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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

John the Epistles of

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For the authenticity of the first epistle very ancient testimony may be adduced. Papias, the disciple of John, quotes some passages from it. Polycarp, also, another disciple of John, quotes a passage from this epistle. So, also, Irenaeus.

The author of the first epistle describes himself, at its commencement, as an eye-witness of the life of our Lord. The style and language manifestly harmonize with those of the author of the Gospel of John. The polemics, also, which in , are directed against the Docetic Gnostics, in , agree with the sphere of action in Asia Minor in which the Evangelist John was placed. We may, therefore, suppose that the epistle was written to Christian congregations in Asia Minor, which were placed under the spiritual care of the apostle. It is generally admitted that refers to the Gospel. If this is correct, the apostle wrote this epistle at a very advanced age, after he had written his gospel. The epistle breathes love and devotion, but also zeal for moral strictness (; ). There is a remarkable absence of logical connection in the form of separate expressions, and in the transitions from one thought to another. Some writers have been inclined to find a reason for this in the advanced age of the writer. Old age may, perhaps, have contributed to this characteristic, but it is chiefly attributable to the mental peculiarity of the apostle. There has been no subject connected with Biblical literature which has attracted more attention than this epistle, in consequence of the controversies which have existed since the commencement of the sixteenth century, respecting the celebrated passage in . We cannot enter here into the history of that controversy, which has continued with more or less of asperity to our own day. We shall merely remark that the disputed passage is found in no Greek manuscript, save only in two, both belonging to the fifteenth century; and that it has not once been quoted by any of the Greek, Latin, or Oriental fathers. It is now, therefore, generally omitted in all critical editions of the New Testament.

The second and third epistles of John were originally wanting in the ancient Syriac translation. From their nature, it may easily be explained how it happened that they were less generally known in ancient Christian congregations, and that the fathers do not quote them so often as other parts of Scripture, since they are very short, and treat of private affairs. The private nature of their contents removes also the suspicion that they could have been forged, since it would be difficult to discover any purpose which could have led to such a forgery.

The second epistle is addressed to a lady, called Kuria, which name frequently occurs in ancient writers as that of a woman.

The third epistle is addressed to Gaius, a person otherwise unknown. It is remarkable that the writer of this epistle calls himself 'the presbyter' or 'elder.' Some writers have been inclined to ascribe these letters to the presbyter John, who is sometimes spoken of in the ancient church, and to whom even the Apocalypse has been attributed; but if the presbyter John wrote these epistles, John's Gospel also must be ascribed to the same person, of whom otherwise so little is known. This, however, is inadmissible. We may suppose that the term 'presbyter' or 'elder' expressed in the epistles of John a degree of friendliness, and was chosen on account of the advanced age of the writer. The apostle Paul, also, in his friendly letter to Philemon, abstains from the title Apostle. The circumstances and events in the church, to which the second epistle alludes, coincide with those which are otherwise known to have happened in John's congregation. Here, also, are allusions to the dangers arising from the Gnostic heresy. The admonition, in , not to receive such heretics as Christian brethren, agrees with the ancient tradition, that John made haste to quit a public bath after Cerinthus the Gnostic entered it, declaring he was afraid the building would fall down.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'John the Epistles of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/j/john-the-epistles-of.html.

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