If the repetitive structure and individual groups in 2:12-2:14 are key elements of the writer's outline, then the next step is to examine the entire passage to see how the repeating structure connects to the rest of the chapter and the primary message.
Chapter 2 begins by addressing two groups:
My little children (τεκνία - teknia), these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (2:1-2)1
Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. (2:7-8)
The writer begins by giving teknia children instruction not to sin and if they do sin, they have an advocate, Jesus, who is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Instruction continues with examples of how they can tell whether or not they know Jesus. If they keep His commands (2:3); keep His word (2:5); walk in His ways (2:6). Each condition is "either or." Either they know Him and keep His commands, or do not keep His commands and are a liar. (The lie is "they know Him".)
Instruction to the brethren follows a similar pattern using light and darkness; a brethren can be in the light or darkness based on love of brother. Hating a brother places one in the darkness, loving in the light. The same "either or" applies with a subtle distinction: the focus is on community. In other words, hatred toward one still results in darkness despite a love for another.
Then English translations give the appearance the repetitive device begins:
2:12 - I write to you little children τεκνία - (teknia)...
2:13 - I write to you fathers...I write to you young men...I write to you little children παιδία - (paidia)...
2:14 - I have written to you fathers...I have written to you young men...
Teknia (little children) is not repeated. It is not part of the structure (it is used a third time at 2:28). Instead the writer uses "little children" paidia in the repeating structure.
Since the writer recognizes two different groups of "little children", teknia and paidia, the overall passage recognizes five groups being addressed. The first is little children teknia (2:1) which is repeated at 2:12 and 2:28. The second (not repeated) is brethren (2:7). Then fathers, young men, and a different type of child, paidia, are used to form the structure.
The repeating sequence actually begins at verse 13:
I write to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.
I write to you, little children (paidia),
Because you have known the Father. (2:13)
I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one. (2:14)...Little children (paidia), it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. (2:18-19)
Here is the writer's use of repetition and comparison of recipient and reason:
Children (teknia) 2:1, 2:12, and 2:28
Fathers 2:13 and 2:14
Young men 2:13 and 2:14
Children (paidia) 2:13 and 2:18
Recipient: Reason for Writing:
Children (teknia): 1) (2:1) that they might not sin
2) (2:12) their sins are forgiven
3) (2:28) not ashamed at His coming
Fathers: 1) (2:13) they have known Him who is from the beginning
2) (2:14) they have known Him who is from the beginning
Young men: 1) (2:13) they have overcome the wicked one
2) (2:14) they are strong
(2:14) the word of God abides in them
(2:14) they have overcome the wicked one
Children (paidia): 1) (2:13) they have known the Father
2) (2:18) they know it is the last hour and know the antichrist
3) (2:20) they know all things
The teknia receive a three-fold message on sin. Fathers receive a message repeated verbatim; both young men are told you overcome the wicked one and the second have strength and the Word of God abiding in them; the paidia know The Father, and it is the last hour, and, since the antichrist is identified, they know that too because they know all things (v20).
As was common for this period a main point was placed in the middle of the passage: some left comes a v19. What had been a single group is now divided. One purpose of the repeating structure is to show those who remain they had always been made up of different groups. In fact, since the passage closes as it begins, by addressing the teknia children, the same groups still remain. The church was not and is not homogeneous. The false disciples left, yet people of different ages and different stages of true discipleship remain.
The writer has used the natural family showing the community has always been made up of different parts before presenting their central argument:
Those that left were not truly with them. Their departure is proof they were not had not been true members.
Those remaining have gained knowledge, in particular, they know the truth: "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth." (2:20-21)
The use of the natural family ties the structure to the Gospel: 2
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children (paidia) , you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3 - also Luke 18:16)
Those who remained withstood the attack (from within); by doing so they became stronger, have the Word of God abiding in them, withstood the evil one, and know all things. In essence, they are true disciples (John 8:32) because they are paidia children.
Finally, who are the teknia children?
And now, little children (teknia), abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. (2:28-29)
The chapter ends as it begins, with a message to the teknia children. As with the other messages, it focuses on basic or elementary precepts of the Christian faith. Therefore, this group is made up of either new or immature believers (who were still strong enough not to leave), or they are people who have not yet committed to believe (and so need the basics of the Gospel repeated).
Traditionally John's letter was taken to be written in Ephesus and would circulate to the other churches in Asia (similar to the letters to the churches in Revelation). So while division took place in one city, other cities may not yet have been affected. The false teachers may have been circulating among all locations but the division has affected one. Therefore the writer's message also addresses the situation where division has not reached the point of actual break-up, or the situation where the break-up has started but there are some "undecided" over whether to stay.
1. All Scripture from the New King James Version.
2. John's Gospel uses teknia once (13:33) and paidia once (21:5). The use of the two terms in the letter follows the pattern of the "growth" of the disciples from the Last Supper to breakfast by the sea of Tiberas. After washing their feet they are teknia who will seek Jesus but cannot go where He goes; after the resurrection, they are paidia going into the world.