The Epistles of John pt.4-9 in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE

IV. Canonicity and Authorship. 1. Traditional View: As to the reception of the Epistle in the church, it is needless to cite any later witness than Eusebius (circa 325), who classes it among the books (homologoumena) whose canonical rank was undisputed. It is quoted by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (247-265), by the Muratorian Canon, Cyprian, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus. Papias (who is described by Irenaeus as a "hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp") is stated by Eusebius to have "used some testimonies from John's former epistle"; and Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians (circa 115) contains an almost verbal reproduction of 1 Jn 4:3. Reminiscences of it are traced in Athenagoras (circa 180), the Epistle to Diognetus, the Epistle of Barnabas, more distinctly in Justin (Dial. 123) and in the Didache; but it is possible that the earliest of these indicate the currency of Johannine expressions in certain Christian circles rather than acquaintance with the Epistle itself. The evidence, however, is indisputable that this Epistle, one of the latest of the New Testament books, took immediately and permanently an unchallenged position as a writing of inspired authority. It is no material qualification of this statement to add that, in common with the other Johannine writings, it was rejected, for dogmatic reasons, by Marcion and the so-called Alogi; and that, like all the catholic epistles, it was unknown to the Canon of the ancient Syrian church, and is stated to have been "abrogated" by Theodore (Bishop of Mopsuestia, 393-428 AD). 2. Critical Views: The verdict of tradition is equally unanimous that the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle are both the legacy of the apostle John in his old age to the church. All the Fathers already mentioned as quoting the Epistle (excepting Polycarp, but including Irenaeus) quote it as the work of John; and, until the end of the 16th century, this opinion was held as unquestionable. The first of modern scholars to challenge it was Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609), who rejected the entire trio of Johannine Epistles as unapostolic; and in later times a dual authorship of the Gospel and the First Epistle has been maintained by Baur, H.J. Holtzmann, Pfleiderer, von Soden, and others; although on this particular point other adherents of the critical school like Julicher, Wrede and Wernle, accept the traditional view. 3. Internal Evidence: Thus two questions are raised: first, what light does the Epistle shed upon the personality of its own author? And second, whether or not, the Gospel and the Epistle are from the same hand. Now, while the Epistle furnishes no clue by which we can identify the writer, it enables us very distinctly to class him. His relation to his readers, as we have seen, is intimate. The absence of explicit reference to either writer or readers only shows how intimate it was. For the writer to declare his identity was superfluous. Thought, language, tone--all were too familiar to be mistaken. The Epistle bore its author's signature in every line. His position toward his readers was, moreover, authoritative. As has already been said, the natural interpretation of 1 Jn 1:2,3 is that the relation between them was that of teacher and taught. (By this fact we may account for the enigmatic brevity of such a passage as that on the "three witnesses." The writer intended only...

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