Facts and summary
1, 2, and 3 John are the 23rd, 24th, and 25th books of the Christian New Testament respectively. The authorship of the books is traditionally understood to be John the Apostle and are dated to between 90 and 100 A.D. These three letters are some of the shortest in the New Testament at 5 chapters, 13 verses, and 14 verses, respectively. It is believed that John wrote each of these letters from Ephesus. The original recipients of 1, 2, and 3 John may be churches in Asia Minor, but this is less clear. Although each letter has an individual purpose, generally speaking, the letters combat Gnosticism and promote allegiance to Jesus Christ through the church.
Summary of 1 John
Polycarp, John's disciple (ad Philippians 7), quotes 1 John 4:3. Eusebius (H. E., iii. 39) says of Papias, John's hearer, "he used testimonies from the first epistle of John." Irenaeus (Eusebius, H. E., v. 8) often quoted it; he quotes (Haeres. iii. 15, sections 5,8) from John by name 1 Jn. 2:18; and in 1 Jn. 3:16, section 7 he quotes 1 Jn. 4:1-3; 5:1; 2 Jn. 1:7,8. Clement of Alexandria. (Strom. ii. 66, p. 664) refers to 1 Jn. 5:16 as in John's larger epistle; compare Strom. iii. 32,42; iv. 102. Tertullian adv. Marcion, vi. 16, refers to 1 Jn. 4:1; adv. Praxean xv to 1 Jn. 1:1.
Origen (Eusebius vi. 25) designates the first epistle genuine, and "probably second and third epistles, though all do not recognize the latter two"; he quotes 1 Jn. 1:5 (tom. 13 vol. 2). Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen's scholar, cites this epistle's words as the evangelist John's. Eusebius (H. E., iii. 24) says John's first epistle and Gospel are "acknowledged without question by those of the present day, as well as by the ancients." So Jerome (Catalog. Eccl. Script.). Marcion opposed it only because it was opposed to his heresies.
The Gospel of John and the first epistle are alike in style, yet evidently not mere copies either of the other. The individual notices, it being a universal epistle, are fewer than in Paul's epistles; but what there are accord with John's position. He implies his apostleship (1 Jn. 2:7,26), alludes to his Gospel (John 1:1, compare John 1:14; 20:27), and the affectionate He uniting him as an aged pastor to his spiritual "children" (1 Jn. 2:18,19). In 1 Jn. 4:1-3 he alludes to the false teachers as known to his readers; in 1 Jn. 5:21 he warns them against the idols of the world around.
Docetism existed in germ already, though the Docete by name appear first in the second century (Col. 1:15-18; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1-3). Hence 1 Jn. 4:1-3 denounces as "not of God every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" (compare John 2:22,23). Presciently the Spirit through John forearms the church against the coming heresy.
To whom the epistles were addressed. Augustine (Quaest. Evang. 2:39) says it was addressed to the Parthians, i.e. the Christians beyond the Euphrates, outside the Roman empire, "the church at Babylon elected together with" (1 Pet. 5:13) the churches in the Ephesian region, where Peter sent his epistles (1 Pet. 1:1: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia). As Peter addressed the Asiatic flock tended first by Paul, then by John, so John, Peter's close companion, addresses the flock among whom Peter was when he wrote. Thus "the elect lady" (2 Jn. 1:1) answers to "the church elected together."
Time and place
This epistle is subsequent to the Gospel, for it assumes the reader's acquaintance with the Gospel facts and Christ's speeches, and His aspect as the incarnate Word God manifest in the flesh, set forth in John's Gospel. His fatherly tone addressing his "little children" implies it was written in old age, perhaps A.D. 90. The rise of antichristian teachers he marks as a sign of "the last time" (1 Jn. 2:18), no other "age" or dispensation will be until Christ comes; for His coming the church is to be ever waiting; Heb. 1:2, "these last days." The region of Ephesus, where Gnostic heresy sprang up, was probably the place, and the latter part of the apostolic age the time, of writing.
Fellowship with the Father and the Son is the subject and object (1 Jn. 1:3). Two divisions occur: (1) 1 Jn. 1:5--2:28, God is light without darkness; consequently, to have fellowship with Him necessitates walking in the light. Confession and consequent forgiveness of sins, through Christ's propitiation for the world and advocacy for believers, are a necessary preliminary; a further step is positive keeping God's commandments, the sum of which is love as contrasted with hatred, the sum of disobedience.
According to their several stages of spiritual growth, children, fathers, young men, as respectively forgiven, knowing the Father, and having overcome the wicked one, John exhorts them not to love the world, which is incompatible with the indwelling of the Father's love. This anointing love dwelling in us, and our continuing to abide in the Son and in the Father, is the antidote against the antichristian teachers in the world, who are of the world, not of the church, and therefore have gone out from it. (2) 1 Jn. 2:29--5:5 handles the opening thesis: "He is righteous," therefore "every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him."
Sonship involves present self purification, first because we desire now to be like Him, "even as He is pure," secondly because we hope hereafter to be perfectly like Him, our sonship now hidden shall be manifested, and we shall be made like Him when He shall be manifested (answering to Paul's Col. 3), for our then "seeing him as He is" involves transfiguration into His likeness (compare 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21). In contrast, the children of the devil hate; the children of God love. Love assures of acceptance with God for ourselves and our prayers, accompanied as they are with obedience to His commandment to "believe on Jesus Christ, and love one another"; the seal is "the Spirit given us" (1 John 3:24). In contrast (as in the first division), denial of Christ and adherence to the world characterize the false spirits (1 Jn. 4:1-6).
The essential feature of sonship or birth of God is unslavish love to God, because God first loved us and gave His Son to die for us (1 Jn. 4:18,19), and consequent love to the brethren as being God's sons like ourselves, and so victory over the world through belief in Jesus as the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:4,5). (3) 1 Jn. 5:6-21. Finally, the truth on which our fellowship with God rests is, Christ came by water in His baptism, the blood of atonement, and the witnessing Spirit which is truth, which correspond to our baptism with water and the Spirit, and our receiving the atonement by His blood and the witness of His Spirit.
In the opening he rested this truth on his apostolic witness of the eye, the ear, and the touch; so at the close on God's witness, which the believer accepts, and by rejecting which the unbeliever makes God a liar. He adds his reason for writing (1 Jn. 5:13), corresponding to 1 Jn. 1:4 at the beginning, namely, that "believers may know they have (already) eternal life," the spring of "joy" (compare John 20:31), and so may have "confidence" in their prayers being answered (1 Jn. 5:14,15; compare 1 Jn. 3:22 in the second part), e.g. their intercessions for a brother sinning, provided his sin be not unto death (1 Jn. 5:16).
He sums up with stating our knowledge of Him that is true, through His gift, our being in Him by virtue of being in His Son Jesus Christ; being "born of God" we keep ourselves so that the wicked one toucheth us not, in contrast to the world lying in the wicked one; therefore still, "little children, keep yourselves from idols" literal and spiritual.
Aphorism and repetition of his own phrases abound. The affectionate hortatory tone, and the Hebraistic form which delights in parallelism of clauses (as contrasted with Paul's logical Grecian style), and his own simplicity of spirit dwelling fondly on the one grand theme, produce this repetition of fundamental truths again and again, enlarged, applied, and condensed by turns. Contemplative rather than argumentative, he dwells on the inner rather than the outer Christian life. The thoughts do not move forward by progressive steps, as in Paul, but in circles round one central thought, viewed now under the positive now under the negative aspect.
His Lord's contrasted phrases in the Gospel John adopts in his epistles, "flesh," "spirit," "light," "darkness," "life," "death," "abide in Him"; "fellowship with the Father and Son, and with one another" is a phrase not in the Gospel, but in Acts and Paul's epistles. It marks enjoyment experimentally of Christian verities as living realities, not abstract dogmas. Burning zeal, all absorbing love, appear in John combined with contemplative repose. Simple, withal profound, his writing is unrhetorical and undialectic, gentle, comforting, loving, the reflex of Jesus his Lord whose beloved disciple he was. Ewald speaks of its "unruffled heavenly repose ... the tone not so much of a father talking with beloved children as of a glorified saint from a higher world."
Place in building up the church. Peter founded, Paul propagated, John completed it. The Old Testament puts prominent the fear of God; John, the last New Testament writer, the love of God.
Yet as Old Testament also sets forth love, so John as a Boanerges also sets forth the terror of the Lord against unbelievers. Three leading developments of Christ. tan doctrine are: the Pauline, the Jacobean (between which the Petrine is the intermediate link), and the Johannean. James, whose molding was in Judaism, presents as a rule of life the law, under the gospel, established in its spirit, the letter only being superseded. John had not, like the apostle of the Gentiles, been brought to faith and peace through conflict, but through a quiet development from the personal view of Christ, and from communion with Him.
So in John everything turns on the contrast: life in fellowship with Christ, death in separation from Him; life, light, truth, opposed to death, darkness, lie. James and Peter represent the gradual transition from spiritualized Judaism to independent Christianity; Paul, independent Christianity contrasted with Judaism. John by the contemplative element reconciles the two, and forms the closing point in the training of the apostolic church (Neander).
Summary of 2 and 3 JohnAuthenticity
The similar tone, style, and sentiments prove both to be by the same writer. Irenaeus (adv. Haer, i. 16, section 3) quotes 2 John 1:10,11, and 2 Jn. 1:7 in iii. 16, section 8, as John's writing. Clement Alex. (Strom. ii. 66), A.D. 192, speaks of John's larger epistle, and in Adumbr. p. 1011, "John's second epistle to the Parthians is the simplest; it was to a Babylonian, the elect lady." Dionysius of Alexandria (Eusebius ,H. E. vii. 25) says "John never names himself in his epistles, not even in the second and third, though short, but calls himself the presbyter (elder)": 2 John 1; 3 John 1:1, so 1 Pet. 5:1. Alexander of Alex. cites 2 Jn. 1:10,11 as John's (Socrates H. E. i. 6).
Cyprian, in referring to the council of Carthage (De Haer. Bapt.), appeals to 2 Jn. 1:10, "John the apostle in his epistle said, If any come to you," as recognized by the N. African church. The Peshito old Syriac version wants these two epistles. Eusebius reckous them among the controverted (antilegomena) scriptures (see CANON OF SCRIPTURE), as distinguished from those universally acknowledged (homologoumena); his own opinion was that they were genuine (Demoustr. Evang. iii. 5). Origen (Eusebius, H. E. vi. 25) implies that most, though not all recognized their genuineness.
Jerome (de Vir. Illustr. 9) mentions them as John's, whose sepulchre was shown at Ephesus in his day. The antilegomena were generally recognized after the council of Nice, A.D. 325. So Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 349; Gregory Naz., A.D. 389; and the councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397). So the oldest extant manuscripts eight of the 13 verses in 2 Jn. 1 are in 1 John. A forger would never call John "the elder." Their brevity and the private nature of their contents caused the two epistles to be less read in church assemblies, and less quoted; hence their non-universal recognition at first. Their private nature confirms their genuineness, for there seems no purpose in their forgery. The style and coloring accord with those of 1 John.Persons addressed
3 Jn. 1 is directed to GAIUS (which see) or CAIUS, probably of Corinth, a "host of the church." See Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14. Mill believes Gains, bishop of Pergamos (Apost. Const. vii. 40), a convert of John, and a man of wealth (3 Jn. 1:4,5), is meant.
2 Jn. 1 is addressed to the elect lady, and closes with "the children of thy elect sister greet thee." Now 1 Pet. 1:1,2, addresses the elect in Asia, and closes (1 Pet. 5:13) "the Church at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you." "Lady" (kuria) in Greek is the root of church (kuriakee, belonging to the Lord). So John writes to the elect church in Babylon where his old associate Peter ministered, as Peter thence had sent salutations of the elect church in the then Parthian (see Clement Alex. quoted above) Babylon to her elect sister in Asia where John presided (Wordsworth).Date and place
Eusebius (H. E. iii. 25) relates that John, after Domitian's death, returned from Patmos to Ephesus, and went on missionary tours into the pagan regions around, and visited the churches, ordaining bishops and clergy (compare 2 Jn. 1:12; 3 Jn. 1:9,10,14). On one tour he rebuked Diotrephes. If this be so, both epistles were written after Revelation, in his old age, which harmonizes with their tone, and in the Ephesian region.