I John: The Rules of Interpretation.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (I John 1:1-4)

When we begin to examine a text of Scripture, or in this case a book of the Bible, it is important to ask ourselves four significant questions and to keep them in mind as we study. These four questions are identified as The Interpretive Journey.

The four questions to ask are (1) What did the text mean to the original audience; (2) What are the differences (similarities) between the biblical audience and us; (3) What is (are) the theme(s) contained within the text; and (4) How is the text to be applied in our lives today?

As we noted in the introductory blogs, John’s audience of young believers in Christ were encountering false teaching and teachers within the church. Ultimately, the heretics were denying the person and work of Jesus Christ. In particular, it was denying Jesus’ incarnation (John 1:14; I John 4:1-3) as God in the flesh. Doing so was to deny Jesus substitutionary atonement on behalf of sinners (Hebrews 2:14-18).

One of the characteristics of John’s writing is that he makes clear distinctions between what is truth or false, good or bad, black or white, holy or unholy. There is no middle ground with John. There are no grey areas in obeying God’s commandments in his perspective.  

Dr. John MacArthur provides some helpful insight into this first epistle by the Apostle John. He writes, The interpreter is also challenged by the rigidity of John’s theology. John presents the basics or fundamentals of the Christian life in absolute, not relative, terms. Unlike Paul, who presented exceptions and dealt so often with believers’ failures to meet the divine standard, John does not deal with the “what if I fail” issues. Only in 2:1–2 does he give some relief from the absolutes. The rest of the book presents truths in black and white rather than shades of gray, often through a stark contrast, e.g., light vs. darkness (1:5, 7; 2:8–11); truth vs. lies (2:21–22; 4:1); children of God vs. children of the devil (3:10).”

Dr. MacArthur concludes that, “Those who claim to be Christians must absolutely display the characteristics of genuine Christians: sound doctrine, obedience, and love. Those who are truly born again have been given a new nature, which gives evidence of itself. Those who do not display characteristics of the new nature don’t have it, so were never truly born again. The issues do not center (as much of Paul’s writing does) in maintaining temporal or daily fellowship with God but the application of basic tests in one’s life to confirm that salvation has truly occurred. Such absolute distinctions were also characteristic of John’s Gospel.”

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

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