Many times throughout 1 John the author starts a paragraph with something like "Dear friends, ..." or "Dear children, ..." After thinking about it I'm wondering if this is a combination of short letters? Or, it could be a compilation of lessons put together. What are your thoughts?

Using NIV

1 John 2:1 My dear children,

1 John 2:7 Dear friends

1 John 2:18 Dear children,

1 John 3:2 Dear friends,

1 John 3:7 Dear children,

1 John 3:18 Dear children,

1 John 3:21 Dear friends,

1 John 4:1 Dear friends,

1 John 4:7 Dear friends,

1 John 4:11 Dear friends,

1 John 5:21 Dear children,

It is said so often and at times so close together it caught my attention. Maybe this was just the writing style of the time to constantly reaffirm the parental or close connection the author had with the churches it was written for.

In KJV it is Beloved instead of Dear friends, and little children instead of dear children. I understand that using dear here is an endearment, but some would start a letter with "My beloved," or "My children".

How would you interpret this?

1 Answer 1


The first way to approach this question is to look at the First Epistle of John as a whole, to see why it was written and whether there is a unity of structure.

Harold W. Attridge says, in 'Christianity from the Destruction of Jerusalem to Constantine’s Adoption of the New Religion: 70-312 CE', published in Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development (edited by Hershel Shanks), page 172, that continuing friction among early Christians over the nature of Jesus is evident in the Johannine epistles. He says 1 John criticises ‘secessionists’ who departed in a dispute over the fleshly (human) character of Jesus (1 John 4:1-3) and the reality of sin (1 John 1:8-10).

Burton L. Mack says, in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 215, that a split took place in the Johannine community shortly after the turn of the second century. One faction thought it best to merge with other Christian groups of a more centrist leaning. Another party refused, holding to the enlightenment tradition of the community and developed in the direction of a Christian gnosticism. He says (page 218) the author of 1 John wanted to charge his opponents with being sinners (1 John 1:8-10), but since his new soteriology (doctrine of salvation) was about sin and forgiveness, the topic could backfire. He did not want to offer his opponents the promise of forgiveness. Mack calls the author's polemic against his erstwhile brothers and sisters vicious. Seen in this light, 1 John has a unity of purpose and a strong emotional content. When loyalty may have been fragile after such an acrimonious split, the frequent words of endearment might have been designed to draw the audience in to the author's story.

Raymond E. Brown says, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 384, that the great majority of scholars think of unified composition and that a thesis of combined sources has little following. Looking, for example, at verses 2:1-6 as a separate composition, it has too little context and too little force to be a useful letter. On the other hand, verses 2:1ff seem to build on the argument about sin in chapter 1.

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    Wow, under this context 1:8-10 is much harsher sounding. "his new soteriology (doctrine of salvation) was about sin and forgiveness" When you say author's new doctrine do you mean it is something the author has culture since Jesus's ascension? On a side question, have you used any other study books about 1-3 John?
    – Josh Wyss
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 17:36
  • @JoshWyss Because you did not ask about authorship, I did not discuss this in my answer. Most scholars believe that John's Gospel and the letters were not written by the apostle John. So we are talking about the doctrines espoused by an unknown author, early in the second century. Christian thought developed and evolved in the decades between the crucifixion on the authorship of the Johannine books, as we see above. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 19:57
  • @JoshWyss On the side question, I would say I have studied over 100 books on religion, archaeology, ancient history and philosophy. Several contained some discussion of 1-3 John. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 20:00
  • @DickHartfield I'm sorry I should have been more specific. I'm just starting to study 1-3 John and the Bible in general. Would you have any books or commentaries you'd recommend for starting out? Also, thank you for your dedication to this forum.
    – Josh Wyss
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 3:47
  • @JoshWyss For an introductory text to the NT, you can't go past An Introduction to the New Testament By Raymond E. Brown. Brown was a Catholic priest and professor of theology, but avoids any denominational conflict. Most online commentaries contain their biases and errors, but if you look across a range of them, you should get useful sense. Look beyond the KJV. I know I use it a lot, and admire the beauty of its English, but it is also one of the least accurate :) Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 20:11

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