I understand that 1 John was directed to Christians who were hit by the rise of Gnosticism. I also understand that the letter was believed to have been written in Ephesus.

Is there any research to suggest whether the letter was written to a particular church or location?

8 Answers 8


In the Introduction to 1 John in the NIV Study Bible, Donald W. Burdick writes:

Unlike most NT letters, 1 John does not tell us who the author is. The earliest identification of him comes from the church fathers: Irenaeus (A.D. 140-203), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 155-215), Tertullian (A.D. 150-220) and Origen (A.D. 185-253) all designated the writer as the apostle John. As far as we know, no one else was suggested by the early church.1

John's readers were confronted with an early, first century, form of Gnostic teaching of the Cerinthian variety...This heresy was also libertine throwing off all moral restraints.2

Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria suggest the letter was written after John's Gospel (circa A.D. 85) and before A.D. 95.3

Clement of Alexandria place the apostle John in Ephesus during most of his later years. As Burdick notes:

The earliest confirmed use of 1 John was in the Roman province of Asia (in modern Turkey) where Ephesus was located. Clement of Alexandria indicates that John ministered in the various churches scattered throughout that province. It may be assumed, therefore, that 1 John was sent to the churches of the province of Asia.4

This letter may have been a circular letter sent to Christians in that area. The letter does not mention any individuals by name, nor is there any indication that it was written for one specific church, although Ephesus is in that province and John was there at some point.

1. Donald W. Burdick, NIV Study Bible, 2002, p. 2573
2. Burdick, p. 2575
3. Burdick, p. 2574
4. Ibid

  • Lesley. Thank you for the answer. I added the references from the NIV Study Bible and changed the wording slightly where it seemed like the direct quote was what was intended. I you do not approve, you can rollback the edit. If there are other places where the NLT or ESV is cited, you should add them. Commented May 11, 2018 at 0:35
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  • @Lesley - excellent summary and well expressed.
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I think the short answer to your question is that either it was written (a) to the greater Church in general and not any specific local Church; or (b) to Parthians (Persians), resident either in Asia Minor or in Parthia near Bagdad and Babylon.

The letters of James, John, Peter, and Jude are known as the "Catholic" - or universal - Epistles, and are not generally believed to have been written to any specific Church.

Bede (672-735), however, in his introduction to his commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, wrote:

[John] wrote to those who came to believe from the gentiles, since neither by race nor by belief had they been Jews. Accordingly, many church writers, among whom is Saint Athanasius, head of the church of Alexandria, assert that his first Letter was written to the Parthians.

Parthia was essentially Persia, encompassing parts of modern day Iraq and Iran.

The editor of an English translation of Bede's commentary, Benedictine monk Dom David Hurst, writes in a footnote:

The statement that 1 Jn was written to the Parthians I have not been able to find among the writings of Saint Athanasius. However, Saint Augustine (In Ioh. ep.; PL 35: 1977-78) and Cassiodorus (In ep. apost.; PL 70: 1369-70D) both say that it was written to the Parthians. Ancient Parthia lay to the south of the Caspian Sea, and presumably was regarded as an entirely pagan area.

Augustine's primary witness seems to consist of simply how he subtitled his commentary on 1 John: Ad Parthos. The editors of of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers edition in which Augustine's commentary appears speculate that somewhere the original Greek subtitle may have been something like πρὸς παρθένους (pros parthenous), meaning "to the Virgins", and was somehow erroneously transcribed. No conclusion is offered, but the observations are interesting:

In this designation of St. John’s first Epistle, the manuscript copies of St. Augustin all agree, both here and in the incidental mention, Quæst. Evang. ii. 39, of St. John’s Epistola ad Parthos; and that there is no error of transcription is further proved by the fact, that the present work appears in the Indiculus of Posidius under the title, In Epistolam Joannis ad Parthos Tractatus decem. And yet St. Augustin neither in these Tractates nor in any other of his extant works explains or comments upon this peculiar address. In the Latin church, since Augustin, it frequently occurs in authors and in mss. of the Vulgate. According to Venerable Bede, “Many ecclesiastical authors, and among them St. Athanasius, Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, witness that the first Epistle of St. John was written ad Parthos.” (Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 614). But there is no indication elsewhere that St. Athanasius was acquainted with this superscription, and with the exception of a few very modern mss. which have πρὸς πάρθους in the subscription to the second Epistle, it seems to be unknown to the Greek Church. The tradition according to which St. John preached the Gospel in Parthia rests (so far as appears) on no ancient authority, and perhaps has no other foundation than the superscription itself: which may have originated either, as some critics have supposed, in an abbreviated form of πρὸς παρθένους, “To the Virgins,” or as Gieseler suggests, in τοῦ παρθένου, as the designation of St. John himself, “The Epistle of John the Virgin;” an epithet which has gone with his name from very early times. In favor of this explanation it may be remarked, that Griesbach’s Codex, 30, has for the superscription of the Apocalypse, τοῦ ἁγίου ἐνδοξοτάτου ἀποστόλου καὶ εὐαγγελιστοῦ παρθένου ἠγαπημένου ἐπιστηθίου ’Ιωάννου θεολόγου: “The Apocalypse of the holy, most glorious Apostle and Evangelist, ‘the Virgin,’ the Beloved, who lay in the bosom (of the Lord), John the Theologus.”

I can't find the work of Cassiodorus that Dom David alludes to online. Cassiodorus (485-585) was a Roman administrator and Christian writer that lived a century or so later than Augustine (354-430).

The Eastern Orthodox Synaxiaria document John's once having been "cast by the waves upon the shore at Seleucia where the people of the city accused him of witchcraft"*. This occurred prior to his coming to Ephesus and to his eventual exile on Patmos (where he wrote Revelation).

During John's time there were two cities named Seleucia: one major Parthian city located between Babylon and Bagdad on the Tigris, and another lying on the southern coast of Asia Minor, within the confines of the Roman Empire. The Asia Minor Seleucia would have been on the way between Palestine and Ephesus, which was John's next stop according to the Synaxarion. The Synaxarion refers to the latter Seleucia, but perhaps there was some connection between the two cities. So the Parthians that John may have written to could have been people of Parthian origin that he came to know in Asia Minor and not necessarily Parthians in Parthia itself. But this is all speculation on my part.

* Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion, Vol. 1 (Ormylia, Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation), p.200.


1 John 1:8 is often used as an excuse for the term originating from the majority of false religious systems called the "sinning christian" (Sin you will, sin you must) But we see and as I have often thought that 1 John was written to refute the Gnostic belief that if you have the knowledge (gnosis) you are free from sin. Gnosticism holds other foreign heretical ideas that various cosmic powers, which are themselves emanations of divinity, can assist people in their contact with God. This being so, believers need to supplement their reliance upon Christ by gaining an acquaintance with such powers. Gnosticism was the battle facing the early church. The "sinning christian" also known as the "broad way" is the battle that the Church of God is facing today. In Which 1 John so elegantly demolishes in 1 John 3:3-12 and 1 John 5:18

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1 John 1,9 he states, Its an invitation to the sin denier/ unbeliever to admit his sins and get forgiven, now that is a false statement, No where in the NT does it say that a unbeliever must confess their sins, its a false statement, Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So no unbeliever has to confess their sins to be saved, Acts 10, 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Now this statement in 1 John, if you look at chapter 2, he talking to believers /I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth, So the writer of 1 John is writing to believers, and makes a statement in 1 John 1 5-10 IF we believers say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth/ the If we would mean believers. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So why is 1John1 9 saying if we confess, it is not necessary for a believer to continually confess, and also NOT necessary for any unbeliever to confess, to gain the light/ receive the spirit. The only case I can make of it is, the writer who new the people of 1John and had meet Jesus or the Apostles, wrote them this letter, and had possibly meet John Baptist, telling them that they need to get Johns Baptism, 4John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins The only place when confess your sins statement is made is under the Baptist rule, so the writer of 1 John was using this statement, and mixing it with the later rule of Jesus of being forgiven, but the confess and forgiven, in one statement, are from 2 different systems, first system repent confess from the Baptist, and believe the Gospel baptise and your forgiven of All sins, from a later Jesus teaching.

The pondering continues


I have been pondering this as well. I was mystified as to why there was so much emphasis on sinning, law and commandments. Then in 1John 3:11-12 he mentions the message they heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Followed by reference to Cain and Abel. Only Jews would have known about Cain and Abel. So I reread the letter as written to new believers who were Jewish and it made a lot more sense. He seems to be challenging them to see the new way of God loving us first and only by being in Christ Jesus are we free from Sin and death, the consequence of the law. Much to ponder indeed.


I'm somewhat tentatively of the opinion that "1 John", like "To the Hebrews" was not written to "Christians" but rather to new covenant Jews. The only writings in the scriptures that are written specifically to Christians (which I'm distinguishing as the "body of Christ", Paul's "new creation") are the letters that Paul wrote (Romans to Philemon). Obviously "To the Hebrews" was written to the Hebrews. Peter and James both explicitly address their letters to "the 12 tribes" and "the diaspora". The believing Jews in 1 John had a different relationship and different salvation from those to whom Paul wrote. They were Jews living in the last days of the Israel-centered "kingdom program" of the previous dispensation (before the "church age" that Paul introduced). Please bear with me a few minutes...

First of all, 1 John appeals to John's first hand knowledge of the earthly Jesus:

1Jn 1:1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;  1Jn 1:2  (For the life was manifested, 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;)  1Jn 1:3  That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

But Paul did was not a disciple of the earthly Christ:

2Co 5:16  Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

The earthly Jesus was a Jew, made of the seed of David, born under the law:

Gal_4:4  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

The new covenant was not in effect while he was alive:

Heb_9:16  For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. Heb_9:17  For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

Jesus taught the law and a works salvation:

Luk_18:20  Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

So also does 1 John:

1Jn_2:3  And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 1Jn_2:4  He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

1Jn_3:22  And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

1Jn_3:24  And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

1Jn_5:2  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 1Jn_5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

Sin in 1 John is transgression of the law (and vice versa):

1Jn 3:4  Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

Paul clearly distinguishes sinning under the law from sinning apart from the law:

Rom 5:12  Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:  Rom 5:13  (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Rom 5:14  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

For the disciples of the earthly Jesus (Jews, as Jews, believing in Jesus' messiahship prior to 70AD) justification was not an accomplished work given freely by grace but one that involved being "rewashed" from every sin in dependence on a heavenly priest and advocate:

1Jn 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.  1Jn 1:8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The one who hopes to be saved must "overcome" by the maintenance of their lives in purity and righteous living:

1Jn 2:28  And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.  1Jn 2:29  If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.

1Jn 3:3  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.  1Jn 3:4  Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.  1Jn 3:5  And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.  1Jn 3:6  Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.  1Jn 3:7  Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.  1Jn 3:8  He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  1Jn 3:9  Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.  1Jn 3:10  In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

But in the dispensation of grace that God brought through Paul justification is a gift received based on the obedience of a single man, Jesus:

Rom_5:19  For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

So I don't count myself to be among the audience of 1 John as it was written specifically to the Jews who acknowledged Jesus as their messiah but lived prior to (or still outside of) Paul's "new man", the "body of Christ". Paul is my apostle because he was the apostle to the gentiles and to him was given the dispensation of the grace of God and it was he who was made the architect of the new man.


I said at the outset that I was tentative about his audience being Jews under the new covenant. I believe that to be the case but since he doesn't mention the new covenant (as "To the Hebrews" clearly does) I am cautious about it. However he does seem to so draw a line between sinners who are not born of God and do not have his character and those that are born and do have his character it appears that he is writing to those who have God's law written on their hearts and who experience the promise of the forgiveness of sins under that covenant:

1Jn 3:5  And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.  1Jn 3:6  Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.  1Jn 3:7  Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.  1Jn 3:8  He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  1Jn 3:9  Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.  1Jn 3:10  In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

KJV unless otherwise noted.



As per 1JOHN 2:27 JOHN says that "the anointing that you had received " means he was writing to group of prophets/churches who were denied Christ...

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    Welcome @Jonathan Joseph -- Thanks for you answer. It's quite brief. Can you flesh it out a bit and show your reasoning, hopeful with a citation or two? Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 4:37

I can make the message behind 1 John very clear if you are to allow one fact that I believe to be true. Mary Magdalene wrote 1 John to women believers. The bulk of the book goes over the same message repeatedly and the rest of the text essentially backs up the main claim which is “We must love our brothers and sisters.” Many translations misrepresent the term “Adelphoi” to mean brother. It can mean that but it’s definition is (one close to me/ sibling/ brothers and sisters). Next, the text identifies those not following truth as antichrists and claims that you can identify them by their fruit. Now which early church creator had a message of not loving your brothers AND sisters? Maybe the one who suggested that “Women should be silent” and that “I [He] does not permit a women to preach”… Paul. So 1 John was written by the Beloved Disciple (Mary) in response to antichrists (Paul and followers) spreading a false doctrine to not love your sisters.

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