1. Title. In the ancient Greek manuscripts the title is simply Iōannou B, literally, “Of John 2.” See on the Title of the First Epistle (p. 623). No external evidence enables us to decide whether the present letter is second in order of writing, but from a comparison of the contents of the three epistles credited to John, it seems likely that the second was written after the first. The second appears to refer to the contents of the first in a manner that is natural if the writer had already penned the longer letter, but which would be strange if the shorter were written first (cf. 2 John 5-7, 9, 12 with 1 John 1:4; 2:4, 5, 7, 18; 5:10-12).
2. Authorship. To a certain extent the question of authorship is settled by the first two words of the epistle, “the elder,” but the identity of “the elder” still calls for discussion. Scholarly consensus favors John as the author, and it is generally agreed that the title “elder” is singularly fitting for the aged apostle who lingered long after his fellow disciples had died. If John were writing to an individual or a group with whom he was well acquainted, there would be no need for other identification beyond the affectionate title by which he was already known to his readers. The identification of “the elder” largely depends on the relationship that is found to exist between the second and first epistles, and between them and the Fourth Gospel. The obvious similarities between the second and first letters suggest a common authorship. The word “antichrist” occurs only in v. 7 and in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3. For similarity in phraseology, cf. “walking in truth” (2 John 4) with “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7); “a new commandment” (2 John 5; 1 John 2:8); “love one another” (2 John 1:5; 1 John 3:11); “he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9) with “he that hath the Son” (1 John 5:12). As outlined in the Introduction to the First Epistle, there are valid reasons for accepting the apostle John as the author of that letter as well as of the Gospel. If those reasons be accepted, John may also be taken to be the author of the present epistle.
3. Historical Setting. For reasons given above, it seems probable that this letter was written after the first epistle, and, if John be accepted as the author, soon after the first letter, in view of the apostle’s age (see Introduction to the First Epistle). The additional factor brought to light by the second epistle is that false teachers were taking advantage of Christian hospitality to disseminate erroneous doctrine.
4. Theme. Even a casual reading of the epistle will reveal its intimate nature. It is indeed a personal letter, but whether it is addressed to an individual or to a group depends on the interpretation given to the phrase “the elect lady and her children” (see on v. 1). Within these limits, the theme of the epistle is one of satisfaction with the spiritual state of the readers, encouragement for them in the Christian way, warning against false teachers, and suggestions for dealing with the deceivers. The letter reveals the writer’s tender, loving spirit, and the beauty of spiritual intimacy that could exist between fellow believers in the early church.
It has been suggested that the almost identical length of the second and third epistles was determined by the size of the papyrus sheet then commonly used (see Vol. V, pp. 112, 113).
So brief a letter, touching upon so many different topics, must be divided into very small units in order to list the subjects it contains. However, there are three main sections in the epistle.