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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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2 John 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Address. (2 John 1:1-3).


CHARACTER OF THE PERSON ADDRESSED: her adherence to the truth (2 John 1:1-2).


SALUTATION (2 John 1:3).


Exhortation (2 John 1:4-11).




MAIN MESSAGE: Appeal to mutual love (2 John 1:5).






THE DECEIVERS AND ANTICHRISTS (2 John 1:7). (f) DANGER (2 John 1:8).






Conclusion (2 John 1:12-13).





Verses 1-3

(1) A man so well-known to his correspondent that he only calls himself “the old man,” or, “the elder,” writes to a mother, whose name is possibly Kyria, and to her children. Her sister’s children are in the same place as the writer. The two mothers are both honoured with the religious title “elect.” The writer (we assume from the introduction that he is the Apostle John) loves the family with true Christian love. All who are in the way of truth have the same feelings for them, for the truth is a bond of union between all such. He wishes them grace, mercy, and peace from the Father and the Son, in all their thoughts and all their affections (2 John 1:1-3).

(1 a.) (1) The elder.—The word is used with reference to age in 1 Timothy 5:2; 1 Peter 5:5; with reference to office, Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:4; Acts 15:6; Acts 15:23; Acts 16:4; Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:1; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1.

Unto the elect lady.—St. Paul uses “elect” in exactly the same way (Romans 16:13). (Comp. also 1 Peter 1:1-2.) The use of the epithet for the sister in 2 John 1:13 shows that it is impossible that the word should be the correspondent’s name. The Greek word, however, for “lady,” (Kuria, or Kyria) was a proper name; so that those who think that St. John addresses “the elect Kyria” are at liberty to do so. The absence of the article would not be more surprising in that case than it would be if we translate “lady,” for “elect” would evidently be in such familiar use that the article would be easily omitted.

If the name of the matron is not given, it is not absurd to suppose that the dangers of the times, or family persecution, may have made it advisable that both her name and that of the writer should be withheld. The messenger would supply both deficiencies.
The term “lady” would not imply anything about her social station. Epictetus says that all women above fourteen were addressed by men in this term.

And her children.—Those of them who were with their mother. St. John seems to have seen some of the family later.

Whom I love in the truth.—Rather, in truth; i.e., with true Christian love, with all the sincerity, purity, and respect, which the true love which springs from God requires. (See Notes on 1 John 3:18-19.)

And not I only . . .—St. John disclaims any special peculiarity in his affection for the family. All Christians who had been brought or should be brought into relation with them would have the same feeling; because the character of all of them was based on the truth as it is in Christ, and moulded on it.

(2) For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.—The personal form of this sentence irresistibly reminds us of John 15:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If Christ is once in our hearts, He will not leave us unless we deliberately leave Him. The expression is therefore equivalent to saying, “We will not let Him go.”

(1 b.) (3) Grace be with you, mercy, and peace.—(Comp. 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2.) “Grace” is the favour of God conveying fully every spiritual blessing (Romans 3:4; Ephesians 2:4-10); “mercy” is the pitifulness which sympathises with man, is longing to forgive his sins, and is more ready to hear than he to pray (Luke 10:30-37; Psalms 103:3-18): “peace” is the result of the reception of these two gifts in the heart, the untroubled calm of a conscience void of offence before God and men (John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:4; Colossians 3:15).

From God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.—The perfect independence, parallel equality, and mutual connection of the two Persons is noticeable.

In truth and love.—To be joined with “grace mercy and peace.” Truth was to absorb and regulate all their intellectual faculties; love, all their emotional.

Verses 4-11

(2) St. John had lately had opportunity of observing bow some of the matron’s children proved their adherence to the truth by their daily conduct. Having congratulated her about this, he states the chief thing which he desires of her: the pure Christian love which implies every other grace and virtue; in other words, walking after the divine commandments. That this love should be pure, that these commandments should be unimpaired, it was necessary to remember that nothing new could be added to the original message of Christ. This warning was timely, because many errors had already appeared, especially that greatest error which denied the Incarnation. The family must, therefore, be on its guard, lest it should be cheated of its reward. The test was very simple: any advance beyond the doctrine of Christ. It would be better for the family not to entertain in their house any who had committed themselves to these doctrines of development (2 John 1:4-11).

(2 a.) (4) I rejoiced . . .—Comp. Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3.

Of thy children.—Probably those met at home.

Walking in truth.—Comp. John 8:12; 1 John 1:6-7; 1 John 2:6; 3 John 1:3-4.

As we have received a commandment.—That is, walking according to the revelation of God’s will in Christ Jesus.

(2 b.) (5) Love is the Christian’s moral disposition of mind, which embraces all other virtues and graces. It implies faith, because it is founded on Christian principle, and can only be tested by a right belief. It implies purity, because it is modelled on the love of God, and has abjured the old man. It implies unselfishness, because it desires the good of the other for his own sake and God’s. It implies humility, because it distrusts itself, relies on God, and thinks more of the other than of itself. (Comp. John 13:14; John 15:12; 1 Corinthians 13:0; 1 Corinthians 13:0; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:21.)

Not as though.—See the Notes on 1 John 2:7-8; 1 John 3:11.

(2 100) (6) The attitude of love in general, whether towards God or man, is best defined and described as “walking after God’s commandments.” It might have been thought that love would be a vague immeasurable feeling, differing chiefly in intensity; but the Christian disposition which is described as love is that practical and enlightened result of faith which naturally acts and expresses itself by following God’s will in all things. (Comp. 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:16.)

(2 d.) This is the commandment.—The sum of all God’s commandments for us is this: that we should be doers of the word which we have heard since first Christ began to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, and not of any other. All development from what He said, or from what we have repeated from Him is disobedience and error. (Comp. 1 John 2:24.)

(2 e.) The appearance of deceivers is the reason for this warning against false progress (2 John 1:7).

The ground of his love for the matron and her family was that they held to the truth. He is proportionately anxious that they should not go beyond it through evil influences.
(7) Deceivers.—“Those who cause others to wander.” (Comp. 1 John 2:26; 1 John 4:1-6; 1 Timothy 4:1.)

Entered into the world.—Comp. 1 John 2:19; 1 John 4:1.

Confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.—Rather, confess not Jesus Christ coming in flesh. The Greek implies the idea only, without reference to time. (Comp. 1 John 4:2-3.) The expression would include both those who denied that Jesus was the Messiah, and those who, for Gnostic theories, held Him to be only a phantom, declaring the Incarnation to be an impossibility.

This is . . .—Rather, the deceiver, and the antichristi.e., among all the human errors by which the influence of the Evil One is manifested, this is the most destructive. Those who adopt such errors are the most fatal deceivers and opponents of Christ and truth.

(2 f.) The warning (2 John 1:8).

(8) Look to yourselves.—For the triple “we” in this verse, read “ye.” The result of the error would be loss of the fellowship with the Father and the Son in truth and love. (Comp. Galatians 3:1-4; Galatians 4:11.)

Which we (or, ye) have wrought.—Their faith, hope, love, and the growth of the Christian graces.

A full reward.—The diminution of the reward would be in proportion to the gravity of the error. The reward would be the peace of God which passeth all understanding, the blessed stability, firmness, and joy which truth and love communicate. (Comp. Colossians 3:24; Galatians 4:2.)

(2 g.) The test (2 John 1:9).

Progression beyond Christ’s teaching, a sign of the absence of God; refusal to go beyond His lines a proof of the presence of Father and Son.
(9) Transgresseth.—Rather, goeth beyond. (Comp. Matthew 21:9; 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 5:24; 2 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 3:14; Titus 1:9.)

The doctrine of Christ.—That which Christ taught. (Comp. Matthew 7:28; Matthew 16:12; Matthew 22:33; Mark 1:22; Mark 4:2; Mark 12:38; John 8:31; Acts 2:42; Acts 5:28.)

Hath not God.—Comp. 1 John 2:23; 1 John 5:12.

(2 h.) Practical direction (2 John 1:10-11).

Although it would be possible to love unbelievers, in the sense of earnestly desiring that they might come to a knowledge of the truth, it would be wrong—for sincere Christians it would be impossible—to hold out to them the right hand of fellowship. Especially dangerous would it be for the matron and her family. (Comp. 2 Timothy 3:6.)

(10) If there come.—The construction implies that it was the case. St. John was dealing with facts. St. Paul held the same view (Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:8-9; Titus 3:10-11; and, in regard to morals, 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 16:22).

This doctrine.—See 2 John 1:9. He is not speaking of those who had never heard or been instructed in the doctrine of Christ; they would be less dangerous. He means those who deliberately altered the Apostolic teaching. And his reason is evidently chiefly the religious welfare of the matron and her family. The case supplies an important instruction in the theory of Christian social conduct.

Receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.—These are no terms of ordinary politeness, which the Apostle does not forbid, but terms of close Christian intimacy and spiritual communion, the deliberate cultivation of personal acquaintance, fraternal intercourse. The highest sort of Christian brotherly love—love, that is, in its fulness and truth—can only find reciprocity in the same atmosphere of Christ, on the same basis, and in the same characteristics. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 6:16.)

(11) Is partaker of his evil deeds.—Condones his false doctrine; puts himself in a position to accept it; shares the guilt of his disloyalty by sympathising with him; and in this way lowers his whole moral standard, doing an injury to “God, Christ, the Church, the truth, individual communities, and his own soul.” If any interpret the exhortations to love in the Epistles of St. John too liberally, or by too low a measure, this passage is a wholesome corrective. In applying this teaching to modern times we should remember (1) that St. John is only speaking of those who deliberately deprave the doctrine of Christ in its great outlines; (2) that there may be much in ourselves, in our systems, in our quarrels, in our incrustations of divine truth, in our want of the sense of proportion in dealing with divine things, which may have hindered others from receiving Christ.

Verses 12-13

(3) Conclusion (2 John 1:12-13).

(12) Having many things to write unto you.—This verse shows that the Letter to the matron and her family was not a mere accompaniment of a copy of the First Epistle. His heart is full of things to write, but he hopes soon to have unlimited conversation.

Paper.—The Egyptian papyrus.

Ink.—A mixture of soot, water, and gum. The papyrus-tree grows in the swamps of the Nile to the height of ten feet and more. Paper was prepared from the thin coats that surround the plant. Pliny describes the method (xiii. 23). The different pieces were joined together by the turbid Nile water, as it has a kind of glutinous property. One layer of papyrus was laid flat on a board, and a cross layer put over it; these were pressed, and afterwards dried in the sun. The sheets were then fastened or pasted together. There were never more than twenty of these sheets fastened together in a roll; but of course the length could be increased to any extent. The writing was in columns, with a blank slip between them; it was only on one side. When the work was finished, it was rolled on a staff, and sometimes wrapped in a parchment case (Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, p. 567).

Of the ink used by the Romans, Pliny says that it was made of soot in various ways, with burnt resin or pitch. “For this purpose they have built furnaces which do not allow the smoke to escape. The kind most commended is made in this way from pine-wood: it is mixed with soot from the furnaces or baths; and this they use for writing on rolls. Some also make a kind of ink by boiling and straining the lees of wine.” The black matter of the cuttle-fish was also sometimes used for writing (Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, p. 110).

The pen was a reed, sharpened with a knife, and split like a quill-pen.
The Jews seem to have used lamp-black dissolved in gall-juice, or lamp-black and vitriol, for ink. The modern scribes “have an apparatus consisting of a metal or ebony tube for their reed-pens, with a cup or bulb of the same material attached to the upper end for ink. This they thrust through the girdle, and carry with them at all times” (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 131; Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1802).

Speak face to face.—Not that there was any oral tradition which he would not write down. His Gospel and First Epistle would contain the outline of all his teaching. But on this occasion there was no need for writing. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 13:12.)

That our joy may be full.—Comp. 1 John 1:4. It would be the deep satisfaction of the interchange of spiritual thoughts and aspirations without the limitations of a monologue or of writing materials.

(13) The children of thy elect sister.—He may have been staying at this second matron’s house; at any rate, the family knew he was writing. The simplicity of the great Apostle, the personal friend of the risen Lord, the last of the great pillars of the Church of Christ—in transmitting this familiar message, makes a most instructive finish to what is throughout a beautiful picture.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 John 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-john-1.html. 1905.
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