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1 John

Earlier this year, Barnabas Books published my book on 1 John. Here is part of the introduction….

Dr. Leo Buscaglia, who for many years taught a class at the University of Southern California entitled “Love 1A” once said, “Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life.”

I believe that is true. If this was the last book that I ever wrote, the most important thing I could write about is love. That consideration is, in fact, what determined my writing … not that I expect to die tomorrow. It is just that I realized I have never written a book about the most important subject in the world.

So as I sat down to think about love, as a Christian, I naturally wondered: What book of the Bible talks most about love?

Do you know the answer?

The word “love” appears some 551 times in the Bible. 319 of those times are in the Old Testament. 144 of those are in the Psalms; that is almost one mention of love per psalm. Therefore, if we were looking for the book of the Bible that talks most about love it would be the Psalms.

The New Testament mentions love 232 times. 103 of those are in the letters of Paul. Of course, 1 Corinthians 13 is known as the Love Chapter in the Bible. However, if we were looking for one book of the New Testament that talks more about love than any other, it would be the First Letter of John. 1 John uses the word love 35 times. That is quite a lot for five chapters.

The Bible is sometimes called God’s love letter to humanity. In some sense, I imagine that is true. However, I think if we were looking for one particular letter of love in the Bible, it would have to be 1 John.

Now, I have to state a caveat right at the beginning. 1 John is not like most other letters in the New Testament. It is not addressed to a specific group of people. It does not begin with “Dear So and So” and it does not end with “Yours sincerely, John.” What is called the first letter of John is really more like a sermon or a meditation. David Jackman describes 1 John as being like a spiral staircase. He writes,

As you climb the central staircase in a large palace or a stately home, you see the same objects or paintings from a different angle, often with a new appreciation of their beauty. It is rather like that with the great truths John is concerned to state and revisit in the letter. The view gets more wonderful as you climb and the heavenly light shines more and more clearly until you reach the top.[i]

Who created this wonderful spiral staircase and when was it created? This is one of only two letters in the New Testament (the other one being Hebrews) that does not provide the author’s name. However, the opening verses of 1 John seem to suggest that the author heard, saw, and even touched Jesus of Nazareth. 
Furthermore, there are many similarities in language and topics between 1 John and the Gospel of John. Finally, it was the unanimous opinion of the Early Church that 1 John was written by John, the disciple of Jesus. The most important attestation to this came from Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp who in turn was a disciple of John.

However, modern scholars have, for a number of reasons, suggested that 1 John was written by a disciple of John the Evangelist, rather than by John himself. It seems likely that a group of disciples gathered around John the Evangelist, possibly in Ephesus, and that one or more of these disciples was responsible for collecting and editing what John wrote about Jesus in his Gospel. Thus, we have two endings to the Gospel of John: one in chapter 20 and another, added by one of John’s disciples, consisting of the whole of chapter 21. It seems likely that one or more of these disciples of John also collected the meditations we have in 1 John.

In either case, whether 1 John was written by John the Evangelist or by one or more of his disciples, scholars are agreed that 1 John was most likely written toward the very end of the first century, around AD 90 or perhaps as late as 100, probably from Ephesus in Asia Minor. The conservative, evangelical scholar, Donald Guthrie, once wrote about 1 John,

In one sense the authorship is not the most important issue, for the exegesis of the letter is not greatly affected by our conclusions regarding authorship.[ii]

[i] Jackman, David, The Message of John’s Letters, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 18.
[ii] Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1970, p. 864.


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