The author of the letters known as 2 John and 3 John only refers to himself as “the elder,” but the early church credits the apostle John with authorship. Irenaeus (approximately AD 130-200), Clement of Alexandria (AD 155-215), Origen (AD 185-253), and Eusebius (AD 265-339) all attribute them to John.1Jeske, Mark A. James, Peter, John, Jude. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002. 282. Since the author refers to himself as the elder, it seems that he was a well-known man to the early church. This fits quite well with the apostle John, who was perhaps the last living apostle of Jesus. The style and vocabulary used in 2 John and 3 John are also similar to the Gospel of John and the letter of 1 John, both of which have widely been recognized as the work of John as well.
For more information on the apostle John see the introductory pages for John and 1 John.
Place and Date of Writing
The early church father Irenaeus wrote that the apostle John served as a bishop in the city of Ephesus. It is believed that he died around the year AD 100. Therefore John most likely wrote the five books of the New Testament credited to him (John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation) at some point in the last decade of his life. For more information see the introductory pages for John and 1 John.
John simply addresses the letter “to the lady chosen by God and to her children” (2 John 1). Who was this “lady”? It could very well have been a well-respected Christian woman in one of the congregations near Ephesus, where the apostle John served. Perhaps John had come into contact with her and developed a close relationship with her and her children, or perhaps she was simply a prominent believer in the early church. If this is the case, it seems as though she is using her house as a place of worship (2 John 10).
However, it is very likely that John is not addressing a particular person and her family but a whole congregation and its members. First of all, when referring to himself John often uses descriptions of himself instead of using his own name, such as calling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (for example, John 21:7) or “the elder” as in this letter and the letter of 3 John (2 John 1; 3 John 1). Secondly, the church body of believers is often referred to using feminine nouns throughout Scripture, such as the “Daughter of Zion” (Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 52:2), the “bride” (Matthew 25:5; Revelation 21:9; 22:17), the “virgin” (Lamentations 1:15; 2:13; Amos 5:2), or even simply “her” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Therefore, John could very well be addressing a nearby congregation he serves (see the introductory information for 1 John for possible congregations), and perhaps because of the threat of persecution commonly faced by the early church. If this is the case, the reference to “the children of your sister, who is chosen by God” (2 John 13) could also be a reference to members of a neighboring congregation.
Purpose and Content
The letter of 2 John is a companion letter to 3 John. Both letters have a similar structure and subject matter, but 2 John addresses more the caution against false teachers while 3 John encourages the reception and care for teachers of the truth. In 2 John, the “elder” encourages his readers to protect the truth of the gospel against “deceivers” (2 John 7) who introduce false teachings, even going so far as not showing them hospitality (2 John 10-11). He also encourages his readers to live a life of love just as Christ commanded.
While these encouragements were written at a time when a specific false teaching was affecting the Church (see also 1 John), these are timeless encouragements for God’s faithful people. The truth of the gospel is of utmost importance for the sake of not only our own souls but also for the sake of the souls of future generations. While being careful with our fellowship practices might be difficult and create tension between us and others, each Christian has a responsibility to protect the truth in what they teach and in how they live.
- 2 John 3
- 2 John 5-6
- 2 John 9-11
The letter of 2 John is only 13 verses long, but a brief outline is given below.
Theme: Truth and Love
- Introduction (2 Jn 1-3)
- Author and recipients (1-2)
- Greeting and assurance (3)
- Message (2 Jn 4-11)
- Commendation (4)
- Appeal for love and obedience (5-6)
- Warning against deceivers (7-9)
- Prohibition against aiding the false teachers (10,11)
- Conclusion (2 Jn 12-13)
|↑1||Jeske, Mark A. James, Peter, John, Jude. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002. 282.|