Formations 11.16.2014: Getting Jesus Right

2 John

Head of Christ from the Commodilla catacomb

Head of Christ from the Commodilla catacomb

The earliest creeds of the church were Christ-centered. Although they mention God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, they seem to place the greatest emphasis on God the Son. For example, the central section of the Nicene Creed states:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

Many of the most heated theological controversies of the early church had to do with the person of Jesus: who he is, what he did, and how he is related to the Father. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that the ancient church took special effort to grapple with what one should or (more often) shouldn’t say about Jesus. Get Jesus right, they seem to say, and you’ll probably be okay on other issues, too.

In 2 John, the Elder commends “the chosen gentlewoman” (v. 1) whose children live in the truth. He reminds such people of the old commandment to love one another. At the same time, however, he warns the church to reject deceivers who deny the incarnation: they “do not confess that Jesus Christ came as a human being” (v. 7). In other words, the Elder is aware of false teachers who don’t get Jesus right. Such people pose a credible threat to the community of faith, and the Elder insists they not be given a platform from which to promote their views.

Discussion

• What are the dangers of denying the humanity of Jesus? Are these greater or less than the dangers of denying his divinity? Explain.
• Why might the “deceivers” the Elder writes about have resisted the idea that Jesus came as a human being?
• Does what we say about Jesus really matter? Explain.

Reference Shelf

The Incarnation

The term incarnation comes from the Latin incarnatio. It entered the Christian theological vocabulary from the Latin translation of John 1:14, “the Word became flesh.” Incarnation is a broad religious concept in which it is maintained that the divine has taken bodily form. Several religions have utilized the concept: Hinduism regarded Rama as the god Vishnu incarnate, and ancient Egyptian religion viewed the gods as incarnate in humans and animals.

In contrast to these occasional incarnations, Christianity has made incarnation its central doctrine. That Jesus is God incarnate informs every tenet of the faith, from creation to eschatology. It particularly involves the doctrine of salvation, for the incarnation of God in Jesus remains the key for understanding how the estrangement between humans and God is remedied.

The Gospel of John introduces the word incarnation and is also responsible for setting the problem in universal perspective. John linked Christian incarnation to the Logos of Hellenistic speculation. The eternal and divine rationality of the universe is linked to the particular person of Jesus. Many of the theological struggles of the church can be seen as the result of competing ideas about the relationship between the universal Logos and the particular individual Jesus. The biblical writers themselves offered no systematic speculation about this interrelation and appear to have been of several minds.

Don H. Olive, “Incarnation,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990) 404–405.

Introduction to 2 John

Though this single-page letter has been known as the second of the Epistles of John, it was most likely penned at approximately the same time as 1 John and sent along with it to one or even more congregations, the contents being rather generic. The two inform one another. Second John casts scenarios for reconstructing the historical situation and 1 John enriches the understanding of the terms of the latter. Second John also partakes of the pastoral-polemical character of 1 John and reflects the same crisis among the Johannine churches.

If we tend to refer to 1 John as the Epistle of John, we would do well to refer to 2 and 3 John as Hellenistic letters. Second John, as well as 3 John, could have fit on a single page of papyrus. All of thirteen verses, 2 John runs twelve verses shorter than Philemon and two verses less than 3 John. Too brief to be divisible into chapters, it runs a grand total of 246 Greek words. Excluding the conventional salutation and final greetings, the body of the lette2r (vv. 4-11) includes only eight verses. While 3 John amounts to 1,133 letters, 2 John runs 1,126 (Dana).

Second John utilizes numerous words
not found in 1 John, such as “church,”
“send forward,” “fellow worker,”
“gentile,” “stranger,” “receive,” and “do
good/evil” as pertinently pointed out by
 scholars such as Lieu. However, like
 1 John, it makes use of characteristic
means of argument, such as “just as,” 
“from beginning,” “this is,” “[e]veryone who,” “the one saying,” and thesis/antithesis. It too centers upon the dual commandments of believing and loving (as 1 John 3:23). It too requires doing for truth to be realized. The Elder warns again about deceivers identified as antichrists and insists upon the necessity of confessing Jesus Christ come in the flesh. Terms like “love” and “abide” and “commandment” are more than reminiscent. There is little doubt indeed concerning common authorship.

The three Epistles were likely all written from a large metropolitan area, such as Ephesus, with 2 and 3 John directed to provincial towns with Johannine churches. Some distance can be inferred from the need for financial support as reflected in 3 John.

Peter Rhea Jones, 1, 2, and 3 John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys), 209.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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