Survey of 1 John

Book Type: General letter, also called a “catholic epistle,” meaning a general letter. One of the apostle John’s five books. 23rd book of the New Testament.

Author: The apostle John is the traditional author of this book, though the text does not specifically name the author. The author notes an eyewitness relationship with Jesus (1 John 1:1–4). External evidence is found in many early sources. This includes Irenaeus (AD 140–203), Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215), Tertullian (AD 155–222), and Origen (AD 185–253).

Audience: First John is one of five New Testament books written by the apostle John. The others are the Gospel of John, 2 John, 3 John, and the book of Revelation. This is the first of his three letters in the New Testament. Its recipients were clearly believers, but no specific audience is mentioned. Since John traditionally ministered among churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in his later years, this letter was most likely written to one or more of these congregations.

This letter’s audience was clearly dealing with problems related to false teachers. John warns against them throughout this entire writing. John also develops themes of fellowship, Christ-like love, forgiveness of sins, and assurance of salvation. It has been suggested that John’s audience was already well aware of the basics of the gospel message, since these are not included in this letter. Instead, John focuses on specific needs related to the congregation.

There are many connections between 1 John and the Gospel of John, which are mentioned in verse commentary.

Date: Unknown. Most likely written around the same time as the Gospel of John and the letters 2 and 3 John; between AD 80–95.

Overview: The focus of 1 John is “fellowship,” which stands against false teachings and stands firm in the faith. This fellowship is both with one another (John and his audience) and with God through both the Father and through Christ (1 John 1:1–3).

Chapter 1 includes an introduction to the letter (1 John 1:1–4) followed by two conditions for Christian fellowship. First, fellowship requires a specific focus or standard: Jesus Christ (1 John 1:5–7). Second, fellowship includes the confession of sin (1 John 1:8–10).

Chapter 2 continues this focus on fellowship. This includes following Christ as our advocate (1 John 2:1–6). In addition, believers are called to follow the commandment to love one another (1 John 2:7–14). Third, believers are not to love the world (1 John 2:15–17). Fourth, believers are warned against teachings of antichrists, or false teachers (1 John 2:18–27). Fifth, believers are called to remember their position as children of God (1 John 2:28–29).

Chapter 3 further discusses the importance of being and living as children of God (1 John 3:1–10). A major requirement for the child of God is to love one another (1 John 3:11–24).

Chapter 4 teaches believers to “test the spirits” to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1–6). God loves us and “God is love” (1 John 4:7–21), leading believers to love one another.

Chapter 5 emphasizes the believer’s ability to “overcome” the world (1 John 5:1–5) through the power of Christ. John gives testimony regarding Jesus as the Son of God (5:6–12). Believers can know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13–21).

Key Verses (ESV)

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 3:6: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”

1 John 4:4: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”