1 John Notes

A few weeks ago I was doing a study on the book of 1 John, so I thought I would share my notes here. I’m not trying to lay this out as any sort of definitive interpretation. You may even want to double check the background information I provided, as I wrote down some of it from memory and performed only limited research. Again, these are my thoughts, not a well researched paper or commentary, so don’t overestimate their value.


  • 1:1-4 – These things that we know about Christ, we share with you.
  • 1:5-7
    • God is light
    • Jesus cleanses our sin.
  • 1:8-10 – We are sinners
  • 2:1-2
    • Jesus cleanses our sins.
    • Jesus is our advocate before the father.
  • 2:3-6 – We know that we have a relationship with God if we follow His commands.
  • 2:7-11
    • The Light, Jesus, is in those who love their “brothers.”
    • Those who do not love their brothers are in darkness.
  • 2:12-14 – ?
  • 2:15-17 – Do not love the world.
  • 2:18-23 – The antichrist is anyone who denies the truth of Jesus Christ.
  • 2:24-28 – If you continue to believe, the anointing will abide in you and you in God.
    • Question: Is the anointing the same thing as the Holy Spirit? It seems like it.
  • 2:29-3:12 – The righteous are born of God. Sinners are born of the devil.
    • 3:1-3 – Children of God
    • 3:4-9 – Children of the Devil
    • 3:10-12 – The differences between the two are righteousness and love.
  • 3:13-21 – Love is laying down your life and money for others.
  • 3:22-24 – If we do these things, God will abide in us and we in Him.
  • 4:1-6 – Test the spirits. If they confess Jesus as Christ, then they come from God.
  • 4:7-5:3
    • God is love.
    • Jesus is savior, sent out of love.
    • What love is.
  • 5:4-5:12 – Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God have overcome the world.
  • 5:13-15 – When we ask for things according to God’s will, he hears us and grants our requests.
  • 5:16-19 – Explanation of sin.
  • 5:20 – The Son of God has come.

Characters (by order of appearance):

  • Narrarator/Author (3rd Person Plural – 1:1)
  • God the Son (“Word of Life” – Jesus – 1:1)
  • God the Father (1:3)
  • Audience (“My little children” – 2:1)
    • Little children (2:12)
    • Fathers (2:13)
    • Young men (2:13)
  • “Brother” (2:9)
  • Antichrist (2:18)
  • God the Spirit (Holy Spirit – 2:27/3:24)
  • The Devil (3:8)
  • Children of the Devil (3:10)
  • Spirits (4:1)
    • Spirit of the antichrist (4:3)
    • Spirit of truth
    • Spirit of error
  • Narrarator/Author (1st Person Singular – 5:13)
  • Idols (5:21)

It seems that the overarching theme of the book is God’s love and the love that we should show others in response. More particular topics include:

  • Jesus is our redeemer because of God’s love.
  • God is love.
  • Sin has no place in the lives of God’s children.
  • To have a relationship with Jesus is to love our “brothers.”
  • Abiding in God and God abiding in us.

The book was likely written by the Apostle John near the end of his life, although some argue that it was one of his disciples. If it was written by John the Apostle, it was probably either while he was living in Ephesus or during his exile on the Isle of Patmos. The book dates to the late first (or possibly early second) century AD.

During this time period the Jews were scattered throughout the Roman empire, and Jerusalem had been destroyed in AD 70. Followers of Jesus had been under great persecution during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. The letter was most likely written during the reign of Emperor Domitian, whose reign was marked in the beginning by competence and in the end by madness. The Imperial attitude towards followers of Jesus at this time is difficult to discern, but it seems that at the end of Domitian’s reign that he likely engaged in some type of persecution of the members of the Way.

While the exact recipients of the letter are unknown, John was the leader of the Church at Ephesus, and this letter may have been sent to the churches in Asia Minor, where Ephesus is located. However, based on the way the letter is written, it seems that it was intended for people who were already a part of the Way. For example, in 2:1 John says “…we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ….” The implication is that the people reading the letter already have a relationship with Jesus.

Ephesus itself was a cosmopolitan port city of 225,000 residents and was the Roman seat of power in Asia Minor. It was also a center of paganism, as the Temple of Artemis was located there. Ephesus boasted well paved and well lit streets as well as the typical public buildings: a museum/scientific center, a medical school, a library, and a 56,000 seat theater.

Scholars believe that the book was written as an argument against Gnosticism (a heresy that held that the physical world is bad, the spiritual world is good, and knowledge is what is needed to reach Heaven). While it is often called an epistle, some would argue that it is actually more of a sermon as it has no greetings or salutations.

I owe a debt to the Lutheran NIV Study Bible, Bruce Metzger’s “The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content,” Wikipedia, and Will Durant’s “Caesar and Christ” for much of this information.

The tone of the book seems to be a cross between pedagogical and admonitory. John is reminding people of what they already know.

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Posted at 3:16 PM on November 24th, 2008
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