Where the world comes to study the Bible

Exegetical Commentary on 2 John 1-13

    Structure

2 John is a personal letter, unlike 1 John, and at 245 Greek words is shorter than any other New Testament book except 3 John (with 219 Greek words). The length of both 2 and 3 John is governed by the size of a single sheet of papyrus (reed paper) which would have measured about 25 by 20 centimeters.760

2 John is written in a standard epistolary format characteristic of first century letters.761 It begins with a praescriptio, or introductory formula (vv. 1-3), which mentions the sender and the addressee and includes a greeting. Many letters of this period follow the greeting with an expression of thanksgiving or a wish for the health of the addressee. Although no explicit expression of thanksgiving is found in 2 John, the author’s expression of joy in v. 4 may be roughly analogous. Following this is the body of the letter, which in 2 John is vv. 5-12. A letter would normally end with a concluding formula, which would often repeat the health wish and then include a word of farewell. Verse 13 of 2 John corresponds to this.

The Introductory Formula (vv. 1-3)

    1 From the elder, to an elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth (and not I alone, but also all those who know the truth),

    Summary

Just as in the Gospel of John the author does not explicitly identify himself with the Apostle John, so here he prefers the designation the elder. Presumably the Christian community to which he wrote knew who he was. The elect lady and her children refers to a particular local church at some distance from the community where the author is living at the time. 2 John is being written to warn a “sister” congregation some distance away of the missionary efforts of the secessionist false teachers, and the dangers of welcoming them whenever they should arrive.762

    Exegetical Details

The identification of the elder in v. 1. I would identify the author of the letter, who designates himself “the elder” (or “the presbyter”)763 as the author of 1 John and the Gospel of John.764 We may recall the statement by B. H. Streeter quoted earlier: “We are forced to conclude that all four documents [the three epistles plus the Fourth Gospel] are by the same hand.”765 There is no evidence that demands authorship by a person other than the Apostle John.

The authors designation of himself as the elder (oJ presbuvtero, Jo presbuteros) in v. 1. The question still remains, however, why the Apostle John would choose to designate himself in this way (we may presume, however, that his identity would have been well known to the readers). The more common suggestions are as follows:

(1) It is sometimes suggested that the title is used because of the old age of the author and the respect or authority given to him. (Although this might explain the use of such a designation by others it is not so clear that this is why the author would use it of himself.) The term was used of officials in the Jewish synagogue in the first century, and Mark 15:1 and Acts 6:12 describe a group of “elders” within the Sanhedrin. Elders as rulers of the community appear in the Old Testament: Deut 19:12, Josh 20:4, Ruth 4:2, and Ezra 10:14. Outside the Jewish background of Christianity, the term was also used in the Hellenistic world in both Asia Minor and Egypt as a title for magistrates.766 Some who hold to Johannine authorship would point to accounts that portray John as living to an extremely old age767 as support for this means of self-identification, although this presumes the Johannine letters were written quite late in the first century, a theory to which I do not subscribe.

(2) Others have suggested that this term was an alternative designation for the apostles. A related term, sumpresbuvtero (sumpresbuteros, “fellow elder”), is used by the author of 1 Peter to refer to himself in 1 Peter 5:1 (although he has already identified himself as an apostle in 1:1). The statement by Papias reported in Eusebius is not clear, although it can be interpreted in such a way that apostles and presbyters constitute the same group.768

(3) In the Gospel of John there is a notable reticence on the part of the author to identify himself explicitly with the Apostle John. In fact, John son of Zebedee is never mentioned by name in the Fourth Gospel. It is my contention that he refers to himself in the Gospel of John as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” out of humility and a desire not to be exalted to a high status or venerated by the Christian community to which he later belonged. Consistent with this it is not inconceivable that he preferred to use the title “Elder” rather than “Apostle” as a self-designation, although the churches to whom he ministered and wrote would naturally know who he was and what his status was. However, this still does not explain why the author did not use this same designation (for the same reason) in 1 John, assuming 1 John was written by the same individual who wrote 2 John and 3 John.

The identification of the elect lady (ejklekth'/ kuriva/, eklekth kuria) to whom the letter is addressed. Once again there have been a number of suggestions concerning the identification of the addressee(s) of 2 John. Several of these assume the referent is an individual Christian rather than a group.

Options which understand the phrase to refer to an individual are as follows: (a) The letter is addressed to a Christian lady named Electa. The reference in v. 13 seems to indicate conclusively that ejklekth'/ (eklekth, “elect”) in v. 1 is an adjective, not a proper name. (b) The letter is addressed to a Christian lady named Kyria. This was first proposed by Athanasius, and avoids the difficulty of (a) because it allows ejklekth'/ (eklekth, “elect”) to remain an adjective. (c) The letter is addressed to an unnamed Christian lady; the address in this case means simply “Dear lady” and is anonymous. However, in 3 John where the letter is addressed to an individual (Gaius), the individual’s name is given.

Another problem with both (b) and (c) is that the internal evidence of 2 John strongly suggests a collective reference.769 In v. 6 the addressee is referred to using a second person plural verb, and this is repeated in vv. 8, 10, and 12. Only in v. 13 does the singular reappear. This is understandable only if some collective sense to the singular used in vv. 1 and 13 is involved.

Therefore this suggests option (d), that the “elect lady” is a reference to the church at large. This understanding has been partly responsible for the assignment of 2 John to the so-called ‘catholic’ or general epistles, that is, those New Testament letters not written to a specific local church. Verse 13, which refers to “the children of your elect sister,” is difficult to understand if the letter is addressed to the entire (universal) church, however. More probable is (e), a reference to a particular local church at some distance from the Christian community where the author is located at the time he writes. When this is combined with the situation as we have reconstructed it from 1 John, it appears that the writing of 2 John results from the split over christology within the Christian community to which 1 John is addressed. The secessionist opponents, who have withdrawn from fellowship with the genuine Christians to whom 1 John is being written, have continued to engage in efforts to win ‘converts’ from the original (and orthodox) group to which they formerly belonged.770 1 John is a warning to the genuine believers who remained behind to continue to resist these efforts and to remain true to the (apostolic) eyewitness testimony concerning the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. 2 John is being written to warn a ‘sister’ church some distance away of the missionary efforts of the secessionist opponents, and of the dangers of welcoming them whenever their representatives should arrive.771

The identification of all those who know the truth in v. 1. Within the framework of the situation outlined in the previous section, “all those who know the truth” refers to genuine Christians who are members of the community from which the author is writing, who have held fast to a correct christological confession in the face of opposition by the secessionist opponents described in 1 John.772 Compare 1 John 2:3, 13, and 4:16.

    2 …because of the truth that resides in us and will be with us forever:

    Summary

While in one sense a face-value reading of this verse suggests that the truth has primarily a doctrinal focus (particularly in light of the conflict with opponents present in the other Johannine letters), the connection of truth with the expression resides in us suggests that for the author the truth is personalized and is a manifestation of the Spirit/Paraclete who resides permanently with genuine believers.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of thVn ajlhvqeian (thn alhqeian, “the truth”) in v. 2 and why it is described as something that resides in us and will be with us.” While it is accurate to say that the concept represented by thVn ajlhvqeian (thn alhqeian, “the truth”) has a doctrinal aspect to it, the adjectival participle thVn mevnousan (thn menousan, “that resides”) which qualifies it here suggests that more than mere doctrine is involved.773 The closest parallel is John 14:16-17, where Jesus promised the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever – (meq* uJmw'n eij toVn aijw'na h\/, meqJumwn eis ton aiwna h) the Spirit of truth…you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you (o{ti par* uJmi'n mevnei kaiV ejn uJmi'n e[stai, Joti parJumin menei kai en Jumin estai).” In other words, the “truth” the author is speaking of in 2 John 1 is a manifestation of the Spirit of truth himself, and is permanently with the believer, just as the Spirit is.

    3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

    Summary

The author’s greeting, while it fits the standard format of a first century letter, also contains a significant amount of reassurance for the readers – reassurance that would be needed in the face of the serious christological challenge represented by the secessionist opponents and their teaching.

    Exegetical Details

An understood optative is more common in the greeting section of a letter.774 Some translators have by analogy translated the future indicative e[stai (estai) in this verse as an optative (“May grace, mercy, and peace be with us…”). It is more consistent with the use of the future in the preceding verse and the author’s desire to give assurance to the readers, however, to view the future indicative as having its normal force here in v. 3 (“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us…”).775 The words “in truth and love” here form something of an inclusion with the opening words of the introductory formula in v. 1, “whom I love in truth,” and thus mark the end of the introductory formula.776

Thanksgiving (v. 4)

    4 I rejoiced greatly because I have found some of your children living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded us.

    Summary

The author’s statement that he has found some of the members of the Christian community he is writing living according to the truth does not necessarily mean that he found some not walking in the truth. It simply means the author does not have personal knowledge of all the members of the community to which he is writing. In the present situation the phrase living according to the truth refers to genuine Christians who are holding fast to an apostolic christology in the face of the secessionist opponents’ challenge to orthodoxy.

    Exegetical Details

The use of the partitive ejk (ek, “some of”) to describe the children of the elect lady who are living according to the truth in v. 4. Many interpreters have understood the partitive used here to mean that the author has found some (but not all) of the elect lady’s children “living according to the truth.”777 The implication would be that the author knows of some that are not “living according to the truth” because they have been seduced by the false teaching of the opponents. While this is grammatically possible, it is not a necessary inference. The author has merely stated that he knows of some Christians in the community addressed who are living according to the truth; he does not know for certain that all of them are, and concern over this may be part of the motivation for the letter. This is not the same as saying the author knows specifically that some of the Christians in the community addressed have already gone over to the side of the opponents and ceased “living according to the truth.” In the body of the letter he will address his concerns more directly. In addition, the author does not specify how he came by this information. It is often assumed that when he uses the verb “found” (e{urhka [{eurhka]), he refers to firsthand knowledge gained from a personal visit, but there is no indication elsewhere in the letter of such a prior visit. It is also possible that the author learned the state of the Christian community to which he is writing by speaking with others who had come from there, but again, there is no indication in 2 John that such is the case. The author simply does not tell the readers how he came by the knowledge; possibly this is something he expects them to know without being told.

The meaning of the phrase living according to the truth in v. 4. The use of the verb peripatevw (peripatew, literally “walk”) to refer to conduct, behavior, or way of life (lifestyle) is common in the New Testament (cf. 1 John 1:6, 3 John 3-4, and numerous uses in Paul). The phrase here refers to the conduct that results when an individual has “truth” residing within. The reference to an internalized ‘truth’ may allude to the indwelling Spirit of truth, as mentioned in v. 2.778 As far as specific behavior in the present situation is concerned, the phrase “living according to the truth” refers to genuine Christians who are holding fast to an apostolic christology in the face of the secessionist opponents’ challenge to orthodoxy.779

The Body of the Letter (vv. 5-12)

    5 But now I ask you, lady (not as if I were writing a new commandment to you, but the one we have had from the beginning), that we love one another.

    Summary

1 John 2:7 states virtually the same thing as the present verse, referring to a new commandment which the readers have had from the beginning. The new commandment (see John 13:34) is that believers love one another. As in 1 John, in the midst of the ongoing conflict with the secessionist opponents, the necessity for genuine Christians to show love for fellow believers in obedience to the commandment to love one another is a matter of urgency for the author.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the phrase kaiV nu'n (kai nun, “but now”) at the beginning of v. 5. This phrase has slight adversative force (“but”), because the addressees are already “living according to the truth” (v. 4).780 Yet in spite of previous ‘good behavior’ the author has to stress obedience all the more, because there is now a threat at hand – the false teachers sent out by the opponents – and it is necessary to emphasize the basics all over again (anyone who has read through 1 John could not doubt that obedience to the commandment to “love one another” is one of the basic elements of Johannine Christianity).

The identification of the commandment the author writes in v. 5. The Jina-clause in v. 5b is epexegetical (explanatory), giving the content of the commandment: “that we love one another” (otherwise the content of the commandment is never mentioned). This is no new commandment; the verse is parallel to 1 John 2:7 which states virtually the same thing. The author says that what he writes is not a “new” commandment in the sense that it does not originate with him. One of the charges he will make against the opponents is that they are ‘progressives’ who have “gone too far” (v. 9). Thus it is important to the author to demonstrate that his message and emphasis is one that has been “from the beginning” and is not an innovation, as the christological teaching of the opponents is.781

The referent of the prepositional phrase ajp* ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”) in v. 5. This phrase refers to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which marks the beginning of his self-revelation to his disciples. The commandment the author is writing about was new when it was first manifested in the words and works of Jesus during his earthly career (cf. John 13:34). Now, however, it is not a new commandment, but one “which we have had from the beginning,” the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and not new in comparison to the innovative christological teaching of the opponents, who have not remained in the apostolic teaching but have “gone on ahead.”782

    6 (Now this is love: that we walk according to his commandments.) This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning; thus you should walk in it.

    Summary

Now the author explains what love consists of: obedience to God’s commandments. 1 John 5:3 says virtually the same thing. Genuine Christians express their love for God by obeying his commandments, and especially by loving one another.

    Exegetical Details

The referent of the first au{th (Jauth, “this”) in v. 6. The first au{th (Jauth) in v. 6 refers to hJ ajgavph (Jh agaph, “love”), which in turn is explained by the first Jina-clause in v. 6: “that we walk according to his commandments.” The structure is parallel to the phrase kaiV au{th e[stin (kai Jauth estin, “and this is”) in 1 John 1:5 and 5:11, where both times an epexegetical (explanatory) Joti-clause follows.783 In a number of Johannine passages (John 13:34, 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:23, 4:21) the “commandment” is defined in terms of loving one another; this is what the author has done again in the previous verse (2 John 5). Now he explains what love consists of – love consists of obedience. In other words, there is no contradiction between ‘love’ and ‘obedience to commandments’ in the author’s thought, and the commandment to love one another is comprehensive, affecting a person’s total behavior (thus the plural reference to commandments here).784

The referent of the second au{th (Jauth, “this”) in v. 6. This au{th (Jauth) refers to hJ ejntolhv (Jh entolh, “the commandment”), and again could be explained either by what precedes or by what follows. Since the previous au{th (Jauth) in this verse was explained by the following Jina-clause, and there is a second Jina-clause following this second au{th (Jauth), we might expect that (analogous to the previous instance) this au{th (Jauth) is also explained by the Jina-clause that follows. In this case, however, to understand the following Jina-clause as giving the content of the commandment would result in a tautology: “This is what the commandment consists of: [namely], that we should walk in it.” Thus from a logical standpoint the second au{th (Jauth) in v. 6 must refer to the preceding material rather than to what follows. Since the author has said that he is writing a commandment in v. 5 (not a new commandment, but one which the readers have had from the beginning), it is most probable that this is the same commandment mentioned here in v. 6. Such an interpretation receives strong contextual support from the kaqwv-clause (kaqws, “just as”) in v. 6b, which clearly alludes back to the commandment of v. 5.785 Therefore the second au{th (Jauth) in v. 6 should be understood to refer back to the commandment of v. 5.

The force of the second i{na (Jina, “thus”) in v. 6. If the second Jina-clause in v. 6 does not give the content of the commandment mentioned in v. 6 (see the preceding section), what is its force? It could give the purpose of hearing the commandment: “just as you heard [it] from the beginning in order that you should walk in it.” More likely, however, it gives the result: “just as you heard [it] from the beginning, thus you should walk in it.” A close parallel to this structure is found in John 13:34 where Jesus introduced the ‘new commandment’ (to love one another) for the first time: “I am giving you a new commandment: [namely], that you should love one another; just as (kaqwv, kaqws) I have loved you, thus (i{na, Jina) you should love one another.”786 Given (a) the close relationship in vocabulary, grammar, style and content between 1, 2, and 3 John and the Fourth Gospel, and (b) in particular the stress on the “new” commandment of John 13:34-35 for believers to “love one another,” which is worked repeatedly into statements in the Johannine letters, this seems to be the best way to understand the phrase.

The referent of the prepositional phrase ejn aujth'/ (en auth, “in it”) near the end of v. 6. The pronoun aujth'/ (auth) is feminine gender, but there are still no less than three feminine nouns in the context which various interpreters have seen as its antecedent: (a) the noun ajlhqeiva/ (alhqiea, “truth”) in v. 4, which occurs there as the object of the same preposition (ejn, en) after the same verb (a form of peripatevw [peripatew, “I walk/live/conduct my life”]).787 This would make good sense (“thus you should walk in [the] truth”), but the separation of the pronoun from its antecedent by no less than forty-six intervening words creates a serious difficulty for this view. (b) The noun ajgavph (agaph, “love”) at the beginning of v. 6 is taken by most modern interpreters to be the antecedent of aujth'/ (auth).788 This would also make good sense (“thus you should walk in love”), but ajgavph (agaph) too is quite widely separated (by sixteen intervening words) from aujth'/ (auth). (c) The noun ejntolhv (entolh, “commandment”) in v. 6b is the nearest possible antecedent, and thus is the most probable of the three possibilities.789 This too would make good sense (“thus you should walk in [the] commandment”). Some have objected that the author would not have used the preposition katav (kata) in v. 6a to refer to walking in obedience to the commandments, and then have switched to the preposition ejn (en) in v. 6b. Anyone familiar with Johannine style would realize, however, that this is no problem at all for the author, given his love of stylistic variation.790 Thus it seems most natural to understand the nearest of the three possibilities, ejntolhv (entolh) in v. 6b, as the antecedent of aujth'/ (auth) in v. 6. For the author, of course, there may not have been a great difference in meaning anyway: to “walk in the commandment” would be to obey it (i.e., to love one another), and this would be to walk in the truth.

    7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist!

    Summary

The expression many deceivers refers to the secessionist opponents described at length in 1 John (2:18-19; 4:1). The content of the confession, Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh, is virtually identical to 1 John 4:2. The opponents are compared to the Deceiver (Satan) and the Antichrist.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the o{ti (Joti, “for”) at the beginning of v. 7. Technically this clause is grammatically subordinate to the verb peripath'te (peripathte, “should walk”) at the end of v. 6, giving the reason why the readers should ‘walk’ in (i.e., obey) the commandment to love one another: “because many deceivers have gone out into the world.” However, as Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar points out, “Subordination with o{ti and diovti is often very loose…so that it must be translated ‘for’.”791 Thus Joti assumes more of an inferential sense here, standing at the beginning of a new sentence and drawing an inference based on all that has preceded (notably vv. 4-6).792 There is a similar use of Joti to introduce a new section in 1 John 3:11.793 The NET Bible translation reflects this looser connection.

The identification of the many deceivers [who] have gone out into the world in v. 7. The phrase refers to the secessionist opponents described in 1 John, who in 1 John 2:18 and 4:1 are said to have “gone out into the world.” The deception of the secessionists is related in 1 John to the work of the devil and/or the spirit of Antichrist working in the opponents, which led to their withdrawal from the community of genuine believers as a result of a christological dispute, a theme which runs throughout 1 John (cf. 2:26, 3:7, and 4:6).

The meaning of the confession in v. 7, *Ihsou'n CristoVn ejrcovmenon ejn sarkiv (Ihsoun Criston ercomenon en sarki, “Jesus [as] Christ coming in the flesh”). This is the same confession mentioned in 1 John 4:2, except that the perfect participle of 1 John 4:2 is replaced by a present participle (ejrcovmenon, ercomenon) here. It is probable that the entire phrase “Jesus Christ coming in the flesh” should be understood in the same way as 1 John 4:2, with *Ihsou'n (Ihsoun) as the object and CristoVn (Criston) as the complement of an object-complement double accusative construction. What is confessed is therefore “Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh.” See above on 1 John 4:2 for more detailed discussion of this phrase and other possible interpretive options.

The significance of the use of the present participle ejrcovmenon (ercomenon, “coming”) in the confession. There are two possible ways of understanding the significance of the present participle ejrcovmenon (ercomenon) in v. 7.794 (a) If the participle is understood in a futuristic sense (“Jesus as Christ who will come in the flesh”), this could be a reference to the parousia (the second advent). Such a sense is grammatically possible for the present tense according to Blass-Debrunner.795 If this represents a proper understanding of the present participle, then the confession in 2 John 7 involves acknowledgement of Jesus’ second coming, and the opponents would be denying this (or, as an alternative possibility, the opponents may acknowledge the second coming, but deny that it will be “in the flesh”). (b) The second possibility is to understand the participle as a reference to the first coming, that is, the incarnation. In this case what is being affirmed in the confession is that Jesus is really the Christ come in the flesh. This sense is strongly favored by the parallel confession in 1 John 4:2 where a perfect participle is used, thus pointing to a past event.796 In this case the question is, why did the author substitute a present participle here, when a perfect participle (as in 1 John 4:2) would have been more precise? I think the second possibility is much more probable because of the parallel confession in 1 John 4:2. However, I am not sure we can say with much certainty why the author chose to express the confession using a present participle here rather than a perfect. We may simply be dealing with the Johannine love of stylistic variation. R. Brown has suggested that the author was influenced by the repeated use of the present participle ejrcovmeno (ercomenos, “coming”) in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus (1:15, 27; 12:13).797 This is possible even if one believes (as I do) that the same person wrote the Gospel of John and 2 John, because the formula may have been somewhat fixed as a description of Jesus by this time, or may have been a favorite idiom of the author (but it is impossible to be sure). Still another possibility is found in Blass-Debrunner’s standard reference grammar, which states that present participles can sometimes be used to describe actions which had occurred in the past.798 Perhaps it is best to say this is just another example of the same lack of precision the author exhibits in other areas like the use of prepositions.

The referent(s) of oJ plavno (Jo planos, “the Deceiver”) and oJ ajntivcristo (Jo anticristos, “the Antichrist”) in v. 7. Now, having said that many deceivers have gone out into the world in the first part of v. 7, the author exclaims, “This person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist!” In one sense it is clear that he is referring to the secessionist opponents, as indicated by the plural plavnoi (planoi, “deceivers”) at the beginning of v. 7. Now, however, he has switched to the singular with both descriptive terms (oJ plavno [Jo planos] and oJ ajntivcristo [Jo anticristos]). This does not have to be taken to mean that the author is identifying each individual as the Deceiver and the Antichrist. This is a metaphor, a figure of speech where one thing is called something else in order to make a comparison. The opponents, who deny Jesus as Christ come in the flesh, are compared with the Deceiver (Satan) and the Antichrist, because they are like these individuals in that they are accomplishing Satan’s work and preparing the way for the Antichrist. This is similar to the author’s use of the plural ajntivcristoi (anticristoi, “antichrists”) to describe the opponents in 1 John 2:18.799

    8 Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward.

    Summary

Some interpreters see this as a reference to faith itself being lost, but this involves assumptions about the possibility of apostasy and loss of eternal life for genuine Christians which are not reflected in John’s other writings in the New Testament. Much more likely the things we have worked for refer to pastoral and missionary efforts undertaken by the recipients of the letter in their own community and surrounding communities. If the secessionist opponents with their false teaching are allowed to recruit unopposed in the community to which the author is writing, all the effective work accomplished up to this point by the recipients of the letter would be in danger of being lost.

    Exegetical Details

The force of the reflexive pronoun eJautouv (Jeautous, “you”) in v. 8. The reflexive pronoun here tells the recipients of the letter what they can do about the danger represented by the false teaching of the opponents: they are to be on the alert and watch out to see that the secessionist opponents with their false christology do not make successful inroads into the local church to which this letter is addressed.

What is it that is in danger of being lost in v. 8? In other words, what are we to understand as the antecedent of the relative pronoun a} (Ja, “the things”) in v. 8? R. Brown takes this as a reference to faith itself (specifically in this case, correct christological belief) which one must “work” to maintain in the face of the threat represented by the opponents.800 To abandon correct christological belief and adopt instead the christology of the opponents would be to “lose” that for which one had been working, that is, the reception of eternal life by those in the community being addressed. However, this involves theological assumptions about the possibility of christological apostasy and loss of (or failure to attain to) eternal life for the recipients of this letter, whom the author appears to regard as genuine Christians (2 John 4). On the other hand, the author made it clear in 1 John 2:19 that he did not regard the secessionist opponents as genuine Christians to begin with. The same is true of the author’s presentation of Judas in the Gospel of John. It is equally clear in John 10:28-29 that genuine believers cannot be ‘snatched away,’ not even by the heretical teaching of the opponents in view here.

What then is the author referring to here? It seems far more likely that the author is referring to pastoral and missionary efforts undertaken by the recipients of the letter in their own community and surrounding communities.801 If the opponents with their false teaching are allowed to proselytize unopposed in the community to which the author is writing, all the effective work accomplished up to this point by the recipients of the letter would be in danger of being lost. This is also consistent with the following (positive) clause, which refers to the readers’ “reward” for faithful Christian service (see the following section).

The full reward (misqoVn plhvrh, misqon plhrh) which the author wants the recipient(s) of the letter to receive. The word misqov (misqos) is the term for a workman’s wage, the payment he is due in exchange for his labor.802 The idea of rewards for Christians who serve faithfully occurs in a number of places in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor 3:8-10, Matt 5:12, 10:22, Mark 9:41; 13:13, and Luke 19:11-27). It is not common in the Johannine literature, but can be found in Rev 11:18 and 22:12. If the recipients of the letter were to allow the opponents to go unopposed with their false teaching, they would run the risk of forfeiting future rewards, because if the opponents destroyed the effective work accomplished up to this point by the readers, there would be no basis left on which to be rewarded.

    9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching about Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son.

    Summary

Here the opponents are described as “progressives” who have gone beyond what is warranted by the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus.803 Such a person does not have God, as opposed to the individual who remains in the apostolic teaching about Jesus and has both the Father and the Son.

    Exegetical Details

The identification of the person in v. 9 who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching about Christ”. The use of pa' oJ (pas Jo, “everyone who”) + participle here (the only instance of the construction in 2 or 3 John) occurs frequently in 1 John (13 times), where it is used by the author to divide people into categories: “everyone who does this” as opposed to “everyone who does the opposite.” The participle proavgwn (proagwn, “goes on ahead”) itself does not have negative connotations; the verb may simply mean “to lead the way” or “to go before.”804 The negative connotations in this context are derived from the second participle in the sequence, mevnwn (menwn, “remain”), which is negated (“and does not remain in the teaching about Christ”). Since a single article (oJ, Jo) governs both participles (oJ proavgwn kaiV mhV mevnwn, Jo proagwn kai mh menwn), a compound activity is almost certainly indicated here.805 This is a description of the secessionist opponents, whom the author describes as “going on ahead and not remaining in the teaching of Christ,” i.e., being so ‘progressive’ that they have developed their christology beyond that contained in the apostolic eyewitness testimony (reflected in the Gospel of John and 1 John, as expressed by the author himself). The picture that emerges in 1 John of the opponents’ belief is that of an ‘incarnational’ christology which emphasized the salvific value of the fact of the incarnation while denying the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his sacrificial death on the cross.806

The meaning of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in v. 9. The author’s charge against the opponents is that they do not “remain” in the teaching of Christ, but are so ‘progressive’ that they have gone on beyond what is warranted by the apostolic eyewitness testimony about the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. The verb mevnw (menw) used with didachv (didach, “teaching”) occurs only here and in the next verse in the Johannine letters, but is found three times in the Gospel of John with reference to remaining or residing in the teaching of Jesus himself (John 7:16, 17, 18:19). Mevnw (menw) is used frequently in 1 John,807 and here it is something of a wordplay on the other Johannine uses: not to “remain/reside” in the teaching of Christ is not to “remain/reside” in Christ himself, i.e., not to be a genuine Christian. The author makes this explicit in the predicate of this clause, where he expressly states that the opponents “do not have God.”808

The force of the genitive phrase tou' Cristou' (tou Cristou, “of Christ”) in v. 9. This genitive is difficult because it may be understood as objective (the teaching about Christ), subjective (Christ’s own teaching), or both (M. Zerwick’s «general» genitive; Wallace calls this a “plenary” genitive).809 An objective genitive, with Christ as the object of the (apostolic) teaching, might seem to be the obvious reading in context, especially since v. 7 makes reference to what a person “confesses” about Jesus Christ.810 A good case can also be made for a subjective genitive, however, since other Johannine uses of the genitive following the noun didachv (didach, “teaching”) favor a subjective sense here.811 In John 7:16, 17 Jesus himself refers to “my teaching” and “teaching from me,” and 18:19 refers to “his (Jesus’) teaching.” Rev 2:14, 15 refers to the “teaching of Balaam” and “the teaching of the Nicolaitans”, both of which are clearly subjective in context. In the present context, to speak of “Christ’s teaching” as a subjective genitive would make Christ himself (in the person of the indwelling Spirit) the teacher, and this is consistent with the author’s position in 1 John 2:27 that the Johannine community does not need other teachers. In 1 John 2:27 it is the Paraclete, referred to as “his anointing,” who does the teaching.812 Since the dispute with the opponents concerns the salvific significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, the “teaching” here would refer to Jesus’ own teaching (reflected in the Gospel of John) concerning his person and work. But since this is ultimately one with the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus, it is perhaps best to view the genitive here as both objective and subjective (perhaps the author deliberately intended not to be specific).

The meaning of the expression does not have God (qeoVn oujk e[cei, qeon ouk ecei) in v. 9. This phrase specifically refers to the opponents, who “go on ahead and do not remain in the teaching about Christ.” It is clear from the author’s statement here that he does not regard the secessionist opponents as genuine believers, a position he has consistently held throughout 1 John as well.813 Note the emphatic position of the direct object qeovn (qeon, “God”) at the beginning of the clause.

The meaning of the expression has both the Father and the Son in v. 9. In contrast to the opponents, who are not genuine believers and thus have no relationship with God, the person who remains in the teaching of Christ is said to ‘have’ both the Father and the Son. This refers to the ongoing relationship between the Father and the Son and the believer, expressed in slightly different terms in 1 John 2:24. A Christian may be said to “have” the Father and the Son in the sense that he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit who is in a dynamic relationship with both the Father and the Son at all times.

    10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not give him any greeting,

    Summary

The statement do not receive him into your house could simply be a prohibition against showing hospitality to the traveling representatives of the secessionist opponents. It is possible, though, that the house refers to a house church, in which case the author of 2 John is saying the opponents should not be given an opportunity as traveling teachers to speak to the house church and thus gain an opportunity to spread their false teaching.

    Exegetical Details

The force and referent of the conditional construction in v. 10. The author now makes a specific exhortation to the recipients of the letter, telling them what they can do about the situation. The verse begins with a first-class condition in Greek, which assumes reality for the sake of the argument. In the author’s mind there could be little doubt that it was only a matter of time before the arrival of the missionary representatives of the secessionist opponents in the outlying Christian communities.814 Thus the people the author warns the readers about are the opponents with their false christological teaching. The “teaching” mentioned by the author is the “teaching” introduced in v. 9 as that of Christ himself, concerning his person and work (especially the salvific significance of his earthly life and ministry).

The author’s command not to receive such a representative of the opponents “into the house” may be no more than a prohibition of hospitality extended to the opponents. Some have suggested a possible reference to a “house church,” in which case to receive such a person would be not only to extend private hospitality, but to welcome them into the Christian assembly and give a hearing to their views.815 This would constitute a grave risk of spreading the false teaching. Against a reference to a house church, it should be noted that the noun oijkivan (oikian, “house”) is feminine, while all the other New Testament reference to house churches are masculine (Rom 16:5, 1 Cor 16:19, Col 4:15, Philemon 2). This is not decisive, however, since none of these other references are Johannine. It should also be noted that if the “elect lady” of 2 John 1 and the “elect sister” of 2 John 13 are churches, they are referred to as feminine entities.

The final phrase, “do not give him any greeting”, is not intended to represent an insult per se. In context we may assume that “to give a greeting” means “to greet as a fellow Christian,” and this is impossible, because as far as the author of 2 John is concerned the opponents are not genuine believers.816 Therefore they could not and should not be publicly greeted as such.817

    11 …because the person who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds.

    Summary

Giving one of the opponents’ representatives a greeting in public could be construed by bystanders or observers as giving endorsement to their heterodox views about who Jesus is. To give the appearance of condoning the teaching of one of the opponents’ representatives might advance his cause or imply acceptance of his false christology. This would be, in effect, to share…in his evil deeds.

    Exegetical Details

In what sense does the Christian who gives…a greeting to one of the false teachers share in his evil deeds? Plummer’s comment is appropriate here: “Charity has its limits: it must not be shewn to one man in such a way as to do grievous harm to others; still less must it be shewn in such a way as to do more harm than good to the recipient of it.”818 To give the appearance of condoning the teaching of one of these representatives of the opponents might advance his cause or imply acceptance of his teaching, and this would, in effect, be to share in his destructive work.819 The precise nature of the “evil deeds” being shared in, however, is not specified: it could involve spreading the false christology of the secessionist opponents, or it could involve the failure to show love for fellow members of the community. Both of these faults characterized the secessionist opponents described in 1 John.

    12 Though I have many other things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink, but I hope to come visit you and speak face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

    Summary

The author indicates he has much more to say, but prefers to do so in person (face to face) rather than with paper and ink.

    Exegetical Details

The meaning of the phrase I do not want to do so with paper and inkin v. 12. The phrasing is a bit awkward, but the meaning of the figurative language is clear. The author says that he has “many other things to write” (gravfein, grafein), but not “by means of paper and ink.” Presumably, since in the author’s time it was difficult to “write” by means other than paper and ink, what he means is, “I have many other things to communicate to you, but I do not wish to do so by means of paper and ink” – in other words, he would prefer to communicate these things in person (stovma proV stovma lalh'sai, stoma pros stoma lalhsai, literally, “to speak mouth to mouth”).820 However, the urgency of the danger represented by the traveling missionaries sent out by the opponents has compelled the author to forgo the preferred personal contact and send instead this hasty and incomplete communication.

The force of the i{na (Jina)-clause at the end of v. 12. This clause expresses the result of the author’s desired communication with the recipients: “so that our joy may be complete.” The referent of the pronoun hJmw'n (Jhmwn, “our”) is not clear: some have interpreted this as a distinctive (exclusive) use of “our” which includes the author and the other apostolic eyewitnesses (as in the prologue of 1 John, 1:1-4, the last verse of which is echoed here). But in 2 John there has been no previous exclusive mention of this group of authoritative eyewitnesses. When the author speaks of “the things we have worked for” in v. 8 he seems to include the recipients of the letter along with himself. That is most likely the case here. By referring to “our joy” here in v. 12, the author means simply “your joy and mine” (as colaborers in the cause of Christ).

The Concluding Formula (v. 13)

    13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

    Summary

Final greetings are sent from the members of the congregation (the children of your elect sister) where the author is located at the time of writing to those in the congregation addressed in this letter.

    Exegetical Details

The identification of the children of your elect sister who send greetings in v. 13. It is significant that it is the children of the elect sister and not the sister herself who send the greetings here. I discussed above the possibilities for identifying the “elect lady” mentioned in v. 1.821 There I concluded that the phrase is a reference to a particular local church at some distance from the community where the author is living. Those who understand the “lady” of v. 1 to be a real individual have difficulty with the present verse: why is it that the sister’s children, not the sister herself, send greetings? It has even been proposed that the sister herself was deceased at the time this was written! It is far easier to understand the “elect sister” mentioned here as another reference to a particular local church, a “sister-church” of the church to whom 2 John is written, the church in the place where the author happened to be residing at the time he wrote this. 1 Peter 5:13 is an approximate parallel.

Commentary on 3 John


760 That is, about 10 by 8 inches.

761 On the standard epistolary format see Robert W. Funk, “The Form and Structure of II and III John,” JBL 86 (1967): 424-30; cf. also Marshall, The Epistles of John, 9.

762 The secessionist opponents and the ongoing controversy their non-apostolic christology has caused in the Christian community addressed by the Johannine letters was the primary focus of 1 John (see especially 1 John 2:18-19).

763 See the following section for the significance of the self-designation “the elder.” “Presbyter” is simply the English transliteration of the Greek word for “elder” which can refer either to a person advanced in years, or a person who holds a leadership role within a local church.

764 See the section in the introduction entitled “Authorship of 1 John.”

765 B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1930) 460 [bracketed clarification mine].

766 H. Hauschildt, “presbuteroi in Ägypten im I-III Jahrhundert n. Chr.,” ZNW 4 (1903): 235-42.

767 See Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, I-XII (Anchor Bible 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), lxxxviii-lxxxix.

768 Hist. eccl. 3.39.4; see the section in the introduction entitled “Authorship of 1 John” for the text of Papias’ statement and discussion.

769 Smalley also saw the absence of the Greek article with the terms as problematic if either of them referred to an individual: “The fact that ejklekth'/ kuriva/ appears without a definite article indicates that, if an individual is involved at all, she is not named” (1, 2, 3 John, 318). However, absence of the article is not definitive proof that this could not be a proper name. Cf. Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 245-46.

770 That is, with which they were associated at least in some nominal sense.

771 Dodd regarded the ambiguity surrounding the addressee(s) as possibly deliberate, an attempt to conceal their identities – if the letter fell into unfriendly hands, it would look like “a harmless letter to a friend” (The Johannine Epistles, 145). This is an intriguing suggestion that is impossible to prove.

772 Cf. Smalley, who stated, “those who ‘know the truth’ are the orthodox, as opposed to the heretically inclined, members of the Johannine community” (1, 2, 3 John, 319). However, we would consider most of the “heretically inclined members” to have departed from the community already (cf. 1 John 2:19) and by this time to consititute a rival community of their own.

773 Note Brown’s comment: “‘Truth’ here is an active force moving its host to know and to love” (The Epistles of John, 658).

774 As N. Turner states, “an exception to the NT practice is the presence of e[stai in the formula at 2 Jn 1:3” (MHT 3:304).

775 So Smalley, 1, 2, 3, John, 321; cf. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 146-47. According to Brooke, the circumstances under which 2 John was written meant that both author and readers alike felt the need of such reassurance (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 171).

776 So Brown, The Epistles of John, 660.

777 Literally, “walking in [the] truth,” with “walking” a common NT idiom for “living,” “behaving,” etc. (see the following section for further discussion). Cf. Smalley, who takes the statement to imply that the author had received information that some members of the congregation he was writing were not living according to the truth (1, 2, 3 John, 323). Both Brooke (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 172) and Houlden (A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 143) think the heretics in the congregation the author was writing formed the majority.

778 See the section “The referent of thVn ajlhvqeian (thn alhqeian, ‘the truth’) in v. 2 and why it is described as something ‘that resides in us and will be with us’” above.

779 As Marshall noted, if the author is writing to a congregation in which the members are partly or largely heretical, we might expect he would emphasize “truth” rather than “love” (The Epistles of John, 65, n. 4). The same would be true if the secessionist opponents had already left and the author was concerned about others leaving to follow them, or if the congregation being addressed was currently under pressure from the heretical teachers sent by a rival group.

780 Smalley sees the force of nu'n (nun) here as temporal rather than adversative (1, 2, 3 John, 324). The difference in meaning that results, however, is slight.

781 Note the phrase ajp* ajrch' (ap archs, “from the beginning”) which has occurred before in 1 John 1:1 and 2:7. See also the section “The ‘new commandment’ in 2:7” above.

782 See also the section “The meaning of ajp= ajrch' (ap archs, ‘from the beginning’) in 2:7 and its relationship to the same phrase in 1 John 1:1” above.

783 See the section “The identification of the ‘testimony’ of 5:11 (The referent of au{th [Jauth, ‘this’] in 5:11)” above.

784 As Brooke noted, it is characteristic of the author’s style to make a more absolute statement while in fact he is thinking of a specific situation (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 173).

785 Note the repetition of the prepositional phrase ajp* ajrch' (aparchs, “from the beginning”).

786 The translation given here is a more literal one, in order to allow the syntax to be compared with that of 2 John 6. The translation of John 13:34 in the NET Bible, “I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another,” reflects less clearly some of the underlying syntactical relationships in order to achieve smooth contemporary English style.

787 Cf. Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 144.

788 So, e.g., Smalley, “The reference of “in it” (ejn aujth'/) is naturally to “love,” thus completing the balance of the two parts of this v” (1, 2, 3 John, 326).

789 So Brooke, who saw this connection as “more natural” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 174).

790 Brown sees this not so much as a matter of routine stylistic variation, but lack of precision: “The objection that the Presbyter would not speak of walking in the commandment when he has just spoken of walking according to the commandments is convincing only to those who think that the Johannine writers are very precise about prepositions” (The Epistles of John, 667 [italics his]).

791 BDF §456(1).

792 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 327.

793 See the section “The force of the o{ti (Joti, translated by the NET Bible as ‘for’) at the beginning of 3:11” above.

794 It will not do, as Strecker points out, to claim that the copyist was unfamiliar with Greek or failed to reproduce the exact expression; such an explanation is “simply a confession of bafflement” (The Johannine Letters, 233).

795 BDF §339(2) states: “The present participle can also denote a relatively future action with various nuances.”

796 See the section “The meaning of the phrase oJmologei' =Ihsou'n CristoVn ejn sarkiV ejlhluqovta (Jomologei Ihsoun Criston en sarki elhluqota, literally ‘confess Jesus Christ in the flesh having come’) in 4:2” above.

797 Brown states: “Thus the Presbyter may simply have been repeating a stereotyped formula when he uses ercomenos in insisting on confessing ‘Jesus Christ coming in the flesh’” (The Epistles of John, 670 [italics his]).

798 BDF §339(3) notes: “the present participle is occasionally used, as in classical, for something which happened previously (representing the imperfect).” This is still not the same as the perfect tense used in 1 John 4:2, but the difference between a perfect and an imperfect tense is less that that between a perfect and a present.

799 See the sections “The referents of ajntivcristo (anticristos, ‘Antichrist’) in 2:18 and the ajntivcristoi (anticristoi, ‘antichrists’) mentioned later in the same verse,” “The referent of oJ yeuvsth (Jo yeusths, ‘the liar’) in 2:22,” “The referent of pneu'ma (pneuma, ‘spirit’) in 4:3,” and “The referent of toV tou' ajnticrivstou (to tou anticristou, ‘the [spirit] of the Antichrist’) in 4:3” above.

800 Brown comments, “in Johannine thought correct christological belief is a ‘work’ that opens the recipient to receive eternal life. To slip from this belief to the deceit of those who deny Jesus Christ coming in the flesh would be to lose what one has been working for” (The Epistles of John, 672). However, since in Johannine thought “eternal life” is something that geniune believers already possess (e.g. John 5:24), it seems almost as if Brown is speaking here of some “intermediate” stage between an unbeliever and a genuine Christian who possesses eternal life. Such a person would have embraced “correct christological belief” from the author and his followers, but would then be in danger of losing that belief before receiving eternal life. Such a complex scheme seems foreign to the text of 2 John here.

801 Cf. Smalley’s comment: “The elder refers first of all to the pastoral and missionary work which has been undertaken and accomplished in the community and beyond, and shared with his orthodox church members” (1, 2, 3 John, 330).

802 BDAG 653 s.v. misqov 1.

803 As Stott observed, it is not progress in the faith that is condemned here, but progress beyond it (The Epistles of John, 211-12).

804 BDAG 864 s.v. proavgw 2.a.

805 Technically this construction fits the criteria of Granville Sharp’s rule. The participles are personal, describing attributes or qualities, are singular, and are not proper names. See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 275.

806 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents as reflected in the Johannine letters.

807 For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.

808 See the section “The meaning of the expression ‘does not have God’ (qeoVn oujk e[cei, qeon ouk ecei) in v. 9” below.

809 See Zerwick, Biblical Greek, §§36-39, and Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 119-21.

810 So Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 113; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 72-73, n. 13; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 332.

811 So Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 230; Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 177; Brown, who states “My own view is that there is no need to introduce the objective genitive into the interpretation. Indeed, the idea of anything other than Jesus’ own teaching may have been anathema to the Johannine tradition” (The Epistles of John, 675).

812 See the section “The (understood) subject of ejdivdaxen (edidaxen, ‘[it] has taught’) in 2:27” above.

813 See the section “The phrase oujk h\san ejx hJmw'n in 2:19a in relation to the spiritual condition of the opponents prior to their withdrawal” above.

814 Cf. Brooke, “The conditional form of this sentence…indicates that the possibility of a visit from the heretical outsiders is real, and not remote” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 178).

815 So Stott, The Epistles of John, 214.

816 See the section “The meaning of the expression ‘does not have God’ (qeoVn oujk e[cei, qeon ouk ecei) in v. 9” above.

817 Note the comment by Smalley, “In these vv John is not saying, ‘do not love others.’ Nor is he forbidding all contact with the heterodox, since friendly association with them might well have resulted in a change of mind…Rather, the presbyter is warning the members of his community against the dangers of entertaining heretics and their views in such a way as to strengthen and develop their erroneous position, and so compromise the truth (cf. v 4)” (1, 2, 3 John, 334).

818 A. Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: University Press, 1886) 139.

819 Cf. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 179.

820 On this expression see Num 12:8 lxx; Jer 39:4 lxx; 3 John 14.

821 See the section “The identification of the ‘elect lady’ (ejklekth'/ kuriva/, eklekth kuria) to whom the letter is addressed” above.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Fellowship, False Teachers