New Testament Overview: 2 John

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    @ by J. Hampton Keathley, III {original source}  


Though not stated, the author is undoubtedly John the apostle. He simply refers to himself as “the elder” (presbuteros, “elder, old man”), which is in keeping with the reticence of the author of both the Gospel of John and 1 John to identify himself. This is the same self-designation used by the author of 3 John. That he identifies himself as simply “the elder’ suggests that he was well known and established to those he was writing to. This was an official title for the office of an elder, but it is perhaps more likely that he was using it as an affectionate designation by which he was well known to his readers.

The similarities in style between this epistle and 1 John and the Gospel of John suggest that the same person wrote all three books. A number of passages show the similarities: compare 2 John 5 with 1 John 2:7 and John 13:34-352 John 6 with 1 John 5:3 and John 14:23; 2 John 7 with 1 John 4:2-3; and 2 John 12 with 1 John 1:4 and John 15:11.

Although John himself might send a shorter personal letter resembling a longer one he had previously written, it is unlikely that a forger would try to produce such a short document that added so little to the case found in 1 John. Further, a later forgery of 2 John (or 3 John) would have drained it of its authority for the readers, since the contents of 2 and 3 John indicate that they knew the writer personally.fn95

Since the book has been traditionally tied to the apostle John as the author, it has been titled in the Greek text as Ioannou B, Second of John.


The letter is addressed “to the elect lady and her children(v. 1; cf. vv. 4-5).

This phrase may refer to an individual or to a church (or the church at large). Some have suggested that the addressee is a Christian lady named “Electa,” but the same word in v.13 is clearly an adjective, not a proper name.

Others see the letter addressed to a Christian lady named “Kyria” (first proposed by Athanasius) or to an unnamed Christian lady. The internal evidence of 2 John clearly supports a collective reference, however. In v.6 the addressee is mentioned using second person plural, and this is repeated in vv. 8, 10, and 12. Only in v. 13 does the singular reappear. The uses in vv. 1 and 13 are most likely collective. Some have seen a reference to the church at large, but v.13, referring to “the children of your elect sister” is hard to understand if the universal church is in view. Thus the most probable explanation is that the “elect lady” is a particular local church at some distance from where the author is located.

sn92b 2 John is being written to warn a “sister” church some distance away, referred to as an elect lady, of the missionary efforts of the secessionist false teachers (discussed in 1 John) and the dangers of welcoming them whenever they arrive.96

DATE: A.D. 85-90

It is difficult to date the letter, but the circumstances and subjects in the letter suggest it was probably written about the same time as 1 John (A.D. 85-90). The above similarities indicate this as well (see the date as discussed in 1 John above).


The theme of 2 John is the apostle’s concern that his readers continue to walk in the truth of apostolic doctrine and in accordance with the commandments (vv. 4-6). Because “many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh(v.7), John was writing to protect them from the evil deception of those who refused to remain in the teaching of Christ, but were running beyond and away from the truth (v.9). In keeping with this, several purposes are seen:

  • (1) He wrote to keep his readers from losing the things they had together worked for, including a full reward (v.9), and
  • (2) to give them clear instructions against receiving these false teachers into their homes or house churches and giving them a Christian greeting.

This undoubtedly referred to recognizing them as teachers of the truth in their home churches. John was not telling them to be rude or refuse to witness to them.


The key words are “truth” (nine times), and “commandment” (14 times).


6-116 (Now this is love: that we walk according to his commandments.) This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning; thus you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist! 8 Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching about Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not give him any greeting, 11 because the person who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds.


As there is only one chapter to 2 John, this focus is not applicable.


Again, as in 1 John, 2 John is concerned with protecting the biblical doctrine of the incarnation. He wrote to refute the error that denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. In fact, the statement in verse 7 regarding the denial that “Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” may even refer to the incarnation in a threefold way. In contrast to 1 John 4:2 where he used the perfect participle, “has come in the flesh” (ele„luthota), here John used the present participle (erchomenon), “is coming” or “is come in the flesh.” Since the present participle may simply emphasize the results and is sometimes translated like a present, there may be no distinction here, but perhaps John meant to broaden the focus on the significance of the incarnation.

This present tense participle seems to include the past coming of Christ in flesh at the Incarnation, the present continuance of His risen humanity, as well as His future coming to earth. By contrast, the perfect tense participle in 1 John 4:2 emphasizes only His incarnation.fn97


  • I. Prologue and Greeting (1:1-3)

  • II. Commendation for Walking in the Truth (1:4)

  • III. Commandment to Continue to Love One Another (1:5-6)

  • IV. Cautions and Instructions Against False Teachers (1:7-11)

  • V. Concluding Remarks and Final Greetings (1:12-13)
fn95 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, 1997, c 1993, electronic media, Logos Library System.

fn96 Translators note, The NET Bible, The Biblical Studies Press, 1998, electronic media, Logos Library System.
fn97 Ryrie, p. 2000.
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