Deceivers, not welcome! Friday, 32nd Week in ordinary time – 2 John 4 -9

Deceivers, not welcome! Friday, 32nd Week in ordinary time – 2 John 4 -9

Attributed to the Gospel writer John, this letter, along with 1 John, deals with the crucial issue of heresy. 2 John takes up the concerns already expressed in 1 john. There is much similarity of thought and expression in the two letters.

2 John opens with ‘the elder’ addressing ‘the elect lady’ and ‘her children’. This begs the question, who is the elder and who is the elect lady? Once we have ascertained this, we can look at the text itself.

The word ‘elder’ in Greek, as in English, means an “old man.” In Jewish communities, from ancient times (cf. Num. 11:16; Josh. 24:31; Ruth 4:2) a council of elders supervised the administration and interpretation of the law. In New Testament times, these councils were no doubt modelled on the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem with its “chief priests, scribes, and elders.” Also at the synagogue assemblies, the elders were given seats of honour (cf. Matt. 23:6)

The church in apostolic times took over the institution. The apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 11:30; 15:2-29; 16:4; 21:18) served as model for the elders of local Christian communities (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:17). The term was broad enough to include all leaders who exercised oversight and pastoral care in the congregations (cf. I Pet. 5:1; Jas. 5:14; Titus 1:5-6). Here, the elder speaks with authority in the singular, not as a member of a council group. However, his personal identity and rank and the basis of his authority are not clear.

The letter is addressed to the ‘elect lady’ which is a Christian congregation rather than a person. It is addressed to a community either in Ephesus or in the province of Asia. The gracious figure used to describe the 2 churches in this exchange, the elect lady and her children (vs. 1) have a parallel in I Pet. 5:13, which was also written by an apostle-elder. The word ‘elect’ is not meant to be an honorific title but indicative of those who are especially “chosen” of God.

At this point of time, the Church met in the homes of Christians who opened their doors for others to worship or to be instructed. They were often edified by wandering prophets and teachers, visiting preachers and lecturers. But by the end of the first century, many of these visitors were no more than deceivers. The elder is writing out of concern lest the virtue of Christian hospitality exercised by these Churches be misused by these deceivers with their false teaching. We know from 1 John that these deceivers were the Gnostics. They claimed to have a more ‘advanced’ teaching than what has been handed down from the beginning (verse 5). The commandment and teaching handed from the beginning was simple and as some called it the Gospel in a nutshell, “to love one another.”

The Gnostics had spread deceit and their doctrine was nothing less than a sign of satan himself; the deceiver and the antichrist (verse 7). Why does John say this? This is because these Gnostic did not acknowledge that the Christ, the Son of God, was truly incarnated in the humanity of Jesus. They made a false division between Jesus the man and Christ who was divine. By doing this they had successfully split congregations of their fellowship

So, the elder wrote to the Churches in truth and love. There is no other intention or purpose; just that these Churches are protected from false teachers.

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