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An Introduction To The Book Of 2 John

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I. AUTHOR: Probably the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee.

A. Different Views: The different views of authorship of 2 John are as follows:

1. John the Elder

2. An unknown Elder

3. The apostle John, the son of Zebedee--the view of this writer for the following reasons:

B. External Evidence: This evidence is not as strong as that for First John, yet its brevity of the letter and the unlikelihood of it being quoted may account for some of this (as with 3 John)1

1. Cited or alluded to by Polycarp (c. 110-50)

2. Cited or alluded to by Irenaeus (c. 130-202)

3. Disputed by Origen (c. 185-254)

4. Named as authentic by Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-86)

5. Disputed by Eusebius (c. 325-40)

6. Named as authentic by Jerome (c. 340-420)

7. Named as authentic by Augustine (c. 400)

8. Named as authentic by all of the canons (Muratorian (c. 170), Barococcio (c. 206), Apostolic (c. 300), Athanasuis (c. 367) except the Marcion (c. 140) except for Cheltenham (c. 360) who disputed it

9. Named as authentic in the Old Latin (c. 200)

10. Named as authentic in all of the councils except for Nicea (c. 325-40) [ Hippo (392), Carthage (397) and Carthage (419)].

C. Internal Evidence:

1. The epistle’s own claims as the author describes himself as the Elder (2 Jn 1)2

2. The relationship of the letter to other Johannine writings (1 John, and the Gospel of John)3

a. Many phrases are in both 2 and 3 John are either identical or reminiscent of those in 1 John

b. and 3 John become more understandable in view of 1 John

c. All three books (1, 2, and 3 John) share common characteristics with the Gospel of John (see Introduction on 1 John).

II. DESTINATION:

A. “The Elder to the chosen lady and her children...”

B. Different Views:

1. An individual woman, her natural children and sister (1, 4, 13)

2. This is a figurative way of designating a particular church. Therefore “chosen sister” would refer to a different church and “children” would refer to spiritual children (parishioners) of the church. Support is as follows:

a. She is loved by all

b. The use of the second person plural after verse 5 and until verse 13 more naturally refers to a congregation rather than the woman and her children

c. The command to love one another (v. 5) fits a local church better than an individual family. But it could refer to a larger circle of Christians rather than an individual family

d. John provides a clear instance of the writer referring to an individual. Yet it could be argued that the cryptic reference is to protect the identity of the person from any persecution which might ensue from receiving the letter

3. Perhaps this is a both/and situation in that the church met at the home of the lady. Therefore, it could be to both of them4

III. DATE: Probably between AD 85-95

A. Internal evidence offers little evidence

B. It this epistle is linked with 1 John it must be supposed that it was written at about the same time or just afterward (AD 85-95)

IV. OCCASION AND PURPOSES:

A. Occasion: It seems that John is writing again to combat incipient Docetic Gnosticism (Christ was not really a divine person in human flesh (v 7).5 He was only a phantom playing the human role. He only appeared to have real humanity. Once again there is a dualism emphasizing that the physical is evil and the spiritual is good. The correlates with 1 John 2:18-27 and especially 4:1-6 (in particular 4:2).

B. Purpose: To warn believers of the perils of being indiscriminate in their interactions with those who teach lies about Jesus:

1. To defend the truth which is the unifying bond between believers (1-4)

2. To clarify love as obeying Christ and not being indiscriminate (and thus accepting) with the enemies of Christ (5-11)

3. To encourage faithfulness to doctrinal purity so that believers will not forfeit reward at the bema of Christ, but might experience the fullness of fellowship (8-9, 12 “that your joy may be full”).


1 Guthrie, NTI, 884-85. In addition Guthrie writes, “It is significant that the earlier writers appear to have less hesitation about apostolic authorship than the later, which is the reverse of what would be expected if the doubts were based on accurate tradition. It is just possible that the ascription to John the Elder caused more confusion at a later date because of the belief in some circles in a John the Elder distinct from John the apostle....On the whole, there are no conclusive external reasons for denying the authenticity of these Epistles” (Ibid., 886).

2 See Guthrie for a discussion about the identity of this title (NTI, 886-889).

3 Guthrie, NTI, 889-90.

4 For other arguments see Guthrie, NTI, 890-893.

5 The present tense is explained by Marshall as relating to an orthodox confession “[I believe that] Jesus Christ [is] coming in flesh.” Therefore the focus is on the present existence of Jesus in the flesh rather than the incarnation. Thus this has historical roots with Cerinthus who denied that Christ ever really was human. He simply came upon (and left) Jesus.

Another preferable option is to understand the present tense as being a timeless present (Lenski and Burdick, 425-26) for four reasons: (1) no know first century heresy denied Christ’s second coming in the flesh, (2) The Gnostics denied Christ’s first coming in the flesh, (3) the same phrase occurs in 1 John 4:2 where the perfect tense “having come” clearly refers to Christ’s first coming, and (4) flesh is more naturally used to refer to the present mortal body than to the immortal resurrection body.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines