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John, The Book of 2 (Second Epistle of)

RELATED: Apostle(s), Epistle, John (the Apostle); John, The Book of 1; John The Book of 3
AUTHOR: John (the Apostle)
READ: American Standard Version, King James Version, New American Standard Bible
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

is addressed to "the elect lady," and closes with the words, "The children of thy elect sister greet thee;" but some would read instead of "lady" the proper name Kyria. Of the thirteen verses composing this epistle seven are in the First Epistle. The person addressed is commended for her piety, and is warned against false teachers.


Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

(no entry)


Smith's Bible Dictionary

The second epistle is addressed to an individual woman. One who had children, and a sister and nieces, is clearly indicated. According to one interpretation she is "the Lady Electa," to another, "the elect Kyria," to a third, "the elect Lady." The third epistle is addressed to Caius or Gaius. He was probably a convert of St. John, Epist. ( 3 John 1:4 ) and a layman of wealth and distinction, Epits. ( 3 John 1:5 ) in some city near Ephesus. The object of St. John in writing the second 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 toward the preachers of the false doctrine.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


1. Canonicity and Authorship:

It is not surprising that these brief and fugitive Epistles are among the New Testament writings which have had the hardest struggle for canonical recognition. One is probably, the other certainly, a private letter; and neither the same reason nor the same opportunity for their circulation existed, as in the case of church letters. The 2nd Epistle contains little that is distinctive; the 3rd Epistle is occupied with a vexatious episode in the internal history of a single congregation. Both are written by a person who designates himself simply as "the Presbyter"; and the names of the person (or church) to which the one is addressed and of the church with whose affairs the other is concerned are alike unknown. The fact, therefore, that, in spite of such obstacles, these letters did become widely known and eventually attained to canonical rank is proof of a general conviction of the soundness of the tradition which assigned them to the apostle John.

Like all the catholic epistles, they were unknown to the early Syrian church; when 1 John, 1 Peter and James were received into its Canon, they were still excluded, nor are they found even in printed editions of the Syriac New Testament till 1630. They were not acknowledged by the school of Antioch. Jerome distinguishes their authorship from that of the 1st Epistle. They are classed among the disputed books by Eusebius, who indicates that it was questioned whether they belonged to the evangelist or "possibly to another of the same name as he." Origen remarks that "not all affirm them to be genuine"; and, as late as the middle of the 4th century, the effort to introduce them in the Latin church met with opposition in Africa (Zahn).

On the other hand, we find recognition of their Johannine authorship at an early date, in Gaul (Irenaeus); Rome (Muratorian Canon, where, however, the reading is corrupt, and it is doubtful whether their authorship is ascribed or denied to the apostle John); Alexandria (Clement, who is reputed by Eusebius to have commented upon them, and who in his extant works speaks of John's "larger epistle," implying the existence of one or more minor epistles); Africa (Cyprian reports that 2 John was appealed to at the Synod of Carthage, 256 AD). Dionysius, Origen's disciple and successor, speaks of John's calling himself in them "the Presbyter." Eusebius, though conscientiously placing them among the antilegomena, elsewhere writes in a way which indicates that he himself did not share the doubt of their authenticity.

The internal evidence confirms the ultimate decision of the early church regarding these letters. Quite evidently the 2nd Epistle must have been written by the author of the 1st, or was an arrant and apparently purposeless piece of plagiarism The 3rd Epistle is inevitably associated with the 2nd by the superscription, "'the Presbyter," and by other links of thought and phraseology.

2. The Presbyter:

The mention of this title opens up a wide question. The famous extract from Papias (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39) vouches for the existence, among those who were or had been his contemporaries, of a certain "Presbyter" John (see JOHN, GOSPEL OF, II, 5). Jerome, moreover, speaks of the two smaller Epistles as, in contrast with the 1st, ascribed to the Presbyter (De Vir. Illustr., ix); Eusebius inclines to ascribe to him the Book of Revelation; and modern critics, like Weizsacker and Harnack, have improved upon the hint by finding in this shadowy personage the author of the Fourth Gospel. Into this far-reaching controversy, we cannot here enter. It may be noted, however, that whether, in the confusedly written passage referred to, Papias really intends to distinguish between John the Apostle and John the Presbyter is a point still in debate; and that Eusebius (Evangelica Demonstratio, III, 5) does not regard the title "Presbyter" as inapplicable to John, but observes that in his Epistles he "either makes no mention of himself or calls himself presbyter, nowhere apostle or evangelist." Dionysius, too, remarks that "in the 2nd and 3rd Epistles ascribed to him, he writes anonymously, as the Presbyter." These Fathers, both exceptionally learned men and presumably well acquainted with primitive usage, saw nothing anomalous, although they did see something characteristic, in the fact, or supposed fact, that an apostle should designate himself by the lowlier and vaguer title. In the very sentence from Papias already referred to, the apostles are called "presbyters"; not to say that in the New Testament itself we have an instance of an apostle's so styling himself (1 Peter 5:1).

To sum up, it is evident that no one desiring falsely to secure apostolic prestige for his productions would have written under so indistinctive a title; also, that these brief and very occasional letters could never have won their way to general recognition and canonical rank unless through general conviction of their Johannine authorship--the very history of these Epistles proving that the early church did not arrive at a decision upon such matters without satisfying itself of the trustworthiness of the tradition upon which a claim to canonicity was rounded; finally, the internal evidence testifies to an authorship identical with that of the 1st Epistle, so that the evidence cited regarding this is available also for those. These letters, along with Paul's to Philemon, are the only extant remains of a private apostolic correspondence which must have included many such, and for this reason, apart from their intrinsic worth, possess an interest, material and biographical, peculiar to themselves. We proceed to consider the two Epistles separately, and since an interesting question arises as to whether the 2nd is that referred to in 3 John 1:9, it will be convenient to reverse the canonical order in dealing with them.

The Second Epistle.

The letter is addressed to "the elect lady" (better, to "the lady Electa"). Its tone throughout is peculiarly affectionate; there is a warmer rush of emotion, especially in the opening verses, than is characteristic of John's usual reserve. But in these verses the keynote of the Epistle is struck--truth. The writer testifies his love for his correspondent and her children "in truth"; this love is shared by all who "know the truth" (2 John 1:1), and it is "for the truth's sake which abideth in us, and it shall be with us for ever" (2 John 1:2). What follows (2 John 1:4-9) is in effect an epitome of the 1st Epistle. After declaring his joy at finding certain of her children "walking in truth," he proceeds to expound, quite in the style of the 1st Epistle, what "walking in truth" is. It is to love one another (2 John 1:5; compare 1 John 2:7-11); but this love is manifested in keeping God's commandments (2 John 1:6 a; compare 1 John 5:2,3); and no less in stedfast adherence to the genuine doctrine of the Gospel (compare 1 John 3:23). "For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh" (2 John 1:7; compare 1 John 4:1-3). Then follows an exhortation to stedfastness (2 John 1:8), and a warning that whoever in the name of progress departs from this teaching "hath not God," while he who abides in it "hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 1:9; compare 1 John 2:23,14). This leads up to the immediately practical point, a warning to extend no hospitality and show no friendliness to the false teachers (2 John 1:10,11); and the Epistle closes with the hope of a speedy and joyful meeting "face to face" of the writer and his correspondent, to whom he conveys greetings from the children of her "elect sister."

Whether the "elect lady," or "lady Electa" of his letter is a real person or the personification of a church is a point which has been debated from ancient times and is still unsolved. The solution has been found, it is true, if we can accept the hypothesis (put forward by Zahn and Schmiedel and adopted by Findlay) that this is the letter referred to in 3 John 1:9. It is urged on behalf of this supposition that the two Epistles are curiously identical in phraseology. In both the writer begins by describing his correspondent as one whom "I love in truth"; in both he uses a distinctive phrase (echaren lian), 2 John 1:4, "I rejoice greatly," not found elsewhere in the New Testament to declare his joy at finding "thy (my) children walking in the truth"; and in both he concludes by saying that he has "many things to write," but that, looking forward to an early interview "face to face," he will not commit these further thoughts to "paper and ink." It is argued that "none but a chancery clerk could have clung so closely to his epistolary formulas" in two private letters written at different periods. But the force of this argument largely vanishes when we look at the formulas in question. If a modern writer may conclude hundreds of friendly letters by subscribing himself "yours sincerely," or something equivalent, why may not the Presbyter have commenced these two and many similar letters by assuring his correspondents that he sincerely loved them? And again, one in his official position must often have had occasion to say that he hoped soon to pay a personal visit, in view of which, writing at greater length was unnecessary. Even if the likeness in phraseology makes it probable that the two letters were written simultaneously, this by no means proves that the one was written to Gaius, the other to the church of which Gaius and Diotrephes were members. Zahn calculates that 2 John would occupy 32 lines, and 3 John not quite 31 lines of ancient writing, and infers that the author used two pages of papyrus of the same size for both letters; but why we are to identify 2 John with the letter mentioned in 3 John because both happen to fill the same size of note paper is not quite clear.

On the other hand, the difficulties in the way of this attractive hypothesis are too substantial to be set aside. The two Epistles belong to entirely different situations. Both deal with the subject of hospitality; but the one forbids hospitality to the wrong kind of guests, and says nothing about the right kind, the other enjoins hospitality to the right kind and says nothing about the wrong kind. In the one the writer shows himself alarmed about the spread of heresy, in the other, about the insubordination of a self-important official. Is it conceivable that the Presbyter should send at the same time a letter to Gaius in which he promises that he will speedily come with a rod for Diotrephes (who had carried the church along with him), and another to the church in which that recalcitrant person was the leading spirit, in which he expresses the hope that when he comes and speaks face to face their "joy may be made full"--a letter, moreover, in which the real point at issue is not once touched upon? Such a procedure is scarcely imaginable.

We are still left, then, with the question What kind of entity, church or individual, is entitled "the lady Electa"? (See ELECT LADY, where reasons are given for preferring this translation.) The address of the letter is certainly much more suggestive of an individual than of a church. After all that has been so persuasively argued, notably by Dr. Findlay (Fellowship in the Life Eternal, chapter iii), from the symbolizing of the church as the Bride of Christ, it remains very hard for the present writer to suppose that, in the superscription of a letter and without any hint of symbolism, anyone could address a particular Christian community as "the elect lady" or the "lady elect." On the other hand, the difficulties urged against the personal interpretation are not so grave as sometimes represented. The statement, "I have found certain of thy children walking in truth," does not imply that others of them were not doing so, but emphasizes what had come under the writer's personal observation. Nor can we pronounce the elevated and didactic love of the letter more suitable to a church than to an individual without taking into account the character, position and mutual relations of the correspondents. The person (if it was a person) addressed was evidently a Christian matron of high social standing--one able in a special degree to dispense hospitality, and of wide influence, one beloved of "all them that know the truth," whose words would be listened to and whose example would be imitated. And, in view of the ominous spreading of the leaven of Antichrist, it is not difficult to suppose that the Presbyter should write to such a person in such a strain. Nor does there seem to be anything especially odd in the fact of the children of a private family sending their respects to their aunt through the apostle John (Findlay). If he was intimate with that family, and in their immediate vicinity at the time of writing, it appears a natural thing for them to have done. Possibly Dr. Harris' "exploded" prehistoric countess of Huntington" is not so far astray as a modern equivalent of the lady Electa.

On the 2nd and 3rd Epistles see Commentaries: Lucke, Huther, Ebrard, Holtzmann, Baumgarten, Westcott, Plummer, Bennett, Brooke; Expositions: Findlay, Fellowship in the Life Eternal; S. Cox, The Private Letters of Paul and John; J.M. Gibbon, The Eternal Life.



bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of 2 john, define, elect kyria, elect lady, gospel, lady electa, new testament, second epistle of john, teach, warn



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