Maybe an alternative title for this post could be “Second John: Why Bother?” The problem with Second John is that it is nearly the same as 1 John, the same opponents have gone out from the church and the readers are encourage to recall what John has already taught them (love one another) and to not have anything to do with the false teachers. There is really nothing new in this letter aside from the standard features of Hellenistic letters, the salutation (1-3) and concluding farewell (12-13). Although we now have an author and recipient, they are veiled to hide their true identity. Nor do we know who the opponents are, other than they are the same antichrists mentioned in 1 John. What is even more frustrating, we cannot know if this letter was written before or after 1 John, to the same congregations as 1 John, or whether this short note was sent as a cover letter for 1 John (or the Gospel of John). So what are the main themes of Second John?
Second John is an excellent example of a Hellenistic “advice” letter. (The technical term is paraenetic; Parsenios, 132-32; see page 137 for a reprint of a standard paraentic letter from the third or fourth century AD). These types of letters were short notes exhorting the reader to keep on doing what they have already been told to do (this is not a new command, love one another) and to avoid some negative action or behavior (stay away from the false teachers). Even the greetings and conclusion are the way letters were framed in the ancient world.
If the content is identical to the first letter, why was it included in the canon of Scripture? Although the letter is quoted occasionally, it is sometimes cited as if it were part of 1 John, supporting the suggestion it was originally a cover letter for the first letter. To complicate matters, sometimes 3 John is referred to as the second letter, implying both letters circulated as a unit.
First, 2 John is a reminder of the commandment heard from the beginning (vv. 4-6). The Elder rejoices that some members of the church are walking in truth (4). At the beginning of an advice letter, the writer often would praise the readers in order to create good will. Does “some of your children” imply that some are not walking in the truth? It may be the case John has only heard of some of the children walking in the truth, or this soul be a subtle hint that there is some problem in the church.
This is not a new commandment: Love one another (5-6). This may refer back to 1 John 2:7-8, but also the content of the Elder’s teaching and preaching (they have heard it from the beginning).
There is a subtle difference here, in 1 John 2:7-8 he wrote the “command you have had,” in 2 John 5 it is the command “we have had” from the beginning. John is including himself in this command; it is not as though the Father holds the apostle to a different standard than his readers. John is including himself because the deceptive teachers are claiming the Elder has no authority, he is saying “we are in this together” even if the false teachers claim otherwise.
Second, the letter warns about deceivers (vv. 7-11). Like 1 John, these deceivers are those who deny Jesus came in the flesh (7-9). The one who denies Jesus came in the flesh is the deceiver and the antichrist (7, 1 John 2:18-23, 3:7, 4:3). The noun translated deceiver (πλάνος) refers to something which is misleading or intentionally deceitful. In classical Greek the word could be used for someone who cheats or is a trickster (BrillDAG).
Third, the Elder tells his readers to not even let the false teacher into your house (vv. 10-11). It is possible the Elder thinks the Lady’s church has been too living toward the false teachers by providing hospitality to their teachers. But his may be more than giving them a meal and a place to sleep as they passed through their town. If the church allowed the deceptive teachers to teach the congregation, then the “little children” would be at risk of falling under the influence of the deceivers and antichrists.
If someone welcomes one of the deceptive teachers, they are “sharing in the wicked work.” The verb (κοινωνέω) is the same semantic range as the noun John used in 1 John 1:3, holding to the things John has proclaimed means the reader has fellowship with him. “How to treat a false teacher” is the theme of 3 John (come back next week). The difference is in this letter the Elder tells his readers to refuse hospitality to anyone who does not confess Jesus properly, in 3 John one of the Elder’s representatives was refused hospitality by another house church.
Is the application of this command, “do not engage Mormons or JWs when they knock on our door?” Possibly, but a closer analogy would be allowing a Mormon who was visiting our church for a few weeks to teach a Sunday School class or preach a sermon. This is one of the functions of elders in 1 Timothy and Titus, guarding the deposit of the Faith against those who teach and behave in ways which are not consistent with biblical teaching. That Paul wrote to Ephesus with similar advice to John is significant, as is the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2.
The Elder draws a clear line between what his community believed and the other deceptive teachers because it was very easy for the false teachers to come to a small congregation, share table fellowship and appear to be a sheep, when in fact they are wolves seeking to devour the members of the congregation.
6 thoughts on “Main Themes of Second John”
One of the reasons that the Elder had to warn about the deceivers is because even Christians have a difficult time with exclusive truth. Today, many in our culture believe truth is relative and individual. Because of this, it is not that uncommon for Christians in our culture to fall prey to this line of thinking but just translate it into Christian phrases. An example of this is claiming that what convicts one person may not affect someone else’s conscience in the same way, so therefore it is not sinful. Another example is what this post talks about with trying to be loving by allowing even those trying to deceive have leadership roles. Jobes says it best: “The claim for an exclusive truth was as unpopular in the first century as it is today” (443). I would add, even for Christians. It is not loving for Christians to allow others to be deceived, nor is is loving to watch someone “living with false beliefs or habitual sin, and simply look the other way” (Jobes, 443). If someone needs to be corrected, it can be done in a loving and respectful way. Matt. 18:15-20 is a great example of graceful but firm action. And, of course, as Matt. 7:1-5 reminds us, we need to be humble in our shortcomings as well.
Similar to the Jude and 2 Peter dilemma, where the books are so similar only one of them is ever really used, I think the same thing happens with 1 and 2 John. Since 2 John is somewhat a repeat of 1 John, and since 1 John is longer, it is more often used. Some might wonder why 2 John was even included if it does not provide hardly any new information. Jobes explains the relationship between the letters of 1,2, and 3 John in this way “the courier, Demetrius, carried a letter of introduction to Gaius (3 John), along with a letter to be read in Gaius’s church (2 John) as an introduction to the sermon to be delivered (1 John)” (440). This would fit very well since 1 John does not have some of the common characteristics of a letter, if it was originally a sermon, and 2 John accompanied it as it’s cover letter, which the blog also explains. In response to why would the book be included in the cannon if it is merely restating 1 John, I am going to repeat some of what I said about 2 Peter and Jude. obviously, the whole Bible is important, but perhaps some of what is said in 1 and 2 John is so important that God gave it to us twice just in case we weren’t paying attention the first time. Because it is included twice, I think we ought to look at it twice, which is why it is sad to me that both 1 and 2 John are often ignored, and occasionally they will be used for a sermon or devotional, but Paul’s letters are used much more frequently. The exhortation of the commandment heard from the beginning, to walk in the truth, is still necessary for us today. Especially for Christians who live in the privilged West. It can be so easy to hear the truth, but then fall into this habit of only paying any attention to it on Sunday. Walking in the truth is done all week long, not just on Sunday. I think John’s choosing the words “some of your children” would be an accurate expression of what the church was really like. Just like today there are some “Christians” who do not really walk in the truth, I’m sure there were also some then. The second part of the letter is its focus on deceivers. There are certainly still deceivers around today. Some would even say that the pastors of mega churches are deceivers in what they teach, and that is why their church has become so popular. Going along with the deceivers is John’s warning not to help the deceivers by providing them hospitality. Though hospitality is not as common today as it was in the ancient world, nor is it practiced in the same way, this warning is also for us. Hundreds of mission organizations and charities call, email, or send postage out to try and gain support. It is important for us to know which ones promote the true gospel and which ones spread things that we don’t agree with. Mission organizations often have a statement of faith, or doctrinal statement, and this is a good place to start to know that they teach the truth. Most people might not even bother looking at statements of faith, but in reality, we should ensure that the church we attend, the missionaries we support, and any other Christian organization we associate ourselves with teaches the absolute truth so that we do not give “hospitality” to false teachers.
One thought I have regarding the similarities of 1 and 2 John is that although we can often question why we should bother reading similar chapters, we should take into consideration that often times when authors repeat themselves, they are aiming to emphasize a pivotal point to their message. Therefore, it is possible that John repeats his teachings because he feels the need to emphasize certain themes and-or because he feels that the previous instruction is neither understood nor enacted.
Additionally, to the point of Professor Long’s statement: John is a reminder of the commandment heard from the beginning, this seems to be a specifically repeated truth throughout the word. The teaching to love one another is a biblical foundation taught by Jesus in the gospels, Paul in Act and the Corinthians, and John in the book of John and 1, 2, and 3 John. This is a case of one truth being reiterated time and time again because of its importance but also because it is a truth so easily forgotten and-or ignored. The difference between 1 and 2 John from you to we could be for various reasons. Maybe it is possible that John has found a deeper sense of community or a new approach to his message between 1 and 2 John. I suppose we will never know.
I would also like to comment on the warnings of false teachers. I think if we took greater heed to this warning there would be much less scrutiny against the church. This is because false teachers bring false claims that juxtapose truth in churches. It makes the Christian community seem unreliable and therefore “fake” for a lack of better words. I think this is such an important teaching that John puts emphasis on because false teachers were not only a generational problem of John’s tie on the earth but have continued to be a problem for centuries to come. Where truth is thriving, lies and evil will do all they can to snuff it out.
I think that while a very brief letter 2 John is valuable for the believer, it must be if it is in the cannon of the Bible. Jobes defines one major theme of 2 John is Christian hospitality. As we don’t deal with having others in our homes and we don’t see traveling teachers as often but it was very normal in this time to have teachers traveling from home to home and so it was very important to be hospitable. Another main theme that was listed is the idea of bringing love and truth together. We talked about this in my math class about how we need to give each other one hundred percent love and one hundred truth when talking to students. As Christians we need to love our fellow brothers and sisters but also give them the truth that we have been called to, and that means not allowing heresy and bad teaching into our church which is what this church especially seemed to be struggling with with. I think that the passage about false teaching is especially good for today as there are many “Christians” in the spotlight that are preaching false teachings and it is up to the believer to not only call this out when able but also to have the knowledge to know who to follow and how to recognize false teachings.
2 John is one of those books that is dark, this book gives a ton of Hellenistic advice in the letter. This book was partially created as a short note that is almost a review on what the past letters have told the readers. Continuing our actions and avoid the struggles in the world that most of us face. As Christians we try to avoid the sins in the world and live off of our faith and show others what our faith is about. One way to do this is by living out in the image of God. We all go to different sixed teachers, while some go to mega churches and others go to real small churches. P Long claims that there are a lot of false teachers and most of them join a small congregation where it is much easier to fool people into the dark of the world. It is important as Christians that we are able to tell the different between a true teacher and those who teach false teachings of the faith.