Verses 12-14: Assurances
Part 1: Does that triplet structure suggest three different groups?
Surely you have noticed the two triplets: “dear children,” fathers, and young men. At first glance, these triplets suggest three groups: the young, the youth and the old. Some commentators draw conclusions of age and maturity among these three. Let me show you six other verses in 1 John (all in ESV):
- 1 John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
- 1 John 2:18: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.”
- 1 John 2:28: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
- 1 John 3:1-2: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[g]we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
- 1 John 3:7: “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
- 1 John 3:10: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
- 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
- 1 John 4:4: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
- 1 John 5:2: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”
- 1 John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Other than the uses in 1 John 2:12 and 13 these are all the times the word children is used in 1 John. None of these refer to little people, that is children. All of them use this term as one of endearment or as subordinate to God. So the most natural fit for children in 1 John 2:12-13 would be similar to that: an encompassing term for Christians.
Fathers and young men are the two groups in the church and don’t forget that the actual greek terms are not gender limiting.
Part 2: Repetitions past and present, or more accurately present and past
Oh, the translators of our Bible can give us some grief!
Check out this page which has the King James Version (KJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) version of 1 John 2:12-14.
Next, check out this page which has the English Standard Version (ESV) and New International Version (NIV) Bibles of this same passage.
In the KJV and NASB, the translators use “have written” with the second portion of the triplets, while the ESV and NIV stick with the word write.
The KJV and NASB are the correct translations of this word for in the Greek a past tense is used. That tense is the word aorist, and don’t let that word knock you on your mental heals. Just consider it past. I bet you easily understand past, present, future tenses. You don’t even have to think about them as you speak. In Greek, there are more past tenses than in English. Just consider aorist one of them like aorist, present, and future. A lot more could be said about that, but that should be enough for our purposes.
In this section, John is saying I am writing to you, and I have written to you. Some commentators posit the words “have written” to suggest another work, like the Gospel of John, or 2 John. Some have even postulated a lost letter or just “source” for the other work John was supposedly referring too. W. Hall Harris, III is of the opinion that the words “have written” (that past/aorist tense) are stylistic for up until chapter 2 verse 14 John always uses the present tense, and after verse 13 he always uses the aorist (the past tense). So it is like the book shifts as he comes to this passage.