Beware of deceivers (April 26, 2015)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: 2 John

Early church tradition attributed 2 John, the shortest book in the New Testament, to the apostle John, the beloved disciple. He was also thought to be the author of the First and Third epistles of John, the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John. Today, interpreters recog-nize the distinctive theological and historical contexts that make it very doubtful that the same writer was responsible for all of these canonical documents. Instead, they believe that there was a tradition or school of thought derived from the apostle John that perpetuated his memory and his unique perspective so mem-orably expressed in the Gospel of John. Ephesus has been suggested as a likely location and approxi-

mately 100 A.D. as the probable date when the epistles of John were composed.

A careful reading of the three epistles of John quickly dismisses any romanticized notion that the early Christian church constituted one large happy family. The author of 2 John lashes out at persons who refused to believe that Jesus had a fully human nature. He refers to them as deceivers and liars. They may have emphasized the divinity of Jesus so much that they understood him to have been a purely spiritual being that only seemed or appeared to be human. That view of Jesus is called Docetism (from the Greek word doceo meaning “to appear or seem”). The full humanity of Jesus is a basic truth of the Gospel of John (John 1:14) and John’s followers defend that teaching in these epistles.

2 John 1-4: Walk in truth 

The recipients of 2 John are addressed as “the elect lady and her children.” Although a few interpreters consider the Greek words translated “elect lady” to be the personal name of an individual, most agree that it is more likely to be a symbolic name for the congregation to whom the letter was sent. This is confirmed by verse 13 in which greetings are conveyed from their “elect sister,” probably a neigh-boring congregation.

The letter writer, who must have been known and recognized by the recipients as a key leader, is not named but only identified as “the elder.” He presents himself as one who knows the truth. The truth is a shorthand way of describing the gospel, the preached message that is to be believed and put into practice. It is a Hebraic way of speaking that links orthodoxy (right thinking) with orthopraxy (right acting).

There is hint that a problem exists when the author notes that only “some of your children” walk in the truth. Others have evidently strayed from the path commanded by God the Father.

2 John 5-6: Love one another 

Picking up a major emphasis of the Gospel of John (13:34-35) and 1 John (3:11, 23 and 4:7-8), the author reiter-ates Jesus’ commandment that the believers should love one another. To love means not only to care deeply for one’s fellow Christians, but also to live a life of obedience following God’s commandments. This has been the message the congregation heard from its very beginning, the author reminds his readers.

2 John 7-9: Beware of deceivers! 

Many people who “do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” have departed from this congregation (cf. 1 John 2:19). The author calls them deceivers and antichrists. The latter term is found only in 1 John and this epistle. Their error is that they have “gone beyond” what Christ taught when they deny that Jesus was fully human. The author is confident that he knows what Christ taught. Following the erroneous doctrine of the deceivers jeopardizes the very faith the recipients of this letter have been advocating.

2 John 10-13: Shun deceivers 

2 John reverses the common Christian practice of offering hospitality to traveling evangelists. “Do not receive into your house or welcome” persons whose teaching does not agree with what you have been taught, he writes.

Verse 12, in which the author says he has a lot more to say but prefers to communicate it in person, suggests to some interpreters that 2 John may have been written before 1 John. In this view, 1 John was written when plans for a personal visit did not materialize.

For discussion 

Why do you think the writer of 2 John insists that believers must acknowl-edge the full humanity of Jesus? What is lost if Jesus is seen only as a divine being who was not fully human? Have you experienced the divinity of Jesus emphasized more than his humanity?

JAMES A. BRASHLER is professor emeritus of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.