I John: Who Are “They”?


 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you…(2:27).

 The First Epistle of John vividly illustrates the key role that context commands as we seek to understand the text.  Those Christians to whom John wrote knew, first hand, that context.  For us, understanding requires a little homework.

Our first step, in the study of any of the epistles, should be to read the whole letter through.  As we do that in 1 John, we come to the key clue, which clarifies the context, “They went out from us…”(2:19).

 Now, we need to seek some understanding of the spirit of those times.  Cerinthus, a contemporary of John at Ephesus, shows us the ideas that were in the air.  His dualistic world view [spirit=good/superior; matter=evil/inferior, i.e. that which was created, e.g. flesh, body] led to his docetic**[SEE Correction, below] (dokeo—to seem) view of Jesus—Jesus was a holy man but not divine.  He only ‘seemed’ to be Christ, but Christ, who descended on him at his baptism, departed from Jesus before his suffering and death. [Suffering is of the created/inferior world. The superior, uncreated spirit cannot suffer.]

This ‘Christianized’ spirit of the times, which developed into a more formal Christian Gnosticism by the mid-second century, emphasized an intuitive, special knowledge (gnosis) of mysteries, which separated out the true believers and gave them true salvation.

 Thus, as we read John’s letter, note his emphasis, starting in the first two verses, on the original, apostolic teaching “from the beginning” which his fellow Christians have received. John stresses the physical reality, e.g. “…our hands have handled.”  This stands in contrast to the new claims and new ways of those who “went out” from them.

Note the key verses, which test the doctrine of this new teaching:

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?…(2:22).

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, (4:2).

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,…(5:1).

 The ‘liars’ denial led to new ways.  Denial of the Incarnation, results in denial that “…the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”(1:7). For those with this ‘new’ knowledge, sin is no longer of consequence.  This is merely a concern of the inferior, created order. So, as you read through John, note his repeated emphasis on sin.

   And as you read, underline all the times he uses “know” and “Jesus” to help you see his emphasis.  Then, see if you understand the opening verse (2:27) at the top of this post. We will look at that in the next post.



In summarizing for this article, I conflated two ideas. Here is an accurate note on Docetism:

“The Gnostics denied Christ’s humanity in two ways. Some, called [1] Docetists, claimed that Jesus had only the appearance of flesh, without substance or reality (like a phantom). (“Docetism” comes from a Greek word, dokeo, meaning “to seem” or “to appear.”) Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, they said, was not real, for the body was not real.
Other Gnostics, following the lead of [2] Cerinthus, believed the spiritual Christ entered into a human (physical) Jesus at the time of his baptism (in the form of a dove) and left the human Jesus before the crucifixion. History reveals that Cerinthus lived in Ephesus toward the end of the first century, which was also where the aged apostle John lived. Irenaeus (AD 130–200) tells us that John specifically directed his Gospel against Cerinthus (e.g., John 1:14; 20:19–31).2″


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