How Christian believers are to relate to those who do not believe as they do is a question that has received a number of different answers. Some urge tolerance and charity; others advocate the necessity of guarding the truth and preserving the purity of the church. Second John apparently takes a rather hard line on the matter: If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him (v. 10).
To such stern and unrelenting admonitions, C. H. Dodd objects, "Does truth prevail the more if we are not on speaking terms with those whose view of the truth differs from ours—however disastrous their error may be?" (1946:152). How we live together with others in tolerance and charity, while yet preserving the purity of the church and guarding the truth of its proclamation, is one of the knotty problems raised for us by the short epistle we know as 2 John.
The Historical Context
2 John is one of the shortest writings in the New Testament. Its purpose is to deal with the problem of itinerant teachers whose teaching the Elder (v. 1) judges to be false (v. 10) because it denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (v. 7; compare 1 Jn 4:2). He warns his readers against sharing in the wicked work (v. 11) of these teachers by accepting their beliefs or aiding their propagan da in any way. These false teachers have gone out into the world (v. 7; 1 Jn 2:18-19), indicating that they are former church members who have now left the fold and probably are trying to win others to their teaching. Anyone familiar with 1 John will recognize that 2 John encapsulates the situation and problems that lie behind 1 John. But 2 John adds no substantially new content. Why, then, was it written?
It is possible that 2 John served as a cover letter, sent along with 1 John, to include personal greetings from the Elder to a specific con gregation in his care. It is also possible that 1 and 2 John were intended for different audiences: 1 John was circulated in the Elder's immediate vicinity, while 2 John was sent to those at a distance, whom the Elder could contact only by letter (v. 12) or by messenger (v. 4). In any case, it is safe to say that the two letters illumine each other and are so obviously written with the same situation in view that each may be used to interpret the other.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.