From:  Over 50 Interpreters Explain 1 to 3 John                               Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018





Over 50 Interpreters

Explain First to Third John











Compiled and Edited


Roland H. Worth, Jr.




Copyright © 2018 by author

Reproduction of this book for non-profit circulation

by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted

 at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner

and compiler credit is given.


If accompanied by additional, supplemental material

--in agreement or disagreement—

it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable

from the original text.





The primary text of this work is the traditional King James Version.  More modern renditions are included from the New King James Version of selected words and phrases and occasionally others.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  All rights reserved.






List of All Sources Quoted At End of File





2018 Preface


            Those who have already used the entry in this series on the gospel of Luke may recall that the strong majority of that text had already been researched when I finally decided to finish that lengthy work.  In contrast only about a quarter had been done for 1 Peter and 2 Peter/Jude.  None had been done on the epistles of John, which had to be researched "from scratch," thereby permitting an entire significant "section" of the New Testament to be completed and presented together.

            In the years since Mark and Luke were done, a tremendous amount of material has been made available in internet editions, facilitating the speed and ease of research immensely.  In these compilations that come afterwards these titles are typically only noted as coming from an "Internet edition" or a similar phrase.  A few books have been available in pdf form--another wonderful research tool--and in those cases full bibliographical information has been provided.  

            Individuals quoted are often edited in regard to length but never in a manner to alter the point they intend to make--which will vary to different degrees from one commentator to another.  Alterations on two minor matters also deserve to be noticed.  I typically remove the bulk of the “St.” references describing the apostles because it virtually turns a valid description (“saint”) into a title.  Similarly I often adopted the American way of noticing a quotation—“and”--instead of the British—‘and’ but one will find a mixture of styles on both of these points.

            I hope these new entries in the series will be useful to their readers.  I encourage you to "copy out" the entire volume--and all of the others I have on my website--to assure they will remain available to you and friends.  In my mid-70s, death is no longer an abstract possibility, especially when I carry with me such things as a quadruple heart bypass and a double bypass.  On the optimistic side, the first heart attack a decade ago should have killed me but God has blessed me well and I'm a stubborn soul so far as getting more gospel work accomplished.  A highly desirable combination in my opinion.


                                                            Roland H. Worth, Jr.

                                                            Fall 2017











First John







                        Concise overview [24]:  One of the first questions which meets the student of these Epistles is who wrote them?  None of them bears any name, or any definite and indisputable indication of the writer.  Nevertheless, the authorship is not really doubtful.  The four writings, the Fourth Gospel and these three Epistles, are too closely linked together to be separated, and assigned, some to one author and some to another.  And if they are all by one writer, that writer, beyond all reasonable doubt, is John the apostle.  No other person has been suggested who fits into the very complex position with even tolerable exactness.

                        If the Gospel were wanting, we might be in doubt as to who wrote the Epistles.  If the First Epistle were wanting, we might be in doubt as to who wrote the two short Epistles.  If the Second Epistle were wanting, we should certainly be in serious doubt as to who wrote the third.  But as it is, there is no room for reasonable doubt; that is, a doubt that will stand the impartial investigation of all the evidence.  Nearly every one admits that the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle cannot be severed; both external and internal evidence conclusively show that they are by the same hand.  The same may be said of the Second and Third Epistles. And a patient examination of the evidence respecting the First and Second Epistles will lead most people to the conclusion that they also are by the same hand; and thus the two ends of the chain are united.  The key of the position, therefore, is the Fourth Gospel.

                        The following sober and eminently just statement of the problem will repay consideration: 


The Gospel of John presents a unique phenomenon. It contains two distinct strata of thought, both quite unmistakable to the critical eye; and in each of these strata, again, there are local peculiarities which complicate the problem.  When it comes to be closely investigated, the complexities of the problem are such that the whole of literature probably does not furnish a parallel.  The hypothesis of authorship that shall satisfy them thus becomes in its turn equally complicated.

It is necessary to find one who shall be at once Jew and Christian, intensely Jewish, and yet comprehensively Christian; brought up on the Old Testament, and yet with a strong tincture of Alexandrian philosophy; using a language in which the Hebrew structure and the Greek superstructure are equally conspicuous; one who had mixed personally in the events, and yet at the time of writing stood at a distance from them; an immediate disciple of Jesus, and yet possessed of so powerful an individuality as to impress the mark of himself upon his recollections; a nature capable of the most ardent and enduring affection, and yet an unsparing denouncer of hostile agencies of any kind which lay outside his own charmed circle.

There is one historical figure which seems to fit like a key into all these intricate wards — the figure of St. John as it has been handed down to us by a well-authenticated tradition.

I can conceive no second. If the John of history did not exist, he would have to be invented to account for his Gospel.


In short, the problem with regard to the Epistles of John is very similar to that respecting the Pastoral Epistles.  There are portions of the latter which are unquestionably Pauline; and these carry with them the authorship of those portions the Pauline origin of which might be questioned.  Similarly, the apostolic origin of the Fourth Gospel carries with it the apostolic authorship of the First Epistle, and this that of the Second Epistle, and this again that of the third.




Place of Writing



                        As little is known about the place where the Epistle was written as about the time of its writing.  There are no local references in it; no allusions to persons or opinions which can help us to determine where it was written.  As John spent the latter part of his life, however, in Ephesus and its vicinity, there is no impropriety in supposing that it was written there.  [18] 




Date of Writing



                        Barnes on evidences of the date [18]:   There are “very few” marks of time in the Epistle, and none that can determine the time of writing it with any degree of certainty. Nor is it of much importance that we should be able to determine it.  The truths which it contains are, in the main, as applicable to one age as to another, though it cannot be denied that the author had some prevailing forms of error in his eye. The only marks of time in the Epistle by which we can form any conjecture as to the period when it was written are the following:

                        (1)  It was in what the author calls “the last time,” 1 John 2:18.  From this expression it might perhaps be inferred by some that it was just before the destruction of Jerusalem, or that the writer supposed that the end of the world was near.  But nothing can be certainly determined from this expression in regard to the exact period when the Epistle was written.  This phrase, as used in the Scriptures, denotes no more than, the last dispensation or economy of things, the dispensation under which the affairs of the world would be wound up, though that period might be in fact much longer than any one that had preceded it. 

                        The object of the writer of this Epistle, in the passage referred to, 1 John 2:18, is merely to show that the closing dispensation of the world had actually come; that is, that there were certain things which it was known would mark that dispensation, which actually existed then, and by which it could be known that they were living under the last or closing period of the world.

                        (2)  It is quite evident that the Epistle was composed after the Gospel by John was published. Of this no one can have any doubt who will compare the two together, or even the parallel passages.  The Gospel is manifestly the original; and it was evidently presumed by the writer of the Epistle that the Gospel was in the hands of those to whom he wrote.  The statements there made are much more full; the circumstances in which many of the peculiar doctrines adverted to were first advanced are detailed; and the writer of the Epistle clearly supposed that all that was necessary in order to an understanding of these doctrines was to state them in the briefest manner, and almost by mere allusion.

                        On this point Lucke well remarks, “the more brief and condensed expression of the same sentiment by the same author, especially in regard to peculiarities of idea and language, is always the later one; the more extended statement, the unfolding of the idea, is an evidence of an earlier composition.”

Yet while this is clear, it determines little or nothing about the time when the Epistle was written, for it is a matter of great uncertainty when the Gospel itself was composed.  Wetstein supposes that it was soon after the ascension of the Savior; Dr. Lardner that it was about the year 68 A.D.; and Mill and LeClerc that it was about the year 97 A.D.  In this uncertainty, therefore, nothing can be determined absolutely from this circumstance in regard to the time of writing the Epistle.

                        (3)  The only other note of time on which any reliance has been placed is the supposed fact that there were indications in the Epistle itself of the “great age” of the author, or evidences that he was an old man, and that consequently it was written near the close of the life of John.  There is some evidence in the Epistle that it was written when the author was an old man, though none that he was in his “dotage,” as Eichhorn and some others have maintained. The evidence that he was even an old man is not positive, but there is a certain air and manner in the Epistle, in its repetitions, and its want of exact order, and especially in the style in which he addresses those to whom he wrote, as “little children” which would seem to be appropriate only to an aged man.


                        Another approach as to hints of possible date [32]:  (1)  As it contains no reference to persecutions, it is less likely to have been written in the time of Trajan (A.D. 98-117); probably before the end of the reign of Domitian, A.D. 96; after the reign of Nero and the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.  Thus we get the period between A.D. 70 and 96.  A date near 70 is less likely, because the breaking up of the Jewish world would have made some reference of the kind probable.  “The last hour” is a note of spiritual, not material time.

                        (2)  Jewish opposition no longer troubles the apostolic horizon.

                        (3)  The life of individual churches apart from Jerusalem seems by this time the natural order of the Christian world.

                        (4)  The heresies are the seeds of Docetism and Gnosticism: this points to the end of the first century.

                        5)  John is not mentioned in the Acts after the Jerusalem Council of A.D. 51.  But he does not seem to have been at Ephesus when Paul took leave of the elders in A.D. 60.  If Paul died in A.D. 64, John can hardly have begun working at Ephesus till then.  The tone of the Epistle implies a long and ripe pastoral intimacy.  John was banished to Patmos before the end of the reign of Domitian, A.D. 96.  He died after A.D. 100.

                        (6)  It must always be a matter of opinion whether the Gospel or Epistle was written first.  It may be that a comparison of John 20:31, “These things are written that ye might believe,” with 1 John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you that believe,” indicates an earlier and more elementary object for the Gospel; but it cannot be pressed.  It is certainly likely that the doctrinal chords struck in the Narrative should afterwards receive their fuller variations in the Exhortation.  It may even be that some of the churches or their members, aroused by these solemn notes, asked John for a doctrinal writing.

                        (7) On the whole, there is no improbability in putting the date about A.D. 90.




Destination / Intended Audience



                        Ethnicity:  It is likely that the Christians to whom he wrote were of Gentile rather than Jewish origin, as judged by the few references to the Old Testament, and by such allusions as that in 1 John 5:21.  [6] 


                        Geographic location [18]:  To whom the Epistle was written is also unknown.  It bears no inscription, as many of the other epistles of the New Testament do, and as even the Second and Third Epistles of John do, and there is no reference to any particular class of persons by which it can be determined for whom it was designed.  Nor is it known why the name of the author was not attached to it, or why the persons for whom it was designed were not designated.  All that can be determined on this subject from the Epistle itself is the following:

                        (1)  It seems to have been addressed to no particular church, but rather to have been of a circular character, designed for the churches in a region of country where certain dangerous opinions prevailed.

                        (2)  The author presumed that it would be known who wrote it, either by the style, or by the sentiments, or by its resemblance to his other writings, or by the messenger who bore it, so that it was unnecessary to affix his name to it.

                        (3)  It appears to have been so composed as to be adapted to any people where those errors prevailed; and hence it was thought better to give it a general direction, that all might feel themselves to be addressed, than to designate any particular place or church.

                        There is, indeed, an ancient tradition that it was written to the “Parthians.”  Since the time of Augustine this has been the uniform opinion in the Latin church. Venerable Bede remarks, that “many of the ecclesiastical writers, among whom is Athanasius, testify that the First Epistle of John was written to the Parthians.”  Various conjectures have been made as to the origin of this opinion, and of the title which the Epistle bears in many of the Latin mss. (ad Parthos), but none of them are satisfactory.  No such title is found in the Epistle itself, nor is there any intimation in it to whom it was directed.  No reason can be assigned why it should have been sent to the Parthians, nor is there any sufficient evidence to suppose that it was.    




Purpose / Reason for Writing



                        What John is advocating and supporting in this epistle [44]:  Are you certain that you are a Christian?  Are you conscious of fellowship with the Father and with His Son?  Are you confident that by faith in Christ you have been “born again” and that you are a true “child of God?”

                        To answer such questions this epistle was composed.  The writer states his purpose quite clearly:  “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of   God.”  The phrase “eternal life” does not mean merely endless existence; it denotes not only the length, but also the kind of life; it suggests a relation, not to time, but to God; it describes the life revealed in Christ and shared by those who put their trust in him.

                        The assurance that one has this “life” is not mystical or mysterious.  The knowledge is based upon grounds which are simple and plain.  They are chiefly three:  faith and righteousness and love.  They correspond to three great affirmations in reference to God made by the writer:  “God is light,” “He is righteous,” “God is love.”  If such is the nature of the Father, then his children will be like Him; they will believe in His Son who is “the light of the world;” they will be righteous “even as he is righteous;” they will “love the children of God;” and they will “love God and do his commandments.”

                        Thus belief and righteousness and love are declared to be tests of eternal life.  They can be absent from the experience of no real Christian.

                        The epistle, however, is much more than a mere series of tests.  So conscious are we of the imperfection of our faith and holiness and love, that such tests might be applied in such a way as to tease and torment the truest follower of Christ.  [Instead] the writer aims to comfort and to encourage.

                        He wishes to assure the humblest believers that “eternal life” is their present possession, and to urge them to manifest more and more fully its characteristics and its qualities.  These “tests of life” are not intended to gratify morbid introspection, nor to encourage our self-righteousness, nor to enable us to criticize and condemn others.

                        The purpose of the letter is to give to believers a happy confidence in their blessed state, to enable them to appreciate their marvelous privileges, and to encourage them to a faithful performance of their duties, to a fuller development of life, and to a more perfect fellowship with God.


                        What John is opposing in this epistle:  A concise approach [1]:  The peculiar form of error combated in the Epistle is Docetic and Cerinthian.  In this teaching sin and atonement have no place.  Christ came into the world, not to redeem it by the remission of sins, but to illuminate a few choice intellects with philosophy:  Jesus is not God manifest in the flesh:  Jesus and the Christ are distinct:  Jesus' humanity was not real, but a phantasm.

Against these views John asserts that no spirit is of God who denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3):  that he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ is a liar, and that the denial of the Son involves the rejection of the Father (1 John 2:22-23): that he who denies that he is sinful deceives himself, and impugns the veracity of God (1 John 1:8, 10).  The Word of life which he proclaims was the real human manifestation of God, the human Christ whom he and his fellow-disciples had seen and heard and touched (1 John 1:1-2). Jesus is the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:2).  The world is not overcome by knowledge, but by faith that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5). 


                        What John is opposing in this epistle:  Albert Barnes’ more detailed analysis [18]:  It is evident from the Epistle itself that there were some prevailing errors among those to whom it was written, and that one design of the writer was to counteract those errors.  Yet very various opinions have been entertained in regard to the nature of the errors that were opposed, and the persons whom the writer had in his eye.  Loeffler supposes that “Jews” and “Judaizers” are the persons opposed; Semler, Tittman, Knapp, and Lange suppose that they were “Judaizing Christians,” and especially “Ebionites,” or apostate Christians; Michaelis, Kleuker, Paulus, and others, suppose that the “Gnostics” are referred to; others, as Schmidt, Lucke, Vitringa, Bertholdt, Prof. Stuart, suppose that the “Docetoe” was the sect that was principally opposed.

                        It is impossible now to determine with accuracy to whom particularly the writer referred, nor could it be well done without a more accurate knowledge than we now have of the peculiarities of the errors which prevailed in the time of the author, and among the people to whom he wrote.  All that we can learn on the subject that is certain, is to be derived from the Epistle itself; and there the intimations are few, but they are so clear that we may obtain some knowledge to guide us.

                        (1)  The persons referred to had been professing Christians, and were now apostates from the faith.  This is clear from 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us,” etc.  They had been members of the church, but they had now become teachers of error.

                        (2)  They were probably of the sect of the “Docetae;” or if that sect had not then formally sprung up, and was not organized, they held the opinions which they afterward embraced.  This sect was a branch of the great Gnostic family; and the peculiarity of the opinion which they held was that Christ was only in appearance and seemingly, but not in reality, a man; that though he seemed to converse, to eat, to suffer, and to die, yet this was merely an “appearance” assumed by the Son of God for important purposes in regard to man.  He had, according to this view, “no real humanity;” but though the Son of God had actually appeared in the world, yet all this was only an assumed form for the purpose of a manifestation to men.

The opinions of the “Docetes” are thus represented by Gibbon: “They denied the truth and authenticity of the Gospels, as far as they relate the conception of Mary, the birth of Christ, and the thirty years which preceded the first exercise of his ministry.  He first appeared on the banks of the Jordan in the form of perfect manhood; but it was a form only, and not a substance; a human figure created by the hand of Omnipotence to imitate the faculties and actions of a man, and to impose a perpetual illusion on the senses of His friends and enemies.  Articulate sounds vibrated on the ears of His disciples; but the image which was impressed on their optic nerve, eluded the more stubborn evidence of the touch, and they enjoyed the spiritual, but not the corporeal presence of the Son of God.  The rage of the Jews was idly wasted against an impassive phantom, and the mystic scenes of the passion and death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, were represented on the theater of Jerusalem for the benefit of mankind.” -- Decline and Fall, vol. iii. p. 245, Ed. New York, 1829. 

                        That these views began to prevail in the latter part of the first century there can be no reason to doubt; and there can be as little doubt that the author of this Epistle had this doctrine in his eye, and that he deemed it to be of special importance in this Epistle, as he had done in his Gospel, to show that the Son of God had actually “come in the flesh;” that he was truly and properly a man; that he lived and died in reality, and not in appearance only.  Hence, the allusion to these views in such passages as the following:  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life--that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you,” 1 John 1:1, 3. 

                        “Many false prophets are gone out into the world.  Hereby know we the Spirit of God:  Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ “is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come,” 1 John 4:1-3.  Compare 1 John 4:9, 14-15; 1 John 5:1, 6, 5:10-12.  John had written his Gospel to show that Jesus was the Christ, John 20:31; He had furnished ample proof that He was divine, or was equal with the Father, John 1:1-14, and also that He was truly a man, John 15:25-27; but still it seemed proper to furnish a more unequivocal statement that he had actually appeared “in the flesh,” not in appearance only but in reality, and this purpose evidently was a leading design of this Epistle.


                        Is there anything approaching a rigid outline of subject matter even intended by the writer [34]?  Perhaps no book of the New Testament has suffered more than this Epistle from arbitrary attempts to force upon it an order of thought and subject it to analytical arrangement.  In this, however, there have been two extremes.  The ancient expositors, and the earlier ones of modern times, thought too lightly of John’s order:  Augustine led the way by speaking of the Epistle as speaking many things mainly about love.  To them the writer was a contemplative mystic, who followed the sacred impulse whithersoever it led him; and wrote down his meditations, partly about sound doctrine and partly about pure charity in aphoristic sentences.  

The commentators who have annotated the Epistle during the last hundred and fifty years have been disposed to go to the other extreme, and to find too exact and minute a distribution.  Certainly the apostle has a train of thought in his mind, and writes according to a plan; but it is equally obvious as we read that he turns aside here and there from his main current, and also that he revolves round occasionally to the same ideas and words. Too much stress has been laid upon the specification at the beginning, “These things we write that your joy may be fulfilled:  it is not necessary to regard this as indicating a plan in John’s mind.  So with the purpose mentioned at the close, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life:  the apostle does not mean to say that it has been his one leading design to lead them to this experimental knowledge.

                        It is plain enough that there is an exordium; and equally plain that the concluding verses of the Epistle are a peroration, gathering up the whole into a few final sentences.  Between these two the idea of the fellowship of Christians with God seems to rule the whole:  first, as a fellowship in light and holiness, viewed under a variety of aspects down to the close of the second chapter.  Then the fellowship is rather that of the life in and with God which the Christian sonship imparts: this governing the Epistle in the third chapter.  Then follows the fellowship in faith down to the concluding paragraph.  But the vindication of this order must be left to the exposition itself.







External Evidence for apostolic authorship [32]:  Three Epistles come before us in the New Testament bearing a very strong family likeness to each other and to the Fourth Gospel.  They carry no superscription in their text, but “the elder,” or “the old man.”  Whose are they?  The manuscripts from which they are derived have always said “John’s,” and in some is added “the Apostle.”

We will here consider the First.  The evidence for the First is as strong as anything could be.  It was accepted as the Apostle’s by the whole Church.  Eusebius, the historian (born about A.D. 270), places it among the writings “universally admitted (homologoumena)”; and Jerome states that it received the sanction of all members of the Church.  The only exceptions were such sects of heretics as would be likely to repudiate it as not harmonizing with their theological errors:  the Alogi, or “Unreasonables,” an obscure and rather doubtful sect in the second century, who rejected John’s Gospel and the Revelation, and therefore, probably, these three Epistles; and Marcion, in the same century, who chose such parts of the New Testament as suited him best, and altered them at pleasure.

The evidence of quotation and reference begins early.  Polycarp, the disciple of John, became a Christian A.D. 83.  In the epistle which he wrote to the Philippians, occur these words:  “For every one that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is antichrist.”  The likeness to 1 John 4:2-3, is marked; and it is far more probable that a loosely written letter, such as his, should embody a well-known saying of so sententious and closely worded a treatise as the First Epistle of John than the other way.

Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, flourished in the first half of the second century.  Irenæus, who was born about the end of the first century, says that he was a hearer of John.  This is contradicted by Eusebius on the evidence of Papias’ own writings (H.E. III. 39, 1, 2); but he wrote a work called, An Explanation of the Oracles of the Lord, in which he bore witness to the authenticity of Christian doctrine.  The account of his work is derived from Eusebius, the historian, who says that “he used testimonies from the First Epistle of John.”  By balancing the name of John in this sentence with that of Peter, Eusebius evidently understood the Apostle.

About A.D. 100 was born Justin Martyr.  In his time was written the anonymous epistle to Diognetus.  Six of its chapters contain indisputable reminiscences of the First Epistle.  The epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons was written in A.D. 177.  It quotes 1 John 3:16.  Carpocrates, the Gnostic, lived at Alexandria at the beginning of the second century.  He tried to pervert 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lieth in the evil one.”

Irenæus cites three passages from the First Epistle, mentioning its author; and Eusebius mentions this piece of evidence in, exactly the same manner as that from Papias.  Clement of Alexandria was born about A.D. 150.  Like Irenæus, he quotes passages from the First Epistle, naming the author.  So Tertullian, born about the same time, Origen, and the succeeding Fathers. 

                        About A.D. 170, a Canon of the New Testament was drawn up by some teacher for the use of catechumens. This is now known by the name of Muratori, who discovered and printed it A.D. 1740. (See Tregelles’ Canon Muratorianus, pages 1, 81-89: Oxford, 1867)  “What wonder,” it says, “that St. John makes so many references to the Fourth Gospel in his Epistles, saying of himself, ‘that which we have seen with our eyes, and have heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written’?  for thus he professes himself not only the eye-witness, but also the hearer and the writer of all the wonders of the Lord in order.”  And, after cataloguing Paul’s Epistles, it continues:  “The Epistle of Jude, and the two which bear the name of John as a title, are considered General.”  The writer evidently means the Second and Third Epistles, which might not have been considered general from their shortness and slightness.  The Peschito, or Syrian version, of about the same date, gives the same evidence as the Muratorian Canon.  We have thus a consentient voice from the churches of East and West, of Syria, of Alexandria, of Africa, and of Gaul.





* * * * * *


Second and Third John







                        Written by “John the elder” and not “John the apostle” [24]?  That there was a second John at Ephesus, who was known as “the elder,” to distinguish him from the apostle and evangelist, is a theory of Eusebius, based upon a doubtful interpretation of an awkwardly worded passage in Papias.  But it is by no means certain that any such person ever existed.  Irenaeus, who had read Papias, and been intimate with Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, seems to know nothing of any such person.  Even if he existed, there is little reason for attributing this Epistle to him; it is too like the First Epistle to be by a different author. 


Comparative strength of apostolic authorship of Second and Third Epistle when contrasted with the First [24]:  The evidence for the Second Epistle, though less ample, is sufficient. That for the Third Epistle, if it stood alone, would seem insufficient for any certain conclusion.  But both on external and internal grounds it is impossible to disconnect these twin Epistles and give them a different parentage.  And therefore the Third Epistle is covered by the evidence for the second, as that again by the evidence for the first.

Polycarp twice quotes the Second Epistle of St. John’s.  Clement of Alexandria speaks of it as St. John’s and apparently commented on both it and the Third Epistle (Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.,” VI.14.1).  Dionysius of Alexandria thinks that his not naming himself in these Epistles is in accordance with John’s common practice.  A passage in Crypian’s works seems to show that the Second Epistle was accepted as John’s by the African Church in the third century.

Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome all speak with caution about the two shorter Epistles.  They know of their existence, but also know that some are inclined to attribute them to another author.  Eusebius, however, seems to have believed that they were by the apostle.  But they are absent from the Old Syriac Version, and appear to have been rejected as not apostolic by the theologians of Antioch.  

Thus it is precisely the earliest witnesses who are favorable to the apostolic authorship; and at no time do the doubts as to their apostolicity appear to have been general.  And if the evidence as a whole appears to be meager, we must remember these facts:

(1)  These epistles are probably the very last of all the books in the New Testament.  Many of the other books had acquired a considerable circulation before these were in existence.

(2)  They are private letters, addressed, not to Churches, but to individuals, and therefore were likely to remain in obscurity for a considerable time.  We may compare the public and official letters of a bishop now with his private letters.  The one kind are published and generally circulated at once; the others, if published at all, not until long after his death.

(3)  The comparative insignificance of these letters would lead to their remaining generally unknown for some time.  They are very short, and not of very general interest.

                        (4)  An immense amount of early Christian literature has perished, and with it, no doubt, much evidence respecting these Epistles.




Destination / Intended Audience



                        Destination of Second Epistle [24]:  The destination of the Second Epistle is more open to doubt.  From very early times some have supposed that the “elect lady” is an allegorical expression to signify a Church.  Jerome even supposes her to represent the Church universal.  But this is quite incredible. “The children of thine elect sister salute thee” may possibly mean that the members of one local Church salute another local Church; but what meaning can we give to the elect sister of the Church universal?  The Church universal includes all the elect.

                        This seems to be a case in which the literal interpretation is the right one, because the literal interpretation makes excellent sense.  No difficulty confronts us if we assume the elect lady to be an individual. Whereas so slight a letter seems hardly an appropriate occasion for the employment of an allegory.  In the First Epistle a symbolical designation of the Church would have been much more in place.  The letter to Gaius is certainly addressed to an individual.  Does not this in itself create a presumption that the sister-letter to the elect lady is addressed to an individual also?

                        Of the elect lady and of Gaius we know no more than the Epistles tell us.  The lady has children, some of whom are away from her roof, and are living loyal Christian lives.  Others are with her; and the elder fears that they have been led astray, or are in danger of being led astray, by false teachers to whom the lady, with mistaken generosity, has given a welcome.

                        Some commentators infer that the lady herself has been seduced into extreme asceticism through the Gnostic doctrine of the vileness of the flesh; that it was a case in which "a noble woman, bent on maintaining purity of spirit and freedom from the baser cares and pleasures of life, has thought to gain her end by mortification of the body, by renunciation of the world, by sacrificing natural affection and forsaking domestic duties."  It may have been so; but it is difficult to find any evidence of this in the Epistle itself.  All that is told us there is that she needed to be on her guard, lest, by welcoming those who denied the Incarnation, she and her children should suffer serious harm themselves, and also incur grave responsibility for the effects of such disastrous teaching upon others.  Her sister's children, who are with the apostle, send a salutation in his letter, perhaps to indicate that they sympathize with its contents.  [24]







                        The reasoning of Albert Barnes [18]:  The canonical authority of these Epistles depends on the following things:

                        (1)  On the evidence that they are the writings of the apostle John.  In proportion as that evidence is clear, their canonical authority is of course established.

                        (2)  Though brief, and though addressed to individuals, they are admitted into the canon of Scripture with the same propriety as the Epistles to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon, for those were addressed also to individuals.

                        (3)  Like those Epistles, also, these contain things of general interest to the church.  There is nothing in either that is inconsistent with what John has elsewhere written, or that conflicts with any other part of the New Testament; there is much in them that is in the manner of John, and that breathes his spirit; there is enough in them to tell us of the way of salvation.









All commentaries are in the public domain; the copyright having expired or never been on them. 


1          Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.  Word Studies in the New Testament.  1886.  Internet edition. 


2          John Wesley.  Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible.  1754-1765.  Internet edition.


3          Barton Johnson.  People’s New Testament.  1891.  Internet edition.


4          Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown.  Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.  Unabridged edition.  Internet edition.


5          Charles Simeon.  Horae Homileticae.  1832.  Internet edition.


6          James Gray.  Concise Bible Commentary.  1897-1910.  Internet edition.


7          John Dummelow, editor.  Dummelow’s Commentary on the Bible.  1909.  Internet edition. 


8          Frank B. Hole.  Old and New Testament Commentary.  Internet edition.            


9          E. M. Zerr.  Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament.  Internet edition.


10        Arthur Peake.  Commentary on the Bible.  1919.  Internet edition.


11        John A. Bengel.  Gnomon of the New Testament.  1897.  Internet edition.          


12        John S. C. Abbott.  Illustrated New Testament.  1878.  Internet edition. 


13        Joseph Sutcliffe.  Commentary on the Old and New Testaments.  1835.  Internet edition. 


14        Matthew Poole.  English Annotations on the Bible.  1685.  Internet edition.        


15        Paul E. Kretzmann.  Popular Commentary.  1921-1922.  Internet edition.            


16        John Gill.  Exposition of the Entire Bible.  1746-1763.  Internet edition. 


17        Adam Clarke.  Commentary.  1832.  Internet edition.        


18        Albert Barnes.  Notes on the New Testament.  1870.  Internet edition.   


19        Heinrich Meyer.  Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  1832.  Internet edition.             


20        Johann P. Lange.  Commentary on the Holy Scriptures:  Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical.  1857-1884.  Internet edition.        


21        William R. Nicoll, editor.  Expositor’s Greek Testament.  1897-1910.  Internet edition. 


22        Henry Alford.  Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary.  1863-1878.  Internet edition.        


23        Alfred Plummer.  Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.  1889.  Internet edition.  Basically a “simplified” version of the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges.       


24        The Pulpit Commentary.  1897.  Internet edition.  


25        John Trapp.  Complete Commentary.  Lived 1601-1669.  1865-1868 reprinting.  Internet edition.  


26        William Godbey.  Commentary on the New Testament.  Internet edition.  


27        John Calvin.  Commentary on the Bible.  Internet edition.            


28        Joseph C. Philpot (1802-1869).  Commentary on Select Texts.  Internet edition.            


29        George Haydock (1774-1849).  Catholic Bible Commentary.  Internet edition.  

30        H. A. Ironside.  Ironside’s Notes on Selected Books.  1914.  Internet edition     


31        Lost source; rather than delete the material, I felt it better to simply list the unidentifiable volume and admit my error.          


32        Charles J. Ellicott, editor. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers.  Internet edition.          


33        Daniel D. Whedon.  Commentary on the Bible.  Internet edition. 


34        Philip Schaff, editor.  Schaff’s Popular Commentary on the New Testament.  Internet edition.  


35        Joseph Benson (born 1748).  Commentary of the Old and New Testaments.  Internet edition.  


36        Thomas Coke (published 1801-1803).  Commentary on the Holy Bible.  Internet edition.          


37        Robert S. Candlish.  The First Epistle of John Expounded In A Series of Lectures.  1877 edition.  Internet edition.           


38        Arno C. Gaebelein.  The Annotated Bible.  Internet edition.         


39        Joseph Parker.  The People's Bible.  Internet edition.       


40        Thomas Scott.  Commentary on the Bible.  Volume Six.  Fifth Edition.  London:  L. B. Seeley et al, 1822.           


41        Bernhard Weiss.  Commentary on the New Testament.  Volume Four.    New York:  Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906.        


42        M. F. Sadler.  The General Epistles of SS James, Peter, John and Jude.  London:  George Bell and Sons, 1895. 


43        [Robert S. Hunt?]  The Cottage Commentary:  The Epistle to the Hebrews and the General Epistles.  London:  Joseph Masters, 1865.     

44        Charles Erdman.  The General Epistles:  An Exposition.  Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1918.      


45        W. H. Bennett.  The Century Bible:  The General Epistles—James, Peter, John, and Jude.  Edinburgh:  T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1901.     


46        John B. Sumner.  A Practical Exposition of the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude.  London:  J. Hatchard and Son, 1840.           


47        James C. Gray.  Biblical Museum:  Hebrews to the End of the New Testament.  London:  Elliot Stock, 1877. 


48        William G. Humphry.  A Commentary on the Revised Version of the New Testament.  London:  Cassel, Petter, Galpin & Company, 1882.    


49        Revere F. Weidner.  The Lutheran Commentary:  Annotations on the General Epistles of James, Peter, Peter, John, and Jude.  New York:  Christian Literature Company, 1897.           


50        A Short Protestant Commentary on the New Testament.  Volume 3.  Translated from the Third German Edition.  London:  Williams and Norgate, 1884. 


51        O. P. Eaches.  Clark’s Peoples Commentary:  I, II, and III John, Jude, and Revelation.  Boston:  American Baptist Publication Society, 1910.           


52        Henry A. Sawtelle.  Commentary on the Epistles of John.  Philadelphia:   American Baptist Publication Society, 1888.