Last week we have looked into the first verses (i.e., vv. 1-6) of the epistle we call 2 John. Today we will finish with the second part of this letter.
Let us delve into the text and draw some ramifications for our lives today as we are doing so.
Denial of the Truth (vv. 7-9; AT)
For many deceivers went into the world, who do not confess Jesus Christ having come in the flesh; this is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves; so that you might not lose [the things] we worked for, but that you might receive the full reward. Everyone who fails to obey and does not remain in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who remains in this teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son.
How the readers would be able to not be deceived has been stated in v. 6 (in my interpretation) by walking in the truth. Here we encounter the third time of those who have gone out into the world (εἰς τὸν κόσμον) – see also 1 John 2:19: ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’; and 1 John 4:1: ‘Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (see also 1 John 4:2-3).
Kruse comments: “The aspect of the false teaching picked up here is the reality of Jesus Christ’s humanity (his ‘coming in the flesh’), but this cannot be divorced from the purpose of his coming in the flesh, that is, to give himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (cf. 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10)” (209-10).
One question I need to ask as I am reading this text is if the phrase “the teaching of Christ” is an objective or subjective genitive? That means is Christ the object of the teaching (thus the content) or is he the one who is teaching? Kruse (212 n. 15 in reliance on Wendland, ‘What Is Truth?’ 310) suggests that this is another example of what he calls semantic density, where the author intended both meanings to be picked up by the readers. That is, it was important not only to confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh (teaching about Christ), but also to acknowledge and obey Christ’s teaching/command to love one another” (Kruse, 212 n. 15). We should not divorce the one from the other.
In today’s conversation I often here the drastic statement that the Christian does not need to conform to any external standards and that the Spirit and love are the only criteria one needs to conform to. I do not wish to neglect or push aside the Spirit and love. Both of these are crucial for our daily behavior but there is so much more to it. As Eckhard J. Schnabel as shown (see e.g. his Law and Wisdom from Ben Sira to Paul), there is a complexity to the subject. Here I will only reproduce a chart I constructed in light of Schnabel’s study (once my thesis is approved I will post all of it):
Teachings of the Apostles
Order of Creation
The Holy Spirit
The Existing Orders
In my opinion there are external demands laid on the believer but not to the exclusion of the intimate relationship to Jesus and the Father. But let us return to the text.
Kruse writes: “In the letters of John, to have God is to know God and have eternal life, and this is possible only by having the Son…But to have both the Father and the Son should perhaps be understood in the light of John 14:23, where Jesus says: ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ In this case ‘having’ the Father and the Son would involve not only knowing them but also the indwelling of the believer by the Father and the Son through the Spirit” (212-13).
Do Not Receive Those Who Deny the Truth (vv. 10-11; AT)
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into [your] house and do not [even] greet him; for the one who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
Similar warnings to not extend hospitality are given by Ignatius to his readers in Ign. Eph. 7:1; 8:1; 9:1; Ign. Smyrn. 4:1; 5:1; 7:2 (Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 287). To not receive someone into one’s house can be understood in two ways (Kruse 213-14):
1. the “house” could refer to private homes and the offer of hospitality to itinerant Christian ministers
2. the “house” could also refer to the church
If the latter is the case then “the elder could well be advising the members of the house church not to receive heretical teachers into the assembly of the church, implying that they not be given opportunity to propagate their beliefs” (Kruse, 214). We also need to note that in the early Christian movement “greetings between believers usually carry a much stronger Christian content (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 1:3: ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’). Perhaps the elder’s counsel to his readers not to greet the secessionists is to be understood in the light of the fact that Christian greetings generally carried a recognition of the Christian standing of those being greeted — a standing the elder believed the secessionist did not have any longer” (Kruse, 214).
What does this mean for us today? This is a difficult and tricky question. I think that we can “greet” other people whom we know to be false teachers and/or belong to different religions. But the question remains how far this can go. Would I allow a “false teacher’ to preach in my church? In Paul’s tongue: “Certainly not!” There are different occasions and circumstances and we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in those “grey areas”. But what is clear is that we should not support someone who distorts the glorious gospel of a crucified Messiah.
Final Greetings (vv. 12-13; AT)
Having many things to write to you, I do not wish [to do so] by paper and black [ink], but I hope to come to you to speak mouth to mouth so that our joy might be complete. The children of your elect sister greet you.
Again Kruse (216) observes: “The expression of a desire to be present with the person to whom one writes (rather than communicating by letter) is typical of the friendly letter tradition of the first-century Mediterranean world” (see e.g. 2 John 4 and 3 John 4).
“The children of your elect sister” again refers to a congregation (see verse 1).
One aspect we can learn from these concluding remarks is that “mouth to mouth” (i.e., face to face) conversations need to be sought and should be the standard of Christian brothers and sisters if the geographical situation allows. How many things would have been different if fellow believers would have sat down to talk “moth to mouth”?