The second Epistle of John is the 63th book of the Bible. It’s the shortest part of New Testament, which consists of only 13 verses. The word “epistle” derives from the Greek language and is translated like “letter”. In the Bible Epistles compose a group of books of the New Testament. There is a version that Epistles were written like the letters in the beginning and that is why they got such a name. The word “epistle” is used sometimes not only for the books of the New Testament. It can refer to the open letters, written by the high religious authorities even nowadays.
Despite its small size The Second Epistle of John raises a lot of questions among scholars. There are many controversial issues concerning this book. The authorship of this epistle is a subject of loud disputes. The dates it was written do not cohere with the dates it was composed. There are different versions about the addressee of the Epistle. In my work I will try to study these doubtful issues and their possible influence impact of the Epistle to the Christianity.
The Second Epistle of John is imputed to John, one of the twelve Apostles though nowadays this authorship and even the person of John himself is put under the doubt.
It’s been a long time centuries scholars, religious figures and scientists argue about the author or the authors of the main Christian sacred text – the Bible and the Second Epistle of John is not an exception. The authorship of the Epistle became the subject of stormy controversy. The debates started long time ago. The authorship of many parts of the Bible became the subject of doubts after the second century. There are five books, which are attributed to John the Apostle. They are: the Gospel, three Epistles and Revelations. But his authorship of these works is put under doubt. There are several reasons for that. The name of the author isn’t called directly in any of the books mentioned above. In the Second Epistle the author calls himself “the elder” but nobody is quite sure what this expression means in reality. “The author of the epistles identifies himself as “the elder” (2 John 1:1), but never claims to be the apostle. Neither does the author of these epistles claim the authority to command the church to follow his instructions. Instead, he reasons with them and urges the church to abide in what it has received and what it has heard from the beginning” (Holman Bible Dictionary). Those, who support the idea that The Second Epistle was written by John the Apostle, find different arguments to support their thesis. They interpret the word elder (the only way the author described himself in this Epistle) as a synonym for bishop and state that the “elder” in the context of the Epistle means the elder members of the church, church authorities.
In general, all the evidence collected by those, who believe in John’s authorship can be divided into two major groups – external and internal evidences. Those, who believe in his authorship, put forward an argument that old authors didn’t doubt that this Epistle was written by John. This means, by their opinion that people, who remembered the real facts and knew the real author didn’t doubt the fact that this book was written by John the Apostle. They also set as an argument the fact that the authorship could have been doubted intentionally by those, who wanted to bring schism to the Church and give birth to the doubts in the mind of people. So, all doubts they called artificial and far-fetched. One of the reasons believes in John’s authorship put forward is the fact that there are no distinct proves against his authorship. This argument seems far-fetched and weak for their opponents. The most supported argument they can put forward is similarity of the Second Epistle with Third Epistle. Unfortunately, this similarity can not help to define the author, as he is not mentioned in the Third Epistle either.
The loudest disputes about the authorship of the Epistle arouse during the epoch of higher criticism, when a lot of religious facts had been doubted. Earlier one fact could give birth to hesitations about the author of the Second Epistle. The decree, passed by the Council of Rome in 382 stated that Gospel, the First Epistle and Revelation belonged to John the Apostle and that other two Epistle belonged to John the Priest. Here we can see that even the Council of Rome believed that these five books had been written by different people and that the Second Epistle wasn’t written by the Apostle. Disputes continue till nowadays and no definite answer was found yet. There are many versions concerning this subject.
Modern scholars share different views on the authorship of the Second Epistle. There is a big group of scholars, who share traditional view and believe that it belongs to John the Apostle. There is another big group of researchers, who don’t believe that all three Epistles, Revelation and the Gospel were written by the same person. They also don’t believe that the author of the Second Epistle was John the Apostle. Some believe that the Epistle was written by the person called John but that he wasn’t the Apostle, others believe that it was written by the group of people.
The Dates of Writing and Composition
The dates of writing the Second Epistle are not defined clearly either. According to one of the hypothesis it was written in Ephesus but there is not definite information about the year it was written.
The topic, touched by the author in his letter, reflects the mood of Paul’s farewell address, where he warned people against the false teachings and teachers. Theoretically, John’s Epistle can be referred to the same time span as he touches same topics of false prophets. If we compare the dates we will come to the conclusion that this period should be before A.D. 85. Another researches call even the earlier dates. “As we will argue in our discussion of 1 John, this letter probably antedated that one by some short amount of time. Since the heretics do not apparently deny the second advent, and since they are still presenting themselves as part of the Christian community, we suggest a terminus a quo of 66 CE and a terminus ad quem of 68 CE. It must be stressed, once again, that the data are slim, and this date is only suggestive.” (Vine, 79). Despite the slight differences in the dating most scholars call the first century A. D. the time the Second Epistle was written. From the other hand, it’s hard to find quotes of the Epistle in other sources in the writings of the 2nd century. Citations of the Second Epistle of John appear several centuries later. Interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament is very long and reaches several centuries sometimes. It can give birth to doubts about the authenticity of the texts.
To define the purpose of the Second Epistle it’s necessary to define whom it was dedicated to. There is no agreement on this point yet. Some translate the dedication as to “an elect lady” and believe that it was addressed to a real person. Other insists on different interpretation of the phrase and believe that the Epistle was addressed to the church. In reality, there are five variants the phrase “ejklekth kurive” can be interpreted. It ca mean “the elect lady,” “an elect lady,” “Electa the Lady,” “the elect Kyria,” or “Electa Kyria.” Last three variants favored by some researches assume that Kyria is a proper name and that John addressed his letter to a definite person. This hypothesis is very doubtful as the cases when Kyria was used as a proper name are very rare. Even if we believe in one of the first variant (“an elect lady” or “the elect lady”) we still have doubts about the addressee. There is no agreement on the questions whether the letter was dedicated to the real lady or to the Church.
The letter was written during the time when the Church was tore up by different false teachers and prophets. John wrote his Epistle aiming to warn people against mistakes in their religious search. Disturbed by the situation in the Ephesus church, he wanted to save the pure teaching of God from intrusion of lies, hatred, envy and hostility. The situation in the Church of Ephesus wasn’t an exception and it was repeated in many churches during those times. That is why the Second Epistle of John had such an important meaning for those times. Unfortunately, we can say that with the flow of time the situation hasn’t changed a lot. The church is still corrupted by negative feelings, which destroy the faith of ordinary people and false teachers seduce people with their false promises. That is one of the reasons the Bible is called “the book of the books”. Written so many centuries ago, it can be applied to modern situation and advise, directions, farewells written there contain same alive wisdom and can be useful same as long time ago.
Warning about the false teaching is only one layer of meaning put in the smallest book of the Bible. It contains much more information. The Second Epistle is very closely connected with the First one and that is why its main themes should be regarded in close connection with the First Epistle. In the First Epistle John declared the power of love and faith and called to the seeking the knowledge of God by any means. He also insisted on the necessity of active path of the faithful person. He insisted that love was the natural part of faith and that God could be discovered with the help of love – love to the truth, to God. Blind following the religious doctrines isn’t enough to form the path of the religious person. Faith can not be only rationalized it must be felt and experienced. It should become an integral part of everyday life and only this way the main purpose of the religious will be achieved – the person will find the peace and union with God. All these themes were expended and developed in the Second Epistle. Same absolute truths are repeated there but now the accent is made on the Church and its role in bringing up the religious consciousness of an individual. Obedience is another important subject of the Second Epistle. Following the path assumes complete obedience and surrender. It can be difficult as our habit to argue and rationalize can make big obstacles on this way but true faith isn’t possible without obedience. These are the truths expressed by John in his Second Epistle. If we think deeper about the message of this letter, we will understand the fragile limit John wanted up to pay attention to. From the one side, blind faith can lead religious people to wrong conclusions and make them believe in false teachers, which is dangerous. From the other side obedience assumes complete surrender and one hundred per cent faith. Here some people may see a controversy and feel confused. In reality, there is no controversy in following the right teaching and obeying to religious authorities. In his Epistle John points the way to overcome this difficulties and this way is the way of love. He wants people to realize that listening to your heart and following the path of love in your religious search you can escape all mistakes and temptations. These are the things, John the Apostle wanted to bring to people with his Second Epistle. Those, who regard it only as the hostile warning against other religions and confessions, see only the part of the truth and they miss big part of the meaning put in the shortest book of the Bible by its author.
There are a lot questions and doubtful issues which appear when we try to study the origins of the Second Epistle of John. We doubt the author, the exact date it was written and even the person or social group it was addressed to. I believe that there is nothing bad in looking for the true answers and that this initiative is very laudable. I only don’t want the meaning of the Bible and its deep and secret teaching to be neglected or belittled because of the quarrels of scholars of religious authorities. We may have different systems of believes and belong to different confessions but it’s worth to remember that there are people who treat the Bible like sacred and holy text and even the smallest doubts can hurt their religious feelings. Despite all the doubts and different interpretations we must agree that the Bible contains general human truths and can be regarded as the collection of peoples wisdom, gathered for centuries. One person can be mistaken or misinterpreted but this can not happen to the whole humanity. I think that doubtful questions about the Bible lose their importance if we regard the Bible like the incarnation of thought and experiences of many people, who lived before us and wanted to pass their knowledge to us.
George, Augustin and Grelot, Pierre. Introducción Crítica al Nuevo Testamento. Herder: Barcelona, 1992, 145-167. Wiles, Maurice F., The Spiritual Gospel: The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel in the Early Church, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1960 132-134. Denzinger, Heinrich and Rahner, Karl. Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum. 28th Edition. Herder: Freiburg, 1952, 362 p. Vine, W. E. The Epistles of John: Light, Love, Life. London: Oliphants, 1965, 241pp. Culpepper R. Alan John the Apostle Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991, 251 pp.