First Epistle of John

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A fragment of a copy of First John, c. 250 CE.

The First Epistle of John, often written I John, is the twenty-third book of the New Testament. It is a letter written in ancient Greek around 95-110 CE by an anonymous author to an unknown recipient. Church tradition attributes the letter to John the Evangelist, but many historians disagree. The letter disavows docetism, warns the reader to beware of false prophets, and says love can be identified through actions not words.

Authorship and Dating

Even though the author does not identify himself, most Christians believe the letter was written by John the Evangelist. This is primarily based on a supposed similar writing style to the Gospel of John, which is also anonymously written, and many scholars have demonstrated stark contrasts between the writing styles. The letter is dated by scholars to around 95-110 CE; John the Evangelist died in 100 CE.

Content

The letter disavows docetism, the belief that Jesus was not a real man, but a spirit (the fact that Jesus could be viewed as a mere spirit so shortly after his supposed miracles either makes me question the quality of those miracles or the reliability of the Gospels). It also gives vague guidelines for identifying antichrists from true prophets, and identifying proper love.

There is a popular corruption of I John 5:7-8 known as the Comma Johanneum. The phrase, "For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement," was altered in the 1500s by an unknown entity to read, "For there are three that testify: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these agree in one." This fraudulent insertion was no doubt made to push the agenda of the Trinity (the "Word" being a metaphor for Jesus). Most modern translations use the older Greek without the injection, but the translators of the KJV and Douay Rheims preferred the pro-Trinity corruption.

Status

I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the NIV translation.

Review

Good

  • A big message is that you can identify the truth of love through actions, not words (3:18). I agree with the sentiment, I just wish more Christians would follow it.

Bad

  • The intro is pretty vague. Who is the "we" the author speaks of in 1:1-4? Also, while referring to the Christian god as "light" and sin as "darkness" is a nice poetic approach, it unnecessarily obscures the author's morality (1:5-7). Are we to assume that dark things are evil and light things are good? Many white slave owners may agree.
  • The use of superlatives makes the text incomprehensible. The author claims that anyone who doesn't follow God's commands doesn't know God (2:3-4), but that all people are sinners (1:8), which means that everyone disobeys God's commands, which implies that nobody knows God. Elsewhere, people who obey God are living in him, but "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did (2:6)." But Jesus brought people back from the dead, turned water into wine, and cursed fig trees to death, but other Christians can't do these things. Doesn't this mean nobody "lives in Jesus," whatever that means.
  • I don't understand 2:7-8, "I'm not writing you a new command, but an old one... ...Yet I am writing you a new command." Make up your mind!
  • A rant against antichrists begins in 2:18 where the author explains that the emergence of Christians proves the world is on the cusp of destruction, but that was written nearly 2,000 years ago. Some cusp!
  • The author starts spouting tautologies in 3:4 saying sinning is bad, but righteousness is good. He says the devil is bad, and bad things are of the devil, and God is good, and good things are from God. This is all useless because it doesn't actually say which actions are evil or good.
  • The author's test to determine which spirits are from his god is ridiculous. He suggests we can tell if the spirit says Jesus was a real person, it's from his god, otherwise, it's from the antichrist (4:1-3). Does he not even consider that an evil spirit might lie? Later, in 4:6, he says that anyone who doesn't listen to him doesn't have the spirit of God! A bit full of himself, isn't he?
  • The author repeats himself an awful lot. In 4:20 he restates that God is love, that any man who hates his brother doesn't love God, etc.
  • The ending is confusing. In 5:18 the author writes, "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin," which implies that people stop sinning when they become Christians (hilarious!). But, then, in 5:19, he writes, "the whole world is under the control of the evil one." If the "whole world" is controlled by "the evil one," doesn't that include the Christians living on it? Even Jesus?
  • The last sentence (5:21) is a awkwardly tacked-on commandment, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols."

Ugly

  • I found 2:15-17 to be especially awful. "Do not love the world or anything in it." So, we shouldn't love our family and our friends? We shouldn't love their strength and courage and wisdom? Even most Christians will admit that non-Christians are capable of good works, but here the author says we shouldn't love anything good that they do. Then, in 3:14-15, the author contradicts himself saying we should love our brothers.
  • In 3:15, the author says that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. That's like saying, being jealous of your brother's car is as bad as stealing it, or lusting after a woman is as bad as raping her. No sane person would think hate and murder are not equal.
  • In 4:9, the author maintains that having one's child tortured to death is an act of love, which is abhorrent, and because he did this, we should feel compelled to love one another (4:11), which doesn't make sense.
  • The Comma Johanneum of 5:7-8 is a great example of how easily religious books can become corrupted and the corruption maintained for centuries.

Links

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