In the last couple of months we have been looking into the letter of 1 John and were challenged by his theology and thought. Today we will turn to a letter we know of as 2 John. In this letter the apostle is writing to “the elect lady” and commends her for staying truthful and faithful to the gospel as well as warns her against some of the false teachers out there. Let us now take a closer look into the text.
Opening Greetings (vv. 1-3; AT)
The elder [writes] to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, (and) not only I but also all those who know the truth; because of the truth which remains in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy and peace will be with us from God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
In this opening greeting we have the standard A to B greeting formula—unlike 1 John. Kruse observes that “[t]he term ‘elder’ may not denote an official position in the church, for where office is indicated in the NT a plural form (‘elders’, presbyteroi) is always used, not the singular (‘elder’, presbyteros), as here” (Kruse, 203-04). Further the phrase “elect lady” (ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ) can be interpreted in different ways. Kruse (204), relying on Brown (652-54), lists five possible interpretations:
(i) A Babylonian woman ‘Electa’
(ii) A ‘noble Kyria’
(iii) Something like “dear lady”
(iv) Denoting a church at large
(v) “part of a larger expression, ‘the elect lady and her children’, which is a metaphorical way of addressing a local church and its members.
Kruse points out that in the OT (+ Apocrypha) the terms wife, bride, mother, daughter are used in reference to Israel. We also see that the church has a female reference in 1 Pt 5:13 (ἡ ἐν Βαβυλῶνι). Further, verse 14 ends this letter with “the children of your sister” (τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου) which might refer to another church; therefore lady cannot refer to the universal church but to a local one.
How should the phrase “in truth” (ἐν ἀληθείᾳ) be understood and rendered? Should we read “in the truth” as in “he loves the readers, who, like him, are ‘in the truth’, that is, those who continue faithful to the truth concerning Jesus Christ as it was heard at the beginning” (Kruse, 205) or should it be rendered “truly”? Both interpretations are valid but the former might be favored due to the following verse clause which states not only I but also all those who know the truth.
In verse 2 the author states the reason as to why the “community of love exists” (Kruse, 205). We see that especially in John 14:16 “Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα) and John 14:18-20 “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. In a little while the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.” It is the Holy Spirit who enlightens and strengthens the believers so that the truth remains in us.
With that John turns to Grace, mercy and peace will be with us from God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love. In the NT we find various passages (see Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Phlm 3; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2; Jude 2; Rev 1:4) which refer to peace and love as an expressed wish to the readership. But 2 John varies (the following is quoted from Kruse, 206):
(i) Here it is not so much a wish as an affirmation that grace, mercy, and peace will be with the writer and readers.
(ii) Emphasis is placed on the fact that these blessings will be with them by placing the words ‘will be with us’ … at the beginning of the sentence in the original language.
(iii) The affirmation relates to the experience of both writer and readers (‘with us’), not just readers.
(iv) To the name Jesus Christ is added the description, ‘the Father’s Son’.
(v) Grace, mercy and peace, the text says, will be with them ‘in truth and love’.
Walking in the Truth (vv. 4-6; AT)
I rejoice exceedingly, because I have found that some of your children walk in the truth, just as we received the commandment from the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady – not as [if] writing a new commandment to you, but which we have received from the beginning – that we love one another. And this is love that we walk according to His commandments; this is the commandment – as you heard from the beginning – that you walk in it.
John expresses his exceedingly thrilling joy over the faithful work in truth. But why does he state some of your children? Does this mean that some are walking to the truth and some are not? This is grammatically possible but it could also mean that he only knows of some; meaning: “I heard about some of you children and I am thrilled to hear that they are walking in the truth.” Kruse also states that “here is no indication elsewhere in the letter that this is the case [that is, that only some are walking in the truth], so it is best to regard the elder’s statement as expressing joy over those he has heard are walking in the truth, without implying that others are not” (207).
Another question raises itself from the syntax of these verses. To what does the clause just as we received the commandment from the Father (καθὼς ἐντολὴν ἐλάβομεν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός) refer? Kruse (quotes are from p. 207) again will help us out:
(i) It is an allusion to the voice from heaven at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration which said to Peter, James, and John: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7/Matt 17:5).
(ii) It is a recognition that the teaching of Jesus was teaching that the Father had commanded him to pass on (cf. Jesus’ words in John 12:50: ‘Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say’).
(iii) It is an equating of the gospel message itself with the Father’s command.
For the last interpretation see also 1 John 3:23 “Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment.”
It is of interest to observe that the author is not stating “that you love one another” but that welove one another (ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους). That is he stresses the mutual love of the elder (apostle?) and the lady (church?). The commandment of love was already stated in 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12 – cf. also John 13:34; 15:12, 17.
In verse 6 John writes: And this is love that we walk according to His commandments; this is the commandment – as you heard from the beginning – that you walk in it. We see that kind of language also in the Gospel of John. “In the Fourth Gospel Jesus defines his disciples’ love for himself in terms of their obedience to his commands in general (John 15:10, 14), and in the same context he interprets that general obedience in terms of obedience to his command that they love one another (John 15:12)” (Kruse, 208).
What is the antecedent of the phrase in it (ἐν αὐτῇ) found in the last clause of this verse?
Kruse states that this expression could be interpreted as “an example of semantic density, that is, at this point the author deliberately intends the reader to understand that the antecedents of autē (‘it’) are alētheia(‘truth’), entole (‘commandment’), and agapē (‘love’). To walk in ‘it’, then, would be to walk in truth and love” (208-09). Yet truth might be the primary reference because of the linkage to v. 7 via the preposition “for” (ὅτι; see next post on that).
We need to walk in truth and love. This is a many faceted statement. We cannot purely love nor can we purely walk in truth. The both need to be wedded in a deep way so that the fullness of Christ may dwell in us richly.