Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 2 John: Intro and v.1

   Introduction to Second John

Before we discover key elements of our next Bible study, we ought to re-introduce ourselves to the author while appreciating who his audience was and why he wrote this short epistle, letter, or book, which we call Second John.

Author  Unlike what we saw in his first epistle, here in Second John (and again in Third John) he calls himself "the elder." True, John was well advanced in age. However, such a designation likely has three possible meanings for "elder": (1) an older man who deserves respect as a result of his years and experience; (2) a local official of New Testament house churches, however, Elder John's advisory authority extended over a very wide area; (3) either an apostle or a close disciple of an apostle.

As several scholars have pointed out, “the elder” could simply be an affectionate term for “the old man.” This would be especially appropriate since John was the last surviving apostle; he was one of the last direct links with Jesus Christ in the flesh. Many believe that he was the last apostle still alive; wherein lies his right to speak and be called Elder John.

Audience  John addresses his letter anonymously to "the elect lady" or "the lady chosen by God." It's unclear who this lady might have been or if John was speaking metaphorically. If this letter was addressed to an unknown Christian woman, it's the only book in the Bible addressed to a woman. According to John Stott (1921–2011), "The phrase is, however, more likely to be a personification than a person."

While that's not clear, what is clear is that John herein emphasizes important words to his audience using repetition, which is a personal writing style of his. In this short letter, he references the keyword "truth" five times in the four opening verses: (1) John loves in the truth the lady chosen by God; (2) all who know the truth love her; (3) it's because of the truth that he loves her; (4) grace, mercy, and peace from Father God and his Son Jesus belong to those in truth and love; and (5) he delights in realizing that some of the lady's/church's children are walking in the truth. In other words, people who walk in the truth are to love others.

Further, because John also uses the word “love” five times herein, it's essential that we realize that truth and love are inseparable. The majority of New Testament scholars (Brooke, Bruce, Marshall, Stott, Coffman, and Westcott) presume that this second letter was written to a church in which all men love those who know the truth (v. 1). Also, v. 4 says that some of the children are walking in the truth. And in vv. 4, 8, 10, and 12, the word "you" is in the plural, suggesting a church body rather than a lady. Finally, "elect lady and her children" (v. 1) and "children of your elect sister" (v. 13) probably refer to two particular congregations.

Date and Place  John probably didn't name himself, the elect lady, or her children by name because he wrote this letter during a period of persecution. So it's quite possible that he used a code to intentionally make it unidentifiable, since it might have fallen into the wrong hands, possibly causing death for some. He could have disguised it so that "insiders" would easily realize its destination while "outsiders" would see it as only a personal friendship letter.

The estimated date of writing varies widely. The majority of scholars place its writing between AD 90 and 95. Nevertheless, Second John would most likely have been written around the same time as John's two other letters: First and Third John.

Regarding location, Ephesus is the often-presumed venue, but he probably didn't write it from there. Most likely he wrote it elsewhere in Asia Minor, since he'd taken up his residence in Ephesus and served as a pastoral leader in that region.

Purpose  John wrote his second letter to show his appreciation of the faithfulness of a lady or church and her children, making an urgent plea to show their love for God and his Son Jesus by (1) obeying the Lord's commandment to love each other and (2) living their lives in obedience to the Scriptures (vv. 5–6). But Second John also makes clear what our position should be regarding enemies of the truth (Greek alētheia). While First John focuses on our fellowship with God, Second John focuses on protecting our fellowship from those who teach falsehood.

To put this letter's purpose into perspective, we need to realize that it was a first-century Christian custom for a widespread ministry of itinerant teachers and preachers to travel about preaching the gospel, teaching the word of God, prophesying for God while touring. A problem for that outreach ministry involved accommodations: Where would itinerants stay? At nightfall, after preaching from house to house, where would they lie down for a safe and comfortable night's sleep? Who'd tend to their bodily needs?

These evangelists and ministers of God's word received hospitality, food, and sometimes money, from those living in Christian homes. Likely, this custom was being abused by false teachers, preachers, and prophets. Some religious charlatans chose to exploit the charity of God's people for their own diabolical ends, whether to simply gain food, lodging, and money, or to spread their heretical doctrines such as Gnosticism and Docetism (which we covered thoroughly in our Week #2 summary of First John).

So, the elder warns his letter's recipients and fellow believers to exercise discernment by being on guard against deceptive false teachers who'd denied the truth about Jesus. He stressed that, while offering hospitality was expected, it was okay to discriminate against those who sought to destroy the faith. His exhortation: Love and hospitality should be shared only within the confines of truth. Based on v. 7, false teachers there were likely precursors of the Gnostics, teachers who denied that Jesus Christ had: (1) come in bodily form and (2) actually risen from death, in the flesh.

Practical Application  Second John makes clear what our position should be regarding the enemies of the truth. Whereas First John focuses on our fellowship with God, Second John concentrates on protecting that fellowship from those who teach falsehood. The elder went so far as to warn his readers against inviting false teachers into their homes, even greeting them (v. 10). Such practices would align believers with evildoers, and John was enthusiastic about keeping believers pure from the stains of falsehood and heresy.

Consequently, it's extremely important that we check the Scriptures about what we see, hear, and read that claims to be "Christian." Only after closely examining one's assertions through Bible study can we discern conclusively if a claim is truly God's word. If what is proposed doesn't line up explicitly with Scripture, it's a false allegation that doesn't come from the Spirit of Truth. We must refute and renounce baseless presumptions and doctrines.

John’s strongly worded encouragement to believers herein relates specifically to loving one another. Thankfully, he defined such love as walking “in obedience to his commands” (v. 6). His gospel also mirrored that teaching wherein the Lord told his followers, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15).

Consider your own life. In what ways might your obedience (or disobedience) of God's commands impact those with whom you have a close relationship? Second John reminds you not only of the dangers of falling away from the truth but also of the importance of making obedience a priority in your life — for yourself and for those most important to you.

The truth that John speaks of comes from above; the truth that is in Christ Jesus. We're to "walk in the truth" (v. 4), not just admire it. When we walk in the truth, we'll "love one another" (v. 5). Such is a genuine love that's not subject to change. "For Christ’s love compels us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). The proof of our love is revealed in our walk: "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands" (v. 6).

“Truthfully, from Me to All of You” (2 John, v. 1)

Let's now start our study of the text. Just as in First John and the gospel of John, the author doesn't call himself "John," nor does he identify himself as one of Jesus' apostles. Here, in Second John (and Third John), he prefers to designate himself only as "The elder."

The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth — and not I only, but also all who know the truth — (Second John, v. 1).

It's likely that the Christian community of believers to whom he wrote this short letter knew who he was. W Hall Harris III wrote this about the author's ID: "In the Gospel of John there is a notable reticence on the part of the author to identify himself explicitly with Apostle John. 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."

The opening verse not only presents us with the issue of who the author is, it introduces a more troubling compound question: Who is the lady chosen by God and who are her children? While the NIV uses "the lady chosen by God," other versions use the following for this letter's addressee: "the elect lady" (KJV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV, and RSV); "the chosen lady" (NLV, NLT, NCV, NASB); and "dear congregation" (MSG, clearly assigning recognition of the addressee(s) to the church and its body).

Pastor Jim Gerrish helps us understand to whom the elder appears to have addressed this letter: "Commentators have tried to describe her as a certain noble lady who is named Eklekte or Kuria. Although such is linguistically possible, it is not probable for a number of reasons. We need to remember that this letter was written during the rule of Domitian (AD 81–96). There was a great deal of persecution of Christians during his regime and even John himself was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos for a time. It is most likely therefore that the elect lady is used in a metaphorical sense, indicating a certain Christian church. John likely did not name himself or the church because of this threat of persecution."

Adding to his helpful analogy, Gerrish writes: "Of course, if the woman is used metaphorically, indicating a church, then the children would also be used metaphorically, indicating church members. Well-known pastor and Bible commentator, Warren Wiersbe, comes up with a possible solution to the problems of this verse. He writes, 'Perhaps the solution is that a Christian assembly was meeting in this home, along with the family of the 'elect lady,' so that John had both the family and the congregation in mind.'"

The address "To the lady chosen by God and to her children" (NIV) is followed by "whom I love in the truth." Note that "love" here isn't romantic love or mere sentiment, and "whom" is in the plural, referencing both the "elect lady" and "her children." John loved these people "in truth," which has the likely meaning that he "truly" or "sincerely" loved them. Be sure to make note of how, in this passage, "love and truth" are inseparably connected. It's in the truth that the elder loved the elect lady or church. And it's because of the truth that he loved and wrote to the church and its members.

Verse 1 continues with "and not I only, but all who know the truth," suggesting that those Christians who'd had an opportunity to know the lady and her children or church body members were sincerely attached to them. Here our apostle's praise suggests that a family or community of believers can have order, peace, and religion, such that all are regarded with interest, respect, and love. However, to "know the truth" is to be born again, allowing the Spirit of Truth to lead you into truth, as John expressed in John 16:13.

The elder closes his opening verse with an expression deserving our attention. We ought to wonder to whom he's referring when he writes "all who know the truth." It's the opinion of W Harris Hall III that "'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."

Next week we'll learn much more about why John wrote this short but important second epistle.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1   To whom do you feel John addressed this second letter?
  • Q. 2   Do you think that truth and love are interconnected? . . Inseparable?

This Week’s Passage
2 John

New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to Second John narrated by Max McLean.]

Finger pointer

Take Warren’s “John’s Three Epistles Quiz” now
—   or   —
bookmark his quiz and take it later.

See Warren’s other Bible-study quizzes.