04 February 2009

The Johannine Letters: 2 John

Scenes from the life of Saint John the Evangelist in the chapel of Saint John’s College, Cambridge: on the left, he survives being thrown into boiling oil outside the Latin gate (ante portam latinam); on the right, he survives drinking from a poisoned chalice.

Patrick Comerford

2 John

1 Ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς, οὓς ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ, καὶ οὐκ ἐγὼ μόνος ἀλλὰ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἐγνωκότες τὴν ἀλήθειαν, 2 διὰ τὴν ἀλήθειαν τὴν μένουσαν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ μεθ' ἡμῶν ἔσται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

3 ἔσται μεθ' ἡμῶν χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη παρὰ θεοῦ πατρός, καὶ παρὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ πατρός, ἐν ἀληθείᾳ καὶ ἀγάπῃ.

4 Ἐχάρην λίαν ὅτι εὕρηκα ἐκ τῶν τέκνων σου περιπατοῦντας ἐν ἀληθείᾳ, καθὼς ἐντολὴν ἐλάβομεν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός. 5 καὶ νῦν ἐρωτῶ σε, κυρία, οὐχ ὡς ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφων σοι ἀλλὰ ἣν εἴχομεν ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ἵνα ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους. 6 καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη, ἵνα περιπατῶμεν κατὰ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ: αὕτη ἡ ἐντολή ἐστιν, καθὼς ἠκούσατε ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῇ περιπατῆτε.

7 ὅτι πολλοὶ πλάνοι ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸν κόσμον, οἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί: οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πλάνος καὶ ὁ ἀντίχριστος. 8 βλέπετε ἑαυτούς, ἵνα μὴ ἀπολέσητε ἃ εἰργασάμεθα ἀλλὰ μισθὸν πλήρη ἀπολάβητε. 9 πᾶς ὁ προάγων καὶ μὴ μένων ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ θεὸν οὐκ ἔχει: ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ, οὗτος καὶ τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει. 10 εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ ταύτην τὴν διδαχὴν οὐ φέρει, μὴ λαμβάνετε αὐτὸν εἰς οἰκίαν καὶ χαίρειν αὐτῷ μὴ λέγετε: 11 ὁ λέγων γὰρ αὐτῷ χαίρειν κοινωνεῖ τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ τοῖς πονηροῖς.

12 Πολλὰ ἔχων ὑμῖν γράφειν οὐκ ἐβουλήθην διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος, ἀλλὰ ἐλπίζω γενέσθαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ στόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλῆσαι, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν πεπληρωμένη ᾖ.

13 Ἀσπάζεταί σε τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς.

1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us for ever:

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 was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. 5 But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning – you must walk in it.

7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 8 Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. 9 Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.

12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

13 The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.


II John is the 63rd of 66 books in the Bible, and the shortest book in the Bible, consisting of a mere thirteen verses. These 13 verses are directed against the same Docetic errors and early Gnosticism that are challenged in both Saint John’s Gospel and I John.


Unlike I John, II John has a title indicating the sender – the Presbyter, and the recipient – the elect lady and her children. But who are these people?

The tone of the admonitions indicates that the author of II John was well known to his readers and that they acknowledged his spiritual authority.

II John has been traditionally attributed to John the Evangelist, although this is debated. The language of this epistle is remarkably similar to III John. The language, literary style, ideas and manner of II John are very like those of I John. These, along with the early Church tradition make it highly probable that these letters were written by the same author, and the scholarly consensus is that a single author wrote both I John and II John.

However, some commentators have questioned whether the same person also wrote the Gospel according to Saint John, I John and the Book of Revelation. And Harnack and others admitted the canonicity of II John and III John, but nevertheless assigned the authorship to another John, whom they named as John the Elder.

Some commentators argue that the rejection of gnostic theology in II John may reveal a later date of authorship than is sometimes claimed. The adherents of gnosticism were most numerous in the second and third centuries, but may not have merited this sort of attention in the first century, when II John is traditionally said to have been written, but when gnostic teachers may not have merited such a response.

The authenticity of II John is attested by very early Fathers: Saint Polycarp II John 7; Saint Irenaeus expressly quotes II John 10 as the words of “John the Disciple of the Lord”; the Muratorian Canon speaks of two Epistles of John; Clement of Alexandria speaks of the larger Epistle of John; and, as a consequence, knows at least two; Origen speaks of the two shorter letters, which “both together do not contain a hundred lines” and are not admitted by all to be authentic.

The canonicity of II John and III John was long disputed for a long time. Eusebius places them among the Antilegomena. The Canon of the Western Church includes them after the fourth century; the Canon of the Eastern Church, apart from Antioch, includes them after the fourth century.

Verse 1: Who is the letter addressed to?

Unlike I John, which is addressed to several churches, II John is written to one specific church (“the elect lady,” see verse 1). This is probably one of the churches in Asia Minor, although the destination of the letter continues to be debated.

It is possible that II John was a cover letter accompanying I John. But who is it addressed to?

This letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children,” and closes with the words: “The children of your elect sister greet you.” The “elect lady” is commended for her piety, and is warned against false teachers.

Some translators prefer to render “the elect lady” as the proper name Kyria. Other versions translate the opening greeting as: “The ancient to the lady Elect, and her children.”

Who is the lady elect? Is she so obviously a Church? Is she the elect Kyria? The lady Eklekte? A lady named Eklekte Kyria? A lady elect, whose name is omitted? All these interpretations have their defenders.

Other commentators have suggested another possible interpretation. In Revelation 12, the writer speaks of a woman and a dragon. The dragon plots maliciously against the woman and one of her children, but is frustrated in his attempts to do them harm. In anger, he then pursues the rest of her children. II John verse 4 reads: “I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in truth ...” Could the woman of portent from Revelation be the woman to which this epistle is addressed?

However, Jerome and most other early writers accept that II John is addressed to a particular church, with John urging the members of that church on to faith in Jesus Christ and to the avoidance of heretics, and to love. That interpretation best fits in with the ending to the letter – “The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.”

Verse 2:

We should not forget that the “children” are also the recipients of this letter. They are the members of this church in Asia Minor, which comes within the presbyter’s sphere of influence. The presbyter loves these “children” who dwell in the truth, and this epistle draws together in a beautiful way the mutual dependence of truth and love.

Verse 3:

These words are familiar to all of us as a shared, modern liturgical greeting. It is a customary one for a Christian letter, but here the author adds “truth and love,” words that are the abiding theme or hallmark of this letter.

Verse 4:

Some of the children, at least, are walking in the truth – in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the phrases “walking in the light” and “walking in the truth” are found regularly to the point that they are almost interchangeable.

Verses 5-7:
In these verses, the author of II John alludes to the main teachings of I John. The command to love is a familiar Johannine emphasis. The source of the difficulty being dealt with here appears to be the same as that dealt with in I John.

Verses 7-11:

II John and adds a command not to show hospitality to false teachers. Anyone whose does so is guilty of participating in their evil teaching.

This Epistle carries a clear warning against paying heed to those who say that Jesus was not a flesh-and-blood figure: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (verse 7). This establishes that, from the time this epistle was first written, there were those who had docetic Christologies, believing that the human person of Jesus was merely an illusion and he was actually pure spirit.

II John vehemently condemns these anti-corporeal attitudes. This also indicates that those taking such unorthodox positions were either sufficiently vocal, persuasive, or numerous enough to warrant rebuttal in this form.

Verses 12-13:

This letter finishes with a very familiar touch – an apology for the brevity of the letter, and greetings from a sister Church, probably the Church from which the author of this epistle is writing.

Next: III John

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a bible study in a tutorial group on Wednesday 4 February 2009.

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