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.