« Prev 3. Author of the Two Epistles and Date of… Next »


While the Second Epistle insists, not only on opposition to, but on the expulsion of the Gnostics, it goes beyond the First, and so might with the Third seem to be later. Unfortunately we have no definite points from which to start in order to determine the date at which both were written. Yet, on the other hand, there is another fact which leads us to suppose that they preceded the Gospel and the First Epistle.

The author of both Epistles, that is to say, calls himself simply, “the elder.” How it could be thought that, in spite of this clear description, he was the Apostle, is really difficult to explain. If we cannot say for certain who is meant by “the elder,” yet it is clear that the Apostle would not have described himself in this way. When we read in v. 1 of the First Epistle of Peter (which, besides, is not by Peter, but was written at the beginning of the persecution 216of the Christians in Asia Minor in the year 112; see iv. 12, 15 f.), that Peter is addressing the elders of the community, and for this special reason calls himself their fellow elder we have something quite different. But, besides this, we know of one quite famous person who is continually called “the elder”; this is John “the Elder,” head of the Church in Asia Minor. The use of his special name “the elder” may very well have been so widespread that his real name John was omitted.

Was he the writer of the Epistles? If the Gnostics did not succeed in gaining a following in the Christian communities until about the year 100 (p. 192), a considerable period of time must have elapsed before people would take measures to exclude them so harshly from communion. For many decades they regarded themselves as members of the Church, and, though they were opposed by other teachers in it, they were treated everywhere with toleration, A personal disciple of Jesus, such as John the Elder was, cannot have lived to see the time when they were excluded from communion.

Another person in his circle, who is not known to us, may have had the same title, and in course of time have come to be known solely by this name, “the Elder.” But in view of the close relationship between, at least, the Second Epistle on the one hand and the First and the Gospel on the other, it is very likely that the author is supposed to be that John the Elder whom Irenaeus and the other Christian writers had in mind, even though they mentioned the Apostle as the writer of the Gospel and the First Epistle. Only, in that case, the two small Epistles would have been composed merely in the name of John the Elder, just as the First Epistle and (perhaps) the Gospel are represented as being works of John the Apostle.


And this would be the reason for supposing these two to be the earlier of the four writings in question. On this assumption, we shall have to think that in one particular place, Ephesus perhaps, there was a whole number of persons of like mind who were filled with a feeling of veneration for John the Elder, once head of this community, and at the same time were anxious, by writing books, to make their ideas current in the Church. Even if these ideas had ceased to be quite identical with those of their former Master, it was most natural for them to publish their first writings in his name. But perhaps they were made to realise that his reputation had not extended beyond the immediate circle in which he had once worked. In order, therefore, to make a greater impression, when they thought of publishing new works, such as the Gospel and the First Epistle, they felt obliged to choose a person who ranked still higher and publish them in his name; this person was John the Apostle. In this way the two small Epistles, in spite of the fact that their range is restricted, would contribute not a little towards giving us a very interesting and instructive glimpse of a whole series of events and struggles, which the idea that arose later, that their author was John the Apostle, to all intents and purposes served to overcloud completely.

« Prev 3. Author of the Two Epistles and Date of… Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |