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The letter of 1 John begins in verse 1:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The testimonies are all given in the first person plural—"we have heard", "we have seen", "we have looked", "our hands have touched", "we proclaim."

Yet, the second chapter begins with the first person singular:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

Do the opening statements indicate that multiple people are writing this letter? Or does the first person singular in 2:1 suggest a single hand? If so, why is 1:1 in the first person plural? Who is the "we" in 1 John 1:1?

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I have a hunch that the context of fellowship is the key here, i.e. those of us who are in fellowship are telling you the basis of true fellowship. There seems to be an us vs. them polemic occurring, most likely between Christians and Gnostics. I don't have time to write up a formal answer right now but figured I'd throw this out there as food for thought. Great question. – Dan Jun 5 '13 at 16:31

Since he is using the 'I' without further reference, he is the author. (No one else is being named explicitly who could be co-author.)
The 'we' in the beginning therefore can only be understood as standing for the group of witnessing disciples (apostles).

Regarding witness the commonness (plural) of the experience is important (as not being just an individual perception). It is the common ground of having come to know the Christ as the Word of God and living human which the author calls to the reader's (and listeners') attention.

Regarding encouragement and counsel and personal address the softness and closeness of the personal relation is what calls for the (here) more intimate singular (since it is the single author who witnesses and knows their situation, and they know him, but perhaps none of the others).

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The 'we' here may be reference to the congregation who are being addressed by their absent Pastor. It could also be an address to disciples widely scattered. John feels that the things he declares demand the strongest evidence. He has not believed them lightly, and he does not expect others to believe them lightly.

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1 John chapters 2-4 could only have been written by a single person, so there is no good reason to see this epistle as written by multiple authors. In spite of tradition, few modern scholars would understand the author to be the apostle John, to whom the 'Johannine' writings were attributed later in the second century. Most scholars believe that 1 John was written by the same (anonymous) author as 2 John and 3 John, in both of which he identifies himself as 'the elder' or 'the presbyter'. In that regard, the rather superior attitude demonstrated in verses such as 2:1 ("My little children ...") shows he is accustomed to considerable respect from members of his 'Johannine' community.

Although he uses diminutive references when addressing the community, it is not beneath the elder to relate as no more than another member of the community - hence the use of the first person plural ('we'). The epistle is not really a letter, so it does not imply a lengthy absence of the part of the elder. He probably put this in writing because what he had to say was too important to be said and then just forgotten.

W. Hall Harris III ('3. The Author’s Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John') says 1 John 2:19 provides good reason for thinking that a split has taken place in the Johannine community and the author’s opponents now constitute a community of their own, just as thoroughly committed as the author’s to spreading their understanding of who Jesus is. The elder realises he must strongly discourage the remaining community members from leaving to join the breakaway group, and so writes this as a polemic against them.

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Like most of the scrolls of the scriptures 1 John's author is anonymous. Nowhere within the scroll does the author says "I, John" or any such thing.

However the author claims to have been one of the disciples:

KJV 1 John 1:1-2 - modified by me

The [Jesus] that was from the beginning [of the gospel], which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the message of life; (For the life was manifested [to us], and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

The author appeals to his firsthand experience with Jesus in order "set the record straight" concerning the "new-fangled" ideas about Jesus that are floating around including the idea that Jesus is divine or that the sins of one who believes are not counted.

I opine that the "we" refers to the disciples of Jesus who followed him in his earthly ministry.

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