The Johannine Community at the End of the 1st Century
Jerusalem. Rome. Samaria. Corinth.
Biblical settings can be rich, majestic, and beautiful and add layers of meaning and understanding to our knowledge of the ancient texts.
John's Epistles don't have any of that.
Okay, that's not totally true. We do know some stuff about the setting. Scholars think that all three letters were written around the very end of the first century, probably close to 100 CE (source, 1178). They also know that they're centered around a particular group of Christians; scholars sometimes called them the Johannine community because they probably followed the teachings of the Gospel of John (and also because it just sounds way fancier).
But we really have no clue where these Christians were living (the location is sometimes given as Ephesus, but that's probably a guess). We also don't know what their community was like, outside of the stuff the elder passes on. From his letters, we can tell that these guys really dug the version of Jesus in John's Gospel (source, 1178). Why? There are tons of similarities between John's Epistles and the fourth gospel. (Haven't read John's Gospel yet? Go ahead. We'll wait.) We also know that there were some growing divisions in the community and everyone was really squirming in their seats about them.
The elder, who was probably one of the leaders in his community, argued that Christians needed to believe certain things in order to qualify as members of the in-crowd. His opponents, who had slightly different ideas about Jesus, clearly thought they had the better, more God-sanctioned take on Christ.
We're guessing the elder won out eventually. After all, he did end up the Bible.
In any case, these letters come from a sad place. In the elder's eyes, people are falling away from true faith, and that's a tragedy. The community is fracturing and steps have to be taken to heal the wounds, says the author. Maybe this is why the elder has such an us vs. them attitude. Crazy stuff is going down and he's just trying to keep the band together.
Good luck, dude.