“Although 1 John had its origins during a period of false teaching, the author’s main purpose is not to confront heresy, but to reassure those who remain that they do indeed know the truth about Jesus, and consequently do have eternal life.” 1 John was written to reassure believers to keep the faith and continue to hold the values that they have, through a time when a schism was taking place within the church. The believers were living in a confusing time and according to Thompson “The turmoil within their congregation undoubtedly caused many to question their own faith and practice, and to wonder whether they were also guilty of or prone to the failings of the departed dissidents.”
The people leaving the faith or “secessionists” were the people the author refers to in chapter 2 verse 19 “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us…” The author is warning against following the teaching of these “secessionists.” Who were these “secessionists”? There has been much debate among scholars over the years, Jobes states that:
“Much scholarship on 1 John for the past thirty years has attempted to reconstruct the precise nature of the schism, usually labeled as Docetism, Cerinthianism, or incipient Gnosticism, and this has led to scholarly reconstructions of the Johannine community… More recently, some are arguing for what they call a nonpolemical reading of the letter that does not depend so heavily on identifying what the secessionists believe and why they left…The true concern of the author is pastoral, not dealing with the secessionists in any direct way, but assuring those under his spiritual care that they remain within the fellowship of apostolic orthodoxy. (Jobes, 2011, 414)
We know that there were many false teachers in that time and according to the Zondervan Study Bible the most dangerous of the heresies happening in that time was Gnosticism. “Its central teaching was that the spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil.”
Throughout the book of 1 John the author states his purpose for writing. Chapter 5 verse 13 reads, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” This verse is where the author states his main purpose of writing to the readers. According to Kruse, “the author’s primary reason for writing the letter was to bolster their assurance by counteracting the false teachings of the secessionists. The author sought to do this by pointing out that it was his readers who had truly received eternal life.” The author’s purpose was not to persuade non-believers, but to reassure believers to continue to have eternal life. This shows that the believers were uncertain about whether they should continue believing or follow the “secessionists” in their beliefs.
In 1 John chapter 1 verse 4 the author writes, “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”...