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Bible Commentaries

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

3 John

- 3 John

by Heinrich Meyer



































I N the new revision of this Commentary the following works have been chiefly examined. H. Bouman, Comment. perpet. in Jac. ep. , ed. 1863, the exposition of the Epistle by Lange (second edition, 1866) in Lange’s Bibelwerk , and the third edition of de Wette’s exposition edited by Brückner. Whilst in the first of these works a deep and thorough examination of the thoughts of the Epistle is awanting, the work of Lange is too defective in exegetical carefulness, which alone can lead to sure results. In order to comprehend the Epistle historically, Lange proceeds from the most arbitrary hypotheses, which often mislead him into very rash, and sometimes strange explanations. It is to be regretted that, with all his spiritual feeling and acuteness, he has not been able to put a proper bridle upon his imagination. The second edition of de Wette’s Handbook, containing the exposition of the Epistles of Peter, Jude, and James, had been previously prepared by Brückner. When in the preface to the third edition he says that he has subjected this portion of the Handbook to a thorough revision, and, as far as possible, has made the necessary additions and corrections, this assertion is completely justified by the work. Although the remarks of Brückner are condensed, yet they are highly deserving of attention, being the result of a true exegetical insight. It were to be wished that Brückner had been less trammelled by “the duty to preserve the work of de Wette as much as possible uncurtailed.” Of the recent examinations on the relation of the Pauline view of justification to that of James, I will only here mention the familiar dissertation of Hengstenberg: “the Epistle of James,” in Nos. 91 94 of the Evangelical Church Magazine , 1866; and the explanation of James 2:24-26 , by Philippi in his Dogmaties , vol. I. pp. 297 315. Both, without assenting to my explanation, agree with me in this, that there is no essential difference between the doctrines of Paul and James. Hengstenberg arrives at this result by supposing, on the assumption of a justification gradually developed, that James speaks of a different stage of justification from that of Paul; whilst Philippi attributes to δικαιοῦν with James another meaning than that which it has with Paul. I can approve neither of the one method nor of the other; not of the former, because by it the idea of justification is altered in a most serious manner; nor of the latter, because it is wanting in linguistic correctness, and, moreover, thoughts are by it given which are wholly unimportant. I will not here resume the controversy with Frank, to which I felt constrained in the publication of the second edition, only remarking that after a careful examination I have not been able to alter my earlier expressed view of James’ doctrine of justification, the less so as it had not its origin from dogmatic prepossession, but was demanded by exegetical conviction. Moreover, I am no less convinced than formerly that in the deductions made by me nothing is contained which contradicts the doctrine of the church regarding justification.

With regard to the question whether the author of this Epistle, the brother of the Lord, is or is not identical with the Apostle James, I have not been able to change my earlier convictions. If in more recent times the opposite view has been occasionally maintained, this is either in the way of simple assertion, or on grounds which proceed from unjustified suppositions. This present edition will show that I have exercised as impartial a criticism as possible with regard to my own views, as well as with regard to the views of others.

The quotations from Rauch and Gunkel refer to their reviews of this commentary published before the second edition; the one is found in No. 20 of the Theol. Literaturblatt of the allgem. Kirchenzeitung of the year 1858; and the other in the Göttingen gel. Anz. , Parts 109 112 of the year 1859. I have occasionally quoted Cremer’s biblischtheol. Wörterbuch des neutest. Gräcität. The more I know of the value of this work, the more I regret that it does not answer to its title, inasmuch as those words are only treated which the author considers to be the expressions of spiritual, moral, and religious life. A distinction is here made which can only with difficulty be maintained. I have quoted Winer’s Grammar , not only according to the sixth, but also according to the seventh edition, edited by Lünemann.

I again close this preface with the hope that my labour may help to make the truly apostolic spirit of the Epistle of James more valued, and to render its ethical teaching more useful to the church.



The Second and Third Epistles of The Apostle John


SEC. 1.


T HE testimony of the ancient Church is not very certain. The first mention of the Second Epistle is found in Clemens Alex. and Irenaeus. The former calls the First Epistle the greater ( Strom. ii. 15, ed. Potter), and says in the Adumbrat.: secunda Joannis epistola, quae ad virgines scripta est, simplicissima est; scripta vero est ad quandam Babyloniam Electam nomine. Irenaeus ( adv. Haer. i. 163) quotes the passage 2 John 1:11 , with the words: Ἰωάννης , ὁ τοῦ κυρίου μαθητής , ἐπέτεινε τὴν καταδίκην αὐτῶν , μηδὲ χαίρειν αὐτοῖς ὑφʼ ἡμῶν λέγεσθαι βουληθείς · ὁ γὰρ λέγων αὐτοῖς , φησί , χαίρειν κ . τ . λ .; he further adduces (iii. 16. 8) the passage 2 John 1:7-8 , but by mistake, as a passage of the First Epistle. From this it follows, that at the time of these Fathers the Second Epistle was not merely known in the Church, but was also received as an Epistle of the Apostle John. If the remark of Eusebius ( H. E. vi. 14), that Clemens Alex. commented on all the Catholic Epistles, be correct, then the Third Epistle was known to him also; according to the statement of Cassiodorus, however (comp. my Comm. on Second Peter , Introd. § 2, p. 291 ff.), this is at least uncertain.

Origen likewise knew several Epistles of John; for in the 8th Homily on Joshua he says: addit et Joannes tuba canere per epistolas suas; yet he did not express himself quite certainly about the apostolic origin of the Second and Third Epistles, as is seen from his words in Euseb. ( H. E. vi. 25): Ἰωάννηςκαταλέλο πε δὲ καὶ ἐπιστολὴν τολὴν πάνυ ὀλίγων στίχων · ἔστω δὲ καὶ δευτέραν καὶ τρίτην . ἐπεὶ οὐ πάντες φασὶ γνησίους εἶναι ταύτας ; that the canonicity of these Epistles was doubted, is not contained in these words.

His disciple Dionysius Alex., in his polemic against the genuineness of the Apocalypse, according to Eusebius ( H. E. iii. 25), appealed not only to the First, but also to the Second and Third Epistles of John. His words are: ὁ δὲ εὐαγγελιστὴς οὐδὲ τῆς καθολικῆς προέγραψεν ἑαυτοῦ τὸ ὄνομα …, ἀλλʼ οὐδὲ ἐν τῇ δευτέρᾳ φερομένἸωάννου καὶ τρίτῃ …, ὁ Ἰωάννης ὀνομαστὶ πρόκειται . According to Ebrard, in the word φερομένη a doubt is meant to be expressed as to the apostolic authorship of the two Epistles; this, however, is erroneous; φερομένη is only added because the Epistles were accepted as apostolic, without bearing the name of the Apostle John, as even Eusebius ( H. E. iii. 25) calls the First Epistle τὴν φερομένην Ἰωάννου προτέραν , although he was convinced of its composition by the apostle (Düsterdieck); and, besides, how could Dionysius have appealed to those two Epistles if he had doubted their apostolic origin?

The Epistles are nowhere mentioned by Tertullian and Cyprian; but that the Second Epistle at least was known in the North African Church at the time of the latter as a canonical writing, is clear from the fact that, at a Synod held at Carthage on the subject of the baptism of heretics, the bishop Aurelius appealed to the passage 2 John 1:10 .

The Peshito originally contained of the Catholic Epistles only the Epistle of James, First Peter, and First John; the Syrian Ephraem, on the other hand, quotes the Second and Third of John as well as the rest of the Catholic Epistles.

The testimony of the Muratorian Fragment is not quite certain; after a passage is quoted in it from the First Epistle, it is stated, after the mention of some spurious writings: epistola sane Jude et superscriptio Joannis duas in catholica habentur, and then: ut (or et) sapientia ab amicis Salomonis in houorem ipsius scripta. It is possible that by duas (duae) the First and Second Epistles are meant; yet it is more probable that he understood by it the Second and Third Epistles (Düsterdieck, Ebrard, Braune; comp. also Laurentius, Neutest. Studien , p. 205). From the following words: ut (or et) sapientia, etc., it is not to be inferred, with Düsterdieck, that the author regarded the two Epistles as spurious.

Eusebius ( H. E. iii. 25) says: τῶν δʼ ἀντιλεγομένων … ἡ ὀνομαζομένη δευτέρα καὶ τρίτη Ἰωάννου , εἴτε τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ τυγχάνουσαι , εἴτε τοῦ ἐτέρου ὁμωνύμου ἐκείνῳ ; he therefore reckoned them among the first class of the Antilegomenoi (comp. Guericke, p. 606 ff.), and thereby proves that their canonical authority was not uncontested; but by the addition εἴτε κ . τ . λ ., by which he does not want to confirm the doubt as to their canonicity , he expresses the uncertainty whether the Epistles were composed by John or by another of the same name, namely, the Presbyter John. In the Antioch school they were refused acceptance; Theodosius Mops is said to have rejected them on the testimony of Leontius Byz.; Theodoret does not mention them; and in the Homily on Matthew 21:23 , ascribed to Chrysostom, it is said: τὴν δευτέραν καὶ τρίτην οἱ πατέρες ἀποκανονίζουσι . For the rest, after the time of Eusebius their canonicity was undisputed; but that doubts still obtained in regard to their apostolic origin is proved by Jerome, who, in his Catal. script, eccl. chap. 9, s.v. Papias, says: scripsit Joannes et unam epistolam, quae ab universis ecclesiasticis et eruditis viris probatur; reliquae autem duae, quarum principium Senior … Joannis Presbyteri asseruntur; and in chap. 18 calls this view an opinio, quam a plerisque retulimus traditam. The, generally speaking, infrequent quotation of these Epistles, as well as the hesitation in the decision as to their canonicity and apostolicity, are easily explained, partly by their character, partly by the designation of the author ( ὁ πρεσβύτερος ) which is prefixed. From the fact, however, that the oldest authorities, Clemens Alex. and Irenaeus, quite unhesitatingly cite them, at least the Second Epistle, as writings of the Apostle John, it may be concluded that in the most ancient tradition they were regarded as apostolical Epistles, and that it was only at a later date that they were ascribed by many, perhaps only on account of the superscription, to the Presbyter John, whom Papias (Euseb. iii. 39) calls a μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου , but definitely distinguishes from the Apostle John. In the Middle Ages the authorship of the Apostle John was not disputed. Erasmus first again regarded the Presbyter John as the author of the Epistles; the same view was afterwards expressed and defended by Grotius, J. D. Beek ( Observ. crit.-exeget. Specim. I.), Fritzsche (“Bemerkk. über die Br. Joh.,” in Henke’s Museum für Religionswissenschaft , III. part 1), Ammon ( Leben Jesu , I. p. 45 ff.), and others. Almost all modern commentators and critics (Lücke, de Wette, Brückner, Baumgarten-Crusius, Düsterdieck, Ewald, 1 Bleek, Braune), on the other hand, have with more or less confidence decided in favour of their apostolic authorship, against which Ebrard again ascribes them to the Presbyter John. It is extraordinary that the same reasons are alleged for both views, namely, (1) the character of the style; (2) the self-designation of the author by ὁ πρεσβύτερος ; and (3) the connection with Diotrephes. (1) As far as the style is concerned, the Second Epistle has unmistakeably a pronounced Johannean impress. This is less the case with the Third Epistle; yet even this, which at any rate has the same author as the Second Epistle, bears in itself, in particular expressions and ideas, traces of the same peculiarity (comp. Lücke, Braune, Düsterdieck). According to Ebrard, the correspondences are to be explained by “ allusions and certain reminiscences ,” while the peculiar style of the author of the two Epistles appears in the section vv. 5 10 of the Third Epistle, and this deviates altogether from that of the Apostle John. But that the elsewhere well-known diction of John is not reflected in this section, may be very well explained by the fact that he is treating of quite special circumstances, and that, too, only in hints, and with the greatest possible brevity; but that in 2 John 1:5 ; 2 John 1:12 , and 3 John 1:11 , there is “an intentional allusion to particular dicta of the First Epistle,” and that in 2 John 1:6-7 ; 2 John 1:9 , such dicta “are almost exactly quoted,” are assertions which cannot be proved, as the agreements may just as well, at least, have their origin in the identity of the author. (2) As, according to the distinct testimony of Papias (in Euseb. H. E. iii. 39), the existence of a presbyter named John, who was a μαθητής of the Lord, cannot be doubted, it is natural to regard him as the author of the Epistle, who calls himself ΠΡΕΣΒΎΤΕΡΟς . But as Papias designates this John as ΠΡΕΣΒΎΤΕΡΟς merely to distinguish him from the previously-mentioned (Apostle) John, it cannot be inferred from his words that “ ΠΡΕΣΒΎΤΕΡΟς ” was in itself a name denoting the non-apostolic John. If this was not the case, how then could this John venture to call himself κατʼ ἐξοχήν “ ὁ πρεσβύτερος ”? Ebrard thinks that, as the two Johns lived in Ephesus, the non-apostolic John was in his intimate circle called “ the Presbyter ” in distinction from the apostle, and that “it is easily intelligible from this how the Presbyter John would, in his confidential private circles, use this designation as a stamped coin;” but, besides, Ebrard appeals to the fact that the small filial Churches in the neighbourhood of the city, the single members of the presbytery established in the mother Church, and hence those small Churches which had gathered round the Kyria and Caius and Diotrephes, had been handed over to the care of the Presbyter John, “so that according to his official position he was ‘ the Presbyter’ to these Churches.” Ebrard thus gives two explanations, of which, however, only one could be valid; moreover, both explanations are based on uncertain assumptions.

Lücke and Düsterdieck (similarly Brückner and Braune) with justice show that the name: ΠΡΕΣΒΎΤΕΡΟς , would not have been suitable for the Presbyter John without the addition of his proper name. But how does the case stand in this respect with the Apostle John? Oecumenius says: ἬΤΟΙ ὍΤΙ ΓΕΡΑΙῸς ὪΝ ἬΔΗ ἜΓΡΑΨΕ ΤΑΎΤΑς , ΚΑῚ ἘΠΊΣΚΟΠΟΝ ΚΑΛῶΝ ἙΑΥΤῸΝ ΔΙᾺ ΤΟῦ ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΈΡΟΥ ; the former view, which is defended by Piscator, Lange, Carpzovius, Sander, Bleek, etc., has the form of the word against it; if John wanted to describe himself as “the old man,” it is not conceivable why he did not write ΓΈΡΩΝ , ΠΡΕΣΒΎΤΗς , or similarly, especially as ΠΡΕΣΒΎΤΕΡΟς was already in use as an official name; even apart from the fact that the designation would only vaguely state who the author was, the expression must certainly be taken, with Baumgarten-Crusius, Lücke, Düsterdieck, Braune, as an official name. For this purpose it was quite suitable to the Apostle John, as he was connected with the Churches in question not merely as an apostle, but had entered into a special (episcopal) relationship towards them. He undertook the same position towards them as, immediately after the apostolic age, the bishop occupied towards the Churches subordinate to him. Hence John might have called himself ὁ ἐπίσκοπος , but he could not, as in his time both expressions denoted the same position; though in later times, when in the ecclesiastical organization bishops and presbyters were definitely distinguished from one another, the former were still frequently described by the name οἱ πρεσβύτεροι . (3) In the Third Epistle there is reference to a relationship of Diotrephes to the author of the Epistle, which, if this was the Apostle John, must certainly be regarded as strange. It seems more easy of explanation if, as Ebrard thinks, the author was an Ephesian presbyter to whose oversight the Churches, in which Caius and Diotrephes were prominent members, had been entrusted; but in the first place this supposition lacks historical foundation, and, secondly, a still greater degree of violence would belong to the case if Diotrephes “prated with malicious words” against a man who was not only a member of the Ephesian presbytery, but also had to exercise an oversight over those Churches, and who as an immediate μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου certainly enjoyed great respect. If Diotrephes was capable of that , then his ambition which indeed may lead to the most extreme steps might have induced him to despise even the dignity of an apostle. Besides, the particular circumstances are much too unknown by us for it to be justifiable for us on their account to deny the Apostle John the authorship of the Epistle.

The assertion that the prohibition contained in 2 John 1:10-11 , contradicts the loving disposition of the Apostle John, is with justice rejected by Ebrard, and that, too, with the suitable remark: “the love of the Apostle John was that sort of love which does not want to please, but to save souls; and hence he meets the lie not with careless connivance, but with firm confession of the truth and other discipline.”

Baur (in the work quoted above) regards these two Epistles, as he does the First Epistle, as writings of Montanist origin. He proceeds from the fact that they both have one author, and that the Second was written to the Church to which Caius (to whom the Third Epistle is directed) belonged, and is no other than the Epistle mentioned in 3 John 1:9 ; in this Church, Baur further says, a schism had taken place; the one part, with Diotrephes at their head, had refused ecclesiastical fellowship to the Church to which the author of the Epistle belonged; the other part, on the contrary, were in agreement with this Church; and that, although the cause of that schism is not evident from the Epistles themselves, it is nevertheless clear that it is conformable to a time at which there had already occurred between several Churches too lively differences about questions of the highest interest for the Christian mind. From these premises Baur concludes that the Second Epistle “was written to the montanistically disposed section of the Roman Church;” and that Diotrephes is the symbolic description of the bishop of Rome, not indeed, as Schwegler ( Montanismus , p. 284) supposed, of Victor (for Irenaeus and Clemens Alex. already knew both Epistles), but of an earlier bishop, perhaps Soter, or Anicet, or Eleutheros. Baur in this proof lays a special weight upon the partisanship of the writer of the Epistle, which had gone so far that he describes the followers of Diotrephes just as heathen (3 John 1:7 ) (!). Baur finds the main support of his view in the passage of Clemens Al. cited above: Secunda Joannis ep., quae ad virgines scripta est, simplicissima est. Scripta vero est ad quandam Babyloniam electam nomine, significat autem electionem ecclesia sanctae; he holds that in these words Clemens refers the name Ἐκλεκτή to the idea of the Church, inasmuch as the predicate of holiness is appropriate to it; that this quite corresponds to the idea of the Montanists, whose first demand of the Ecclesia was that she should be, as the “sponsa Christi,” vera, pudica, sancta; that the name Babylonia is to be allegorically understood of the city of Rome (as in 1 Peter 5:13 ), where there were divided opinions in regard to Montanism. It does not require to be pointed out how very much arbitrary and extraordinary modes of interpretation are heaped up in this statement. Quite apart from this, Baur’s assertion places Clemens in the most wonderful contradiction with himself; on the one hand, Clemens exactly specifies the Second Epistle as written by the Apostle John; and, on the other hand, though in an obscure way, he is said to have stated that it was of Montanist origin. And then, what could have induced a Montanist to invent epistles under the pretended name of the apostle, which do not contain anything of Montanist character at all? Did he want to put the authority of John in the scale against the bishop of Rome? But the Epistle could not in any way have been used for that purpose, as it must have been clear to any one that John could not have written against Soter (or Anicet, or Eleutheros). The Montanists, however, have taken so little advantage of these Epistles for their interests, that the Montanist Tertullian never once mentions them!

Hilgenfeld assigns the appearance of the Second and Third Epistles, as that of the First Epistle, to the post-apostolic age, yet he does not seek their explanation in the interest of the author on behalf of Montanism, but he thinks that the Second Epistle is an “excommunicatory writing,” by which, in the form of the epistles which the Christian Churches interchanged, an “official apostolic condemnation” was meant to be uttered against the fellowship with the Gnostic false teachers; and that the Third Epistle is an ἐπιστολὴ συστατική which originated in the Church of John, and had the object of vindicating for that Church the right to the circulation of such commendatory epistles, which the strict Jewish Christians would allow only to their patron James, as the author had known “the usefulness of such a regular passport” in the storms of Gnosticism. These hypotheses, according to which the circumstances hinted at in the Third Epistle are a pure invention, can, however, only be regarded as makeshifts to explain, as well as is possible, the origin of the two Epistles, which Hilgenfeld, for the same reasons as those for which he denies the genuineness of the First Epistle, thinks it is impossible to regard as memorials of the apostolic age.


The Second Epistle begins with the inscription, which, after mentioning the writer and the receiver of the Epistle, contains the greeting of benediction. It is addressed, according to the most probable explanation of the word κυρία (see the commentary on 2 John 1:1 ), to a Christian Church, to which the author expresses his joy that its members are walking in truth, with which he connects an exhortation to mutual love, which he confirms by a reference to the appearance of false teachers who deny that Jesus is the Christ, come in the flesh. After he has mentioned the abiding in the doctrine of Christ as the condition of fellowship with God, he forbids the brotherly reception of the opponents of this doctrine, because thereby we would make ourselves guilty of fellowship with their evil deeds. The conclusion of the Epistle contains a justification of its shortness, and the delivery of the greeting from the Church in which the apostle is.

The design of the Epistle accordingly lies in the danger which threatened the Church through the false teachers, and of which the author wanted to warn the Church in few words before he could come to it himself.

The Third Epistle also begins with an inscription, in which Caius (see on 3 John 1:1 ) is mentioned as the receiver of it. After the wish that Caius may have prosperity, the apostle expresses his joy that he according to the testimony of some brethren is walking in the truth, and praises him especially on account of his active display of love towards strange brethren, whom he then recommends to his further care, because they went forth for Christ’s sake, and it is a duty to receive such.

Then he mentions the arbitrary procedure of Diotrephes, who withheld from the Church a letter written to it by him, made evil speeches against him, and opposed the reception of the brethren; in connection with which the author expresses his intention to come and bring him to account. After an exhortation not to follow that which is evil, but that which is good, the apostle gives Demetrius (the probable bearer of this Epistle) a good testimonial, justifies himself for the shortness of his writing, and, after a short benediction, concludes by giving the greeting of friends and sending greeting to friends.

The design of the Epistle accordingly was furnished by an incident which had occurred in the Church of Caius. Some strange missionary brethren, who had found a friendly reception from Caius, had come to the apostle. The latter had written on their behalf to the Church to which Diotrephes also belonged; but Diotrephes, with insolent expressions against the apostle, had opposed the reception of those brethren, and had even cast out of the Church those who did not agree with him. This Epistle is now meant to serve the purpose of confirming Caius in the continuation of his manifestations of love, as well as of intimating to him the near arrival of the apostle.

Ewald’s ideas, that both Epistles were addressed to one and the same Church, that Diotrephes had specially interested himself in the false teachers, and that the Third Epistle was written to Caius from fear lest the Second Epistle might have been withheld from the Church by Diotrephes, are to be regarded as mere conjectures, which cannot be proved from the contents of the two Epistles.

The place and time of their composition are unknown in the case of both Epistles; yet it is not unlikely that 2 John 1:12 and 3 John 1:14 refer to a tour (perhaps one and the same) of inspection (especially as Eusebius, H. E. iii. 24, describes such a tour of inspection made by John from Ephesus), and that the Epistles were written in Ephesus.

As in the Second Epistle the same false teachers are referred to that are spoken of in the First Epistle, it is probable that the places at which these two Epistles were composed are not far remote from one another.

The remark of Eichhorn, that in the Second Epistle a more vigorous spirit is displayed than in the First, is no less incorrect than the idea that the “rigorous” (!) prohibition in 2 John 1:10-11 indicates the still youthful old age of the apostle.