Wednesday, 27 November 2013

1 John - Test of Life OR Test of Fellowship?

This is a short blog post to look at the question of why the epistle of 1 John was written. There are generally two views on what John was trying to convey in his epistle of 1 John, both will be presented below with an explanation of which view I believe to be correct, and which view I believe to be totally wrong.

What is the “Test of Life” view of 1 John?
Put simply the “test of life” view of 1 John is that John lays out a number of tests in his epistle, if one passes these tests laid out in 1 John then they can “know they have eternal life”, therefore if someone passes the tests they can know if they are counted as either a "believer" or a "unbeliever". 

What is the “Test of Fellowship” view of 1 John?
The test of fellowship view is very different, this view says that John was writing to encourage born again believers to ensure they were in fellowship with God. John does not write a list of tests to see if one is a believer, in stead the purpose of John’s epistle is to encourage believers to continue on in fellowship with God.

“Test of Life” in Arminianism and Calvinism
This blog post won’t address the theological differences between both Calvinism and Arminianism, all I will say is that both systems have got things correct and both have got things incorrect. In my experiences it is generally dortian Calvinism that goes totally contrary to scripture, however I won’t go into reasons that I believe this in this particular blog post.

The Arminian view on 1 John is generally similar to that of Calvinism, they affirm the “Test of Life” view, however add the wholly unbiblical view that a man can loose everlasting life. So they say that man can know that he has everlasting life if he passes all of the tests within the book, however if he fails one of the tests then he cannot know that he has everlasting life (presently). So a man has to examine himself to see if he posses everlasting life currently, notice that I added the word currently. As the vast majority of Arminians affirm that we can be justified (saved) and then loose everlasting life and have to “get it back” – whatever that means! As I whole heartedly reject the view of conditional eternal security (which is a bit of an oxymoron).

The dortian Calvinist view of 1 John is very similar; if the person passes the tests then they can be “pretty sure” they have everlasting life. But because of the dortian Calvinist view of “perseverance of the saints” one cannot know that they are truly saved until they endure to the end of their life in faithfulness and/or holiness.

Why John Did Not Have a “Test of Life” View in Mind
I find this view of “test of life” rather fascinating. Does John have a mini prologue of his epistle to show the reader what ideas he is trying to convey? It would appear so:

1 John 1:3 (NKJV):  that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 

Clearly what John had in mind was to write to the readers about fellowship and not justification, verse 6 and 7 only strengthen this point:

1 John 1:6-7 (NKJV):  6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Note in particular throughout 1 John who he says the epistle is aimed at:

1 John 5:13 (NKJV): These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,

Since we can forget about the Arminian objection due to their conclusion that everlasting life is not in fact everlasting, we can turn to look at the dortian Calvinist view of the verse. Under the “Test of Life” view this makes little sense for a dortian Calvinist, John is writing to someone who believes to say that they can know they have everlasting life. However Calvinism affirms that we cannot actually know until we have preserved, so John’s statement of their ability to know becomes mute!

Second of all John addresses himself and others as believers:

1 John 2:12-14 (NKJV): 12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men,  Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.

1 John 2:25 (NKJV): And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.

Notice the use of “us”, John included himself here. It would surely take a brave dortian Calvinist to affirm that John could not know that he was justified until the end of his life?! Was John just mistaken when writing under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit? A view contrary to this just won’t wash. John continues to include himself in the affirmation that he and his readers are everlasting possessing belivers:

1 John 3:1-2 (NKJV): 3 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

1 John 5:19 (NKJV): We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.

It would seem apparent that John himself knew that he was indeed justified and a possessor of everlasting life, this is a bit of a problem for the dortian Calvinist who tries to the epistle into a “test to see if you are saved”.

Why Assurance is Impossible Under the Dortian Calvinists Terms
If the dortian Calvinist wants to continue to affirm that if they pass the tests laid out in 1 John that they can be “pretty sure they are saved” they have to face the problem of interpreting 1 John 1:8,10. The tests that the dortian Calvinist lays before the reader to “pass” in order to know (a good bet!) that they have everlasting life are generally something like this:


We read in 1 John 1:8,10:

1 John 1:8 (NKJV): If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:10 (NKJV): If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us

No one achieves perfection, so how can we know if we are “continuing to sin”? How can we know that we actually have eternal life? All of these laid out tests of life are subjective as so we cannot know unless we persevere to the end – under dortian Calvinism. So can we know we have everlasting life like John affirms? Not if the dortian Calvinists “test of life” view is adopted.

What is Behind the “Test of Life” View?
How does one come to the conclusion that the epistle is about a test of everlasting life? It is all to do with what the dortian Calvinist believes is the the purpose statement for the epistle of 1 John, they maintain that 1 John 5:13 is the purpose statement for the epistle rather than in 1 John 1:3. Where would you expect the purpose of the epistle to be addressed? Bob Wilkin puts it well:

Those holding the Test-of-Life view of First John suggest, instead, that 1 John 5:13 is the purpose statement for the book. That verse says, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” There are several problems with this view. First, the words "these things I have written"(tauta egrapsa in Greek) refer not to all that precedes 5:13 but only to the immediate context (i.e., 5:6-12). The same Greek expression occurs on only one other occasion in the book, in 2:26. There too only the immediate context (i.e., 2:18-25) is in view. [1].

Bob’s point is very relevant! Lets take a look at 1 John 2:26 and the versus preceding each verse, then lets do the same with 1 John 5:13:

1 John 2:18-25 (NKJV): 18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 21I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.

1 John 2:26 (NKJV): These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.

1 John 5:6-12 (NKJV): 6This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:13 (NKJV): These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,[a] and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

It’s clear from 1 John 2:26 that this is not the overall purpose statement of the epistle but to the preceding versus (2:18-25). The exact same phrase of words is used by John in 1 John 5:13, here it is also clear that John was referencing what he had written in the immediate preceding versus (6-12).

Conclusion: 1 John 5:13 is not a purpose statement for the whole epistle, just like 1 John 2:26 it deals with the preceding versus. The preceding versus of 1 John 5:6-12 simply affirm what the Gospel of John teaches; that we can know now we have everlasting life through our one time act of faith in Jesus for everlasting life.

Assurance is Impossible under Dortian Calvinism
John says that we can have assurance we have everlasting life (1 John 5:13), but John gives no assurance that we can know we are in fellowship unless we pass the test of the epistle (1 John 1:6-7). Finally to show that the dortian Calvinists view fails logically consider the following:

1)     One can pass the tests now.
2)     Therefore they can know they have everlasting life.
3)     One can then later fail the tests.
4)     Therefore they can not know they have everlasting life.

Net result: One cannot ultimately know if they have everlasting life until they persevere to the end in faithfulness according to the dortian Calvinist, unfortunately for the dortian Calvinist John was sure he (2:25, 3:1-2, 5:19) and his readers (2:12-14, 3:1-2, 5:19) were believers and were in fact justified and possessed everlasting life (1 John 5:13). John did not write his epistle to test if his readers were "believers" or "unbelievers" as he has already stated that both himself and his readers were in fact eternal life possessing believers, this epistle is not a "test of life" for "believers", such a view that believers do not have everlasting life flies in the face of all understanding regardless of ones view of assurance (current, future, or now!).

I think I will conclude with some thoughts of Zane Hodges:

All of this is extremely simple. There is absolutely no effort on the Apostle's part to add additional "checks," "tests," or "verifications." The believer's assurance that he possesses eternal life is directed totally and unambiguously toward the truth of what God says about His Son. In that truth he is invited to rest.

Amen to that!


[1] Bob Wilkin. (1998). Knowing God By Our Works? 1 John 2:3-11.Available: Last accessed 27th Nov 2013.

[2] Michael K. Farrar, O.D.. (2007). Eleven Tests in the Epistles of John That Can Assure Us We are Saved Part One. Available: Last accessed 27th Nov 2013.

[3] Michael K. Farrar, O.D.. (2007). Eleven Tests in the Epistles of John That Can Assure Us We are Saved Part Two. Available: Last accessed 27th Nov 2013.

[4] Michael K. Farrar, O.D.. (2007). Eleven Tests in the Epistles of John That Can Assure Us We are Saved Part Three. Available: Last accessed 27th Nov 2013.

[5] Zane C. Hodges. (Autumn 1990). We Believe In: Assurance of Salvation.Available: Last accessed 27th Nov 2013.

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