This additional release in the MacArthur New Testament Commentary series expounds the three Johannine Epistles from a conservative standpoint. Typical of other books in this series, of which there are now twenty-six, this commentary discusses these three Bible books verse-by-verse, and the expository comments are supported with numerous cross-references.
MacArthur lists many similarities between I John and the Gospel of John that support the view that the same author—the Apostle John—wrote both books. The apostle, as MacArthur correctly notes, wrote 1 John as a refutation of heretical views held in the beginning stages of a system that came to be known as Gnosticism (pp. 8–9). He says John also wrote this epistle “to reassure the genuine believers” that they possess eternal life (p. 9). He sees the purpose of the book as discussing tests of salvation, not tests of fellowship.
Holding to limited atonement, MacArthur argues that “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 is “a generic expression that refers to humanity throughout the earth but not necessarily to every individual” (p. 49). The Savior’s death is “only on behalf of those who would believe” (ibid.). The author says that the references to “little children,” “young men,” and “fathers” in 1 John 2:12-14 speak of steps of spiritual growth (pp. 73–75). Other commentators, however, view these terms of address as applicable to all believers.
MacArthur’s view of lordship salvation is evident in a number of places. He writes, “Only those who remain faithful to the Lord and His Word, and give evidence of the fruits of righteousness . . . are truly saved” (pp. 111–12). “Saving faith contains three inseparable and essential elements . . . faith, love, and an eagerness to obey” (p. 147). “Salvation is not a one-time event but a way of life and entails a willingness to follow Jesus no matter the cost” (p. 149). Assurance is based “on the present, consistent fruit of a holy life” (p. 141). Obviously these statements fail to recognize the difference between salvation, which is available simply by faith alone in Jesus Christ apart from any works, and discipleship, which calls for obedience to Christ, fellowship with Christ, and abiding in Christ.