This Epistle was written by John, the son of Zebedee, the beloved Disciple, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. The outlines of his history and character have been fully given in the
Introduction to the Gospel of John
(People's New Testament, Vol. I.) to which I refer the reader. Prominent in the Savior's earthly ministry, the active companion of Peter in the founding of the church in Judea, he was soon overshadowed in the Acts of the Apostles by the towering personalities of Peter and Paul. He is only named four times in the
and his name only occurs once in the Epistles of Paul
in a passage which probably names the only occasion when he and Paul ever met face to face. The opinion of the early church was that his residence was in Palestine until the time approached for the overthrow of the Jewish state, and probably until he had been released from the sacred charge of the mother of Jesus by her death; that he then removed to Asia Minor to make his home at Ephesus among the great body of Gentile churches which had been robbed of the care of their founder, the great apostle to the Gentiles, by his martyrdom, and that in Ephesus he wrote the Epistles which are ascribed to him in the New Testament.
Like the Gospel by the same writer, the Epistle does not mention the name of its author, and we are indebted for the knowledge of the authorship to the uniform testimony of the early church, as well as to the similarity of thought and expression of the Gospel and the Epistle. I do not think the hypothesis of those destructive German critics who have such a mania for novelties, that the writer of Ephesus was not the Apostle John, but a Presbyter John of the second century, is worthy of serious consideration. Such a figment is incredible in view of the fact that the second century testifies that John the Apostle long lived at Ephesus, and died there, leaving the legacy of his life and writings to the churches. We have still extant the writings of those who affirm that they had been trained by men of God who had been trained under the direction of the aged apostle during his Ephesian residence. It may be added that this epistle is repeatedly quoted in the writings of the Fathers belonging to the second century, and is named, as well as the other two Epistles of John, in the first Canon of the New Testament writings, the Canon Muratori, which belongs to the last half of the second century.
Its date is only a matter of conjecture. It is evident from the various false doctrines which the writer evidently had in view that it belongs to a later period than any other writings of the New Testament save those of John himself. It was probably written when John remained as the only survivor of the apostolic band, after his gospel, and when certain heresies began to assume form. Why it should appear without either the names of the author or of the churches to which it was addressed is uncertain, but it does demonstrate that it is a genuine Epistle, and no part of a forgery, as some German writers have held. A forged Epistle would be ascribed to an apostolic writer in order to gain its acceptance. The examples afforded by certain forged epistles of the early centuries, the so called Epistle to the Laodiceans for instance, settle this point. The peculiarities of the Epistle, which cannot be discussed in our limited space, will be best seen in the notes on the text.