Eyewitness Testimony in the Johannine Epistles

As with other New Testament texts, the authorship of the Johannine epistles is questionable. Tradition holds that “John the Evangelist,” or John the Apostle of Jesus, wrote the letters. He is also traditionally the writer of the pseudo-gnostic text, the Gospel of John which addresses questions of certainty regarding the miracles of Jesus. Unlike in the dialogues of Socrates or the writings of Aristotle, in the New Testament Gospels we are asked to accept as a historical fact certain miraculous acts which occurred in space and time. They are not mythological. Yet we are instructed that the divine cares little for action, and more for faith. What we believe is primary to God. Therefore, it behooves us to examine the question of belief. How do we come to accept something as true? What is knowledge? How do some people come to accept the New Testament as true, as one whole account)?

According to the New Testament, we must rely on certain secondary sources, such as the Gospels, the Acts, and the letters, as reliable and credible accounts of what truly happened. We are called to accept that a man returned to life from death, and that he was God’s son. Why? Because of the eyewitness testimony (much of it notably written in a language never spoken by Jesus, generations after his death). Presumably, all the miracles serve to buttress our invitation to believe that Jesus is the son of God. Without the miracles is anything lost in the teaching of the New Testament?

The theology espoused in John’s letters shows a distinction between ‘the world’ (all the non-Christians and cities and people whose ways are fallen) and the small and fragile group of believers, the righteous and self-righteous band of people who know the ‘true way.’ The writer claims that God existed from the beginning (perhaps an allusion to the opening logos doctrine espoused in the Gospel of John), and that “we” (presumably referring to the disciples of Jesus) have “heard” and seen with their “eyes” and also “touched” with their hands is the Word of life. Thus, for accuracy, we rely on these writers’ senses, and their abilities to describe the phenomenon of experience.

Next the author claims (in “fellowship”) that there is no impurity in God (no darkness, only light), but in contrast there is innate sin in man (we are naturally born evil which we have inherited) but we are also offered the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. We are offered a certain divinely revealed knowledge about Jesus, which is exemplified through obedience to his commandments. The Johannine author prophesies of the “last hour” which is apparently a reference to the end of days, an apocalyptic myth. In the meantime he encourages the people to be lawful.

As with other early Christian letters, John’s First Epistle performs ‘damage control’ for the early church, and John closes his letter by reminding the people of his “confidence” that God hears his prayers, and he ends the letter with a final to avoid idolatry.

The second epistle of John is addressed to an anonymous “lady” to whom he writes of the injunction to love one another. The second letter is brief and bears resemblance to the third letter. Likely, both of the two letters originated from the same author. Their shared contents include an address concerning Jesus being a part of living flesh, or instead a divine being. The third epistle of John is addressed to an elder friend, Gaius. The author briefly mentions his pleasures with his church, and its work with early missionaries, but he commands Gaius to avoid Diotrephes as a malicious man, but he praises another man, Demetrius.

For this reading I used the King James Version of the Bible.

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