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- 2 John
by Philip Schaff
INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND AND THIRD EPISTLES OF ST. JOHN.
I. EXTERNAL: AUTHORSHIP AND APOSTOLICITY.
IT may be taken for granted that these Epistles were written by the same author. According to the almost unanimous tenor of tradition, this was the Evangelist John. For instance, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Dionysius, and Alexander of Alexandria expressly quote from them as his. Origen and Eusebius refer to the two Epistles as suspected by many, but apparently without sharing the doubt themselves. Jerome mentions a current opinion that they were written by a Presbyter John, of whose existence we have only the insufficient witness of Papias as quoted by Eusebius. While it is easy to understand how such a man as Papias should confuse the tradition, it is hard to believe that two writers of the same name should so closely resemble each other in style and tone and authority. Erasmus revived this idea, which had never during the Middle Ages disturbed the tradition of the apostolical origin; and in later times it has been maintained on the ground of certain phrases occurring in the two smaller documents which are absent from the larger one. But in familiar Epistles to individuals such new phrases might be expected; and, though they are striking, they are lost in the multitude of express coincidences in phraseology. The term ‘Presbyter’ applied to himself by the writer has also been pleaded against the apostolical authorship. But without reason: St. John rarely mentions himself, never his apostolical authority; and the term Presbyter might be used as St. Peter used it, or as St. Paul called himself ‘Paul the elder’ or ‘the aged.’ Granting that St. John wrote these Epistles, we may suppose that they were written after, but not long after, the First; and from the same place, Ephesus.
II. INTERNAL: CHARACTERISTICS.
I. The Second Epistle stands alone in the New Testament as addressed to a Christian household. It is written to a Matron of note and her children, commending the piety of some members of the family whom the apostle had met, and warning them against the intrusion into their circle of false teachers. Hence it is the worthy pendant of the Third Epistle, which is written to a Christian man occupying an equally important position in his community. It was held by some in ancient times, and by many in later, that the ‘lady’ was a symbolical expression for the church, or a particular church. A preliminary objection to this is that there is no precedent for such an allegorical mode of expression, nor any obvious reason for it; and then a careful comparison of the two Epistles will suggest that individuals are addressed in both.
The other controversy, as to whether the term rendered ‘lady’ ought to be regarded as a proper name, cannot easily be settled: the balance preponderates in favour of Kyria being the name of the matron who receives the letter
II. The Third Epistle sheds an impressive light upon the state of the Church when about to lose the light of inspiration and the apostolic presence. St. John’s authority in a church probably not founded by himself, was contested even as St. Paul’s had been, though for a different reason: it is possible that the extreme age and venerableness which should have secured him honour encouraged a factious and bigoted enemy of the missionary Gospel to oppose him. The immediate occasion of the resistance of Diotrephes and his company was the apostle’s recommendation of certain evangelists to the hospitality and general help of this community. St. John’s request might have been sent by the hands of Demetrius, whose character, as opposed to that of Diotrephes, is stamped with the most emphatic approval. The issue we do not know, nor indeed anything further about the controversy. But we have a rich side light thrown on the virtue of hospitality, on the missionary activity of the church, and on the apostle’s consciousness of high authority. The term church itself, mentioned so often, is important against those who misconstrue the absence of it from the First Epistle: in both the all-essential matter is fellowship with the Father and the Son in and through the Spirit; but in both there is evidently an organized fellowship among Christians, though in the Second only is it called a Church. It is, however, the exhibition of what may be called Family Religion that gives this Epistle, by the side of the Second, so deep and lasting an interest at the close of the canonical Scriptures.
the Second Week of Advent