Summary: Background to 1 John, considering the people, places, subjects, style and purpose.
WALKING IN THE LIGHT (1 John 1- 2:17)
Background to John’s Epistles and Revelation
[All quotations from A. Plummer, The Epistles of St John, 1954 unless otherwise specified.]
• John ended his days at Patmos, then Ephesus (c. 100AD?)
• Ephesus: the first of all and greatest, the Metropolis of Asia. Pliny: Asiae lumen.
• Church founded by Paul in AD55. Third home of Christianity, after Jerusalem and Antioch. First church addressed in Revelation.
• Timothy left there by Paul, and may have been martyred there.
• Aquila and Priscilla, Trophimus and the family of Onesiphorus laboured there
• He had the vision upon which he based the book of Revelation at Patmos, an island a day’s sail away.
• Revelation 18:12, 13- long list, ending in bodies and souls of men. The merchandise of Babylon.
ATMOSPHERE: IDOLATRY & IMMORALITY
• Temple of Artemis (Diana) one of the seven Wonders of the World- 127 columns, 60 feet high, each one the gift of a people or prince; nearly as large as St Paul’s: “The gods had one house on earth, and that was at Ephesus.”
• Compare architectural imagery of 1 Cor 3:9-17 (written at Ephesus) and Eph 2:19-22; 1 Tim 3:15; 6:19; 2 Tim 2:19.
• A vast treasure-house of gold and silver and art.
• Many temple dependents (singers, priests, menials).
• Place of worship, museum, asylum and a bank (1 Tim 6:17-19).
• Tacitus: no authority strong enough to keep in check turbulence of a people which protected the crimes of men as worship of the gods.
• What kind of morality associated with idolatry? Rom 1:21ff; Gal 5:19ff; Col 3:5ff.; Eph 5:1ff
• Magic- astrology, sorcery, incantations, amulets, exorcisms, every form of magical imposture
• Heraclitus of Ephesus was called the Weeping Philosopher because of the monstrous idiocy and vice of the Ephesian people. “There was not a man in Ephesus who did not deserve hanging.”
• The early Christians here had accepted the gospel and held fast their magic, hence the big bonfire following the defeat of the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-20).
ENEMY: GNOSTICISM (cf. THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT)
• Christian Church not advanced beyond its infancy before ‘foreign body’ of Gnosticism started to invade, as it had previously contaminated some parts of Judaism.
• One of the subtlest and most dangerous enemies to the Gospel:
1. No professed hostility to Gospel: “On the plea of interpreting Christian doctrines from a higher standpoint it really disintegrated and demolished them; in explaining them it explained them away… it cut away… the reality of sin…and redemption.”
2. Not easy to define. Greek name but Oriental composition. Jewish and Christian elements thrown in.
3. Avoids appealing to facts so quite post-modernist in that respect: “imagination takes the place of investigation, and what may be conceived is made the test, and sometimes almost the only test, of what is….more akin to poetry…than philosophy.”
• ‘Principles’ or errors of Gnosticism:
1. Superiority of knowledge (gnosis) over faith (cf. the 18th Century European Enlightenment). Christians do affirm knowledge- it is no empty or stupid faith. But we do not believe that intellectual appreciation of the truth is paramount; rather a heartfelt , intelligent yet simple faith in the living Truth, Jesus Christ. The result of making knowledge supreme was to create an elitist cult, barring most (poor, uneducated, etc.) from salvation. This also led to…
Superiority of knowledge over virtue. It doesn’t matter how you live if you “know the depths”.
Cavalier handling of facts of Gospel in order to seek “hidden truths” (cf. silly people who would rather follow The Bible Code and Nostradamus than follow the simple instructions of our Lord).
2. The evil character of matter and everything material (cf. Buddhism). This comes from the philosophy of Dualism, which stipulates the existence of two equal and opposite forces at work in the universe, the Good/Light/Spirit/Yang versus the Bad/Dark/Matter/Yin. This leads to these consequences:
If the physical world (matter) is evil and the supreme god (spirit) is good, he cannot have created it. So…
If Yahweh (OT God) created the physical world, he cannot be the supreme god, but must be inferior, if not evil
The Incarnation is untenable. How could the Divine Word (Spirit, Light, Wisdom, etc.) consent to be united with an impure material body? This led Gnostics into Docetism, the view that Christ’s body was not real, but only appeared to exist- outrageously, they claim he was a spook! (Cst. Luke 24:39.)
With flagrant disregard for what was later to become the principle of Occam’s razor (i.e. the avoidance of multiplying existences and variables rashly), Gnostics speculated that ever-reproducing aeons (spiritual beings) emanated from the supreme god, thus bridging the gap between the physical and spiritual worlds as they diminished in grandeur from the good-spiritual to the evil-physical. That was more acceptable to them than receiving the unique God-Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Gnostic cosmology is inverted evolution!