II John

Author: St. John, son of Zebedee

Date Written: 70-100 AD


2 John is one of the "lesser" letters of the Apostle John, the other being 3 John.  John is probably writing from Ephesus where he is a leader.  Hence he refers to himself as "the elder" (1) and does not use his own name.  He has authority over the people to which he is writing so he can comfortably give them commands (cf. 5-6).  The letter is in a traditional form with typical Greco-Roman salutations and final greetings.  Its brevity represents the fact that it was probably written on a single piece of papyrus as most letters of the period were.  On authorship, see Introduction to 1 John.


"The elect lady" (1) and the "elect sister" (13) could either refer to noble Christian women or to church communities.  Most scholars believe they refer to the church to which John is writing and to his own community.  Notably, 2 John is the only NT epistle to use a title, i.e. "elect lady," instead of a proper name for the initial salutation.


 John gives the recipients of the letter two basic teachings: to love one another and to walk according to the Father's commandments (5-6).  He acknowledges that they have already received the commandment to love each other, so it is likely that they had read 1 John before receiving this letter (cf. 1 John 1:7-8).  John reintroduces the idea of "walking" according to God's commandments.  The idea of walking in God's laws or ways ran deep in the history of Jewish thought (e.g. Josh 22:5, Ps 78:10, Isa 2:3).  John picks up on this theme and speaks of "walking in the truth" (4) as a metaphor for Christian moral living.


The biggest section of the letter (7-11) deals with the problem of heretics.  These heretics deny Jesus' divinity and have been traveling around teaching other people their false doctrines.  The exact nature of their teachings is not entirely clear, but John indicates that they "get ahead" of the teaching of Christ.  The heretics may have come up with new doctrines about Jesus beyond traditional Christian teaching.  On the other hand, they may see themselves as further advanced spiritually than other Christians because of some special knowledge they have obtained.


John warns his readers not to be deceived by them (8).  Moreover, he commands the church members not to provide hospitality or even greet the heretical teachers.  This instruction may seem harsh to us, but John has a logical reason for it.  In the first century, Christian teachers relied heavily on the hospitality and good-will of Christian communities to provide for their needs when they came to teach.  The NT has several examples of such itinerant teachers like Paul, Barnabas and Apollos.  They would travel from place to place and stay in the homes of Christians wherever they went.  John commands his readers not to let false teachers stay at their homes to prevent the spread of their doctrines.


John completes the letter by expressing his desire to come visit the community to which he is writing and by relating a short greeting from his readers' "elect sister."  As discussed above, this "sister" is probably John's community.


2 John reaffirms the Johannine view of the Christian life which gives priority to loving one another and walking in God's commands.  It also reminds us of the importance of an uncomprimising commitment to Christian doctrine.


By Mark Giszczak


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