Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #44

Posted by Jim F. on November 23, 2007

Lesson 44: 1-3 John

1-3 John seem to be letters written to different churches in the region of Ephesus responding to imminent apostasy. Many scholars believe that these letters were written before the Gospel of John, though are also reputable scholars who believe otherwise. There is also considerable scholarly doubt that John himself wrote these texts rather than John’s followers, though to make references easier, I will refer to the author of these books as John. There are also doubts as to whether these are actual letters written to churches. I will refer to them as letters without intending to decide that issue.

We don’t know a great deal about the particular groups against which these letters are a response, but based on the content of the epistles, this group seems to have denied that Jesus’ life in the flesh was essential to his role as Christ, and they seem to have believed that moral behavior is irrelevant to salvation (which does not necessarily mean they condoned immoral behavior, though they may have). Paul confronts a similar though even more serious false belief several places in Romans, e.g., 3:8, 3:31, and 6:1. See also 1 John 1:8 for a place where John explicitly accuses them of holding this belief. 1 John 2:4 may also be such a place.

They also seem to have thought themselves better than others because they are Christians, and they may have even thought themselves better than other Christians (which would explain John’s constant reiteration that they should love their brethren). John’s overall intent in the letters seems to be combating their heresies by explaining Christ.

It is important to remember that these letters were written when apostasy was a very real threat, something happening before the eyes of early Church leaders.

Given the context in which these letters were written, how might they be particularly applicable to us today? How does their original context give them added meaning for us?

These study questions will concentrate on 1 John 4:7-21.

In the previous chapters John has emphasized two signs of a good relation with God: faith in Christ and love of the members of the Church. In this section (which continues into the first part of chapter 5), he shows how those two signs are related to each other. Verses 7-8: John says that all who love are born of God and know him (verse 7), though we might expect to have heard instead “all who are born of God and know him are loving.” (In this context, “know” means “have an intimate relation with.”) What does John mean? How is he using the word “born”? What explains this inversion of what we might expect. (Verse 8 emphasizes that inversion.) How can what he says be true? In what sense is someone outside the Church who loves (e.g., Mother Teresa) born of God? In what sense does a person like that have an intimate relation to him? John has described those reading the letter as “little children” (e.g., 1 John 2:1), as the offspring of God. What does this verse say about those who do not love? What does it mean to say “God is love”? Perhaps it is even more relevant to us to ask about verse 8: what does it mean to say “He that loveth not, knoweth not God”? Does this ever describe us? When? How? What does it mean to say that a person doesn’t know God? What does it mean to say “God is love”? If God is a person, what does it mean to define him as an action?

Verses 9-10: To what does “this” refer in the first part of verse 9? What is the point of verse 10? Paraphrased, we can understand verse 10 to say, “This is what it means to love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Does that help explain what it means to say that love is not found in the fact that we loved God, but in that he loved us? Can you put the meaning of verse 10 in your own words? Can you explain how verses 9 and 10 are related to each other? Can you explain how verses 9-10 are related to verses 7-8? Why does John say that Jesus’ sacrifice manifests God love in us? To whom does “us” refer, to a specific group within the Church, to the Church, to all humankind, to some other group?

Verse 11: This is also a common theme in Paul’s letters (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 8:12), and we saw it in 2 Peter 1: God’s love for us obligates us to love one another. Why do you think that the New Testament so seldom speaks of the necessity to love God and so often of the need to love one another? Some have argued that this verse means that when we don’t love another, we deny the atonement—we deny that God loves us since we implicitly say that Christ made a mistake in dying for that person whom we don’t love. What do you think of that argument? Is it too extreme? Is it wrong? Is it right? In what sense or senses?

Verse 12: The JST amends the first sentence of this verse. (See the footnote in the LDS edition.) Even with the emendation, however, it is odd. Why is it part of John’s discussion of love? In the Old Testament it was crucial to hear God rather than to see him. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 6:3-5.) Does that help us understand why John says what he does? Is it possible to see God and not be loving? Why or why not? If we are loving do we necessarily see God? Where or in what do we see God? What does seeing God have to do with our obligation to love one another? What does it mean to have God’s love dwelling in us? What does it mean to have his love perfected (or “completed”) in us? What does the first sentence of this verse have to do with the second?

Verse 13: What is the connection between having the Holy Ghost and loving one another? Does this verse explain why John said, “No man has seen God at any time, except them that believe”? Does this verse clarify what it means for God to dwell in us? How so? Does it clarify what it means for God to complete his love in us? How so?

Verses 14-16: Why does John insert his personal testimony at this particular place? What has it to do with his discussion of our obligation to love? What does it mean to confess that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 15)? What does it mean to dwell in love (verse 16)? What does it mean for God to dwell in a person (verses 15 and 16)? What does it mean for a person to dwell in God? What does John mean when he says that God dwells in anyone who confesses Jesus is the Son of God, and that person dwells in God? Does this tell us something about other Christians? What does it mean to dwell in love (verse 16)? Does verse 16 help us understand what is required for a full testimony? How does what John says in these verses square with the double commandment to love God and love man (Matthew 22:36-40)?

Verses 17-19: Does the word “herein” (i.e., “in this”) refer to what came before verse 17 or to what follows in it? Remember the connection between perfection and completion or wholeness as you read this verse—in the scriptures “perfection” rarely means “without flaw.” Instead, it means something like “ripe” or “whole.”) In what is our love made perfect? How does the perfection of our love make us bold (confident)? What does John mean when he says “as he is, so are we in this world”? That clause explains why we will be bold or confident in the day of judgment, so it is important to understand. Why does perfect love cast out fear (verse 18)? Is this a verse about fear in general or is it specifically a fear about what will happen to us at the judgment day? If it is about fear in general, then it seems to imply that when we fear we do not love. If that is true, then when we lack confidence (when we fear we cannot do something or we fear to make a mistake), it is because we do not love sufficiently. Does that make sense? Is it true? (Compare Doctrine and Covenants 121:45.) John says that fear carries with it punishment. (Verse 18; see the footnote to “torment” in the LDS edition.) What does that mean? Verse 19 is probably intended as a contrast to the last sentence of verse 18: “One who is afraid has not yet been perfected in love. But we love him because he first loved us.” What is the connection here? What is John’s point?

Verses 20-21: Why does John think this warning against self-deception is necessary? It is doubtful that someone would make the kind of blatant statement that we see in these verses. John is exaggerating so we will clearly see his point. How, then, do we say that we love God while, at the same time, we hate our brother? When and in what ways does that happen?

Textual Note: Verses 8-9 of I John 5 contain what is called the “Johannine comma.” (Besides referring to the punctuation mark, the word “comma” refers to a short phrase or word group.) The Johannine comma appears to be an insertion from a much later time. (The earliest manuscript containing the comma is from about 700 A.D.) Thus, most scholars believe that the verses should read as follows, omitting the part that is struck out:

7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

9 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #44”

  1. Michele Mitchell said

    Sorry to be such a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, but I’m eagerly awaiting your questions about the book of Revelation. I hope you don’t mistake lack of comment for lack of benefit from or appreciation for your posts.

  2. Jim F. said

    Sorry, I hope to get something up on Revelation. in the next day or two. I’ve spent the last three weeks conferencing and doing Thanksgiving, so I haven’t had much time to prepare the notes. They are, however, about ready.

  3. RuthS said

    About words that have to do with the senses, Joseph Smith talked about the principles of the the gospel tasting good which appeals to one way that humans relate to their environment; seeing and hearing are other ways of experiencing the environment just as feeling, hearing and seeing are, but in the context of Chapter 4:12 seeing does not seem to be a metaphorical way of describing experience. This verse has a more literal meaning and I think this is because John had actual experience with Christ after the resurrection where he saw and touched the Savior and experienced physical evidence as to the reality of his body. So verse 12 is directed to those who might be swayed by false teachers who would say that Christ has no body. Verse 14 makes it clear that “we” (probably the royal we in this case) have seen. So it seems in the entire context of what John is saying, is that no man has seen God the Father and that it is God the Father who is love and who “dweleth in us”. Chapter 5:7-9 viewed in relation to 4:12, 14 might indicate that it is the Holy Ghost that dwells in us and testifies to our spirits, might it not? Would this then not be a reference to the more sure word of prophecy?

  4. cherylem said

    Jim,
    Thanks for this, especially your study questions which have spurred my preparation enormously. I’ve been doing my SS notes so late that I haven’t posted them in a few weeks. Here I am, up at 5:00 on Sunday morning (after hosting a party at my house last night!) doing my notes. (Does anyone else operate on such a frantic time schedule????)

    I wanted to post some stuff mainly from the NIV study Bible, which is a conservative source, but which I think is also interesting. I have changed/paraphrased a little of this, but mostly its NIV stuff:

    1 John

    1 John, like the Gospel of John, is written in simple Greek and uses contrasting figures, such as light and darkness, life and death, truth and lies, love and hate.

    There is a mention of eyewitness testimony.

    There is an authoritative manner, seen in commands (2:15, 24, 28; 4:1; 5:21), firm assertions (2:6, 3:14, 4:12) and pointed identification of error (1:6, 8; 2:4, 22)

    Suggestions of advanced age (addressing his readers as “children”)

    Indications of a close relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Date: 85 – 95 A.D. Many date the Gospel of John to this same time period – and consider that Gospel as John giving his record, testimony, and also correcting error. By the time of 1 John, the struggle with the synagogue and the “the Jews” was no longer a major issue. Rather a division among [Johannine] Christians had now occurred, sparked by different views of Jesus. Both groups accepted the divinity of Jesus, accepted the profession that the Word was God. They disagreed about the importance of what the Word had done in the flesh – the way he had “walked.”

    Audience of 1 John: unknown, perhaps a “circular” letters. Apostle John thought to have lived in Ephesus during the late 1st Century.

    Correcting error:
    Gnosticism: a central teaching of which was that spirit is entirely good and matter entirely evil. From this dualism flowed five errors:

    1) The physical body, which is physical, is therefore evil. (in Gnosticism, God is entirely spirit, and therefore good.)

    2) Salvation is escape from the body, achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge (gnosis)

    3) Christ’s true humanity denied:
    • Christ only seemed to have a body (Docetism, from the Greek dokeo “to seem”)
    -or-
    • The divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before a died (Cerinthianism, after its most prominent spokesman, Cerinthus). This view is the background of much of 1 John (1:1, 2:22, 4:2-3).

    4) Since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly.
    -or-

    5) Paradoxically, this dualism also led to licentiousness. The reasoning was that, since matter and not breaking God’s law (3:4) – was considered evil, breaking his law was of no moral consequence. Moral restraints were abandoned, thrown off.

    (This Gnosticism addressed in the NT was an early form of the heresy, not the intricately developed system of the second and third centuries. In addition to John’s letters, this early form of Gnosticism can be seen as reflected in 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter and perhaps 1 Corinthians)

    So according to this source (NIV) 1 John should be read against this background of this particular error (early Gnosticism).

  5. cherylem said

    One of the reasons, by the way, that I think others view our temples with such distrust (when they do) is because of this early heresy of gnosticism (secret knowledge saves). That is, our temples are viewed as a variant of the secret knowledge heresy. Even when people don’t articulate this I think it is part of their hesitation, and knowing this helps us understand how to talk to people other than church members about temple worship.

  6. cherylem said

    Here are some further notes on 1 John, to complement what Jim has already posted:

    Purpose of 1 John:

    To confront the early form of Gnosticism by 1) exposing false teachers (2:26) and 2) to give believers assurance of salvation (5:13).

    John specifically struck at a total lack of morality (3:8-10) and then gave eyewitness testimony to the reality (incarnation) of Jesus Christ, seeking to confirm his readers’ belief in the incarnate Christ (1:3). Success in this would give the writer joy (1:4)

    Important themes:
    1. Recognizing liars
    2:22 denies that Jesus is the Christ (in both word and in deed)
    1:6 claim fellowship with God but walk in darkness
    1:8 claim to be without sin
    2:4 claims to know God but fails to keep commandments
    4:20 claims to love God but hates his brother

    Conversely, to acknowledge Christ is the truth and He must be acknowledged by both word and deed (1 John 3:18).

    2. The antichrist(s)
    (1 John 2:18-22, 3:8, 4:3, 5; 2 John v. 7)
    3:8 What is the devil’s work? Also see Heb. 2:14, 2 Ne. 9:10, 19, 26
    How does it compare to God’s work? Moses 1:38-39

    The antichrists “went out from us” (2:19) (implies some knowledge of the truth), and deny that Jesus is the Christ in public. These are liars, working for the father of all lies.

    3. The meaning of being
    Eternal life is abiding in us. We are born of God. See 2:29, 3:9, 5:4, 5:18.

    1:3 fellowship with God and Christ
    1:7 walk in the Light
    2:5 “we are in him”
    2:14 “word of God lives in you”
    2:24 “the anointing you received remains in you”
    3:1-3 hope in Christ -> purified
    3:9 “God’s seed remains in him”
    3:9 does not go on sinning
    1:7 (remission of sins)
    3:19 “we belong to the truth”
    3:23 live in Jesus and Jesus in them
    3:24 obey his commandments
    4:7 loves fellowman and knows God
    4:16 lives in love
    5:4 overcomes the world
    5:18 kept safe by God
    5:19 children of God

    4:13 live in him because he has given us of his spirit
    4:16 know and rely on the love of God

    4. Approaching God in confidence

    2:28 continue in Christ -> confident and unashamed
    3:18-21 love in deed -> hearts at rest in his presence -> confidence before God
    See D&C 121:45-46
    4:16-18 love made perfect -> drives out fear -> confidence on the day of judgment
    5:14-15 confidence before God -> ability to pray and get what you ask for (John
    15:7)

  7. cherylem said

    One last thought about John. I actually believe that the apostle John probably wrote John and 1 John. Interestingly, one of my good friends outside the church has come to several “lds-similar” conclusions regarding the nature of God, Christ, the fall, etc. due to his reading of John and 1 John, which he argues with passion and intellect were written as correctives (including correctives to the other gospels!) by the Apostle John, an eyewitness.

    Many people study 1, 2 and 3 John right after the Gospel of John. I wish we had been able to do that.

  8. Jim F. said

    cherylem, thanks very much for your additions to the notes. These are very helpful. I understand why you may not, but I wish you were able to do these for every lesson. We would benefit from them greatly.

  9. FWIW, I’ve saved this lesson for today (Dec. 23) as our “Christmas” lesson since I find it echoing the overarching theme of the New Testament to “Love One Another as I have Loved You.” I did both Revelation lessons in one, last week, and intend to create a bridge lesson between the Bible & B of M for next week. John(s) seem so appropriate in underscoring the nativity and incarnation of Jesus that I couldn’t resist teaching it today!

    Merry Christmas to ya’ll! –Nanette

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