Lesson 4 of5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in 1 John


John calls those Christian leaders who oppose his teachings “antichrists” (2:18, 22; 4:3). This expression should not be confused with the beast described in Revelation 13, whom some interpreters refer to as the Antichrist. John’s point is that certain teachings are the enemy of the truth of Christ and the Spirit of truth. The label antichrist speaks of the serious danger that John believes these false teachings pose for communities of believers.

Faith and good works

John claims a very strong relationship between knowing God, loving God, and doing good works such as keeping the commandments and walking in the light. Many Christians nevertheless have trouble with simply stating, “The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (5:3), without further qualification.

Nature and content of the false teachings

The exact nature and content of the false teachings that this letter opposes continue to attract scholarly debate. A popular option is that the heresy was a very early form of gnostic Christianity. The gnostics were important and influential heretics during the second and third centuries C.E. Among other things, many gnostic teachings denied that Jesus had a body like ours. They also dismissed the realities of life in the world, claiming salvation as a purely spiritual existence.

Relationship with John’s Gospel

This book contains language and themes that are very similar to what is in the Fourth Gospel. It may have been written by the same person or group of people. Many Bible scholars think this is the case, especially because of the language, theology, and themes shared by both books. At the same time, there are new and different points or problems developed in 1 John, distinguishing it from the Gospel of John. One of these is deep concern about the presence of false teachers in the church.

Sin in believers

John states that if we deny that we have sin, then we are liars (1:10), yet he also claims that those who are born of God do not sin (3:9; 5:18). Which is it? The ambiguity regarding this is real.