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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

2 John

- 2 John

by Johann Peter Lange


1. The Second Epistle, after the Address and Salutation (2 John 1:1-3), expresses the Apostle’s joy on finding the children of the κυρία walk in the truth of the Gospel (2 John 1:4), a monition of the commandment of brotherly love (2 John 1:5-6), not without a solemn warning against the doctrine of the false teachers, who confess not the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (2 John 1:7-9), and against fellowship with them (2 John 1:10-11). Disinclined to write, and in the hope of early oral intercourse, the Epistle concludes with greetings of the sister’s children (2 John 1:12-13).

2. The Third Epistle, addressed to Caius (2 John 1:1), after a salutation, importing his wish for the prosperity of Caius, expresses the Apostle’s joy over his walking in the truth (2 John 1:2-4), commends his hospitality to missionary brethren (2 John 1:5-8), deplores the opposition they have to encounter at the hands of the ambitious Diotrephes, notwithstanding his Epistle of commendation, and the readiness of the Church to comply therewith, with an intimation of his intention to take a personal stand against him (2 John 1:9-10), warns against his example and commends Demetrius, the probable bearer of the Epistle (2 John 1:11-12). Disinclined to write, and in the hope of a speedy meeting, the Epistle concludes with greetings from the Apostle and friends to friends (2 John 1:13).


1. These two brief Epistles, besides which reference is made to a similar Epistle, which has been lost (3 John 1:9), are two instructive monuments of the Apostle’s mode of dealing with individuals. Ewald justly observes that these Epistles lack the rich flow and fusion of language found in a similar Epistle addressed by Paul to Philemon, but unmistakeably evince a loftier assurance, and with all their gentleness and affability, a brevity and earnestness which point to an Apostle little disposed to write much, and greatly preferring oral dealings and instruction.

2. While the Secind Epistle exhibits in forcible energy the most lively joy in his converts walking in the truth coupled with the most tender solicitude for them with respect to the false teachers, and warns them in the most decided terms against intimate intercourse with them, the Third Epistle exhibits the same joy, coupled with a reference to the aiding sympathy with missionary brethren as the inviolable duty of individuals and the Church, and censures, threatens and entreats with great power.

3. The two Epistles exhibit a remarkable similarity. The beginning of 2 John 1:1 is precisely like that of 3 John 1:1 (ὁ πρεσβύτεροςἀγαπῶ ἐν ); 2 John 1:4 and 3 John 1:3 (ἐχάρηνλίαν); particularly the conclusion 2 John 1:12 (πολλὰ ἔχωνοὐκ ἐβουλήθην διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανοςἀλλὰ ἐλπίςωστόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλῆσαι), and 3 John 1:13-14 (πολλὰ εἶχονοὐ θέλω διὰ μέλανος καὶ καλάμουἐλπίζω δὲστόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλήσομεν).—These Epistles, which resemble each other like twin sisters (Düsterdieck after Hieronymus, Ep. 85), must have been written by one and the same author. This is the opinion of those who ascribe their authorship to the Apostle St. John, of Ebrard, who ascribes them to the Presbyter John, and of Baur, who regards them as writings of Montanistic origin.


1. Although similar in plan and form, they are different as to their objects and tendency.—From his acquaintance with some of the children of the κυρία, who were stanch Christians, the author of the Second Epistle took occasion to express his joy to their mother, who, as Düsterdieck, and probably correctly, supposes, had been known and endeared to him for some time, and to make known to her his paternal sympathy and encouragement, coupled, in particular, with a warning against false teachers and fellowship with them, who might prove especially dangerous to a Christian Lady, for the purpose that her joy might be full (2 John 1:12) and remain undisturbed; the announcement of his visit does not seem to belong to the real scope of the Epistle, (Düsterdieck).—The Author of the Third Epistle has been informed by missionary brethren that owing to the ambitious and domineering attitude of Diotrephes, who had also maligned the author of the Epistle for his interest on behalf of said missionaries, these had not been permanently received in the Church, with which Caius was connected, and had been compelled to move on, notwithstanding the hospitality of Caius and several other church-members similarly disposed. On this account the author of the Epistle gives notice of his coming in a short time, with a view to removing such disunion and disorder and to encouraging Caius to fearless care of the brethren.

2. In view of these simple, unequivocal relations, Baur, the head of the Tübingen School, describes the situation in a truly marvellous manner, with shocking arbitrariness. On the ground of the passage from Clement of Alexandria, cited below in § 5, Baur maintains that ἐκλεκτή is the Church, which is holy, and that the Montanists portray the ecclesia or Sponsa Christi vera, pudica, sancta; that the allegorical term Babylonia refers to Rome, as in 1 Peter v. 13; that opinions were divided in respect of Montanism; that one party led by Diotrephes, had denied church-fellowship to the Church with which the author of the Epistle was connected, but that the other party was on terms of amity and union with said Church, that this second Epistle was addressed to the Montanistic party of the Church at Rome; that Diotrephes is not a real name, but a symbolical designation of the Roman bishop, yet not of Victor (193–202), as assumed by Schwegler (Montanism p. 284), because Irenæus and Clement of Alexandria were already acquainted with these Epistles, but perhaps of Anicetus (157–168), Soter or Eleutheros (to 193); that due consideration should be given to the partisan spirit of the author of the Epistle, which made him designate the followers of Diotrephes as heathens (3 John 1:7); that the Second Epistle was addressed to the Church to which Caius belonged, and that the Epistle, alluded to at 3 John 1:9, was written to Caius.—Baur bases all this on the notice of Clement of Alexandria that the Secind Epistle was written by the Apostle St. John, and Diotrephes (Διοτρεφής), one nourished and brought up by Jews, is said to be the symbolical designation of an orthodox bishop at Rome. A Montanist is named as the author of these Epistles, which contain no Montanistic views and are not even referred to by Tertullian, the Montanist!—Hilgenfeld regards the Second Epistle as an excommunicatory writing, designed to be the official expression of an Apostolical sentence of repudiation directed against fellowship with the Gnostic false teachers, and the Third Epistle as an ἐπιστολὴ συστατική emanating from the Church of John, for the purpose of vindicating the right of that Church to issue such Epistles of commendation, which the Jewish Christians considered to be the prerogative of their venerated James, the author of the Epistle having recognized the utility of such an ordered passport-system during the Gnostic storms and commotions; cf. Huther, p. 253, sqq.


On the κυρία see notes on 2 John 1:1, and on Caius, notes on 3 John 1:1 in Exegetical and Critical.

Very curious is the view of Ewald, who supposes that the two Epistles were sent to one Church, namely, the Second Epistle addressed to the elect glorious one, to the Church; but because it might be feared that Diotrephes the elder, through whose hands the Epistle had to pass, would prevent its being publicly read at Church, the Third Epistle was on that account addressed to another well-disposed elder, viz., Caius, of the same Church. The poor support which this view derives from 3 John 1:9 is evident and shown in the Exegesis on that passage. He further alleges that the great stress of the times induced John to omit the name of the Church, which must have been one of considerable importance, because three of its elders, viz., Diotrephes, Caius, Demetrius, are mentioned. Pure conjectures!


1. History answers the question, ‘Who is the author of these Epistles?’ in the following particulars: The oldest testimony for these Epistles is that of the Muratorian Canon of the New Testament which was composed until about A. D. 170 (as stated in the Introduction to the first Epistle § 3, 1. p. 4.), and makes mention of the First and Second Epistles. From the excellent essay of Wieseler, referred to there, we have still to supply an observation on the Pauline Epistles to Philemon, Titus and Timothy. In said Canon we read (p. 828): Verum ad Philemonem una, et ad Timotheum duæ pro affectu et dilectione, in honorem tamen ecclesiœ catholicœ, in ordinatione ecclesiasticœ disciplinœ sanctificatœ sunt.—“The Epistle to Philemon probably followed immediately after the Epistles addressed to Churches, because it was addressed not only to Philemon, but also to Apphia and Archippus and to the Church in Philemon’s house (Philemon 1:2), and because the Apostolical salutation and benediction had also reference to them (Philemon 1:3; Philemon 1:25). It constituted, therefore, a sort of transition to the Epistles addressed to individuals only, viz., to those to Titus and Timothy. Yet the circumstance, that such a distinction was realty drawn in the Christian Church between Epistles addressed to individuals, and Epistles addressed to whole Churches, and that our author deemed it necessary, in the words beginning with pro affectu et dilectione, to justify the grounds on which the Epistles to Titus and Timothy were notwithstanding received into the Ecclesiastical Canon,—has a most important bearing on the history of the Canon.” (Wieseler, 1. c. p. 839). Hence it can neither be thought singular, nor subject to doubt, that, while the Second Epistle, because of its more instructive character and because the term κυρία was supposed to refer to a Church and not to an individual person, was received along with the First Epistle into the Canon, the Third Epistle, addressed to an unknown personage and without the intrinsic weight of the Pauline Pastoral Epistles, was not received into the Canon; but this of course does not deny its Johannean origin, still this is the way how it came to be reckoned among the Antilegomena. The additional clause: “ut sapientia ab amicis Salomonis in honorem ipsius scripta,” does not belong to the words preceding them which refer to the Epistle of John, but to those following: “apocalypsis etiam Johannis.” The latter, therefore, is said to have been composed by the friend of John, not by himself, but this is not asserted concerning the Epistles, as many, because of the false connection with the words preceding said clause, would like to maintain (Wieseler, 1. c. p. 846 sq.). Hence Düsterdieck’s use of the Muratorian Canon (II. p. 464 sq.), and also Huther’s (p. 248 sq.), require to be rectified in this respect.—Clement of Alexandria, the successor of Pantænus A. D. 190–220: “Secunda Johannis epistola, quœ ad virgines scripta est, simplicissima est; scripta vero est ad quandam Babyloniam Electam nomine, significat autem electionem ecclesiœ sanctœ.” (Opp. ed. Potter p. 1011). Origen, who says in his eighth homily on Joshua: “addit et Joannes tuba canere per epistolas suas,” knew several Epistles; but he says according to Euseb. Hist. Eccl., VI. 2John 25: οὐ πάντες φασὶ γνησίους εἶναι ταύτας.—Dionysius of Alexander, the disciple and successor of Origen A. D. 233, from A. D. 248 bishop, for the purpose of illustrating the Johannean diction makes use also of the Second and Third Epistles, takes accordingly no offence in the appellation: ὁ πρεσβύτερος, and calling the Second and Third Epistles φερομένη Ἰωάννου, designated them as generally received as Johannean, by tradition.—Irenæus, the disciple of Polycarp and Papias, † A. D. 202, cites 2 John 1:7 mistakenly, as Guericke says (p. 478), owing to an error of memory, as forming part of the First Epistle (adv. Hœr. III. 16. 8), but still as from the Epistles of John; he cites, however, correctly 2 John 1:11 (adv. Hær. I. 163), as from the Epistle of John (Ἰωάννης δὲ, ὁ τοῦ Κυρίου μαθητής.)—It is of course natural, that these two private Epistles were not translated in the earliest age of the Church, and consequently not inserted in the Peschito, which contains only three Catholic Epistles (James, 1 Peter, 1 John), although Ephrem the Syrian knew both Epistles,—and that citations from them are more rare occurrences, so that Tertullian and Cyprian do not make mention of them. Although Cyprian did not cite them in his own writings, he still says in relating (De Hær. bapt.) the opinions of the various bishops in the council of Carthage: “Aurelius a Chullabi dixit: Joannes Apostolus in epistola sua posuit dicens, si quis ad vos venit,” etc. 2 John 1:10; [thus clearly showing that this Epistle was received as Apostolical and Canonical in the North African Church.—M.]. On that account Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. III. 25) reckons the two Epistles among the antilegomena of the first class [still Eusebius’s own opinion may be gathered from his Demonstratio Evangelica, III. 5, where he says of St. John ἐν μὲν ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς αὐτοῦ οὐδὲ μνήμην τῆς οἰκείας προσηγορίας ποιεῖται, ἣ πρεσβύτερον ἑαυτὸν ὀνομάζει, οὐδαμοῦ δὲ , whence it would appear that he received the two smaller Epistles as genuine.” Alford.—M.]. Jerome (de vir. illustr. c. 9): “Scripsit autem Johannes et unam epistolam—quæ ab universis ecclesiasticis et eruditis Viris probatur: reliquœ autem duœ quarum principium Senior Johannis Presbyteri asseruntur.” But he calls (cap. 18) this view “opinio, quam a plerisque retulimus traditam,” and Oecumenius and Bede decidedly reject this view.—The Epistles, after having been regarded without any doubt as Johannean in the Middle Ages, were first referred to the authorship of John the Presbyter by Erasmus, who was followed by Grotius, J. D. Beck (observ. crit. exeget. specim. I.), Fritzsche (Observations on the Epistles of John in Henke’s Museum, vol. 3, 1), Ammon (Life of Jesus I. p. 45 sq.), and especially Ebrard. Almost all the modern commentators (Lücke, de Wette, Brückner, Düsterdieck, Huther) receive them as Johannean Epistles. The Tübingen school disputes their Apostolical origin and considers them, according to the opinion of its leader, as writings of Montanistic origin; but Hilgenfeld, at least, makes them originate in the subapostolic age (cf. § 3).

2. The result of the examination of the most ancient documents respecting the author of these two Epistles, which requires us to regard them as the writings of the Apostle St. John, is confirmed by the writings themselves.—The first point to be considered here is the term ὁ πρεσβύτερος. Here the author observes an incognito to all persons except those to whom he wrote, and who knew, of course, who this presbyter was. It surely was not his intention to write anonymously, because he addresses private individuals in clear and definite terms, and apprizes them of his coming to see them. The expression in question describes a superior position in general terms and in language reflecting a friendly and affectionate disposition. This is precisely St. John’s manner both in the First Epistle and in the Gospel; he thus describes himself, that only those whom it concerns, may recognize him. Bede and Oecumenius leave it undecided whether the Apostle called himself ὁ πρεσβύτερος on account of his age or on account of his office; had he used said appellation on account of his advanced years, he ought to have put either ὁ πρεσβύτης or ὁ γέρων. Hence Piscator, Er., Schmidt, Wolf, Carpzov, Sander and al., [who take this view—M.], are mistaken. The official sense of that appellation is advocated by N. de Lyra, Bartholomæus Petrus (=Episcopus, totius Asiæ primus), a Lapide, Beza, Lücke, Huther, Düsterdieck and others. Cf. 1 Peter 5:1 : συμπρεσβύτερος, and Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., III., 39, where the Apostles are called πρεσβύτεροι. John might have called himself ὁ , ὁ επίσκοπος; but he prefers thus to moderate his privileged position. Ewald assumes that it was also on account of the stress of the times that he omitted to give his own name, as well as that of the Church to which he sent the second Epistle (see above in § 4). Düsterdieck combines the official reference of this appellation with a reference to age, the then advanced years of the Apostle presupposing the years during which he had held converse with the Lord Himself; so also Aretius, Guericke, (Gesammtgeshichte des Neuen Testaments, 1854, p. 485, sq.), Benson and others. But seeing that there did exist, according to the testimony of Papias in Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., III., 39, a person different from the Apostle, called John the Presbyter, who was called ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου, it has been thought, especially on the above-cited testimony of Irenæus, that this latter was the author of these Epistles. This opinion is strenuously advocated by Ebrard. But in that case the name ought not to be wanting, as Lücke, Düsterdieck and Huther, rightly and emphatically contend; for it cannot be proved that said personage bore that name κατἐξοχὴν, especially since the diction of the Epistles clearly points to the Apostle.—The second point relates to the impress of Johannean diction and thought left on our Epistles. Compare only the following expressions: 2 John 1:1 : ἐγνωκότες τὴν , 2 John 1:2 : μένειν ἐν, 2 John 1:3 : ἐν , 2 John 1:4 : περιπατεῖν ἐν, 2 John 1:5 : ἐντολὴνκαινή, ἣν εἴχομενἀρχῆς (1 John 2:7), 1 John 2:6 : αὕτηἵνα (1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:3), καθὼς ἠκούσατεἀρχῆς, 1 John 2:7 : πλάνοι ἐξῆλθον (1 John 2:18, sq.), οἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες Ιησοῦν χριστὸν ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί (1 John 4:1-2), ὁ , v. 2 John 1:9 : μένων ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ, θεὸν οὐκ ἔχει (1 John 2:23), καὶ τὸν υἱὸν καὶ τὸν πατέρα ἔχει, 1 John 2:12 : ἵναχαρὰ ἡμῶνπεπληρωμένη (1 John 1:4), 3 John 1:1 : ἐν , 2 John 1:3-4, ἐν , 2 John 1:11 : ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστίν, οὐχ ἑώρακεν τὸν θεὸν (1Jn 3:6; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 4:8). The connection of thesis and antithesis, without simple antithesis, leading to a progression in the thought, occurs at 2Jn 1:9; 3 John 1:11. How freely is carried out the theme of 2 John 1:3 : ἐν , and then 2 John 1:4-11. Do we not identify the independent position of the author by the ἐσχόμενον ἐν σαρκί (2 John 1:7), as compared with the Perfect (1 John 4:2), and the Aorist (1 John 5:6), and his free, easy handling of his subject. This independence is recognizable in the salutation, perfectly analogous to that in the pastoral Epistles of Paul, by the ἔσται μεθὑμῶν being placed first, and then by the παρά following, instead of which Paul uses ἀπὸ (see note on the passage), and the omission of ἡμῶν, supplied by Paul. On this, as well as on the severity, alleged to be bordering on lovelessness in 2 John 1:10, compare the notes below, in Exegetical and Critical.—After what has been said, we can neither refer, with de Wette, to εἴ τις (2 John 1:10) instead of ἐάν τις, διδαχὴν φέρειν (ibid.), περιπατεῖν κατὰ (2 John 1:6), κοινωνεῖν (2 John 1:11), μειζότερος (3 John 1:4), τὸ κακόν, τὸ , as proofs against the Johannean origin of the Epistle, nor characterize, with the same intent, with Fritzsche, as Pauline the following expressions: ὑγιαίνειν, εὐοδοῦσθαι (3 John 1:2), προπέμπειν (3 John 1:6), φιλοπρωτεύειν (3 John 1:9), φλυαρεῖν (3 John 1:10), especially since the expressions used in 3 John 1:6; 3 John 1:9-10, are not found either in the writings of Paul. It is moreover rather hazardous to prove such things from single and isolated words, especially here, since the matters introduced in the Third Epistle are altogether specific, and do not bear the faintest resemblance to the circumstances, relations and subjects discussed in the First Epistle; such a disparity, of course, involves the use of different expressions. Ebrard’s attempt also, to prove that the Third Epistle, as being most unlike the First, and the Second Epistle nearly related to the Third, were not written by the Apostle St. John, but by John the Presbyter, is a failure. He discovers in the passages used, allusions, intentional reminiscences, and actually citations, and acknowledges the Author’s independence neither in the passages given above, nor “in the striking circumstance” that he uses at 2 John 1:10, εἵ τις instead of ἐάν τις, and that “at 3 John 1:11 he reproduces Johannean forms of thought, in wholly unjohannean language.” Even Ebrard is compelled to admit the similarity of the Secind Epistle to the First, both as to the identity of the doctrine taught, and the form of its expression.—Under these circumstances it seems impossible to deny the Apostolic and Johannean origin of these Epistles. They were both written by one and the same author, by an independent man, and the Secind Epistle necessitates us to go back to the author of the First, while there is at least nothing in the Third to prevent such a mode of procedure.


One thing is clear: the two Epistles were written at about the same time. It cannot be inferred from the affinity of the Secind Epistle with the First, that the former was composed after the latter, as Ebrard alleges, since only the identity of the Authors is established, but not the use of the First in the Secind. Nor can any inferences be drawn from the First Epistle not being mentioned (S. G. Lange), from the more vigorous spirit of the Second Epistle (Eichhorn), from the youthful fire in the rigoristic saying at 2 John 1:10-11. (Knauer).—But they were probably written about the same time as the First, since the circumstances of the times are probably identical in all three Epistles.


Probability points to Ephesus, as the place where they were written, before a tour of visitation (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., III., 23; Lücke, Huther, Düsterdieck).


See Introduction to the first Epistle. § 10. Also the following:
J. Sommelius, Isagoge in 2 Esther 3:0Esther 3:0 Joh. Ep. Land. 1798.

J. Rambonnet, De sec. ep. Johannea, Traj. 1818.

C. A. Heumann, Commentar über den dritten Brief des Johannes, Helmstädt. 1778.

[Augustine Marlorate, 4to. 1588.
William Jones, on the Second and Third Epistles of John, in the Commentary on Philemon, etc. Folio. London, 1635.

Samuel Smith, Exposition of the Second Epistle of St. John. 1663.

F. D. Maurice, on the 2d and 3d Epistles of St. John. Truth in the woman and the man. Epistles of St. John, 316.
J. B. Carpzovius, Commentatio in Epistolam, 2 Joannis de charitate et veritate; in Joannis Epistolam tertiam brevis enarratio. T. Rapolti Opera. 4to. Lips. 1693.—M.].