These verses are printed as poetry in the NIV and some other translations, but not the NASB. (I always quote from the NASB, 1995 edition unless I mention otherwise.) I'll make a few comments in brackets, but most of my discussion of these verses will follow the quotation of these verses.
"I am writing to you, little children [[The Greek noun behind "little children" here is "teknion." ((I had a footnote: This Greek noun is also used in 1 John 2:1 (where John writes, "[my] little children") and in 2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; and 5:21. The Greek noun "teknon" (child), from which "teknion" (little child) was derived, is used in 1 John 3:1, 2, 10 (twice); and 5:2.)) It could be translated "little children" or "children." The NIV translates "dear children" here and in verse 13. John uses the Greek noun "paidion" for "children" in 2:13 (and in 2:18), but he probably didn't intend any substantial difference in meaning.]], because your sins have been forgiven you for His names' sake. [These last words "for His names' sake" point out that we have been forgiven through the saving grace of God in Christ and for God's glory.] (13) I am writing to you fathers; because you know Him [I believe it would be better to translate the Greek verb, which is in the perfect tense here and at the end of verse 13 and in verse 14, "have come to know" (all three places), with the Amplified Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and others.] who has been from the beginning. [He always existed!] I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you [[After writing "I am writing to you" (or "I write to you") three times in verses 12, 13 (using the present tense in the Greek), John now writes, "I have written to you" three times (using the aorist tense in the Greek). The NIV translates "I write to you" six times in verses 12-14. It seems that John switched the tenses for variety and style. The aorist should probably be considered an epistolary aorist here, where John writes from the point of view of his readers: From their point of view, after they received his epistle, John wrote these words in the past. ((I had a footnote: I'll quote two sentences from what A. T. Robertson says here ("Word Pictures in the New Testament," Vol. 6 [Broadman Press, 1933], page 213). "Epistolary aorist referring to this Epistle, not to a previous Epistle. ... It is quite in John's style to repeat himself with slight variations." I'll quote a sentence from what Craig S. Keener says here ("Bible Background Commentary - New Testament" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1993], page 738). " 'I am writing' is probably not intended to convey a sense different from 'I wrote'; it is common to vary style to make one's writing more interesting." And I'll quote a few sentences from what I. Howard Marshall says here ("Epistles of John" [Eerdmans, 1978], pages 135, 136). "Most writers explain the use of the verb in these two tenses as a matter of stylistic variation, perhaps to relieve the monotony of 'I write' occurring six times over. ... ...John made use of a stylistic device to enable him to repeat certain things for emphasis. ...."))]], children because you know ["have come to know"] the Father. (14) I have written to you, fathers, because you know ["have come to know"] Him who has been 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 evil one."
These verses are interesting and important, and they include the important information that Christians - all Christians - have been forgiven, have come to know God, and have been given the victory over the evil one and evil/sin. One reason I wanted to discuss these verses is that I have found that many Christians are confused about these verses and the interpretations differ widely. There's only one interpretation that satisfies me: The apostle John (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), speaking from an ideal point of view, addresses his faithful Christian readers - all of them, regardless of how old they are or how long they have been Christians - as children, as young men, and as fathers, using a bold stylistic framework to point out and emphasize several great blessings that accompany new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus. ((I had a footnote that goes on for five paragraphs: The most common viewpoint is that the "little children" refer to all Christians, but that the "fathers" and "young men" refer to two different groups within the church, referring to their differing spiritual maturity levels, differing ages, etc. Some believe that John was referring to three different groups within the church here.
I'll quote part of what Leon Morris says here ("New Bible Commentary-21st Century Edition" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1994], page 1402). "It may be argued that knowledge accords with fathers (those old in the faith), and strength with young men. But as all the qualities ought to be found in all believers it is best to regard the division as a stylistic device, adding emphasis. 'All Christians are (by grace, not nature) children in innocence and dependence on the heavenly Father, young men in strength, and fathers in experience' (C. H. Dodd, "The Johannine Epistles" [Hodder, 1946], pp. 38-39). John's readers have the forgiveness of sins, the knowledge of God, the word of God abiding in them, and victory over the evil one."
I'll quote a few sentences from what David Rensberger says here ("1 John, 2 John, 3 John" [Abingdon Press, 1997], pages 70, 71). "If 'children' refers to all the readers, then what about the 'fathers' and 'young people'? They could be different groups within the readership, whether the reference to age is literal or metaphorical. Acquaintance with one who was 'from the beginning' seems naturally characteristic of fathers, and conquering strength of young people. However, both the structure of verses 12-14 and usage elsewhere in 1 John (...2:3-5; 4:6, 7; 5:4, 5, 20) suggest that all the traits here are characteristic of all believers. 'Fathers' and 'young people,' then, probably do not represent different segments of the community, but reflect a common biblical rhetorical figure used to refer to an entire group...."
I'll quote part of what Zane C. Hodges says here ("Bible Knowledge Commentary - New Testament" [SP Publications, 1983], page 890). "...the author addressed his readers as dear children...fathers, and young men. Some have suggested that John here divided his readers by chronological age-groups. Others say he did so by their spiritual maturity. If either explanation is adopted, the sequence - which makes 'fathers' the middle term - is somewhat strange. Moreover, elsewhere John addressed all his readers as 'children' (vv. 1, 28; 3:7, 18; 5:21). It seems best (with C. H. Dodd and I. H. Marshall) to view the terms of address as referring to all the readers in each case. Then each experience ascribed to them is appropriate to the category named."
And I'll quote part of what I. Howard Marshall says here ("Epistles of John," page 138). "A third type of solution is favored by Dodd, who thinks that the writer is simply using a rhetorical device to indicate qualities, appropriate to the three stages of life, which ought to be true of all believers. All Christians should have the innocence of childhood, the strength of youth, and the mature knowledge of age." Marshall goes on to say that "on the whole, the third type of solution...has the most to commend it.")) All faithful Christians (and we must all be faithful Christians) are like children in some ways, like young men in some ways, and like fathers in some ways.
IT IS VERY SIGNIFICANT THAT EVERYTHING JOHN SAYS ABOUT THE CHILDREN, YOUNG MEN, AND FATHERS HERE SHOULD BE TRUE OF EVERY CHRISTIAN AND THAT JOHN SAYS THESE THINGS OF ALL CHRISTIANS IN OTHER VERSES OF THIS EPISTLE. I'll demonstrate this fact as we continue.
For one thing, John wants to contrast what true Christians have with what the Gnostic heretics do not have. John wrote this epistle to combat the Gnostic heresy that was attacking the Christian church at that time. The Gnostics denied that sin is the problem and that the atoning blood of Christ is the answer; they believed in salvation through their secret knowledge (Greek "gnosis"); furthermore (as 1 John 2:22 shows) they denied that Jesus was the Christ and the existence of God the Father and the Son (also see 1 John 2:23).
In his FIRST LISTING (of the six listings in verses 12-14), John calls his readers "little children" and reminds them of the glorious fact that they have been forgiven. All true Christians have been forgiven regardless of their age or how long they have been Christians (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9; 2:2; 4:10; and 5:6). Forgiveness is an essential part of the gospel. The New Testament puts about ten percent of the emphasis on forgiveness and about ninety percent on the fact that Jesus died so we could walk with the victory over sin, spiritual death, and Satan (cf., e.g., Romans chapter 6; 1 Pet. 2:24; and 1 John 1:6, 7, 9; 2:1, 3-6, 9-11, 13-17, 28, 29; 3:3-24; 4:7-21; and 5:1-5, 16-21 [Many of these verses are discussed in my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," and many of these verses and many similar verses are discussed in my papers.]). Large numbers of Christians in our day (wrongly) put most of the emphasis on forgiveness and legal, positional righteousness. Jesus, the Lamb of God, didn't just bear our sins with the guilt, so we could be forgiven. He also bore the penalties of our sins, back to Adam. For one thing, He bore the penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin, so we could get out from under those penalties. (These things are discussed in some detail in my book and in quite a few of my papers.)
In his SECOND LISTING John likens his readers (all Christians) to fathers (fathers are known for their knowledge), in that they "know Him who has been from the beginning." Born-again Christians (all born-again Christians) have the extreme privilege of knowing God. Talk about important (high-level) knowledge! It is clear that God the Father is "from the beginning," and 1 John 1:1, for example, shows that God the Son is "from the beginning" too (He always existed). 1 John 1:3 speaks of Christians, all Christians, having fellowship with (which includes knowing) God the Father and God the Son. Other verses in this epistle also demonstrate that all Christians (and not just the some of the Christians) have the extreme privilege of knowing God (see 1 John 2:3, 4; 4:7; and 5:20).
I believe that we should think first and foremost of knowing God the Father here (cf. 1 John 5:20). Jesus came to bring us to the Father (cf., e.g., John 14:6). The Bible teaches (and it is important for Christians to know) that (although God the Son is fully deity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit) God the Son has a subordinate role to God the Father (which doesn't mean that the Son is inferior). ((I had a footnote: On the full deity of God the Son and on His subordinate role to God the Father, see under John 1:1-4 and Col. 3:15-19 in my paper on John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-3:17 on my internet site. Also see my subsequent papers, "Who Do We Worship?"; "Who Do We Pray To?"; "More on the Trinity"; and "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son" on this Christian article site.)) John wants to emphasize the great privilege that all true born-again Christians have of being able to know God on a level far beyond what was available to believers (very much including most of the leaders) under the old covenant. ((I had footnote: It is true, of course, that a few leaders (Moses for example) were privileged to know God on a deep personal level, but they weren't born again in that the new birth wasn't available until after the Lord Jesus Christ had conquered sin, Satan, and spiritual death through His atoning death and resurrection.)) As born-again Christians we have the great privilege of knowing God the Father (and God the Son) person to Person (cf., e.g., John 17:3).
I'll temporarily skip commenting on John's third listing (young men) and comment on his FOURTH LISTING, where he calls his readers "children," "because [they] know the Father." This listing rather strongly confirms that John is speaking to, and about, all his readers with each of these six listings. It isn't just the fathers who know the Father; his readers are also like children who know their Father (most children, including the children of presidents and famous men, know their fathers). The same Greek verb is used for the fathers knowing God and the children knowing God here in verses 13, 14; this Greek verb is used three times in verses 13, 14. With His FIFTH LISTING (in verse 14), John essentially repeats what he said about the fathers the first time (in verse 13), that they know Him who has been from the beginning.
John's THIRD and SIXTH LISTINGS are essentially the same, but he includes some extra information with the sixth listing. These listings are addressed to the "young men," who "have overcome the evil one," but as with the other listings, John is addressing all true Christians. (When we think of those who fight, we typically think of young men; that's why John spoke of young men here.) Significantly, all true Christians are called, and enabled, to "overcome the evil one" and all evil/sin through appropriating a full supply of the saving grace of God in Christ on a continuous basis by faith. With his SIXTH LISTING John includes the added information that the young men "are strong and that the word of God abides in [them]." All true Christians must be strong (strong by the grace/Spirit of God) against sin and Satan through taking God's word into their hearts and living in line with His word by grace through faith.
JOHN MAKES IT VERY CLEAR THROUGHOUT THIS EPISTLE THAT ALL CHRISTIANS, AND NOT JUST THE YOUNG MEN, ARE CALLED AND ENABLED TO WALK WITH THE VICTORY OVER THE EVIL ONE AND ALL EVIL (see 1 John 1:6, 7, 9; 2:1, 3-6, 9-11, 15-17, 28, 29; 3:3-24; 4:1-21; 5:1-5, 16-21 [Many of these verses are discussed in my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," and several of these verses are discussed in my papers.]). Most of the verses just cited clearly demonstrate that ALL Christians are called and enabled (and required) to overcome the evil one and evil/sin.
I'll quote 1 John 5:4, 5; these verses use the same Greek verb translated "you have overcome" in 1 John 2:13, 14. "For whatever is born of God [Every born-again Christian is born of God.] overcomes the world [whose god is the evil one]; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. (5) Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God [Every born again Christian believes that Jesus is the Son of God]?" The Gnostics denied that Jesus was the Son of God. Having the victory over the evil one and all evil/sin includes holding the truth and living in line with the truth of God's word.
Throughout this epistle John shows the great contrast between what true Christians have through salvation in Christ Jesus and what the Gnostic heretics do not have. In these three verses he shows that true Christians (unlike the Gnostics) are forgiven; they know God as His born-again children, and they have the victory over the devil and sin. The Gnostic heretics didn't receive forgiveness; they didn't become God's born-again children; they didn't know God (cf. 1 John 2:3, 4); and they didn't have the victory over the evil one and evil/sin.
May the will of God be fully accomplished through this paper and His people be edified! In Jesus' Name!