I’m interested in internal evidence based on the linguistic/stylistic and (if you like) thematic patterns of the two books. I am less interested for the purpose of this question in whether either was written by John son of Zebedee. Recognizing that this is not a settled question, I would be happy with an argument from either side or (better yet) a summary of the available evidence for both.

I also know very little about how such comparisons are made. The student of Greek will note that these two books share the endearing feature of being especially easy to read, but this is purely subjective. I suppose that people do things like analyze sentence structure, vocabulary, use of Semitisms, etc. and ask questions like, “Are Chapters 1 and 2 of John’s Gospel substantially more similar than those same texts compared to 1 John?”

  • What are the appropriate factors to compare when exploring the question of shared authorship? (Is this a computational procedure?)
  • What does the available evidence suggest about the relationship between John’s gospel and 1 John?
  • The inclusion of the word "thematic" in the first sentence seemed to me unavoidable because I'm not sure if it can be separated from the other part of the question. However, you can see that comparing the theology of the two books is not what I'm most interested in here (and may risk making the question too broad). If someone answering (or another thoughtful reader) would like to remove or ignore that word, I'd be fine with that. I'd actually like it better.
    – Susan
    Oct 7, 2014 at 7:17
  • Perhaps it would be better to have two questions giving the evidence for and against the same authorship?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 7, 2014 at 8:24
  • @curiousdannii That would be fine with me, but we don't usually split up questions like that even though many touch on issues where conflicting evidence (or interpretation of evidence) is available. Are you suggesting it because you think it's too broad as is?
    – Susan
    Oct 7, 2014 at 10:49
  • 2
    @curiousdannii The for/against split is mainly only necessary on C.SE because we don't have the expertise across multiple theological frameworks to include consistently good arguments from both sides of an issue in single posts. That is much less of a problem for textual analysis questions like this one and we don't generally do that split on this site. In fact we encourage answers to include analysis of all positions and to conclude with whatever one seems most favorable to the author. That model implodes on C.SE but works alright here where "showing work" is a mandatory part of answering.
    – Caleb
    Oct 7, 2014 at 11:50
  • Great question. I'll post an answer if I get time, but for what it's worth, I think the internal evidence not only supports the idea, but virtually demands it.
    – Jas 3.1
    Oct 7, 2014 at 19:33

2 Answers 2


While before the 20th century there was common agreement on common authorship between the Gospel and Epistles of John, there is, as you mention, no such agreement today. At the same time, we are quick to note, however, that John and 1 John share a vocabulary of words and thought forms to such an extent that no one has mounted a serious proposal that they are independent works.

Statistical Methods

There have certainly been attempts to quantify the unity of these works. Vern Sheridan Poythress, for instance, wrote articles for Novum Testamentum and the Westminster Theological Journal purporting to determine Johannine authorship on the basis of a statistical study of conjunctions. There is an excerpt available online.

Craig Keener notes that others, such as Schnelle, "who argue against common authorship note that some key Gospel words (such as Scripture, glory, seek, judge, lord, law) are missing from 1 John, and terms in 1 John (such as antichrist, hope, sacrifice, fellowship, and anointing) are missing from the Gospel."1

Thoughts Not Words

Frankly I find neither of these studies nor others of their ilk very convincing. They seem strangely aloof of the way words are actually used and texts actually written. They would argue that "The Problem of Pain" could not have common authorship with "Screwtape Letters" because it lacks certain key words or phrases such as "Dear Wormwood" or "Our Father Below". Or they presume that an author would never self-consciously adopt a particular literary style like children's fairy tales (or perhaps the apocalyptic/prophetic style of Daniel). Likewise I know from personal experience that I choose different generic pronouns depending on various whims.

Similarly, studies that compute literary dependence or common authorship based on raw word vocabulary overlap, to my mind, fall short. We see that "father" is used 1200+ times in the Bible. "Son" is used over 3000 times. The verbs for "send" or "sent" appear over 900 times. Even the word "world" appears over 250 times. But the thought form of the "Father" "sending" the "Son" into the "world" is unique to John (e.g. 3:16 and many others) and 1 John (4:9-14).2

I distinguish this "vocabulary of thought forms" from theology. No doubt the synoptic writers would agree with John's theology that Jesus' mission is at the behest of God. But they say it and show it in different terms and stories: the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit, the descent of the Spirit like a dove at Jesus' baptism, or in parables like the parable of the tenants.

Besides the aforementioned "Sending", a number of other thought forms link the Gospel with the Epistle:

  • The Testimony of what is Seen and Heard

  • The Completeness of Joy in Fellowship

  • The connection of Love and (New) Commands

  • The joint Fellowship with the Father and the Son

  • The antitheses of Light/Darkness, Above/Below, Life/Death

  • The World and its Hatred (of God, of the Son, and of his disciples)

  • The Laying Down of One's Life

I won't take the time to go through each of these, and no doubt more examples could be added. But their combination already suggests a strong dependence of some sort between the two works. These collections of thoughts are of course marked by similar vocabulary. But as with the "sending" example, it has to do with more than their mere words. They are a way of thinking. And the more the collections of thoughts in the Gospel and Epistle begin to cohere the more we might say they are "of the same mind."

Alternative Proposals

This gets us close to being able to say something about common authorship. But there are other stories we could tell here. For instance, it's natural for a student to develop a close mind with his/her teacher. I remember reading one review of Köstenberger's BECNT commentary on the Gospel of John that said one might as well just use Carson's commentary because Köstenberger (who studied under Carson) says largely the same thing.

So what we could have here is two people of a close mind (or perhaps some sort of "school of thought"), such that it's hard to tell with such a small sample of writing whether these are different authors after all, who worked closely together. Of course it's best not to multiply entities needlessly, so at this point our preference would be for a single author.

Carson and Moo in their Introduction to the New Testament elaborate three main reasons given by some for the "need" then to multiply entities.

  1. Some (and here we veer into theology) think that there are key thematic or theological differences that cannot be reconciled. Particularly, the eschatology of the Fourth Gospel and 1 John are thought too different. For example, the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary elaborates:

    The similarities between the Fourth Gospel and 1 John are the most impressive. But the differences are so significant as to weigh against the tradition that equates the fourth evangelist with the author of 1 John. For instance, the careful articulation of the present and future eschatologies of the Fourth Gospel is entirely lost in 1 Jn with its view of the imminent end (cf. G.5 below). It might be argued, however, that the evangelist wrote 1 Jn at a time when the author embraced a different eschatology.


    A simpler solution seems to be that the author of 1 John was a student of the Fourth Gospel and lived in a community which cherished that gospel as its primary tradition. The community had, however, undergone changes since the writing of the gospel, so that its views were no longer identical to those articulated by the fourth evangelist. In particular it may be that the differences between 1 John and the Gospel of John could be the result of the influence of other Christian traditions on the community.3

    He also lists a number of other differences between 1 John and the Gospel of John:

    Examples of the uniqueness of 1 Jn when compared with the Fourth Gospel include the following themes: imminent “last hour” (2:18), expiation (2:1; 4:10), anointing of believers (2:20, 27), lust (2:16–17), antichrists (2:18; 22; 4:3), lawlessness (3:4), false prophets (4:1), spirit of error (4:6), day of judgment (4:17), mortal and nonmortal sins (5:16–17), and ethical considerations (3:4; 4:20).

    Those (like Carson and Moo) who see the Epistle and Gospel as being from the same pen tend to downplay these differences. They view the eschatological differences as real, but see them as complementary rather than contradictory viewpoints.

  2. As I mentioned above per Keener, another tack has been to list key vocabulary and terms missing in one text or the other. Carson and Moo state though that, "Today most scholars acknowledge that nothing decisive can be based on these lists. The divergent vocabularies enjoy greater similarity than those of, say, Luke and Acts, known to come from the same pen."4

  3. Finally, the third strand of thought Carson and Moo mention is hinted at in the quote from the AYB above: that of a Johannine school or community. This is inferred at times from the "we" passages that testity to eye witness in the prologues of both the Gospel and First Epistle. There is not room to elaborate this topic here, but this theory (at least according to Köstenberger) seems to be on the wane in Johannine studies.5

My own view, then, is that they are penned by the same author, recognizing others may find the types of evidence offered above more compelling.


  1. Keener, C. S. (2012). The Gospel of John: A Commentary & 2 (Vol. 1, p. 124). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

  2. Galatians 4:4 comes close here, but the form of the thought is different. Paul's statement is historical ("born of a woman") whereas in the Johannine writings, the sending idea is allowed to remain almost abstract.

  3. Kysar, R. (1992). John, Epistles of. In (D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

  4. Carson, D. A.; Moo, Douglas J. (2009-05-12). An Introduction to the New Testament (Kindle Locations 17293-17294). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

  5. Köstenberger, A. (2009). A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. See pages 55-59 for more detail.


Bibliographic Postscript

This is offered as a supplement to Soldarnal's fine answer.

Probably the most thorough (one is tempted to say "exhaustive") account of the internal evidence bearing on the question of the common authorship of gJohn and 1 John is found in A.E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (Edinburgh, 1912), pp. i-xix. It helps that it is readily available online. His nuanced and careful weighing of this evidence leads him to this conclusion:

p. xviii: "... [T]here are no adequate reasons for setting aside the traditional view which attributes the Epistle and the Gospel to the same authorship."

D. Smith, "The Epistles of John", in The Expositor's Greek Testament, ed. by W. Robertson Nicholl (Hodder & Stoughton, 1897), vol. 5, pp. 151-156, surveys more the external evidence from antiquity for the epistle's authorship, and draws this conclusion:

p. 154: It is beyond reasonable doubt that the Epistle and the Gospel are from the same pen.

Modern "mainstream" academic tastes tend to be more "suspicious", and frequently hedge bets, or opt for the safer option in the contemporary climate, different authors. Judith Lieu, in her own consideration of this question1 cites two "classic" articles in passing (which I believe are both available online):

  • C.H. Dodd, "The First Epistle of John and the Fourth Gospel", Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 21 (1937), 129-156, who decides for differing authors, but thinks that the author of the Epistle was "quite possibly a disciple of the Fourth Evangelist" (p. 156);
  • W.F. Howard, "The Common Authorship of the Johannine Gospel and Epistles", Journal of Theological Studies 48 o.s. (1947), 12-25, offers a direct response to Dodd, arguing for "the substantial unity of authorship", while recognizing that the differences require an explanation.


  1. The modern commentary literature could be further cited ad nauseam, but Lieu is a thoughtful scholar who has written not only a commentary: I, II & III John: A Commentary (Westminster/John Knox, 2008; on "authorship", see pp. 6-9), but also a related book on the theology of the Johannine epistles: The Theology of the Johannine Epistles (Cambridge University Press, 1991).

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