The Second Epistle and the Third Epistle of John
In these two short epistles the author introduces himself as the “elder” (Greek presbyteros). This term hardly describes the office of an elder in the assembly for it was generally restricted to a certain place or locality. See section on elders in Elders, in First Epistle to Timothy .
As a matter of fact, during the last third of the 1st century the Apostle John was the last of the pillars of the assembly (comp. Gal. 2:9) to remain alive. The term “elder” is therefore to be considered a title of honour for this old apostle and it would express his old age and general estimation. Similarly, Peter calls himself “an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1).
The first known allusion to 2 John is found with Polycarp (around 70 to 155 AC). Irenaeus (around 140 to 202), Clemens of Alexandria (150 to 215) and the Muratori Canon (end of 2nd century) already confirm that John is the author of these two epistles. – Various researchers claim, however, that the author is “John the Presbyter”, a man otherwise unknown. But this assertion has not found general acceptance.
Language, contents and length of the two epistles point to the same author. The close connection to the Gospel of John and to the First of John has often been emphasised. One can consider these two epistles – which are of a relatively private character – as addition to the First Epistle of John. They express how to realise Christian truth in faith and love in various situations. The main subjects of the epistles are truth and love.
Typical expressions for John are the following: from the beginning (2 John 5:6), commandment (2 John 4.5.6), antichrist (2 John 7), joy may be full (2 John 12), my children (3 John 4), and ‘of God’ (3 John 11).
Time of Writing
The similarity of the outer form (especially so at the beginning and end) would not only indicate the same author but also the same time of writing. As the contents presupposes the knowledge of 1 John they have probably been written a little later, that is after 90 AC.
The Second Epistle of John (1 Chapter)
The Second Epistle of John is addressed to “the elect lady” (Greek eklekte kyria). There has been much speculation over this salutation. Was it the simple salutation of a Christian widowed lady or of a lady having an unbelieving husband or was it simply her name? Or was it, as various researchers have assumed – probably incorrectly – the salutation of a local church?
The last possibility is out of question for nowhere in the NT a local church is called “elect” or even “lady”. Only individual believers are elected by God (Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:2) and this in one Lord only, in Jesus Christ. Even more difficulties arise with the expression “the children of thy elect sister” in verse 13. It is therefore much easier to relate these salutations to a believing lady, her sister and her children. Peter also refers to his wife as “she that is elected” (Darby Translation only) in 1 Peter 5:13.
We do not know who was the lady to whom the old Apostle John addressed his epistle to, neither do we know where she lived.
2. Purpose of Writing
This epistle is the only one in the NT addressed to a lady. The addressee with her children obviously was in a difficult situation. She was menaced by the same heresy which we see in 1 John 4:2 already. It was the denial of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, or the contention that the man Christ Jesus is not the eternal Son of God (compare 1 John 2:22; 5:5-20). This is the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 2:18.22; 2 John 7).
Now there was the danger that this Christian lady thought as follows: I am neither in a position nor called to withstand such heresies neither as a woman nor in respect to my weakness. In addition to that we ought to show the love of God towards our fellow-believers and towards all men. – With sympathetic understanding but also with distinctiveness the apostle John states that Christian love will always be guided and determined by truth. This love cannot freely be developed towards people who attack or deny this divine truth. John therefore writes to the lady that she has to withdraw from such in order not be soiled herself. And such a sister is able and called to do also.
The subject of the epistle therefore is love guided by truth. The keyword is “receive not!” The word truth is mentioned 5 times and love/to love 4 times.
3. The Third Epistle of John (1 Chapter)
1. Addressee and Purpose of Writing
The recipient of the Third Epistle of John bears the name Gaius. This Latin name was very common at that time. We find it five times in the NT, with various people (Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14; 3 John). We do not know how many different people are spoken of neither do we know if the recipient of John’s third epistle was identical with one of them.
This epistle is directed to one brother only (as is the epistle to Philemon). Various subjects are talked about. First of all, one notices the love with which John is writing to Gaius. He calls him “beloved” four times (verses 18.104.22.168).
The main subject of the first part is walking in truth. Then John writes of brothers who served the assemblies by preaching the Word of God in various places. These Gaius kindly received but they were not received by Diotrephes who loved to have the pre-eminence among them. Finally, a certain Demetrius is mentioned as a positive example.
The subject of this epistle which is a counterpart to the second epistle therefore is: to hold fast the truth in love. The keyword is “receive!”Love/to loveandtruthare mentioned six times each.