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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

2 John 1




THE title, like that of the First Epistle and of the Gospel, exists in various forms both ancient and modern, and is not original: here again the oldest authorities give it in the simplest form. Ἰωάννου or Ἰωάνου β̅ ([862][863]). Ἰωάννου ἐπιστολὴ καθολικὴ β̅ ([864]). τοῦ ἁγίου ἀποστόλου Ἰωάννου τοῦ Θεολόγου ἐπιστολὴ δευτέρα ([865]). Θεῖος Ἰωάννης τάδε δεύτερα τοῖς προτέροισιν (f). In [866] the title has been torn off. In our Bibles the epithet ‘Catholic’ or ‘General’ is rightly omitted. The Epistle is addressed either to an individual, or to a particular Church, not to the Church at large.

Verse 1

1. ὁ πρεσβύτερος. This title was probably given to the writer by others before he adopted it himself. It indicates both age and office. It is a designation likely to be used of the last surviving Apostle; yet not likely to be chosen by a writer who wished to personate the Apostle, as being too indistinct. On the other hand an Elder, who did not wish to personate the Apostle, would hardly call himself ‘The Elder’. It is in addressing Elders that S. Peter calls himself ὁ συμπρεσβύτερος (1 Peter 5:1). The omission of the name John is against the Presbyter John (if he ever existed) being the writer. “The use of the word in this Epistle shows that he cannot have understood this title in the usual ecclesiastical sense, as though he were only one among the many presbyters of a community. Clearly the writer meant thereby to express the singular and lofty position he held in the circle around him, as the teacher venerable for his old age, and the last of the Apostles” (Döllinger). “In this connexion there can be little doubt that it describes not age simply but official position” (Westcott). Comp. the use of πρεσβύτης (Philemon 1:9). See Appendix E. For the history of the title πρεσβύτερος see Bishop Lightfoot’s Philippians, pp. 226–230.

ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ. To an elect lady; electae dominae (Vulgate). This is the most natural translation: but ‘to the elect lady’ may be right. All English Versions have the definite article. So also Luther: der auserwählten Frau. Comp. ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις (1 Peter 1:1). ‘To the elect Kyria’, is also possible, though less probable. The name existed; but if κυρία were a proper name here, we should have had Κυρίᾳ τῇ ἐκλ. like Γαΐῳ τῷ ἀγαπητῷ (3 John 1:1), ἀδελφῆς σου τῆς ἐκλ. (2 John 1:13), Ῥοῦφον τὸν ἐκλ. (Romans 16:13). If either word is a proper name, probably both are; ‘To Electa Kyria’: but this is not an attractive solution. ‘To the lady Electa’ may be safely dismissed, if only on account of 2 John 1:13. If ἐκλεκτή is a proper name here, it is a proper name there; which gives us two sisters with the same extraordinary name. ‘Elect lady’ is best, so as to leave open the question, which cannot be determined, whether the letter is addressed to an individual or to a community. In the one case τοῖς τέκνοις means the lady’s children, in the other, the members of the community. Probability is largely in favour of the former hypothesis, which far better fits the somewhat informal designation, ‘The Elder’. For the Church as a mother see Galatians 4:26. But the Church cannot be meant here. Who is the Church’s sister (2 John 1:13)?

οὓς ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ. The masculine οὕς probably covers both κυρίᾳ and τέκνοις: and this again would fit either a family or a Church. Comp. οἱ τρεῖς referring to three neuter words (1 John 5:8). However others may treat them, they may be assured of the Apostle’s genuine affection. The emphatic ἐγώ implies that others are less truly affectionate.

ἐν ἀληθείᾳ. In truth: no article. Comp. 3 John 1:1; John 17:19; John 4:23; 1 John 3:18. It means ‘in all Christian sincerity’, as opposed to nominal or hypocritical friendship: vero amore diligo, illo videlicet qui secundum Deum est (Bede). “What he means is that truth—truth of thought, truth of feeling, truth of speech and intercourse—was the very air in which his affection for this Christian lady had grown up and maintained itself” (Liddon).

ἀλλὰ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἐγνωκότες. As R.V., but also all they that know: literally, that have come to know (see on 1 John 2:3). At first sight this looks like a strong argument in favour of the view that ‘the elect Lady’ is a Church. “How could the children of an individual woman be regarded as an object of the love of all believers?” The First Epistle is the answer to the question. Every one who ‘has come to know the truth’ enters that ‘Communion of Saints’ of which the love of each for every other is the very condition of existence. The Apostle speaks first in his own name, and then in the name of every Christian. “For all Catholics throughout the world follow one rule of truth: but all heretics and infidels do not agree in unanimous error: they impugn one another not less than the way of truth itself” (Bede). Here and in 2 John 1:4-5 there is perhaps an allusion to the fact that some accused S. John of preaching new doctrine as to Christ’s Person and commands. Ἡ ἀλήθεια is S. John’s own term for the revelation of God in Christ: he learned it from his Master (John 14:7).

Verses 1-3

1–3. Like most of the Epistles of S. Paul, the Epistles of S. Peter, S. James, and S. Jude, and unlike the First Epistle, this letter has a definite address and greeting. In its fulness the salutation reminds us of the elaborate openings of the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Titus.

Verse 2

2. διὰ τὴν ἀλήθειαν. The repetition of ἀλήθεια is quite in S. John’s style. For τὴν μενοῦσαν, which abideth, see on 1 John 2:24. The change of construction, καὶ μεθʼ ἡμῶν ἔσται (for ἐσομένην), indicates that the later clause is a kind of afterthought: comp. καὶ ἐσμέν (1 John 3:1). Winer, 723. The μεθʼ ἡμῶν is emphatic; and with us it shall be. For εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα see on 1 John 2:17. Here again we have an echo of Christ’s farewell discourses: ‘He shall give you another Advocate, that He may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth’ (John 14:16). Comp. ‘I am … the Truth’ (John 14:6) and ‘The Spirit is the Truth’ (1 John 5:6). The Apostle and all believers love the elect lady and her children on account of the ever-abiding presence of Christ in the gift of the Spirit.

Verse 3

3. ἔσται μεθʼ ἡμῶν χ. ἔλ. εἰρ. Yea, there shall be with us grace, mercy, and peace. The preceding μεθʼ ἡμῶν ἔσται has probably produced this very unusual mode of greeting. It is not so much a prayer or a blessing, as the confident assurance of a blessing; and the Apostle includes himself within its scope. This triplet of heavenly gifts occurs, and in the same order, in the salutations to Timothy (both Epistles) and Titus. The more common form is χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη. In Judges 1:2 we have another combination ἔλεος ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη καὶ ἀγάπη. In secular letters we have simply ‘greeting’ (χαίρειν) instead of these Christian blessings. Χάρις is the favour of God towards sinners (see on John 1:14); ἔλεος is the compassion of God for the misery of sinners; εἰρήνη is the result when the guilt and misery of sin are removed. Χάρις is rare in the writings of S. John; elsewhere only John 1:14; John 1:16-17; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 22:21 : ἔλεος occurs here only.

παρὰπαρὰ … The repetition of the preposition marks the separate Personality of the Father and the Son. The doctrinal fulness of statement is perhaps in anticipation of the errors condemned in 2 John 1:7; 2 John 1:10. For παρά see on John 1:6; John 16:27 : it means ‘from the presence of’ or ‘from the hand of’. In S. Paul’s Epistles we usually have ἀπό (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; &c.); and [930] has ἀπό here.

ἐν ἀληθείᾳ καἰ ἀγάπῃ. These two words, so characteristic of S. John (see on 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:8; 1 John 3:1), are key-notes of this short Epistle, in which ‘truth’ occurs five times, and ‘love’ twice as a substantive and twice as a verb. Ἐντολή is a third such word.

Verse 4

4. The Apostle has met with some of the elect lady’s children (or some members of the particular Church addressed), probably in one of his Apostolic visits to some Church in Asia Minor. Their Christian life delighted him and apparently prompted him to write this letter.

ἐχάρην λζαν. I rejoiced greatly, or, I have rejoiced greatly, or, perhaps, as R.V., I rejoice greatly, if it is the epistolary aorist, as in 1 John 2:26; 1 John 5:13. The same phrase occurs 3 John 1:3 and Luke 23:8. Χαίρω is cognate with χάρις in 2 John 1:3. Χάρις is originally ‘that which causes joy’: but there is no connexion between the two words here. Like S. Paul, the Elder leads up to his admonition by stating something which is a cause of joy and thankfulness: comp. Philemon 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:3; Romans 1:8; &c.

ὅτι εὕρηκα. That I have found, or, because I have found. There is nothing in εὕρηκα to shew that there was any seeking on the part of the Apostle (John 1:44), still less that there had been any investigation as to the children’s conduct.

ἐκ τῶν τέκνων. This elliptical expression occurs in classical Greek; συνηγυροῦσιν ἐκ τίνων (Aristoph. Nub. 1089); and therefore need not be classed as a Hebraism. Comp. LXX. in Psalms 72:15. This ellipse of τινὲς or τινὰς is rather common in S. John (John 1:24; John 7:40; John 16:17; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 11:9; see on 1 John 4:13). It is impossible to say whether the expression is a delicate way of intimating that only some of the children were walking in truth, or whether it merely means that the Apostle had fallen in with only some of the children. The expression of affection in 2 John 1:1 is in favour of the latter supposition; but the strong warnings against intercourse with heretical teachers favours the former; some of her children were already contaminated. Περιπατεῖν indicates the activity of human life (see on 1 John 1:7) and in this sense is found in all three Epistles, the Gospel, and the Apocalypse; elsewhere rare except in S. Paul: ἐν ἀληθείᾳ is in Christian truth, as in 2 John 1:1; 2 John 1:3; in Christian tone and temper.

καθὼς ἐντολὴν ἐλάβομεν. The changes made in R.V., even as we received commandment, are all improvements in the direction of accuracy. ‘Even as’ (καθώς) points to the completeness of their obedience; comp. 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 3:3; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:17. The aorist points to the definite occasion of their reception of the commandment: comp. ἠκούσατε, 1 John 2:7; 1 John 2:24; 1 John 3:11; and ἔδωκεν, 1 John 3:23-24. Ἐντολή is the third key-word of the Epistle, in which it occurs four times. Love, truth, and obedience; these are the three leading ideas, which partly imply, partly supplement one another. Obedience without love becomes servile; love without obedience becomes unreal: neither of them can flourish outside the realm of truth.

παρὰ τοῦ πατρός. As in 2 John 1:3, from the hand of the Father, who is one with the Son. The Divine command has come direct from the Giver. ‘All things that I heard from My Father I have made known unto you’ (John 15:15), including the Father’s commands.

Verse 5

5. καὶ νῦν. As in 1 John 2:28 (see note there), this introduces a practical exhortation depending on what precedes. ‘It is my joy at the Christian life of some of thy children, and my anxiety about the others, that move me to exhort thee’.

ἐρωτῶ σε. S. John uses the same verb as that used of making request about ‘sin unto death’ (1 John 5:16). It perhaps indicates that he begs as an equal or superior rather than as an inferior. In both passages the Vulgate rightly has rogo not peto. In classical Greek ἐρωτῶ = interrogo, ‘I ask a question’, a meaning which it frequently has in N.T. S. Paul uses it very seldom, and always in the sense of ‘I request’: his usual word is παρακαλῶ, which S. John never employs. Only at the opening and close does the Apostle use the strictly personal σε (1 John 5:16): in 2 John 1:6; 2 John 1:8; 2 John 1:10; 2 John 1:12 he uses the second person plural. What meaning has this change, if the letter is addressed to a Church? It is natural, if it is addressed to a lady and her family. For ἐντολὴν καινήν see on 1 John 2:7.

εἴχαμεν. Comp. ἐξῆλθαν in 2 John 1:7; 1 John 2:19 (see note); 3 John 1:7. For ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς see on 1 John 2:7.

ἵνα ἀγαπῶμεν. It is doubtful whether this depends upon ἐρωτῶ or ἐντολήν: in either case ἵνα introduces the purport of the request or command, with perhaps a lingering notion of the purpose of it (see on 1 John 1:8 and comp. 1 John 3:23).

Verse 5-6


Verses 5-11

5–11. We now enter upon the main portion of the Epistle, which has three divisions: Exhortation to Love and Obedience (5, 6); Warnings against False Doctrine (7–9); Warnings against False Charity (10, 11). As usual, the transitions from one subject to another are made gently and without any marked break.

Verse 6

6. καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη. And the love is this: the love which I mean consists in this (see on 1 John 1:5). In 2 John 1:5 obedience prompts love; here love prompts obedience. This is no vicious logical circle, but a healthy moral connexion, as is stated above on 2 John 1:4. Love divorced from duty will run riot, and duty divorced from love will starve. See on 1 John 5:3. The Apostle has no sympathy with a religion of pious emotions: there must be a persevering walk according to God’s commands. In writing to a woman it might be all the more necessary to insist on the fact that love is not a mere matter of feeling.

αὕτη ἡ ἐντολή ἐστιν. As before, The commandment is this, i.e. consists in this. We had a similar transition from plural to singular, ‘commandments’ to ‘commandment’ in 1 John 3:22-23. For αὔτηἵνα see 1 John 5:3.

In these verses (5, 6) S. John seems to be referring to the First Epistle, which she would know.

καθὼς ἠκούσατε. As R.V., even as ye heard, referring to the time when they were first instructed in Christian Ethics. See on καθὼς ἐντ. ἐλάβομεν in 2 John 1:4. R.V. is also more accurate in placing ‘that’ after, instead of before, ‘even as ye heard’. But A.V. is not wrong, for ‘even as ye heard’ belongs to the apodosis, not to the protasis: still, this is interpretation rather than translation.

ἐν αὐτῇ. In brotherly love; not, in the commandment, as the Vulgate implies. S. John speaks of walking in (ἐν) truth, in light, in darkness; but of walking according to (κατά) the commandments. S. Paul speaks both of walking in love (Ephesians 5:2) and according to love (Romans 14:15). Neither speaks of walking in commandments: and in Luke 1:6 a different verb is used. Moreover the context here is in favour of ἐν αὐτῇ meaning in love.

Verse 7

7. ὅτι. Some would make this conjunction introduce the reason for 2 John 1:8 : ‘Because many deceivers have appeared … look to yourselves’. But this is altogether unlike S. John’s simple manner; to say nothing of the very awkward parenthesis which is thus made of οὖτός ἐστινὁ ἀντίχρ. ‘For’ or ‘Because’ points backwards to 2 John 1:5-6, not forwards to 2 John 1:8. ‘I am recalling our obligations to mutual love and to obedience of the Divine command, because there are men with whom you and yours come in contact, whose teaching strikes at the root of these obligations’.

πλάνοι. This word reaches the meaning ‘deceivers’ in two ways. 1. ‘Making to wander, leading astray’. 2. ‘Vagabonds’, and hence ‘charlatans’ or ‘impostors’. The former notion is predominant here: these πολλοί are seductores (Vulgate). The word is rare in N.T. S. John uses it nowhere else; but not unfrequently has the cognate πλανᾶν (1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:26; 1 John 3:7, &c.).

ἐξῆλθαν. Are gone forth (see on 1 John 2:19). Here the English perfect idiomatically represents the Greek aorist, unless ἐξῆλθαν refers to a definite occasion, when these deceivers migrated from the communion to which they had belonged. This depends on the meaning of εἰς τὸν κόσμον. The κόσμος may mean either human society, or (in S. John’s usual sense) that which is external to the Church and anti-christian. See on 1 John 2:2. The meaning may be that, like the many antichrists in 1 John 2:18, they went out from the Church into the unchristian world. Possibly the same persons are meant in both Epistles. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) by a slip of memory quotes this passage as from the First Epistle (Haer. III. xvi. 8).

οἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες. As R.V., even they that confess not: the many deceivers and those who confess not are the same group, and this is their character,—unbelief and denial of the truth. ‘Confess not’ = deny. Note the μή: ‘all who fail to confess, whoever they may be’; quicunque non profitentur. Winer, 606. In the rendering of ἐρχόμενον that of A.V., ‘that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh’, is not quite accurate; nor does R.V., ‘that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh’, seem to be more than a partial correction. Rather, that confess not Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, or possibly, that confess not Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. See on 1 John 4:2, where the Greek is similar, but with perfect instead of present participle. These deceivers denied not merely the fact of the Incarnation, but its possibility. In both passages A.V. and R.V. translate as if we had the infinitive mood instead of the participle. The difference is, that with the participle the denial is directed against the Person, ‘they deny Jesus’; with the infinitive it is directed against the fact, ‘they deny that He cometh’ or ‘has come’. See Winer, 435. Note that Christ is never said to come into the flesh; but either, as here and 1 John 4:2, to come in the flesh; or, to become flesh (John 1:14). To say that Christ came into the flesh would leave room for saying that the Divine Son was united with Jesus after He was born of Mary; which would be no true Incarnation.

οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πλ. κ. ὁ ἀντ. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist: a good example of inadequate treatment of the Greek article is here found in A.V. (see on 1 John 1:2). Luther is more accurate; ‘Dieser ist der Verführer und der Widerchrist’. The transition from plural to singular (see on 2 John 1:6) may be explained in two ways: 1. The man who acts thus is the deceiver and the Antichrist; 2. These men collectively are the deceiver and the Antichrist. In either case the article means ‘him of whom you have heard’: ‘the deceiver’ in reference to his fellow men; ‘the Antichrist’ in reference to his Redeemer.

This completes the series of condemnatory names which S. John uses in speaking of these false teachers; liars (1 John 2:22), seducers (1 John 2:26), false prophets (1 John 4:1), deceivers (2 John 1:7), antichrists (1 John 2:18; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7). On the Antichrist of S. John see Appendix B.

Verses 7-9

7–9. The third element in the triplet of leading thoughts once more comes to the front, but without being named. Love and obedience require, as the condition of their existence, truth. It is in truth that ‘the Elder’ and all who love the truth love the elect lady and her children; and they love them for the truth’s sake. Truth no less than love is the condition of receiving the threefold blessing of grace, mercy, and peace. And it was the fact that some of her children were walking in truth, while others seemed to be deserting it, which led the Apostle in the fulness of his heart to write to her. All this tends to shew the preciousness of the truth. Love of the brethren and loyal obedience to God’s commands will alike suggest that we should jealously guard against those who by tampering with the truth harm the brethren and dishonour God and His Son.

Verse 8

8. βλέπετε ἑαυτούς. Comp. Mark 13:9. The use of ἑαυτούς κ.τ.λ. with the first (1 John 1:8) and second person (1 John 5:21; John 12:8) is not uncommon. It occurs in classical Greek, even in the singular: οὐδὲ γὰρ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ σύ γε ψυχὴν ὁρᾷς (Xen. Mem. I. iv. 9).

The persons of the three verbs that follow are much varied in MSS. and Versions. The original reading is probably preserved in [931] and the Thebaic; ἀπολέσητε ἃ ἠργασάμεθαἀπολάβητε. This the Revisers adopt. To make the sentence run more smoothly some ([932], Vulgate, Memphitic) changed ἠργασάμεθα to ἠργάσασθε, the reading adopted in the text, following Lachmann, Tischendorf and Tregelles: while others changed ἀπολέσητε and ἀπολάβητε to ἀπολέσαμεν and ἀπολάβωμεν. In 1 John 2:14; 1 John 2:20 there are other instances of [933] and the Thebaic preserving what may be the original reading. For the construction comp. 1 Corinthians 16:10. The meaning is, ‘Take heed that these deceivers do not undo the work which Apostles and Evangelists have wrought in you, but that ye receive the full fruit of it’. He warns them against loss in both worlds.

μισθὸν πλήρη. Eternal life. The word ‘reward’ has reference to ‘have wrought’. Comp. ὁ μισθός μου μετʼ ἐμοῦ, ἀποδοῦναι ἑκάστῳ ὡς τὸ ἔργον ἐστὶν αὐτοῦ (Revelation 22:12). ‘Apostles have done the work, and you, if you take heed, will have the reward’. Eternal life is called a full reward in contrast to real but incomplete rewards which true believers receive in this life; peace, joy, increase of grace, and the like. Comp. Mark 10:29-30.

Verse 9

9. Explains more fully what is at stake; no less than the possession of the Father and the Son.

πᾶς ὁ προάγων. See on 1 John 3:16. Everyone that goeth before, or, that goeth onwards. Προάγειν is fairly common in the Synoptists and the Acts, but occurs nowhere else in S. John’s writings. It may be interpreted in two ways: 1. Every one who sets himself up as a leader; 2. Every one who goes on beyond the Gospel. The latter is perhaps better. These antichristian Gnostics were advanced thinkers: the Gospel was all very well for the unenlightened; but they knew something higher. This agrees very well with what follows; by advancing they did not abide. There is an advance which involves desertion of first principles; and such an advance is not progress but apostasy.

ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ. ‘In the teaching’, as R.V., is no improvement on ‘in the doctrine’. Of the two words used in N.T., διδαχή (as here) and διδασκαλία (which S. John does not use), the former should be rendered ‘doctrine’, the latter, as being closer to διδάσκαλος and διδάσκειν, should be rendered ‘teaching’. But no hard and fast line can be drawn.

τοῦ Χριστοῦ. The doctrine which He taught (John 18:19; Revelation 2:14-15), rather than the doctrine which teaches about Him.

Θεὸν οὐκ ἔχει. This must not be watered down to mean ‘does not know God’: it means that he has Him not as his God; does not possess Him in his heart as a Being to adore, and trust, and love.

ὁ μένων. The opposite case is now stated, and as usual the original idea is not merely negatived but expanded. Τοῦ Χριστοῦ in this half of the verse has been inserted in some authorities to make the two halves more exactly correspond. Καὶ τ. πατέρα καὶ τ. υἱὸν ἔχει shews that ‘hath not God’ implies ‘hath neither the Father nor the Son’. See on 1 John 2:23.

Verse 10

10. εἴ τις ἔρχεται. As R.V., If anyone cometh. ‘If there come any unto you’ would require ἐάν with the subjunctive. It is implied that such people do come; it is no mere hypothesis: comp. 1 John 5:9; John 7:4; John 7:23; John 8:39; John 8:46; John 18:8. Ἔρχεται probably means more than a mere visit: it implies coming on a mission as a teacher; comp. 3 John 1:10; John 1:7; John 1:30-31; John 3:2; John 4:25; John 5:43; John 7:27, &c.; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 4:18-19; 1 Corinthians 4:21; 1 Corinthians 11:34, &c.

καὶ τ. τ. διδαχἠν οὐ φέρει. And bringeth not this doctrine. The negative (οὐ not μή) should be emphasized in reading: it “does not coalesce with the verb, as some maintain, but sharply marks off from the class of faithful Christians all who are not faithful” (Speaker’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:22). The phrase διδαχὴν φέρειν occurs nowhere else in N.T., but it is on the analogy of μῦθον or ἀγγελίην φέρειν (Hom. Il. x. 288; xv. 175, 202, &c.). Comp. Τίνα κατηγορίαν φέρετε κ.τ.λ.; (John 18:29).

μὴ λαμβάνετεμὴ λέγετε. Present imperative forbidding a continuance of what is customary. ‘Refuse him the hospitality which as a matter of course you would shew to a faithful Christian’. The severity of the injunction is almost without a parallel in N. T. Charity has its limits: it must not be shewn to one man in such a way as to do grievous harm to others; still less must it be shewn in such a way as to do more harm than good to the recipient of it. If these deceivers were treated as if they were true Christians, [1] their opportunities of doing harm would be greatly increased, [2] they might never be brought to see their own errors. “S. John is at once earnestly dogmatic and earnestly philanthropic; for the Incarnation has taught him both the preciousness of man and the preciousness of truth” (Liddon). The famous story respecting S. John and Cerinthus in the public baths is confirmed in its main outlines by this injunction to the elect lady, which it explains and illustrates. Both are instances of “that intense hatred of evil, without which love of good can hardly be said to exist” (Stanley). See the Introduction, p. xxxii.

The greatest care will be necessary before we can venture to act upon the injunction here given to the elect lady. We must ask, Are the cases really parallel? Am I quite sure that the man in question is an unbeliever and a teacher of infidelity? Will my shewing him hospitality aid him in teaching infidelity? Am I and mine in any danger of being infected by his errors? Is he more likely to be impressed by severity or gentleness? Is severity likely to create sympathy in others, first for him, and then for his teaching? In not a few cases the differences between Christianity in the first century and Christianity in the nineteenth would at once destroy the analogy between antichristian Gnostics visiting this lady and an Agnostic visiting one of ourselves. Let us never forget the way in which the Lord treated Pharisees, publicans, and sinners.

καὶ χαίρειν αὐτῷ μὴ λέγετε. ‘And give him no greeting’ is perhaps too narrow, whether as translation or interpretation. And do not bid him God speed will perhaps be a better rendering; and the injunction will cover any act which might seem to give sanction to the false doctrine or shew sympathy with it. Χαίρειν is used in a similar sense Acts 15:23; Acts 23:26; James 1:1 : comp. John 19:3, &c.

Verse 10-11


Verse 11

11. ὁ λέγων γὰρ αὐτῷ χ. Much more, therefore, he that by receiving him into his house affords a home and head-quarters for false teaching. The reading ὁ γὰρ λέγων is an obvious correction.

κοινωνεῖ τ. ἔργοις αὐ. τ. πονηροῖς. As R.V., partaketh in his evil works: literally, with much emphasis on ‘evil’, partaketh in his works, his evil (works). Κοινωνεῖν occurs nowhere else in S. John, but he uses the cognate κοινωνία, 1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:6-7. The word for ‘evil’ (πονηρός) is the same as that used of ‘the evil one’, 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18-19. What is involved, therefore, in having fellowship with such men is obvious. At a Council of Carthage (A.D. 256), when Cyprian uttered his famous invective against Stephen, Bishop of Rome,—Aurelius, Bishop of Chullabi, quoted this passage with the introductory remark, “John the Apostle laid it down in his Epistle”: and Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria (C. A.D. 315), quotes the passage as an injunction of “the blessed John” (Socrates H. E. I. vi.). The change from ‘deeds’ to ‘works’ may seem frivolous and vexatious, but it is not unimportant. ‘Works’ is a wider word and better represents ἔργα: words no less than deeds are included, and here it is specially the words of these deceivers that are meant. Moreover in 1 John 3:12 the same word is rendered ‘works’ of the ἔργα πονηρά of Cain. See on John 5:20; John 6:27; John 6:29. Wiclif and the Rhemish have ‘works’ here.

At the end of this verse some Latin authorities add: Ecce praedixi vobis, ut in die Domini non confundamini (or in die Domini nostri Jesu Christi). Wiclif admits the insertion; the Rhemish does not: Cranmer puts it in italics and in brackets. It has no authority.

Verse 12

12. πολλὰ ἔχων. The First Epistle gives us some idea of what these many things were. Γράφειν is used in the wide sense of ‘to communicate’: just as our ‘say’ or ‘tell’ may include writing, γράφειν includes other modes of communication besides letters. In the οὐκ ἐβουλήθην we may perhaps trace a sign of the failing powers of an old man, to whom writing is serious fatigue. But what follows shews that the Apostle has not yet reached the state of feebleness recorded by Jerome, when he had to be carried to church.

‘Paper’ (χάρτης) occurs nowhere else in N.T.; but it occurs in LXX. of Jeremiah 36:23; and its diminutive (χαρτίον) is frequent in that chapter. In 3 Maccabees 4:20 we have a cognate word (χαρτήρια), which probably, like ‘paper’ here, means Egyptian papyrus, as distinct from the more expensive ‘parchment’ (μεμβράναι) mentioned 2 Timothy 4:13. But both papyrus and parchment were costly, which may account for the Apostle’s brevity. Augustine writes to Romanianus; “This letter indicates a scarcity of paper (charta) without testifying that parchment is plentiful here. My ivory tablets I used in the letter which I sent to your uncle. You will more readily excuse this scrap of parchment, because what I wrote to him could not be delayed; and I thought it would be absurd not to write to you for want of better material” (Ep. xv.). The very perishable nature of papyrus accounts for the early loss of the Apostolic autographs. See Dict. of the Bible, WRITING, and Dict. of Antiquities, LIBER.

‘Ink’ (μέλαν) is mentioned again 3 John 1:13; elsewhere in N.T. only 2 Corinthians 3:3 : comp. LXX. of Jer. 43:18. It was made of lampblack and gall-juice, or more simply of soot and water.

ἀλλὰ ἐλπίζω. As R.V., but I hope: the verb is frequent in N.T., and there seems to be no reason for changing the usual rendering: comp. 1 Timothy 3:14; Philippians 2:19; Philippians 2:23. A.V. wavers needlessly between ‘hope’ and ‘trust’.

γενέσθαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς. To appear before you: literally, ‘to come to be in your presence, to become present with you, to be with you’. Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 16:10. The phrase is used of words as well as of persons: πρὸς οὓς ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐγένετο (John 10:35); ἐγένετο φωνὴ πρὸς αὐτόν (Acts 10:13). In all these cases the coming is expressed with a certain amount of solemnity.

The ‘you’ (ὑμῖν, ὑμᾶς) in this verse includes the children mentioned in 2 John 1:1. This, when contrasted with ‘thee’ (σε, σοι) in 2 John 1:5, seems to be in favour of understanding the ‘lady’ literally. The change from ‘thee’ to ‘you’ seems more in harmony with a matron and her family than with a Church and its members.

στόμα πρὸς στόμα. In Numbers 12:8 we have στόμα κατὰ στόμα λαλήσω αὐτῷ: comp. Jeremiah 39 [32]:4. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 the phrase is πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον: comp. Genesis 32:31.

ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν ἦ πεπληρωμένη. As R.V., that your joy may be fulfilled. See on 1 John 1:4, and comp. Romans 1:12.

Verse 12-13

12, 13. The strong resemblance to the Conclusion of the Third Epistle seems to shew that the two letters are nearly contemporaneous, and it adds to the probability that both are addressed to individuals.

Verse 13

13. ἀσπάζεταί σε. For the sake of uniformity with 3 John 1:14, salute thee: the same verb is used in both passages. That the elect sister herself sends no greeting is taken as an argument in favour of the ‘elect lady’ being a Church, and the ‘elect sister’ a sister Church, which could send no greeting other than that of its members or ‘children’. But the verse fits the other hypothesis equally well. The lady’s nephews may be engaged in business at Ephesus under S. John’s Apostolic care: their mother may be living elsewhere, or be dead. It was perhaps from these children of a sister that the Apostle had knowledge of the state of things in the elect lady’s house. Their sending a salutation through him may intimate that they share his anxiety respecting her and hers. It is impossible to give any reasonable interpretation of the sister and her children, if ‘the elect lady’ be taken as the Church at large.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 2 John 1:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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