John, First Epistle of
John, First Epistle Of, the most important of the so called catholic or "general" Epistles, of which it is the fourth in order. SEE BIBLE, vol. 1, p. 800, col. 2.
I. Its Authenticity. — That this is the production of the same author as wrote the fourth Gospel is so manifest that it has universally been admitted (comp. Hauff, Die Authentie u. der hohe Werth des Evang. Johan. p. 137 sq.). The establishment of the genuineness of the one, therefore, involves the admission of that of the other. The evidence, however, in favor of the Epistle is sufficient to establish its claims, apart from its relation to the Gospel. See § 7, below.
1. External. — Eusebius informs us that Papias knew and made use of it (H.E. 3, 39); Polycarp quotes a passage (4, 3) from it in his Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 7; Irenaeus uses it (comp. Adv. Hoer. 3, 15; 5, 8, with 1Jo 2:18; 1Jo 4:1,3; 1Jo 5; 1Jo 1); it is quoted or referred to by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 2, 389) and Tertullian (Scorpiac. c. 22; Adv. Prax. c. 15); and Eusebius assures us that it was universally and always acknowledged in the Church (H.E. 3, 25, 26). It is found in the Peshito and in all the ancient versions and is included in every catalog of the canonical books which has come down to us (Lardner, Works, 6, 584). In fact, the only persons who appear not to have recognized this Epistle are the ancient heretics, the Alogi and the Marcionites, the latter of whom were acquainted with none of the writings of John, and the former rejected them all, ascribing them to Cerinthus, not upon critical, but purely arbitrary and dogmatical grounds.
2. With this the internal evidence fully accords. The work is anonymous, but the apostle John is plainly indicated throughout as the writer. The author asserts that he had been an immediate disciple of Jesus, and that he testifies what he himself had seen and heard (1Jo 1; 1Jo 1-4; 1Jo 4:14), and this assumption is sustained throughout in a way so natural and unaffected that it would be doing violence to all probability to suppose that it could have been attained by one who felt that he was practicing in this a deliberate imposition. The circumstances also of the writer to which he alludes, the themes on which he chiefly dwells, and the spirit which his writing breathes, are all such as fall in with what we know of the apostle John and suggest him as the writer. If this be the work of a pretender, he has, as De Wette remarks (Exeget. Hdb.), "shown incredible subtlety in concealing the name of the apostle, while he has indirectly, and in a most simple natural way, indicated him as the writer." A few German theologians in our own times (Lange, Schriften des Johan. 3, 4 sq.; Cludius, Uransichten des Christenth. p. 52 sq.; Bretschneider,
Probabilia, p. 166 sq.; Zeller, in the Theol. Jahrb. 1845) have been the first critics to throw doubts on the genuineness of any of John's writings, and this altogether on internal grounds, but they have met with complete refutations from the pens of Bertholdt (6), Harmsen (Authent. d. Schr. d. Evangel. Johan.), and Lücke (Commentar, 3). See above. The only serious objections to the Epistles are those of Bretschneider, who has equally attacked the genuineness of the Gospel.
(1.) He maintains that the doctrine concerning the Logos, and the anti- docetic tendency of John's 1st Epistle, betray an author of the second century, whom he assumes to be John the Presbyter. But it is beyond all question, says Lücke (1. c.), that the Logos doctrine of John, substantially, although not fully developed, existed in the Jewish theological notions respecting the Son of God, and that we find it distinctly expressed, although in different words, in the Pauline representation of Christ's exalted dignity (compare Colossians 1 with Hebrews 1); that the rudiments of it appear in the literature of the Jews, canonical and apocryphal, Chaldaic and Alexandrians; that in the time of Christ it was considerably developed in the writings of Philo, and still more strongly in the fathers of the second century, who were so far from retaining the simple, Hebraizing, and canonical mode of expression peculiar to John that in them it had assumed a gnostically erudite form, although essentially identical. John intends by the Word (Logos) to express the divine nature of Christ, but the patristic logology attempts to determine the relation between the Logos and the invisible God on one side and the world on the other. The earliest fathers, as Justin Martyr and Tatian, while they make use of John's phraseology, further support their doctrines by ecclesiastical tradition, which, as Lücke observes, must have its root in doctrines that were known in the first century. But, from Theophilus of Antioch downwards, the fathers, mentioning John by name, expressly connect their elucidations with the canonical foundation in the Gospel of John, without the granting of which the language of Justin would be inexplicable (Olshausen, On the Genuineness of the Four Gospels, p. 306 sq.). Accordingly, adds Lücke, on this side, the authenticity of the Gospel and Epistle remains unassailable. SEE LOGOS.
(2.) On similar grounds may be refuted Bretschneider's arguments derived from the anti-docetic character of John's Epistle. It is true, docetism, or the idealistic philosophy, was not fully developed before the second century, but its germ existed before the time of Christ, as has been shown by Mosheim, Walch, and Niemeyer. Traces of Jewish theology and Oriental theosophy having been applied to the Christian doctrine in the apostolic age are to be found in the Epistles of Paul, and it would be unaccountable to suppose that the fully developed docetism should have first made its appearance in the Epistles of Irenseus and Polycarp. We have the authority of the former of these for the fact that Cerinthus taught the docetic heresy in the lifetime of John in the simple form in which it seems to be attacked in 1Jo 4:1-3; 1Jo 2:22; 2Jo 1:7. SEE DOCETAE.
II. Integrity. — The genuineness of only two small portions of this writing have been called in question, viz., the words ὁ ὁμολογῶν τὸν υἱὸν καὶ τὸν πατέρα ἔχει (1 John 2; 23), and the words ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ὁ Πατήρ ὁ Λᾠγος καὶ τὸ ἃγιον Πνεῦα καὶ ουτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι. Καὶτρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαπτυποῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ (1 John 5, 7, 8). The former of these is omitted in the Text. Rec., and is printed in italics in the A.V. It is, however, supported by sufficient authority, and is inserted by Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Scholz, etc. The latter of these passages has given rise to a world-famous controversy, which can hardly be said to have yet ended (Orme, Memoir of the Controversy respecting the Heavenly Witnesses [Lond. 1830]). The prevailing judgment, however, of all critics and interpreters is that the passage is spurious (see Griesbach, Append. ad N.T. 2, 1-25; Tischendorf on the passage; Lücke, Comment. on the Epistles of John, in Bib. Casbinet, No. 15, etc.). SEE WITNESSES, THE THREE HEAVENLY.
III. Time and Place of writing the First Epistle. — On these points nothing certain can be determined.
1. It has been conjectured by many interpreters, ancient and modern, that it was written at the same place as the Gospel. The more ancient tradition places the writing of the Gospel at Ephesus and a less authentic report refers it to the island of Patmos. Hug (Introd.) infers, from the absence of writing materials (3Jo 1:13), that all John's Epistles were composed at Patmos. The most probable opinion is that it was written somewhere in Asia Minor, in which was the ordinary residence of the apostle (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3, 23); perhaps, according to the tradition of the Greek Church, at Ephesus, but for this we have no historical warrant (Lücke, Commentary).
2. It is equally difficult to determine the time of the writing of this Epistle, although it was most probably posterior to the Gospel, which seems to be referred to in 1Jo 1:4. Some are of opinion that the Epistle was an envelope or accompaniment to the Gospel, and that they were consequently written nearly simultaneously (Hug, Introd.). As, however, the period when the Gospel was written, according to the evidence of tradition and criticism, "fluctuates between the sixth and ninth decennium of the first century" (Lücke, Commentary), we are at a loss for data on which to found any probable hypothesis respecting the exact time of the writing of the Epistle; but that it was posterior to the Gospel is further rendered probable from the fact that it is formed on such a view of the person of Jesus as is found only in John's Gospel and that it abounds in allusions to the speeches of Jesus as there recorded. Lücke concludes, from its resembling the Gospel in its apologetical and polemical allusions, that it indicates such a state of the Christian community as proves that it must be posterior even to the last Epistles of Paul and consequently that the ancient Church was justified in classing it among the catholic Epistles, which all bear this chronological character.
It has been argued by several, from 1Jo 2:18 (ἐσχάτη ὤραἐστίν), that the Epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, while others, founding their conjecture on the same passage, maintain the very reverse. Among the former are to be found the names of Hammond, Grotius, Calovius, Lange, and Hänlein, and among the latter those of Baronius, Basnage, Mill, and Le Clerc.
Equally unsatisfactory is the argument, in respect to the time when this Epistle was written, derived from its supposed senile tone; for, although the style is somewhat more tautological than the Gospel, this can be accounted for by its epistolary character, without ascribing it to the effects of senile forgetfulness. In fact, this character is altogether denied by some of the ablest critics. Still, from the patriarchal tone assumed in the Epistle, and the frequent use of the appellation "little children," we may reasonably conclude that it was written in advanced age, perhaps not long after the Gospel, or about A.D. 92.
IV. For whom written. — The writer evidently had in his eye a circle of readers with whom he stood in close personal relation — Christians, apparently, who were living in the midst of idolaters (1 John 5, 21), and who were exposed to danger from false speculation and wrong methods of presenting the truths of Christianity (1 John 2, 22-26; 4:1-3; 5, 1-6, etc.). If the Epistle was written by John at Ephesus, we may, from these circumstances, with much probability conclude that the Christians in that region were the parties for whose behoof it was first designed. Augustine (Quoest. Evangel. 2, 39) says it was addressed "ad Parthos," and this inscription appears in several MSS. of the Vulgate, and has been defended by Grotius, Paulus, and others, as giving the real destination of the Epistle. John, however, had no relations with the Parthians that we know of, nor does a single ancient testimony confirm the statement of Augustine, except on the part of later writers of the Latin Church, who probably simply followed him. It has been suggested that, as the 2d Epistle is by some of the ancients described as παρθένους (Clem. Alex. Frag., edit. Potter, p. 1011), this may have been changed into ,πρὸς Πάρθους and by mistake applied to the 1st Epistle (Whiston, Comment. on the Cath. Epistles; Hug, Introd. p. 464, Fosdick's transl.). This is possible, but not very probable. The suggestion of Wegscheider, that "ad Parthos" is an error for "ad Sparsos," an inscription which actually is found in several MSS. (Scholz, Bibl. Krit. Reise, p. 67), is ingenious and may be correct. If we are to understand the term catholic, as applied to this Epistle, in the sense of circular, we may naturally infer, from the absence of the epistolary form, that this was an encyclical letter addressed to several of John's congregations and in all probability to the churches of the Apocalypse. See § 8, below. Lardner is clearly right when he says that it was primarily meant for the churches in Asia under John's inspection, to whom he had already orally delivered his doctrine (1Jo 1:3; 1Jo 2:7). SEE REVELATION.
V. Character. — Though ranked among the catholic Epistles, this writing has not the form of an epistle in this respect it more resembles a free homily; still, in fact, it undoubtedly was sent as a letter to the persons for whose instruction it was designed. The general strain is admonitory and the author seems to have written as he would have spoken had those whom he addresses been present before him. One great thought pervades the book — the reality of Christ's appearance in the flesh, and the all sufficiency of his doctrine for salvation — a salvation which manifests itself in holiness and love. But the author does not discuss these topics in any systematic or logical form; he rather allows his thoughts to flow out in succession as one suggests another and clothes them in simple and earnest words as they arise in his mind. Some have imputed a character of senility to the work on this account, but without reason. Under a simple and inartificial exterior there lies deep thought and the book is pervaded by a suppressed intensity of feeling that recalls the youthful Boanerges in the aged apostle. The mighty power that is in it has drawn to it in all ages the reverence and love of the noblest minds, "especially of those who more particularly take up Christianity as a religion of love — a religion of the heart" (Lücke, Int. p. 55).
VI. Contents. — A strict analysis of this Epistle, therefore, seems hardly possible, as the writer does not appear to have been systematic in its plan, but rather to have written out of a full and loving heart. "He asserts the pre-existent glory and the real humanity of our Lord, in opposition to false teachers, and for the comfort of the Church (1Jo 1:1-7). Then follows a statement of the sinfulness of man, and the propitiation of Christ, this propitiation being intended to stir us up to holiness and love (1Jo 1:8; 1Jo 2:17); Jesus and the Christ are asserted to be one, in opposition to the false teachers (1Jo 1:10). The next chapter seems devoted to the singular love of God in adopting us to be his sons, with the happiness and the duties arising out of it, especially the duty of brotherly love (ch. 3). The following chapter is principally occupied with marks by which to distinguish the teaching of the Spirit of God from that of false teachers and of Antichrist, with repeated exhortations to 'love as brethren' (ch. 4). The apostle then shows the connection between faith, renewal, love to God and to the brethren, obedience, and victory over the world, and concludes with a brief summary of what had been already said (ch. 5)" (Fairbairn). See § 8, below.
VII. Relation to the Fourth Gospel. — The close affinity between this Epistle and John's Gospel has already been alluded to. In style, in prevailing formula of expression, in spirit, and in thought, the two are identical. "It is evident that the writer of each had a similar class of opponents in his mind — those who, like the Docetae, denied the true humanity of Christ; those, again, who denied that the man Jesus was the Christ and Son of God; and those who, under pretence of being his disciples, were habitually living in violation of his commands. In both books is the same deeply loving and contemplative nature; in both, a heart completely imbued with the teaching of the Savior; in both, also, the same tendency to abhorrence of those who opposed his Lord. Remarkable, too (to use the words of Ebrard), is the similarity of the circle of ideas in both writings. The notions, light, life, darkness, truth, lie, meet us in the Epistle with the same broad and deep meaning which they bear in the Gospel; so, also, the notions of propitiation (ἱλασμός), of doing righteousness, sin, or iniquity (ἁμαρτίαν, ἀνομίαν), and the sharply-presented antitheses of light and darkness, truth and lie, life and death, of loving and hating, the love of the Father and of the world, children of God and of the devil, spirit of truth and of error" (Fairbairn). Macknight, and, still more fully, De Wette, have drawn out a copious comparison of expressions common to the Gospel and Epistle.
This similarity has led to the suggestion that both, in a sense, form one whole, the Epistle being, according to some, a prolegomenon to the Gospel; according to others, its practical conclusion; and according to others, its commendatory accompaniment. The probability is that both were written at the same period of the author's life, and that they both contain in writing what he had been accustomed to testify and teach during his apostolic ministry; but whether any closer relation than this exists between them must remain matter entirely of conjecture.
VIII. Design. — That the apostle sought to confirm the believers for whom he wrote in their attachment to Christianity as it had been delivered to them by the ambassadors of Christ is evident on the surface of the Epistle. It is clear, also, that he had in view certain false teachers by whose arts the Christians were in danger of being seduced from the faith of Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, and from that holy and loving course of conduct to which true faith in Jesus leads; but who these false teachers were, or to what school they belonged, is doubtful. It is an old opinion that they were Docetae (Tertullian, De carne Christi, 1, 24; Dionys. Al. ap. Eusebius, H.E. 7, 25), and to this many recent inquirers have given in their adherence. Lücke, who strenuously defends this view, attempts to show that Docetism was in vogue as early as the time of John by an appeal to the case of Cerinthus and to the references to Docetism in three of the epistles of Ignatius (Ad Smyrn. 2 sq.; Ad Trall. 10; Ad Eph. 7); but the doctrine of Cerinthus respecting the person of Jesus Christ was not Docetic in the proper sense, and the passages cited from Ignatius are all subject to the suspicion of being interpolations, as none of them are found in the Syriac recension. Lücke lays stress also on the words ἐν σαρκί ἐληλυθότα (4, 2; comp. 2Jo 1:7) as indicating an express antithesis to the doctrine of the Docetics that Christ had come only in appearance. It may be doubted, however, whether this means anything more than that Christ had
really come, the phrase ἐν σαρκὶ ἐλθεῖν being probably a familiar technicality for this among the Christians. It may be questioned, also, whether the passage should not be translated thus, "Every spirit which confesseth Jesus Christ having [who has] come in the flesh is of God," rather than thus, "Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come," etc. (for ὁμολογεῖν with the accusative, see Joh 9:22; Ac 23:8; Ro 10:9; 1Ti 6:12), and in this case even the appearance of allusion to a contrary doctrine vanishes (see Bleek, Einleit. p. 593). It may be added that, had John intended to express a direct antithesis to Docetism, he would hardly have contented himself with merely using the words ἐν σαρκὶ ἐλθεῖν, for there is a sense in which even the Docetae would have admitted this.
The main object of the Epistle, therefore, does not appear to be simply that of opposing the errors of the Docetae (Schmidt, Bertholdt, Niemeyer), or of the Gnostics (Kleuker), or of the Nicolaitans (Macknight), or of the Cerinthians (Michaelis), or of all of them together (Townsend), or of the Sabians (Barkey, Storr, Keil), or of Judaizers (Löffler, Semler), or of apostates to Judaism (Lange, Eichhorn, Hänlein): the leading purpose of the apostle appears to be rather constructive than polemical. John is remarkable both in his history and in his writings for his abhorrence of false doctrine, but he does not attack error as a controversialist. He states the deep truth and lays down the deep moral teaching of Christianity, and in this way, rather than directly, condemns heresy. In the introduction (1Jo 1:1-4) the apostle states the purpose of his Epistle. It is to declare the Word of life to those whom he is addressing, in order that he and they might be united in true communion with each other and with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. He at once begins to explain the nature and conditions of communion with God, and, being led on from this point into other topics, he twice brings himself back to the same subject. The first part of the Epistle may be considered to end at 1Jo 2:28. The apostle begins afresh with the doctrine of sonship of communion at 1Jo 2:29 and returns to the same theme at 1Jo 4:7. His lesson throughout is, that the means of union with God are, on the part of Christ, his atoning blood (1Jo 1:7; 1Jo 2:2; 1Jo 3:5; 1Jo 4:10,14; 1Jo 5:6) and advocacy (1Jo 2:1) — on the part of man, holiness (1Jo 1:6), obedience (1Jo 2:3), purity (1Jo 3:3), faith (1Jo 3:23; 1Jo 4:3; 1Jo 5:5), and, above all, love (1Jo 2:7; 1Jo 3:14; 1Jo 4:7; 1Jo 5:1). John is designated as the Apostle of Love and rightly; but it should be even remembered that his "love" does not exclude or ignore but embraces both faith and obedience as constituent parts of itself. Indeed, Paul's "faith that worketh by love," and James' "works that are the fruit of faith," and John's "love which springs from faith and produces obedience," are all one and the same state of mind described according to the first, third, or second stage into which we are able to analyze the complex whole.
IX. Commentaries. — The special exegetical helps on the whole of the three epistles of John, besides those mentioned under the Gospel above, are the following, of which we designate the most important by prefixing an asterisk: Didymus, In Ep. Jo. (in Bibl. Max. Patr. 5; also in Bibl. Patr. Gall. 6); Bede, Expositio (in Opp. 5); Althamer, Commentarius (Argent. 1521, 1528, 8vo); Hemming, Commentarius (Vitemb. 1569, 8vo) ; Selnecker, Homilioe (Franc. 1580, 1597, 8vo); Danaeus, Commentarius (Genev. 1585, 8vo); Horne, Expositio [including Jude] (Brunsw. 1654, to); Rappolt, Commentatio (ed. Carpzov, Lips. 1687, and later, 4to); Creyghton, Ontleeding (Franec. 1704, 4to); J. Lange, Exegesis (Hal. 1713, 4to; including Pet., ib. 1724, fol.); Rusmeyer, Erklärung (Hamb. 1717, 4to); Whiston, Commentary (Lond. 1719, 8vo); Tgilde, Verklaaring (Delph. 1736, 4to); Ruhlius, Notoe (Amst. 1739, 12mo); Benson, Notes (London, 1749, 4to; includ. other cath. ep., ib. 1756, 4to); Schirmer, Erklärung (Breslau. 1780, 8vo); Morus, Proelectiones (edit. Hempel, Lips. 1797, 8vo); Hawkins, Commentary (Halifax. 1808, 8vo); Jaspis, Adnotatio [includ. Rev.] (Lips. 1816, 1821, 8vo); Paulus, Erklärung (Heidelberg, 1829, 8vo); Bickersteth, Exposition [includ. Jude] (London, 1846, 12mo); Braune, Auslegung (Grim. 1847, 8vo); Mayer, Commentar (Wien, 1851, 8vo); Sander. Commentar (Elberf. 1851, 8vo); Besser, Auslegung (Halle, 1851, 1856, 1862, 12mo); *Düsterdieck, Commentar (Götting. 1852-56, 2 vols. 8vo);. *Huther, in Meyer's Handbuch (Getting. 1853, 1861, 8vo); *Maurice, Lectures (Cambr. 1857, 1867, 8vo).
On the First Epistle alone there are the following: Augustine, Tractsatus (in Opp. 4, 1091; tr. into French. Par. 1670, 12mo); Luther, Commentarius (ed. Neumann, Lips. 1708; ed. Bruns, Lub. 1797, 8vo; also in German, in Werke, Lpz. 11, 572; Halle, 9, 906); Œcolampadius, Homilioe (Basil. 1525, 8vo); Zwingle, Annotationes (in Opp. 4, 585); Tyndale, Expositions (London, 1531, 8vo reprinted, in Expositions, ib. 1829, p. 145); Megander Adnotationes [includ. Hebrews] (Tigur. 1539, 8vo); Foleng, Commentaria (Venice, 1546, 8vo); Beurlinus, Commentarius (Ttibing. 1571, 8vo);
Hunnius, Enarratio (F. ad M. 1586, 1592, 8vo); Hessels, Commentarius (Duaci, 1599, 8vo); Eckhard, Disputationes (Gies. 1609, 8vo); Socinus, Commentarius (Racov. 1614, 8vo; also in Opp. 1, 157); Egard, Erklärung (Gosl. 1628, 8vo); Cundisius, Quoestiones (Jena, 1648,1698, 4to); Roberts, Evidences, etc. (Lond. 1649, 8vo); Mestrezat, Exposition (Fr., Genève, 1651, 2 vols. 12mo); Cotton, Commentary (Lond. 1656, fol.); Hardy, Unfolding [on 1-3] (Lond. 1656-9, 2 vols. 4to); *S. Schmid, Commentarius (F. et Lipsiae, 1687, 1707, 1736, 4to); Dorsche, Disputationes (Rostock, 1697, 4to); Spener, Erklärung (Halle, 1699, 1711, 4to); Zeller, Predigten (Lpz. 1709, 8vo); Marperger, Auslegang (Nürnb. 1710, 4to); Oporinus, Liberatio (Gitting. 1741, 4to); Freylinghausen, Erklärung (Halle, 1741, 8vo); Steinhofer, Erklärung (Tübing. 1762, Hamb. 1848, 8vo); Carpzov, Scholia (Helmstadt, 1773, 4to); Semler, Paraphrasis (Riga, 1792, 12mo); Hesselgren, Prolegomena (Upsala, 1800, 8vo); Weber, De authentia, etc. (Halle 1823, 4to); Rickli, Erklärung (Luz. 1828, 8vo); Pierce, Sermons (Lond. 1835, 2 vols. 8vo); Johannsen, Predigten (Alton. 1838, 8vo); Paterson, Commentary (Lond. 1842, 18mo); Thomas, Etudes, etc. (Genesis 1849, 8vno); *Neander, Erläuterung (Berl. 1851, 8vo; tr. into Engl. by Mrs. Conant, N.Y. 1852, 12mo); Erdmann, Argumentum. etc. (Berol. 1855, 8vo); Graham, Commentary (Lond. 1857, 12mo); Myrberg, Commentarius (Upsala, 1859, 8vo); Handcock, Exposition (Edinburgh, 1861, 8vo); Candlish, Lectures (Edinburgh, 1866, 8vo); Haupt, Einleitung, etc. (Colb. 1869, 8vo). SEE EPISTLES (CATHOLIC).