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Introduction to the 2nd Epistle of John

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General Info

John’s Gospel introduced us to Jesus as the Word or Logos, the promised Messiah, the Son of Man, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, and equal to the Father as the great “I Am”.  It was written that we, by believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, we have eternal life in his Name (Jn 20:31).  In his first epistle, John explained how to have further assurance of this eternal life, along with fellowship with the Father through Jesus the Son.  He also encouraged believers to walk in the light (truth) and watch out for false teachers.  Now, in second epistle, he reinforces these teachings with application to a tangible situation in a particular local church.

The epistle has been referred to as “2 John” or “2nd John” since the early days of the church.  It has also been entitled Ioannou B (Second of John) in the ancient Greek texts.  Second John is the shortest book in the NT, only thirteen verses. The original manuscript would have fit on a single sheet of papyrus.

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Brief Survey

John’s 2nd letter begins with a personal greeting, and then commends and encourages the church to love one another (v4-6).  He precedes this (v3) by tying this love with truth, thus preparing believers for conflicts with false teachers (v6-11) by encouraging his readers to hold fast to the apostolic teachings.  He also instructs believers not to welcome these false teachers into the church, which would give them a platform to promote their heresies.

He then closes his letter with greetings to the church and a promise to visit soon to provide more instruction “face to face”.

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Key Verses

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love. (v3)

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (v5-6)

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (v7-11)

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Author, Date and Recipients

The author of the letter identifies himself simply as “the Elder” (Gk presbuteros, English transliteration “Presbyter”, which can refer either to a person advanced in years, or a person who holds a leadership role within a local church – see Ac 15, 20:17, 21:18; 1 Pe 5:1).  Solid internal and external evidence points to the Apostle John, the Son of Zebedee.  John’s notable reserve to identify himself explicitly is probably out of humility and a desire not to be overly exalted by the Christian community.  His self-identification as “the elder” probably stems from either his official title (a position of authority) or the designation by which he was well known to his readers.

The strongest internal evidence for John’s authorship is the obvious similarities of phrases, structure, expressions, and vocabulary with the fourth Gospel and the other epistles which bear his name.  For example, compare 2 Jn 5 with 1 Jn 2:7 and Jn 13:34-35, 2 Jn 6 with 1 Jn 5:3 and Jn 14:23, and 2 Jn 7 with 1 Jn 4:2-3.  Regarding external evidence, the earliest church traditions also maintain the author as the Apostle John.  A few theories have arisen that another elder named John may have wrote the letter, but this position lacks both convincing evidence and support.

The letter is addressed to the “chosen (or elect) lady and her children”.  This phrase could actually refer to an individual, a local assembly, or to the universal church.  Of those proposing that the “elect lady” (Gk eklekth kuria) is a Christian lady, some have even suggested names of “Electa”, “Kuria”, or “Kuria”.  The internal evidence however, strongly advocates that the “elect lady” refers to a communal group.  The addressee is mentioned in the second person plural in verses 6, 8, 10 and 12, before returning to the singular in v13.  In addition, the final verse (13), “The children of your chosen (elect) sister send their greetings” appears to rule out the universal church.  Therefore, the most realistic interpretation is that the “elect lady” represents a particular local church located elsewhere in Asia Minor, with “her children” referring to the individual members.

The similar parallels, circumstances and topics within the letter strongly suggest that John’s three epistles were written about the same time during his ministry at Ephesus near the end of his life.  Based on factors noted in 1 John – Author, we can propose a writing date of 85-95 AD.

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Historical Background

The same basic historical setting provides a backdrop for all three of John’s epistles (see Historical Background to 1 John).  A primary difference is that, in his second and third letters, John addresses a specific local congregation while his first letter was written to the Christian community at large.

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John's 2nd Epistle was written in the latter part of the first century AD.

27 or 30 (1) John called to be a Disciple of Jesus
30 or 33 (1) Last Supper (Passover), Passion Week, Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection
30 or 33 (1) Pentecost (birth of the Church in Jerusalem)
~ 67 The Jerusalem Church flees to Pella
~ 70 John settles in Asia Minor (modern day western Turkey)
70 Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem
~ 80 - 90 Gospel of John Written
81 - 96 The Reign of Roman Emperor Domitian
~ 85 - 90 John writes his 3 Epistles (probably from Ephesus)
~ 95 John writes Revelation while in exile on Patmos
~ 100 John dies peacefully in Ephesus

(1)  These dates are either one or the other (Nisan 14 Passover falling between Thursday sundown to Friday sundown on the Jewish calendar).  The earlier date is the most popular, but there are good evidences and arguments to support either date.

~ Dates are approximated.

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

John’s purpose in writing is similar to that of his first epistle.  He writes to exhort his readers to continue to walk in the truth of the faith and be wary of false teachers.  He encouraging believers to love one another, yet be discerning in their love and hospitality.

While 1 John was written with a “back to the basics” theme, John now summarizes these basics in his second epistle as faithfulness to true doctrine (v3,4), love (v3,5) and obedience (v6).  In addition to the theme of false teachers, he now shares some guidelines on hospitality.  In the Middle East, hospitality to strangers was customary, even to the point of taking them into one’s home, providing security and protection, and supplying provisions for their journey upon departure.  Indeed, this was often necessary since inns could be very dangerous in this era.  Yet, John teaches that hospitality must be based upon a common interest in the truth.  We often accept anyone merely “professing” to be a Christian, but John command us to be discerning with our Christian love (v9-10), even emphasizing the need for church discipline.

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

We’ve mentioned that 2 John is the shortest book in the NT.  Yet in these thirteen verses, we find a number of interpretive challenges.  Our first challenge coincides with the first phrase in the book, specifically the identity of the chosen (elect) lady and her children.  We’ve already dealt with this subject in the “Recipients” chapter above.

We next face the same challenge that we confronted in John’s first epistle, namely the exact nature of the false teachings.  More than likely, John is addressing the same heresies in his three epistles, that is legalists, libertines and various early forms of Gnosticism.  See Interpretation Hints for 1 John for details.

John views love as willful obedience and service, as opposed to the modern depiction of emotion and feeling.  Modern popular so-called Christian literature and teaching portrays rules and regulations, sound doctrine and truth as optional (or even needless) just as long as we love one another.  This is however, in direct contrast with John’s inspired teaching, and the remainder of Scripture (eg Eph 4:11-16, 1Pe 1:22).  John’s concept of love can’t be separated from truth and obedience (v3,6).

We now revisit the theme of hospitality.  First, since most early churches met in the home, verse 10 is probably a prohibition against both allowing a false prophet to speak at church and aiding him in his travels.  John’s prohibition against associating with false teachers may seem puzzling to some since Jesus often associated with sinners (eg Mt 9:10-13), and Peter instructed his readers to show hospitality to one another (1Pe 4:8-9).  To clarify this apparent inconsistency, John’s prohibition did not apply to sinners, but to false teachers, apostates deliberately twisting the truth for their own gains and agenda.  Jesus also harshly criticized hypocrites and false teachers (Mt 23).  In addition, Paul calls for discernment in our associations (1Co 5:9-13).

From a practical standpoint, even if someone claims to be a Christian, we must verify their words and actions against the Holy Scriptures.  It is far too easy to jump on the latest new and exciting teaching that, on the surface, appears to be orthodox, but deviates from the Word upon closer examination.  In each case, sound doctrine that is rooted in the Bible is the basis on which we must gauge our decisions.

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John’s Second Epistle can be divided into two short sections.  The first section (v 1-6) contains greetings and the exhortation to be obedient to God’s commands.  The second section (v 7-13) warns against false teachers and concludes with final greetings.

1 - 3 Prologue and Greeting
4 - 6 Encouragement to Love One Another and Follow God’s Commands
7 - 11 Warning to Avoid False Teachers and their Teachings
12 - 13 Closing Remarks and Final Greetings

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