Liars and an Introduction to 1 John
I love 1 John so much. John is so incredibly honest in this book that it makes me giddy. It's almost like he's going on a rant at some points. He starts the book by affirming who he is and his experience with Jesus:
"...which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes...and touched with our hands....that we have seen it, and testify to it..."
Then he starts in. Who are liars?
1. Those who say they have fellowship with God but walk in darkness
2. Those who say they have no sin
3. Those who say they have not sinned, with the addition that they make GOD a liar
4. Those who say they know God but don't keep His commandments
And that's just the passages that specifically use the word "liar". The rest of the passage has more to say with other strong words. So the question is (and be honest with yourself), are you a liar? Do any of those things apply to you?
Some intro material to 1 John:
"UNIQUENESS OF THE BOOK
A. The book of I John is not a personal letter nor a letter written to one church as much as it is an “Impassioned Office Memo from Headquarters” (corporate letter).
1. It has no traditional introduction (from whom, to whom).
2. It has no personal greetings or closing message.
B. There is no mention made of personal names. This is highly unusual except in books written to many church, such as Ephesians and James. The only NT books which do not include the name of the author are Hebrews and I John. However, it is obvious that it was written to believers presently facing an internal church problem of false teachers.
C. This letter is a powerful theological treatise
1. The centrality of Jesus
a. fully God and fully man
b. salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ, not a mystical experience or secret knowledge (false teachers)
2. The demand for a Christian lifestyle (three tests)
a. brotherly love
c. rejection of the fallen world system
3. The assurance of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus of Nazareth (“know” used 27 times)
4. How to recognize false teachers
D. John’s writings (especially I John) are the least complicated Koine Greek of any, yet his books, as no other, plumb the depths of the profound and eternal truths of God in Jesus Christ (i.e. God is Light, 1:5; God is Love, 4:8, 16; God is Spirit, John 4:24).
E. It is possible that I John was meant to be a cover letter for the Gospel of John. The gnostic heresy of the first century forms the background for both books. The Gospel has an evangelistic thrust, while I John is written for believers.
The renowned commentator Westcott asserted that the Gospel affirms the deity of Jesus, while I John affirms His humanity. These books go together!
F. John writes in black and white (dualistic) terms. This is characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the gnostic false teachers. I John’s structured literary dualism is both verbal (light versus dark) and stylistic (a negative statement followed by a positive one). This is different from the Gospel of John, which employs a vertical dualism (from above versus from below).
G. It is very difficult to outline I John because of John’s recurrent use of themes. The book is like a tapestry of truths woven together in repeated patterns (cf. Bill Hendricks, Tapestries of Truth, The Letters of John).
A. The letter itself is obviously a reaction against a type of false teaching (cf. “If we say…” 1:6ff and “he who says . ..” 2:9; 4:20 [diatribe]).
B. We can learn some of the basic tenets of the heresy by internal evidence from I John.
1. a denial of the incarnation of Jesus Christ
2. a denial of the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation
3. a lack of an appropriate Christian lifestyle
4. an emphasis on knowledge (often secret)
5. a tendency toward exclusivism
C. The setting of the first century
The Roman world of the first century was a time of eclecticism between the Eastern and Western religions. The gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons were in ill repute. The Mystery religions were very popular because of their emphasis on personal relationship with the deity and secret knowledge. Secular Greek philosophy was popular and was merging with other world-views. Into this world of eclectic religion came the exclusiveness of the Christian faith (Jesus is the only way to God, cf. John 14:6). Whatever the exact background of the heresy, it was an attempt to make the seeming narrowness of Christianity plausible and intellectually acceptable to a wider Greek-Roman audience.
D. Possible options as to which group of gnostics John is addressing
1. Incipient gnosticism
a. The basic teachings of incipient gnosticism of the first century seem to have been an emphasis on the ontological (eternal) dualism between spirit and matter. Spirit (High God) was considered good, while matter was inherently evil. This dichotomy resembles Platonism’s ideal versus physical, heavenly versus earthly, invisible versus visible. There was also an overemphasis on the importance of secret knowledge (passwords or secret codes which allow a soul to pass through the angelic spheres [aeons] up to the high god) necessary for salvation.
b. There are two forms of incipient gnosticism which apparently could be in the background of I John
(1) Docetic gnosticism, which denies the true humanity of Jesus because matter is evil
(2) Cerinthian gnosticism, which identifies the Christ with one of many aeons or angelic levels between the good high god and evil matter. This “Christ Spirit” indwelt the man Jesus at his baptism and left him before his crucifixion.
(3) of these two groups some practiced asceticism (if the body wants it, it is evil), the other antinomianism (if the body wants it, give it). There is no written evidence of a developed system of gnosticism in the first century. It is not until the middle of the second century that documented evidence existed. For further information about “gnosticism” see
(a) The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas, published by Beacon Press
(b) The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, published by Random House
(c) The Nag Hammadi Gnostic Texts and the Bible by Andrew Helmbold
2. Ignatius suggests another possible source of the heresy in his writings to the Smyrnaeans iv-v. They denied the incarnation of Jesus and lived antinomian lifestyles.
3. Yet another less likely possibility of the source of the heresy is Meander of Antioch, who is known from the writings of Irenaeus, Against Heresies XXIII. He was a follower of Simon the Samaritan and an advocate of secret knowledge.
E. The Heresy Today
1. The spirit of this heresy is present with us today when people try to combine Christian truth with other systems of thought.
2. The spirit of this heresy is present with us today when people emphasize “correct” doctrine to the exclusion of personal relationship and lifestyle faith.
3. The spirit of this heresy is present with us today when people turn Christianity into an exclusive intellectual eliteness.
4. The spirit of this heresy is present with us today when people turn to asceticism or antinomianism."