Bible Commentaries

Adam Clarke Commentary

2 John

- 2 John

by Adam Clarke

Preface to the Second Epistle of John

The authority of the First Epistle of John being established, little need be said concerning either the second or third, if we regard the language and the sentiment only, for these so fully accord with the first, that there can be no doubt that he who wrote one, wrote all the three. But it must not be concealed that there were doubts entertained in the primitive Church as to the two latter being canonical. And so late as the days of Eusebius, who lived in the fourth century, they were ranked among those writings which were then termed αντιλεγομενα, not received by all, or contradicted, because not believed to be the genuine productions of the Apostle John.

It is very likely that, being letters to private persons, they had for a considerable time been kept in the possession of the families to which they were originally sent; and only came to light perhaps long after the death of the apostle, and the death of the elect lady or Kyria, and Gaius or Caius, to whom they were addressed. When first discovered, all the immediate vouchers were gone; and the Church of Christ, that was always on its guard against imposture, and especially in relation to writings professing to be the work of apostles, hesitated to receive them into the number of canonical Scriptures, till it was fully satisfied that they were Divinely inspired. This extreme caution was of the utmost consequence to the Christian faith; for had it been otherwise, had any measure of what is called credulity prevailed, the Church would have been inundated with spurious writings, and the genuine faith greatly corrupted, if not totally destroyed.

The number of apocryphal gospels, acts of apostles, and epistles, which were offered to the Church in the earliest ages of Christianity, is truly astonishing. We have the names of at least seventy-five gospels which were offered to, and rejected by, the Church; besides Acts of Peter, Acts of Paul and Thecla, Third Epistle to the Corinthians, Epistle to the Laodiceans, Book of Enoch, etc., some of which are come down to the present time, but are convicted of forgery by the sentiment, the style, and the doctrine.

The suspicion, however, of forgery, in reference to the Second Epistle of Peter, second and third of John, Jude, and the Apocalypse, was so strong, that in the third century, when the Peshito Syriac version was made, these books were omitted, and have not since been received into that version to the present day, which is the version still in use in the Syrian Churches. But the later Syriac version, which was made a.d. 508, and is called the Philoxenian, from Philoxenus, bishop of Hierapolis, under whose direction it was formed from the Greek by his rural Bishop Polycarp, and was afterwards corrected and published by Thomas of Charkel, in 616, contains these, as well as all the other canonical books of the New Testament.

From the time that the language, sentiments, and doctrines of these two epistles were critically examined, no doubts were entertained of their authenticity; and at present they are received by the whole Christian Church throughout the world; for although they are not in the ancient Syriac version, they are in the Philoxenian; and concerning their authenticity I believe the Syrian Churches have at present no doubts.

Dr. Lardner observes that the first epistle was received and quoted by Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, contemporary with the apostle; by Papias, who himself had been a disciple of St. John; by Irenaeus; Clement of Alexandria; Origen, and many others. The second epistle is quoted by Irenaeus, was received by Clement of Alexandria, mentioned by Origen and Dionysius of Alexandria, is quoted by Alexander, bishop of Alexandria. All the three epistles were received by Athanasius, by Cyril, of Jerusalem; by the council of Laodicea; by Epiphanius; by Jerome; by Ruffinus; by the third council of Carthage; by Augustine, and by all those authors who received the same canon of the New Testament that we do. All the epistles are in the Codex Alexandrinus, in the catalogues of Gregory of Nazianzen, etc., etc.

Thus we find they were known and quoted at a very early period; and have been received as genuine by the most respectable fathers, Greek and Latin, of the Christian Church. Their being apparently of a private nature might have prevented their more general circulation at the beginning, kept them for a considerable time unknown, and prevented them from being reckoned canonical. But such a circumstance as this cannot operate in the present times.

As to the time in which this epistle was written, it is very uncertain. It is generally supposed to have been written at Ephesus between a.d. 80 and 90, but of this there is no proof; nor are there any data in the epistle itself to lead to any probable conjecture relative to this point. I have placed it at A D. 85, but could not wish to pledge myself to the correctness of that date.