Friday, January 16, 2015

2 John: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include artwork by famous artists.

The second letter of John is super short—only 13 verses.  It shares a similar outlook with the first letter of John—an emphasis on mutual love within the Christian community, and a warning against “false teachers.”  As in 1 John, the author does not identify himself as John, but rather as “the elder,” suggesting a wise church leader.

The letter is written “to the elect lady and her children.”  It is possible that, rather than being specific people, the phrase “elect lady” is a personification of the church as a woman, and its members as her children.  There was a common Jewish practice of identifying the city of Jerusalem as a woman, and the author may be doing a similar thing here.

Whereas in 1 John, the author emphasized the idea of “love,” 2 John emphasizes this as well as “truth.”  He uses the word “truth” five times in the first four verses: “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.  Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s son, in truth and love.  I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father.”

After this exhortation to “walk in the truth” (i.e. believe correct doctrine) the author warns against false teachers in the community: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  The specific belief that the author warns against (that Jesus had not come in the flesh) probably refers to a common early belief known as Docetism, which stated that Jesus was not fully human.  This belief was later declared “heresy.”

The author of 2 John warns the church community to reject these false teachers and to shun them socially: “Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.”  This is an interesting move.  Instead of engaging their ideological opponents in rigorous argument, Christians are encouraged to simply view those who don’t agree with them as “antichrists” and not engage.  This, to me, seems to be a problematic and not altogether healthy way to engage with disagreement.

What 2 John sheds light on is the fact that, before there was official “orthodox” Christianity, there were many different beliefs about Jesus competing for acceptance.  Docetism was just one of many theological “losers” in this early struggle for “orthodoxy” or “correct belief.”

Beware of people wearing these hats.

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