Introduction to Johnís Epistles

[Draft] Notes on the Apostle Johnís Epistles

Taken at a Bible Study Led by Walt Henrichsen

In San Francisco, 10-14 March 2008


Table of Contents


Setting and Date of Writing of 1 John. 1

Timing of Johnís Gospel and 1 John. 1

Johnís 5 books and the synoptic Gospels. 1

Background observations about the three letters. 2

The problem of Gnosticism in Judaism.. 2

Repetition in 1 John. 2

Goals for this study. 2



Setting and Date of Writing of 1 John

I canít find complete agreement as to when 1 John was written.My sense is that it was after the fall of Jerusalem (in 70 AD) Ė probably around 90-100 AD Ė by the Apostle John.By that time, if that was the case, Judaism had already been marginalized in Christianity.Most of the patristics [church fathers] Ė Patheus, Iranaeus, Clement, Justin, etc. were all non-Jews.

The Christian Jewish congregations that were not scattered all over the empire congregated in spots like Pella, over on the eastern side of Israel [within the lower foothills of eastern slope of the Jordan Valley, approximately 100 km to the northwest of modern day Amman]


Timing of Johnís Gospel and 1 John

In the 3 letters I canít find any reference to the Gospel of John.So I conclude that either he had not written it yet or else it was so well known and circulated and understood that he didnít need to reference it.Iíve chosen the second.Itís an assumption.I could be wrong.I think John had an eye on the Gospel when he wrote the first letter Ė to clarify some of the misunderstandings.I could find no direct reference, though.I try to qualify my statements, because too often I have to eat my words.


Johnís 5 books and the synoptic Gospels

Interestingly, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is no hint of the pre-existent Christ, and in John there is no hint of His birth.There are some very startling differences between the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels.


Q: So in 1 John he doesnít talk about the birth of Christ because it was known?

If I understand 1 John correctly, one of his problems was with those who argued that the incarnate Word did not become flesh and dwell among us.The assumption in Greek thought, which was Hindu in worldview, was that the flesh is bad and the spirit is good; therefore, God would never become flesh.


Q: Why didnít John write about the physical birth of Jesus in the Gospel of John?

Possibly, when John wrote his Gospel he did not anticipate the Gnostic response.He was writing originally to try to reach them.


Q: So ďThe Word became fleshĒ in Jn. 1:14 was not saying God impregnated Mary?



Background observations about the three letters

           2 and 3 John are the shortest NT books Ė even shorter than Philemon and Jude.Each of these two letters contains less than 200 Greek words, so the vocabulary is very limited.

           The epistles are numbered 1,2,3 John, not because of any sequential reason, but solely because of the length of the epistles [number of Greek words].In reality we do not know the order in which they were written.

           There is no reference to the OT in the 3 epistles except 1 John 3:12 when makes reference to Cain.

           There is no reference to the dispute of the gentile Jews that takes place in Acts 15.

           My own observation: the synoptic gospels emphasized doing, but John emphasizes being.

           Thus, you have no reference to grace in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

           What you do find is in John.

           In all of 5 writings of John, the only two commandments in the whole of that work were love and believe.

           Love was the umbrella under which all the other commandments fit.

           You donít find a long list like in Romans 1 or the Sermon on the Mount.

           The synoptic gospels emphasize doing; John emphasizes being.

           Ex.: Jn. 15 Ė emphasis is not on fruit but on abiding, to produce excess life.

           In synoptic gospels when asked about how get to heaven, Jesus said keep the law.

           In 1 John emphasized knowing more than being or doing.


The problem of Gnosticism in Judaism

           My impression was that Colossians was written to Jewish Gnostics.

           The Sadducees were Hellenistic [Greek] Ė thatís why they debated with the Pharisees over the resurrection - if the body is bad, why resurrect it?

           They were the prototype of the Gnostics

           There was also some Gnostic influence in the Kabbalah [a set of mystical teachings used to interpret the Hebrew Bible and traditional Rabbinic literature]; it was mystical Ė you know by experiencing rather than by revelation.

           I was talking to a Jewish friend Ė said he was a Jew and that he believed in reincarnation.

           Statistically, I think that in 1970 maybe 5% people believed in reincarnation in the USA.Today, itís about 25%, because we are becoming more and more Hinduistic in our thinking Ė this blending, coming together without asking ourselves if they are legitimate fits


Repetition in 1 John

           My sense in studying 1 John is that there was a lot of repetition.

           I wondered what it would look like if I condensed it to say it just once.I didnít try it, but you can.

           Itís like looking at a diamond.Seeing it from a variety of perspectives.

           Repetition is a technique of teaching.The word IF appears a lot in this letter.


Goals for this study

I asked myself, what like to accomplish this week?

1.      I hope we would have a clear understanding of God Ė come to know and understand better His ways.

2.      I want to know and understand His expectations Ė I think we can assume that all the commands are general [and for us today] unless the context demands that they are specific.


How understanding God is different from understanding His expectations

           A lot of truth in the Bible, after you discover it, you say, ďSo what?Ē

           The answer is: it affords you the opportunity to get a glimpse of what God is like, but there are no action points.

           Understanding His expectations: what He say specifically that Iím supposed to do.



[1st dayís lunch break]