A close-up photo capturing the aged pages of a worn Bible, highlighting the books of 1, 2, and 3 John, symbolizing the sacred text written by an unknown author.

Who Wrote 1 John In The Bible?

The letters of John in the New Testament have fascinated Bible readers for centuries. These short but profound writings do not specifically name their author, leading to much debate over who wrote them.

If you’re looking for a quick answer, most biblical scholars agree that the Apostle John, one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, authored the letters 1, 2, and 3 John.

This article will examine the evidence for John’s authorship of 1 John, the oldest of these letters. We’ll look at the biblical and historical testimony about the letter’s origins. We’ll also explore John’s background and what the letter itself reveals about the author.

By the end, you’ll have a thorough understanding of the case for the Apostle John’s authorship of the deeply meaningful book we know as 1 John.

Internal Evidence That the Apostle John Wrote 1 John

Writing Style Similar to John’s Gospel

There are several similarities between the writing style of 1 John and the Gospel of John that provide strong evidence that the Apostle John penned both books. The vocabulary, grammar, and structure used in 1 John mirror the style of John’s gospel.

For example, both books emphasize light versus darkness and use simple contrasting words like “light” and “darkness” over 20 times each. The two books also share key phrases like “children of God,” “new commandment,” and “believe in the name.”

This distinct Johannine style points to common authorship.

Firsthand Witness of Jesus’s Ministry

The author of 1 John had intimate knowledge of Jesus’s earthly ministry, implying he was one of the 12 disciples. Details about washing of feet, the Holy Spirit, and antichrists manifest the writer’s firsthand experience with Christ.

For instance, 1 John 2:8 discusses the “new commandment” Jesus gave his followers to “love one another.” Only someone present at the Last Supper would have known this. The author was clearly an eyewitness of Jesus’s life and ministry.

As one of the inner circle of disciples and the claimed author of the fourth gospel, John fits this criteria.

Self-Reference as ‘The Elder’

The writer of 1 John directly identifies himself as “the elder” in 2 John 1:1 and 3 John 1:1. This corresponds with the Apostle John’s role as an elder leader in the early church after Jesus’s death. The designation distinguishes him from John Mark and other Johns.

In his gospel, John uniquely refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7). He humbly avoided naming himself out of deference to Christ. Using the term “elder” in 1 John and 2 and 3 John fits John’s tendency to avoid self-promotion while acknowledging his spiritual authority.

This self-designation strongly indicates Johannine authorship.

External Evidence for John’s Authorship

Early Church Fathers Attribute 1 John to John

The early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, all attributed authorship of 1 John to the apostle John. Irenaeus (c. 130-200 AD) explicitly identified the author of 1 John as “John, the disciple of the Lord” who also wrote the gospel of John (Against Heresies 3.16.5).

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215 AD) quoted from 1 John over 200 times, referring to the author as “John” or “the apostle John.” Tertullian (c. 155-240 AD) also attributed authorship of 1 John to the apostle John.

This external evidence from the earliest centuries of church history provides strong support that the apostle John wrote this letter.

1 John’s Author Was An Original Disciple

Internal evidence within 1 John itself indicates that the author was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. He speaks authoritatively of “that which was from the beginning” concerning Christ (1 John 1:1). He also says “we have seen with our eyes” concerning the incarnation of Jesus (1 John 1:1).

This suggests that the author of 1 John was one of the original twelve apostles who personally followed Jesus. The striking similarities between the gospel of John and 1 John, in terms of style, vocabulary, and theology, also demonstrate common authorship of an eyewitness disciple.

Taken together, this evidence points to the apostle John as the author.

The Author Was Known to the Letter’s Audience

1 John does not specifically name its author, suggesting he was already well known to the original readers. The author refers to his audience as “my dear children” (1 John 2:1), implying a close relationship as a leader and teacher.

He also writes with apostolic authority in exhorting, instructing, and even correcting them in this letter. There is also no indication that his authorship or apostolic authority was disputed. Considering how highly esteemed the apostle John was in the early church, especially in Asia Minor where he spent his later years, this evidence strongly favors his authorship of the epistle that also bears his name.

Background of John the Apostle

One of Jesus’s Inner Circle

John, along with his brother James and Simon Peter, formed the innermost circle of Jesus’s disciples. They witnessed intimate moments like the transfiguration on the mountaintop (Matthew 17:1-3) and Jesus’s agony in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

This close relationship with Jesus earned John the affectionate nickname “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Jesus even entrusted his mother Mary’s care to John while dying on the cross, showing John’s trusted position in his inner circle (John 19:26-27).

Ministry in Asia Minor

After Jesus’s ascension, John became a prominent leader of the early church. Around 49 AD, he relocated to Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to lead the church there. From this strategic location, his ministry impacted all of Asia Minor.

The book of Revelation places John on the island of Patmos, where he likely wrote Revelation as an old man around 95 AD. Church tradition says John cared for churches throughout the Roman province of Asia until his death as an elderly man sometime after 98 AD.

His grave and a memorial church still exist in Ephesus today.

Exiled on Patmos

At one point late in John’s ministry, around 95 AD, persecution of Christians caused Roman authorities to exile him to Patmos, a small, rocky island in the Aegean Sea. John continued his ministry there, and tradition holds he likely wrote the book of Revelation during this period.

In Revelation 1:9, John says, “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

His exile showcased his dedication to spreading the gospel despite resistance and illustrated that intense pressure often strengthens, rather than destroys, true faith.

When 1 John Was Written

Likely Written Between A.D. 85-95

Most scholars believe 1 John was written between A.D. 85-95, making it one of the later writings of the New Testament. The apostle John, identified as the author in 1 John 1:1-4, was likely in advanced age when he penned this letter.

Internal evidence within 1 John helps narrow down the date. The writer appears to be combating an early form of Gnosticism that denied Jesus had truly taken on human flesh. This heresy gained steam toward the end of the first century, so a date between A.D. 85-95 seems reasonable.

Some key factors pointing to this later date include:

  • The writer refers to his audience as “dear children” and “fathers,” suggesting an aged apostle writing to a mature community of believers (1 John 2:1, 13-14).
  • The writer says Christ’s coming is still in the future, not imminent (1 John 2:28).
  • The letter lacks references to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

So while a precise date is uncertain, most scholars agree 1 John was likely penned in the final decade of the first century.

After John’s Gospel

1 John appears to build upon concepts and themes first introduced in John’s Gospel. For example, the famous “John 3:16” passage seems echoed in 1 John 4:9-10. And John’s emphasis on light, life, and love in his Gospel resonates throughout 1 John.

Scholars widely agree John’s Gospel was written around A.D. 85-90. This suggests 1 John was penned shortly thereafter, since the letter seems to assume readers are familiar with themes unique to John’s Gospel.

Some key parallels between John’s writings include:

  • “Children of God” used in John 1:12 and throughout 1 John.
  • “Word of life” in John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1.
  • Emphasis on “light” and “darkness” in John 1:5; 8:12; 1 John 1:5-7.

So while the precise relationship between the two books continues to be studied, 1 John was likely written a bit later, building upon John’s unique presentation of Jesus Christ.

From Ephesus

Christian tradition says the apostle John lived at Ephesus during his final decades. Ephesus was a major city in what is now western Turkey. If John did reside at Ephesus in his latter years, this is likely where he penned his Gospel, letters, and the book of Revelation.

External evidence supports the idea 1 John originated from Ephesus:

  • Irenaeus, writing around A.D. 180, claimed John wrote his Gospel while living at Ephesus.
  • Another early church father, Clement of Alexandria, affirmed John’s residence at Ephesus.

Since 1 John was likely written after John’s Gospel, it follows he would have written it from Ephesus, where he spent his final years according to early church tradition.

So while the precise date and location cannot be established with certainty, the evidence points to 1 John being written around A.D. 90-95 by the apostle John during his old age, likely from Ephesus.

John’s Purpose in Writing 1 John

Combat Gnostic Heresies

The Apostle John wrote his first epistle to combat Gnostic heresies that were infiltrating the early church. The Gnostics claimed to possess a secret knowledge (gnosis) about the true nature of God and Christ.

They denied that Jesus was fully human but claimed he was a divine spirit without a real body (Docetism). John countered this heretical teaching by stressing the incarnation – that Jesus Christ came in the flesh as the God-man (1 John 4:2). He affirmed the full deity and humanity of Christ.

John made it clear that Jesus was fully God yet became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Son of God became a man while retaining undiminished deity.

Assure Christians of Salvation

Another purpose of 1 John was to provide assurance of salvation to believers. The Gnostics claimed that knowledge alone was the basis of salvation. But John emphasized that salvation involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith.

He wrote so that believers could “know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). True salvation involves both right belief and right living. John mentions several evidences that give assurance of salvation including confession of the incarnation (4:2), practicing righteousness (2:29), obedience (2:3), love for fellow believers (4:7), and victory over sin (5:4).

Christians can have full confidence in their salvation since it depends on Christ’s finished work. As John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

Call to Love and Obedience

A major theme of 1 John is the call to love one another. John uses the word “love” over 35 times in this short letter. He stresses that love for fellow believers is a defining mark of the Christian life. Since God first loved us, we ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-12).

John also emphasizes the need for obedience to God’s commands. Genuine love expresses itself in obedience to God. We show our love for Christ by obeying his commands (John 14:15). First John was written so that believers would not sin but walk in love and obedience by the power of the Spirit (1 John 2:1).

As children of God, Christians are called to reflect His light in a dark world through lives of holiness and active love.

John uses the word “love” over 35 times
John wrote 1 John around AD 85-95

According to church tradition, the Apostle John wrote his first epistle from Ephesus during his later years of ministry, likely around AD 85-95. This would place it near the end of the first century after his Gospel.

First John reflects the emphasis on love seen in John’s Gospel, making it likely from the same author. Understanding the purpose and themes of this epistle helps equip us to apply its timeless truths to life today.


In summary, while 1 John does not explicitly name its author, the preponderance of evidence points to John the Apostle. The writing style, theological content, and historical setting all align with what we know of John from other New Testament writings.

Though a few scholars have questioned John’s authorship over the years, the early church unanimously attributed 1 John to this preeminent disciple of Jesus.

Understanding the Apostle John’s background sheds light on the passion and authority behind his call to reject false teaching and walk in love and truth. We can be confident that 1 John represents an eyewitness account of Jesus’s ministry written by one of his closest companions.

As we read its pages, we encounter the same disciple whom Jesus loved – and who urged his readers, both ancient and modern, to love one another.

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