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Bible Commentaries
2 John 1

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

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2 John 1:1. The elder.—Indicating both the writer’s age and official position. Elect lady.—Or possibly, “the Elect Kyria,” Kyria being a feminine form of κύριος, “lord,” which was used as a name. But the A.V. is to be preferred. Some think that a community, or Church, is addressed; but the best point and interest of the epistle are realised if it be regarded as a private letter to an individual. It expresses the personal religious interest which the apostle felt in one particular family. Beza’s note is: “Some think Eclecta a proper name, which I do not approve, because in that case the order of the words would have been, κυρίᾳ ἐκλεκτῇ, To the Lady Eclecta. Others think this name denotes the Christian Church in general. But that is disapproved, first, by its being a manner of speaking altogether unusual; secondly, by the apostle’s expressly promising in the last two verses to come to her and her children; thirdly, by sending to her the salutation of her sister, whom also he calls Eclecta. I therefore think that this epistle was inscribed to a woman of eminence, of whom there were some here and there, who supported the Church with their wealth, and that he called her Elect, that is ‘excellent,’ and gave her the title of κυρίᾳ, ‘lady,’ just as Luke gave to Theophilus, and Paul gave to Festus, the title of κράτιστος, ‘most excellent.’ For the Christian religion does not forbid such honourable titles to be given, when they are due.” For the apostolic use of the term “elect,” compare 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Timothy 2:10. “Every Christian is elect, or chosen, out of the anti-Christian world into the kingdom of God.” We are to understand that, as this lady was a person of influence, “deceivers” were insinuating themselves into her family in order to lead her and her children away from the truth. “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. In the truth.—Or, “in truth,” i.e. sincerely; with Christian love, as distinct from personal or family affection. Have known the truth.—There is a particular interest in one another secured by a common experience of the power of saving truth. It is inferred that this lady was widely known, respected, and beloved.

2 John 1:2. Truth’s sake.—There was evidently something then commonly recognised as the standard Christian truth. It must have been that setting of truth concerning the person and redemptive work of Christ, which the apostles had given. From St. John’s writings we gather that he was supremely anxious concerning the standard truth of Christ’s person. Dwelleth in us.—This is true of the truth, and it is true if the truth be personified as Christ, who dwells in us by His Spirit (John 14:16). Plummer gives the sense of these verses thus, “The apostle and all believers love the elect lady and her children on account of the ever-abiding presence of Christ in the gift of the Spirit.”

2 John 1:3. Grace.—The free Divine favour of God. Mercy.—The Divine pitifulness towards man’s infirmities. Peace.—The spirit of him who is the recipient of Divine grace, and dealt with in the Divine mercy. Son of the Father.—Observe the distinctness with which the Father is presented as another person than the Son. “Perfect independence, parallel equality, and mutual connection.” In truth and love.—The element or sphere in which alone grace, mercy, and peace can have place. ἐν denotes the condition, circumstances, sphere, in which these blessings shall be enjoyed: “in truth,” as revealed by Him, and received by you—the knowledge and faith of Christ; “in love,” mutual between us and Him.

2 John 1:4. Walking in truth.—Compare John 8:12; 1 John 1:6-7; 1 John 2:6; 3 John 1:3-4. St. John had recently met with some of the lady’s children, and was glad to report the good impressions they had made upon him. “The elliptical mode of expression (ἐκ τῶν τέκνων) is rather common in St. John” (John 1:24; John 7:40; John 16:17; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 11:9). Bengel remarks that there must have been at least four children, for more than one were present with her, and more than one were absent.

2 John 1:5. New commandment.—John 15:12; 1 John 2:7. Love one another.—Love, as here defined, must be love in its highest and most comprehensive sense, that of which mutual Christian love is an exemplification and exercise—the love of God and our neighbour. “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 parity, 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 (compare 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)” (Sinclair).

2 John 1:7. Come in the flesh.—The veritable humanity of the Son of God is St. John’s strong point. Reference is to the teaching afterwards formulated as the Gnostic heresy, that the “Man Christ Jesus” was only the appearance of a man, and not a real human being. Deceiver.—Either one who deceives himself, is deceived, or deceives others. Antichrist.—As opposing what is absolutely vital truth concerning the person of Christ. These teachers did not merely deny the fact of the Incarnation, but also the possibility of it. “They confess not Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.”

2 John 1:8. Have wrought.—Apostolic teachings, which should bear fruit in steadfast loyalty to the truth, and righteous living in the inspiration of the truth. Full reward.—In that steadfastness and righteousness.

2 John 1:9. Hath not God.—1 John 2:23; 1 John 5:12. Only the true humanity of Christ can bring to man the true conception of God, and the true relations with God.

2 John 1:10. Bring not this doctrine.—St. John provides a means of testing all who claimed the lady’s hospitality as Christian teachers. Still it is true that the doctrine of the veritable humanity of Christ provides the true test of orthodoxy; and when that is rightly taught, the full moral influence of Christianity is efficiently secured. Receive him not into your house. This advice is given less for the lady’s own sake than for the sake of her children. Such teachers specially seek to gain influence on the young, and they can readily influence them in private home life.

2 John 1:11. God speed.—Or success in his mission. To sympathise with a false teacher is to condone his false doctrine. It should be clearly seen that St. John has in mind, not merely misguided persons, but persons who deliberately set themselves to the degrading of the Christian doctrine. We have to think of the false teachers of that age. The idea was that the Christian truth could be so presented as to give licence to immorality. It is against this that the apostles so vigorously contend. Mere variations in the forms of explaining and presenting the Christian truths should never be confounded with deliberate attempts to alter and deprave the Christian verities.

2 John 1:12. Joy may be full.—In the interchange of Christian thoughts, and the assurance that malign influences had been successfully resisted. The “Amen” is the addition of a copyist.

Note on Ancient Ink (2 John 1:12).—Pliny says, of the ink used by the Romans, 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.


Loving for the Truth’s Sake.—It is a little strange that St. John should here call himself “the elder,” especially as that term had a recognised meaning in the early Church. It indicated the chief official position, and is probably a reproduction of the eldership of the synagogue. Westcott says, “In this connection there can be little doubt that it describes not age simply, but official position.” It is not at all likely that St. John intended to allude to his advanced age, though that idea is supported by Döllinger in the following passage: “The use of the word in this epistle shows that he cannot have understood his title in the usual ecclesiastical sense, as though he were only one among many presbyters of a community. Clearly the writer meant thereby to express the singular and lofty position he held in the circle around him, as the teacher venerable for his old age, and the last of the apostles.” His calling himself “the elder” (not “fellow-elder,” as 1 Peter 5:1) suggests that, while he put himself on the level of the elders, he could not fail to regard himself as primus inter pares. The language and the thought of the apostle are so Johannine that the authorship of St. John is almost assured.

I. Christian love—love of others in Christ, and for Christ’s sake—should be regarded as the human ideal of love.—It is the highest thing attainable by-humanity. It is only attainable when man is regenerated, quickened with a new, Divine life.

II. Christian love is loving others for their own sake.—It is not something different from ordinary human love. It is that glorified. It is as capable as ever of loving the lovely, of personal attachments.

III. Christian love is loving others for the truth’s sake.—Or as we should express it, because of the common Divine life in them and us. It will be seen at once how this rises above personal love and family love, though it is in the same line. In all spheres the common life is the basis of the common love. Loving others has two objects to attain:

1. Personal enjoyment out of the loving.
2. Service rendered to those loved.

2 John 1:4-13. Peril in Going Onward.—The point of this paragraph is given in the R.V. of 2 John 1:9 : “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.” The going onward against which St. John warns is advance beyond the revealed doctrine in Christ. There is a false progress as well as a true. St. John recognises gladly the Christian love of this lady and her family, and that it showed its proper signs of loyalty and obedience to Christ’s truth. But in order that the love should be pure, that the commandments should be unimpaired, it was necessary to remember that nothing new could be added to the original message of Christ. Unauthorised developments of Divine revelation, such as are found in Gnostic or Agnostic systems, are always perilous. This lady must jealously guard her family against the pernicious influence of those who tamper with the truth, or would add to the truth. “These anti-Christian Gnostics were advanced thinkers: the gospel was all very well for the unenlightened, but they knew something higher. This agrees very well with what follows: by advancing they did not abide.” There is an advance which involves desertion of first principles; and such an advance is not progress, but apostasy.

1. There is a “going onward” which is an otherwise growing. It is unusual. It is, to say the least, doubtful. It may be healthy. It will need watching.

2. There is a “going onward” which is an out-growing. As the boy outgrows his child-clothes, so a Christian may outgrow his child-forms of thought, and want new ways for expressing old principles and truths. This may be perfectly normal and natural, and liberty in this must be permitted; provision for this must be made.

3. There is a going onward which is an in-growing. A developing of the soul’s life, which finds fitting outward expression in conduct and relations, and this is always hopeful and safe. Progress along the lines, and within the lines, is healthy. Progress beyond the lines, or aside the lines, needs most careful watching.


2 John 1:4. Walking in Truth.—Pleasant to receive letters; a surprise to receive one from a minister. A lady, mentioned in a general way, without any specific name, received one. It was from a much-loved and honoured minister. What made him write that loving letter? He had heard something about her children that greatly pleased him. “I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth.” Walking in truth: that our friends are walking in truth—that the children growing up around us are walking in truth—this is something to be glad about. By “walk” Scripture means our way of living, and acting, and sustaining relations, and meeting obligations. The figure attaches to the familiar way of regarding human life as a pilgrimage. The following ideas may be included in the term “walking in truth”:—

I. Walking straight.—A dying minister drew down to him one of his people, a man whose business relations were shaky, and solemnly said, as his parting word, “William, go straight.” Bunyan illustrates how the pilgrims are drawn aside from the straight path. Illustrate “walking straight” by the example of Joseph.

II. Walking steadily.—The idea of uprightness with steadfastness. Head uplifted. Eyes looking up. Contrast the drunkard, undecided, wavering man. Illustrate by the example of Samuel.

III. Walking with a purpose.—A man’s conduct depends upon his aim. He walks persistently who is going somewhere. Illustrate by the example of Joshua. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

IV. Walking according to directions.—As given in the great moral guide-book. Illustrate by psalm. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” “Lamp to feet, light to path.” Give Wilberforce’s figure of the strangers and pilgrims who are passing through, and the men of the world who settle down. We should be those who are passing through; and because they want to pass through well, endeavour to “walk in truth.”

2 John 1:12. Presence and Correspondence.—Having many things to write unto the elect lady and her children, whom he loved in the truth, the elder, as he wills to call himself, willed not to write with paper and ink, but trusted to come in person and speak face to face, or mouth to mouth, that their joy might be full. Joy there might be, and must be, in receiving a letter from such a penman as this. But for the fulness of joy there must be his personal presence; and in person he trusted to be with his correspondents soon, and to prove what a different meaning “face to face” has from pen, ink, and paper—that in realising the depth of that difference their joy might be full. It has been said that for anything like real friendship there must at one period have been constant and free conversation. “Letters are all very well,” and the correspondence of close friends is a comparative good in default of a positive letter; but a shrewd as well as genial authority owns to having not much faith in that friendship which is content with letters, and does not make constant efforts for the more cordial and the closer encounter of hand and eye, of actual face to face. “Without this there may be kind feeling and preference; but warmth is wanting, and warmth is essential to friendship.” Immense as is the distance between a letter and an interview, writes Madame d’Arblay to her father from abroad, “where the dearer is unattainable, its succedaneum becomes more precious than those who enjoy both can believe, or even conceive. O my dearest father, let no possible conveyance pass without giving me the sight of your hand, if it be but by your signature!” Between the sight of a hand and the warm grasp of one the difference is indeed most real. One of the Crauford worthies describes correspondence as bearing much the same relation to personal intercourse that the hortus siccus, or book of dried plants, does to the living and fresh flowers in the lanes and meadows.—Francis Jacox.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 John 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-john-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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