναι�; which Ebrard calls “an unmistakably clear reminiscence”, and Düsterdieck “a free use of John 4:2-3.”

Very important is the testimony of the Canon of the New Testament, which was edited by Muratori about a hundred years ago and is known as the Muratorian Canon. According to Wieseler’s careful investigation (see Studien und Kritiken, 1847, pp. 815–857) it was written A. D. 170 by a Church-teacher for the purpose of instructing catechumens in the documents of the Christian faith which were received in his Church. We read, thereafter, notices of the fourth Gospel and its origin: “Quid ergo mirum, ei Johannes tam constanter singula etiam in epistolis suis proferat, dicens in semet ipso (1 John 1:1): quœ vidimus oculis nostris et auribus audivimus et manus nostrœ palpaverunt, haec scripsimus; sic enim non solum visorem, sed et auditorem, sed et scriptorem omnium mirabilium domine per ordinem profitetur.” And again after an enumeration of the Pauline Epistles: “Epistolœ sane Judœ et superscripti Johannes duœ in Catholica habentur.” This reference to the two Epistles of St. John must not be construed as denoting either the second and third, as if the citation from the first Epistle rendered further reference to it unnecessary (Schleiermacher, Lindner and Ebrard in Herzog’s R. E., p. 98), or the first and the third, the second being regarded as an appendix to the first (Hug), but the first and the second, as Catholic Epistles proper, the second Epistle, addressed to the κυρία, being considered to have been written not for a single person, but for a congregation; it is consequently the third Epistle which is not mentioned, not because its Johannean authorship was called in question, but because it was regarded as less instructive and as a private letter addressed to an individual.

The Peschito, belonging to the same age as the Muratorian fragment, also bears witness to the authenticity of this Epistle.—Quotations from this Epistle grow more frequent after the beginning of the third century in the writings of Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Cyprian.—It is very probable, but without much importance, that the Alogi, who, on the authority of Epiphanius, rejected the Gospel and Revelation of St. John, rejected also the first Epistle. Nor can it be of any moment that Marcion and his followers did not enumerate the writings of John in their Canon. Eusebius, whose defects in statement, pompous style, and disjointed treatment are considerably excelled and counterbalanced by his comprehensive and laborious historical researches, includes the Epistle among the Homologoumena (H. E., III., 24. 25), and Jerome (de viris illust. c. 9) says: “ab universis ecclesiasticis viris probatur.”—Most excellent is also on this point Tischendorf’s short but weighty essay: “Wann wurden unsere Evangelien verfasst?” Leipzig, 1865. [See also my article on the Sources of the Gospels in the Bibliotheca Sacra, July and October numbers, 1866.—M.]

2. This chain of external evidence is confirmed by the internal evidence arising from the comparison of the Epistle with the Gospel of St. John. Both the range of thoughts and their mode of expression, as well as the diction, are the same in the first Epistle and in the Gospel, and the remarks on the former in § 2, 1. 2, may and must be applied to the latter with slight modifications. Cf. Grimm: On the Gospel and first Epistle of St. John as Works of the same Author in Studien und Kritiken, 1847, p. 171–181, and On the first Epistle and its relation to the fourth Gospel, ibid., 1849, p. 269–303.—“As in the Gospel we see here the author retire to the background, unwilling to speak of himself and still less to support any thing by the weight of his name and reputation, although the reader meets him here not as the calm narrator, but as an epistolary writer, as exhorter and teacher, as an Apostle, and moreover as the only surviving Apostle. It is the same delicacy and diffidence, the same lofty calmness and composure, and especially the same truly Christian modesty that cause him to retire to the background as an Apostle and to say altogether so little of himself: he only desires to counsel and warn, and to remind his readers of the sublime truth they have once acquired; and the higher he stands the less he is disposed to humble ‘the brethren’ by his great authority and directions. But he knew who he was, and every word tells plainly that he only could thus speak, counsel and warn. The unique consciousness, which an Apostle, as he grew older, could carry within himself, and which he, once the favourite disciple, had in a peculiar measure, the calm superiority, clearness and decision in thinking on Christian subjects, the rich experience of a long life, steeled in the victorious struggle with every unchristian element, and a glowing language lying concealed under this calmness, which makes us feel intuitively that it does not in vain commend to us love as the highest attainment of Christianity—all this coincides so remarkably in this Epistle, that every reader of that period, probably without any further intimation, might readily determine who he was. But where the connection required it, the author intimates with manifest plainness that he once stood in the nearest possible relations to Jesus (1 John 1:1-3; 1 John 5:3-6; 1 John 4:16), precisely as he is wont to express himself in similar circumstances in the Gospel; and all this is so artless and simple, so entirely without the faintest trace of imitation in either case, that nobody can fail to perceive that the selfsame author and Apostle must have composed both writings.” (Ewald, Die Johann. Schriften, I., p. 431 sq.). Add to this the bold self-testimony with the impress of truth, 1 John 4:6.—Surprising is the number of parallel passages in the two writings:


First Epistle Of John.

Gospel Of John.



1 John 1:1-2.

John 1:1; John 2:14.



1 John 1:4.

John 15:11.




John 16:24.



1 John 1:10.

John 5:38.



1 John 2:1-2.

John 14:16.




John 11:51-52.




John 13:15; John 13:34-35.



1 John 2:4-6.

John 14:21-24.




John 15:10.



1 John 2:8.

John 13:34.



1 John 2:11.

John 12:35.



1 John 2:23.

John 15:23-24.




John 15:24.



1 John 2:27.

John 14:26.



1 John 3:1.

John 17:25.



1 John 3:8.

John 8:44.



1 John 3:10.

John 8:47.



1 John 3:13-15.

John 8:24-38.




John 15:18-19.



1 John 3:16.

John 15:12-13.



1 John 3:22.

John 9:31.




John 16:23.



1 John 4:5-6.

John 3:31.




John 15:19.




John 8:47.



1 John 4:9.

John 3:16.



1 John 4:16.

John 6:69.



1 John 5:3-4.

John 14:15.




John 16:33.



1 John 5:9.

John 5:36.



1 John 5:12.

John 3:36.




John 14:6.



1 John 5:13.

John 20:31.



1 John 5:14.

John 14:13-14.




John 16:23.


Considerably more than half of the thirty-five passages taken from the Gospel form part of the last sayings of Christ in 1John 12–17. There the receptivity of the witness was preëminently necessary, and there it showed its strength; where he made the most vital surrender of himself, there he received the most permanent impressions. This is thoroughly Johannean. Compare on this subject especially Lange, The Gospel of John, §§ 1–3, Vol. IV., p. 1 sqq. German edition.

3. The genuineness of this Epistle as that of an Apostle was maintained by the Church without all contradiction until Joseph Scaliger boldly enunciated the notion: “tres epistolœ Johannis non sunt Apostoli Johannis.” Then there arose at the time of the atomic criticism of Rationalism S. G. Lange (Die Schriften des Johannes übersetzt und erklärt, Vol. III., p. 4 sqq.), who although not venturing to assault the external evidence, made the subject matter of the Epistle the starting-point of his criticisms, and raised the doubt whether the Epistle was worthy of an Apostle; his strictures were as follows: that the Epistle lacked individual and local character, that its agreement with the Gospel gave rise to the suspicion of timid imitation and slavish copying; that John, before the destruction of Jerusalem, was not old enough to produce such a work of senility; that he may not have mentioned the destruction of Jerusalem, because it was a ticklish point, etc.—Bretschneider (Probabilia) is a more important opponent; but he lived to become convinced of the groundlessness of his doubts of the authenticity of John’s writings; Claudius (Uransichten des Christenthums), who maintained that the Epistle was the fabrication of a Jewish Christian, and Horst (in Henke’s Museum für religionswissenschaft von 1803) are only mentioned on account of their boldness, and Paulus (Die drei Lehrbriefe des Johannes wortgetreu mit erläuternden Zwischensätzen übersetzt und nach philologisch-notiologischer Methode erklärt. Mit exegetisch-Kirchenhistorischen Nachweisungen über eine sittenverderbliche magisch-persische Gnosis, gegen welche diese Briefe warnen. 1829. [The three doctrinal Epistles of John literally translated with explanatory parentheses, and expounded after the philologico-notiological method. With exegetico-Church-historical references to an immoral magico-Persian Gnosis, of which these Epistles give warning. 1829.—This title is enough to awe even confirmed book-worms.—M.]), who like Bretschneider believed the Presbyter Johannes to have been the author of this Epistle, is referred to simply because of the manner in which he maltreated it.

4. More important are the assaults of the Tübingen school on the authenticity of our Epistle. It starts with the Hegelian idea of God, which makes man truly the other part of God; we may say that the followers of that school have already applied Darwin’s theory to their conception of history: Christianity did not come down from heaven in a finished form, involves no miracle or privilege of certain persons, but originated in the inmost being of the Spirit, in the natural consciousness of man by a genuine historical development, without revelation or inspiration by a process in agreement with the general laws of historical development. The real original Christianity was a Judaism only slightly modified by Christ, quite Ebionite as exhibited by Peter and John in the Apocalypse, or Gentile-Christian as exhibited by Paul (Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians and Galatians), who, to be sure, went further in the dogma of the law. Hence there arose a contention between him and the other Apostles, in which men, well qualified to effect an understanding and reconciliation among the contending parties, advanced to Christian views and composed the other writings of the New Testament, which simply amount to unhistorical party-writings [German: Tendenzchrift, i.e., a writing of a certain tendency favouring the distinctive views of a party.—M.], not without legends, and were written about the middle of the second century. This applies also to our Epistle. At first Köstlin (Lehrbegriff des Ev., etc., 1843) and Georgii (Theol. Jahrbücher, 1845) pronounced for the identity of the author of the Epistles and that of the Gospel; then Zeller, who as late as 1842 had presupposed the identity of the author of both writings, was the first to declare, in a review of Köstlin’s work, that it was conceivable that the Epistles and the Gospel were written by different authors. This view was raised by Baur, the leader of that school (in Theologische Jahrbücher, 1848), to apodictical certainty, and according to him the Epistle is a weak imitation of the Gospel, whereas Hilgenfeld (Das Evangelium und die Briefe Johannis, 1849, and Theol. Jahrbücher, 1855) identified and proved the Epistle to be a splendid type of the Gospel.—Baur starts on the unfounded supposition that the author manifests the intentional and most studious anxiety (1 John 1:1-3) to be regarded as identical with the author of the Gospel; in 1 John 5:6-9, he sees, owing to an exegetical misunderstanding, a wanton attempt of drawing a distinction between Divine and human testimony, and shows by this the unskilful imitation of the author. From a comparison of the eschatological statements of the Epistle (ch, 1 John 2:18-23; 1 John 3:2) with those of the Gospel (John 14:3; John 14:18 sq. John 14:23; John 16:16; John 16:22), and of 1 John 5:6, with John 19:34, he infers that the mode of contemplation in the Epistle is more material and outward than that of the Gospel, which he considers to be more ideal and spiritual. The idea of the atonement, ἱλασμός (1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10), and that of the interceding High Priest, παράκλητος, he thinks more suited to the range of ideas peculiar to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and foreign to that of the Gospel. Baur, lastly, considers the Epistle to be wholly Montanistic, because it describes the fellowship of Christians as holy and sinless, makes mention of the χρίσμα, and draws an unevangelical distinction between venial and mortal sins. But our Epistle does not distinguish a higher class of spiritual Christians from the lower classes of other Christians, the Psychici, but believing Christians from an unholy world; the Epistle does not, nor may we refer the χρίσμα to the baptismal anointing which is mentioned for the first time by Tertullian; and with respect to the mortal sins enumerated by Tertullian (homicidium, idolatria, fraus, necatio, blasphemia, mœchia et fornicatio et si qua alia violatio templi dei), Baur ought not to have made a most arbitrary selection of three, viz., idolatry (1 John 5:21; 1 John 3:4), murder (1 John 3:15), adultery or fornication (from the inscription ad Parthos, corrupted from πρὸς παρθένους), and still less to have remarked that the author does not refer to the outward acts, but to the inward, moral disposition; for that is not Montanistic. If Hilgenfeld considers (1 John 1:5; 1 John 1:7) the statement that God is φῶς, ἐν τῷ φωτί, too material and local [räumlich, literally, relating to space.—M.], turns 1 John 3:4, where sin is called ἀνομία, and 1 John 2:7-8, where love is referred to as an old commandment, into an argument for a friendly relation to the Mosaic law, and maintains that the idea of a personal Logos, clearly expressed in the Gospel, is unknown to the Epistle, although ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ is considered as identical with the Logos, and ἡ ζωή in Christ as hypostatical,—that the Holy Ghost is not described as a Person because He is called χρίσμα, and not παράκλητος, although He is called τὸ μαρτυροῦν (1 John 5:6), that the exhortation, addressed to the readers of the Epistle, to a conduct enabling them to look for and pass through the ordeal of the judgment without being ashamed, militates against the idea of the Gospel, which does not speak of the judgment of believers,—all this is as untenable on exegetical grounds as the recognition of Gnostical elements belonging to the post-Apostolical age in the idea of the σπέρμα (1 John 3:9), the conception of the χρίσμα, and the thought that God ought not to be feared, but only to be loved (1 John 4:18-19). Anointing as an Old Testament type suggested χρίσμα in the antithesis of the Christian and ἀντίχριστος, the representation of being born of God suggested the σπέρμα, and in that representation the fundamental view of an atonement for all the sins of all mankind prohibits any reference to a dualistic separation and to a metaphysical reason without ethical life-process, and the love of God is not a Gnostical discovery, but a purely Christian and Divine command. Of what avail is all the praise which Hilgenfeld awards to the first Epistle of John (for he solely refers to it without adverting to the second and third Epistles, although the title of his book refers to Epistles) and its author, in calling him a great independent thinker, if he nevertheless regards him as blindly echoing the Gnostic system of his time, and having only given a clear, practical impress to its speculative features, and considers the Epistle as less spiritual, and on that account older than the Gospel; and how can he accuse those who reject a pseudo-epigraphical literature of the New Testament, of overlooking the important circumstance that the modern idea of literary property was wanting in primitive Christian times; it has not been overlooked that the modern idea was then wanting, but even more than that, there was wanting all license of any forger. The pretensions of the Tübingen school are by no means borne out by what it gives us. Cf. Dietlein (Urchristenthum). Düsterdieck, Vol. I., p. XXXV—CI. Huther, p. 19–28; Brückner in de Wette’s Handbuch, p. 316 sqq.

§ 4. The Readers Of The Epistle

1. Augustine has a literal quotation of 1 John 3:2, which he introduces thus: Quod dictum est ab Joanne in epistola ad Parthos (Quaest. Evang. ii. 39). Possidius in his indiculus operum S. Augustini cites the tractates on our Epistles as “de ep. ad Parthos sermones decem.” Thus has this designation found its way at least into the Benedictine edition of the works of Augustine, and even into some Latin codices and several other writings (Vigilius Tapsensis, Cassiodorus, Beda). Grotius already knew how to explain and apply it: “Vocata olim fuit epistola ad Parthos, i.e., ad Judœas Christum professos, qui non sub Romanorum, sed Parthorum vivebant imperio in locis trans Euphratem, ubi ingens erat Judœorum multitudo, ut Neardœ, Nisibi et aliis in locis. Et hanc causam puto, car hœc epistola neque in fronte nomen titulumque Apostoli, neque in fine salutationes apostolici moris contineat, quia nimirum in terras hostiles Romanis haec epistola per mercatores Ephesios mittebatur multumque nocere Christianis poterat, si deprehensum fuisset hoc quanquam innocens litterarum commercium.”

Clement of Alexandria (opera ed. Potter fragm. 1011) observes that the second Epistle was addressed ad virgines (see Introduction to the second Epistle). It is easy to see how πρὸς παρθένους may have been wrongly transcribed πρὸς πάρθους, and thus originated the corrupted subscription of the second Epistle, which, being used as its superscription, may have been mistaken for the subscription of the first Epistle and connected with it, as Hug conjectures. Or, as in a codex of the Apocalypse, the subscription of the first and second Epistles may have read Ἰωάννου after παρθένου, and thus have given rise to the above mutilation and designation (so Gieseler, Eccl. Hist., I., p. 139). There is evidently a mistake somewhere, and since Hug’s supposition is even more simple than Gieseler’s, it seems to commend itself as giving the solution of the riddle. The matter is not furthered if we suppose with Paulus of Heidelberg, that this subscription originated in πρὸς πάντας, or conjecture a corrupted reading in Augustine of ad Pathmios (Serrarius), ad sparsos (Wegscheider), adpertius (Semler). In this way, it is clear, we shall never find the readers for whom our Epistle was intended.

2. Equally inadmissible is the inference of Benson that ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς (1 John 2:7; 1 John 2:13-14) points to a circle of readers in Judæa and that of Lightfoot who, connecting the Gaius, mentioned 3 John 1:1, with the Gaius 1 Corinthians 1:14, thinks of Corinth as the Church to which the Epistle was sent. The Epistle is not addressed to any one Church in particular; and this accounts for the absence of detailed notices of a concrete or personal character. The circumstance, that while the Epistle contains only slight and incidental references to representations peculiar to the Old Testament, it expressly denounces idolatry, gives countenance to Düsterdieck’s shrewd conjecture (§ 7), that it was addressed to Gentile Christian Churches; moreover, the author’s contrasting the knowledge of the true God in Jesus Christ, which includes eternal life, with the dazzling form of paganism and an antichristian Gnosis, is in perfect agreement with the historical notice that John selected Asia Minor as the sphere of his labours, if we have to look to that province for the Churches to whom this encyclical Epistle was sent. But we must not think of a single Church, least of all of the Church at Ephesus (Hug), but of several Churches “of John’s Ephesian circle of Churches” (Lücke),[i.e., Churches within the diocese of Ephesus, as we should say, Churches under the especial jurisdiction of John.—M.], perhaps of all Churches to whom the personal labours of John extended (Huther).

§ 5. The Form Of The Epistle

1. Given an encyclical or circular Epistle, and it is manifest that it may and does lack features which generally belong to other Epistles: i.e., the special address and particular salutations. Thus the common epistolary address is wanting in the Epistle to the Hebrews, while the Epistle of James is without the customary final salutations. Barring this circumstance all the requirements of the epistolary form are complied with: γράφω occurs seven times, γράφωμεν once, ἔγραψα six times; ὑμῖν, ἐν ὑμῖν, ὑμεῖς and ὑμᾶς occur thirty-six times, the address τεκνία and παιδία ten times, ἀγαπητοί six times, πατέρες and νεανίσκοι twice each, ἀδελφοί once. The exordium (1 John 1:1-4) may be regarded with Calov (Biblia N. T. illustrata, Tom., II., p. 1582. Francof. 1676), who follows Estius, as founded on the usual form of an epistolary address. Lücke regards it as the amplification of such an address. The view of Baronius (Annal. Eccl. an. 99, II., p. 964) that the address, like a modern envelope, may have been lost, is as unnecessary as unfounded. The spirit of the Epistle corresponds with its form, the former being thus capitally described by Bacon: “Epistola habent plus nativi sensus quam orationes; plus etiam maturitatis quam colloquia subita.” Hence Düsterdieck very correctly remarks (I., p. X.): “The whole writing rests so thoroughly on a living, personal relation between the author and his readers, the pertinence of the written exhortation is so absolutely personal, that this ground is sufficient to make us consider the writing as a genuine Epistle. This epistolary character belongs moreover to the whole keeping and structure of the short writing. With all logical order, there reigns in it that free and easy naturalness and unconstraint of statement, which suits the immediate interest and hortatory tendency of an Epistle, while the strict, progressive dialectical development, peculiar to a treatise or homily, is held back.”

2. Receiving this writing with the ancient Church as an Epistle of John, is therefore every way commendable. Heidegger (Enchiridion Bibl., p. 986) advanced his new view as late as the end of the seventeenth century: “Accedit, quod scriptum hoc, licet epistola insigniatur, censeri tamen possit brevis quœdam Christianœ doctrinœ epitome et evangelii a Johanne scripti succinctum quoddam enchiridion, cui adhortationes quædam pro communi totius ecclesiœ conditione adjectœ sunt. Non enim, ut reliquœ epistolœ, inscriptione ac salutatione inchoatur, neque etiam salulatione et voto clauditur.” Although Bengel calls the writing epistola, he rather regards it as a libellus. Michaelis (Introd., p. 1520) calls it a treatise. Storr (Ueber den Zweck der evangelischen Geschichte und Briefe Johannis, pp. 384. 401 sq.) calls it the polemical, and Berger (Versuch einer moralischen Einleitung ins N. T., II., p, 179 sq.) the practical part of the Gospel; while Reuss (Die Geschichte der Heiligen Schriften, N. T., p. 217) describes it as “a homiletical essay, at the most a pastoral Epistle, the readers being present.” Augusti calls the Epistle an anacephalœosis of the Gospel, and Hug, Fromman (Studien und Krit., 1840, p. 853), Thiersch (Versuch zur Herstellung des historischen Standpunkts, p. 78, und die Kirche im apostolischen Zeitalter, p. 266) and especially Ebrard (Kritik der Evangelischen Geschichte, p. 148, and Comment., pp. 29–39) designate it as a companion-writing of the Gospel, or regard it in the light of a preface as an epistola dedicatoria without an independent designation per se, but we ought to have some notice or reference to that effect. This view certainly does not explain the want of an address, salutation and benediction, and we shall show in § 8, 3 that such a view is impossible.

§ 6. Relations And Circumstances Of The Churches.

1. The external relations cannot have been peculiarly difficult; there is no reference whatsoever to persecutions, like those to which the Christians were exposed either by the Jews as in the time of Paul, or by Nero at Rome (A.D. 54–68), or at the end of Domitian’s reign (A.D. 81–96), and under that of Trajan (A.D. 98–117), and his proconsul Pliny in Bithynia. The Epistle speaks of the hatred of the world (ὁ κόσμος μισεῖ ὑμᾶς, 1 John 3:13). The notices of the victory of young men (1 John 2:13-14, νενικήκατε τὸν πονηρόν) and the victory over the world (v. 4, ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν), point rather to spiritual struggles, in the Church and in the individuals themselves; but they afforded opportunity for a reference to and description of external conflicts. The external relations must have been, on the whole, favourable; at least external fears cannot have been of sufficient moment to be taken into account (cf. Ewald, p. 437 sq.).

2. The disquiet and motion reigning within, which characterize this Epistle, point to rest without. The Churches were not necessitated to cling together and to remain closed by themselves. The writing is deficient in words of consolation, but not in exhortations to brotherly love, to stedfastness in the fellowship of faith and life with the Father and the Son, in cautions against the seductions of worldly lusts and false brethren. The time of their first enthusiasm has passed; their zeal and love lack the vibration produced by the weighty pendulum of obstacles and enmity. The reaction of evil from without is followed by the more pernicious reaction from within; falling away has begun without a violent crisis; the energy of evil, as well as of good, has abated. The first generation which had torn loose from idolatry and the world, and earnestly laid hold of God in Christ, has died; a showy and nominal Christianity has crept into the Churches. Believers, like Gaius, exhibit all the Christian virtues (3 John 1:5-6), old men full of Christian wisdom, young men full of vigorous aims (1 John 2:13-14), are pleasing evidences of the Christian life. But ambition spreads itself, as in Diotrephes (3 John 1:9-10), the lusts of the world assert their claims (1 John 2:15-17), false brethren arise, and not only tear themselves; but also others from the true fellowship (1 John 2:18 sq.; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 4:1 sqq.). And the influences from the world are rather those of pagan frivolity, than those of Judaistic narrowness.

3. The heresy, against which the Epistle is directed, is a pagan Docetism. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God! Jesus is the incarnate Son of God! The Epistle, from the beginning to the end, raises high and holds fast confession as the banner under which we must fight and are sure of victory, thus pointing to Docetism, which had not yet developed into a system, but had appeared as a tendency, as is certified by Cerinthus, the contemporary of John. For Cerinthus held that Jesus was the son of Joseph, with whom the Logos united at His baptism, but left Him again after His crucifixion. Cf. Dorner, Entwickelungsgeschichte, I., 314 sqq. Pressensé, Hist. of the First Three Centuries, II., p. 233 sqq. The Epistle insists upon knowing and knowledge in opposition to the false spiritualistic Gnosis which had already begun with Docetism and opposed to the ergism of Judaism a syncretistic philosophy, and set in motion an ingenious theory operating intellectually, in the place of the work of redemption operating ethically.

In opposition to the pagan Dualism, which is the basis of Docetism in fixing metaphysically the antinomy of spirit and matter, the Epistle points to the opposites of light and darkness, of truth and falsehood, of the world with the evil one, and God with His Son and His children, opposites which are altogether ethical and in the fusion of an ethical life-process, so that the opposing element is overcome, dissolved and rejected, or may and shall be saved.—We do not yet find the full-blown Gnosticism, nor yet the rigid Docetism (as maintained by Lücke Sander and Thiersch), nor any longer the antinomism combated by Paul, nor yet the later antinomism of the Gnostics (as Hilgenfeld assumes). Nor do we find the least trace of opposition to the disciples of John the Baptist, whom Paul met at Ephesus (Acts 19:1 sqq.), whom John may have had regard to in his Gospel (John 3:22-36), and a reference to whom was suggested by the very language of this Epistle (1 John 5:6; 1 John 5:8).

4. The Epistle knows no other division of the Church than that by age, fathers and young men (1 John 2:12-14). But John gives distinct prominence to the circumstance that every one receives the unction of the Holy Ghost (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27); he joins his readers in the confession of sins (1 John 1:8-9), does not set himself above his brethren, and acknowledges the inalienable rights of Christians to try the spirits (1 John 4:1), as well as their own responsibility to the Lord (1 John 2:28).

[The heresy of Cerinthus and other heretics is thus described by Irenæus in his great work against heresy:
Et Cerinthus autem quidam in Asia non a primo Deo factum esse mundum docuit, sed a virtute quadam valde separata et distanto ab ea principalitate, quœ est super universa, et ignorante eum, qui est super omnia, Deum. Jesum autem, subjecit, non ex virgine natum, (impossibile enim hoc ei visum est) fuisse autem eum Joseph et Mariæ filium similiter ut reliqui omnes homines, et plus potuisse justitia et prudentia et sapientia ab hominibus. Et post baptismum descendisse in eum ab ea principalitate, quœ est super omnia, Christum figura columbœ: et tunc annuntiasse incognitum patrem et virtutes perfecisse; in fine autem revolasse iterum Christum de Jesu, et Jesum possum esse et resurrexisse; Christum autem impassibilem perseverasse, existentem spiritualem.” (Adv. Hœr. 1, 26).

Hanc fidem annuntians Joannes Domini discipulus, volens per evangelio annuntiationem auferre eum qui à Cerintho inseminatus erat hominibus errorem, ut confunfunderet eos et suaderet quoniam unus Deus qui omnia fecit per Verbum suum; et non, quemadmodum illi dicunt, alterum, quidem fabricatorem, alium autem Patrem Domini; et alium quidem fabricatoris filium, alterum vero de superioribus Christum, quem et impassibilem perseverasse, descendentem in Jesum filium fabricatoris, et iterum revolasse in suum Pleroma; et initium quidem esse Monogenem, Logon autem verum filium Unigeniti; et eam conditionem, quœ est secundùm, nos non à primo Deo factam, sed à virtute aliquâ valdè deorsum subjecta, et abscissa ab eorum communicatione, quae sunt invisibilia et innominabilia. Abstulit autem à nobis dissensiones omnes ipse Joannes dicens, In hoc mundo erat et mundus per ipsum factus est, et mundus eum non cognovit. In sua propria venit, et sui eum non receperunt. Secundùm Marcionem et eos, qui similes sunt ei, neque mundus per eum factus est; neque in sua venit, sed in aliena; secundùtem quosdam Gnosticorum ab angelis factùs est iste mundus, et non per Verbum Dei. Secundùm eos, qui sunt à valentino, iterum non per eum factus est, sed per Demiurgum. Hic enim operabatur similitudines tales fieri, ad imitationem eorum quœ sunt sursum, quemadmodum dicunt: Demiurgus autem perficiebat fabricationem conditionis. Emissum enim dicunt eum à matre Dominum et Demiurgum ejus dispositionis, quœ est secundùm conditionem, per quem hoc mundum factum volunt quùm Evangelium manifestè dicat, quoniam per Verbum, quod in principio erat apud Deum, omnia sunt facta: quod Verbum, inquit, caro factum est, et inhabitavit in nobis.

Secundùm illos, neque Verbum caro factum est, neque Christus, neque qui ex omnibus factus est, Salvator. Etenim Verbum et Christum nec advenisse in hunc mundum volunt; Salvatorem verò non incarnatum neque passum; descendisse autem quasi columbam in eum Jesum qui factus est ex dispositione, et cum adnunciasset incognitum Patrem, iterum ascendisse in Pleroma. Incaŕnatum autem est possum quidam quidem eum, qui ex dispositione sit, dicunt Jesum, quem per Mariam dicunt pertransisse, quasi aquam per tubum: alii verò Demiurgi filium, in quem descendisse eum Jesum qui ex dispositione sit: alii rursum Jesum quidem ex Joseph et Mariâ natum dicunt, et in hunc descendisse Christum, qui de superioribus sit sine carne et impassibilem existentem. Secundütem nullam sententiam hœreticorum, Verbum Dei caro factum est. Si enim quis regulas ipsorum omnium perscrutetur, inveniet quoniam sine carne et impassibile ab omnibus illis inducitur Dei Verbum, et qui est in superioribus Christus, alii enim putant manifestatum eum, quemadmodum hominem transfiguratum; neque autem natum neque incarnatum dicunt illum: alii verò neque figuram eum assumpsisse hominis: sed quemadmodum columbam descendisse in eum Jesum, qui natus est ex Mariâ Omnes igitur illos falsos testes ostendens discipulus Domini, ait: “Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis.” (Iren. 1 John 3:11. p. 462). The English reader is also referred to the valuable notices of those early heresies in Bp. Bull’s Defence of the Nicene Creed, 1 John 3:1; Dr. Burton’s Bampton Lectures, 1829, Lecture VI. pp. 158–160; Dr. Waterland on the Trinity, v. 139; and Pearson’s Vind. Ignat. II. c. I. p. 351, ed. Churton.—M.]

§ 7. Scope Of The Epistle

The Apostle distinctly specifies in two passages the scope of this Epistle, viz.: 1 John 1:4 : ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη, and 1 John 5:13 : ἵνα εἰδῆτε ὅτι ζωὴν ἔχετε αἰώνιον. The Church therefore has already the joy of faith, the joy of the possession of eternal life; but it must increase and grow until it is perfected; the Church has eternal life, but she must know and be conscious of it. Further particulars relating to the scope of the Epistle may be gleaned from the preceding paragraph. They must abide with Christ, without whom they have neither joy nor eternal life, the object of joy, without whom also they have no undimmed and clear consciousness of what they are and have, of what they may acquire or preserve; John desires to keep his Church with Christ, who is from the beginning, and will come again as Judge, but in the form of a Servant, became our Redeemer and Saviour (1 John 1:1; 1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:5-10; 1 John 2:1-3; 1 John 2:22-28; 1 John 3:1-6; 1 John 4:1-6; 1 John 5:1-2; 1 John 5:18-20). By obedience to the law and commandments of God and by a faithful following of Christ, he desires to establish his people more and more in the communion of God and in the participation of the Divine nature as the children of God (1 John 2:3-11; 1 John 3:4-18). In Christian humility before the Father and the Son, and in Church-fellowship he desires to fill them with courage in confronting all proud spirits and the anti-Christian powers of the world; he wants them to be timid lest in any way they should injure the truth, the word of God, or themselves, but courageous and fearless in reliance on God and in the conflict with the world and its lusts and threatenings (1 John 2:12-21; 1 John 4:7-21). On that account they must not think lightly of the faith, as if the wisdom of the world were superior to it, but cling to it as the means by which they lay hold of Christ and eternal life and of the Father Himself, and make them so thoroughly their own, that thereby they may be glorified in and with Christ (1 John 3:1-3; 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 5:1-5). “Thus John, like Paul at the very close of the apostolic age, plants with a firm hand the cross before the Church, as the lighthouse destined to shed its friendly light in all the storms through which she has to pass. The foolishness of the Crucified shall always be her wisdom, and all the efforts of false doctrine shall split on it.” (Pressensé, History of the First Three Centuries, II. p. 234 sqq.).

[Huther specifies three chief points as essential to the understanding of the construction of the Epistle:
1. The manifest purpose of the Apostle to preserve his readers in the fellowship with God, that their joy may become perfect.
2. For the accomplishment of his purpose he develops the thoughts that fellowship with God is possible only in a holy life of love, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ, and answering to the Being of God, and that the Christian is not only obliged to lead such a life, but that he necessarily does lead it in virtue of his being born of God (whereby he is absolutely opposed to the world, which is ἐκ τοῦ πονηρο͂υ).

3. The Apostle develops these thoughts both with reference to the anti-Christian lie that had already appeared, and the nearness of the advent of Christ.

Huther then states his reasons for his division of the Epistle into six parts, viz.: The exordium, 1 John 1:1-4; 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11; 1 John 2:12-28; 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:22; 1 John 3:23 to 1 John 5:17; 1 John 5:18-21, the conclusion, and leaving aside the exordium and conclusion, he says that of the remaining four parts,

The first (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:11) warns against the danger of moral indifferentism, the second (1 John 2:12-28) warns against the love of the world and antichrist, the third (1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:22) shows that nothing short of a righteous life in brotherly love is compatible with the nature of Christians, and the fourth (1 John 3:23 to 1 John 5:17) indicates faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Divinely authenticated foundation of the Christian life.—M.].

§ 8. date of the epistle

The material already produced in the foregoing paragraphs furnishes us with three points of view from which we may determine the date of this Epistle; first, the Epistle itself; secondly, the author, the Apostle John; thirdly, the writing related to the Epistle, viz.: the Gospel.

1. From the Epistle itself we glean these particulars:

a. It contains no reference to seasons of persecutions when it was written (§ 6, 1.); consequently it must have been written before the time of Trajan (A. D. 98–117), even before the end of the reign of Domitian, who reigned until A. D. 96, and also after the reign of Nero and the destruction of Jerusalem, consequently between A. D. 70 and 96, and rather about 90 than soon after 70, since the greatness and importance of that catastrophe would render some reference to it most natural, unless a sufficient period of time had elapsed to account for the want of such reference. 1 John 2:18 cannot be made to supply a chronological date; ἐσχάτη ὥρα is too indefinite an expression for that purpose; besides, the context in which it occurs must not be explained of external events, but relates to internal disturbances occasioned by antichristian heresies. Hence we cannot see with Düsterdieck (I. p. ciii.) a prophetical reference to the judgment impending on Jerusalem, but join him in decidedly rejecting the reference of this passage to the end of the Jewish state, as maintained by Grotius, Benson, al.

b. The more so, because cognizance is taken not of Jewish opposition, but of Gentile corruption, the strength of the former having been broken with the destruction of Jerusalem.

c. The Church-life, well-ordered in its course and of many years’ standing, points likewise to the time after A.D. 70 (§ 6, 2).

d. The heresies also point to the time after the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the century (§ 6, 3).

2. The Apostle John cannot have entered upon his labours among the Churches of Asia Minor until after the death of Paul, A.D. 64 (§ 4, 1. 2); he lived at Jerusalem until about A.D. 60; after that time no trace of him is found there. Moreover, the whole tenor of the Epistle forbids the hypothesis that it marks the beginning of his ministry in that sphere, as a kind of pastoral Epistle. Huther, who had advanced this view in the first edition of his Commentary, has retracted it in the second edition: this view is too modern to suit the ancient Church. The Apostle was banished to Patmos during the reign of Domitian, consequently before A.D. 96, and died after A.D. 100, in a good old age. Cf. Lange on the Gospel of John in the Bibelwerk, IV., p. 8. 9. (German edition).

3. The Gospel at all events was written before the Epistle. If we read in the Gospel, John 20:31 : ταῦτα γέγοαπται ἵνα, πιστεύσητε ὅτι ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἵνα πιστ εύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῇ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ, believing in Jesus the Christ and life in His Name are the end contemplated; but if we read in the Epistle, 1 John 5:13 : ταῦτα ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, ἵνα εἰδῆτε, ὅτι ζωὴν ἔχετε αἰώνιον, τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, the reference is simply to the knowledge of believers who already possess faith and eternal life. This would indicate that the Gospel was written prior to the Epistle, that both could not have been written at the same time, and that the Epistle was not a companion-writing of the Gospel. John could not have thus written simultaneously to the same readers: the Epistle realizes what is only aimed at in the Gospel.—Düsterdieck (I., p. LIX.) thinks it only possible, while we think it inevitably certain, that the Epistle was written after the Gospel, and believe that this opinion may also be proved by many passages of the Epistle in which thoughts developed in the Gospel are expressed in a briefer and more pregnant form. Compare


1 John 2:2. with

John 11:52.



1 John 2:4.

John 15:10.



1 John 2:27.

John 14:26.



1 John 3:8.

John 8:44.



1 John 3:13.

John 15:18-19.



1 John 3:14.

John 5:24.



1 John 3:22.

John 9:31; John 16:23; John 16:29.



1 John 4:6.

John 8:47.



1 John 4:16.

John 3:16.



1 John 5:12.

John 3:36; John 14:6.



1 John 5:14.

John 14:13-14.




John 16:33.


As a rule, the briefer form is the later and riper form of thought; a splendid illustration of the truth of this position may be found on a larger scale in Luther’s Lesser Catechism, which, being the more difficult of the two, followed his Larger Catechism. But we must not disregard the circumstances under which the Epistle was written, and the relations to which the author had respect. Hence the comparison of the exordium of the Epistle with the beginning of the prologue is at any rate irrelevant, because the Apostle begins there in a monologue, whereas he begins here moved by the double impulse of vivid joy in the Lord and tender care for the Church. And the comparison of ὁ λόγος σάρξ ἐγένετο, John 1:14, and Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθώς, does not show that the former expression is more definite, and therefore of a later date than the latter, because that was chosen and held fast with particular reference to the heresy intended to be opposed (against Huther)

[As Dr. Braune’s view may fail to carry conviction to the mind of the reader, we add that of Huther (in Meyer’s Comment., p. 33): “The greater number of critics assume that the Epistle was written after the Gospel, and that the date of the latter is subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem. As to the first point, the chief argument is that derived from occasional references in the Epistle to the Gospel; but this is not the case; there is not a single passage in the whole Epistle, which presupposes the known existence of the written Gospel.” (Reuss: “We need the Gospel as a commentary on the Epistle; but as the Epistle had a commentary in the oral instructions of the author, this circumstance does not prove the later date of the Epistle”). It seems more probable per se that John, moved by the pernicious influence of the false teachers, wrote first the Epistle for the admonition and warning of the Churches confided to his care, and afterwards the Gospel for the benefit of all Christendom, as “a hallowed document of the historical basis of salvation,” than that he wrote first the Gospel, and then the Epistle. (The general observation of Thiersch, “that, as a rule, the proposition: writings of a momentary destination, among which most of the Epistles have to be classed, are of an earlier origin than the writings of a permanent destination, which include the Gospels, may be proved historically true,” may also be applied to the relation of the Gospel to the Epistle of John.)—And this seems to be confirmed by some of the very passages adduced to show the dependence of the Epistle on the Gospel. The passage, 1 John 1:1-4, compared with John 1:1 sqq., appears to be not the later, but the earlier, because the Apostle in the former struggles to give a proper expression to his idea, whereas, in the latter he has already found it, and the expression: ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο, compared with Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθώς, shows the latter to be less definite, and on that account perhaps earlier than the former. Moreover, the affinity of the two writings warrants the supposition, that in point of time they are not far distant from each other; and this affinity appears not only in the character peculiar to both, but also in their form, seeing that both not only commence with an exordium embodying the same ideas, but that also the concluding thoughts of both writings exhibit a singular correspondency, cf. John 20:31, with 1 John 5:13.—As to the second point: while no conclusive proof can be drawn from the Gospel itself that the Epistle was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, it contains on the other hand nothing to contradict the ancient tradition that John wrote the Gospel towards the close of his life. Nor is it improbable that it was not published during the life of the Apostle; at least it is more natural to assume that the twenty-first chapter was added at the time of its publication, than at a later period when it had already become the possession of the Christian Churches. In that case John wrote his Gospel as a legacy for the time subsequent to his death; but this would require the Epistle also to have been written at the close of the Apostle’s life, but before the Gospel. The Apostle indeed states nowhere that his readers had heard the Gospel of him, notwithstanding his reiterated reference to their acquaintance with the Gospel, nor is there a single passage to prove his personal labours among them, although we must not infer from this that he wrote this Epistle when he settled in Asia Minor, after the decease of Paul, as a pastoral introductory of his work there (first edition of Huther’s Commentary); for on the one hand, we lack all indications of such a tendency of the Epistle, and on the other, said circumstance may be accounted for by the consideration that the Apostle intended this Epistle not exclusively for the use of those Churches among whom he exercised his ministry, but also for that of others not included in the round of his visitations.—An unbiassed consideration of all the circumstances renders it probable that John wrote this Epistle during the last quarter of the Apostolical age.”—M.].

4. Putting all things together, the year A.D. 90 seems to mark the date of this Epistle; so Ewald (Die Johann. Schriften, I., p. 471). It is impossible to fix the date of the Epistle with Hilgenfeld, who gives A.D. 150 for the date of the Gospel, at A.D. 125–150, unless it be classed with the Tübingen school among the pseudo-epigraphical literature of the New Testament.


It is not known and cannot be determined. Some mention Ephesus, after an old supposition found in several subscriptions by Mill, Wetstein, Griesbach and Matthæi but hardly entitled to the name of tradition. This is also the view of Bengel, who observes: “non videtur peregre misisse, sed coram impertiise auditoribus.”—Hug, Grotius and Ebrard name Patmos as the place where the Epistle and the Gospel were written, the former with reference to 2 John 1:12, and 3 John 1:13, as if the want of writing-material pointed to the Apostle’s exile. But ancient tradition names Ephesus also as the place where the Gospel was written. See Lange, Bibelwerk, IV., p. 26. (German edition).


Compare, (and it is worth comparing) Luecke’s section on the principal features of the history of the first Epistle of John.
Of the Commentaries of the Greek Fathers some have been lost entirely (Diodorus of Tarsus, Chrysostom), others with the exception of small fragments (Clement of Alexandria), and others with the exception of fragments not wholly unimportant (Didymus of Alexandria).—The Catenœ of Oecumenius, Theophylact and two Scholiasts have been preserved.

Of the Latin fathers we have the Expositio of Augustine and that of Bede. From the time of the Reformation we may notice, besides the Annotationes in Novum Testamentum by Erasmus, two expositions of Luther (Werke ed. Walch IX., 909–1079; and 1080–1252), the Commentaries of Calvin and Beza, the lectures of Zwingli taken down and edited as an expositio by Megander, and Bullinger’s Brevis et Catholica Expositio.

Along with the Lutheran A. Calovius, the Arminian Hugo Grotius should be named. Bengel, in his Gnomon, is here, as always, very noteworthy.
Among the moderns we specify in particular Luecke, whose Commentary passed through a third edition in 1856, and de Wette, whose hand-book has in several respects been happily improved by Brueckner. Ebrard has contributed the Epistles of John to Olshausen’s Commentary. Excellent is Duesterdieck’s: Die Drei Johanneischen Briefe, 2 Bände; Göttingen, 1852–1854. Huther’s Commentary in Meyer’s Critico-exegetical Hand-book is very well done; 2d ed., 1861.

For practical exegetical purposes we name after Spener’s Exposition, 1699, Zeller’s (Archdeacon at St. Nicolai, Leipzig) Explication of the First Epistle of John in 206 sermons, 1709.—Steinhofer, The First Epistle of John, 1762; Hamburg, 1848.—Rickli, Johannis 1 Brief Erklärt und Angewendet in Predigten; Luzern, 1828.—Johannsen, Sermons on the First Epistle of John; Altona, 1838.—K. Braune, the Epistles of John; Grimma, 1847.—A. Neander, the First Epistle of John, practically explained; Berlin, 1851. [A good translation of this work by Mrs. H. C. Conant, New York, 1853.—M.].—Wolf, Practical Comment. on the first Epistle of John in Church Catechizings; Leipzig, 1851.—Heubner, Practical Exposition of the N. T., Vol. IV., pp. 378–440.—Besser, Bibelstunden, Vol. V. The Epistles of John , 3 d ed., 1862.

On the doctrine see Schmid, Bibl. Theology of the N. T., 1853, Vol. 2, p. 359 sqq. Cf. Lange in Bibelwerk, Vol. IV., p. 27. (German edition).

[We may add, besides the General Commentaries, the following works:
Pricæus, J., in Crit. Sacr.

Whiston, W., Comm. on the Three Catholic Epistles of John, in agreement with the ancientest records of Christianity now extant. London, 1719.

Hawkins, T., a Comment. on the First, Second and Third Epistles of John. Halifax, 1808

Bickersteth, E., Family Exposition, etc. London, 1846.

Shepherd, Notes on the Gospel and Epistles of John. London, 1840.

Maurice, F. D., The Epistles of John. A Series of Lectures on Christian Ethics. Cambridge, 1857.

Mestrezat, Jean, Exposition de la Première Epistre de l’Apostre St. Jean. 2 Vols. Geneva, 1651.

Paterson, S., a Commentary on the first Epistle of John. London, 1842.

Pierce, An Exposition of the First Epistle General of John, in 93 Sermons. Lond., 1835.—M.].