The Johannine Writings/Part II, Chapter III

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The Johannine Writings
by Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel, translated by Maurice Arthur Canney

CHAPTER. III.

THE SECOND AND THIRD EPISTLES OF JOHN.

   THE agreement which we have noticed in the mode of expression and the
   thought of the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle, is much less
   pronounced when we turn to the Second Epistle, and disappears even more
   in the Third. On the other hand, these two Epistles supplement the
   First from a new point of view.
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  1. PURPOSE OF THE TWO EPISTLES.

   If we take note of what is most peculiar in them, we cannot help seeing
   that their main purpose is to insist that with certain members of the
   Christian Church communion must be ended. We read in 2 Jn. 10 f.: "If
   any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this (the right) teaching,
   receive him not into your house and give him no greeting: for he that
   giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works." Here the Gnostics are
   intended who are called in verse 9 people who "go onward."

   In the Third Epistle the opposition to these is less perceptible; there
   was less opportunity, for the occasion for this Epistle was provided by
   disputes between the author and a certain Diotrephes as to the
   authoritative influence in the community. "I wrote somewhat unto the
   Church; but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them,
   receiveth us not . . . neither doth he himself receive the brethren,
   and them that would he forbiddeth, and casteth them out of the Church"
   (3 Jn. 9 f.). These brethren are therefore travelling Christians, who
   belong to the party of the author. The idea of the Epistle is to
   request Gaius, to whom it is addressed, to receive them kindly. The
   author claims to have an influence extending beyond his own
   dwelling-place. The Demetrius who is mentioned at the end of the
   Epistle, and of whom it is expressly stated that he "hath the witness
   of all men," may well have conveyed it himself.
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  2. ADDRESS OP THE TWO EPISTLES.

   The Third Epistle, then, is addressed to a particular person. At first
   sight, this seems to be so with the Second Epistle as well, when we
   read, "the elder unto the elect lady and her children." But who is the
   lady? The last sentence of the Epistle runs: "The children of thine
   elect sister salute thee." Does the author actually write from the
   house of the sister of the recipient? And what does verse 4 mean? "I
   rejoice greatly that I have found certain of thy children walking in
   truth." Only certain? Was there not greater cause to express sorrow for
   the others? In short, the "lady" is not a particular woman; she is a
   community. We learn from Ephes. v. 31 f.; Rev. xix. 7, that the
   community was thought of as the bride of Christ who had been exalted to
   heaven, just as in the Old Testament the people of Israel is the bride
   of God. Since Christ is called "the Lord," the community might be
   called "the lady." It deserves to be called "elect" because it consists
   of all the chosen. Its children are of course the members of the
   community.

   We need not stop to think, as regards this matter, that a community had
   been shown to be meant instead of what appeared at first sight to be
   one woman. Where should we have to look for it? There is no clue to
   anything of the kind. Any community, therefore, might suppose that it
   was greeted by that other community in which the author was staying.
   This means that the Epistle was meant for the whole church, and its
   contents suit this idea quite well. For a secondary purpose of the
   Epistle is found in the fact that the author wishes to warn people in
   quite a general way against the Gnostics and to emphasise the correct
   teaching about Jesus (2 Jn. 7-9). In this respect it falls into line
   with the first Epistle.
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  3. AUTHOR OF THE TWO EPISTLES AND DATE OF COMPOSITION.

   While the Second Epistle insists, not only on opposition to, but on the
   expulsion of the Gnostics, it goes beyond the First, and so might with
   the Third seem to be later. Unfortunately we have no definite points
   from which to start in order to determine the date at which both were
   written. Yet, on the other hand, there is another fact which leads us
   to suppose that they preceded the Gospel and the First Epistle.

   The author of both Epistles, that is to say, calls himself simply, "the
   elder." How it could be thought that, in spite of this clear
   description, he was the Apostle, is really difficult to explain. If we
   cannot say for certain who is meant by "the elder," yet it is clear
   that the Apostle would not have described himself in this way. When we
   read in v. 1 of the First Epistle of Peter (which, besides, is not by
   Peter, but was written at the beginning of the persecution of the
   Christians in Asia Minor in the year 112; see iv. 12, 15 f.), that
   Peter is addressing the elders of the community, and for this special
   reason calls himself their fellow elder we have something quite
   different. But, besides this, we know of one quite famous person who is
   continually called "the elder"; this is John "the Elder," head of the
   Church in Asia Minor. The use of his special name "the elder" may very
   well have been so widespread that his real name John was omitted.

   Was he the writer of the Epistles? If the Gnostics did not succeed in
   gaining a following in the Christian communities until about the year
   100 (p. 192), a considerable period of time must have elapsed before
   people would take measures to exclude them so harshly from communion.
   For many decades they regarded themselves as members of the Church,
   and, though they were opposed by other teachers in it, they were
   treated everywhere with toleration, A personal disciple of Jesus, such
   as John the Elder was, cannot have lived to see the time when they were
   excluded from communion.

   Another person in his circle, who is not known to us, may have had the
   same title, and in course of time have come to be known solely by this
   name, "the Elder." But in view of the close relationship between, at
   least, the Second Epistle on the one hand and the First and the Gospel
   on the other, it is very likely that the author is supposed to be that
   John the Elder whom Irenaeus and the other Christian writers had in
   mind, even though they mentioned the Apostle as the writer of the
   Gospel and the First Epistle. Only, in that case, the two small
   Epistles would have been composed merely in the name of John the Elder,
   just as the First Epistle and (perhaps) the Gospel are represented as
   being works of John the Apostle.

   And this would be the reason for supposing these two to be the earlier
   of the four writings in question. On this assumption, we shall have to
   think that in one particular place, Ephesus perhaps, there was a whole
   number of persons of like mind who were filled with a feeling of
   veneration for John the Elder, once head of this community, and at the
   same time were anxious, by writing books, to make their ideas current
   in the Church. Even if these ideas had ceased to be quite identical
   with those of their former Master, it was most natural for them to
   publish their first writings in his name. But perhaps they were made to
   realise that his reputation had not extended beyond the immediate
   circle in which he had once worked. In order, therefore, to make a
   greater impression, when they thought of publishing new works, such as
   the Gospel and the First Epistle, they felt obliged to choose a person
   who ranked still higher and publish them in his name; this person was
   John the Apostle. In this way the two small Epistles, in spite of the
   fact that their range is restricted, would contribute not a little
   towards giving us a very interesting and instructive glimpse of a whole
   series of events and struggles, which the idea that arose later, that
   their author was John the Apostle, to all intents and purposes served
   to overcloud completely.
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The Johannine Writings
by Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel, translated by Maurice Arthur Canney