The short letter of Second John is address to the “elect lady and her children.” This is likely a reference to a church. Since the Greek word for church is feminine, calling a church a “chosen lady” is a natural metaphor. Jobes points out that neither “chosen” nor “lady” were used as proper names in the first century, nor are there any personal names in this letter (Letters to the Churches, 441). John refers to the members of a congregation as “children” in 1 John several times, so it seems fairly certain that this address is to a congregation of believers.
It may be a generic letter, however, circulated to several churches in a region. 1 John seems to be intended as a circular letter, so it is possible that this short note from “the elder” was passed around to several house churches. Since this letter is written on a single scrap of paper (verse 12), it may have been intended as a personal note from John, carried by a traveling preacher visiting congregations under John’s oversight. Obviously 1 and 2 John are related, but there is no way to know which letter came first or if they were addressed to different congregations.
The theological content of the letter is similar to that of 1 John. The writer warns the congregation about “deceivers” who have gone out into the world and deny that Jesus came in the flesh (v. 7). In verse 9 John implies that these deceivers have “gone ahead” rather than remained in the truth as it was first taught. Perhaps some teachers had tried to find a way to explain who Jesus was which “went beyond” what the apostles originally taught.
This is a problem for modern theology. The main issue in Second John is that the false teachers had developed doctrine in a way which was unacceptable. I think they had good intentions – they were genuinely trying to explain a very difficult concept (God became flesh) and they did so in a way which they thought was consistent with their Jewish world view. But from the perspective of John, they have gone too far and need to “remain” in the original teaching he delivered to them.
I think that it is necessary to develop doctrine “beyond the Bible,” since the Bible simply does not specifically address every situation which may arise in a modern context. I am frequently asked what the Bible has to say about birth control or in vitro fertilization. Since it is very hard to “quote a verse” as a proof-text either for or against these practices, Christians have to infer ethical practice from the general teaching of the Bible. The difficult part is knowing when we have “run ahead” and developed a doctrine beyond what the intent of the Bible was in the first place.
5 thoughts on “Second John – Going Beyond the Bible”
“The Elder to the Elect Lady, and her children, whom I love in the truth: and not I only, but also all that have known the truth, For the truth’s sake which dwells in us, and shall be with us forever.” (2 John 1-2)
Wow, what a statement! “The Elder, (the aged man of God/apostle) to the Elect Lady, and her children (perhaps a church body, and those people in it), but also to those “all” that have known the truth – all those others who have experienced, and known the truth, and the truth that lives in and abides with/in us forever.”
But in verse three, we see where this “truth” comes from, in or from “Grace, mercy, peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” Again wow! Here such grace, mercy & peace comes from love and truth itself, where we see God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, who both are the reality of this truth and love, itself! Truth always has love joined with it, for this is the love of God from the Father to the Son, i.e. the Son of the Father’s love! Here we can really see the “monarchy”, or the regal nature of God the Father. HE is the first person in the Godhead, from Him flows first the love and truth of God.
Old notes of my own.
This post reminds me a little bit of what was said in class today. If I have my information straight I thought P. Long said sometime around 325 A.D. Constantine ordered a meeting to take place to figure out what exactly should be believed. As a result they came up with the Nicene Creed. To do this they had to figure out what exactly was credible and correct. I think that false teachers had sprung up and Constantine wanted to get the facts straight. P. Long said, “The main issue in Second John is that the false teachers had developed doctrine in a way which was unacceptable.” But he still thinks that they had good intentions. He thinks they were just trying to explain God in the flesh. These people may have had good intentions but because of false teachers, the people in the 4th century had to sift through and decide what was right.
In Schnabel’s article it talked about how a challenge of outreach in the first century was that pagans kept introducing and adapting new forms of worship” (760). I don’t think the people that P. Long talked about from 2 John were introducing new forms of worship but they were spreading false things about God. The reason John hated this so much is that these false teachings put a damper on missionary outreach. I would agree with P. Long that it is important that we “Go beyond the Bible”, but I also think that it could be dangerous. It is so difficult because of the fact that the Bible doesn’t say anything about so many issues that come up today. Although I think it is hard, if we look at the Bible in a proper way, we should be able to discern right and wrong. We can get to know who God is through the Bible and by doing that have a much clearer and Godly response to the issues that concern our 21st century world.
I think one needs to be careful on how much they go “beyond the Bible.” Frankly, I don’t really see why someone should go beyond what the Bible is teaching us. Sure, there are some things that the Bible does not tell us specifically or directly, but God gave us everything we need in his word and I believe that is something we need to keep and treasure. There are many different things in this world that the Bible does not give specific direction on, but I also think that there will be things in the Bible where people may take a verse or a passage and use that and apply it to their lives. People are different, so they will take it on different levels and some may take more than others and apply it to their circumstance, but going “beyond the Bible,” as Greg said, can be dangerous. The example in which P. Long touches on says, “The main issue in Second John is that the false teachers had developed doctrine in a way which was unacceptable. I think they had good intentions – they were genuinely trying to explain a very difficult concept (God became flesh)…” there are some cases as in trying to explain difficult situations or concepts to other people when Christians already know the truth in what they are saying, so trying to explain to non-believers something as complex as “God becoming flesh,” I can see why it was difficult. But, even though we should present the word of God bluntly too them, we will not be able to change the way they understand or feel, but that is when we surrender and pray for that person that God will work through their lives to help them understand God as well as to ask the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and show us what is right, for example, smoking. Even though there is not a specific verse or passage that says, do not smoke it is not healthy, but we do know there are verses and passages which tell us to take care of our bodies, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…” (1 Corinthians 6:19). So, even though there are not specific verses or passages that will lead us directly to our answer, we can pull things from God’s word and apply them to our everyday lives.
I can understand both sides of the argument about going outside of the bible. I can see how it could benefit in terms of looiking for more modern versions of what the bible says and applying it to that situation. I also can see how some might think it is a bad idea because the bible teaches us the word, and is the law. Some may not think there is any need for anything outside the law. I personally think we should be open minded to all aspects of exploring our faith. I think the bible is obviously the best reference but in some situations it is ok for us to see what others point of view is.
Church (and Roman Catholic) traditions and the Pope are the first things that come to mind as attempts to deal with things that are outside of the Bible. The church before the reformation was guided “equally” by the Bible and by the Pope/ tradition. It seems like a healthy thing to have one person in charge to decide on extra-biblical matters but, it quickly ran into problems such as with there being 3 different Popes who believed they had authority and with that 3 different stances. As a Protestant, my focus is on the Word of God and I try to derive my ethical practice on the Bible. At points in the history of the Church people and groups have “run ahead” away from the support of the Word of God and they can be “called out” by the Word.