1 John, 2 John, and 3 John -
Although ‘the Johannine Epistles’ are traditionally linked together, only 2 and 3 John name and claim a common authorship, by ‘the Elder’; 2 John shares much of its language and ideas with the anonymous 1 John, but whether this indicates shared authorship or imitation is disputed. Attempts to deny the common authorship of the minor epistles and to see one or other, usually 2 John, as pseudonymous (e.g. Bultmann 1973 ) have won little assent. From an early date 1 John was associated with the fourth gospel and both were assigned to John the Apostle (see JN), although there was initially more uncertainty over the two minor epistles (Lieu 1986: 10–18). In recent scholarship the common authorship of the gospel and first epistle has become far less certain, particularly after Dodd (1937 ), as too has that of the three epistles. While the gospel and the three epistles clearly stem from the same school, the question of authorship remains an open one.
The majority position which sees the gospel as prior to the three epistles, which follow in their canonical order, has also come under attack; some even reverse the sequence with 2 and 3 John first (Strecker 1989 ). This debate is inseparable from the—often speculative—reconstruction of the events behind the documents (see Brown 1979 ). In the absence of external evidence to solve these issues the starting point for interpretation must be the language and thought of the letters themselves.
Supposed settings for 1 John have focused on references to schism ( 2:18–19 ) and to those holding false beliefs ( 4:2–3 ). Earlier, more confident, identifications of ‘the heretics’ with known groups within the early church are not supported by the text itself; undoubtedly there is conflict over the understanding of Jesus although the precise nuance is obscure (see further 1 JN 4:1–6 ).