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2 John

  Date: 60-90 AD


Kümmel writes,
II and III John have the same author. They speak the same language. They nearly agree in length and in epistolary form (address, introduction, conclusion). They carry at their head the same characteristic self-designation of the author, ho presbyteros...Now both Epistles are closely related to the Gospel of John and I John in language, style, and world view (summary of the material in R. H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John, ICC, I, XXXIV ff., XLI ff.). The emphasis upon the truth of the author's testimony in III 12 is similar to that in Jn. 19:35 and 21:24. III 11 expresses the characteristic Johannine view that one's fundamental being is to be inferred from the way one acts. II 4 ff. is full of parallels to conceptions from I John.
II and III John are either artificial creations prepared in conscious imitation of Johannine writing (so Dibelius, Jülicher-Fascher) - but their unpretentiousness militates against that - or they stem from the same author as I John and John.
As far as objections to the author of 2 and 3 John to have written the other Epistle and Gospel, Kümmel again writes,
Certain scholars, of course, have sought to ascribe II and III John to a different author from that of I John, because of particular differences in thought and language (e.g., Jülicher-Fascher, J. Jeremias, "Joh. Literarkritik," ThBl 20, 1941, 43, note 39, Bultmann). The following are not supposed to agree with Johannine thought: designation of a single false teacher as "the antichrist" (II 7); no "progressivist" (II 9) is to be received by the congregation (10 f.); Jesus Christ who "is come in the flesh" (I 4, 2) is called Jesus Christ who "comes in the flesh" (II 7); in contradiction to Jn. 1:18 and I 4:12a, III 11 says, "he who does evil has not seen God." These differences, however, are too trivial to be taken seriously.
No appeal to the author having been an eyewitness is necessitated, as are no personal references seeing how the errors do not require it (whereas see the major heresy of Docetism in Ignatius' epistle to the Trallians, where he mentions no appearance to the Apostles as proof of Jesus' humanity and resurrection, and only mentions the appearances twice, in passing, in subordinate clauses; cf. 1 Cor 15; apparently the type of proof depended with the author). The title of "presbyter" can hardly mean to designate someone who was not an apostle or one of the Twelve since Papias specifically refers to five of the Twelve apostles (among whom John is one) as "presbyteroi". There is nothing that prevents John the Apostle from having written the letter.


The mention of deniers of Christ as coming in the flesh is usually taken to mean the docetic or Gnostic systems of the 2nd century. But we are not fighting Docetism or Gnosticism here, because the proof of the error of the heretics in 1:6 becomes illogical. The doctrine of Christ in 1:9 is certainly the commandments of morality and love in 1:5-6 and the deceivers preach doctrines of immorality (see discussion in 1 John). In any case, if we were dealing with docetism or Gnosticism, the arguments would be different as can be seen from Ignatius (epistle to the Trallians 10) and there would be specific perpetrators mentioned as in Ignatius (ep. Trallians 11), where the situation is far more acute. Thus, the primitiveness and overall facts allow us to say that II John does not deal with the heresies of the second century.

It seems the letter does not have the high theology and early Catholicism of 1 Clement (i.e. 2 John is primarily concerned with the commandment of love, whereas compare the topics in 1 Clement). Also, there is no appeal to fighting the heretics to the authority of the bishops such as we see in Ignatius (ep. Trallians 5,7) and Clement (1 Clement 57), but knowing the truth through the Spirit and one's good works and love (1:4-6), so a date before 90 is likely. The second Christian generation is probably at the very least at the forefront seeing 1:5 ("..I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning...") combined with the fact that the problems before 60 appear to be gone/solved seeing the overall atmosphere of a generation whose only concern is righteousness (1:4-6, etc) unlike Paul. The author addresses the church in a way that seems to imply he is addressing the congregation through the presbyters (1:4-6 which talk about the "children of the lady" i.e. congregations of the church, but why not address them directly as he does in 1:8-11, so clearly presupposes the presbyters to be firmly established as an authority; also see 1:13), whereas see Paul in addressing individuals in a congregation. But this hardly forces us to date it much after 60. Clement and Ignatius address their readers in much the same way Paul does, so then this (1:4-6) has to be regarded as a peculiarity of the author of II John. Appeals to commandments received from the Father (1:4-6) point away from early Catholicism, and thus an earlier date. In any case, the church authorities were apparently always known to be "shepherds of the flock" seeing Paul's address first to them in Philippians 1:1.

External Attestation

The external attestation is not a problem even though it's somewhat scant (no mention until the 3rd century). The letter is short and may have been doubted as apostolic and therefore Scripture, making its material, which is minimal to say the least, useless to cite, not to mention that there is nothing in it that I John, which was accepted by the early 2nd century, would not have covered.


  1. Kümmel, W.G., Introduction to the New Testament, p.315
  2. Kümmel, ibid.
  3. Kümmel, ibid.
  4. Thus I can't understand Brown's judgment about I John 4:2-3 that, 'I John's "having come in the flesh" clearly refers to the incarnation, probably so does the 'coming in the flesh" of II John 7', p.395, n.1, whereas in regards to the opponents in I Jn. 4:3 he writes, p.390, n.1, 'There is no reason to think that they were docetists who denied the reality of Jesus' humanity, rather the religious import of that humanity is at issue', the interpretation of I John 4:3 being that the opponents gave a different meaning/emphasis/importance to Jesus' "human career", p.390.