Author: All three are probably by the same author; but who is he?
1 John: no author is named or referred to throughout the text.
2 John and 3 John: the author is self-identified as “the elder.”
He is traditionally identified as “John the apostle, son of Zebedee” – but is this correct?
He was probably a leader of the “Johannine community” (in Ephesus?) – i.e. the community(-ies) founded by the “beloved disciple” who value the Gospel of John!
Relationship of the Letters to the Gospel according to John?
Many similarities in vocabulary & theology; but some slight differences.
Same author of Gospels and Letters? If not, at least in/from the same community.
Scholars debate whether the letters were written before, or probably after the Gospel.
The lLetters continue the same teachings as the Gospel of John, but also correct some misinterpretations.
Dates: The three letters were written at about the same time; maybe a few months/years apart.
Probably late first century, written to communities near the Johannine “mother church.”
Scholars debate whether 1 John was written before, after, or at the same time as 2 & 3 John.
Different genres, to distinct but related recipients, with slightly different purposes:
1 John is not a letter, but a theological treatise, for the whole community.
2 John is an open letter of exhortation, to a particular church community.
3 John is a personal letter of commendation, to a named community leader.
Let’s start with 2 & 3 John – shorter, easier to understand their context and messages.
2 JOHN & 3 JOHN: Historical Context and Literary Overviews:
“The Elder” (2 John 1 & 2 John 1)
The Apostle John? Or the "Beloved Disciple" of the Gospel? Or someone else?
2 John 1: “to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever”
not to an individual woman, but to personified “church” (feminine), and the “children” (members/believers) of that community
similar in conclusion: “The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.” – i.e. the believers in a “sister church” in a nearby city
3 John 1: “to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.”
evidently a local church leader, friend of “the elder”
3 John also names an opponent (Diotrephes) & a friend (Demetrius)
Similar Conclusions: Postscript & Greetings
2 John 12-13: “Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. / The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.”
3 John 13-15: “I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; / instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. / Peace to you. The friends (philoi) send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name.”
Although 2 John & 3 John are extremely brief, both are clearly structured with an epistolary opening, body, and conclusion, as found in most of the other letters of the New Testament and in the ancient world in general.
Conflict and Divisions within the Johannine Communities:
Community ideals: Walking in love, remaining/abiding in truth, loving one another, living in joy, showing hospitality to the “friends”; testifying to the truth.
Problems not with external “opponents,” but “schismatics” who left the community:
2 John 4: “I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth.”
2 John 7a: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world…”
Divisions in 2 John are caused by doctrinal disagreements
2 John 7b: “those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!”
3 John gives us the name of a specific opponent: Diotrephes!
One side: the Elder & Gaius & Demetrius; other side: Diotrephes (and unknown followers)
Divisions in 3 John, in contrast, sound more like a leadership struggle
3 John 9-10: “I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.”
Why are Diotrephes and the Elder opposed to each other?
No doctrinal differences are mentioned,
just inhospitality and excommunications (but these may also be due to doctrines).
Recommendations for dealing with opponents:
2 John 10-11: “Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; / for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.”
Irony: Diotrephes (in 3 John 10) seems to be doing just what the elder (in 2 John 10) had recommended: not receiving those who disagree with your teaching!
Outline and Contents of 1 John:
Overall Literary Structure:
The Body is hard to subdivide, since its theological instructions and practical admonitions are very mixed; scholars debate whether the body has two or three main parts:
Two-part division (R. Brown):
Walk in the Light of God (1:5—3:10)
Walk as Children of the God of Love (3:11—5:12)
Two-part division (D.M. Smith):
The true message of Jesus (1:5—3:24)
Testing the claims of those who testify (4:1—5:12)