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2 John 1:1-3 by Robert Dean
Series:2nd John (2002)
Duration:56 mins 22 secs

2 John


Pastors and Truth; 2 John 1


Much about 2 John is really enshrouded in history. In most epistles we know to whom they were addressed. In the Pauline epistles we know clearly who wrote the epistle, the time of the writing of the epistle, but that is not true about the epistle of 2 John. The author identifies himself only as "the elder" in verse 1. The recipients are not identified by either location or name. In fact, for centuries there has been debate about whether this epistle was addressed to a literal individual lady or whether this is just a metaphor for a local church. There is even confusion about the nature and purpose of this epistle in the minds of some. There is a tremendous amount of significant information in this epistle and it reiterates and reinforces many of the same ideas, themes and doctrines that we have seen emphasised in the upper room discourse in the Gospel of John chapters 13-17 and in the epistle of 1 John.

The author: Most people agree that the author is the apostle John, here referred to under the title "the elder." However, there has been some debate in early church history because of some early writers—e.g. in the 3rd century AD Eusebius wrote a church history which is the basis for much of our knowledge of what took place in that period between the death of the apostle John up to the end of the 3rd century. In that book Eusebius mentions another individual, roughly a contemporary of the apostle John, who was called simply John the presbyter or John the elder. Some people have suggested that this is a reference to that individual and not the apostle John, although that can pretty much be dismissed because of the style and vocabulary of this epistle. When we read through this epistle in the Greek it becomes clear that it has the same marks, the same style, the same vocabulary that we have found already in 1 John and the upper room discourse. So most people without any doubt emphasise the fact that it is the apostle John who wrote both 2 John, and 3rd John which is addressed the same way.

The date: There are a few that suggest that this epistle was written before the fall of Jerusalem. John is still in Israel prior to the collapse of the nation, the defeat of the nation by the Romans, and it is not until after 70 AD that John moves his seat of operation to Ephesus. He is the pastor of the church in Ephesus until he is exiled to the island of Patmos somewhere around 90 AD. While he is in Patmos he will receive the revelation of Jesus Christ and write the book of Revelation. Also during this time he will write 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John. 1st John was written to the church at Ephesus and passed around to some of the others. Some of these churches are mentioned in Revelation chapters two and three. 2nd John is addressed to "the lady" and that was probably one of those seven churches, through we can't be certain which. 3rd John was written to a man named Gaius.

To whom is he writing? We read in the first verse that this is the elder writing to the elect lady and her children. There are two broad options that we have. The first is that the reference is to be taken literally, i.e. he is writing to a specific lady and her physical progeny. The second view is that this is not a reference to a lady at all but is simply a metaphorical reference to the church, a church and church members. In the first view some people suggest that this is not to be translated "to the elect lady," but that the word in Greek that is translated "elect," eklektos [e)klektoj], is really proper name for eklekta or elekta, and this would be "the honourable lady Elekta and her children." So that this is an individual's name and is addressed to her. The problem with this is that the word eklekta is used again in verse 13 where John closes out by saying, "The children of your chosen [e)klektoj] sister greet you." So if this was a proper name it would have to be taken as a proper name in verse 13. In the second option is those who come along and say no the name is kuria [kuria], the word for "lady," and is the feminine form of the word kurios [kurioj] for Lord. So this is not the term gune [gunh] for woman, but is a term for someone of aristocracy, for someone who is treated honourably, and that this is actually a proper name. So this would be the chosen or the elect kuria. Though kuria was used as a proper name during this time the absence of an article before the word "elect" argues against this. Another problem is that both here and in 3rd John the recipient is named, and there are also specific individuals such as Diotrephes and Demetrius who are named. So it seems to indicate that John was speaking to a specific individual that the name would be mentioned. Another option that has been suggested is that if we identify the church as one of those seven churches as the church in Laodicea then perhaps this is the woman name Nympha who is mentioned in Colossians 4:15. But the problem with that is that Paul wrote Colossians in about 62 or 63 AD which is about 32 or 33 years earlier than this and the chances are that the church would have either grown or moved. It is still possible that it was the same group meeting in the same house but it is not likely because of the time frame. Furthermore, it is not certain at all that this was in Laodicea, there is no indication whatsoever what the location is. So any of these suggestions are very speculative, we just don't have enough information. Furthermore, there is strong support for the view that this is simply a symbolic reference to the local church that met in whatever town this was. There is definite precedent in the Old Testament to refer to God's people in this feminised form, and the same is true in the New Testament where we have the church as the bride of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul refers to the church at Corinth as a chaste virgin betrothed to one husband. Furthermore, there is an interplay throughout this epistle between the use of a second person singular you and a second person plural you. This is also characteristic of many epistles where Paul addresses the church as a whole with a singular you and then a few verses later he will address the church as a whole with a plural you all. If we look in this particular chapter we see in verse 5 the statement, "Now I ask you, lady [singular, referring to the church as a whole], not as though {I were} writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we [plural] love one another. Then in verse 6, "And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you [plural] have heard from the beginning, that you [plural] should walk in it." That fits the pattern of many epistles. Hodges notes that in verse 12 John says, "Though I have many things to write to you [plural]… [13] The children of your [singular] chosen sister greet you." He asks, "Why did the children of the elect sister greet only the elect lady? Is the sister away, is she dead? Where is she?" So there are a number of inconsistencies here if we are to take this as referring to a specific individual. The best solution seems to be that the elect lady is a metaphorical term, a corporate designation for a church. If this is to a woman then it is the only book in the Bible that is addressed to a woman.

So the conclusion is that on the basis of grammatical and textual evidence in the epistle itself the best solution is that the elect lady is a corporate designation for a local church in the vicinity of Ephesus and that the children are the members of that local church. We can't say that the term "elect lady" is a reference to the church as a whole, the universal church, because then there would be a sister to the universal church and there is only one universal church, there is no sister.

The purpose of John's writing. This we derive from key words in the epistle. The first key word is the word "truth," which is a key word in the Gospel of John, in 1st John, and in both 2nd and 3rd John. It is the Greek word aletheia [a)lhqeia], used five times in this epistle, all of them in the first four verses. A second word that is important is the word "love" which is used four times in the epistle. The third key word is the word "walk," which is used three times emphasising the Christian life. The fourth key word is "abide," a key word used in earlier epistles and used twice in this epistle. When we put these together we see that the emphasis here is going to be dealing with the relationship between truth and love. Truth has to do with the absolute truth of Bible doctrine and love has to do not with an emotion or feeling or sentimentality but first and foremost with understanding what Jesus Christ did on the cross and understanding that we are able to walk by means of truth. This is what John emphasises in the first verse: "The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in [by means of] truth…" The words "love by means of truth" is the preposition en [e)n] plus the dative of aletheia [a)lhqeia]. It is Bible doctrine that is the means of spiritual growth. Love starts with the knowledge and understanding of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross and then it is based on that. Jesus said to love one another as he has loved us, so love starts with understanding what goes on at the cross and therefore love functions on the basis of doctrine. If we have doctrine without love then that doctrine is nothing more than gnosis [gnwsij], academic truth, and as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8, it is knowledge that puffs up and just produces arrogance; it is not episgnosis [e)pignwsij]. Love without doctrine is simply sentimentality and emotion and either way either doctrine or love is distorted. We have to be careful, we can only love doctrinally—genuine doctrine produces genuine love.

The theme of this epistle is going to be to warn and to correct false doctrine. The emphasis here is a warning to the church to be on guard against travelling preachers. Also we see from the concept of the elder here that John functioned as an absentee pastor. They did not have a local pastor and they did not have regular face to face teaching, so they received letters from John. They also had itinerant pastors who came through and some of these were teaching the same false doctrine about Jesus Christ that we ran into in 1 John. So there is a warning against these deceivers who do not abide in the truth. Notice again the emphasis that abiding in Christ, abiding in fellowship, is first and foremost related to abiding in doctrine. Doctrine is not optional; doctrine is crucial. Specifically they are perverting the doctrine of the person of Christ and that has profound implications for the spiritual life of the believer. Verse 7 NASB "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ {as} coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist…. [9] Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son."

In light of this warning against false teachers who distort the truth, here is a quote from a man who has one of the largest Bible teaching ministries in the US, a famous and well-known pastor and former president of a well-known seminary, and he should know better. This is how he summarises 1st John: "Teeter-totters must be equally weighted when the game goes sour, as every child knows. A bigger child on one end of the wooden plank can/will keep the other child stranded in the air or allow the child to come crashing down to the ground. When that happens an ankle can become sprained, a bottom bruised, or a tongue bitten. Severely out of balance the teeter-totter not only ceases to be fun, it becomes dangerous. Similarly, when the balance between truth and love is unequally weighted in the church it can cause serious damage."

Understand what he just said. He said you balance truth with love; he started with a false presupposition. That is not what John is doing. John is not saying you can choose between truth and love, it is love by means of truth. In other words, you can't weigh one more than the other. If we have doctrine and are operating on the filling of the Holy Spirit then we have truth and love as one thing that is completely complementary with one another.

He goes on to say, "Some church, obesed with truth, bully the members that sit in their pews." He looks on truth there as something you can bully people with. You can't bully people with the truth. If you understand truth then you are going to be growing by means of the Holy Spirit and applying love. He says, "… full of doctrine, thickly-line with Greek and Hebrew, often prove too big and the balance is upset…. humbly on the other end love can be so gorged on a candy, gum and soft-drink diet that it, too, can become out of balance. This see-saw effect either keeps the truth teetering up in the air or sends it crashing to the ground. Some churches can be so truthful that they are often unloving; others so loving that they are untruthful. The postcard of 2 John serves as a fulcrum to keep these two playmates in a happy balance."

That is not what this epistle is about at all, it is about keeping our doctrine correct so that we can be in fellowship with God, so that we can mature and grow in the spiritual life. When people are influenced by the human viewpoint thinking of the culture around them, when it destroys their doctrinal integrity it will destroy their whole concept of love. This individual's concept of doctrine had been distorted and warped because he got into an emotional reaction to a personality some forty years earlier, and that shaded and characterised his whole ministry for the next forty years so that he never put a real emphasis on doctrine, he put all the emphasis on application. You can't emphasise truth over against love because doctrine understood as doctrine under the filling of the Holy Spirit will always produce love, that is what the fruit of the Spirit is all about. You walk in truth; you walk in doctrine; you walk by means of the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. So if we are not walking in truth there is going to be no production of love. If there is no love being produced then we are not walking in truth.

2 John 1 NASB "The elder to the chosen lady…" "Elder" is the Greek word presbuteros [presbuteroj] and it has several connotations. One is of an old man or an elderly person, and it goes from that literal meaning to a figurative meaning of someone who is mature. Furthermore the term "elder" refers to someone who is in a position of authority and leadership, and in that sense it came into the canon of Scripture to refer to the leader of a congregation and emphasises the spiritual maturity of the man we call the pastor. There are three words in the Scriptures that are used to refer to the leader of a congregation. The second word that is used is the one that is translated "bishop" in 1 Timothy 3, the Greek word episkopos [e)piskopoj] from which we get our English word Episcopal. These are the third term, pastor or pastor-teacher from the Greek poimen [poimhn], which means shepherd, are used synonymously and interchangeably in a couple of key passages. Elder emphasises his spiritual maturity; bishop emphasises his authority as a leader over the congregation, and pastor also emphasises his position as leader but his position is the one who is to feed the sheep and he is the one who is responsible for their spiritual nourishment.

Acts 20:17 NASB "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church." There is not just one church in Ephesus, there are several, and Paul refers to the entire body of believers in Ephesus as the church. The elders are the pastors of the various congregations in Ephesus.

Acts 20:28 NASB To the presbuteroi: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episkopos], to shepherd [poimeo] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." There all three words are used in the same context. The same thing is done in 1 Peter 5.

1 Pet 5:1 NASB "Therefore, I exhort the elders [presbuteroi] among you, as {your} fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed." Notice here that Peter is emphasising his position as a pastor more than his position as an apostle. Even though both he and John were apostles later in life they became associated with one congregation and in terms of that function as a pastor to that congregation they emphasised their position as a presbuteros as opposed to an apostle. [2] "shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight [episkopoi] not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to {the will of} God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness." "Shepherd the flock" is a present active imperative, poimeo, the verb form for pastor. There we see a clear example of the fact that these three terms emphasised all talk about the same individual who is the leader of the congregation, the man designated by God as the one responsible for the spiritual nourishment and spiritual growth of that individual congregation. This sets a pattern that in many contexts throughout the history of Christianity there has not been a local pastor present to teach the Word. So they have had to receive their teaching either through a written means or in the modern day a number of other means. But it should be emphasised that in Christianity and the view of the Scriptures it is abnormal not to be under a face to face ministry. The preferred situation is for every believer to be involved in a local church under a face to face pastor. This is difficult in time when the church as a whole is apostate, when living in a culture of apostasy. 

"…and her children, whom I love in truth"… en [e)n] plus the dative of aletheia [a)lhqeia], which means "I love by means of truth. Here he begins his emphasis on truth which characterises the first four verses of this opening introduction.