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Bible Commentaries
2 John 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Verse 1

The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that know the truth;

The elder … The use of "elder" as an apostolic title is verified by the fact of the apostle Peter having used it (1 Peter 5:1). Peter used "fellow-elder" indicating that others besides himself in the apostolic group were still living. John’s use of "elder" could indicate that he alone of the sacred Twelve still remained alive. The title of "elders" was used of all the apostles, and "they were referred to by Papias under this title."(F1) Plummer commented on this that, "Elder was not an unlikely title; other apostles were called elders; but John was the elder,"(F2) the last survivor of the Twelve.

Unto the elect lady and her children … As noted from the ASV margin, the Greek term for lady might also be translated as a proper name, Cyria; but this tendency to view this letter as being written to a prominent Christian woman of that era is rejected here. As Roberts pointed out, "It is also true that the word for elect could be translated as a proper name, Eclecte."(F3) However, as Roberts noted, the word for "elect" is used as an adjective by John in 2 John 1:13. There is absolutely no reason for assuming that any personal name is involved here. "The elect lady" is a metaphorical reference to the church, often spoken of in the New Testament under the figure of a bride, or a pure woman. Roberts agreed that, "The most likely possibility, however, is that the elect lady is not a person at all but a personification for a local church."(F4) This would seem to be a mandatory conclusion from the last clause of the verse.

And not I only, but also all they that know the truth … It is inconceivable that any prominent woman in the early church was known to "all who know the truth," i.e., every Christian on earth, although such an expression is understandable as a reference to a prominent congregation. John’s purpose of shortly visiting the church (2 John 1:12) would indicate its prominence and importance.

Whom I love in the truth … Here, the author of this letter continues in the same vein of thought that is found in 1 John.

Verse 2

for the truth’ s sake which abideth in us, and it shall be with us for ever:

Which abideth in us … It is the truth resident in the holy apostles which is indicated by this, as indicated by John’s certainty that it would abide forever. The "truth" as used in both these shorter epistles has "almost a technical meaning, implying not only the eternal principle, but also the organization which embodied it."(F5)

Shall abide with us for ever … Note the prophecy in this. John could see the approaching storms of persecution and hatred of the truth into which he and the others had been guided by the Holy Spirit, but he was supremely confident that nothing would ever be able to destroy it. It has proved to be gloriously true. All of the enmity and hatred against the New Testament has not succeeded in removing any of it, or diminishing the confidence that Christians have in it.

Verse 3

Grace, mercy, peace shall be with us, from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

Grace, mercy, peace … Blaney’s comment on this is:

This is not merely a wish, but a confident assurance. "Grace" is the favor of God toward sinners; "mercy" is the compassion of God for the misery of sinners; and "peace" is the result when the guilt and misery of sin are removed.(F6)

From Jesus Christ, the son of the Father … This indicates that the assurance of grace, mercy and peace is not from God independently of the Son of God, being "from God in Christ."

In truth and love … All grace, mercy and peace come from God in Christ, but the enjoyment of such blessings is greatly contingent upon the recipient’s abiding "in the truth" and "in love" of the brethren as proved by his keeping the commandments of God.

Verse 4

I rejoice greatly that I have found certain of thy children walking in the truth, even as we received commandment from the Father.

Certain of thy children … One may only conjecture as to whether this could be a veiled charge that some of "her children" were not walking in the truth. What is affirmed here is that the apostle found a source of rejoicing in knowing that some were so walking. Any gospel minister whose life span has covered any considerable time know what this is. In the summer of 1978, this writer and his wife attended the Yosemite Family Encampment in California; and there, for the first time in 42 years, and 45 years, respectively, we were privileged to meet persons whom we had baptized long ago, and with whom a reunion was held after those long years of not even knowing if they were even still living. The rejoicing that resulted from finding them still active and diligent in the faith of Christ, after so many years, was indeed a blessing of God.

Even as we received commandment from the Father … Again, the apostolic "we" is prominent in this letter.

Verse 5

And now I beseech three, lady, not as though I wrote to thee a new commandment, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.

The full sentiments of this verse were commented on in 1 John 2:7-8.

Verse 6

And this is love, that we should walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, even as ye heard from the beginning, that ye should walk in it.

In the writings of John, keeping God’s commandments is the only proof, either of faith or of love. It is in such passages as these that the common authorship of all these epistles is so evident. See in 1 John 3:23 for further comment.

Verse 7

For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Antichrist … Of particular interest is this term, occurring here in the singular; however, it is quite clear that no single person is meant, from John’s identification of "antichrist" with "many deceivers." In Campbell’s famous debate with Purcell, Campbell did not identify "the man of sin" with John’s "antichrist," despite the fact of Purcell’s addressing his entire refutation against an affirmation which was not made by Campbell. Despite the general confusion to the effect that Paul’s man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2) should be identified with John’s "antichrist," there is no solid ground for this. It could be, however, that "antichrist," a spirit already working in John’s time, should be identified with the "lawless one" to be revealed shortly before the Second Advent; for, as Paul said, "the spirit of lawlessness" was already working in his time also (2 Thessalonians 2:7); but neither "antichrist" nor the "lawless one" may be absolutely identified with "the man of sin," except in the sense of being an ultimate development of the apostasy evident in "the man of sin."

Many deceivers … "These were formerly members of the Church who had apostatized (1 John 2:19)."(F7)

They confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh … The heresy of the false deceivers was that of denying the Incarnation. Various scholars have identified such teachers as Docetists, Cerinthians, and Gnostics. Of significance is the fact that the apostle did not yield in the slightest to any of their speculations. The apostolic doctrine is that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God who was Christ, not only after his baptism, but in his death, burial and resurrection as well. With the apostle John, and all the New Testament teachers, the confession of full faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was central, imperative and absolutely essential to the Christian faith.

The "many deceivers" mentioned in 2 John 1:7 stand in this letter opposed to the "certain of thy children walking in the truth," as mentioned in 2 John 1:4, with the possible interpretation that both those walking faithfully and the deceivers were children of a single congregation. Concerning the deceivers, John here presented "a double warning: (1) for the Christians not to be deceived themselves (2 John 1:8-9), and (2) not to give any encouragement to the false teachers (2 John 1:10-11)."(F8)

Verse 8

Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things which we have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward.

Look to yourselves … The plural here denies this as a letter to a single individual; it is clearly a congregation of people that John had in view, some of Whom were "walking in truth," others of whom were deceivers.

That ye lose not the things which we wrought … Smith paraphrased the meaning thus: "See that you do not forfeit the reward of your labor; get a full wage. Be not like the workmen who toward the close of the day, do their work badly and get less than a full day’s pay."(F9) It should be remembered by all Christians that in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the payment of the workers came at the close of the day, "when the evening was come." All should remember that fidelity to the end of life is enjoined.

Verse 9

Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.

Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ … The false teachers evidently considered themselves "advanced thinkers," progressing beyond the teaching of Christ; but the apostle here denied the pretensions of such men. Whoever advances beyond the New Testament, has advanced right out of Christianity. "Our aim should be not to be advanced, but to abide in the doctrine of Christ."(F10)

Many have rationalized their departure from the teachings of Jesus Christ through the vain belief that, "Theology is to God’s revelation in Grace as science is to his revelation in Nature";(F11) but it is not true that the apostles were limited in what they revealed to mankind in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit guided them into "all truth," a fact that was much in John’s mind as he wrote these letters; and those theologians who fancy that they are able to discover more and more glorious things concerning God and the redemption of human souls, than those eternal truths revealed in the New Testament, are totally and radically wrong, that being the categorical affirmation of this 2 John 1:9.

As MacKnight expressed it:

The person who either neglects to teach any part of the doctrine of Christ, or who teaches what is not the doctrine of Christ, is culpable, and does not acknowledge God.(F12)

The heresy of this age is that religious teachers may "go beyond" Christ’s teachings in any direction they please, or that they may eliminate from their doctrine any of the Lord’s teachings that they hold to be unnecessary or distasteful to themselves. The apostle John, in this verse, sufficiently warned all people that such departures or omissions remove people from any claim of having God.

In a practical sense, of course, this limits authority in the Christian religion to the teachings of the New Testament, because there and there alone may be found the authentic truth "first spoken by the Lord," and delivered unto us "by them that heard him." A proper appreciation of this truth would relegate a great deal of present day religiosity to the ash heap.

Verse 10

If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting:

It is sometimes alleged from this verse that "your house" here seems to suggest an individual’s home; but your is not in the Greek, and the passage would be better rendered as "receive him not into house."

Is such an admonition as this verse contains uncharitable? Some have so alleged. Plummer thought that Christians should take a great deal of care before "venturing to act upon the injunction given here." Also, C. H. Dodd, "declined to heed it."(F13) Such reluctance, however, is due to a gross failure to understand, either the destructive and murderous result of false teaching, or the evil nature of false teachers. The people in view by the apostle here were immoral, self-seeking hypocrites, true children of the devil, deserving fully the treatment prescribed for them by the apostle John. Today, no less than when John wrote, there are false religious teachers who should be treated exactly as John recommended. The apostle’s injunction here may not be written off as merely some kind of an emergency requirement, after the manner of Dodd, who commented that "emergency regulations make bad law."(F14) It seems very sad that a Christian should take such an attitude toward a fellow human being; but it should be remembered that these people were denying the Lord Jesus Christ. There are false teachers now whose denials are just as destructive of faith and virtue.

Give him no greeting … "This signifies church approval, or commendation."(F15) For a congregation of the Lord’s people to extend to false teachers housing, approval and recommendation would be for the church to preside at its own execution.

Verse 11

for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works.

Present-day Christians are very reluctant to receive this teaching, Smith stating that:

Heretics are our fellow-creatures, and our office is to win them. If we close our doors and our hearts against them, we lose our opportunity of winning them and harden them in their opposition.(F16)

All such comments fail to take into consideration the identity of the people John was speaking about. They were false teachers of anti-Christian doctrine, having already acquired the status of open enemies of the Lord and of his Church. What John said of them was absolutely in line with the admonition of Jesus Christ himself who taught, concerning false teachers, that his followers were to "let them alone!" (Matthew 15:14). Hospitality and friendship extended to known enemies of the truth is a violation of our Lord’s word, as well as that of the apostle John. Many a young Christian, unaware of the true nature of the enemy, as well as of the cunning seductiveness of error, has violated the prohibition here with a result of their own everlasting ruin.

Verse 12

Having many things to write unto you, I would not write them with paper and ink: but I hope to come unto you, and to speak face to face, that your joy may be made full.

As Plummer said, "This verse is almost conclusive against the supposition that the Second Epistle was sent as a companion letter to the First."(F17)

I hope to come unto you … This is literally, "I hope to come to be at your house."(F18) Both here and in 2 John 1:10, Roberts was of the opinion that "house" is indicative of a letter "written to a church," being a reference to the "meeting place of the church."(F19) In New Testament times, congregations normally met in private houses owned by members.

The apostle in this verse would appear to have been sending this letter as a signal of his coming to visit the congregation, which would account for the somewhat limited nature of the communication. He stressed in this only what he considered to be of paramount importance.

Verse 13

The children of thine elect sister salute thee.

"The epistle closes with greetings from the members of the church from which John wrote."(F20) Many scholars consider that the epistle was actually addressed to a distinguished woman in the church, and that this verse is a greeting from another woman, the sister of the addressee, and her children. Such a thesis is incapable of proof, however; and it makes good sense to view it as a kind of "alert" sent by the apostle to a congregation he was about to visit. This affords an excellent explanation of the personal greetings.

No big point may be made out of this, either way; the big thing in the letter is the instruction regarding "abiding in the doctrine of Christ," not "going onward," and the proper response to known enemies of the faith.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 John 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-john-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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