Lectionary Year B
May 21, 2000
1 John 4:7-21

Step III: Composition


The first six verses of I John 4 tell the differences between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. The former come from God and are made evident by confessions that Jesus Christ comes from God. The latter are of this world and are false. They are to be avoided while the former ones are to be heard and heeded.

Chapter five of I John begins with declaring that Godís children are those who know and obey Godís commandments. It claims that these commandments are not burdensome and then expands the concept by stating that whatever is born of God conquers the world and then it likens that victory with faith.


As we previously noted, between the prologue (1:1-4 or 5) and the epilogue (5:13 or 14- 21), we find discourses addressing discerning and walking in and having fellowship in God's light (1:5-2:27, 28 or 29), righteousness (2:28, 29 or 3:1-4:6), love (4:7-21) and faith (5:1-12 or 13). Raymond E. Brown (Anchor Bible Commentary, 1982, p. 116) claims that Calvin "was . . . blunt in judging that there was no continuous order in I John." D. Moody Smith, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1991, says 1 John has only "two major parts", dividing after 3:10. Brown, p. 765, has a chart agreeing with this major division. James L. Price, of Duke, refers to 1 John as a "homily", pp. 534ff, Interpreting the New Testament, 1961. He notes, "The metaphor of the spiral has been suggested. In the course of developing a theme the author sometimes brings us back to the starting point; almost, but not quite, for there is a slight shift which provides a transition to a fresh theme; or some theme which has been enunciated earlier is taken up again from a slightly different angle." He cites, Dodd's Johannine Epistles, pp. 144f. Smith cites Bultmann's commentary's (pp. 43f) describing 2:28-5:12 as "obviously not a coherent organic composition, but a compendium of various fragments collected as a supplement to 1:5-2:27". Many other possibilities come from other commentaries, to be sure, and Brown's ABC (p. 764) charts some forty different commentators' (as well as thirteen more listed in a footnote [#269] on p. 117) different divisions of 1 John!


Also as previously noted, commentaries struggle with traditional attempts to find John, Zebedee's son, James' brother and Jesus' disciple, as the author of either or both the Gospel of John and 1 John. However, most seem to conclude that the identity of the writer is too uncertain to define. Most do admit many similarities between the Gospel and the Epistle. Brown even calls the Epistle a commentary on the Gospel. Goppelt (Theology of the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 290) expands the concept of authorship of 1 John. He states, "The author certainly did introduce himself in 1 John, as also in the Gospel of John; he did not designate himself with a name but with a function; he spoke as a witness of the Logos become flesh." Then, too, after spending twenty-one pages discussing the Problem of Johannine Authorship, considering both the Gospel and all three of the Epistles, Brown says (p. 100) that the date of composition can be around the year 100. He also notes in a footnote, how various commentators date the work from as early as 60 and as late as 155. Possibly, 1 John is written to challenge the secessionists mentioned in 2:18, apparently in Ephesus. Much of what commentators read in 1 John seems to try to correct possible any weakening and/or corruption of the Christian movement a half a generation after the written Gospel was first circulated.

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