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John, who seems to be particularly good at explicitly stating his purpose of writing, makes it clear in his first epistle that he is writing against some group of false teachers (2:26):

I write this to you concerning those who are deceiving you.

This emphasis is clear throughout the letter, with the emphasis on antichrist, the spirit of deception, etc. But who is this group that he writes against?

I have heard multiple preachers say that 1 John was written against Gnosticism. However, a friend of mine who is both an ordained minister and a professor of philosophy (and whom I consider deeply learned) told me that it would be more correct to say that it was written against Middle Platonism; and knowing how such things are debated, I'm guessing these are not the only opinions about the sect the letter was written against.

What evidence is there, either internal or external to the book, of whether John was warning his readers against Gnostism, Middle Platonism, or something else?

  • John is writing against Judaizers. When I have time I will put an answer together, but in the mean time check out Peter Leithart's 'Behind the Veil' commentary on John's epistles. He asserts that gnosticism actually began within Judaism as a response (rebellion) against the incarnation. – Mike Bull Oct 8 '13 at 3:55
  • Do you mean 2:26? – Noah Oct 8 '13 at 4:15
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From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia's article on Gnosticism, comes the following, which I've highlighted and modified here and there:

In the First Epistle of John there is a distinct polemical purpose. There is no book of the New Testament which is more purposeful in its attack of error. There is "the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6), opposing the Spirit of truth. "Many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1), and this from the church itself, "They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19); and these false prophets are distinctly named "the antichrist" (1 John 2:22) and "the liar" (same place), and "the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 1:7). This peril, against which the apostle writes, and from which he seeks to defend the church, was Gnosticism, as is proved by what is said again and again in the epistle of the characteristics of this insidious and deadly teaching.

(1) Gnostic Claims.

The Gnostic claim to knowledge throws light upon many passages in this epistle. John refers to his opponents' using such phrases as "I know God," "I abide in Christ," "I am in the light." These lofty claims were made by persons who did not love their brethren on earth, who did not walk in Christ's footsteps, and who were destitute of love. The apostle therefore describes these lofty claims as false, because those who made them possessed neither love nor obedience.

In contrast to these Gnostic claims—for those who made them were no other than the early Gnostics—John shows how the Christ of history is the Christ of experience, for those to whom he is writing know Christ, who is from the beginning, and they know the Father.

We know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

This knowledge of God and communion with Him are attained, not by Gnostic speculation, but by the obedience of faith, the outcome of which is brotherly love and a life in which the Christian walks even as Christ did (1 John 2:6). And thus also obedience and brotherly love are the test of the profession which any man may make that he knows God.

Every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him. (1 John 2:29)

Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:10)

(2) Its Loveless Nature.

Gnosticism was distinguished by an unethical, loveless intellectualism. This seems to be the explanation of the false teaching against which this epistle is directed. The apostle describes the dry head-knowledge which left the heart and life untouched by love, and which led men, while they professed to love God, nevertheless to remain destitute of love to their fellow-men. (They did not fold their human brethren to their hearts, they were dead to the fact that where pity dwells, the love of God dwells also. In Gnosticism knowledge was in itself the supreme end and purpose of life, the sum of highest good to which a man could attain, the crown of life. The system was loveless to the core.

(3) Docetism.

Now, when the attempt was made to amalgamate these Gnostic ideas with the Christian faith, the inevitable result was Docetism. [The heresy of "docetism," from the Greek verb "to seem," was a denial of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation—the belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. The Gnostics went even further: they also denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus (taken from Derrick G. Jeter, "Dealing with Deceivers," Lesson Eight, in Living Right in a Wrong World Learn Online).] According to the Gnostics, if God cannot have any immediate contact with matter, the incarnation of Almighty God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is therefore inconceivable. From this position it is, of course, only a step to deny that the incarnation and the true human life of Christ ever took place at all.

(4) The Antichrist.

The Antichrist of the First Epistle of John is docetic Gnosticism. The soul of the apostle rushes onward, with glowing zeal for the honor of his Master whom Gnosticism dishonored, to identify personally the historical Jesus with the Divine Being, "the Son of God," "the Word of Life," "the Christ."

Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also. (1John 2:22, 23)

It should be noted that the last clause in 1 John 2:23, which is printed in italics in the King James Version, is restored in the Revised Version (British and American) to its rightful position in the original text.

Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is in the world already. (1 John 4:2, 3)

(5) Its Antinomian Side.

The antinomian side of Gnosticism is not so directly referred to in the First Epistle of John as Docetism is; but evidences are manifest that the apostle had it clearly before him.

Little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that doeth sin is of the devil. (1 John 3:7, 8)

And these were the methods by which those deceivers endeavored to lead the members of the church astray. They alleged that sin was a thing indifferent in itself. It made no difference to the spiritual man whether he sinned with his body or not. It is for this reason that the apostle, in opposing those teachers, insists that "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4); "All unrighteousness is sin" (1 John 5:17); "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin" (1 John 3:9); "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" (1 John 3:10). The whole passage presupposes, as familiar to its readers, a doctrine of moral indifferentism, according to which the status of the `spiritual' man is not to be tested by the commonplace facts of moral conduct" (The Tests of Life, 34).

  • @Kazark: Thank you for the edits; the answer is much improved. Don – rhetorician Oct 13 '13 at 17:58
  • I was hoping you could reiterate your last sentence. I didn't quite follow it, but am very interested to understand it better. – user14314 May 18 '16 at 7:32
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Peace.

The deceivers …the false prophets/false apostles….are a group of people who come forth to lead a multitude of people (who do not receive the love of the truth) astray from the Way that leads to eternal life now in this earth. Their presence among us is in accordance to the working of Satan.

God has promised us eternal life through the real Jesus Christ…in this earth…in the here-and-now.

Yet, they are denying this life now. They seek to seduce us away from the Way of righteousness that leads to that eternal life now and lead us down the broad way to our destruction of the mortal body from this earth.

1 John 2:25-26 KJV (25) And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. (26) These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.

They…the false prophets… are a multitude of people come forth to preach “another Jesus” to us that their “father” …..the devil….uses to deceive people and make war on those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of the Jesus….of the real Jesus.

Satan has his “army” of followers (the tares) who shall make war with those who will receive in faith the testimony of the real Jesus at the revelation of the real Jesus who is called Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:3-5 KJV (3) But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (4) For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. (5) For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.

Our Savior Jesus Christ (and not “another Jesus” being preached) has rendered death idle now and has brought life and immortality to light through the good news. This life is for the here-and-now in this life. We are not to be ashamed of His testimony. Many scoffers…the devil’s messengers…will persecute those who will believe in this present reality.

We shall not perish from this earth but have His everlasting life….and that life is for the here-and-now as Jesus already died for us and is alive now so that we might have His everlasting life now. Yet, they will scoff: where is the promise of His coming…where is His eternal life being made manifest in this earth?

2 Timothy 1:8-10 KJV (8) Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; (9) Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (10) But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:

Let no man beguile you of your reward: the eternal life of Jesus being made manifest in our mortal flesh.

By the keeping of the “daily” sacrifice (ALWAYS bearing about the dying of the Lord Jesus), then the life also of THE (definite article) Jesus who is coming now is made manifest in our mortal body. That manifested life is His eternal life.

This is not about “dying and going to Heaven” but instead living here in this earth with His manifested eternal life so that the world may see His appearing life and praise God above.

The wages of the sin is death to the mortal body but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord….and not “another Jesus” as preached by false prophets.

2 Corinthians 4:10-11 KJV (10) Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

We are to participate in the death of our Lord by always dying to sin (keeping the daily sacrifice of our Lord….the Lamb slain) so that His life within us that is coming in our mortal flesh shall be made manifest outwardly giving us His eternal life for all to see. There is something external to see: His appearing eternal life outwardly in our mortal flesh. If all that we have is hope in this life, then we are people most miserable. There is something tangible to behold: that manifestation of His eternal life.

Yet, the deceivers…the false prophets… come to us preaching “another Jesus” and the following of their “Jesus” removes this keeping of the daily sacrifice of the real Jesus out of our lives so that His life never appears in our mortal flesh.

The Bible is full of warnings about them for good reason in this earth. We perish with them by following after them. We have a true unction from the Holy One and we do not need them to “preach” to us their brand of righteousness….their handwritings of church dogmas that lead us astray from the Truth. They pose as ministers of righteousness but their works always leads to death.

(11) For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

We are to die to sin always …the keeping His daily sacrifice (the Lamb slain)… in our mortal bodies so that His eternal life eventually appears in our outer mortal flesh.

Yet, many deceivers have entered into the world….the religious world….that do not confess (acknowledge in their preaching) that Jesus Christ is coming (PRESENT tense) in the flesh….in our mortal flesh.

The deceiver (the false prophet) is preaching “another Jesus” who is not the Christ but is an “antichrist”…the instead-of Christ (but posing as the real Jesus Christ). There are many “antichrists” now and only one real Christ.

Again, the deceiver is preaching an antichrist….preaching another Jesus in place of the true Jesus Christ. They are a team together (the false prophet and his preaching of a false Christ) and their presence is accordance to the working of Satan.

There are MANY deceivers and MANY antichrists being preached by them and all have the same goal: to destroy those who do not receive the love of the Truth and be saved. They have pleasure in unrighteousness as they judge others who do not keep their church denomination’s teachings and commandments.

2 John 1:7-9 KJV (7) For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (8) Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.

There are many false prophets do not have the teaching of the true Christ in their preaching: that Jesus Christ is coming (now) in our mortal flesh. They do not abide in the doctrine of Christ as they do not believe it and therefore do not preach it.

(9) Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

These spirits…breaths of error that men preach…are not of God as they are not preaching that Jesus Christ IS COMING now in the flesh…our mortal flesh where His life shall appear.

1 John 4:1-3 KJV (1) Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (2) Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: (3) And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

He…the real Jesus… that IS COMING will come …will fully arrive…and will not tarry. Behold, He comes quickly. We shall receive the promise of eternal life in this mortal body by doing the will of God. Do not let a man beguile you of your reward by his preaching of the spirit of the antichrist…the spirit of error.

Hebrews 10:36-37 KJV (36) For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. (37) For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.

The world is passing away as we speak and those who are conformed to the world are also dying from this earth. But he that does the will of God shall abide in this earth and not perish.

1 John 2:15-18 KJV (15) Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (17) And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (18) Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

He…the real Jesus…. comes quickly! He doesn’t come later but NOW…and quickly.

Revelation 3:11 KJV (11) Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

John wrote these things unto us concerning those false prophets who come forth to seduce us with their preaching of another Jesus and another gospel.

We have the promise of eternal life…the manifest eternal life of Jesus in our mortal flesh… now in this earth as we keep His “daily” sacrifice in our mortal bodies.

1 John 2:25-26 KJV (25) And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. (26) These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.

They do not acknowledge in any of their preaching that Jesus is coming in our mortal flesh as His presently-coming life shall manifest outwardly there with His eternal life.

The “Jesus” (the antichrist….the instead-of-Christ) that they are preaching SHALL come and is not coming presently in our mortal flesh as the real Jesus called Christ.

It has been 2000 years and their “Jesus” the instead-of-Christ shall come in the future (and still not arrived yet) and is not coming now in the present. They have sought to change the time of salvation. NOW is the time of salvation.

They are not looking for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ to change our humiliated (by sin) mortal body to be fashioned like unto His according to the “working” (the keeping of the “daily sacrifice in our mortal bodies) whereby He is then able to subdue all things unto Himself.

Philippians 3:18-21 KJV (18) (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (20) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

Our mortal body shall be changed (transfigured) according to the “working”…the keeping of the daily sacrifice of Jesus (the Lamb slain)…whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.

(21) Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

When we keep the daily sacrifice (the “working”) of the Lamb in our lives, we shall receive His eternal life in this earth which changes our humiliated body to be fashioned like unto His.

But there are many false prophets today whose PRESENCE (“coming”) is in accordance to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders. They are here already and already at work upon those who do not believe. Believing is doing. Faith is active.

Those who do not receive the love of the Truth (by doing it) perish from off this earth. No mortal flesh is being saved as those who follow after “another Jesus” and the false prophet that is preaching “him” perish.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 KJV (9) Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, (10) And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (11) And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: (12) That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

We have all heard their preaching: Jesus is coming (sometime in the future)…. Jesus the instead-of-Christ shall come. We have heard that antichrist shall come (the false Jesus the antichrist).

Yet, now there are many “antichrists” already as many are preaching “another Jesus” today and not the real Jesus Christ who shall be revealed. They do not acknowledge in their preaching that Jesus IS COMING now in our mortal flesh as their “Jesus” shall come some day in the future. Yet, we know that salvation is now.

1 John 2:18 KJV (18) Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

Jesus spoke about the many false Christs that would arise and the false prophets who are preaching them. There are many false Christs now….many “antichrists” (a sea of false Christs)….and there are many false prophets preaching another “Jesus” who is not the Christ but the instead-of Christ (antichrist = instead of Christ).

They all perform outward signs of supposed inward realities (behold He is in the inner chamber). They all use “wonders”…. flattering words… to deceive.

Matthew 24:24 KJV (24) For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

The second “beast” in Revelation 13 speaks of the false prophets who come up “out of the earth” as they are earthly-minded men whose end is destruction and those who are led astray by them are also destroyed from this earth as they all die.

The false prophets come forth posing as ministers of righteousness as they preach “another Jesus”…the first “beast”…and his teachings: the doctrines and commandments of men (their handwriting of church dogmas). The lead others to kill others with their breath… judging of others who do not receive and follow their handwritings of church dogmas.

Revelation 13:11-12 KJV (11) And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

Those who “dwell” on the earth are those who are still living in the earthly wisdom of envy, strife, hatred of one another.

They do not “deaden”…kill...mortify….their members which are upon the earth as their “Jesus” (he has the name of blasphemy as he is not the real Jesus our Savior) who they are worshipping has his “deadly wound” healed.

The “daily” sacrifice of the real Jesus …the Lamb slain….is not being kept as their “Jesus” (the first beast) that they are worshipping has the deadly wound healed and those who worship him do not die to sin daily as commanded.

(12) And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

We are to “mortify”…to deaden…our members which are upon the earth. Do not let it be “healed” by following the false Christ…the antichrist…the instead-of Christ… that the false prophet is preaching.

We are to always put to death sin by the keeping of the “daily” sacrifice of the true Lamb that was slain.

The first beast is a wild animal…a predator… and not the Lamb slain. Those who follow after the “first beast” make war with others with their tongues as they “kill” others with evil speaking (judging others) who do not follow their handwriting of church dogmas.

Colossians 3:3-8 KJV (3) For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (4) When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (5) Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Fire comes down from Heaven as the wrath of God is revealed now upon the children of disobedience as they perish from off this earth without the life of Jesus being made manifest in their mortal flesh as they do not put to death sin out of their lives by the keeping of the daily sacrifice of the Lamb.

(6) For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: (7) In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. (8) But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

All that “dwell upon earth” (as they do not deaden their tongues from evil in their earthly wisdom…envy, strife, hatred of one another, wrath, etc) worship “him”. They worship “another Jesus” and not the real Jesus who is called Christ….and they perish by doing so.

Their “Jesus” has his deadly wound healed….the keeping of the daily sacrifice of the Lamb slain is “healed” as they do not keep it.

Revelation 13:8-9 KJV (8) And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (9) If any man have an ear, let him hear.

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W. Hall Harris III ('3. The Author’s Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John') says the epistle provides good reason for thinking that a split has taken place in the Johannine community and the author’s opponents now constitute a community of their own. This is most clearly evident in 1 John 2:19:

1 John 2:19: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Harris explains that the elder's former compatriots are thoroughly committed to spreading their understanding of who Jesus is, so verse 2:26 speaks pejoratively of their attempts to convert the members who remained loyal to the 'elder' (see 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1) to convert to their form of Christianity:

1 John 2:26 (KJV): These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce (πλανώντων - 'lead astray') you.

Burton L. Mack says , in Who Wrote the New Testament, pages 215-218, that the author of First John viciously accuses his erstwhile brothers and sisters of hating those who remain with the community, and therefore both of being liars and of not loving God, even referring to them as the antiChrist.

Gnosticism is involved in this warning, although only incidentally. Mack says the community had already been tending towards Gnosticism prior to the split. The group that left apparently moved more towards a mainstream Gnostic theology, while those who remained adopted what Mack calls centrist Christianity. There is nothing in the polemic that suggests that the author's opponents went on to adopt concepts from Middle Platonism.

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