An Introduction to Second John

Greetings, friends.

Over the next several days, I will be posting sections of my unpublished commentary on Second John, titled “The Truth and the Liars,” for your consideration. Today’s installment is the introduction to the letter.

If you find any mistakes, clunky wording, or areas needing clarifying, please feel free to email me, and let me know so I can take care of those issues before issuing a final version of it.

Thank you!

The letter we call II John has an older man writing to encourage people to continue walking in the truth so they can be prepared to recognize and avoid false teachers.  The apostle John is usually referred to as the apostle of love, but in this book John’s focus is on knowing and living the truth.  This should come as no real surprise, because Jesus said, “if you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  Knowing and living the truth will protect us from false doctrine that exists in the world.

The Writer

The apostle John (the son of Zebedee, and brother of the apostle James) has long been acknowledged as the writer of this and four other New Testament books (The Gospel of John, I John, III John, and Revelation).  Most biblical language experts agree the same person wrote all the books bearing John’s name because of the striking similarity in style and substance.  Therefore, we should conclude whoever wrote one of those books/letters wrote them all.  In the Gospel of John, the writer clearly states he was a disciple of Jesus Christ (John 21:20-24).  This disciple was also present at the Last Supper (John 13:23), which was only attended by Jesus and his twelve apostles (Matthew 26:19-20). I John 1:1-3 also makes it clear the writer claimed to have been a close disciple of Jesus.  Unless the writer of these books is a liar, we can know he was one of the twelve apostles.

In the book of Revelation, the writer gives his name as “John” (Revelation 1:1, 9).  Only one of the apostles was named “John,” eliminating anyone else from consideration.  The apostle John is the writer of this book.

There are those who, based on a fragment of a 4th century quotation of a 2nd century writing, claim all the books which bear John’s name were written by another disciple of Jesus named John who they call “John the Presbyter.”  The above evidence including the writer of John being present at the Last Supper should eliminate this idea from consideration.

To Whom was it Written?

There is debate as to who the “elect lady” mentioned in II John 1 is.  While this will be discussed in more detail in the comments section on that verse, we shall here give a brief overview of the main candidates for the “elect lady.”

  1. Some believe the “elect lady” is a literal woman. Among this group, some believe it is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is being addressed.  Others believe it is some woman unknown to us, but possibly named Kyria (the Greek word translated “lady”).  Still others hold it is some woman John held in high esteem, but whose identity we will never know.
  2. Others believe the “elect lady” is speaking of the bride of Christ, the church. Among this group, some believe it was written to the entire church as a whole.  Others believe it was written to a specific congregation of the Lord’s church.

Regardless of the original recipient(s) of the letter, all can agree it was written to Christians, and as such has value and application for all Christians today.

The Date of Writing

It has become very popular in the last 50+ years to say all of John’s writings were done in the last ten years of the first century.  However, the evidence says otherwise.

Historically speaking, the apostle John is said to have been so infirmed near the end of his life he had to be carried everywhere and could hardly make out any more than the words, “love one another.”  It is hard to picture this man then giving the statement about Diotrephes, “Therefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he does…” (III John 10).  If John expected to be able to travel and stand up to the bully of the congregation, it must have been before he became so old he couldn’t even walk.  Also, in Revelation, John is told, “You must prophecy again before many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (Revelation 10:11).  It is hard to imagine an almost 100-year-old John who could barely speak or move being able to go around prophesying to different nations.  Historically and biblically speaking, the “late date” theory doesn’t make much sense.

There is almost universal agreement that all the books bearing John’s name were written around the same time period, whenever that may be.  So, if we can deduce the date of one of the books, then we have a very good idea when the other books were written.

One writer said it is amazing the single most climactic event in the area was never referred to as a past event in Scriptures.  He is referring to the absolute destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  It is prophesied by Jesus in the gospel accounts, but none of the writers ever say, “and it happened just like he said it would.”  Because of that fact, A.T. Robertson, a self-proclaimed liberal, said he had no choice but to date the entire New Testament prior to AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed (A.T. Robinson, Re-Dating the New Testament).

In I John, the apostle says, “Little children, it is the last time [literally “it is the final hour”]: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time [final hour]” (I John 2:18).  John basically tells the people, “You heard when the antichrist came, the last time would be here.  I’m telling you now there are many antichrists, so you know that time is now!”  An inspired apostle is telling them the last time is then a present reality.  Since we still exist some 1900+ years later, we must ask, “What is he talking about?”

Jesus, in Matthew 24, describes the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and says one of the signs the end of Jerusalem is near is “false Christs” shall arise (Matthew 24:23-25).  A false Christ says “I am the Christ,” as though he was Jesus, returning.  So, when John said antichrists were around when he wrote, therefore they could know it was the last time, he was talking about the same thing Jesus mentioned:  Jerusalem is about to be destroyed.  In II John, the antichrists are mentioned again as a present reality (II John 7).  If we put all of these things together, we must come to the conclusion I John and II John were both written close to the time before the destruction of Jerusalem, probably between 65-69 AD.

This matches with the Old Testament foretelling the end of prophecy (that is, inspiration and miracles) would take place sometime between the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem (see Zechariah 12:10-14:2, especially 13:2).[1]

[1] For a fuller examination of this topic, see the author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, Appendix: The End of Miracles.

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