Following "Tests Of Life" (Robert Law), many have identified that John is following a circular or spiralling line of thought in 1 John by initially stating several key topics and then revisiting them repeatedly, in an almost symphonic style.

If that's the 'what/how' of his composition in 1 John, what would be some of the 'why's? I realize one of them might be 'because that's how he felt like writing it', but could there be a deeper reason?

In other parts of Scripture, distinctive styles often play a key part in the message of the document itself (for example, the apocalyptic language in Revelation; the esoteric foundation and startling imagery are fitting elements for conveying the massively significant nature of the book's message); does this distinctive Johannine dualism and spiralling structure have something to contribute to the message of the book itself?

[EDIT: I'm adding the following section as an explanation of the kind of direction I'm heading in with the question.]

Although we have examples in the rest of the New Testament of disagreements among believers (Acts 15:39, the 'sharp' disagreement between Paul and Barnabas), it seems that in the background to 1 John we have the first real church split 'occasioned [by more than] factiousness' (Houlden, Johannine Epistles, 1973), factiousness such as in 1 Corinthians 3; it seems to be the first (albeit obliquely) documented total split over deep doctrinal issues.

Seeing as issues like end time events and the destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple) can necessitate the use of apocalyptic language by a speaker or writer (the book of Revelation and in some of Jesus' sayings, for example, Mark 13) because of the massive significance of the events being spoken of, would it be possible that a seminal deep, irrevocable split in a church community over utterly essential doctrines - something so common today as to hardly be 'news' - would also lead the writer to engage in a highly stylized form of writing? Apparently this community suffered a split that polarized members on both sides, and so John's language is unyieldingly dualistic, and so on.

  • Great question, which has elicited several fascinating responses.
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 18:48

3 Answers 3


Malcolm Coombes ('A Different Approach To The Structure Of 1 John') points to the author's use of structure and other rhetorical amplification techniques, including expolitio, conduplicatio, apanaphora, polysyndeton/asyndeton, antithesis and synonomy. He says 1 John consists of small subunits delineated by repetitions of words and rhetorical structures, especially three-fold repetitions. In these subunits he identifies keywords which facilitate and emphasise the conveyance of meaning in the subunit. Subunits are connected to neighbouring subunits by link words or ideas allowing a flow of meaning. This not only goes some of the way towards explaining the way 1 John seems to flow, but indicates the author had a good understanding of rhetorical techniques, thereby ruling out the possibility of carelessness in the planning of the epistle.

The question correctly notes that the author's community suffered a split that polarised members on both sides, and so the language is unyieldingly dualistic. This insight is at the core of the epistle and an explanation of its style. Burton L. Mack, in Who Wrote the New Testament, pages 215-218, believes 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.

The 'elder', author of the Johannine epistles, sets out to destroy the reputations of those who left, warn those who remain against being tempted to join them, and assure those who remain that they are on the right path to eternal life. Although he engages in a fierce diatribe, the elder must leaven his polemic by returning to the perfect condition in which his followers find themselves, before returning to his polemic against the others.

The following verses provide an example of a circular pattern in which the elder indulges the faithful and condemns those who have left the community, while interweaving the theme of truth and deceit and a theme of eternal life. The elder first assures those who remain that they have the truth, then condemns those who left as liars; assures those who remain that they have eternal life, then tells them that the outsiders do not have eternal life.

1 John 5:10: He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
1 John 5:11-12: And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.


Judith Lieu states:

The First Epistle of John has often been likened to a spiral; again and again it returns to a point where it has been before and yet by bringing in a new element moves on a step further. This spiral is not merely a technique of literary style and structure, but is equally an expression of thought-structure. Inevitably, then, its theology cannot be separated out topic by topic; themes and ideas are interwoven, and it is impossible to explore one without having to say something about the others as well. 1

There is no consensus among scholars to adequately explain the style or the structure of the Epistle. Yet, as Lieu states, both are integral elements:

...to present 1 John’s theology through the stages of an argument would be to misrepresent it. Yet the letter does offer some hints as to a starting point. Its purpose is not first of all to engage in polemic with outsiders or with their views... Instead its purpose is stated explicitly at the beginning and effectively at the end – the proclamation and assurance of eternal life (1:2; 5:13; the theme is repeated at the very end of the letter in 5:20). 2

The scholarly issues including such the basics like to whom was it was written, and who wrote it, makes any answer to this question speculative. However, I believe there are reasonable assumptions on which to build a framework which is consistent with the repetition and spiraling form.

To begin, church tradition ascribes authorship to John the Apostle who wrote from Ephesus. This was widely accepted until the 1900’s but is now disputed by may scholars. However, as Colin G Kruse states since John the Evangelist has been named consistently in the writing of early church fathers, “it is hard to pass by this conclusion, despite widespread reluctance to accept it by many, but by no means all, modern scholars.” [John the Apostle]

As quoted from the OP's question the situation described in the Epistle was "the first real church split ‘occasioned [by more than] factiousness.’” Given the significance to John, the local church, and all churches, the acceptance and use of the Epistle by the early church is strong evidence in support of John’s authorship and a reasonable starting point.

The decision to place the Epistle from John in Ephesus about a problem in his church, aligns aspects of the Epistle to the historical setting recorded in line Acts and Revelation:

  • In Miletus Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus there will be an internal dispute which will draw away disciples. (Acts 20:17-31) [The problem found in the Epistle.]
  • In Revelation, Jesus acknowledges the Church at Ephesus for testing and identifying those who claim to be apostles but are not. (Revelation 2:2) [Found in 2 and 3 John; implied in 1 John.]

This assumption also allows for a consistent sense of the use of the pronouns “we” “us” “you” and “I” used throughout the Epistle: John is writing about something his church experienced. There are other (original) disciples (true apostles of Revelation) with him (“we”) who also testify as to the events in (and following those in) the Gospel. Still it is John (“I”) who writes to his church ("you" and therefore also “us”). Thus one reason for the repetition is a result of John's relationship as a member to the church to whom he is writing.

The Epistle opens as a message proclaimed to all. It also continues individual messages directed to groups within the church. These are: tecknia, brethren, fathers, young men, paidia, and beloved. Another aspect of repetition can be attributed to these specific messages embedded within something intended for the collective whole. For example (ESV):

To all: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1:9)

To the tecknia: I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake. (2:12)

Including individual messages within a message directed to all is similar to the technique found in Revelation: enter image description here Both have the same components. The discrete arrangement of singular messages to a group used in Revelation is varied when groups are addressed more than once and when messages to individual groups are interspersed throughout the entire Epistle. Thus another aspect to repetition is driven by author's decision to divide his complete to a single group into pieces which are then woven into messages to other groups and to all groups.

Since John writes to his church in Ephesus, it is reasonable he would deliver the same message at the other churches in Asia, as was done with the Revelation. This is consistent with the content of 2 and 3 John where the title Elder:

implies a measure of authority since probably in 3 John and certainly in 2 John, it is used in writing to a church other than the author’s own (2 John 13); this would be even more true if in 2 John the author address a wider audience than a single church… Certainly 3 John implies a wider network than a single community: greetings are sent from and to those identified as ‘the friends (15); the author has attempted, unsuccessfully, to send a letter to ‘the church’…3

The Epistle is a single document intended to be delivered to all the churches in Asia. The impetus is a schism at John's home church in Ephesus:

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 it might become plain that they all are not of us.
(1 John 2:19)

Seemingly those who left are not identified. It is the vague "they" who “went out from us.” Obviously John and the entire church at Ephesus knows who left. Reasonably, if John could be certain his Epistle would reach those who left, we would expect him to include a specific message to this group.

As the letter is not for Ephesus alone, it must address groups found in the other locations. Since there is a single letter, the individual groups in Ephesus John must see the same groups at the other location and delivers the same message to each individual group. The contrast between the individual messages in Epistle and Revelation is differences are determined by the group not by location. For example, unlike Revelation where different locations receive different messages, the Epistle is composed of messages to the fathers (in Ephesus) which are the same messages to the fathers (in Smyrna, Pergamus, and so forth). However, the reality is a schism took place at Ephesus and there is no basis for concluding schism have occurred at each of the other locations.

Therefore while false teachers have successfully orchestrated a schism at Ephesus, the same teachings by the same teachers may not yet have produced a split at the other locations. Since John knows the make-up of those who left in Ephesus, he also knows who would be susceptible to leaving at a different location. Not only should John address them, there would be a greater urgency in his message to a location not yet effected.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude John has in fact addressed the group that left. Given the content of the messages to the groups, it is the tecknia who left Ephesus and so might leave another location:

Little children (tecknia), keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

The tecknia are people who have heard the message but are not true disciples or true members of the church. Contemporary churches serve as the example. Many have some who attend to placate a parent, spouse, or friend; they do not worship The Resurrected Lord Jesus in truth and spirit. In this sense the Epistle reflects the same problems of false doctrine and indifference found in churches in Revelation.

So another repetitive element to the Epistle is driven by the fact there are those in the church who have heard both the true and the false apostles yet have not truly made the decision to become a part of the church. To these John repeatedly delivers the basics needed to have eternal life:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2:1)

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake (2:12)

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (2:28-29)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (3:7-8)

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (3:18)

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (4:4)

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (5:21)

tecknia is the diminutive of techne [G5040 - τεκνίον] a word John uses 4 times. The first use is:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children (τέκνα) of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (3:1)

John's theology is straight-forward:

  • Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. If you have heard this message you are no longer living in ignorance of the truth; in fact the Word of God has reached the heart but its affect is uncertain (The Parable of the Sower). This person is a tecknia.
  • Simply hearing and so knowing the message does not produce eternal life. One must believe it in order to become a child (teckna) of God. In terms of the language: a person moves from being a "little child" (the diminutive tecknia) of the world to a child (teckna) reborn of the will of God.
  • If you are a teckna of God you have the assurance of eternal life and while remaining in the world you are a paidia who is maturing in Christ. The process of maturation means the church will be made up of teckna who are fathers, young men, brothers, and beloved.

While the message is straight-forward, John's technique of dividing portions directed to each group is primarily a result of reaching out to the tecknia to consistently give the basic beliefs necessary to become a child of God while also presenting both the positive and opposing side of the consequences of a person's response to the message.

In terms of the assurance of eternal life the overall message is:

  • the basic beliefs which may produce eternal life
  • the consequences of denying the beliefs
  • the assurance of eternal life believers have. This assurance comes with immediate external present day results as well as the internal understanding or "confidence" of faith.

1. Judith Lieu, New Testament Theology, The Theology of the Johnannine Epistles, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 22
2. Ibid
3. Lieu, p. 9

  • Revelation Lad, my compliments on a well-researched, well-supported, and articulate response. Thank you!
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 18:52

I'm not an expert on Greek Isopsephy or the New Testament but I discovered that when you transpose Paleo-Hebrew Gematria (see my profile) over to the Greek script[1] then there appears to be quite a lot of Isopsephy in John, and that could be why John appears to be oddly written; because of the necessity of restating the math values.

The ancient Hebrew people used common words to indicate mathematical functions such as +, -, x, and /. For instance the word 'ath' את usually stands for addition (+), while 'Vath' means 'and +' as we would write it. Biblical gematria also has set phrases (such as 'behold!') that indicate there is a gematria calculation in the text following. Therefore it is composed in a certain way according to observable rules that create an observable pattern when read just as open text instead of being calculated. A scribe will set down a sum but then go on to use the sum in the next set of calculations, and so we see this pattern of recurrence in the text. It is my hypothesis that because John is composed with Paleo-hebrew sourced Isopsephy (as I shall demonstrate in the following calculations) and because the New Testament uses no mathematical notation that inevitably it will show through in the way the thought of John 1 flows in the open text.

Isopsephy calculations with John:

“Jesus Christ” in Greek is = Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ which yields an Isopsephy value of 719‎.

This is significant because every twelve hours the hour hand and seconds hands of an analog clock align exactly 719 times and in John 11:7-9 it says this:

7 Finally, He said to the disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “Rabbi”, they replied, “the Jews just tried to stone You, and ‎You are going back there?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If ‎anyone walks in the daytime, he will not stumble, because ‎he sees by the light of this world.”‎

And in 8:12 Jesus identifies himself with the “light of the world”.

12 Once again, Jesus spoke to the people and said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.”

φώς Light + κόσμου World = 510

719 – 510 = 209, which is the gate number of the path of Resh (the Sun) on the Seven Palaces*.

The puzzle of the 'great fishes' in John 21:10-11 is also resolved by this method:

10Jesus told them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
11So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

ichthyon - of fish ἰχθύων 193

megalōn - large μεγάλων 209

diktyon - net δίκτυον 161

gen - land γῆν 61

Large 209 + Fish 193 + (the number of fish) 153 = 555

Net 161 + Land 61 = 222

555 + 222 = 777[2].

[1] Please see chart for Paleo-hebrew transposed Isopsephy values. http://bethshebaashe.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/SP-Isopsephy.jpg

[2]See my book 'Chariot' for more information on the Seven Palaces of El and the Merkabah (please ask for an invite to the session on academia.edu).

  • 1
    Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. Your answer has advertised your book, but how do these numbers relate to the question that was asked, "Why Does The Thought Of 1 John Flow The Way It Does?". Please edit your answer to address the question.
    – enegue
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 22:27
  • Thanks for the welcome Enegue. If I could reference another author of this research then I would (gladly) but it happens that at the moment I appear to be leading the field in this very specialized area. The usual caveats pertaining to original research apply until it is peer reviewed, but the book was widely bookmarked on academia.edu where it was freely available for an extended period of time, and I received a great deal of positive feedback on it. The book is in fact freely viewable on academia.edu if members request to join the permanent open session on it. I'll put that on my profile. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:14
  • I'm not so much 'advertising' as trying to 'raise awareness' of a research topic (numerical epigraphy) ‎that is a neglected vein of knowledge pertaining to the Tanakh and the NT; and one that is ‎complementary to biblical hermeneutics. ‎ Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:15
  • I thought I had answered "Why Does The Thought Of 1 John Flow The Way It Does?" with "and that ‎could be why John appears to be oddly written; because of the necessity of restating the math values" ‎but I'll try and elaborate a little more before going into the calculations, and see if I can bring more ‎clarity to the comment.‎ Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:15

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