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Jesus Fish 3

New Testament Survey: The Book Of First John

Written By: Steve Shirley

The Book Of First John


  • John (Son of Zebedee)
    (For more on John see: Survey: Gospel of John)
  • Although John does not proclaim himself to be the author of this letter (nor does he in his Gospel, or the following two letters), all of the key early church fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papias, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origin, Eusebius) universally agreed without question that John wrote this letter.
  • Remember the important chain we discussed in our New Testament Survey: Pre-Survey, that Irenaeus (130-200 A.D.) was a pupil of Polycarp (69-155 A.D.), and Polycarp was a pupil of John, therefore, there was only one link between Irenaeus (who was one of the most prolific Christian writers in history), and John.
  • There are a number of key words and phrases that the Gospel of John, and 1st John share:
“the Word” (1 Jn 1:1) / (Jn 1:1,14)
“your joy may be full” (1 Jn 1:4) / (Jn 16:24)
contrasting light and darkness (1 Jn 1:6-7) / (Jn 3:19-21)
“a new commandment to you” (1 Jn 2:8) / (Jn 13:34)
descriptions of “the devil” (1 Jn 3:8) / (Jn 8:44)
“passed from death unto life” (1 Jn 3:14) / (Jn 5:24)
“his only begotten son” (1 Jn 4:9) / (Jn 3:16)
God the Father is a witness who testifies about the Son (1 Jn 5:9) / (Jn 5:32,37)
believe = life / don’t = no life (1 Jn 5:12) / (Jn 3:36)
we must be born of God (1 Jn 5:1) / (Jn 3:3-8)
laying down one’s life (1 Jn 3:16) / (Jn 10:15,17-18, 13:37-38, 15:13)
“eternal life” (1 Jn 1:2. 2:25, 3:15. 5:11,13,20) / (Jn 3:15, 5:39, 6:54,68, 10:28)
“Saviour of the world” (1 Jn 4:14) / (Jn 4:42)
  • The author seems to indicate that he personally spent time with Jesus (1 Jn 1:1-4)(1 Jn 4:14).
  • Because the author did not name himself, many believe this also affirms that John wrote this letter, because only someone of his stature could write a letter without naming himself. In addition, most forgers would use a well known name so that their writing would gain acceptance.
  • The title of this letter has always been called (Gr.= “Ioannou A“) or “First of John.”

The Stats:

  • Chapters: 5
  • Verses: 105

Date Written:

  • App. 90-95 A.D.
  • All of John’s writings were clearly written after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Temple in 70 A.D.. This is likely not mentioned because it had occurred many years earlier.
  • There was a great persecution of Christians that broke out under the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) in 95 A.D. Because this is not mentioned, it was likely written before this date.

*** Note: Eusebius said that John was banished to the isle of Patmos near the end of Domitian’s reign. At this time, he wrote Revelation (Rev 1:9). When Nerva very briefly succeeded Domitian as emperor, he allowed John to return to Ephesus, where he died a natural death several years later in app. 98 A.D., at about the age of 90 under the reign of Emperor Trajun (98-117 A.D.).

  • Most scholars agree that this was written after John wrote his Gospel (app. 85-90 A.D.). It seems clear that John was very advanced in age when he wrote 1st John, because he addresses his readers as his “little children” 9 times (1 Jn 2:1,12,13,18,28)(1 Jn 3:7,18)(1 Jn 4:4)(1 Jn 5:21).

Place Written:

  • Ephesus
  • Reliable tradition (i.e. Irenaeus) says that John was a leader of the church in Jerusalem (see: Gal 2:9), likely until Paul was martyred in 67 A.D.. After this, but before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D., John moved to Ephesus where he became the “superintendent” of the churches in that area. The 7 churches that John later mentions in his writing of Revelation 2 & 3 seems to confirm this. He spent the rest of his life in Ephesus (except for his temporary banishment to Patmos).
    (The remains of what is believed to be John’s tomb can still be seen there today.)

Written To:

  • Likely to the 7 churches of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) that are mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3 (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea).
  • This was the 6th of the 8 “General (Catholic = “universal”) Epistles” (Heb, James, 1 & 2 Pet, 1,2,3 Jn, Jude), so named because they were not written to any particular church or person. This is called a “circular letter,” meaning that it was sent to various (probably the 7 above) churches. (Some say [i.e. Augustine] that this was sent to the churches of Parthia.)

Key Verses:

(1 Jn 1:5-10)(1 Jn 2:1-6,15-16,22-23)(1 Jn 3:1,6-9,18,22-24)(1 Jn 4:1-4,9,18)(1 Jn 5:4-5,7,13-14)


  • So that believers “may know that they (you) have eternal life” (1 Jn 5:13).
  • To warn about the false teachers who were teaching an early form of Gnosticism (more below), and denying the Incarnation of Christ.
  • To encourage them to have fellowship (1 Jn 1:3) with, and love for the Father and Jesus Christ, as well as with each other.
  • To emphasize the importance of steadfast adherence to the correct doctrines that they had previously been taught.

Special Emphasis:

  • There is a great emphasis in 1st John on the attributes of God. He is:
“light” (1 Jn 1:5) “greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (1 Jn 3:20)
“righteous” (1 Jn 2:29)(1 Jn 3:7) “love” (1 Jn 4:8,16)
“pure” (1 Jn 3:3) “true” (1 Jn 5:20)
“sinless” (1 Jn 3:5)  
  • “God” is actually mentioned 60 times in 41 verses.
  • The Greek word “meno” (translated as: abideth, remain, dwell, continue, tarry) is used 15 times in 1st John. Only the Gospel of John uses it more (19 times). The Greek word “koinonia,” translated as “fellowship,” is used 4 times in 1st John. More than any other Book in the New Testament.
  • The word “antichrist(s)” is used 4 times in 1st John. Other than one use in 2nd John, this word is used nowhere else in the Bible.
  • There is a great emphasis on forms of the word “know” all through 1st John. The Greek words “ginosko” and “eido” are used 38 times in 1st John. This is more than any other book in the New Testament except for the Gospel of John, which uses these Greek words an astounding 102 times! This was almost certainly because of the growing influence of Gnosticism which had its roots in the 1st century, but did not fully develop until the 2nd century. John apparently was concerned that this growing heresy would lead his readers away. (Paul also addressed this heresy when writing Colossians).
  • Gnosticism held that man was body, soul (both bad), and spirit (which was good). What was essential for salvation was for the spirit in man to be awakened by special knowledge (Gr. “Gnosis” = “knowledge”)(limited to a small group of people) of God and spiritual truth. (Of course… this allowed all kinds of sinful behavior for most, since it didn’t matter how they lived because their bodies [matter] were evil anyway.)
  • Because “matter” was sinful, the humanity of Christ was called into question. A variation of Gnosticism, called “docetism” (Gr. “Dokeo” = “to seem”) was being taught which said that Christ’s body only “seemed” to be real, but it wasn’t (He may have been a ghost). A well known false teacher of that time called Cerinthus added another variation (Cerinthianism) by teaching that “the Christ” descended on Jesus at His baptism, but left Him prior to His crucifixion. In other words, Jesus died, but “the Christ” did not. In short, they denied the Incarnation of Christ.
  • As a result of this, John emphasized the “humanity” of Jesus a number of times in 1st John. For example, see: (1 Jn 2:22) “who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is (not was) the Christ?” / (1 Jn 4:2-3) “every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”
  • John also placed emphasis on the assurance of salvation for the believer.


  • First John is in two principal divisions.

1. The family with the Father, 1:1-3:24.

2. The family and the world, 4:1-5:21.

(Survey from Scofield Reference Notes [1917 ed.]: Public Domain)

Copyright: © Steve Shirley