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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

John Epistles of

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I. The First Epistle

1. Contents.-It is not easy to summarize the contents of the First Epistle. The ‘aphoristic meditations’ of this mystic writer are strung together in such fashion that they almost defy analysis. The most successful attempt is that of T. Häring (‘Gedankengang und Grundgedanke des 1ten Johannesbriefs,’ in Theol. Abhandlungen C. von Weizsäcker gewidmet, Freiburg i. B., 1892). If we cut off the first four verses, which are clearly an introduction, and also 1 John 5:13-21, which form a final summary, the main body of the Epistle gives us a triple presentation of two leading ideas. The ethical thesis, ‘Without walking in light, more specially defined as love of the brethren, there can be no fellowship with God,’ is developed in the sections 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:17, 1 John 2:28(?)1 John 3:24, 1 John 4:7-21. The christological thesis, ‘Beware of those who deny that Jesus is the Christ,’ is similarly developed in 1 John 2:18-27, 1 John 4:1-6, 1 John 5:1(? 5)John 5:5-12. In the first presentation (1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:27) the two theses are stated without any indication of their mutual connexion; in the second (1 John 2:26 to 1 John 4:6) they are again presented in the same order, but the verses (1 John 3:23-24) which form the transition from the one to the other are so worded as to bring out clearly the intimate connexion which the author finds between them (‘his command is that we should believe, and love as he commanded’); in the third (1 John 4:7 to 1 John 5:12) they are inseparably intertwined. A rough analysis may be attempted.

1 John 1:1-4.-The introduction states the writer’s purpose-to rekindle the true joy of fellowship in his readers, by recalling the old message of Life, which has been from the beginning, and of late has been manifested in Jesus, the Son of God (1 John 1:1-4).

1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:27.-(a) The burden of that message is that God is Light. As the light must shine, so it is of His essence to reveal Himself to those whom He has made to share His fellowship. In spite of what some Gnostics may say, there is nothing in His nature that hides Him from all but a few select souls. But ‘light’ describes, so to speak, His character as well. Fellowship with Light is only possible for those who ‘walk in light.’ To claim fellowship, and go on committing deeds of darkness, is to tell a lie. But for those who try, He has prescribed a way of dealing with their partial failures (1 John 2:7). Two similar false pleas are then set aside: the denial that sin is a real power, active for evil, in those who have sinned, and the denial that actual sin has been committed. They are shown to be contrary to experience, and to what we know of God’s dealing with men (1 John 2:8-10). In 1 John 2:1 the writer sets aside a false inference which might be drawn from what he has said. The universality of sin might seem to be an excuse for acquiescence. The writer states that he writes to prevent, not to condone, sin. And this is possible, or in the Christian society the means are ready to hand for dealing with the sins which occur. The Paraclete is pleading their cause in heaven, and He is the propitiation He ministers. And men can know how they stand. Obedience is the sign of knowledge of God. Men are in union with God when they try to follow the steps of the Christ (1 John 2:2-6). In 1 John 2:7-17 thesis and warning are put forward on the grounds of the readers’ circumstances and experiences. Obedience to command suggests a general statement of the command to love. ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour’ is an old command. It received new force and meaning in the light of Christ’s life, and the new life which Christians have learned to live. This is more clearly realized as in the new society the darkness passes away. A man cannot be in the light and hate his brother Christian. Love lights the path, so that he can walk without stumbling.

The writer then turns to immediate circumstances (1 John 2:12-17). The sin which keeps them far from God has been removed; the experience of the old and the strength of the young have secured victory (1 John 2:12-13 a). This explains how he could write as he has written. Their knowledge and strength made it possible for him to use the words he has penned (1 John 2:13 b, 14). But there is need of hard striving. Love of the world may soon destroy all that they have gained. The world is passing; only that which is done according to God’s will abides (1 John 2:15-17).

(b) So he passes to the first statement of the christological thesis (1 John 2:18-27). Faith in Jesus as the Christ is the test of fellowship with God. The passing of the transitory suggests the signs of the times. The last hour has struck. The saying ‘Antichrist cometh’ is being fulfilled in the many false teachers who have appeared. The Faith had gained a decisive victory, in the unmasking of the traitors, who had to go. The crisis had shown that all such false teachers, however they differed among themselves, were aliens, and no true members of the Body. This the readers knew, if they would use their knowledge. Their anointing had given to all of them knowledge to detect falsehood. Falsehood culminates in the denial that Jesus is the Messiah. This denial includes denial of the Father, in spite of Gnostic claims to superior knowledge. All true knowledge of the Father comes through the Son. It is gained in living and abiding union, the eternal life which He has promised (1 John 2:18-26). This much he must write about the deceivers. If his readers had used their knowledge, he need not have written it (1 John 2:27-28). Let them abide, and confidence will be theirs when ‘He’ appears (1 John 2:28). Who can have this confidence? Those who know that God is just, and who therefore learn in the experience of Christian life that the doing of righteousness is the true test of the birth from God (1 John 2:29).

1 John 2:28 to 1 John 4:6.-(a) We pass to the second statement of the ethical thesis (1 John 2:28(?) 1 John 3:24): the doing of righteousness, i.e. love of the brethren, shown in active service, is the sign by which we may know that we are ‘loving God.’ In 1 John 3:1-6 thesis and warning are considered in the light of the duty of self-purification, laid upon us by the gift of sonship and the hope of its consummation. Everyone who has this hope must of necessity purify himself here and now. Lawlessness does not consist only in disobeying the injunctions of a definite code. There is a higher Law which is broken by even act of ἁμαρτία, of failure to realize in life the ideal set before men in the human life of Jesus Christ. This is further explained in 1 John 3:7-18, introduced by an earnest warning against deceivers. The doer of righteousness alone has attained to Christ-like righteousness. The doer of sin still belongs to the Devil, who has been working for sin throughout human history. So, if we realize that for us righteousness finds its clearest expression in love of the brethren, we gain a clear contrast: God’s children, always striving to realize the ideal of sinless love, and the children of the Devil, striving after, or drifting towards, their own ideal of sinful hate and selfish greed Sinlessness, i.e. righteousness, is not the monopoly of a chosen race, or section of men. It is the natural outcome of the new life which every man may have, if he will take it and use it, to follow Christ, not Cain, whose evil life found its natural expression in the final issue of hatred-murder with violence (1 John 3:12). 1 John 3:13-18 contain variations on the same theme. The world’s hatred should not surprise them; it is the natural attitude of those who cannot stand the sight of good. They really ought to know that love and death, murder and eternal life, have nothing in common. And Christ’s example has shown what love is. At least they can show their love in helping their brethren. He who has not even got so far as that need not talk of God’s love. With an exhortation to sincerity in loving service (1 John 3:18) the meditation passes over once more to the tests of truth. How can we know that we are on the side of truth, and still the accusations of our consciences?-By throwing ourselves on God’s omniscience. When a man feels confidence towards God and finds that his prayers are answered-that he wishes for and does the things that God wills-his conscience ceases to accuse (1 John 3:19-22). God’s will is shown in His command-which is more than a series of precepts: He bids men have faith in Christ and love like His. These lead to fellowship with Him. Men know that they have it by their possession of the Spirit which He has given (1 John 3:23-24).

(b) Thus the interlacing of Faith and Love leads on to the second presentation of the christological thesis (1 John 4:1-6), in such a way as to show its vital connexion with the ethical. The mention of the Spirit suggests the form of the new statement. All spiritual phenomena could not he regarded as the work of God’s Spirit. The spirits must be tested by their attitude to the Christ. The reality of the Incarnation as a permanent union between God and man is the vital truth. The statement (1 John 4:2-3) is followed by a short meditation (1 John 4:4-6) on the attitude of the Church and the world to the two confessions and those who make them. The spirits of truth and error are clearly discerned by the kinds of people who listen to them.

1 John 4:7 to 1 John 5:12.-In these verses, the last and most intricate section of the Epistle, we have the third presentation of the two theses. The remainder of ch. 4 is predominantly ethical, the opening verses of ch. 5 christological, or at least doctrinal. But the two theses are interwoven, and can hardly be separated. Love is the proof of fellowship with God, for God is Love. The true nature of love has been made clear, in terms intelligible to men, in the sending of His Son, as faith conceives it.

In the first explanation of the two combined ideas (1 John 4:7-21), it is shown that love based on faith in the revelation of love given in Christ’s life and work is the proof of ‘knowing God’ and of being ‘loved of God.’ In the second explanation (1 John 5:1 ff.) faith is first. Victory over the world-the forces opposed to God-is gained by faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This faith rests historically on a three-fold witness-of the water (the Baptism in which He was set apart for His Messianic work), of the suffering (which culminated on the Cross, and which has dealt with sin), and of the Spirit (who interprets these facts to men). And the work of the Spirit continues in those who follow Christ as thus conceived. They realize the truth in their own experience.

1 John 5:13-21.-So the last christological statement passes out into yet another answer to the question, ‘How can we know?’ (1 John 5:13-17). True confidence is established when men know that prayer is heard because what is asked is in accordance with God’s will. The true answer to prayer is the immediate consciousness that what is taken to God has reached His ear, and may be safely left in His care. Where intercession is possible it will succeed. Then (1 John 5:18-21), with a triple οἴδαμεν, the writer sums up the things he has to say which matter most. Sin can be conquered; we belong to God, whom, we have learned to know in the revelation of Him which His Son has brought down to men. The Epistle closes with the terse warning that His ‘children’ must reject all meaner conceptions of God.

2. The false teachers.-If the analysis given of the teaching of the First Epistle is correct, it follows that edification and exhortation rather than controversy are the writer’s primary objects. He reiterates the leading ideas of his teaching, already familiar to his readers, to kindle once more the enthusiasm of their faith and first love, which is growing cold, to guard them from the dangers which threaten, and to give them tests by which they may ‘know’ the security of their Christian position.

At the same time it is clear that in all he writes he has in view definite forms of false teaching which have proved dangerous, errors both doctrinal and ethical, the fascination of which is a serious menace to their Christian life.

A careful study of the language of the Epistle makes it probable that the author is combating more than one kind of false teaching. His opponents are not all to be found in the same camp. The opinions which he refutes might all have been held by the same opponents; but they do not form a complete system: still less can they be separated into a series of complete homogeneous systems. Probably he offers a few leading truths which in his opinion are the antidote to the manifold errors by which his readers are threatened, while there is one particular party, to whose opinions recent circumstances have given a predominant importance.

The expressions used suggest variety. Many antichrists have come (1 John 2:18); all of them, whatever their differences may be, are aliens to the truth (1 John 2:19). The repeated use of πᾶς (1 John 2:21; 1 John 2:23) suggests manifold and varied opposition. ‘Those who lead astray’ are spoken of in the plural (1 John 2:26). The one χρίσμα, which all have, should have taught them all things. The same variety is suggested by ch. 4. Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Every spirit which does not confess (dissolves?) Jesus is ‘not of God’; Antichrist is working in many subordinates (1 John 2:2-3). It is only in ch. 5 that the writer seems, to narrow the issues down to one particular form of error; the denial that the sufferings and death of Jesus were an essential part of His Messianic work. Even here his method is the same. He emphasizes a few fundamental truths which should safeguard his readers from all the varied dangers which threaten. A special incident is the occasion of his writing. He has in view several forms of error.

(1) Judaism.-Jews who have never accepted Christianity are not the only enemy. The words ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆθον (1 John 2:19) must refer to a definite secession of those who were generally recognized as Christians. But Jewish opposition is clearly a serious danger. This is shown by the writer’s insistence on the confession that Jesus is the Messiah (1 John 2:22; cf. 1 John 4:2; 1 John 5:6). The Jewish controversy is prominent throughout. The Jewish War and the Destruction or Jerusalem must have profoundly affected the relation of Judaism to Christianity. Jewish Christians were placed in a desperate position. Hitherto they had no doubt hoped against hope for the recognition of Jesus as Messiah by the majority of their countrymen. But the final catastrophe had come, and the Lord had not returned to save His people. Christians had not been slow to draw the obvious conclusion from the fate of Jerusalem. And Jewish Christians could expect nothing but the bitterest hostility from their fellow-countrymen. Apostasy was now the only possible condition of reunion. If some openly accepted the condition, many Jewish Christians must have been sorely tempted to think that their estimate of Jesus as Messiah had been mistaken, and to regard Him as a Prophet indeed, but not as Messiah, still less as the unique Son of God. This danger, which threatened Jewish Christians primarily, must have affected the whole body. The prominence of the Jewish controversy in the Fourth Gospel is now generally recognized. It is less prominent in the Epistle, but there is no essential difference of situation.

At the same time it is only one element in the situation. A. Wurm (Die Irrlehrer im 1. Johannesbrief, 1903) is not justified in deducing from the words of 1 John 2:23 the exclusively Jewish character of the false teaching combated. The author certainly deduces the fact that the opponents ‘have not the Father’ from their false Christology. It does not follow, however, that he and his opponents were at one in their doctrine of the Father. He could not have written as he has unless they claimed to ‘have the Father’; but they may have claimed it in a different sense from that of orthodox Christian. The passage is more easily explained if we suppose that the writer has in view a claim to a superior knowledge of the Father imparted to a few ‘spiritual’ natures, unattainable by the ordinary Christian. All true knowledge of the Father comes through Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. By rejecting the truth about Jesus they forfeited all claim to Knowledge of the Father.

(2) Gnosticism.-There is no clear evidence in the Epistles of the fully developed Gnostic systems of the 2nd century. There are, for instance, many simpler explanations of the use of σπέρμα αὐτοῦ in 1 John 3:9 than Pfleiderer’s hypothesis that it refers to the system of Basilides. But undoubtedly Gnostic ideas are an important element in the mental circumstances of the writer and his age. The burden of his message is that God is Light (1 John 1:5), and the reiteration of this in negative form is probably aimed at the view that the Father of all is unknowable or that know ledge of Him is the monopoly of a ‘pneumatic’ minority. The Gnostic claim, real or supposed, that the πνευματικοί are superior to the obligations of the Moral Law is roughly handled. And the insistence with which intellectual claims are met by the challenge to fulfil the Christian duty of love and its obligations is significant. The confession demanded of ‘Jesus Christ come in flesh’ is a protest against the Gnostic doctrine of the impossibility of real union between the spiritual seed and flesh. And at the same time the writer’s sympathy with Gnostic ideas is obvious. Here as elsewhere, he is always reminding his ‘children’ that they are old enough to refuse the evil and to choose the good.

Gnostic ideas afford no criterion for dating the Epistles of John. It is, of course, a perversion of history to assume that Gnostic ideas first came into contact with Christianity when Christians began to think in terms of Greek philosophy, towards the middle of the 2nd century. The movement is Oriental rather than Greek, and far older in date. But its reflexion in these Epistles is a patent fact.

(3) Docetism.-It is customary to speak of the Johannine Epistles, and also of the Gospel, as anti-Docetic (cf. Schmiedel [Encyclopaedia Biblica , s.v. ‘Jonn, Son of Zebedee,’ § 57], Moffatt [Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., 1911, p. 586]). If the term is used popularly of all teaching which denied or subverted thee reality of the Incarnation, this is true. ‘The Word was made Flesh,’ ‘Jesus Christ came in flesh,’ are the watchwords of Gospel and Epistles. But there is no real trace in these writings of Docetism in the stricter sense of the term, i.e. the teaching denounced by Ignatius (Smyrn. 2ff.; cf. Trall. 10f.), which assigned a purely phantasmal body to the Lord. And it is probable that in the development of christological thought theories of pure Docetism are a later stage than the assumption of a temporary connexion between a Heavenly Power and the real manhood of Jesus of Nazareth (cf., however, Lightfoot and Pfleiderer).

(4) Cerinthianism.-We have seen that the writer has to deal with dangers which threaten from several quarters. As the Epistle proceeds, his attack becomes more direct, and the Christological passage in ch. 5 contains clearer reference to one definite form of error-the denial that Jesus, the Son of God, came by ‘blood’ as well as by ‘water,’ i.e. that the Sufferings and Death of Jesus were as essential a note of His Messianic work as the Baptism by John. This suits the teaching of Cerinthus as described by Irenaeus (c. Haer, i. xxvi. 1): ‘post baptismum descendisse in eum ab ea principalitate quae est super omnia Christum figura columbae et tunc annunciasse incognitum patrem, et uirtutes perfecisse, in fine autem reuolasse iterum Christum de lesu, et Iesum passum esse et resurrexisse, Christum autem impassibilem perseuerasse, existentem spiritalem.’ The traditional view that ch. 5 contains a reference to Cerinthianism has been held by the majority of scholars of all schools who have dealt with the Epistle. This view has been seriously challenged especially by Wurm (op. cit.) and Clemen (Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft vi. [1905] 271ff.) on the ground that 1 John 2:23 excludes Cerinthianism, as it implies that the writer and his opponents are conscious of no difference of view in their doctrine of the Father. If the suggestion made above (§ 2 (1)) that that passage gains in point if the opponents claimed a superior ‘having the Father’ to that of ordinary Christians, the objection falls to the ground. The limits of this article preclude a general discussion of our knowledge of Cerinthianism. The present writer has discussed it at length in his Johannine Epistles (International Critical Commentary , 1912), p. xlv ff.). There are good reasons for thinking that Hippolytus in his Syntagma ascribed to Cerinthus the view that the Spirit (not the Christ) descended on Jesus at the Baptism. If so, this gives additional force to the description in 1 John 5:6 f. of the proper function of the Spirit. It would seem that Cerinthus continued these Judaizing and Gnostic tendencies which the author of these Epistles regarded as most dangerous. But ‘many Antichrists had come to be’ even if Cerinthus is most prominently in his thoughts.

(5) Ethical error.-In his denunciations of ethical error there is no reason to suppose that the writer has a different class of opponents in view. He could not have connected his ethical and christological theses as he has, if the two sources of danger had been separate. At the same time, in his practical warnings as well as in his christological teaching his words have a wider reference than one particular body of opponents. There is no reason to suppose that any of the opponents had been guilty of the grosser sins of the flesh. The phrase ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκός (1 John 2:17) does not imply this. And the Epistle is not directed against Antinomianism, as has been sometimes wrongly inferred from 1 John 3:4. It would seem that they claimed a superior knowledge of God to which ordinary Christians could not attain, while disregarding some at least of the requirements of the Christian code, especially the love which shows itself in active service for the brethren. They hardly recognized the obligation of the new command of John 13:34. While condemning lawlessness (cf. 1 John 3:4)-and many of them no doubt recognized the obligations of the Mosaic Law-they failed to see that all falling short of the ideal revealed as possible in the human life of Jesus is disobedience to God’s highest Law. The indifference of conduct, as compared with other supposed qualifications, as e.g. descent from Abraham, or possession of the ‘pneumatic’ seed, is clearly part of their ethical creed. In this sphere also a mixture of Judaizing and Gnostic tendencies such as may reasonably be attributed to Cerinthianism will explain the language of the Apostle in which the ethical shortcomings of the opponents are denounced.

3. Relation to the Gospel.-The authorship of the Epistles is closely connected with the question of the authorship of the Gospel. It is impossible to attempt here even a summary of the controversy. The relation, however, of the longer Epistle to the Gospel and to the shorter Epistles must be considered. The similarity of style and content is so marked that the obvious explanation of common authorship might seem to need no further discussion. But the views of an increasing number of competent critics cannot be neglected. Holtzmann’s articles (JPTh [Note: PTh Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie.] vii. [1881], viii. [1882]) are still the fullest and fairest statement of the views of those who reject the idea of common authorship. A rough estimate makes the vocabulary of the Epistle 295 words, of which 69 only are not found in the Gospel. The general impression formed by reading verses or chapters of the documents is probably a safer guide. There can be no doubt as to the prevalence of characteristic and distinctive words and phrases common to both. The similarity extends to common types of phrases variously filled up. Attention has often been called to the following points of similarity in style: the carrying on of the thought by the use of οὐἀλλά, by disconnected sentences, by the positive and negative expression of the same thought; the use of the demonstrative, ἐν τούτῳ, etc., followed by an explanatory clause to emphasize a thought; the repetition of emphatic words. Such phenomena leave us with the choice between an author, varying his own phrases and forms of expression, and a slavish imitator.

The similarity extends to content as well. The leading ideas-the reality of the Incarnation, the life which springs from Christ and is identified with Him, abiding in Christ and in God, the sending of the Son as the proof of God’s love, the birth from God, the importance of witness, many well-known pairs of opposites-are equally prominent in both writings. They find that kind of similar but varied expression which suggests an author doing what he would with his own, rather than the work of a copyist. And the differences, though real, are not greater than are naturally explained by differences of time, circumstances, and object. The question of priority has also been the subject of long controversy. The priority of the Epistle has been maintained on the following grounds:

(1) The introductory verses are said to present an earlier stage of the Logos doctrine than the Prologue of the Gospel. The personal Logos is a stage not yet reached. Even if this is true, the facts might equally well be explained by the theory that in the Epistle we have a further accommodation to the growing Monarchianism of a later period. And if we take the whole Epistle into account, it is clear that the ‘personal differentiation’ of Father and Son is stated in the Epistle as definitely as in the Logos doctrine of the Gospel. And it is far easier to explain the opening expressions of the Epistle as a summary of that Prologue than vice versa.

(2) The ἄλλος παράκλητος of John 14:16 has been explained by the doctrine of the Epistle which presents Christ as παράκλητος. But the two ideas are different, and not mutually exclusive. The ἄλλος of the Gospel finds its natural explanation in the approaching withdrawal of the bodily presence of the speaker.

(3) The Epistle shows an immediate expectation of the Parousia which the author of the Gospel is said to have abandoned, substituting the Presence of the Spirit for the hope of the Coming. Again, the point, if true, is not decisive. It could as plausibly be explained as a modification of more original and less popular views. But serious divergence can only be maintained by the excision of John 5:26-29; John 6:39 f. and other inconvenient passages from the Gospel. The differences are definite, but not fundamental. The treatment of the Antichrist legend in the Epistle is as complete a process of ‘spiritualization’ as that of popular eschatology in the Gospel.

(4) It has also been maintained that on the subject of Propitiation the Epistle is nearer to the Pauline standpoint than the Gospel, which conceives of Christ’s work merely as the glorifying of the Father by the Son’s revelation of Him to men. Again there is a difference of relative prominence, but there is no reason to neglect what is involved in John 1:36; John 1:51 f.

(5) In the record of the piercing of the side a misunderstanding of 1 John 5:6 has been found by some writers. It is, however, more natural to see in the Epistle a reference to a well-known story, though the incident itself does not afford a complete explanation of the meaning of the verse.

(6) External evidence is equally indecisive. The probable ‘quotation’ of the Epistle by Polycarp proves nothing, especially if Schwartz and Lightfoot are right in their view that Papias knew and valued the Gospel.

On the other hand, there are many passages in the Epistle which seem unintelligible without a knowledge of corresponding passages in the Gospel to explain them. If there is no clear proof of borrowing in the Epistle, it is almost indisputable that ‘the Gospel is original, the Epistle is not.’ And it is hard to escape the general impression left by the study of the two documents, that in the Epistle the writer summarizes the important parts in the teaching of the Gospel, which his readers had failed to make their own. They were therefore in danger of falling victims to errors which their ‘knowledge’ ought to have enabled them to detect and avoid.

4. Relation to Mystery religions.-The time has hardly come for a satisfactory treatment of the question of the relation of the Johannine writings to the Mystery religions. The valuable work of Dieterich, Reitzenstein, and others is well known. But until the actual dates of documents can be determined with greater certainty than is at present possible, the influence of the Mysteries on early Christian thought and literature must remain a matter for conjecture. Reference may be made to the valuable treatise of C. Clemen (Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen auf das älteste Christentum, 1913) and to the admirable summary in Feine’s Theologie des Neuen Testaments2, 1911, p. 556ff. with reference to the Johannine books.

II. The shorter Epistles

1. Authorship.-It is unnecessary to waste time in discussing the common authorship of the two shorter Epistles. The close parallelism of their general structure, and the similarity of their style, vocabulary, and ideas (see Harnack, Texte and Untersuchungen xv. 3 [1897]) leave us with as high a degree of certainty as such evidence can ever give, though the reference which many scholars find in the Third Epistle to the Second is improbable. Their relation to the First Epistle is less certain. External and internal evidence raises the possibility of different authorship. The problem, however, is clearly similar to that of the relation of the First Epistle to the Gospel. A study of the facts leads to a similar answer. It is a case of common authorship or conscious imitation. The freedom of handling of the some tools points to the former alternatives. The shorter Epistles are the most obviously ‘genuine’ of the five books generally attributed to St. John. Common sense and sound criticism alike shrink from the hypothesis that either the Gospel or the First Epistle is modelled on them.

2. Contents of Second Epistle.-The object of the second letter is to give advice to the church or family addressed in it about hospitality to Christians from other churches. The question of the reception of the higher order of ministers who moved from place to place (‘apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists’), and who claimed authority over the resident officers, was a burning one in early days, and the situation presupposed in this Epistle is parallel with that found in the Didache. The stages of development are similar, though it does not follow that they had been reached at the same date in both centres. The answer given to the question is the application of the two tests, practical and doctrinal, of the First Epistle. Those who ‘walk in love’ and who confess ‘Jesus Christ coming in flesh’ are to be welcomed. (A possible interpretation of ἐρχόμενον as opposed to ἐληλυθότα (1 John 4:2) suggests that doubts as to the Parousia had come into greater prominence, but this is far from certain.)

3. Destination of Second Epistle.-The controversy whether the letter is addressed to a church or an individual is still acute. The latter hypothesis has been ably maintained by Rendel Harris (Expositor, 6th ser. iii. [1901] 194ff.) and others. The attempts to find a proper name either in Kyria or Eclecta are not convincing. If a lady is addressed, it is best to suppose that her name is not given. The language in which the writer’s affection is expressed, and the subjects with which the letter deals, point to a church rather than to an individual. And the interchange of singular and plural in the use of the second person is almost decisive in favour of the former view.

4. Contents of Third Epistle.-The Third Epistle also deals with the question of hospitality to travelling missionaries and teachers, emphasizing in a particular instance the duty of Christians in this respect, as the Second deals with its necessary limitations. The objects of the letter are to claim a suitable welcome for some travelling missionaries about to visit the Church of Caius to whom the letter is addressed, and to re-instate Demetrius in the good opinion of the members of that church. The connexion of Demetrius with the missionary band is a matter of uncertainty. But it is clear that he had fallen under suspicion, and that Diotrephes, a prominent member of Caius’s church, had succeeded in working on the resentment felt at the ‘Elder’s’ support of a ‘suspect,’ to raise the question of the Elder’s right to interfere in the affairs of the church, and to persuade his fellow-Christians to ignore a letter which the Elder had written to the church on the subject. On the whole, it is improbable that this letter (mentioned in 1 John 4:9) is to be identified with the Second Epistle, which does not deal with the questions which must have been discussed in such a letter. But it is evident that the majority of the church are inclined to take the side of Diotrephes against the Elder, whose right of supervision is in serious danger of being set aside, though he is still confident that he can maintain it by personal intervention.

5. Historical background of the shorter Epistles.-Several interesting attempts have been made to reconstruct the historical background of the two shorter Epistles, among which mention should be made of the ingenious suggestions of J. Chapman (Journal of Theological Studies v. [1903-04] 357, 517), who finds the Demetrius of the Third Epistle in Demas (2 Timothy 4:10), and identifies the church addressed as Thessalonica, while in the Second Epistle (cf. 2 Timothy 4:4 with John 10:17 f.) he finds a warning addressed by the Presbyter, who may or may not be the son of Zebedee, to the Church of Rome (cf. 1 Peter 5:13), against the False Teachers who are trying to get a hearing in the metropolis now that the First Epistle has closed the Asiatic churches to them. Vernon Bartlet’s sound criticism (Journal of Theological Studies vi. [1904-05] 204) of the difficulties of these hypotheses should also be mentioned, and Rendel Harris’s vigorous support of the view that the Second Letter is addressed to an individual lady and not to a church. Harnack’s contribution (Texte and Untersuchungen xv. 3) to the interpretation of the Epistles is of far more permanent value. He has shown the importance of their evidence as throwing light on an obscure period in the development of ecclesiastical organization in Asia, when the old missionary organization is breaking down, and the monarchical episcopate is beginning to emerge. He is, however, on less sure ground in arguing that the ‘Presbyter’ is fighting a losing battle against the new movement. It is at least is probable that he sees in it the best way of dealing with the dangers caused by the private ambitions of prominent members of the local churches, such as Diotrephes and other προάγοντες. But Harnack is probably right in his view that the differences found in the Ignatian Epistles point to a stage of development later by some fifteen or twenty years.

6. Date.-The questions of authorship and date cannot be discussed satisfactorily apart from the wider question of the authorship of the Fourth Gospel. If the view maintained above is correct, that the author of the Gospel wrote the Epistles at a somewhat later date, to emphasize those points in its teaching which seemed needed to meet the special dangers of somewhat changed circumstances, the date of the Epistles cannot be very long before or after the close of the 1st century. The only natural interpretation of the language of the first verse of the First Epistle is that the author claims to have been an eye-witness of the Ministry, unless indeed we are driven by other considerations to regard this as impossible. The tradition which assigned the two shorter Epistles to the ‘Elder’ offers the least difficult solution of a difficult problem. In the present state of our knowledge we must rest content with the suggestion that the same author is responsible for the First Epistle and the Gospel in something very like the form in which they have come down to us. It is probable that he has used the ideas and the recollections of another who was better qualified than himself to tell of the ‘sacred words and no less sacred deeds’ of the Lord, and to interpret them in the light of Christian experience.

The external evidence, which cannot be discussed in detail here, if naturally interpreted, points to similar conclusions. There is very little ground for doubting that Papias and Polycarp knew and valued the Epistles, or at least the first two Epistles. Probably the name of Ignatius should be added to the list. The traces of Johannine thought in his Epistles are clear. Reference may be made to the articles by H. J. Bardsley in Journal of Theological Studies xiv. [1912-13] 207, 489, though he has hardly succeeded in proving the literary use of apostolic documents. But the absence of direct references to the Apostle John, where we might reasonably expect them, are undoubtedly significant. The practically unanimous evidence of writers at the close of the 2nd cent. as to the Apostle’s residence at Ephesus till the days of Trajan must be interpreted in the light of the probability of confusion between Elder and Apostle, and the strong probability that the work of Papias contained a statement of the martyrdom of John, the son of Zebedee. There are no serious grounds for setting aside the tradition which connects all the Johannine books with Asia Minor, and especially with Ephesus.

Literature.-The only ancient Commentaries extant are those of Clement of Alexandria (on 1 and 2 John: extant only in Cassiodorus’ Latin Summary [Clement, ed. Stählin, iii., 1909]), Œcumenius, Theophylact, Augustine, and Bede. Among modern Commentaries may be mentioned those of F. Lücke3 (1820-56), J. E. Huther4 (in Meyer’s Kommentar, 1855-80), H. Ewald (1862), E. Haupt (Eng. translation , 1879), R. Rothe (1878), B. F. Westcott (1883), B. Weiss (in Meyer’s Kommentar, 1899), H. J. Holtzmann3 (in Handkommentar zum NT, 1908), and H. Windisch (in Handbuch zum NT, 1911).

Among the more important monographs and articles, besides those mentioned in the article, are W. A. Karl, Johanneische Studien, 1898; G. B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology, 1894; Wilamowitz, in Hermes, xxxiii. [1898], p. 531ff.; Wohlenberg, in NKZ [Note: KZ Neue kirchliche Zeitschrift.] xxvi. [1902]; S. D. F. Salmond, in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. [1899] 728ff.; R. Law, Tests of Life, 1909.

A. E. Brooke.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'John Epistles of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/j/john-epistles-of.html. 1906-1918.

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Sunday, May 26th, 2019
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