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2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. ...

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard ...

28 And now, little children, abide in him...

1 John 2 - ESV

Who are the "little children"? In verse 2, 8, and 28 it seems to be the members of the church, but verse 12-14 suggests otherwise because "young men" and "fathers" are also addressed. Why does John address these three groups? Do they all represent the church? If not, who do they represent?

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I would suggest that, based on John's style in 1 John, 2:18 starts a new pericope where 12-14 are part of the immediately preceding pericope. Where the age divisions in 12-14 could be different groups within the church (probably Ephesus), in verse 18 I see John gently asserting his eldership (not in a rude, authoritarian way). "Children" (verse 18) is a vocative/nominative, and prefer vocative since it fits the context a bit better since he is directly addressing them. He's giving a specific message to them about the proper understanding of Jesus as both fully God and fully human.

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Where does he say a single word about being "fully God"? I think you should edit that out. – WoundedEgo Mar 6 at 16:31

1 John is ostensibly written by a disciple (who may or may not have written the 4th canonical gospel). This is by tradition and internal evidence identified as the disciple John. His audience includes:

  • fathers: those like himself that accompanied Jesus during his earthly service;

1Jn 2:13a I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning...

  • young men: those who have believed through the fathers and are strong in the faith "once for all delivered to the saints":

1Jn 2:13b ...I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one...

  • children: those who believed through the fathers but never met Jesus in the flesh, have believed but are dependent on the fathers and young men for all their information about Jesus and his message and are being confused by conflicting messages. He particularly addresses them to warn them that not all of the teaching they receive is faithful to the true Jesus and they must critically compare each message to the original;

1Jn 2:13c ...I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.

"him that is from the beginning" here is "Jesus as he was" as opposed to "the Jesus invented by those who were never there with him" aka "the antichrists":

1Jn 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1Jn 2:20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know [recognize] all things. 1Jn 2:21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 1Jn 2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 1Jn 2:23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 1Jn 2:24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.

Because of the structure of the letter involving these groups it is important to pay attention to the various pronouns used to "know where you are" in the letter. For example:

1Jn 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we [fathers] have heard, which we [fathers] have seen with our eyes, which we [fathers] have looked upon, and our [fathers'] hands have handled, of the Word of life; 1Jn 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we [fathers] have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us [fathers];) 1Jn 1:3 That which we [fathers] have seen and heard declare we unto you [young men, children], that ye also may have fellowship with us [fathers]: and truly our [fathers] fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1Jn 1:4 And these things write we [fathers] unto you, that your [young men, children] joy may be full. 1Jn 1:5 This then is the message which we [fathers] have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

He expounds the message that the fathers heard about God not having any darkness in himself at all:

1Jn 1:6 If [in the light of what we fathers heard from Jesus] we [any of us] say that we [any of us] have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we [any of us] lie, and do not the truth: 1Jn 1:7 But if we [any of us] walk in the light, as he is in the light, we [any of us] have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1Jn 1:8 If we [any of us] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1Jn 1:9 If we [any of us] confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1Jn 1:10 If we [any of us] say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

In this next section John speaks in the first person singular ("I write to you") and then immediately by a first person plural ("we have an advocate"). In a departure from most expositors I am convinced that the "we" in "we have an advocate" refers not to the children to whom he writes but rather to the fathers. He's saying "Jesus will back us up on this". That is, the fathers have a strong case against those who pretend to know God as declared by Jesus but do not keep his commands:

1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

So John, the fathers, Jesus and the father all stand on one side of the controversy about whether or not the gospel allows for one who is a christian and yet disobedient.

The people involved in the letter gives the polemic structure and makes it an easy read.

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Addressing the children is what builds the frame of his counsel. Fathers and young man come in between. Later on, ch. 3 of the letter, he extends and explains the concept of children for all insofar as all are children of the one Father.

Interesting that even in this letter he does not explicitly address women as he does fathers and young men. Those for whom the author is a father, be they men or women, old or young, accepted his addressing of children for themselves.

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I suppose everyone has said something good, but here is the key:

  1. When John said ("...I write to you...") young children, young men and fathers, please note it isn't a gender thing.

  2. What is it then? It is indeed a spiritual level.

  3. Remember the ark of covenant was carried on the shoulders of young man.

  4. Young children operate on this frequency: WII-FM (what is in it for me)

  5. Children are carried and fed, they sleep in one place and wake up in another. The key to childrens' miracles is cry. Exodus talked about the children of Israel crying to God.

  6. Young men are the ones who God can depend on. They volunteer, their reasonable service is because they have served God not because of the many returns.

  7. Fathers are those who are also more matured.They are not intimidated by what others achieve or has.

  8. Paul was writing and he said, "....you are screwed up because there is no fathers among you...."

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