Like the epistle to the Hebrews, 1 John begins immediately without the writer identifying himself. External evidence is in favor of ascribing the epistle to the apostle John. The epistle was known to Polycarp, a disciple of John. It is first quoted by Irenaeus who was himself a disciple of Polycarp. “In his Adversus Haereses (3.16, 18) he quotes fully from 1 John 2.18-22; 4.1-3; 5.1, and 2 John 7, 8” (Morris 18). Clement of Alexandria repeatedly quotes from the epistle as being from John. Tertullian quotes from the epistle about fifty times in his works against Marcion and the Gnostics. When it comes to internal evidence, the author presents himself as an eyewitness and establishes that fact early. Further, nearly everyone agrees that the fourth Gospel and the first epistle are inseparable. Further, the two shorter epistles are undoubtedly from the same hand as the first epistle. Thus, the writer of the gospel narrative and the writer of the three epistles are one and the same: John the apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Occasion & Purpose
A very grave and antichristian error has cropped up and perhaps crept into the fellowship of the faithful (see 2.18, 22-24; 3.7; 4.1-6). Plummer suggests that John writes to “grapple with the insidious seductions of antinomian Gnosticism, as they threatened the Church at large” (Pulpit Comm. iv). John describes these men in graphic language: antichrists (2.18) and false prophets (4.1). There are “many” of these! Their error was Christological in nature as they assault the nature of the Son of God with their diabolical teaching. They denied Jesus was the Messiah (2.22; 5.1) and that He had come in the flesh (4.2). The Gnostic claimed to have a “more excellent way” and seemingly understood the Gospel better than the apostles! Their teaching about Christ had ethical implications. John’s discussions about light, love, and righteousness, as well as the formula “if we say” or “anyone who says” all seem to be aimed at the ethical errors of the antinomian Gnostics.
All of the theological and ethical discussions through the epistle culminate in the purpose statement of the book: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (5.13). John writes to assure the faithful concerning their possession of life eternal.
Destination & Date
Both of these are speculative at best. John, according to tradition, resided in Ephesus near the end of his life. In all likelihood, the Gospel and these three epistles were penned from that location. This first epistle may have been a general epistle to the churches in Ephesus and in the surrounding locations which were becoming hotbeds for Gnosticism. He probably wrote this epistle sometime between 80-95 AD.