III. The Situation
The first epistle was written to a group of Christian believers who had experienced a division within their community. The seceders were making claims of superior spirituality, thus creating a sense of uncertainty in the minds of those who were left (2:19).
John is writing to those who have remained faithful to assure them that they are of the true faith. His intention is clearly stated in 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
At the same time, he is speaking against the false character of the deserters. Tradition has identified the false teaching with a gnostic teacher named Cerinthus, known to be an opponent of John. However, contemporary scholarship has questioned this identification. We can identify the characteristic ideas opposed in the epistle. They involve a threefold perversion of the Gospel: (1) theological—denying the reality of the Incarnation; (2) ethical—being antinomian in regard to sin; (3) attitudinal—manifesting a lovelessness inconsistent with authentic Christian faith.