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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF ST. JOHN.
THE method adopted by St. Peter and St. Paul in their teaching on the Nature and Person of
1. St. John had executed the former of these tasks-that of establishing the Truth—in his Gospel. He afterwards proceeded to complete his plan by accomplishing the latter-that of censuring and correcting Heresy-in his Epistles'.
2. This Second Epistle of St. John, brief as it is, is ministered to this end; and it conduces to it even by its brevity.
Let us consider how this appears to be the case.
3. This Second Epistle opens with the words ὁ πρεσβύτερος Εκλεκτῇ Κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις avrĥs, “The elder to an elect Lady and her children;" and it ends with the words, "The children of thy sister who is elect greet thee." In the former case the word elect has not the definite article; in the latter it has.
4. The question here arises,-Who is this èxλeктǹ Kupía, to whom St. John writes ?
Many Expositors are of opinion, that St. John is writing here to a private person; and it has been supposed by some3, that her name was Kupia, Kyria, and by others, that her name was Electa.
But it appears more probable that under this title St. John is addressing a Christian CHURCH.
This interpretation is suggested by the words used by St John's brother Apostle St. Peter, at the close of his Epistle, "The co-Elect with you, that is at Babylon, saluteth you"." There the word "co-elect" signifies “a Church'," and it is probable that the word èêλεктǹ (elect) here used by St. John, has a like meaning.
Besides, at the end of the present Epistle, we read a salutation which seems to be formed on that of St. Peter. St. Peter's words at the end of his Epistle are 'Aσπáčeтαι úμâs ý év Baßvλŵvi OVVERλEKTÝ. Let us compare St. John's final salutation, sent in this Epistle to the Elect one, whom he addresses from the Children of her Elect sister: ̓Ασπάζεταί σε τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἀδελφῆς σοῦ τῆς ExλEKTS, "The children of thy sister, who is Elect, greet thee."
St. Peter had written from Babylon to the elect in Asia, and saluted them in the name of a co-elect one at Babylon; and that co-elect one at Babylon was a Church.
St. John, whose residence was in Asia, writes to an Elect one, and sends to her the greetings of an elect sister. Hence it appears probable that the elect one and her elect sister are not private individuals, but Churches.
The word 'EKMEKTη, elect, is used by the Septuagint in the Canticles as the characteristic of Christ's spouse, the Church'. And in an ancient painting at St. Maria in Trastevere, at Rome,
1 See above, Introduction to the Second Epistle of St. Peter, pp. 71, 72.
2 See above, p. 97, note, and on 1 John i. 1.
3 Bengel, Heumann, Lücke, De Wette, and others.
4 Grotius, Wetstein.
61 Pet. v. 13.
7 See the note there.
1 Pet. i. 1.
9 See Cant. vi. 8, 9, τίς αὕτη ἐκλεκτή, ὡς ὁ ἥλιος ;
Christ is represented as enthroned with the Church as the Queen on His right hand', and in
The word Kupía, Lady, here used with έîλектǹ, elect, is descriptive of a Church. Jesus Christ, the Lord, is Kúpios; His spouse, a Church, is Kupía. This is declared by the very name Church (Κυριακή).
In the Old Testament the Churches of Israel and Judah are designated as sisters.
Besides, it is not likely that St. John should have written to a private woman and to her children, and have sent a salutation from the children of a woman, and not have made any mention of the Husband of either of these two women. They may have been both Widows: but there is no evidence of this.
Still further, St. John does not say, "Thy elect sister and her children greet thee." He would probably have written so, if he had been writing from the household of one woman to another woman. But he says, "The children of thine elect sister greet thee."
This circumstance also confirms the opinion, that the sister is a Church. Her children are the members of the Church. They are the Church. And if the Elect sister whose children's salutations are sent, is a Church, the Elect Lady whose sister she is, is probably a Church also.
Besides, St. John describes the children of her to whom he writes as "loved by all persons, who have known the truth." This could hardly be applicable to the children of a private woman— particularly a widow: but it might be true of the spiritual children of a Church3.
To personify a Church, is also in harmony with the manner and mind of St. John. In his Apocalypse, the Christian Church is represented as a Woman, and the Church triumphant is described as "the Bride, the Lamb's Wife"."
Accordingly, we find that in early times this Epistle was supposed by some Interpreters to be addressed to a Church, or to the Church.
This exposition has also been adopted in recent times by many learned writers'.
5. If this Epistle was addressed to a Church, it may be next inquired;
To what Church?
For a reply to this question, let us consider the brotherly relation of St. Peter to St. John "; and that it is a distinguishing characteristic of the Catholic Epistles, that they are interwoven " with one another, in thought and language; and that there was an intimate connexion and sympathy between the Jewish Christians of Asia, where St. John resided, and those of Babylonia, from which St. Peter wrote 12; and that the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, that is, the inhabitants of Babylonia and its neighbourhood, are mentioned the first among those who were evangelized by the Apostles on the day of Pentecost 13, and that almost immediately after them are mentioned the dwellers in Asia; and that the Parthians then occupied the second place among the nations of the world, and that they inhabited the region of Babylon and the adjacent countries.
Let us also bear in mind, that St. Peter's First Epistle was written to the elect of St. John's own province, Asia, and that he sends in it the greetings of a co-elect Church".
When these circumstances are duly weighed, it will not appear improbable, that St. John's Epistle, which was written to an elect Lady, and that Lady a Church; and which conveys the salutations of the children of an elect Sister, and that sister a Church; was of the nature of an Apostolic reply from a sister Church of Asia,-such as that of Ephesus the capital of Asia and the residence of St. John,-to that other Church, from which his brother Apostle, St. Peter, had written to the Churches of Asia,—namely, the Church at Babylon.
Such a sisterly communication, from one Church to another, would come with peculiar grace
1 Ps. xlv. 10.
pretation is mentioned also by Ecumenius (ad finem Epist) and
2 Some Versions have Kupla (e. g. the Syriac and Ethiopic), Theophylact, and in Cramer's Catena, p. 146, and Cassiodorus in others have Lady (e. g. the Vulgate and Arabic).
3 Jer. iii. 7, 8.
the sixth century (Complexiones, p. 136) says here, "Joannes
Ezek. xxiii. 4.
And at the end
4 v. 1.
of this Epistle the elect sister (in v. 13) is described by some MSS.
9 Hammond, Whitby, Michaelis, Augusti, Hofmann, H. W.
5 Cp. 1 Thess. i. 8. Rom. i. 8.
6 Rev. xii. 1. 4. 6. 13-17.
7 xxi. 9.
8 S. Jerome, Epist. x1. ad Ageruchiam, speaking of the Church,
after he has quoted the Canticles, vi. 9, "
10 See on Acts iii. 1.
11 See above, Introduction to the Catholic or General Epistles.
13 Acts ii. 9.
141 Pet. v. 13.
from a Church of St. John to a Church of St. Peter. St. John and St. Peter had been united by the
Some confirmation is afforded to this opinion by the following facts.
This second Epistle, as well as the first Epistle of St. John, is described by some ancient authorities as addressed to the Parthians.
It seems probable, therefore, that this Epistle was addressed to the Church at Babylon.
There would be a peculiar interest and beauty in such an address as this from St. John to a
The City of Babylon had said, in the day of her heathen pride, "I shall be a Lady for ever',' and she had been called the Lady of kingdoms. Babylon had fallen from her high estate; but St. Peter had preached on the Day of Pentecost to the Parthians, the inhabitants of Babylonia, and they had been baptized into Christ'. Thus there was an elect Church at Babylon; a Sion even at Babylon. And there would be a happy coincidence in the circumstance, that the great Assyrian Babylon, that persecuting city which had boasted that she should be "a Lady for ever," and was rejected, and then fell, should have risen again in Christ, and have been espoused to Him as a Church, and become an elect Lady in Him, and be addressed as such by the Apostolic brother of St. Peter, the beloved disciple, St. John.
6. If the above opinion is well grounded, we may recognize here a special use of this Epistle. It is indeed a very short one, but it serves an important purpose.
St. Peter, in his two Epistles addressed to the Christians of Asia, had inculcated those Articles of the Christian Faith which St. John laboured to defend; and St. Peter had delivered a prophetic warning against those Heresiarchs, who in the age and country of St. John, were endeavouring to destroy the foundations of the Faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God, and in the Godhead of Jesus Christ and who, as St. Peter had predicted, were denying the Lord that bought them, and were walking after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness 10.
In the present Epistle St. John delivers a clear statement of the truth on those great articles of
This profession and protest would be more easily transcribed, and be more readily circulated, on account of the brevity of the Epistle, in which they are contained. It may seem surprising at first, that so short an Epistle should be received into the Canon of the New Testament. But, under the circumstances of the case, one of its strongest recommendations was, that it was short. It was a symbol of Faith, and safeguard against Error,-from the hands of St. John.
The Christians of Asia, and of the East, would be confirmed in their Faith and Practice by receiving the Apostolic witness of St. John to the same truths as those which they had heard from St. Peter. And the Church of every age may derive comfort from seeing the two Apostles, St. Peter and St. John, associated for ever in their writings, as they had been associated in their lives, in preaching the Truth, as it is in Jesus Christ, and faithfully feeding His flock, and guarding it valiantly against the wolves, who endeavour to destroy it "2.
7. The facts and considerations now submitted to the reader have some bearing on the question which was briefly mentioned at the close of the Introduction to the First Epistle of St. John.
1 See on Acts iii. 1.
2 See Acts viii. 14.
3 See Athanasius in Bede, Prolog. ad Ep. Catholic. p. 157. Augustine, whose Commentary on the First Epistle is entitled Tractatus in Epistolam Joannis ad Parthos, see vol. iii. p. 2480, and Cassiodorus, Complexiones, p. 126. Scholz, p. 155. Tisch. p. 213.
Cp. Tisch. p. 233. In the Latin Translation of S. Clement's Adumbrationes (p. 1011) we read "Secunda Joannis Epistola, quæ ad Virgines inscripta est, simplicissima est." Here the word Virgines is a translation of Пapeévous, which was probably only a corruption of Пápovs, the Parthians, who had the rule of Babylonia in the age of St. Peter and St. John (see Kirchofer, p. 289). Indeed, S. Clement himself seems to have preserved VOL. II.-PART IV.
something of a tradition to this effect. For while he says that
5 Isa. xlvii. 7.
6 Isa. xlvii. 5. The word for Lady there is n (gebereth),
8 See on Pet. v. 13.
92 Pet. ii. 1.
10 2 Pet. ii. 10.
11 See vv. 7-11.
12 John x. 10-12.
That Epistle also, as we have seen', is described by some Ancient Writers and Manuscripts as having been addressed "to the Parthians."
There is nothing improbable in this statement. In the Apostolic age, as has been already observed, the Parthians were second only to the Romans among the nations of the world. Many Jews dwelt in Parthia. The Parthians are placed first in the catalogue of the Jews who heard St. Peter preach at Jerusalem'. Babylon was in Parthia. St. Peter, it is probable, had gone thither in person, and had thence written an Epistle to the Churches of St. John 3.
Bearing in mind these circumstances, and considering the testimony of some ancient writers and Manuscripts specifying the Parthians in the inscription of the Epistle, and that there is no evidence to the contrary, and that no other name is mentioned by any ancient writer in that inscription, we cannot reject that testimony as altogether incredible; and we may at least be permitted to suppose it probable, that the First Epistle of St. John, written in all likelihood from Asia, was addressed to the same country as that in which his brother Apostle, St. Peter, was, when he wrote his first Epistle, which he sent to the Churches of Asia.
1 See above, note *.
2 Acts ii. 9.
3 See 1 Pet. v. 18.
1 Ὁ ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΕΡΟΣ ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς, οὓς ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ
a John 13. 34.
1 Thess, 4, 9.
1 John 2. 7, 8.
4 Εχάρην λίαν, ὅτι εὕρηκα ἐκ τῶν τέκνων σου περιπατοῦντας ἐν ἀληθείᾳ, Ερ
c Matt. 24. 5, 24.
1 John 2. 18, 22.
1. δ πρεσβύτερος] The elder. The beloved Disciple and
ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ] to the elect Lady and her children. On
8. χάρις, ἔλεος, εἰρήνη] Grace, Mercy, Peace. Both St.
παρὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ] from Jesus Christ the Son of the
εὕρηκα ἐκ τῶν τέκνων σου] I have found some of thy chil
5. ἐρωτῶ σε] Ientreat thee,--as one who has a right to ask this of thee; see on 1 John v. 16.
& 4. 21.
οὐχ ὡς ἐντολὴν γράφων σοι καινήν] not as writing to thee (who art already well instructed) a new commandment: see above on 1 John ii, 8 ; iii. 11.
1 2. 24.
4. ἐχάρην λίαν] I rejoiced exceedingly : on this of λίαν see 3 John 3. Matt ii. 10 ; xxvii. 14. Luke xxiii. 8. Cp. Barnabas, Epist. c. 1 ; Avete, fiii et filiæ, in nomine Domini Nostri Christi in pace, supra modum exhilaror beatis et præclaris spiri.
6. αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη] this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. A protest against the false teachers who pretended to gnosis, but set at nought praxis: see on 1 John i. 5-8; ii. 6-10.
. πολλοὶ πλάνοι] many deceivers went forth into the world. Even from out of the Church herself, the house of God, some have gone forth into the World, which "lieth under the Wicked one (1 John v. 19); and have made the World more wicked than it was. See on I John ii. 18, 19.
Elz. has εἰσῆλθον, but A, B have ἐξῆλθαν and ἐξῆλθον, and
Christ from the Only-begotten of the Father, and from the
οἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες] those who do not confess---but deny-Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. Sce above on 1 John iv, 3.
He says ἐρχόμενον, cuming, because Jesus Christ is ever coming in the flesh to those who receive the benefits of His Incarnation by their baptismal Incorporation into Him, and by the reception of the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood; by which, when received with faith, their bodies as well as souls are preserved unto everlasting life. See above on John vi. 54-56;
and 1 Cor. x. 16-20. 1 John v. 6.