An Introduction to the Bible: 1 John

As Christians, we are to love one another

What is in 1 John?
1 John is the 62nd book in the Bible and the 23rd book in the New Testament.

John begins the letter by testifying about Jesus, ‘that which was from the beginning’. John, and many others, had seen Him. He is writing this so that the gospel and the joy that it brings will be known. God is perfectly good, and it is impossible for someone to walk in darkness and to truly follow God. The way to follow Him is to live in the light, confessing our sins so that they may be forgiven. Jesus is the world’s advocate, the payment for our sins. We know Jesus if we keep His commandments. John is not writing a new commandment, but one that had existed from the beginning – the word that God gave us. Whoever loves the things of the world that contrast with the things of God does not have the love of God in them. Some deny that Jesus is the Christ, and John writes to warn his readers against these ‘antichrists’.

John draws attention to the unique kind of love that would cause God to call us his children. Nobody who receives Him stays in their sin. Instead, they are from the devil. What God has told us from the beginning is to love one another. Indeed, Jesus laid down His very life for us in the ultimate expression of love. His commandment is to love one another, and believe in Jesus’s name. Through that, we know that He abides in us.

John tells his readers to test what they hear, to see if what they have been told is true against what they know to be from God. If one does not confess Jesus Christ, they are not from God and an antichrist. And if they do not love, they are not from God, since God is love. Keeping God’s commandments is showing love of God. God Himself has borne witness of Jesus’s identity. To close the letter, John tells his readers that he is writing so that they may know and have confidence in God’s presence and the life-giving power of Jesus Christ.

Who wrote it?
1 John is identified as being written by someone named John, and there is support for the view that this was indeed the apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John.

Who was it written to?
The letter has no explicit addressee, but we know it was written to other Christians.

When was it written?
1 John, 2 John, and 3 John were most likely written towards the end of the 1st century A.D. 1 John is mentioned in a few early church writings from the early 2nd century. Near the end of his life, John was reportedly ministering near Ephesus, perhaps when he wrote these letters.

Why was it written and how does it apply to me?
The letter focuses largely on how to tell if one is a true follower of Christ. The ESV Study Bible supplements this by saying that “it is customary to understand 1 John as a response to the rise of an early form of Gnosticism”. Gnosticism was the belief that some secret knowledge not from the Bible is necessary for salvation. John makes it clear what is necessary for salvation, knowing God and accepting Jesus as revealed to him and others, and recorded in the Bible. Jesus is able to act as an advocate for us, who died for our sins. One who has been forgiven is changed in other ways as well. A Christian stops intentionally walking in sin and begins to show God’s love. That, and following God’s commandments in general, more strongly identifies one as a Christian. No hidden knowledge required—it is clearly laid out in the Bible.

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Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
The Bible Project video on 1 John (covers 1, 2, and 3 John)

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Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

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