“Introduction to the First Epistle of John”
The Appetizer – let’s stimulate interest
· How do details serve a story or a narrative?
· How does knowing background information help understanding?
· Why would knowing the author, the audience, and the age of writing be of help?
The Adaptation – let’s adapt the appetizer to our lesson
Tonight I intend to share with you information and background on this letter by a man named John in order to properly understand and interpret the truths contained in this book. Knowing this information enables us to correctly apply the divinely inspired material contained in this letter.
The Argument – let’s discover the main idea of our lesson
This letter was written by the Apostle John to the churches of Asia under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit around AD 85-90 for the spiritual welfare of God’s children. Therefore, it needs to be carefully studied, learned, and applied by each one of us today.
The Aim – the change you need to make as a result of this lesson
I challenge you to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of this letter by knowing its author, audience, age and argument so as to make application in your daily walk with Christ.
A good introduction to an Old or New Testament writing contains at least four elements that provide the necessary background information for proper interpretation.
Tonight, we will look at three of these four elements which will give us a good grasp on this letter; these elements are the author, the audience, and the age of this epistle or letter.
[So, let’s begin by taking a look at the first…]
1A Element - The Author
It is always nice to know who wrote a particular book of the bible that is being studied, whether we are studying it privately or in the church.
It gives us some perspective of what is being said and why it is being said. It makes our study a little more personal & informative to us.
This letter does not identify its author by name. For a letter this is somewhat unusual. Most letters of this time period begin with:
· The name of the author or writer
· The name of the recipient (s)of the letter
· A greeting of some sort
o Example would be the letters of Paul, or Peter, or James
§ “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Twelve Tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings” (James 1:1)
§ “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” (I Thess 1:1)
You can look at other letters like Romans, I & II Corinthians, I & II Peter and you will see the same thing. A letter of this era contained at least three things before the actual body of the letter was developed:
· The author
· The recipient
· A greeting of some sort
But not this letter. It doesn’t name its author, the recipients, or a greeting.
The majority of scholars believe the same individual who wrote the gospel wrote this letter. As a matter of fact…
A. E. Brooke – “The discussion of the question whether this letter and the gospel are by the same author may be a waste of time?”
What does he mean by that? He means that a careful comparison between this letter and the gospel will show indisputable similarities.
· There are common phrases used in both writings
· There is the similarity in the style of both writings
o Use of relative pronouns
o Disconnected sentences
o Positive and negative expressions of thought
· The use of limited vocabulary in both writings
· The similarity in doctrine or teachings:
o Incarnation of the Son of God
o Life which has its source in Christ
o The idea of abiding in God
o God’s word abiding in us
o God’s love proved by the giving of His Son
o Command to love the brethren
o Believers as children of God
o The stress on “being a witness”
o The comparison of Light/Dark
o The comparison of Life/Death
o The comparison Love/hate
[There are several similar teachings or doctrines in these two writings.]
Why is it important to know who the author of this letter is?
If it is by the Apostle John – it is authentic. If it is authentic – it is binding upon you as a child of God. If it is not by John then it maybe a fake and therefore it is not binding upon you.
There are two means by which we can attempt to determine who the author may be. These means are external evidence and internal evidence.
[Let’s examine the…]
1B External Evidence
It seems that I John has better external evidence pointing to its author than almost any other letter.
This is important because Polycarp actually knew John.
Polycarp was a disciple of John having been trained by John.
Polycarp was the pastor of the church at Smyrna. (AD 70-155)
Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippian church and seems to make a point by referring to I John 4:2
[This makes these great and strong witnesses because they are both from the first half of the second century and they are both from Asia Minor.]
3C Irenaeus, who was the pastor at Lyons, cited John as the author of this letter
4C The Muratorian Cannon lists this letter as having been written by John.
(The Muratorian Canon is an ancient list of canonical books drawn up in Greek, ostensibly in the late second century, and surviving in a single copy in poor Latin discovered by a man named Muratori)
5C Clement who was a pastor of Alexandria (155 AD) attributed it to John
There are a number of external witnesses that testify to the fact that John the apostle was the author of this letter. They really leave us with no doubt.
[Now, let’s examine the…]
2B Internal Evidence
When you look at all the external evidence and testimony and look closely at the internal evidence in this letter, we are able to conclude confidently that the Apostle John is the author of this letter.
This is important for at least two reasons:
· being written by an apostle it passes the test of being “inspired” and authoritative. This letter is from God through John. It isn’t something someone “made up.” Therefore, we need to know it and obey the principles that are contained in it.
· being written by John we can confidently trust it to be accurate and yet binding upon us and we need to submit to its truths and principles. The claims of immediate knowledge of fundamental facts of the gospel can be trusted.
So, the first element in our study is that John is the author of our letter.
[Let’s examine the second…]
2A Element - The Audience
You might ask yourself what difference does it make to us who is the audience or who are the readers of this letter?
Knowing who John wrote to can help us understand why John wrote his letter and why he wrote what he wrote. When we know who the recipients are, it becomes easier to determine what the author is saying to us.
This letter was not written in a vacuum nor is it simply left to us to “make” it say what we want it to say. We must find the context – in order to understand its message. The audience helps us find context.
Since we don’t have a standard opening in this letter, we are left to examine the letter and see what we can dig up and determine.
Any information about the readers must be gleaned from the contents of this letter. A careful reading of I John tells us that the audience was, first of all…
1B Primarily converts from paganism and were probably Gentile.
[There are at least two reasons to think this.]
The OT wouldn’t mean much to Gentiles.
2B It seems that these readers have been believers for a long time
[There seems to be at least five clues that tell us this…]
· this ministry probably began after the death of Mary, whom Jesus gave to be taken care of
· this ministry in this area probably began after Paul was beheaded in AD 68 and Peter crucified around the same time.
· John probably took care of the Ephesian church where he served as an Elder, and the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3.
· This letter probably is missing the customarily address and greeting because it was not designed for one church but for several churches to read it.
So, who is John’s audience? More than likely a number of churches in Asia that John as an apostle having supervisory responsibilities.
Well, so far we have examined the first two elements of this epistle – author – which we believe to be John the apostle & the audience –which we believe to churches in Asia, including the churches of Rev. 2 & 3.
[Let’s look then at the third…]
3A Element - The Age
There are no indications in the letter to set a definite time for its writing.
The tone of the letter does indicate than an old or older man was writing to younger generation. John came to Ephesus after the death of Paul and worked there for a number of years. (Possibly 25 yrs.)
Since he makes no reference to a major and catastrophic event like the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, he must have written so long after those events that they are not considered worth mentioning.
Since there is no mention of active persecution by the Roman government, it must have been written before or at the end of Domitian’s reign. (51 – 95 AD)
Since John died around AD 95-99, and if John is the author, then He would have had to write it prior to AD 99.
This gives us an approximate date – John probably wrote this letter shortly after he wrote his gospel, around AD 95.
Tonight we looked at three elements of an introduction to this letter.
We looked at:
The Author and determined from internal and external evidence to be the apostle John. This makes this letter authentic and binding upon believers.
The Audience and determined from the letter itself to be written converts who had been both pagan and primarily Gentiles.
The Age or time of the writing of this letter and determined it to be approximately AD 95 which allows for an apostle to have written this letter.
I Challenge you to read this letter with a renewed appreciation for its authority and vitality over your daily Christian lives.
Let me share three insights for you to chew on this week:
1. This is a letter written by an apostle, a man sent from God with a specific message and ministry – therefore, do not ignore the truths God has given you in this letter.
2. This letter was written to people who have a very similar background, conversion story, and daily life to you – therefore, do not be ignorant of the principles written to them to live a joyful and victorious Christian life.
3. This letter was written by the last apostle just prior to his death; therefore, it is the last link with the apostles and with someone who knew Christ intimately, therefore, do not treat this letter with contempt or disdain.