What Is the Message of 1 John? -- By: Gary W. Derickson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 150:597 (Jan 1993)
Article: What Is the Message of 1 John?
Author: Gary W. Derickson

What Is the Message of 1 John?

Gary W. Derickson

[Gary W. Derickson is Assistant Professor of Bible, Western Baptist College, Salem, Oregon.]

Within modern-day scholarship two distinct and disparate views have developed concerning the message of 1 John. They have arisen as a consequence of two variant perceptions of the purpose of the epistle. These are the Tests of Life (Salvation) and Tests of Fellowship (Practice of Life) views. The purpose of this article is to describe these views and how they are defended and to evaluate each view.

Tests Of Life View

The View Described

The Tests of Life view, the older of the two positions, commands the majority of scholarly support.1 The basis of this view is the dominance given the purpose statement in 1 John 5:13 in determining the overarching message and controlling the interpretation of difficult passages. According to this view John’s

purpose in writing the epistle was to encourage his readers, who were understood to be believers, to assure themselves of their salvation by verifying the validity of their profession through tests of spiritual life. These tests include doctrinal agreement with the apostles’ teaching and submission to their standard of conduct, namely, loving the brethren and living righteously.

Eternal life, understood as a soteriological term, is the subject of the epistle, with Christian certainty serving as the dominant theme throughout the work. Salvation is the subject of the epistle’s prologue in its focus on the “Word of Life” and the apostolic proclamation of “eternal life” (1:1–2).2 With eternal life as its central subject, the epistle develops three tests by which members of the believing community can recognize that they do indeed possess that life.

These three tests of the Christian life are belief (truth), righteousness (obedience), and love. These indicate whether a person has eternal life, and is therefore in communion with God, or does not and is merely professing faith.3 Passing these tests produces assurance of salvation, since there is a correlation between possession of life and production of fruit as evidence of eternal life.4 John’s purpose was not to cause his readers to doubt their salvation, but to find assurance in it.5 Fruit can be used either to reveal

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