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Bible Commentaries
2 John 1

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 2 John 1:1-3 1The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

v. 2 John 1:1 "The elder" This title (presbuteros) is used to identify the author of both 2 and 3 John. It has a wide variety of meanings in the Bible.

The Johannine writings exhibit authorial designations in different ways.

1. the Gospel uses a cryptic phrase "the beloved disciple"

2. the first letter is anonymous

3. the second and third letters have the title "the elder"

4. Revelation, so uncharacteristic of apocalyptic writing, lists the author as "His servant John"

There has been much discussion among commentators and scholars about the authorship of these writings. They all have many linguistic and stylistic similarities and differences. At this point there is no explanation accepted by all Bible teachers. I affirm John the Apostle's authorship of them all, but this is a hermeneutical issue and not an inspirational issue. In reality the ultimate author of the Bible is the Spirit of God. It is a trustworthy revelation, but moderns just do not know or understand the literary process of its writing or compilation.


"chosen lady and her children" There has been much discussion about this title. Many have tried to assert this was written to a lady named either Electa, from the Greek word for elect or chosen (Clement of Alexandria) or Kyria, from the Greek term lady (Athanasius). However, I agree with Jerome that this refers to a church for the following reasons.

1. the Greek term for church is feminine (2 John 1:1)

2. in the LXX "elect" refers to a body of people (cf. 1 Peter 2:9)

3. this may refer to the church as the bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-8; Revelation 21:2)

4. this church has members referred to as children (cf. 2 John 1:13)

5. this church has a sister that seems to refer to another local church (cf. 2 John 1:13)

6. there is a play between the singular and the plurals throughout the chapter (singular in 2 John 1:4, 2 John 1:5, 2 John 1:13; plurals in 2 John 1:6, 2 John 1:8, 2 John 1:10, 2 John 1:12)

7. this term is used in a similar way for a church in 1 Peter 5:13

"whom" It is surprising that this is a masculine plural pronoun because it is meant to link up to either "lady," which is feminine, or "children" which is neuter. I think it was John's way of marking the phrase as symbolic.

"I love" John uses phileô synonymously with agapaô in the Gospel and Revelation, but in I, II, and 3 John he uses only agapaô (cf. 2 John 1:3, 2 John 1:5, 2 John 1:6; 1 John 3:18).

"truth" Truth is an often repeated theme (cf. 2 John 1:1[twice],2,3,4). The phrase "this teaching" in 2 John 1:9 [twice] and 10 is synonymous with "truth." This term is probably emphasized because of the local heresy that is obvious in this little letter (cf. 2 John 1:4, 2 John 1:7-10) as in 1 John.

"The truth" can refer to one of three things: (1) the Holy Spirit in John (cf. John 14:17); (2) Jesus Christ Himself (cf. John 8:32; John 14:6); and (3) the content of the gospel (cf. 1 John 3:23). See Special Topics at 2 John 1:5 and 17:3.

v. 2 John 1:2 "which abides in us" This is a present active participle of one of John's favorite terms to describe believers, "abide." See Special Topic at John 2:10. This seems to refer to the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:9; or Son, Romans 8:9-10). All the Persons of the Trinity also abide in/with/by believers (cf. John 14:23).

"will be with us forever" Truth abides in and remains with all believers forever. What a powerful statement of assurance! See Special Topic at 1 John 5:13. Truth is both the person of the gospel and the message of the gospel. This "truth" always issues in love, love for God, love for fellow covenant brothers/sisters, and love for a lost world (cf. 1 John 4:7-21).

"Forever" is literally "into the age" (cf. John 4:14; John 6:51, John 6:58; John 8:35, John 8:51; John 10:28; John 11:26; John 12:34; John 13:8; John 14:16; 1 John 2:17). See Special Topic: Forever at John 6:58.

v. 2 John 1:3 "Grace, mercy, and peace" This is a typical introduction to a Greek letter of the first century with two exceptions. First, it has been slightly altered to make it uniquely Christian. The Greek term for "greeting" is chairein. It has been altered to charis, which means "grace." This introduction is very similar to the Pastoral Epistles, 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; two of there terms are repeated in Paul's introduction to Galatians and 1 Thessalonians.

Second, the normal grammatical construction is a prayer or wish for health. However, 2 John is a statement of truth, a promise of standing with God with a desired Divine outcome.

Theologically one wonders if there is an intentional order or relationship between these terms. Grace and mercy reflect the character of God that brings a free salvation through Christ to fallen mankind. Peace reflects the recipient of God's gift. The believers experience a complete transformation. As the Fall affected all aspects of human life, so too, salvation restores, first through position (justification by faith), then by a radical shift in worldview enabled by an indwelling Spirit, which results in a progressive Christlikeness (progressive sanctification). The image of God in mankind (cf. Genesis 1:26-27) is restored!

The other possibility relates to the need for these three terms in light of the false teachers. They questioned "grace" and "mercy" and brought everything but "peace." It is also a point of interest to note that this is the only use of "mercy" (eleeôi) in all of John's writings. "Grace" (charis) is used only here, in the Gospel in 2 John 1:2 John 1:14,16,17, and Revelation (cf. 2 John 1:4; 22:21).

The Jerome Biblical Commentary mentions the fact that these three terms have OT covenant connections (p. 412). The writers of the NT (except Luke) were Hebrew thinkers, writing in Koine Greek. Much of the vocabulary of the NT has Septuagint origins.

"from God the Father and from Jesus Christ" Both nouns have the preposition (para) which grammatically puts them on equal footing. This was a grammatical way to assert the full deity of Jesus Christ.

"the Son of the Father" A continuing emphasis in 1 John is that one cannot have the Father without having the Son (cf. 1 John 2:23; 1 John 4:15; 1 John 5:10). The false teachers claimed a unique and special relationship with God, but theologically depreciated the person and work of the Son. John repeats again and again that Jesus is the (1) full revelation of the Father and (2) the only way (cf. John 14:6) to the Father.

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 2 John 1:4-6 4I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 5Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

v. 2 John 1:4 "I was very glad" This is an aorist passive (deponent) indicative. Possibly the Elder heard about this church from some of its traveling members.

"to find some of your children walking in truth" This refers either to

1. godly, loving lives of some in the church (cf. 2 John 1:3-4)

2. a way of acknowledging the presence of heretics within the congregation who had led some astray

"just as we have received commandment to do from the Father" This is an aorist active indicative which refers to the giving of the commandment to love one another, even as Jesus loved them (cf. John 13:34-35; John 15:12; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11-12, 1 John 4:21).

v. 2 John 1:5 "we have had from the beginning" This is an imperfect active indicative which refers to the beginning of Jesus' teaching (cf. 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:24; 1 John 3:11). The content of the commandment is reaffirmed as "love for one another" (cf. 2 John 1:5) and "acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" (cf. 2 John 1:7). Notice it is content, personal and lifestyle.

"that we love one another" This is a present active subjunctive (as is the last verb in this verse, walk). It was characteristic of the heretics to be exclusivistic and unloving. This forms the first of John's three tests for how one knows he is a Christian. In the book of 1 John these three tests are: love, lifestyle, and doctrine. These three tests are repeated in 2 John.

1. love (cf. 2 John 1:5; 1 John 2:7-11; 1 John 3:11-18; 1 John 4:7-12, 1 John 4:16-21; 1 John 5:1-2)

2. obedience (cf. 2 John 1:6; 1 John 2:3-6; 1 John 3:1-10; 1 John 5:2-3)

3. doctrinal content (cf. 2 John 1:7; 1 John 1:1ff; 1 John 2:18-25; 1 John 4:1-6, 1 John 4:14-16; 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:5, 1 John 5:10)

v. 2 John 1:6 "And this is love" Love (agapç) is an ongoing (present tense) action, not just a feeling. Love is "the sign" of all true believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:0; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-21).

"from the beginning" See note at 1 John 1:1. I think the phrase is used in 1 John and 2 John as a reference to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

"walk in it" Christianity is an initial commitment and a lifestyle change (cf. 1 John 2:6). Our lifestyle does not save us, but it does verify that we are saved (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 John 1:2:10).

Verses 7-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 2 John 1:7-11 7For may deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teachings of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Song of Solomon 1:0; Song of Solomon 1:00If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

v. 2 John 1:7 "For many deceivers" The word "deceivers" comes from the Greek word planç, from which we get the English term "planet." In the ancient world the movement of the heavenly bodies was mapped and studied (zodiak). The stars fit into stable patterns, but some stars (i.e., planets) moved irregularly. The ancients called them "wanderers." This developed metaphorically into those who wander from the truth.

These false teachers are not just sincerely wrong or misled persons who are ignorant of the gospel. In John's writings both the Pharisees and the false teachers rebel against the clear light they have received. This is why their rebellion is characterized as "the unpardonable sin" or "the sin unto death" (see notes at 1 John 5:16). The tragedy is that they also caused others to follow them to destruction. The NT clearly reveals that false teachers will appear and cause great problems (cf. Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; 1 John 2:26; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 4:1).

"have gone out into the world" The world here is simply our physical planet. These false teachers have either left the Christian church (cf. 1 John 2:19) or they are on missionary assignments (cf. 2 John 1:3 John).

"those who do not acknowledge" This is the term homologeô, which implies a public profession and confession of faith in Christ. See SPECIAL TOPIC: Confession at John 9:22-23.

"Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" These deceivers continue in their false teachings about the person of Christ. This verse repeats the admonition to "test the spirits" of 1 John 4:1-6, especially as they relate to Jesus' full humanity (cf. John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16). Gnosticism affirmed an eternal dualism between "spirit" (God) and "matter" (flesh). To them, Jesus could not be fully God and fully man.

There seems to have been at least two theological streams within early Gnostic thought.

1. denial of Jesus' humanity (Docetic); He appeared to be human, but was a spirit

2. denial that Christ died on the cross; this group (Cerinthian) asserted that the "Christ spirit" came on the man Jesus at his baptism and left Him before He died on the cross

It is possible that the present tense, "coming in the flesh," is John's way of rejecting Cerinthian Gnosticism and 1 John 4:1-6 is his way of rejecting Docetic Gnosticism.

"This is the deceiver and the antichrist" In 1 John 2:18 there is a distinction between the plural "antichrists" and the singular "the Antichrist." The plural had come in John's day and they had left the churches (cf. 1 John 2:19), but the singular is projected into the future (see "the man of lawlessness" in 2 Thessalonians 2:0). However, in this verse, the singular is used, like the plural in 1 John 2:18-25.

v. 2 John 1:8 "watch yourselves" This is a Present active imperative. It is the term "see" (blepô), used metaphorically for a warning against evil (cf. Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5; Luke 21:8; Acts 13:40; 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 5:12; Hebrews 12:25). Believers are responsible for discerning error because

1. they know the gospel

2. they have the Spirit

3. they have ongoing fellowship with Christ

NASB"that you do not lose what we have accomplished" NKJV"that we do not lose those things we worked for" NRSV"so that you do not lose what we have worked for" TEV"so that you will not lose what we have worked for" NJB"or all our work will be lost"

There is a Greek manuscript variation in this verse related to the first pronoun: should it be "you" (NASB, NRSV, TEV) or "we" (NKJV)? The UBS4 text supports "you," meaning the believers addressed might not accomplish the goals of the gospel given them by the Apostolic witness.

"but that you may receive a full reward" This is an aorist subjunctive which points back to their reception of the gospel. The subjunctive's contingency is not related to their salvation, but the maturity and expansion of the gospel through them (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:10, 1 Corinthians 15:14, 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).

v. 2 John 1:9

NASB"Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ" NKJV"Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ" NRSV"Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ" TEV"Anyone who does not stay with the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it" NJB"If anybody does not remain in the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it"

First, notice the negative use of pas. The gospel invitation is to "all," but unfortunately so also is the potential for heresy. This potential heresy is characterized by two present active participles: "goes beyond" and "does not abide." The first "going beyond" may have been a catchword for the false teachers' implying they had advanced truth beyond the eyewitness Apostles. Believers are characterized by the word of truth abiding in them (cf. John 8:31; John 15:7; 1 John 2:14, the negative in John 5:38; 1 John 1:10). See Special Topic on Perseverance at John 8:31 and Apostasy at John 6:64.

The genitive phrase "of Christ" could refer to

1. teachings of Christ

2. teachings about Christ

3. John's common double meanings

Genitives are numerous and vague! Only context can determine the intended meanings but often, as here, they overlap.

"does not have God" The "teaching of Christ" and the "truth" of v. 2 John 1:2 are parallel. False teachers and their followers have no reward (cf. v. 2 John 1:8). They are spiritually lost and not with God because to have the Father one must have the Son (cf. 1 John 5:10-12). The use of the verb "has" (twice, present active indicative) with God is found only here and 1 John 2:23.

v. 2 John 1:10 "If" This is a first class conditional sentence assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. False teachers will come!

"do not receive him into your house" This is a present active imperative with the negative particle which often implies the stopping of an act in process (the context must determine).

The "house" could refer to Christian hospitality (cf. Matthew 25:35; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9 or 3 John 1:5-6), but in context it probably refers to inviting a traveling minister to speak to the house church (cf. Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2).

"and do not give him a greeting" This is another present active imperative with the negative particle. Do not identify yourself with this "so-called Christian." Any hint of fellowship might be misunderstood as approval (cf. 2 John 1:11). This statement is very hard to apply to today. So many claim to be Christians. Yet in an attempt to share with them we must be cordial and engaging in conversation. Still, Christian leaders must beware of any identification with heresy. This, of course, does not apply to Christian denominations!

Verses 12-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 2 John 1:12-13 12Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full. 13The children of your chosen sister greet you.

v. 2 John 1:12 "have many things to write to you" This is similar to the ending of 3 John 1:13-14.

"your joy may be made full" This is a perfect passive subjunctive periphrastic of purpose (a purpose clause shows contingency). This was a common theme in John (cf. John 3:29; John 15:11; John 16:24; John 17:13; 1 John 1:4). This joy was based on

1. the presence of the teacher

2. the knowledge of truth that he brought

John mentioned his "joy" in 2 John 1:4 at the continuing walk of love and obedience.

v. 2 John 1:13 This verse, like 2 John 1:1, uses metaphorical language to speak of a sister church and its members.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on 2 John 1". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/2-john-1.html. 2021.
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