9 January 2017

1 John 1:1-4

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 7:1-11


There are three letters of John in the New Testament. The second and third are short and personal with a traditional greeting at the beginning and end. The first letter reads like a sermon, intended to be read out to several Christian congregations, written by a pastor who is anxious about the well-being of his flock. The style and vocabulary of the letters link them to John's Gospel, and all were probably written by "the elder" (2 John 1, 3 John 1).

The first four verses echo the Prologue to John's Gospel (John 1:1-18) as they speak of the word of life, active from the beginning with God the Father, which has been revealed on earth: "The Word became flesh, and lived among us" (John 1:14).

Alongside speaking of the origins of the Christian message, verse 1 emphasises the reality of Jesus, who had been experienced in every way by the senses, including touch. This introduces an important theme in the letter, which is to combat the heresy which said that Jesus could not have been truly human. The Early Church had to deal with Gnosticism, which separated the material world (which was seen as evil) from the spiritual (which was seen as good). This cast doubts on the Incarnation, for how could God take on a human body if matter is evil? Furthermore, the Gnostics believed that knowledge of God (gnosis in Greek) was much more important than the way one lived one's life. The letter addresses a particular form of Gnosticism, which originated in the teachings of Cerinthus, who said that the divine Christ entered the man Jesus at his Baptism, and left before the crucifixion.

It would seem that some of the members of the churches to which the letter was addressed had taken on these ideas, causing division and then leaving the Christian community. The writer wants to recall the churches to what he believes to be the true and original teaching. Through his proclamation of Christ, he wants to restore fellowship not only with himself, but more importantly with God (verse 3). Such fellowship would be the source of joy for them all.

To Ponder

  • In an age of new ways of 'being Church', what traditions would you want to hold on to as essential to Christianity?
  • What do you understand of Jesus as the Word of God?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.