Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


28. The Johannine Letters: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John

Video Introduction


This chapter offers brief overviews of all three Johannine letters, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, the Johannine Letters are thought by modern scholars to derive from a group of congregations associated with the same community that produced the Gospel of John. A conflict has broken out within that community and some people have broken away from the churches led by “the elder” responsible for these letters.

Some of the themes addressed in these letters probably reflect matters of controversy related to the schism. The letters insist on confession of Jesus as one who came in the flesh, that is, as one who was fully human. They insist on the reality of Jesus’ death as necessary for human atonement, and they offer somewhat ambiguous teaching regarding persistence in sin: Christians are described as people who no longer sin, but also as people who must confess their sin and not deny their sinfulness. The letters present “love for one another” as the prime commandment for Christian communities. In contemporary religious circles, they are often studied for what they reveal about power struggles and the dynamics of church conflict.

Study Questions

  1. List at least six similarities between the Johannine Letters and the Gospel of John. What conclusions do scholars draw from these similarities?

  2. Rehearse the likely series of events that transpired in the churches with which the Johannine letters are associated. What sort of conflict has occurred, and how has that played out within the community?

  3. Based on clues within the Johannine letters, what beliefs or values might be attributed to the secessionists who caused trouble within the community?

  4. Discuss the ambiguous teaching of these letters on the question of persistence in sin. Do the letters claim that Christians continue to sin—or not? How might seemingly contradictory statements be resolved?

  5. Describe the Johannine ethic of “loving one another.” Cite three ways in which people fulfill this ethic (according to the letters).

  6. What do the three Johannine letters reveal about church conflict? Why is the conflict behind these letters often thought to go beyond “doctrinal disputes” to involve power struggles and clashes of ego?

Video: Antichrist/Antichrists