For Sunday, January 6 we’re studying two somewhat similarly-themed texts: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 and 2 John 4-11. It seemed like a good idea to focus on one at a time. Notes on 2 Thessalonians are in a separate post. Here are my notes on the verses from 2 John:
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: The very short book of 2 John is one of a set of works, including 1 and 3 John and traditionally and likely also the Gospel of John, that seem to have been written by the same author, or at least by a member of the same community.
People can spend their whole professional lives studying this “Johannine corpus.” So there is potentially a lot to know about this work as a text, its relationship to the other works in the corpus, the community from which it came, and so on. For today, I’m going with the summary from my trusty Access [study] Bible, which says “there is a good case for seeing 2, 3 John as supporting letters sent with 1 John.” The thinking seems to be that there is a church at some distance from the mother community, and they are being warned about a schism that’s heading their way.
On this reading, 1 John is a tract-like discussion of the theological and practical issues, while 2 John serves as a cover letter. This idea is reinforced by the fact that 2 John clearly has the form of an ancient letter, with an opening greeting, middle, and closing greeting, and is very short – maybe a length determined by a sheet of papyrus. 1 John, on the other hand, doesn’t really have the appropriate letter form; it’s some other genre of writing.
[That might make 3 John a second covering letter, addressed to a specific individual in the receiving community.]
The idea that the letter is addressed to a neighboring church stems from the address “to the elect lady and her children” (v1) and the concluding greeting from “the children of your elect sister” (v13). The “children” suggests a community and the “election” suggests a church. [Not Calvinists yet, though, despite that “election” comment. LOL]
All the evidence for what is going on in this community comes from the texts themselves. One issue that’s explicitly mentioned, in 1 John as well as in this letter, is the confession “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” This leads us to think that the opponents are suggesting something different – maybe that Christ was never an actual, historical person? Maybe that Jesus was a purely spiritual being who only appeared to be human? Both of these ideas have turned up in other places at other times. Or maybe it was a slightly different idea, equally disastrous from the point of view of 2 John’s author.
Our text is the main body of the letter.
CLOSER READING: v4 might imply that the author has recently met or spoken with members of the community being addressed.
Some of your children probably should not make us think that some others of the children are not “walking in the truth;” the overall tone of the letter is friendly enough that “some of” here seems likely to mean only that the author didn’t see everyone whenever it was that he had this occasion for rejoicing.
the truth here may refer to something people believe, or something people do, or both. But since the children are walking in it, and the very next reminder is about love, the sense of behavior is strong.
Walking in the truth is commanded, by the Father. The letter never refers to God or Jesus Christ as “Lord.” [Neither do 1 or 3 John, as a matter of fact; the Gospel of John does, though.]
The love we are to “love one another” with (vv5, 6) is the agape love that is the unconditional, compassionate kind of love in the Greek system of love words, the kind that contrasts with brotherly and with desiring love. This love, as in 1 John, is equated with walking in the commandments (v6). So, once again, the sense of behavior is strong.
In v7, the word translated deceivers is literally “wanderers,” which gives us the impression that these deceivers first wander off the metaphorical path in which they should be walking, and then lead others astray.
What makes them deceivers is that they do not confess or acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This also makes them antichrist, which might simply mean they are anti-Christ, that is, opponents of Christ. That is, not The AntiChrist of the book of Revelation (which is a later text, almost certainly by a different author) with the number 666. Although being against Christ is bad enough, really.
V8 uses the language of day labor and wages. Perhaps suggesting that loving one another is not always easy, and that we don’t want our efforts so far to be wasted by falling for some false doctrine? Or perhaps suggesting that living in this community in the first place, with all it has entailed, has been a working towards a goal – something like the way we might say, about a small business or even about setting up housekeeping and raising a family, “everything we’ve worked for.”
Maybe verse 9 suggests that the opponents are claiming their rejection of Jesus’ humanity brings them closer to God. If so, verse 9 denies that, and claims that affirming Jesus’ humanity and abiding in the teaching of Christ – which might mean the teaching about Christ, that he is human, or the teaching that Christ taught, for instance, “love one another,” or both – will have both the Father and the Son. If you give up Christ, you lose both.
What it means to go beyond the teaching of Christ seems to refer here specifically to the wrong idea about Jesus Christ being held by the “deceivers.” But we might feel it opens up a new category, the category of “going beyond” the teaching of Christ. We might wonder about what else that category includes – since we presumably want to avoid it.
Vv 10-11 warn against extending church hospitality to these opponents. The house in v10 probably means the house in which the church meets, and by extension, the church itself. Does this mean the little community will need to ask for letters of reference from now on?
So our text sets the instruction to love one another starkly against the instruction to these early Christians to draw the line around “one another” carefully, so as to exclude at least some people with at least one dangerous idea. It may be challenging for Christians in our own century to hear the instruction for us implicit in that pairing.