Pious tradition links 2nd and 3rd John with the Epistle of 1st John, but not all scholars agree. The author of 2nd and 3rd John called himself the “presbyter” or “elder” (vs 1 and also in 3rd John vs 1) However, the title is not used in 1st John. All the same, the majority of biblical scholars agree that the same man (or at least a student or disciple of the same man) wrote all three epistles; pious tradition also tells us that John the Apostle, the so called “beloved disciple” is that man. He is also believed to be the author of both the Gospel that bears his name and The Revelation to St. John at Patmos.
The author may also be another man called “John the Elder” or even someone else. The concern with “truth,” Christology (the study of the nature of Christ), mutual love, the new commandment, antichrist, and the importance of the bearing orthodox witness to the earthly Jesus mark these works as products of the so called “Johannine school.” It is generally agreed that the time and place of the writing of all three would be around 90 AD in the city of Ephesus in present day Turkey.
The letter was addressed to the “elect lady and her children” (vs.1). Scholars have debated the exact meaning of this address. Was this sent to a single woman and her offspring or was John referring to the congregation as a mother and the members were her children? It’s not clear.
The second letter of John is much briefer than 1 John and it is obviously in the form of a letter, whereas 1 John is more of a theological discourse giving instruction to the faithful. The primary purpose of 2 John is to encourage the faithful to remain steadfast against false teachers “who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is deceiver and the antichrist.” (vs 7) The false teaching present among the community is a “spiritualizing Christology,” one that may tempt some members to discount teachings about the incarnation and death of Jesus. John is so concerned that he looks forward to visiting the community in person to discuss the problem.
This short letter gives us insight into church life in the late 1st century. Christ has not returned as expected and false doctrines are diluting Church teaching.
While short, the letter offers a threefold outline of unconditional love, devotion to the faith, and rejection of false teachers and their doctrines.
1 The Presbyter to the chosen Lady and to her children whom I love in truth—and not only I but also all who know the truth 2 because of the truth that dwells in us and will be with us forever.3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth just as we were commanded by the Father.5But now, Lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing a new commandment but the one we have had from the beginning: let us love one another. 6 For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning, in which you should walk.
The term “chosen Lady” means literally the “elected one.” This could also be translated “Kyria (a woman’s name as well as a term of respect for a ‘lady’) who is chosen (by God).” It could also be translated as “the lady Electa” or “Electa Kyria,” in other words the translation is difficult. The adjective “chosen” is applied to all Christians at the beginning of other New Testament letters (1 Pt. 1.1; Ti. 1:1) The description is of a specific community with “children” who are its members. This is most likely a reference to the faithful in the community rather than biological children. (1 Jn. 1:7) Making reference to the “truth” is a very strong Johannine” theme. For example John is the one who depicts Jesus as saying “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (Jn 14:6) and “you will know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8:32)
Pontius Pilate was a foil for John when he, Pilate, asked the question: “what is truth?” (Jn. 18:38) Truth for John has to do with wholeness, a fulfillment of human life, from the first stirrings of human thought and imagination on and through to every detail of practical living.
The form and pattern of this truth counters all the falseness of this world—all the lies that distort and deface and demean the human condition. This “Truth of Christ” has enabled men and women to know and even embrace truth in action, truth in the heart, truth in everyday life and to do it all with integrity. And integrity has to do with God’s redeeming purposes for this broken and fallen world that he still deeply loves.
The Great Truth, of course, which is revealed fully in the person of Jesus the Christ, is the powerful, redeeming love of God. This is the engine that drives the cosmos and those who discover the Truth of Christ or rather those that are discovered by Him—by the Truth—must learn to let that great cosmic love flow through them and then on to their fellow Christians and to the world around them. This is manifested in the Commandment: “Let us love one another.” Love, therefore is intrinsically intertwined with Truth.
Untruth, by comparison, is what happens when people think, speak and act as if the present unredeemed world is all there is; that the ‘way things are’ sets the agenda for the way things should be.
John is writing about agape love and, as you know, this is love reservation. I like to define agape love as “unconditional positive regard.” God has unconditional positive regard for us and we are to share this love with those about us.
This agape love is not the optional extra to be added when everything else is sorted. Love is like blood circulating through the cardio-vascular system. It’s like good strong breathing. That is actually how John is depicting it. Breathe in God’s love; breathe it out by loving one another. Breathe in God’s love—breathe it out—breathe in—breathe out.
John was clear that love, agape love, is the primary component of the Christian community.
But to love also means to obey God and his teachings. Therefore there is a rational, objective component to love; it is not primarily based on feeling. As Catholics, we understand that we are to love one another and to adhere to the teachings of the Church (vss5 & 6) and to avoid, even spurn, deceivers. This refers to those who are part of the community, not to outsiders who offer a different understanding of God’s truth. For those within the community, John went so far as to call their leader the “antichrist,” literally one who was opposed to Christ. This antichrist and his followers were claiming that theirs was a superior teaching to that of the orthodox (meaning proper belief) Christian message (vs. 9). Such false teachers should not even be received into the homes of the faithful, for to entertain them meant to show support for their wickedness. (Vss 10-11)
7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense.9 Anyone who is so “progressive” [ Grk. “parabainon” meaning to transgress or to be “bull headed” and to choose one’s own path,” to choose not to be humble or submissive] as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; 11 for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.
Vs.7 The antichrist is literally the one who is “anti” or completely opposed to Christ and his teaching. (1 Jn 2:18–19, 22; 4:3.)
About 50 years ago the Beatles wrote a hit song telling us that “All You Need is Love.” Although folks would not take offense at this, this is not what St. John was talking about. Although we are told in 1 Peter 4: 8 that “love covers a multitude of sins,” St. John is really saying something else. Love is much more than acceptance of all behavior or even tolerance of improper behavior. Even though we often bend over backwards to be hospitable and inclusive—love according to St. John in the first epistle that bears his name tells us “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
2nd John ends with a sign of that embodied love upon which John has been expanding. And because a letter is a poor substitute for a personal, face to face meeting, John stops here and expresses the hope that he will see them all again.
Introduction and commentary
This Third Letter of John presents a brief glimpse into the problems of missionary activity and local autonomy in the early church. In contrast to the other two letters of John, this work was addressed to a specific individual, Gaius. This epistle is less theological in content and purpose. Rather the author’s goal was to secure hospitality and material support for his missionaries and the Presbyter (John) is writing to another member of the church who has welcomed missionaries in the past. The Presbyter (John) commends Gaius for his hospitality and encourages his future help. He indicates he may come to challenge the policy of a man named Diotrephes who is actively impeding John’s ministry
The problems of the Presbyter in this short letter provide us with valuable evidence of the flexible and personal nature of authority in the early church. The Presbyter writes to Gaius, whom he had probably converted or at least instructed in the Faith and asks for his help. He wants Gaius to accept both Demetrius and the other missionaries from John.
In contrast, Diotrephes refuses to receive either letters or friends of the Presbyter. It’s a power struggle and John is asking for help. Although Diotrephes is portrayed as ambitious and hostile, he perhaps exemplifies the cautious and sectarian nature of early Christianity; for its own protection the local community mistrusted missionaries as false teachers. Most interestingly, Diotrephes seems comfortable in ignoring the requests of John. He seems to acknowledge that only a personal confrontation with Diotrephes will remedy the situation (3 Jn 10). The division, however, may also rest on doctrinal disagreement in which Gaius and the other “friends” accept the teaching of the Presbyter, and Diotrephes does not; the missionaries are not received because there is suspicion of theological error. Diotrephes has thus been viewed by some as an overly ambitious local upstart trying to thwart the advance of orthodox Christianity; others view him as an orthodox church official suspicious of the teachings of the Presbyter and those in the Johannine school who think as he does, or by still others as a local leader anxious to keep the debates in the Johannine community out of his own congregation.
This brief letter and the situation that it presents show us how little we know about some details of early development in the church: schools of opinion existed around which questions of faith and life were discussed, and personal ties as well as doctrine and authority played a role in what happened amid divisions and unity.
1The Presbyter to the beloved Gaius whom I love in truth. 2Beloved, I hope you are prospering in every respect and are in good health, just as your soul is prospering.3I rejoiced greatly when some of the brothers* came and testified to how truly you walk in the truth.b4Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 5Beloved, you are faithful in all you do for the brothers, especially for strangers; 6they have testified to your love before the church. Please help them in a way worthy of God to continue their journey.*7For they have set out for the sake of the Name and are accepting nothing from the pagans.8Therefore, we ought to support such persons, so that we may be co-workers in the truth. 9I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us.10Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing, spreading evil nonsense about us. And not content with that, he will not receive the brothers, hindering those who wish to do so and expelling them from the church. 11Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does what is good is of God; whoever does what is evil has never seen God 12Demetrius receives a good report from all, even from the truth itself. We give our testimonial as well, and you know our testimony is true. 13I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen and ink. 14Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face.15Peace be with you. The friends greet you; greet the friends* there each by name.