Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Doctrine of Christ in 2 John 9

What is meant by “the doctrine [or teaching] of Christ” in 2 John 9? Is it simply the doctrine about Christ or the doctrine from Christ?
     It is argued by some that “the doctrine of Christ” in this passage is merely the doctrine about Christ, thus the only condition for having fellowship with God is to believe the truth about Jesus. While this interpretation takes into account the previous reference to those “not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in [the] flesh” (v. 7),1 it fails to consider the overall context of the letter, the other writings of John, and the rest of the New Testament. Surely having fellowship with God requires more than just believing that Jesus was a human being! (cf. Mark 1:34; 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:41; John 12:42; 1 John 2:3-6; et al.).
     In his second epistle John not only speaks of knowing “the truth” (v. 1) and “the truth” abiding in us (v. 2) but also “walking in truth” (v. 4), which is further clarified in v. 6: “And this is love, that we should walk according to his commandments.” The whole context of this epistle suggests that “the doctrine of Christ” is a reference to the entire body of Christ’s teaching rather than a limited portion of it.
     The word “doctrine” (KJV) or “teaching” (NASB) is translated from the Greek didachê. Whenever this word is used by John elsewhere, it always
has reference to the doctrine taught by someone rather than the doctrine taught about someone. In each of its three occurrences in John’s Gospel (7:16, 17; 18:19), didachê refers to the doctrine taught by Jesus, not about him. In the book of Revelation (also written by John), in each of its three occurrences didachê is used with reference to the doctrine taught by someone -- Balaam (2:14), the Nicolaitans (2:15), Jezebel (2:20, 24) -- not the doctrine taught about them. There is no legitimate reason to presume that John’s intended meaning of “the doctrine of Christ” in 2 John 9-10 is something other than his consistent use of the same terminology elsewhere.
     Since one must “abide” (menô) in the doctrine of Christ, notice some other ways John describes that in which one must “abide”: abide in Christ’s word (John 8:31); abide in the light (1 John 2:10; i.e. the truth of God’s word, cf. 1 John 1:7; 2 John 4, 6; 3 John 3); abide in Christ’s love by keeping his commandments (John 15:10; cf. 14:15; 1 John 2:5; 2 John 6); abide in Christ by keeping his commandments (1 John 3:24; cf. John 15:7; 1 John 2:5-6). While the truth about Jesus is part of that in which one must abide, it is not the sum total of Christ’s doctrine.
     Finally, by comparing what is said in 2 John 9 with comparable statements in John’s other writings, the intended meaning of “the doctrine of Christ” ought to be clear. Note the following parallels:

John’s writings:
condition to be met:
means to be utilized:
John 3:21
he who does
the truth
comes to the light
John 8:31
in my word
disciples indeed
John 8:51
my word
never see death
John 14:21
my commandments
loved by my Father and I love him
John 14:23
my commandments
we will make our home with him
John 15:10
my commandments
abide in my love
John 15:14
whatever I command you
you are my friends
1 John 1:7
in the light
fellowship, cleansing from sin
1 John 2:3-4
his commandments
we know him
1 John 2:5
his word
we know that we are in him
1 John 2:17
he who does
the will of God
abides forever
1 John 2:7, 24
let abide in you
the word
abide in the Son and in the Father
1 John 2:29
born of him
1 John 3:7, 10
children of God
1 John 3:18-23
love, keep
in deed and truth, commands
of the truth, confidence toward God
1 John 3:24
his commandments
abides in him and he in him
1 John 5:2-3
his commandments
the love of God
2 John 4-8
truth, his commandments
a full reward
2 John 9
in the doctrine of Christ
has both the Father and the Son
3 John 2-4
in the truth
soul prospers, rejoiced greatly
Rev. 1:2-3
the word of God
Rev. 2:25-28
hold fast, keep
my works
overcomes, power, morning star
Rev. 3:8-13
kept, hold fast
my word, command
I have loved you, crown
Rev. 6:9-11
the word of God, testimony
white robe, rest
Rev. 12:17; 13:8
the commandments of God
names in the Book of Life
Rev. 14:12-13
the commandments of God
saints, blessed, rest
Rev. 22:14 [KJV]
his commandments
right to the tree of life

     The “doctrine of Christ,” just like the “gospel of Christ,”2 most certainly includes the teaching about Jesus coming in the flesh and other aspects of his personage, but it is not limited to this. Who can believe that John, or any other inspired writer, intended to convey the idea that fellowship with God is maintained simply by acknowledging the truth about Jesus, while being faithful to the teaching that comes from him is not necessary?! As consistently used by John, “the doctrine of Christ” applies to the doctrine which Christ taught both personally and through his inspired agents (cf. Matthew 22:33; Mark 11:18; Luke 4:32; 1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 1:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:2; et al.), i.e. the entire body of Christian teaching.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
     2 Is there a difference between “doctrine” and “gospel,” i.e., is one for Christians and the other for non-Christians? The only differences are in the words used and perhaps the emphasis of each, but both apply to the same body of teaching. The word “gospel” is translated from the Greek euaggelion, meaning “good news” or “glad tidings.” The word “doctrine” is translated from didachê and simply means “teaching.” The gospel is the doctrine which is to be taught. The gospel is to be proclaimed both to non-Christians (Mark 16:15; Acts 16:10; 1 Cor. 4:15) and to Christians (Rom. 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Gal. 1:8-11; 2:1-2); doctrine is to be taught both to non-Christians (Rom. 6:17; Acts 5:21-29; 13:12; 17:19) and to Christians (Acts 2:42; Titus 1:9; 2:1; 2 Tim. 4:2). There is only one body of teaching to which all men are amenable, and various words are used in the NT (often interchangeably) to describe it, e.g. the truth (John 17:17; Eph. 1:13), the faith (Gal. 1:23; Jude 3), the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 1:7), the doctrine of Christ (John 7:17; 2 John 9), the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21), the word (Eph. 1:13; Heb. 4:2), the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:13), et al.

First appearing in The Exhorter 4:3 (July-Sept. 2000).

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