(John's 2nd & 3rd Epistles)

by Al Maxey

Almost from the beginning there have been doubts about the genuineness of these two epistles. Even Origen (185 - 254 A.D. -- one of the ablest thinkers and expositors of the early church) acknowledged that there were problems: "He (John) has left also an epistle of very few lines, and, it may be, a second and third; for not all say that these are genuine." Toward the end of the 4th century A.D. it was commonly believed that John "the elder" refers to the aged apostle John. These epistles were written around 95 A.D., most likely from the city of Ephesus. Both are very brief, and very personal. II John was addressed to "the elect (chosen) lady and her children" (which some feel refers to a specific individual and her offspring, while others take it to be a figure referring to a church in a particular location and its members), and III John is addressed to "the beloved Gaius," whom John says he loves very dearly.

At the beginning of each of these two epistles the author refers to himself as "the elder." There are three major views as to what this phrase means.

II John 1
"The elder to the chosen lady and her children,
whom I love in truth."

III John 1
"The elder to the beloved Gaius,
whom I love in truth."

#1 --- John is simply referring to himself as an older man. The word presbuteros is used quite frequently with the meaning "an old man; an aged person" (Acts 2:17; I Timothy 5:1-2; I Peter 5:5), or of those who are older in age, relatively speaking, than another (Luke 15:25; John 8:9). Since John was probably close to being 100 years old, it is felt by a great many scholars that he was simply alluding to his advanced age.

#2 --- Others understand this phrase to mean that John was an elder in the church at Ephesus (where, according to tradition, Timothy also served as an elder). It is certainly not impossible that John, an apostle and evangelist, could also be an elder, for Peter says that he himself served as one (I Peter 5:1). Thus, being an apostle or an evangelist did not exclude one from also being an elder. Apparently one could be all three at the same time. According to tradition, John did indeed serve in Ephesus as an elder at this time.

#3 --- Still other scholars, by emphasizing the word "the" (the elder), see this as an indication that a hierarchy of leadership was beginning to develop within the early church. Each congregation, they maintain, had a plurality of elders, but John was THE elder. In other words: The HEAD elder. The Expositor's Bible Commentary suggests that he was the "Bishop" over the entire region, and that he had several congregations under his oversight. Lenski states that "there were no others who were to be ranked with him!"

Of these three popular interpretations, the most probable (and the one embraced by most scholars) is #1.

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