Unlike 1 John, 2 John has the formal characteristics of a true letter: the sender and recipients are iden tified and a greeting typical of ancient letters is passed on to them. And yet the identification of the author is unusual, for where one would expect a personal name, the author refers to himself only as the Elder (ho presbyteros). Literally the word means someone who is old, but because those who were old were deemed to have wisdom and expe rience that qualified them to be leaders, an "elder" was someone who was also in a position of authority (Deut 19:12; Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:2; Ezra 10:4; Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 23; 16:4; 20:17; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet 5:1; 1 Tim 5:17; Tit 1:5). The Elder must have been well known and respected by his readers. He expects them to recognize him without further identi fication and to follow his instructions. As in 1 John, he speaks of them as children (vv. 4, 13), suggesting both the intimacy and the authority he has with them. That he is writing to other congregations suggests that his authority extends beyond one local congregation.
The congregation to which he is writing is designated metaphorically as the chosen lady and her children; we would say "the church and its members." Regularly in the Scriptures Israel or the church is designated as a woman or the bride of Yahweh or Christ (Is 54:1, 13; Jer 6:21; 31:21; Lam 4:2-3; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Gal 4:25-26; Eph 5:22; Rev 18—19). Chosen recalls Jesus' statement in John 15:16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." The church is not a voluntary organization but the fellowship of those called together by Christ. For such a fellowship, family imagery is all the more appropriate, for it suggests the bonds of intimacy and love that bind the family together. Family imagery also underscores that it was not by the children's initiative that this family came into existence.
In his greeting to the congregation the Elder repeats two important themes: truth (vv. 1-4) and love (vv. 1, 3, 5-6). Truth includes matters of both faith and practice, and thus designates what Christians are to believe (v. 7; 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6) and how they are to live (vv. 5-6). Truth is the reality to which Christians are committed, and they are known by their commitment to it.
But that reality is not simply a static and objective entity or set of beliefs. We tend to think of truth as a number of abstract propositions that we are to comprehend and believe. But for the Elder, truth is a vital force that can be personified as living in us and being with us. Because it comes from the living God, truth is a dynamic power that abides with believers, enabling them to know what is true. And because truth comes from God, it exists forever and remains with the faithful, just as God exists eternally and remains in relationship with the faithful. If we could capture John's view of truth as a force that, because it is the work of God's own Spirit, shapes and empowers us, we might be less prone to think of truth as something that depends upon us to preserve it. In reality, we depend upon the truth to guard us—and not vice versa—because we depend upon God. Only as the truth abides in us do we abide in the truth. But we are somewhat too quick to reverse that relationship, and put human beings in the place where God's activity and power belong.
The actual greeting is similar to the somewhat standardized greetings and blessings found in other New Testament epistles (such as Rom 1:7; Gal 6:16; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Jude 2). This is the only use of mercy in the Johannine writings. Six other instances of peace appear, all in the Gospel of John (14:27; 16:33; 20:19, 21, 26). Peace is the assurance that Christians have in knowing that, whatever the world may bring, they are kept secure in God's love and truth by God's own power (Jn 14:27; 16:33). Surprisingly, grace appears elsewhere only in the Gospel of John, and then only in the opening prologue (Jn 1:14, 16-17). Grace summar izes the revelation and salvation that we have received in the Incarnate Word. So while the opening greeting of 2 John may well echo a standard form of greeting, we should understand its content in light of the Chris tian conception of grace, mercy and peace, supremely manifested in God's work in Jesus Christ. Those who live in Christ can be confident that grace, mercy and peace will be and are theirs. Thus the greeting is really a promise: grace, mercy and peace . . . will [always] be with us.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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