NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

1 John



Both 2 John and 3 John are attested later than 1 John because they were too brief to be cited often by early church fathers. Usually letters of this length are too brief for stylistic comparison. Nevertheless, the style (as well as the theology) is close to that of 1 John, and this points to common authorship of the three letters.


Both 2 John and 3 John are letters. Unlike most NT letters, 2 and 3 John are both the length of most surviving ancient letters. The average ancient letter required only a single sheet of papyrus.


Second John addresses the same central error that 1 John addressed (see Introduction to 1 John: Background). The false teachers may respect Jesus as a great prophet like John the Baptist, but they do not recognize him as the supreme Lord in the flesh (cf. 1Jn 4:1 – 6Rev 2:14,20). Some scholars think that they may have been affiliated with, or been forerunners of, Cerinthus (who distinguished the divine Christ and the human Jesus) or the Docetists (who claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human). Such beliefs would have made them more acceptable to their culture, but contradicted the eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus personally (1Jn 1:1 – 34:2). ◆

quick glance


The apostle John


The “lady chosen by God,” probably a local church in western Asia Minor


Between AD 85 and 95


John writes to urge discernment in supporting traveling teachers since false teachers were also traveling and teaching heresy.

1 of 10
1The elder. Because some older men came to be known for wisdom and maturity, select elders ruled OT villages and continued to fill a respected leadership role in this period. Some early Christian leaders adopted this title, rather than more prestigious ones, in their later years (Phm 91Pe 5:1). lady. Some think she refers to a prophetess/elder (compare v. 4 with 3Jn 4); others that she refers to a local congregation (cf. 2Jn 13). Both Israel and the church were portrayed as women (cf., e.g., Isa 62:5Rev 12:119:7).
3 Grace … peace. See note on Ro 1:7.
5 not … a new command … love one another. Earlier Scripture already commanded love (Lev 19:18), but Jesus offered a new model for it (Jn 13:34). See note on 1Jn 2:7 – 8.
6 walk in obedience. See notes on 1Jn 2:3,5.
7 Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. See note on 1Jn 4:2.
10 do not take them into your house or welcome them. All ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures emphasized hospitality to guests (cf. 3Jn 5 – 6). Travelers would stay in hosts’ homes, sometimes for up to three weeks; Christians were especially eager to supply such hospitality to their visiting workers (cf. Mt 10:9 – 14). Possibly the homes here also hosted churches. But just as Jewish people would not welcome those they considered impious (such as Samaritans), so Christians needed to show wisdom. The Didache, a noncanonical Christian work from this period, reveals that Christians needed to distinguish true visiting prophets and apostles from false ones (Didache 11 – 12).
11 welcomes. The Greek term (also in v. 10) indicates greetings. Social custom mandated greetings; the conventional Jewish greeting (“Peace be with you”) was intended as a blessing or prayer to impart peace. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, whoever provided for an apostate from the community was deemed an apostate sympathizer and was expelled from the community, as the apostate was.
12 paper. Papyrus, made from reeds. ink. A compound of charcoal, vegetable gum and water. The pen itself was a reed pointed at the end. I hope to visit you. Written letters were considered an inferior substitute for personal presence or a speech, and writers sometimes concluded their letters with the promise to discuss matters further face to face.
13 The children of your sister … send their greetings. It was common to send greetings from those near the sender. sister. See note on “lady” in v. 1.

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