Letters of John

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New Testament
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The letters of John are three books of the New Testament of the Christian Bible . They are numbered; the 1st letter of John is more of a theological treatise than a letter. The 2nd letter of John and the 3rd letter of John are the shortest books of the New Testament. None of these three letters has a statement of responsibility, so they are written anonymously. They are very similar to one another and to the Gospel according to John in style and theology, so that they are either ascribed to the same author - for the ancient church that was the Apostle John - or to a Johannine school . These four writings differ significantly from the Revelation, which is traditionally also attributed to John .

Similarities with the Gospel of John

The three letters of John and the Gospel of John show a number of characteristic theological similarities. These refer either to the same author or to a Johannine school.

The consistently emphasized teaching points include the unity of Father and Son, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the dualism between God and the world, the phrase “to be begotten of God”, “knowing” God, “remaining” in God, Jesus, the Truth and the doctrine, the water and blood of Jesus Christ, the commandment of love, the phrases “to be from the truth” and “know the truth”, the phrase “to be from God” and keeping the commandments.


The first letter of John suggests that it is based on Gentile Christian addressees who probably had contact with the Jewish traditions. The addressee details in John's 2nd and 3rd letters do not seem suitable for a more precise identification. In John's second letter, the letter is addressed to a “chosen lady with her children”, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for a community with its members. Finally, the 3rd letter of John is addressed to a "Gaius", a parishioner.

Author's question

The question of the author of the three letters of John is very controversial. Conservative interpreters emphasize the predominant tradition of the Church Fathers , who see the Evangelist John as the author of the three letters. They support their opinion and a. the content and style of the three letters of John and the Gospel of John .
Other interpreters distinguish between the author of the Gospel of John and that of the Epistles of John, assuming that the three Epistles of John were written by the same author. Recently, several interpreters have tended to assume that the three letters of John are from different authors. The different style of the letters of John - see below - led to the assumption that the first letter of John was not written by the same author as the other two letters. Theology and Greek vocabulary, however, speak more in favor of one author of all three letters of John.

The following general observations on the three letters of John play a role in the question of authorship:

  • In none of the three letters is there a clear statement of the author. With the New Testament letters this is otherwise only the case with the Hebrews . In the 2nd and 3rd Epistles of John there is only ο πρεσβύτερος ( the elder or the old ) as the author's statement . In the first letter of John there is no statement of the author.
  • The 2nd and 3rd letters of John show the classic structure of ancient letters with an introduction, superscriptio , adscriptio and salutatio and the end of the letter with final greetings. The first letter of John follows a different structure.
  • The 1st letter of John has the structure of a tract, a treatise. Topic: About the message of life (Greek peri tu logu tes zoes , 1. Joh. 1,1). The first letter of John might as promotion sschrift to John have been written.

In addition to John the Evangelist, various commentators also cite the so-called Presbyter John as the author of at least the 2nd and 3rd Epistles of John. He is mentioned in a note from Papias of Hierapolis around 130 AD. In the opinion of these interpreters, that would coincide with the author's statement mentioned in the two small letters.

Order of the three letters

There are different opinions about the relationship between the three letters and the Gospel of John. Similar to the author's question, the two small letters from John are seen as belonging together and placed close to one another in time. In the utterance "I have written to the church" ( 3 JohnEU ) many see a reference to 2nd John, which they therefore accept as being written earlier.

Some put 1st John before the other two letters, on the grounds that they are based on 1st John. Others start the 1st John later and justify the u. a. with the fact that the two little letters were written by Presbyter John, whom they consider to be the founder of the Johannine School . The 1st John would thus be the writing of a disciple of the presbyter.

Sometimes it is suspected that the three letters of John were sent to the same addressees at the same time. Luke Timothy Johnson justifies this as follows: The two small letters would otherwise hardly have been kept. Third John was a letter of recommendation to Gaius, specifically for Demetrius, whom Johnson regards as the bearer of all three letters. The second letter of John should be read aloud to the whole congregation, as an introduction to the letter of first John, which is then also to be read aloud, which is actually a homily and which lacks the characteristics of a letter.


Opinions about the time of writing the three letters of John extend over a period of approximately 50 to 110 AD; some theologians refrain from attempting a dating at all. Representatives of early dating are John AT Robinson , who reduced these three letters to “approx. 60–65 ”, or Klaus Berger , who puts it at 50 to 56 AD. In contrast, the widespread NT introduction by Udo Schnelle assumes the years from 90 to 95 AD.

Ephesus is usually assumed to be the place where all three letters were written .

See also


  • Donald Guthrie: New Testament Introduction. 3. Edition. Intervarsity Press, Illinois 1970, pp. 864-904, ISBN 0-87784-953-6
  • Hans-Josef Klauck : The Johannesbriefe (= income from research. 276). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1991, ISBN 3-534-10008-5
  • Hans-Josef Klauck: The second and third letters of John (= Evangelical-Catholic commentary on the New Testament. 23/2). Benziger, Zurich 1992, ISBN 3-7887-1420-4
  • Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament. 4th edition. Vandenhœck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, pp. 485-513, ISBN 3-8252-1830-9
  • Georg Strecker: The Johannesbriefe (= critical-exegetical commentary on the New Testament. XIV). Vandenhœck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1989, ISBN 3-525-51621-5

Web links

Online translations
  • Bibleserver.com 43 modern and historical Bible translations in 21 languages
Secondary literature


  1. According to Udo Schnelle : Introduction to the New Testament. Göttingen 1996, 2nd edition, p. 495f (chapter 8.1: The Johannine School ).
  2. The Orthodox Church has great respect for the historical statements of the Church Fathers and therefore tends to ascribe the letters and the Gospel to the Apostle John. For example Konstantinos Nikolakopoulos : The New Testament in the Orthodox Church. Basic Questions for an Introduction to the New Testament. Berlin 2014, 2nd edition, pp. 285f.
  3. ^ Guthrie: New Testament Introduction , p. 867 f.
  4. Udo Schnelle : Introduction to the New Testament. 2001, p. 499.
  5. Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 2001, p. 489.
  6. ^ Hugh Schonfield: Preface to the Letters of John the Elder. In: The Original New Testament. The definitive translation of the New Testament in 2000 years. Element Books Ltd, Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK 1998, ISBN 1-86204-252-7 , pp. 533 f.
  7. ^ Klauck: The Epistles of John , p. 125.
  8. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson: The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation . 1986, 3rd edition 2010, p. 497f.
  9. z. B. Luke Timothy Johnson: The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. 2010, p. 495: "Since our knowledge of a 'Johannine' church is at best vague, it is imposible to assign these three very short writings to precise moments in that church's putative history."
  10. Robinson: When did the New Testament come about? Bonifatius-Verlag, Paderborn 1986, ISBN 3-87088-485-1 , pp. 318, 364.
  11. Berger: Commentary on the New Testament. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2011, ISBN 978-3-579-08129-8 , p. 945.
  12. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament. 1996, pp. 504, 509, 522.
  13. Klauck: The second and third letters of John , p. 23: "The answer to the question about place and time will be [...] like 1Joh: Ephesus, around 100/110."