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translation into the Christian life of those great truths, regarding the fellowship of God with man, that are found in the fourth Gospel in connection with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. That Gospel, as we have seen, is doctrinal as well as historical, but its doctrines are here applied to the lives of Christ's followers. The epistle is thus in advance of the Gospel, being designed to lead Christians to a conscious realisation of the new life to which they are called in fellowship with Christ—a life transcending and vanquishing that of the world (cf. v. 4, 5, 12, 13, and i. 4 with John xx. 31).
Its thought springs mainly out of a twofold conception of the Divine Nature as “light” (i.-ii.), and as "love" (iv. 7-v.), united by a bond of righteousness (ii. 29-iv. 6). There is no laboured argument such as we find in some of Paul's epistles, but simply an appeal to first principles that are to be seen with the spiritual eye, not to be proved by means of logic.
Although lofty and spiritual, the teaching in the epistle is at the same time intensely practical. It was evidently intended to counteract the growing tendency to magnify knowledge at the expense of practice (i. 6, 7; ii. 3-6 ; iii. 6-10; cf. ii. 18, 19). One form of this incipient Gnosticism was associated with the name of Cerinthus, who lived at Ephesus in the time of the apostle. Cerinthus, like many others,1 denied the reality of Christ's humanity, maintaining, in particular, that the Divine Being only entered into the man Jesus at his Baptism and left him on the eve of his passion. Hence the emphatic statement of the apostle (v. 6), “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood,” implying that the Saviour fulfilled His divine mission in His death upon the cross as well as in His
i Called Docetce from a Greek word meaning apparent, not real.
baptism. Again and again, in other passages, the apostle insists on the reality of the union between Jesus and the Christ, as an essential element of the Christian faith (ii. 22; iv. 2, 3, 15; v. 1, 5; cf. i. 1-4).
While it gives no quarter to evil and falsehood, the epistle overflows with exhortations to the love of God and man (ii. 9-11; iii, 11-18 ; iv. 7-13, 16-21; v. 1, 2). As we read the apostle's language here, we find it easy to believe the story told of him by Jerome, that when he was too old to preach he used to be carried to church, simply to repeat in the hearing of the congregation, “Little children, love one another.” And when some one asked him, "Master, why dost thou always speak thus ?” he answered, “Because it is the Lord's command ; and if only this be done, it is enough.”
1. Authorship. - The external evidence for the genuineness of this epistle is not so convincing as in the case of the one that we have just been considering ; but this is easily accounted for by its brevity and its being less suitable for public reading in church. At the same time, it is expressly quoted (as John's) by Irenæus and Clement of Alexandria, and is mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment. It appears also to have been acknowledged by Eusebius, although he placed it among the “disputed” books. With regard to internal evidence, it has all the appearance of being genuine. Like the third epistle it bears to be written by “the elder," a designation which implies that the writer was a wellknown personage in the Church, and which might be fitly claimed by John as the last of the apostles. But an
1 Cf. Peter's use of the expression “a fellow-elder,” as applied to himself (1 Peter V. 1), and the language of Papias (Appendix, p. 195).
imitator who wished to pass for John would have made his claim in more distinct terms; and the contents of the epistle are such that no reasonable motive can be assigned for forgery.
The genuineness of this epistle derives considerable support also from its strong resemblance to the first,no less than seven of its thirteen verses having something parallel in the other.1
2. The Reader. “Unto the elect lady and her children.” It is a question whether these words are to be taken literally, or in a figurative sense as the designation of a Church and its members. On the whole the latter seems the more probable, in view of the expressions used in verses 1, 4, 5, 10, 13. Such figurative language need not surprise us in the case of a writer so fond of symbolism as the author of the Apocalypse and the fourth Gospel. But which of the Churches in Asia is thus addressed we have no means of knowing.
3. Date and Place of Composition. It was probably written from Ephesus,—subsequently to the first epistle.
4. Character and Contents.—While the epistle contains expressions of warm affection for the members of the Church in question (whom the writer appears to have recently visited), its main object is to warn them against the insidious and corrupting influence of certain heretical teachers who were going about denying the reality of Christ's humanity (ver. 7). “The elder” urges an uncompromising opposition to all such teachers, in terms that remind us of the story told of John by Irenæus on the authority of those who had received it from Polycarp,
1 Cf. ver. 1 and 1 John iii. 18; ver. 4 and iv. 21 ; ver. 5 and ii. 7; ver. 6 and v. 3 ; ver. 7 and iv. 1-3; ver. 9 and ii. 23; ver. 12 and i. 4.
2 Some think that a similar metaphor is to be found in the First Epistle of Peter (v. 13), whom tradition associates in his later years with John.
chat finding Cerinthus in a public bath, the apostle rushed out at the sight of him, exclaiming, “Let us fly lest even the bath fall on us, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within,”-a speech that betrays a
”lingering of the spirit that had once been rebuked by his Lord (Luke ix. 54). On the other hand, the blending of lovel with truth in the earlier part of the epistle is equally characteristic of the disciple "whom Jesus loved ”; and it finds similar illustration in the beautiful story of “St. John and the Robber.” 2
1. Authorship.—If we admit the second epistle to be the work of John, we can have no difficulty in accepting this also as his. The two epistles have been aptly termed “twins" ;3 and the contents of this epistle are so peculiar in their bearing on the position and the authority of the writer, as to preclude the idea of forgery.
2. The Reader.—“Unto Gaius the beloved." - The name Gaius occurs several times in the New Testament;4 but whether the receiver of this letter is to be identified with any
of those who are elsewhere so called it is impossible to say, the name being a very common one. He is addressed as a faithful and liberal member of the Church (verses 1-6).
1 The word “love” (noun or verb) occurs six times in this short epistle, and “truth” five times.
2 The story is told by Eusebius (iii. 33). The Apostle John had left in charge of the local bishop a promising young man who was duly baptized and instructed. On his return he surprised the bishop by asking for his “deposit,” adding, in explanation of his words, "I demand the young man, the soul of a brother.” Thereupon the bishop had to confess that the young man had gone astray and become a robber-chief. The apostle immediately called for a horse and made his way to the haunts of the robber, who fled at his approach. The apostle pursued and overtook him, and by his persuasions and tears induced him to give up his evil life and return to his old home, to be restored to the Church.
3 For resemblances cf. ver. 1 and 2 John ver. 1 ; ver. 3, 4 and 2 John ver. 4 ; ver. 13 and 2 John ver. 12.
4 Acts xix. 29 ; xx. 4 ; Rom. xvi. 23 ; 1 Cor. i. 14.
3. Date and Place of Composition.—Like the second, this epistle was probably written from Ephesus,-subsequently to the first.
4. Character and Contents.—This epistle, like the second, gives us a momentary glimpse of Church-life in Asia towards the close of the first century. While the second contains a warning against heresy, this relates rather to the evil of schism. It shows us the practical difficulties which had to be encountered in the government of the Church. In Gaius (the recipient of the letter) we have a sincere and charitable Christian whose influence and example the writer invokes in opposition to the factious and intolerant conduct of an ambitious ecclesiastic named Diotrephes, who had gone so far as to close his doors on “the brethren" who had come in the name of “the elder," apparently bearing a letter from him- perhaps our second epistle (verses 9, 10). The aged head of the Church feels that it will be necessary, the next time he visits the district, to hold a reckoning with the offender for his malice and presumption. Meanwhile he warns Gaius against being led astray by the example of Diotrephes; and in pleasing contrast with the latter he refers to one Demetrius—apparently the bearer of this letter—who "hath the witness of all men, and of the truth itself.” Finally he pleads the same excuse for his brevity as he does in the case of the second epistle, viz. that he hopes soon to visit his readers, when they "shall speak face to face."
1 "The calm confidence of St. John seems to rest on himself more than on his official power. His presence will vindicate his authority. The growth of the Churches is as plainly marked as their independence. The first place in them has become an object of unworthy ambition. They are able, and as it appears, for the most part willing to maintain missionary teachers.” (Westcott.)