Questions From Readers
▪ Did 2 John 10, which says not to receive into one’s home or to greet certain ones, refer only to those who had promoted false doctrine?
In context this counsel concerned the “many deceivers” who had gone forth, “persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” (2 John 7) The apostle John offered directions on how Christians back there should treat one who denied that Jesus had existed or that he was the Christ and Ransomer. John directed: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2 John 10, 11) But the Bible elsewhere shows that this had a wider application.
At one time among the Christians in Corinth, a man was practicing immorality, and the apostle Paul wrote them to “quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (1 Corinthians 5:11) Now, did that apply to former brothers who had been expelled only for the gross wrongs there listed?
No. Revelation 21:8 shows also that such individuals as unrepentant murderers, spiritists, and liars are included among those who merit the second death. Surely the counsel in 1 Corinthians 5:11 would also have been applied with equal force to former Christians guilty of these wrongs. Further, John wrote that some “went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us. But they went out that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort.” (1 John 2:18, 19) John did not say that they had been expelled for gross sin. Perhaps some of them just quit, deciding that they no longer wanted to be in the congregation because they disagreed over a doctrine. Others may have grown tired and given out.—1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; Hebrews 12:3, 5.
Of course, if a brother had begun to stray into sin, mature Christians would have tried to help him. (Galatians 6:1; 1 John 5:16) If he had doubts, they would have attempted to ‘snatch him out of the fire.’ (Jude 23) Even if he had become inactive, not going to meetings or in the public ministry, spiritually strong ones would have striven to restore him. He might have told them that he did not want to be bothered with being in the congregation, reflecting his weakened faith and low spirituality. They would not have badgered him, but they might occasionally have made a friendly visit on him. Such loving, patient, merciful efforts would have reflected God’s interest that none be lost.—Luke 15:4-7.
In contrast, John’s words indicate that some went further than spiritual weakness and inactivity; they actually repudiated God’s congregation. Someone may have come out openly in opposition to God’s people, declaring that he no longer wanted to be in the congregation. He may even have renounced his former faith formally, such as by a letter. Of course, the congregation would have accepted his decision to disassociate himself. But how would they then have treated him?
John says: “Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.” (2 John 9, 10) Those words certainly would have applied to a person who became an apostate by joining a false religion or by spreading false doctrine. (2 Timothy 2:17-19) But what about those who John said “went out from us”? While Christians in the first century would know that they should not associate with an expelled wrongdoer or with an active apostate, did they act similarly toward someone who was not expelled but who willfully renounced the Christian way?
Aid to Bible Understanding shows that the word “apostasy” comes from a Greek word that literally means “‘a standing away from’ but has the sense of ‘desertion, abandonment or rebellion.’”* The Aid book adds: “Among the varied causes of apostasy set forth in apostolic warnings were: lack of faith (Heb. 3:12), lack of endurance in the face of persecution (Heb. 10:32-39), abandonment of right moral standards (2 Pet. 2:15-22), the heeding of the ‘counterfeit words’ of false teachers and ‘misleading inspired utterances’ ( . . . 1 Tim. 4:1-3) . . . Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the ‘antichrist.’ (1 John 2:18, 19)”
A person who had willfully and formally disassociated himself from the congregation would have matched that description. By deliberately repudiating God’s congregation and by renouncing the Christian way, he would have made himself an apostate. A loyal Christian would not have wanted to fellowship with an apostate. Even if they had been friends, when someone repudiated the congregation, apostatizing, he rejected the basis for closeness to the brothers. John made it clear that he himself would not have in his home someone who ‘did not have God’ and who was “not of our sort.”
Scripturally, a person who repudiated God’s congregation became more reprehensible than those in the world. Why? Well, Paul showed that Christians in the Roman world daily contacted fornicators, extortioners, and idolaters. Yet he said that Christians must “quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother” who resumed ungodly ways. (1 Corinthians 5:9-11) Similarly, Peter stated that one who had “escaped from the defilements of the world” but then reverted to his former life was like a sow returning to the mire. (2 Peter 2:20-22) Hence, John was providing harmonious counsel in directing that Christians were not to ‘receive into their homes’ one who willfully ‘went out from among them.’—2 John 10.
John added: “For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2 John 11) Here John used the Greek word of greeting khaiʹro rather than the word a·spaʹzo·mai, found in 2Jo verse 13.
Khaiʹro meant to rejoice. (Luke 10:20; Philippians 3:1; 4:4) It was also used as a greeting, spoken or written. (Matthew 28:9; Acts 15:23; 23:26) A·spaʹzo·mai meant “to enfold in the arms, thus to greet, to welcome.” (Luke 11:43; Acts 20:1, 37; 21:7, 19) Either could be a salutation, but a·spaʹzo·mai may have implied more than a polite “hello” or “good-day.” Jesus told the 70 disciples not to a·spaʹse·sthe anyone. He thus showed that their urgent work allowed no time for the Eastern way of greeting with kisses, embraces, and long conversation. (Luke 10:4) Peter and Paul urged: ‘Greet [a·spaʹsa·sthe] one another with a kiss of love, or a holy kiss.’—1 Peter 5:14; 2 Corinthians 13:12, 13; 1 Thessalonians 5:26.
So John may deliberately have used khaiʹro in 2 John 10, 11 rather than a·spaʹzo·mai (2Jo verse 13). If so, John was not urging Christians then to avoid merely warmly greeting (with an embrace, kiss, and conversation) a person who taught falsehood or who renounced the congregation (apostatized). Rather, John was saying that they ought not even greet such an individual with khaiʹro, a common “good-day.”*
The seriousness of this counsel is evident from John’s words: “He that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” No true Christian would have wanted God to view him as sharing in wicked works by associating with an expelled wrongdoer or with one who rejected His congregation. How much finer to be a sharer in the loving Christian brotherhood, as John wrote: “That which we have seen and heard we are reporting also to you, that you too may be having a sharing with us. Furthermore, this sharing of ours is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”—1 John 1:3.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary says “apostasy” is “1: renunciation of a religious faith 2: abandonment of a previous loyalty.”
Regarding the use of khaiʹro in 2 John 11, R. C. H. Lenski comments: “[It] was the common greeting on meeting or on parting. . . . Here the sense is: Do not even give the proselyter this greeting! Already this makes you a participant in the wicked works for which he has come. John [refers] . . . to a greeting of any nature.”