2 AND 3 JOHN Introduction
These short letters, the two shortest books in the NT, were not often quoted or referred to in the earliest times which makes it difficult to solve problems like date, authorship and the like. Both claim to have been written by ‘the elder’ but there is no further description. It is sometimes argued that there was an ‘elder John’ in antiquity, separate from the apostle, and that he wrote these two letters. But it has not been demonstrated that such an ‘elder John’ ever existed. Moreover, in antiquity, as far as our information goes, neither of these letters was ever said to have been written by anyone other than the apostle John. The language of both resembles that of the first letter and of the fourth gospel. In the present state of our knowledge it seems best to accept the traditional view and see the apostle John as the author.
2 John is addressed to ‘the chosen lady and her children’ and there is controversy as to whether this means an individual lady or whether it is a symbolic way of referring to a church. If the latter, the ‘children’ would be members of the congregation. The principal arguments for the former view are that it is the most natural way of taking the words, that its contents are rather slight for an address to a congregation, and that ‘your house’ (10) looks like a reference to the home of an individual family. In support of the view that the letter was destined for a church, it is urged that the subject matter is more appropriate for a church than for an individual, and that the letter lacks personal characteristics (in which it stands in contrast to 3 John). Most modern scholars see the letter as written to a church. The problem seems insoluble with the information at our command, though perhaps it is a little more likely that it is a letter to an individual; it does seem rather slight for a letter to a congregation.
This letter appears to reflect something of the same false teaching as lay behind 1 John. It would accordingly have been written to put its readers on their guard against it. Clearly there was some danger that the false teachers would be welcomed and that thus their doctrines would spread. The elder wrote to forestall this. Some writers link 3 John with the same situation. It is concerned with hospitality to visiting preachers, and the Diotrephes who was refusing to receive people the elder commended may have come from the false teachers behind 2 John. But this is somewhat speculative and we must bear in mind that, despite the views of some scholars, there is no indication that Diotrephes held anything other than orthodox teaching. It has been suggested that Diotrephes was orthodox and that the writer of this letter was not! This critic holds that that is why the two were at odds. Such contentions do not seem to be soundly based. We cannot be sure of anything more than that Gaius was being reassured in the face of the unfriendly gossip and the unfriendly actions of Diotrephes. The elder would take action against this man in due course. There is very little on which to estimate the dates of these writings (see the comment on the date of 1 John). Most agree that they come from about the same period and it is usual to see this as not very far from the time of 1 John.
See also the article Reading the letters.
For Further reading see under 1 John.
Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (2 Jn 1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.