WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

INTRODUCTION (Lesson II) 10/06/20

Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (BC 25-50 AD), noted for his comprehension of the early congregations of believers and the writings of the Final Covenant, especially those of Paul, John, and Hebrews. We must not forget that the Final Covenant documents were written in Greek by authors who were Jews (of course, now committed to understanding Jesus as Lord, the Anointed One) who were part of the Hellenistic culture of the Græco-Roman world.[1]

Another thing we find out about the Apostle John was that one of his followers was Papias (60-163 AD). He was Bishop of the Congregation in Hierapolis, a city of Phrygia close to Laodicea and Colossæ. Later, writers affirmed his martyrdom about 163 AD, some say in Rome and others in Pergamos. Papias was a disciple of the Apostle John and on close personal terms with many who knew the Lord and His apostles. From them, he gathered the stories going around about the sayings of our Lord and wove them into a book divided into five volumes. This work was not limited to an exposition of the Anointed One’s sayings but also contained much historical information. Eusebius speaks of Papias as a man most learned in all things, and well acquainted with the Scriptures. In another passage, he describes him as having a small frame.[2]

About A.D. 100, Justin Martyr was born. The anonymous Epistle to Diognetus was written during his time. Six of its chapters contain indisputable recollections of John’s first Epistle. Martyr wrote the Epistle to the Churches of Vienne and Lyons in 177 AD. He quotes 1 John 3:16. Carpocrates, the Gnostic, lived in Alexandria, Egypt at the beginning of the second century. He tried to pervert 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lies in [control of] the evil one.” Irenæus cites three passages from John’s first Epistle, mentioning its author, and Eusebius says this piece of evidence in precisely the same manner as that from Papias. Clement of Alexandria was born about 150 AD. Like Irenæus, he quotes passages from John’s first Epistle, naming the author. So also, Tertullian, born about the same time, Origen, and the succeeding Fathers. About 170 AD, a Canon of the New Testament was drawn up by a teacher to use catechumens. The name now attached to it is Muratori, who discovered and printed it in 1740 AD.[3]

Papias was one of the foremost leaders in Asia Minor found written about in Eusebius, Irenaeus, and Polycarp’s writings.[4]  Further, historical accounts inform us that other apostolic leaders would make the trek to Ephesus to hear John recount stories about Jesus and listen to the Apostle’s teaching. Ancient traditions originating in Ephesus also inform us that John’s tomb is in Ephesus. Therefore, it is not speculation to assume that the Apostle John was an evangelist, congregation planter, and pastor in the Mediterranean world whose firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ life, and who interlaced His teachings and ministry into this first Epistle.  As to the audience, we will say more about them as we examine this Epistle further, but there is little doubt that John directed it toward Christians who were already part of the Body of the Anointed One.

Furthermore, Hermas (115-140 AD) cites or alludes to this Epistle. It was also named as authentic by Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Cyril of Jerusalem (315-136 AD), and Augustine (400 AD). So, this was not something penned during medieval times in John’s name. Such admiration for these early church scholars can only add to our respect and reverence for what John wrote here in this Epistle. Tertullian, a prolific early Christian writer from Carthage in Africa between 155-240 AD, made this comment: “Read the testimony of John: ‘That which we have seen, which we have heard, which we have looked upon with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life.”[5] [6] Not only does Tertullian quote from John’s first Epistle, but does so as though it was already accepted as genuine and known among early believers as a message from a true apostle of the Anointed One.

We find that Bible researchers have assembled many Scriptural passages from this epistle representing a summary of Biblical faith to use in answering the question, “What do you believe?” One of the fifteen they included is where John says: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus the Anointed One came to earth in human form is from God.”[7] To deny this, says John, is inspired by the spirit of antichrist.[8]

Then we have a narrative shared by church historian Eusebius (260-339 AD), about the Apostle and evangelist John while he was still living in Asia and governing the congregations of believers of that region. After he returned from his exile on Patmos Isle following the death of Roman emperor Domitian, his being alive at that time can be established by the testimony of two witnesses. They should be trustworthy who have maintained the Church’s orthodoxy, and such indeed were Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria.

Eusebius first lists Irenæus in his second book, Against Heresies. There we read that the elders associated with John bear witness this story, John told them, while he remained with them until the time of Emperor Trajan. And in his third book on the same subject, he attests the same thing in the following words: “The church in Ephesus, which was founded by Paul, and where John pastored until the time of Emperor Trajan, is also a witness of this story which was part of apostolic tradition.” Clement likewise, in his book entitled “What Rich Man Can be Saved?” indicates the time and attaches a narrative that is most attractive to those that enjoy hearing what is beautiful and rewarding.

Eusebius then suggests that we read the account, which runs as follows: Listen to this story, which is not a simple fairytale, but an accurate narrative concerning John the Apostle, handed down and treasured up in memory. After the Roman tyrant Trojan’s death, John returned from the Isle of Patmos to Ephesus. He received invitations to visit the neighboring Gentile territories. There he appointed Bishops, and in some places, set congregations in order. In other areas, they asked him to choose for the ministry the ones pointed out to him by the Holy Spirit.

When John arrived at one of the cities not far away, he counseled the brethren on several matters. Then, he spotted a young man of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and striking character. Turning to the Bishop, John said, “In all earnestness, I present this young man to you in the presence of the congregation, with the Anointed One as my witness.” The Bishop accepted the charge and promised to do his best; John repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses and then departed for Ephesus.

This narrative by Eusebius is long, so I’ll summarize it. He took the young man he chose home with him. There he looked after him, baptized, and taught him. As the boy grew older, John relaxed his strict routine, satisfied that the Lord’s seal he placed on him provided perfect protection. But some young men of his age, idle, immoral, and accustomed to doing wrong, were able to make friends with him. At first, they took him along and paid all the costs for entertainment. They then talked him into going with them at night to commit robbery to pay for their expenses.

Finally, they demanded that he join the gang to commit even greater crimes. He gradually became accustomed to such practices. Like a horse freed from its harness, he rushed fast down into the depths. By so doing, he quit reading and meditating on John’s teachings lost all interest in serving God. As a result, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, cruelest of them all. So when the elders of the churches he visited earlier sent someone for John to send back the young man to help them in the ministry. That’s when John groaned and burst into tears as he said, “He’s dead! “How did he die, they asked?” “He is dead to God!” moaned John.

Nevertheless, John called for a horse and asked that he be taken to these robbers’ den. But the lookouts captured him when he entered their safe area and quickly took him, prisoner. But John did not resist or try to escape. He told the sentinels that he came to see their leader. Word reached the chief bandit, standing defiantly, holding his weapons. But as soon as he recognized the Apostle John, he turned in shame to flee, cutting his hand as he dropped his dagger. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him crying out, “Why, my son, are you running away? I’m your spiritual father, I carry no arms, and I’m old. Have pity on me, for I still believe there is hope for you. Someday I will have to give an account to the Anointed One for you. And if I must, I’ll gladly die for you even as the Lord died for us. Believe that the Anointed One has sent me to get you.”

When the young man heard this, he stopped, he threw away his weapons and trembled as he wept bitterly. And when John approached, he embraced him with both arms while the young man only embraced him with one arm as he confessed his sin with remorse as best he could. As a result, with tears of repentance, he submitted to be rebaptized. The young man, falling to his knees, pleaded with the Anointed One for forgiveness. Then John reached out and took the bloody hand the young man was holding behind his back and kissed it to show that he was still worthy of God’s love. They left the robber’s den, and John took him back to the congregation. There they found the believers making intercession for him with many prayers. They say that John did not leave until he restored the young man to the congregation, which furnished everyone as a great example of true repentance and a great example of regeneration, a perfect illustration of a spiritual resurrection.[9]

[1] Philo, The Works of, Hendrickson publishers, 1993, Trans. C. D. Yonge, An Introduction to Philo Judæus of Alexandria, Forward by David M. Scholer, p.10

[2] Introduction to the Fragments of Papias: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 278

[4] Polycrates: Letter written to Victor, Bishop of Rome, in late second century as recorded in Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History 3:31.3; 5.24.2

[3] See Tregelles’ Canon Muratorianus, Oxford, 1867, pp. 1, 81-89

[5] Cf. John 1:1

[6] Tertullian: A Treatise on the Soul, Ch. 17: “Fidelity of the Senses, Impugned by Plato, Vindicated by Christ Himself.”

[7] 1 John 4:2

[8] Creeds of the Church: Bible Creeds, Books For The Ages, op. cit., p. 5

[9] Eusebius, Church History, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1, Bk. 3, Narrative Concerning John the Apostle, Ch. 23, pp. 232-233


About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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