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John, Second And Third Epistles of.

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The title catholic does not properly belong to the 2d and 3d Epistles. It became attached to them, although addressed to individuals, because they were of too little importance to be classed by themselves, and, so far as doctrine went, were regarded as appendices to the 1st Epistle.

I. Authorship.

1. The external evidence for the genuineness of these two Epistles is less copious and decisive than that for the 1st Epistle. They are not in the Peshito version, which shows that at the time it was executed they were not recognized by the Syrian churches; and Eusebius places them among the ἀντιλεγόμενα (H.E. 3, 25). (See ANTILEGOMENA). The 11th verse of the 2d Epistle, however, is quoted by Irenaeus (Hoer. 1, 16, 3) as a saying of John, the disciple of the Lord, meaning thereby, without doubt, the apostle. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 2), in referring to John's 1st Epistle, uses the wordsΙ᾿ωάννης ἐν τῇ μείζουι ἐπιστολῇ, which shows that he was acquainted with at least two Epistles of John; there is extant, in a Latin translation, a commentary by him on the 2d Epistle; and, as Eusebius and Photius both attest that he wrote commentaries on all the seven catholic Epistles, it would appear that he must have known and acknowledged the 3d also. If the Adumsbrationes are Clement's, he bears direct testimony to the 2d Epistle (Adambr. p. 1011, edit. Potter). Origen speaks of the apostle John having left a 2d and 3d Epistle, which, however, he adds, all did not accept as genuine (In Joan. ap. Eusebius, 6, 25). Dionysius of Alexandria (ibid. 7, 25) recognizes them as productions of the same John who wrote the Gospel and the 1st Epistle and so do all the later Alexandrian writers. Eusebius himself elsewhere refers to them (Dem. Evang. 3, 5) without hesitation as John's; and in the synod held at Carthage (A.D. 256), Aurelius, bishop of Chullabi, confirmed his vote by citing 2 John 1:10 sq. as the language of the apostle John (Cyprian, Opp. 2, 120, ed. Oberthü r). Ephrem Syrus speaks of them in the same way in the fourth century. In the fifth century they are almost universally received. A homily, wrongly attributed to St. Chrysostom, declares them uncanonical. In the Muratori Fragment, which, however, in the part relating to the Epistles of John, is somewhat confused or apparently vitiated, there are at least two Epistles of John recognized, for the author uses the plural in mentioning John's Epistles. In all the later catalogs, with the exception of the Iambics ad Seleucum, they are inserted with the other canonical books of the N.T. There is thus a solid body of evidence in favor of the genuineness of these epistles. That they were not universally known and received is probably to be accounted for by their character as private letters to individuals, which would naturally be longer in coming under general recognition than such as were addressed to churches or the Christians of a district.

The only antagonistic testimony which has reached us from antiquity is that of Jerome, who says (De vir. Illust. 9, 18) that both epistles were commonly reputed to be the production, not of John the apostle, but of John the presbyter, confirmed by the statement of Eusebius (3, 25) that it was doubtful whether they were the production of the evangelist or of another John. On this it may be observed, 1. That the statement of Jerome is certainly not true in its full extent, for there is evidence enough that both in his own time and before, as well as after it, the general belief, both in the Latin and the Greek churches, was that they were written by John the apostle.

2. Both Jerome and Eusebius concur in attesting that all ascribed these Epistles either to John the apostle or John the presbyter as their author, which may be accepted as convincing evidence that they are not forgeries of an age later than that of the apostle.

3. The question being between John the apostle and John the presbyter, we may, without laying stress on the fact that the existence of the latter is, to say the least, involved in doubt, (See JOHN THE PRESBYTER), call attention to the consideration that, while the use of the expression πρεσβύτερος by the writer of the 2d Epistle may have given rise to the report which Jerome and Eusebius attest, there lies in this a strong evidence that the writer was John the apostle, and not John the presbyter; for it is quite credible that the former, writing in his old age, should employ the termπρεσβύτερος to express this fact just as Paul does (Philemon 1:9), and as Peter does (1 Peter 5:1), whereas it is incredible that the latter, with whom presbyter was a title of office, should in writing a letter to an individual, designate himself thus, inasmuch as, the office being common to him with many others, the title, in the absence of his name, was no designation at all, to say nothing of the fact that there is no evidence that the members of the πρεσβυτήριον in the primitive churches ever received πρεσβυτερος as a title, any more than the members of the Church, though collectively οἱ ἃγιοι received individually ἃγιος or ἀδελφός as a title (see below). On these grounds there seems to be no reason for attaching much importance to the opinion or tradition reported by Jerome, though it has been adopted by Erasmus, Grotius, Credner, Jachmann (Comm. ü b. d. Kathol. Br.), and more recently by Ebrard (Olshausen, Comment. 6, 4, E.T. vol. 10. and in Herzog, Encyc. 6, 736). A late writer (Willichen, Der geschichtliche Charakter; des Ev. Joh. Elberf. 1869) holds that the 2d and 3d Epistles are the production of disciples of John the apostle.

2. If the external testimony is not as decisive as we might wish, the internal evidence is peculiarly strong. Mill has pointed out that of the thirteen verses which compose the 2d Epistle, eight are to be found in the 1st Epistle. Either, then, the 2d Epistle proceeded from the same author as the 1st, or from a conscious fabricator who desired to pass off something of his own as the production of the apostle; but, if the latter alternative had been true the fabricator in question would assuredly have assumed the title of John the apostle instead of merely designating himself as John the elder, and he would have introduced some doctrine which it would have been his object to make popular. The title and contents of the Epistle are strong arguments against a fabricator, whereas they would account for its nonuniversal reception in early times; and if not the work of a fabricator, it must, from style, diction, and tone of thought, be the work of the author of the 1st Epistle, and, we may add, of the Gospel. The private nature of their contents removes also the suspicion that they could have been forged, since it would be difficult to discover any purpose which could have led to such a forgery.

The reason why John designates himself as πρεσβύτερος rather than ἀπόστολος (2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1) is no doubt the same as that which made Peter designate himself by the same title (1 Peter 5:1), and which caused James and Jude to give themselves no other title than "the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1), "the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James" (Judges 1:1). Paul had a special object in declaring himself an apostle. Those who belonged to the original Twelve had no such necessity imposed upon them. With them it was a matter of indifference whether they employed the name of apostle, like Peter (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1), or adopted an appellation which they shared with others, like John, and James, and Jude. (See ELDER).

II. The second Epistle is addressed to one whom the writer calls ἐκλεκτὴ κυρία. This has been differently understood. By some it has been regarded as designating the Church collectively, by others as designating a particular congregation, and by others as denoting an individual. This expression cannot mean the Church (Jerome), nor a particular church (Cassiodorus), nor the elect Church which comes together on Sundays (Michaelis), nor the Church of Philadelphia (Whiston), nor the Church of Jerusalem (Whitby). These opinions are rendered improbable partly by the reference in 2 Peter 1:11 to the children, and in 2 Peter 1:13 to the sister of the party addressed, partly by the want of any authority for such a usage of the termκυρία as would thus be imputed to the apostle. By those who understand this of an individual there are three renderings: according to one interpretation she is "the lady Electa;" to another, "the elect Kyria;" to a third, "the elect lady." The first interpretation is that of Clement of Alexandria (if the passage above referred to in the Adunbrationes be his), Wetstein, Grotius, Middleton; the second is that of Benson, Carpzov, Schleusner, Heumann, Bengel, Rosenmü ller, De Wette, Lü cke, Neander, Davidson; the third is the rendering of the English version, Mill, Wall, Wolf; Le Clerc, Lardner, Beza, Eichhorn, Newcome, Wakefield, Macknight. For the rendering "the lady Electa" to be right, the word κυρία must have preceded (as in modern Greek) the word ἐκλεκτῇ, not followed it; and, further, the last verse of the Epistle, in which her sister is also spoken of as ἐκλεκτή, is fatal to the hypothesis. The rendering "the elect lady" is probably wrong, because there is no article before the adjective ἐκλεκτῇ . It remains that the rendering "the elect Kyria" is probably right, though here too we should have expected the article as, indeed, we should under any of the three renderings (though the rendering "an elect lady" is not demanded; see Alford, Gr. Test. vol. 5, prolegg.). The choice, therefore, being between the last two of these renderings, two circumstances seem to be decisive in favor of the former: Kyria occurs elsewhere as a proper name, (See CYRIA); and that ἐκλεκτή is to be taken in its usual signification is rendered probable by its being applied in 2 Peter 1:13 to the sister of the party addressed. (See ELECTA).

At the time of writing this Epistle the apostle was with the sister of the lady addressed, but expresses a hope ere long to see the latter, and converse with her on matters of which he could not then write. From this we may infer either that the apostle was at the time on a journey from which he expected ere long to return, or that the lady in question resided not very far from his usual residence, and that he intended soon to pay her a visit. Adopting the latter hypothesis as the more probable, and viewing it in connection with the apostle's styling himself πρεσβύτερος, we may infer that the Epistle was written at a late period of the apostle's life.

The object of the apostle in writing the 2d Epistle was to warn the lady to whom he wrote against abetting the teaching known as that of Basilides and his followers, by perhaps an undue kindness displayed by her towards the preachers of the false doctrine. After the introductory salutation, the apostle at once urges on his correspondent the great principle of love, which with him (as we have before seen) means right affection springing from right faith and issuing in right conduct. The immediate consequence of the possession of this love is the abhorrence of heretical misbelief, because the latter, being incompatible with right faith, is destructive of the producing cause of love and therefore of love itself. This is the secret of John's strong denunciation of the "deceiver," whom he designates as "Antichrist." Love is with him the essence of Christianity, but love can spring only from right faith. Wrong belief, therefore, destroys love, and with it Christianity. Therefore says he, "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed, for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 1:10-11).

III. The third Epistle is addressed to Caius, a Christian brother noted for his hospitality to the saints. Whether this be one of those mentioned elsewhere in the N.T. by this name is uncertain; he may have been the same mentioned Acts 19:28. (See GAIUS).

The apostle writes for the purpose of commending to the kindness and hospitality of Caius some Christians who were strangers in the place where he lived. It is probable that these Christians carried this letter with them to Caius as their introduction. It would appear that the object of the travellers was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles without money and without price (3 John 1:7). The apostle had already written to the ecclesiastical authorities of the place (ἐγραψα 3 John 1:9, not "scripsissem," as the Vulg.), but they, at the instigation of Diotrephes, had refused to receive the missionary brethren, and therefore the apostle now commends them to the care of a layman. It is probable that Diotrephes was a leading presbyter who held Judaizing views, and would not give assistance to men who were going about with the purpose of preaching solely to the Gentiles. The apostle intimates the probability of his soon personally visiting the church, when he would deal with Diotrephes for his misconduct, and would communicate to Caius many things of which he could not then write. In the mean time he exhorts him to follow that which is good, commends one Demetrius, and concludes with benediction and salutation. Whether this Demetrius (3 John 1:12) was a tolerant presbyter of the same community, whose example John holds up as worthy of commendation in contradistinction to that of Diotrephes, or whether he was one of the strangers who bore the letter, we are now unable to determine.

From their general similarity, we may conjecture that the two epistles were written shortly after the 1st Epistle from Ephesus. They both apply to individual cases of conduct the principles which had been laid down in their fulness in the 1st Epistle.

IV. Commentaries. The following are the exegetical helps on the whole of both the latter epistles exclusively, in addition to those noticed above: Jones, Commentary [including Philem. etc.] (Lond. 1635, fol.); Smith, Exposition [on 2d Epistle] (Lond. 1663, 4to); Sonntag, Hypomnemata (Altorf, 1697, 8vo); Feustking, Commentarius (Vitemb. 1707, fol.); Verpoorten, Exercitationes (Gedan. 1741, 4to); Heumann, Commentar [on 3d Epist.] (Helmst. 1778, 8vo); Mü ller, Commentarius [on 2d Epist.] (Schleiz, 1783, 4to); Sommel, Isogoge (Lond. 1798, 4to); Rambonnet, Specimen, etc. [on 2d Epistle] (Tr. ad Rh. 1818, 8vo); Gachon, Authenticité, etc. (Montaub. 1851, 8vo); Cox, Private Letters of Sts. Paul and John (Lond. 1867, 8vo). (See COMMENTARY).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'John, Second And Third Epistles of.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/j/john-second-and-third-epistles-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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