Introducing 1 John

Recently, I began teaching a study on 1 John and I thought it would be helpful to share my notes and expositions in the form of blog posts.  In this post, I’ve included an introduction and overview of the book, using the familiar Who, What, When Where, Why method.  Feel free to use these notes in your own personal study.  Also, I’ve listed below the many resources I’ve used in my preparation for this study and I commend them to you.

Who: Who wrote it?

  • The Apostle John
  • How do we know?
    • Author claims he’s an eyewitness to Jesus (1 John 1:1-3)
    • Internal Evidence – structure and style is similar to the Gospel of John
    • External Evidence – Church tradition and records
      • Irenaeus (202 A.D.)
      • Dionysius of Alexandria (265 A.D.)
      • Tertulllian (after 220 A.D.)
      • Also fragments of Papias’ writing
  • What do we know about John?
    • “Disciple whom Jesus loved” John 13:23; John 19:26
    • Brother to James Matthew 4:21
    • “Sons of Thunder” Mark 3:17

To Whom: To Whom was it written?

  • Believers!  Like the rest of the N.T. Epistles.
  • Circular Church Letter
  • Churches in Asia Minor that John oversaw (including Ephesus where John was elder)
  • What do we know about these churches, specifically Ephesus?
    • Ephesus appears in Acts, its own personal letter (Ephesians), 1&2 Timothy, 1 John, Revelation

What: What style or form is the book?

  • An Epistle; A letter to the Churches

What does He intend to say?

  • Response to Gnosticism and false teachers through proclamation and tests of genuine saving faith

When: When was it written?

  • Probably between 85-95 A.D.

Where: Where was it written?

  • Ephesus

Why: Why was it written/For what purpose?

  • Proclamation of Truth
  • Provide a test of assurance
    • Doctrinal
      • What do you believe about Jesus?
    • Moral
      • How do you respond to the commandments of Christ?
    • Social
      • Do you love other Christians?
  • Refute False Teaching
  • John’s stated reasons for writing:
    • 1:4 – Gospel Fulfillment
    • 2:1 – Gospel Application
    • 2:12-14 – Gospel Reminder
    • 2:26 – Gospel Defense
    • 5:13 – Gospel Assurance

The Apostle John’s circular church letter, which is entitled 1 John, addresses many of the controversies that were advancing in the churches of Asia Minor during the first century.  It is widely speculated* that these churches were heavily influenced by the heresy known as Gnosticism and subsequently the genuine believers were left confused and uncertain of their faith.  The Gnostics (literally meaning knowledge) had split, or succeeded, from the churches because of their beliefs in 1) a new theology and 2) a new morality, as well as other unorthodox beliefs.  Primarily, the “new theology” said that Jesus was born a man, not God, but that God descended on the man and entered his body upon his baptism by John the Baptist.  They likewise believed that it was the man that died on the cross and that God was not present in His body, but had instead left.  This heresy, being repacked and circulated to this day, had left many in the churches of Asia Minor confused and shaken in their faith.  So it is that John begins his letter with a bold affirmation of his own eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, ensuring the church that Jesus was both God and man.

The “new morality” that Gnosticism promoted asserted that trivial or minor sins that the everyday man committed were no longer sins to them because they had reached a higher life or a higher spiritual plane of living.  It follows then that John addresses this form of the heresy in the latter part of chapter 1 and is a central theme to his polemical argument throughout the letter of 1 John.

At its heart, 1 John provides a series of 3 tests to separate the true from the false profession in Christ.  The tests often present themselves in a repeated series as John reiterates his point.  The tests are as follows:

  1. Doctrinal – What does a person believe about Christ?
  2. Moral – How does a person respond to the commandments of Christ?
  3. Social – Does the person love other Christians?

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study:

  1. Why is it important to believe that a) Jesus was born of a virgin and b) that He is both God and man?
  2. What does it mean to have fellowship with other believers?
  3. How can I have fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ?
  4.  What is the joy that John is talking about in verse 4?


*Please note that the Gnostic beliefs are very broad and wide-ranging and any debate over specific beliefs that may have impacted Ancient Asia Minor does not detract from the Apostle John’s message in the slightest.

Sources for this study:

  • Bruce, F.F. Commentary on The Epistles of John
  • Dever, Mark.  Sermons on 1 John
  • Henry, Matthew.  Commentary on the Whole Bible
  • Inter-Varsity Press – Studies in 1 John
  • Johnson, S. Lewis. Sermons on 1 John
  • Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. The Life of Christ: Studies in 1 John
  • MacArthur, John. Sermons on 1 John
  • Moo, Douglas and D.A. Carson. Introduction to the New Testament
  • Pillar New Testament Commentary on 1 John, Carson, D.A. editor.
  • Poole, Matthew.  Commentary on the Whole Bible
  • ESV Study Bible
  • John MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV)

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.


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