The Second Epistle of St. John the Apostle
This brief letter is addressed to the Lady Elect. Efforts have been made to prove that this title designates an individual, but the prevailing and more probable opinion is that reference is made to a local congregation.
The author, St. John the Apostle, stresses his favorite theme of fraternal love, and warns against certain false teachers who denied the reality of our Lord’s Incarnation.
The Epistle was probably written from Ephesus some time after the year A.D. 90. The local congregation, styled Lady Elect, was probably located in Asia Minor.
From: The New Testament,
Translated by J.A. Kleist, S.J., and J.L. Lilly, C.M.
This Is an earnest exhortation to practical charity, and a warning against false teachers. After a rather lengthy salutation, St John expresses his joy that the persons addressed live according to the true faith, and he implores them earnestly to love one another. By so doing they will keep the commandments. Let them be on guard against seducers, who deny the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and have the spirit of Antichrist. Let them continue to hold the doctrine of Christ, and refuse to communicate with heretics. Further instructions will be imparted by word of mouth when he comes to them.
From: A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture.
Thomas Nelson & Sons
Index of Reflections and Related Text
This page is a work in progress:
(Meanwhile, please scroll down to chosen reading.)
1. 2 John: 1 — 3
2. 2 John: 4 — 6
3. 2 John: 7 — 8
4. 2 John: 9
5. 2 John: 10 and 11
6. 2 John: 12 and 13
The Second Epistle of St. John the Apostle
Reflections and Related Text
1. 2 John verses 1 to 3
The Presbyter to the chosen Lady and to her children whom
I love in truth – and not only I but also all who know the truth –
because of the truth that dwells in us and will be with us forever.
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father
and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son in truth and love.
In this short reading St. John greets the recipients of his letter, introducing himself as the “presbyter” or (in some translations) the “ancient”. Here, this ‘title, however it is translated into English, is used more in its original meaning “elder”, without excluding the added meaning of priest and even bishop. Since St. John calls himself “the elder” the title was most probably conferred on him by the Christians of Asia Minor because of his advanced age and their high regard for him. The title always indicates authority.
Typically, St. John launches straight into the heart of the matter: it is the common possession of the truth which unites Christians. He is thought to be making reference here to the divine presence itself, echoing our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel St. John himself recorded. (see St. John 14) We will develop this a little further on.
The Apostle expresses high regard and love for the persons addressed, which sentiments, he remarks, are shared by all the faithful. He wishes them ‘grace …. mercy and peace’. This is not a mere politeness. These are three special words used in the Covenant writing of the Old Testament and are used here to refer to the relationship between God and each Christian. This relationship is built on the means God has provided for us — His Son, Jesus Christ — dispenser of divine grace.
2. 2 John verses 4 to 6
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking
in the truth just as we were commanded by the Father.
But now, Lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing
a new commandment but the one we have had from the
beginning: let us love one another.
For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments;
this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning,
in which you should walk.
Exhortation to Fraternal Charity — The writer opens on a note of joy, the cause of which is the faith and charity ‘of some of your children’. He praises what he can, before pointing out what needs correction. The ‘commandment from the Father’ is to walk in truth, i.e. live according to Biblical principles as they have been expounded by the Apostles.
Some writers explain St. John’s exhortations as though he sees the Church as a totally new creation, disconnected from its Jewish roots. St. John was very aware that those taught from his letters, were from mixed backgrounds, Jewish and non-Jewish. When he talks of, “…..the commandment that we have received from the Father”, he is not referring to a specific item, but in fact the whole development of the concept of Divine Commandments of love:
• Dt. 6: 4 (cont), in summary, “You shall love God with all your might!”
• Lev. 19: 18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!”
The local Church to which the epistle is addressed has been exposed to the false doctrine, which St. John dealt with in his first epistle. He is concerned that some of its members are in danger of being infected by it. However others have resisted the destructive teaching and the purpose of this epistle is to encourage on-going strong resistance.
As was his constant advice, the safeguard against every evil is in fulfilling the commandment of love, which includes every other commandment. This is not intended to be a mind-stretcher. It is a simple truth that when we love, in the true sense of the word, we draw on every virtue we have tried to practise, and this makes our love stronger, purer, and more powerful. Whilst this is true for an individual, it is true also for a Christian community. He implies that when the strength and purity of our love are allowed to dwindle, the power to resist false teaching and it allurements will likewise weaken, and a flood of error could potentially overcome us at any time.
3. 2 John verses 7 and 8
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do
not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is
the deceitful one and the antichrist.
Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for
but may receive a full recompense.
St. John has already established in verse 1 that it is the common possession of truth that unites Christians. The implication of this, of course, is that when loyalty to the truth bequeathed to the Church by her divine Founder, our Lord Jesus Christ, becomes divided, the distortion, disintegration and final collapse follow naturally. St. John focuses on the critically essential faith in the divinity and incarnation of Jesus Christ: that is, the mystery of God the Son becoming a human being and living as one of us, in our midst. He comes straight out with a clear warning to the Church at all times: seducers are seeking to undermine this truth in many subtle ways which all tend towards the down-grading of Christ’s unique position and role.
St. John cautions the faithful to examine carefully their own beliefs and actions and discern whether they confirm to what has been passed down to them by our Lord and His appointed Apostles. Failure to carry out such an evaluation is likely to endanger the true Faith and permit ruin and loss of all that has been gained as well as all that has been promised in the final return of the Lord. Make sure, he says, that what you believe and do will keep you on the path to heaven, and be vigilant of those who will try to deflect you.
This point is particularly important. St. John is emphatic: “Look to yourselves”. The tradition passed down in the Church is that we are to look for and identify the “speck: in our own eye before we complain to our neighbour about the huge plank in their eye. (St. Matthew 7: 3). In other words Christians are not to project an apparent façade of high indignation about the evil in others without first confessing its presence in our own lines and doing something about it. That is, we should be very sure our own house is in order before we lay the blame on others for the ills in our society — and even more so, in the Church! Righteous indignation in such cases can be a pretense — a cover up of our own failing which allowed evil to progress when it should have been demolished.
4. 2 John verse 9
Anyone who is so “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching
of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching
has the Father and the Son.
St. John, in a warning for all ages, teaches that anyone who forges ahead of Christ’s doctrine (i.e. the essence of his teaching) and fails to remain true to that, will not have, or hold on to God. Some translators have rendered St. John’s words as “Everyone who progresses….” Here St. John signals that those who wish to lead people away from established teaching will often acclaim themselves and their doctrine as “progressive,” meaning —of course — fuller, superior, modern and more relevant! That is the catch cry of deceivers, he says, and his warning is for all ages of the Church existence in this world. A sure danger-signal for Christians is when a teacher or preacher comes along and proclaims a doctrine which is supposed to be “more sophisticated”, “more appropriate for our times”, “more in keeping” with the progress of mankind. One will even hear it as “the new era of the Holy Spirit”: the Church has “come of age”. All this St. John calls failing to “abide in the doctrine of Christ”. This doctrine is the whole teaching of the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. It is the whole of the Torah as it is fulfilled and affirmed by the Lord Jesus Himself.
St. John boldly proclaims what true disciples of Christ will always uphold: fellowship with God (see 1 John 2: 23) is only to be achieved by adhering to the true doctrine of Christ and His Church. He does not hesitate to declare as one anointed by Jesus Christ for this purpose: the Apostles and their lawful successors in the ministry, determine the true doctrine in points which innovators call into controversy. When this is done and declared to the faithful they need no other mark to know a false teacher, but that he comes with another doctrine other than that which has been delivered! St. John warns that the Church will always need to take steps to prevent the possibility of itinerant preachers (from other religious communities) from sowing the seeds of false teaching.
The maintenance, therefore, of a strong, internal culture of teaching, spirituality and religious practice will continue to be paramount “till the Lord returns…..”. Laxity in this matter will bring disintegration and a great falling away from the Faith.
5. 2 John verses 10 and 11
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not
receive him in your house or even greet him;
for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.
St. John advises that Christians should not engage in unrestricted fellowship with those whom they discern to be promoting false teaching. This prohibition does not forbid civility, kindness and a sincere charity for all, for we ought to wish and pray for the eternal salvation of everyone. However, care must be taken to avoid giving any sign which can be interpreted as recognition and approval. St. John’s warning is quite to the point; deceivers will use any form of recognition or approval to inch forward the acceptance of their teaching and will take advantage of the politeness and meekness of devout Christians to destablise them and sow uncertainty, doubt and finally, disbelief. It is another of his timeless warnings which he is well aware, will be rejected by many at their peril: for the rejection of true doctrine passed down by the Apostles will slowly permeate the whole person — or community — and lead to nominal or superficial adherence to Christ, confused and muddled understanding of His teaching, and a tragic falling away from His Church and its glorious calling.
No one should be surprised to see modern religious charlatan’s trying to obtain ecclesiastical approval as their travelling road-shows go wherever a crowd can be mustered.
6. 2 John verses 12 and 13
Although I have much to write to you, I do not intend to use paper
and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and to speak face to face so
that our joy may be complete.
The children of your chosen sister send you greetings.
St. John brings his rather brief letter to a conclusion. As his readers, we need to remember that there were no Bibles as we know them for everyone to open and check out a text or teaching. The Old Testament scrolls were in the Synagogues. When he was writing, it was 300 years before the New Testament was agreed upon at synods of bishops and theologians in A.D. 393 and A.D. 397 and finally promulgated at the Second Council of Carthage in A.D. 419. Until that time there were many, many both partial and complete copies of Gospels, Epistles as well as other unapproved (and often misleading) documents in circulation. They were written on papyrus, the ink being made of pine-soot and glue dissolved in water and applied with a reed-pen. The process was a slow and able to be performed only by those trained for the purpose: thus the scarcrity of written Scriptures.
Our Lord commissioned His Apostles, not to write a book as the ultimate receptacle of His teaching, but to go teach and baptise (Matt 28: 19 and 20). He Himself was the Word, the holy receptacle of the Divine Truth. He Himself was the Torah (the Sacred Teaching — sometimes called, the Law). Their job was to ensure the people remained attached to Him Who could then through the Holy Spirit use other people, Sacred Scripture and teaching materials to strengthen their faith.
At the close of his letter St. John, in true Apostolic tradition, chooses to go and to teach in person, to reinforce the teaching of Christ and thus to build up the Body of Christ. This is our Lord’s primary method of building up his Church: a heart to heart talk so that the faith of those present may grow full and complete. At this point St. John signs off.