Introduction and 1 John 1:1-4

This study was led by Larry Reynolds in the Spring of 2008

Denton, TX




AUTHORSHIP – Five books in NT have traditionally been attributed to John the Apostle (the fourth Gospel, three epistles, and Revelation).  John is mentioned by name numerous times in the NT.  From those references and from some strong church traditions, there are some things we can know about John with reasonable certainty.

  1. He had a brother named James who was also one of the Apostles.  His father was named Zebedee and his mother Salome.  There is some indication in Scripture that Salome was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25; Mark 15:40).  If that is so, John and Jesus would have been first cousins.
  2. The family of John was engaged in the fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee.  There is some evidence that the family may have been relatively wealthy.  For example:
    1. Mark 1:20 indicates they had hired servants working for them.
    2. Mark 15:41 indicates that Salome was one of the women who ministered to Jesus and the disciples by helping provide for their material needs (cf. Luke 8:3).
    3. John 18:15-16 indicates that John knew the High Priest and had access to his court.
    4. Some conclude that Salome’s presence in Jerusalem in Matthew 20:20 indicates that John’s family had a second home in the city.
  3. Early church tradition says John stayed in Jerusalem until the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is said to have occurred sometime around the middle of the 1st century (cf. John 19:16-27). 
  4. Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers, says John moved to Ephesus after the death of Mary.  The early church believed he wrote the fourth Gospel and the epistles of 1, 2, & 3 John from there.  During his time in Ephesus he was exiled for a time to the island of Patmos from which he wrote Revelation.
  5. Tradition says that John outlived all the other Apostles, dying in Ephesus at an advanced age.  Jerome, another church father, says John lived 68 years after the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus, putting his death around A.D. 100 (cf. John 21:18-23).



  1. General letter – While most of Paul’s letters were written to specific churches or individuals, that is not the case with I John.  There is a complete lack of personal or geographical references—no names, no personal greeting, no salutation, no cities mentioned.  In that sense it is not unlike the NT books of James, 1 & 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Jude.
  2. Difficult letter – Some say this is the most difficult of all the NT epistles.  That is not because of grammatical style or vocabulary.  The Greek is rather simple.  In my Greek studies, this was the first book we tried to translate.  However, the thought and the over all structure is sometimes difficult to follow.  As we will see in this study, in the five chapters of this letter, John touches on many of the most important themes of Christianity.
  3. Crisis letter – It was written to stem the tide of a deadly doctrinal error which threatened the churches in Asia.  It was a latter, more developed, form of the same heresy reflected in Colossians.  Gnosticism, which had its roots in the 1st century, became more fully developed in the 2nd century.  It included a mixture of elements from Greek philosophy, oriental mysticism, Judaism, and Christianity.  Gnosticism included two basic beliefs that directly conflicted with basic Christianity.
    1. Knowledge, not faith, is the one condition of salvation and fellowship with God.  This knowledge was revealed to a select few people who kept in carefully guarded.
    2. All matter is evil and only pure spirit is good.  Thus they denied that God made the world and denied either the humanity (Docetic – dokein – “to seem”) of Christ or the deity (Cerinthian – According to Eusebius, Cerinthius was a teacher in Ephesus who taught that Jesus was just a man on whom Spirit descended at baptism and left before crucifixion) of Christ.

Virtually every sentence of sentence of 1 John reflects John’s abhorrence of the Gnostic system.

  1. Companion letter to the Gospel of John – All NT scholars agree that the Gospel of John and 1 John are linked together by style, vocabulary, and content.  However, there is disagreement over which book was written first.
    1. Some say the epistle was written first as a preliminary sketch of the gospel.
    2. Most scholars say the gospel was written first and the epistle was written as a theological interpretation of the gospel.
    3. A few say they were written about the same time with the letter more directly addressing the theological heresy of Gnosticism in a way that would seem out of place in the gospel.
  2. Late letter – The rather advanced nature of the heresy being combated as well as the clear indication the author was a very old man to whom all his readers were “little children” point to a date late in the 1st century.  This may well have been the last NT book written.


STRUCTURE – 1 John is a very difficult book to outline and any outline is necessarily somewhat arbitrary.  For the purpose of this study, I’ve divided the letter into nine sections.

  1. The Word of Life (1:1-4)
  2. The Divine Fellowship (1:5-2:6)
  3. The Law of Love (2:7-17)
  4. The Conflict of Faith and Falsehood (2:18-28)
  5. The Children of God (2:29-3:24)
  6. True and False Spirits (4:1-6)
  7. The Greatness of Love (4:7-5:3a)
  8. The Faith that Conquers (5:3b-12)
  9. Great Certainties of the Gospel (5:13-21)





            1 John opens without the standard salutation of many NT letters.  The tone is not so much that of a personal letter as that of a religious treatise or sermon.

            The similarities between the beginning of 1 John and the beginning of the Gospel of John are striking:

·         The opening phrases are almost identical.  The gospel begins with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word…” and the letter begins with the phrase “What was from the beginning…”

·         Many of the same words, such as Word, life, and witness, are used in both prologues.

·         Both books begin with a strong focus on Jesus as the logos, the Word who came from God to give us life.

However, there is a major difference in the beginning of 1 John and the beginning of the Gospel of John. 

·         In the gospel the deity of Jesus is emphasized – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”

·         In the letter the humanity of Jesus is emphasized – “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled…”


1:1-3 – A STATEMENT ABOUT JESUS – These three verses are one, long, complex sentence.  To understand the content of the sentence, we need to make sure we understand the structure.

·         The main verb of the sentence is the word “proclaim” in verse 3 in the phrase “…we proclaim to you also…”

·         The object of the verb is four relative clauses each beginning with the word “what” and each placed in verse 1 for emphasis.  Some see these four clauses as a summary of the Gospel of John.

·         Verse 2 is a parenthetical statement which explains how the declarations made in verse 1 are possible.

·         The clause at the beginning of verse 3, “…what we have seen and heard…” is intended to pick up and repeat the thought of verse 1 after the parenthetical statement of verse 2.


Obviously the focus of verses 1-3 is “…the Word of life…” which is just another way of referring to Jesus.  John speaks of the:


1.      Pre-existent glory of Jesus (1a) – “What was from the beginning…”

“was” – Imperfect tense meaning “was and always has been”

“from the beginning” – The idea is “from eternity” or “from before time began” not from a particular point in time

The thrust of this phrase is that Jesus did not come to be at some point in time.  When time began He already was.


2.      Real humanity of Jesus (1b) – “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have beheld and our hand handled…” – Through an impressive accumulation of words John demonstrates that Jesus really had a body.  He could be heard, seen, and touched.  The tenses of the verbs in those statements are important.

“have heard” and “have seen” – Perfect tense which carries idea of continuous action in past time.  The idea is that they “heard” and “saw” Jesus on many occasions.

“beheld” and “handled” – Aorist tense which carries idea of completed action in past time.  The idea is that there was a particular occasion when they “beheld” and “handled” Jesus.  May be referring to the time when the Apostles “beheld” and “handled” the resurrected body of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:39).

Obviously these words were directed toward those who were questioning the humanity of Jesus.  Throughout this first paragraph John stresses that the Apostles were reliable witnesses to His real humanity.  Three times he declares “we have seen” and twice he says “we have heard” and twice he speaks of Jesus being “manifested” or revealed.  John leaves no doubt that He was a real flesh and blood person.


3.      Manifested life of Jesus (2-3a) – These verses tell us how it was possible for the Apostles to hear and see and handled the eternal Word.  The key word in this section is “manifested” which means to bring to light or to make known that which already exists.  Three things are said about the life manifested in Jesus:

a.       It is “eternal life” which means it is a quality of life that transcends time and space as we know it.

b.      It is “with the Father” which implies a personal, face to face relationship.

c.       John was a witness to the life.  “…we have seen and heard…” speaks of John’s personal experience.


Verse 3 tells us why John is sharing this information with us.  The purpose is “…that you also may have fellowship with us…”  The word “fellowship” is used twenty times in the NT and four times in 1 John.  It means to share something with others.  What Christians share in is “…fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  

“…with the Father, and with His Son…” – The repetition of the preposition and the definite article mark both the distinction and the equality between the Father and Son.

“…Son Jesus Christ…” – The title is complete and significant.  “Son” points to His capacity to reveal God.  “Jesus” points to His humanity.  “Christ” points to His deity.


1:4 – THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER – “And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”  - It is impossible to know if the reading should be “our joy” as NASB or “your joy” as some other translations have it.  Both make sense.  The point is, John was not writing to add to the grief or pain experienced by Christians.  He is writing to add to the joy which should characterize believers.  The order is important.  First, we enter fellowship with God through Christ.  Then, we experience the joy of that fellowship in relation to our fellow believers.