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Introduction to the Second Epistle of John                            


I. Writer


The content and writing style of this epistle are similar to that of the First Epistle of John and the Gospel of John: 1) loving one another is the commandment which we have had from the beginning (see v.5; 1John 2:7; John 13:34-35); 2) he who keeps the Lord’s commandments loves God (see v.6; 1John 5:3; John 14:23); 3) the deceivers and the antichrist do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh (see v.7; 1John 4:2-3); 4) full joy (see v.12; 1John 1:4; John 15:11; 16:24). Therefore, the majority of the Bible scholars agree that the three books were written by the same author, namely, the apostle John.

The writer of this epistle called himself “the elder” (see v.1). According to the historical tradition in the church, the apostle John lived to a ripe old age (see John 21:23), nearly one hundred years old. And this epistle was believed to be his later epistle, so he called him “elder”. Probably, John was like the apostle Peter ---- generally, they were “apostles”. And locally, they were “elders” in a certain church (see 1Pet. 5:1). Therefore, here the “elder” could also be regarded as “overseer” (see Acts 20:17, 28; 1Tim. 3:1; Titus 1:5). It was said that John had shepherded believers in Ephesus in his later years, so he might be the elder of the church in Ephesus.

As for the details of the apostle John, please read the Introduction to the First Epistle of John. 


II. The Time and Location the Epistle was Written


It is said in the church history that this epistle was written after the First Epistle of John when the apostle John was released back to Ephesus after the exile in the island called Patmos (see Rev. 1:9), about 90s of the first century. Therefore, this epistle might be written in Ephesus, about 90-99 AD.


III. The Recipients


“The elect lady and her children” (see v.1) have two aspects of meaning: 1) a godly female believer at that time in a certain local church and her “family members” (see v.10); 2) “lady” suggests a certain local church, and “her children” refer to the members of the church; since the church at that time was faced with persecutions, the writer had not to mention clearly the recipients. If so, “the children of your elect sister” (see v.13) should refer to the sister church of the church that receives this epistle.

“You”, the second person pronoun, appears many times in this epistle (see 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 13). Since “you” refers to both a single man and a group of men, the writer may write to a single person or all the members of a group. Therefore, both the above-mentioned suppositions make sense.


IV. The Motivation for Writing this Epistle

Just as the background of the First Epistle of John, the churches in Asia Minor at that time were influenced by the budding heresy of “Gnostic”. Therefore, the write of this epistle specially wrote this epistle to warn and exhort the recipients. Christians do have to keep the Lord’s commandment of “loving one another” (see v.5), but love should be according to the truth (see v.1-2). As for the heretical false teachers who transgress and do not abide in the doctrine of Christ (see v.7, 9), let us not receive them lest we should share in the evil deeds (see v.10-11).  


V. The Importance of this Book


This epistle can be regarded as the supplementary explanation of the First Epistle of John. The first epistle emphasizes that “loving brothers” is the natural manifestation of life (see 1John 4:7; 5:1) and he who does not love abides in death (see 1John 3:14). However, if love is over-emphasized, it will lose the balance. Therefore, this epistle tells us that love should be according to the truth.


VI. Main Structure and General Description


    Believers have to love one another except for the heretical false teachers, lest we should share in their evil works and lose our own rewards.


VII. Special Points

This epistle has the following characteristics:

1.    There are only thirteen verses in this epistle, which is the epistle of the least number of verses in the New Testament. According to the original, there are only 248 words in this epistle, which is the epistle of the least number of words in the New Testament after the Third Epistle of John, namely, the second shortest epistle in the New Testament.

2.    The form of this epistle is a typical form of letter in the first century, whose order is: the name of the writer ---- the name of the recipient ---- greeting ---- the body ---- the finally greeting.

3.    Though there are only thirteen verses in this epistle, the structure and thought are much clear and deep and the main theme is obvious.

4.    Though there are only 248 words in the original, the key words have repeated more than twenty times, e.g. “truth”, “love”, “commandment”, “walk”.

5.    If the recipient of this epistle is regarded as a housewife believer, this epistle has provided model teachings of a Christ-centered family life.


VIII. Its Relations with Other Books in the Scriptures


1.    This epistle and the First Epistle of John supplement each other. The First Epistle points that they who know the truth will love one another. And this epistle tells us love should not be against the truth. The emphases of the two epistles balance each other.

2.    This epistle is literally written to a female believer. And the Third Epistle of John is written to a male believer. They are different in the gender of the recipients. Besides, both of them also have the following distinct points: a) this epistle warns believers not to receive heretical false teachers, and the Third Epistle of John praises him who receives brothers who go out to work and convicts those who are unwilling to receive brothers; b) this epistle exhorts believers not to share in the evil works of others, and the Third Epistle of John exhorts us to become fellow workers for the truth and imitate and do what is good.


IX. Key Verses


“Because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever” (v.2);

“Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (v.8);


X. Key Words


“Truth” (v. 1, 2, 2, 3, 4);

“Love” (v. 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6);

 “Commandment” (v.4, 5, 5, 6, 6);

“Walk”, “deeds” (v.4, 6, 6, 8, 11);

“Doctrine” (v.9, 9, 10);


XI. Outlines of the Book


Walk in the Truth

A.   Love and bless one another in the truth (v.1-3);

B.   This is love, that we walk according to His commandments (v.4-6);

C.   Do not receive him who transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ (v.7-11);

D.   Have fellowship with and greet those who keep the truth (v.12-13);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou