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Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
2 John 1

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verse 1

2 & 3 JOHN



2 and 3 John

We take up now the second letter of John, and follow with the third letter of John. By way of introduction to both books. I have these few words to say:

First, what does the author of these two books say of himself? In both he calls himself "the elder" (Greek – presbuteros), which is a designation of office; and not presbutes, meaning an old man. All of the apostles were elders. Peter calls himself an elder. He says to the elders: "I, who am an elder, write."

Second, to whom do some attribute these two letters? To a "John the Presbyter," who is said to have lived in the second century at Ephesus.

Third, what the reply to this?

(1) There is no trustworthy evidence that there was any such man as John the Presbyter living in the second century at Ephesus; it is very doubtful.

(2) The historical evidence is in every way sufficient to show that John the apostle is the author of both of these letters. I will not cite this historical evidence, but I will include among those who refer to it, Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, and Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Africa, and quite a number of others all testify that the apostle John wrote both these books.

(3) The internal evidence is equally conclusive. In these letters are these expressions: "Live in the truth," "walk in the truth," "love one another," "and this is love, that ye walk in his commandments," every word of 2 John 1:7; 2 John 1:9, and others equally characteristic in the third letter are all Johannine, that is expressions of John. Certainly whoever wrote 1 John wrote both of these letters.

(4) It is characteristic of the apostle John to refer to himself indirectly. Even in his Gospel he says, "That disciple whom Jesus loved." In his first letter he does not mention his own name. Here he says, "the elder," and that is just like him. Only in the book of Revelation does he give his own name.

(5) There is a clear reference in 3 John 1:10 to the power exercised by the apostles only – the judgment power.

(6) It is quite natural that short letters addressed to individuals about local or personal matters should more slowly receive general recognition.


To whom is this letter addressed? This answer consists of four parts:

1. The author confesses himself unable to appreciate the mystical sense imported by some into the very plain language of a letter not apocalyptic on its face, so as to render the Greek word "kuria" in verse I, as "lady," and then claim that "lady" means a church. And then construe the Greek word tekna "children," as members of the church. And yet again at the end of the letter to so construe the Greek word adelphes, "sister," to make it mean "church," is to him too farfetched for serious consideration. And yet all through the ages, and particularly among our Hard-shell brethren, is this theory held. They say, "The elder to the elect lady," meaning some elect church called lady, but it all sounds silly to me.

2. The word Kuria, English "Cyria," is a proper name like "Gaius," "Timothy," "Titus," "Philemon," and so this should be rendered, "The elder to the elect Cyria." That is a woman’s name.

3. While kuria literally means "lady," yet, etymologically, every Bible name means something: "Jacob" means "supplanter," "Israel" means "One who prevails with God," "Jesus" means "Saviour." All the proper names of the Bible have literal meanings, yet we would be foolish to render these proper names by the etymological meaning of the word.

4. It is utterly foreign to New Testament usage to call a, woman "a lady." The Bible does not call a woman "a lady." We do not find this word kuria anywhere else in the New Testament, but we find "woman" in many places. And the Bible never calls a church a lady. Now, in the book of Revelation a woman (not a lady) symbolizes the church. That is an apocalyptic book, confessedly symbolic) but in the Bible the females are women – not ladies. This good sister’s name was Cyria. "Kuria" and "Cyria" mean the same thing.

So this letter is addressed to a good woman, and her name is Cyria, and I am glad that one book of the Bible is addressed to a woman.

5. What is the occasion of this letter? The apostle seems to be stopping with the children of Cyria’s sister. The sister is supposed to be dead, and from her children he gets some information about Cyria, who was one of his converts, and hence he was well acquainted with her. She did not live at the same place, of course, but he gets some information from these children about Cyria, and the information is mixed. He says, "I have found that certain of thy children are walking in the truth." Now that implies that certain others of them are not walking in the truth, so it is mixed information. Apparently from these Christian children he hears a good report of some of Cyria’s children, and this gives him great joy, and prompts him in love and courtesy to write a note to their aunt Cyria, sending greetings from the nephews and nieces. I have done that many a time. I have gone to a place and found people that were acquainted with some old friend of mine, and from them I learn the latest information about that old friend, and as a matter of courtesy, while in their house, I write a letter or note to that old friend, and extend the family greeting.

In this note he commends her fidelity and the righteous walk of some of her children. But this letter is not merely a formal courtesy. Cyria seems to be living where the Gnostic philosophy prevails. Its traveling advocates claim to be preachers of the gospel, and he solemnly warns her not to receive them into her house, nor to bid them God-speed, lest she become a partaker of their sins. Their method was not to propagate their heresy from the pulpit) but by private household visitation, and this danger was real and great to Cyria’s household. Hence his words in 2 John 1:7-8) which are as follows: “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. Look to yourselves that ye lose not the things which we have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward." The letter assumes that the present Christian attainment of herself and family is the result of his labors: "Lose not the things which we have wrought." I taught you certain things and you accepted them. These deceivers come around, these antichrists, and deny what I so plainly taught, that Christ was come in the flesh." This implies a personal acquaintance with Cyria on John’s part, and accounts for the familiarity, tenderness, and earnestness of his letter.

As I have said before, there is a possible implication that some of her children are already affected by this error – certain of her children were not walking in the truth, for if he had meant all of her children he would not have put it that way. It implies that others of them did not walk in the truth, and that implies a situation that accounts for the earnestness and solemnity of the letter. The wolf has already been prowling around that family fold. It is very probable that these antichrists in the guise of Christian preachers have already been guests in Cyria’s house. He says, "Do not receive them into your house." And already there are premonitions of a divided household, and the danger of a further lapse from what the apostle had taught.

2 John 1:9, when taken with 2 John 1:5-6, throws additional light on the situation. It declares that the very plea of these heretics is that they seem to have assured Cyria that she need not give up her love for her old teacher, nor break away from what the apostle had wrought, but only to go on somewhat beyond it follow new commandments, not denying the old, but confirming the new ones – new interpretations, new light. They were "progressives." Hence the earnest words: "I beseech thee, Cyria not according to any new commandments which these people give you, or any new interpretations about love, but according to the old commandments, I beseech thee let us love one another. The old commandments interpret and identify love as walking in God’s commands, and not in any new orders. That is love that you walk in his commandments. If you do follow the new, you do surrender what we apostles have taught, and you do lose your reward."

And now comes the greatest text against the progressives in the whole Bible: "He who abides not in the teachings of Christ, but goes onward into something new, hath not God. Even to receive into your house these deceivers, and bid them God-speed, makes you a partaker of their sin." I say that this 2 John 1:9 is a golden text, a New Testament jewel against the progressives, who seek to reinterpret or go beyond the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I preached on it once for a solid hour. My heart was never more inflamed. I first quoted Jude’s words: "The faith once for all delivered to the saints," and then took up newspaper notices from men esteemed great that these old notions are obsolete – we need a new religion, we need to go on. Now, says the apostle: "Whosoever abideth not in the teachings of Christ, but goeth onward, he hath not God." If there is any fire in us, we ought to be able to preach a sermon from that text. And here let me say that all of the short books of the New Testament are exquisite gems that justify their insertion in the canon. 2 John 1:9 justifies putting this letter in the Bible. We do not get that thought anywhere else. The fact that this is written to a woman, a hospitable woman, who has unwittingly received into her house as guests men claiming to be preachers, but who undermine the faith of some of her children, and who tell her: "You need not give up what you believe, you can go on loving your apostle John, but we have a new interpretation of love, according to new commandments, and you can stand on what he taught and what he wrought, but do not stay there, take a step farther; there are new things to be received," renders it all the more remarkable. Why, I imagine I ’can hear them. They are the children of the devil. President Eliot, of Harvard, is nothing but an atheist and is worse than Tom Paine, for Tom Paine was at least a deist.

John says, "And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote to thee new commandments, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another." It is love that we keep his commandments, and not walk after new commandments.


It is evident from the comparison of the characteristic expressions common to this and the first letter, that one man wrote both, and it is equally evident that whoever wrote the first paragraph of the first letter wrote also the first paragraph of John’s Gospel.

It is further evident from 3 John 1:10 of this letter that its author possessed the apostolic power to punish by extraordinary judgment resistance to inspired authority. We may accept it, therefore, without hesitation, that the apostle John wrote this letter.

Though written to an individual about local matters concerning a particular church, it is of permanent kingdom value, because of the light it throws on New Testament missionary operations, and because of its revelation of the subjection of a New Testament church to the evil domination of one ambitious and unscrupulous man – a prototype of thousands since his day.

There cannot be a clearer teaching on the evil possible to a particular church, under bossism, and on the invalidity of church decisions which violate fundamental New Testament Jaw. This is at least one clear, authoritative, apostolic decision that such outrageous church action is entitled to no respect within the kingdom.

A church is under law to Jesus Christ, and never independent of his paramount authority. Mere church authority cannot set aside the authority of our Lord. It is true that what a church decides on matters of discipline binds or looses in heaven (Matthew 18:17-18), but only when Christ is with them (Matthew 18:19-20), and his will is followed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was Christ’s law that his apostles be received as himself (Matthew 10:40), but here is a man who rejects an apostle, maliciously slanders him and rebels against his authority. It was Christ’s law that missionaries should be sent to all the nations (Matthew 28:18-19), but here is a man who rejects them coming in Christ’s "name," and duly accredited by apostolic letter. Christ prescribed the steps of procedure in the disciplining of a brother by the church who sins, and who will not yield to either private labor or church authority (Matthew 18:15-17). But this man counts obedience to Christ a sin, and utterly disregards our Lord’s own words as to methods of procedure in discipline, and forces the subservient church to reject his accredited messengers, and to arbitrarily exclude those whose only offense was obedience to the Lord. It was a glaring instance of devilish usurpation of power, of unmistakable high treason and rebellion. A thousand times in ecclesiastical history has this great lesson, nowhere else so clearly taught as here, been needed to show that merely getting a majority of a particular church to vote a certain way is not per se a righteous verdict in God’s sight. This one great lesson alone forever justifies the incorporation of this short letter into the accepted canon of the Holy Scriptures.

But let us analyze the great little book, presenting an order of thought both logical and chronological:


1. In 3 John 1:5-8 we find the New Testament law of foreign missions:

(1) For the sake of the name they go forth.

(2) They take nothing of the Gentiles, who are as yet unsaved, and so not appreciating labors in their own behalf, may not be counted on to pay the expenses of their own evangelization.

(3) Those already evangelized, whether individuals or churches, should welcome, entertain, and set forward these men worthily of God on their way to their field, and sustain them there until the heathen field becomes itself not only selfsustaining, but a new center of support to the fields beyond. This was Paul’s method of taking wages of other churches to preach the gospel in heathen Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8), and as he says, "Having hope that, as your faith groweth, we shall be magnified in you according to our rule unto further abundance, so as to preach the gospel to the parts even beyond you" (2 Corinthians 10:15-16).

(4) In this co-operation, in aid to the missionary, the helper shared the honor of the missionary’s labor, becoming a fellow helper to the truth.

(5) It needs to be particularly noted that it was not the plan for each church to send out its own missionaries, limiting its obligations to only its own missionaries. If this had been the plan, the particular church to which Gaius and Diotrephes belonged was within its rights in refusing to receive and help these missionaries sent out by the Ephesian church.

The churches of Macedonia that helped Paul preach at Corinth did not send him out, but the far-off church at Antioch in Syria. All the churches are equally related to the kingdom, and are bound, as opportunity offers, to co-operate in kingdom activities, without regard to the fact that only some one particular church ordains a man and sends him out.

This is exceedingly important law of New Testament missions. The whole New Testament condemns the idea that obligation on a particular church to help missions is limited to the missionaries sent out by itself. Thus in five distinct particulars this short letter gives us the law of New Testament missions.

2. In accordance with this law, certain missionaries are sent out from Ephesus to go to the Gentiles. To accredit them and provide help on the way to their field the apostle John writes a letter to a church situated on the way to their field.

3. Unfortunately this church is (1) under the domination of an ambitious, unscrupulous, anti-missionary, one Diotrephea, Whether he was a preacher, or long-horned deacon, or merely an unofficial boss is immaterial. There have been thousands like him, eager for pre-eminence in the church, insisting on having his own arbitrary way, following "a rule or ruin policy." Cursed is the church that is ridden by such "an old man of the sea." (2) This man forced the church to reject the apostolic letter, "prating against the apostle with wicked words." (3) He forced the church to refuse to receive the missionaries apostolically accredited. (4) This did not content him; he forbade any individual member of the church to receive them. (5) Gaius did receive them in spite of this unlawful interdict. (6) The missionaries came before the church and bore grateful testimony to the loving hospitality of Gaius. (7) Whereupon Diotrephes forced the church to exclude Gaius and his sympathizers. (8) Brethren who knew all the facts reported the case to John, bearing witness to the fidelity of Gaius.

4. Whereupon John writes this letter to Gaius, thoroughly endorsing his course and condemning the course of Diotrephes, and sends it by Demetrius, whom he highly commends: "Demetrius hath the witness of all men arid of the truth itself; yea we also bear witness; and thou knowest our witness is true." Demetrius doubtless goes to the scene of the strife as an apostolic delegate, with full powers to dispose of the case, just as Paul sent Titus to Crete to set in order irregularities there (Titus 1:5), and as he exhorted Timothy to tarry at Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:14) to regulate affairs there. In this letter, as Paul did to the Corinthians, he threatens to come with apostolic judgment in case Diotrephes refuses to yield to the authority of his accredited delegate. It would gratify our natural curiosity to know positively the issue of the case in the hands of Demetrius, as we do know the issue at Corinth in the hands of Titus. Judging from other New Testament cases we may infer a favorable issue here, that Diotrephes was divested of power to do further harm, that Gaius and his friends were restored to the church fellowship, that the missionaries were worthily helped on their way. We may even charitably hope that Diotrephes, like the incestuous man at Corinth and the rebels there against apostolic authority, repented of his sins; yet seldom does a man repent who goes to the lengths this man did. He was perilously near to the sin against the Holy Spirit, which is an eternal sin, and hath never forgiveness, neither in this world nor in the world to come.

5. Apart from the valuable law of missions and the history of this remarkable case, which is a priceless legacy to the churches, there are yet to be considered three valuable lessons:

(1) This letter answers clearly a great question, to wit: Just how rich does the New Testament allow a Christian to become? Or, what is the New Testament’s limit to the amount of wealth a Christian may lawfully acquire?

In my early pastorate at Waco I put this very question to my Sunday school, to be answered the following week. There chanced to be present a millionaire from Newark, New Jersey, who had made his money in Texas, Morgan L. Smith. He approached me when the school was dismissed saying that the question interested him personally, and as he would leave before the following Sunday, would take it as a favor if I would give him the answer in advance. I read to him this passage from 3 John 1:2: "Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth," which I thus interpreted: John would not pray for unlawful things. He did pray that Gaius might prosper financially just as far as was consistent with his prosperity of soul. Therefore, it was lawful to acquire a million, ten millions, any number of millions, if the acquisition did no harm to the soul. But in many cases wealth as gained or as used starved and sickened the soul. To them any amount was unlawful that worked such result. It was good for such men that God kept them poor; if he allowed to them an increase of wealth at the expense of the soul, it was in anger and as a judgment. Prosperity makes fools of many. The same law applied to health. Some could be well all the time and the soul the better for it. Others, like Jeshurun, kicked when they waxed fat. Many may echo the Bible statement: "Before I was afflicted I went astray." An old mother said: "You have to break the legs of some children to raise them."

(2) The second lesson is one of solemn warning to church bosses. A church is the temple of God: "Him that destroyeth the temple of God, will God destroy," quotes Paul to the Corinthians. Along the shores of history lie the wrecks of many once useful churches: along the same shores are the wrecks of their destroyers.

(3) There remains the lesson arising from the emphatic use of the word "name" in 3 John 1:7: "For the sake of the name they went forth." Already that word stood for all that Christ was and taught and did. It went into ecclesiastical history just as John here starts it. In the dark ages it was the Christian’s password in dangerous places, acting as an introduction and a protection, like the Masonic grip and password. When the hounds of persecution pursued the martyr, and when heathen or papal interdict closed against him the door of sympathy, shelter, and help, he would knock at doors and say, "In the Name." The brother Christian within, though a stranger, and it may be of another nation, would recognize the password, and give shelter and help at the risk of his own life. In this way also they safely distributed their literature.

"For the sake of the Name" should be our watchword and motive.


1. What does the author of these letters say of himself?

2. To whom have some attributed their authorship and your reply thereto.

3. Who the author according to historical evidence?

4. How does the internal confirm the historical?


5. Why not render Kuria, "lady," and then construe lady to mean a church, and "sisters" a church and "children" church members? Give the argument of the author.

6. To whom then addressed?

7. State the occasion of the letter.

8. What words of the letter indicate John’s previous knowledge of Cyria?

9. What words may imply that some of her children were not walking in the truth?

10. What, from the implications of the letter, was the plea of these heretics?

11. How does the letter reply?

12. What the golden text of the letter?


13. Why this letter a valuable part of the inspired canon of Scripture?

14. Quote and apply the New Testament law as violated by Diotrephes.


15. What the New Testament law of foreign missions in 3 John 1:5-8?

16. Prove the violation of New Testament law and precedent when a church limits its foreign mission obligation to missionaries sent out by itself.

17. What Texas plan recommends this error?

18. State the history of this case conforming to that law.

19. Give, in eight particulars, the reception of these missionaries by the church of which Gaius and Diotrephes were members.

20. How does John answer the appeal of the case to him?

21. Show from similar cases under Paul that Demetrius was sent as apostolic delegate, with the threat of the apostle’s own coming in judgment, if the delegate be not heard.

22. What great question does this letter answer and how? Illustrate.

23. What the second lesson?

24. What the third?

25. What two great texts in this letter?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 John 1". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/2-john-1.html.
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