John (the Apostle) probably wrote this while he was still in Ephesus...during the 80's or 90's...before the persecution of Domitian in 95. It is an argument against the teachings of Gnosticism...placing an emphasis on the reality of the incarnation and the high ethical standard of the earthly life of Christ. (cf. Ryrie Study Bible, Introduction to the First Letter of John, p. 1878)
John, the First Epistle General Of:
There can be no doubt that the apostle John was the author of this epistle. It was probably written from Ephesus, and most likely at the close of the first century. In the introduction, (1 John 1:1-4) the apostle states the purpose of his epistle: it is to declare the word of life to those whom he is addressing, in order that he and they might be united in true communion with each other, and with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. His lesson throughout is that the means of union with God are, on the part of Christ, his atoning blood (1 John 1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10; 4:14; 5:6) and advocacy (1 John 2:1) on the part of man, holiness (1 John 1:6)., obedience (1 John 2:3) purity (1 John 3:3) faith (1 John 3:23; 4:3; 5:5) and above all love (1 John 2:7; 3:14; 4:7; 5:1).
Smith’s Bible Dictionary,
Gnosticism The heresy of Gnosticism had begun to make inroads among churches in John's day. Among its teachings were: (1) knowledge is superior to virtue; (2) the nonliteral sense of Scripture is correct and can be understood only by a select few; (3) evil in the world precludes God's being the only Creator; (4) the incarnation is incredible because deity cannot unite itself with anything material such as a body (Docetism); and (5) there is no resurrection of the flesh. The ethical standards of many Gnostics were low, so John emphasized the reality of the incarnation and the high ethical standard of the earthly life of Christ.
(Ryrie Study Bible, Introduction to the First Letter of John, p. 1878)
Gnosticism traces its roots back just after the beginning of the Christian Church. Some researchers state that evidence of its existence even predates Christianity. Whichever the case, the error of Gnosticism had affected the culture and church of the time and possibly even earned a mention in 1 John 4.
The word, "gnosticism," comes from the Greek word, "gnosis," which means "knowledge." There were many groups that were Gnostic, and it isn't possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual's relationship to the transcendent Being.
A more detailed Gnostic theology is as follows. The unknowable God was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil. Therefore, God generated lesser divinities or emenations. One of these emanations, Wisdom, desired to know the unknowable God. Out of this erring desire the demiurge, an evil god, was formed, and it was this evil god that created the universe. He along with archons kept the mortals in bondage in material matter and tried to prevent the pure spirit souls from ascending back to god after the death of the physical bodies. Since, according to the Gnostics, matter is evil, deliverance from material form was attainable only through special knowledge revealed by special Gnostic teachers. Christ was the divine redeemer who descended from the spiritual realm to reveal the knowledge necessary for this redemption. In conclusion, Gnosticism is dualistic. That is, it teaches there is a good and evil, spirit and matter, light and dark, etc., dualism in the universe.
What we know about Gnosticism is gained from the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, and some later manuscripts discovered in the eighteenth century such as the "Codex Askew, Codex Bruce, the Berlin Gnostic Codes and, most recently, the Nag Hammadi collection."1 Nag Hammadi is a town in Upper Egypt near ancient Chenoboskion and 13 codices discovered were discovered about 1945.
The danger of Gnosticism is easily apparent. It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. In so doing, it denies the true efficacy of the atonement since, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind, and we would still be lost in our sins.
There is debate whether or not this is a Christian heresy or simply an independent development. The evidence seems to point to the later. Nevertheless, the Gnostics laid claim to Jesus as a great teacher of theirs and as such requires some attention. It is possible that 1 John was written against some of the errors that Gnosticism promoted.
Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, https://carm.org/gnosticism
1 John 1
The Purpose of the Letter 1:1-4
To Confirm the Physical Nature of Jesus (1:1-3a)
John makes a clear, undeniable statement that Jesus had a real, physical body...and that the Apostles confirmed this when they saw, heard, and even touched Jesus. This is an immediate reproach of Gnosticism. The entire rest of the book follows this approach. Virtually everything John says is going to be a presentation of the truth of the Gospel of Christ…as opposed to the false teachings of the Gnostics.
To Confirm the Basis for Fellowship (1:3b-4)
John says that he is telling them this so that they may believe it to be true...and that as a result, they can share in fellowship with each other and with the Father (:3).
The Basis for Fellowship 1:5-2:2
We Must Walk in His Light (1:5-7)
The Gnostics taught that salvation was an intellectual pursuit only…having no consequences in the physical realm. Therefore, they could sin in body and it would have no effect. Only the intellect, the mind mattered. John is refuting this.
- Fellowship with God (:5-6)
Our fellowship with God is not just an intellectual pursuit…but a relationship with Him that is all-encompassing…including our mind, our will, our emotion, our body, and our spirit. When John says that, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all”, he is addressing the fact that the Gnositics believed that they could sin on a physical level and it would have no effect on the spiritual level. John says God is perfect (“no darkness”) and that we should live in a manner that is in keeping with His nature.
- Fellowship with Believers (:7)
John says that if they are truly followers of Christ then they will not participate in the practices of darkness (they said that the physical body didn't matter, only the spiritual). He tells them that if they are part of the fellowship they will understand that the blood (physical) of Jesus cleanses them from sin (and involvement in it).
We Must Confess Our Sin (1:8-10)
The Gnositcs denied the importance of sin. Since the physical realm was evil and only that which is spiritual mattered…they did not need to worry about sin in the physical realm. John is refuting this.
Evidently, they were saying that the activities of the physical body didn't make a difference...that they could do whatever they wanted, and it was not sin. John refutes this and says that if you make this claim, then you do not have the truth. If we confess our sin...we are forgiven. But, if we refuse to confess our sin...then we are saying that God is a liar...and consequently, His truth is not in us.
Prayer: Lord, if lies and deception were as rampant as John shows us, in his day...then surely, they are even more prolific today. Please, Lord...help me to know exactly what Your truth is and not be deceived at all. Help me to live a holy, godly life...body, soul, and spirit.