AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT by A H McNeile. Copyright A H McNeile - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1927. 2nd Edition revised by C S C Williams 1953. - This Edition prepared for Katapi in Arial Unicode MS by Paul Ingram 2003.

Chapter IX


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plan and purpose | relationship to the fourth gospel.

Plan and purpose.

The word 'Epistle' does not accurately describe the writing. It has neither address nor salutations, and there is not a word to indicate the circumstances of the author.
The readers are appealed to in the second person, as in a homily; and it must be regarded as a tract in homily form, issued for the help and warning of Christians in some district in which they were assailed by doctrinal and moral perils.
The nature of these perils suggests that it was Asia Minor.

It is even less possible than in the Fourth Gospel to trace any definite plan or arrangement.
[See C. H. Dodd's Commentary, 1945, pp. xxi-xxvi.]
The writer wishes to enforce two main ideas, and in doing so passes, with no set plan or order, from the one to the other.

1. His doctrine starts with the assumption, found also in the Fourth Gospel, that all men belong to one or other of two categories: life and death, love and hate, light and darkness, truth and untruth, in other words God and the world.
And on the intellectual and the moral plane alike there is an acid test, an infallible criterion, as to which of the two categories each man belongs.
On the intellectual plane this test consists of a great spiritual fact, which is either recognized or repudiated.
The presentation of Christianity as a gnosis, the knowledge of a fact, is the weapon with which the writer attacks the false gnosis of those who were led astray by the rising Gnosticism of the time.
The theosophical speculations that were gradually permeating Asia Minor and Europe from the East are met by insistence on the supreme fact of the Incarnation: 'Jesus is the Christ' (ii.22; v.1), 'Jesus Christ is come in the flesh' (iv.2), 'Jesus (Christ) is the Son of God' (iv.15; v.5); and every man is in the higher or the lower category according as he recognizes or repudiates that.
As John of Asia had personally to stand up against Cerinthus (Polycr. ap. Eus. H.E. iii. 28; iv.14), so this writing stands up against the tendencies of which Cerinthus was a representative.
It opposes the docetism which had its roots in oriental dualism. The emphasis with which it is stated that 'God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all' (i.5) suggests that there were some against whom it was necessary to maintain God's moral purity.

Cleansing from sin (i.7; ii.2) is due to Christ's blood and propitiation alone, not to a knowledge of, and participation in, the mysteries.
The divine anointing gives to all Christians alike the knowledge of the truth (ii.27); 'ye all know' (ii.20); so that those who claimed that the knowledge was confined to those, who were initiates in esoteric theosophy, must not deceive them.
The latter despised and 'hated' the rank and file of believers, and the writer protests that that kind of illumination is not light but darkness (ii.9).

2. But Gnosticism tended to produce antinomianism.
The superior persons, the initiates, felt themselves to be above good and evil.
'We have no sin' (i.8); 'we have not sinned' (v.10).
Bodily vices could be indulged in because their higher state of gnosis rendered these things of no importance, and made Christ's death for human sin of no meaning to them.
Little wonder that when they speak 'of the world the world heareth them' (iv.5); the attraction of a gnosis that was compatible with fleshly vices was naturally great.

Hence to the former test on the intellectual plane there is a parallel test on the moral plane.
The category to which a man belongs is determined by his obedience or disobedience to the divine commandments, which are centred in love to God and man. Sin, therefore, is dvofiia. (iii. 4).

The two tests thus form the foci of the epistle, which is excellently shown in von Haering's arrangement [Theolog. Abhandlungen dedicated to C. v. Weizsacker, 1892 (Mohr).], on which Brooke's analysis is based [Epistles of St. John, pp. xxxiv ff.].
Haering also suggested an alteration in his plan, adopting which we may divide the epistle as follows: [Zeitschr.f. d. mutest. Wiss., 1918, pp. 163 f.]




Mainly ethical.




Mainly ethical, ' but in



emphasis is laid on their connexion.

iv, 1-6.

Instead of the corresponding ethical passage, in



the Christological and ethical are inextricably combined.






Relationship to the fourth gospel.

The similarity of style and language between the two writings is undoubted.
Moffatt [Introd. Lit. N. T., p. 589.] mentions 'the same combination of negative and positive statements, the use of contrast, the aphoristic tone, the playing on ideas, &c.' See the parallels drawn out by Brooke [Op. cit.].
Moffatt notes, on the other hand, differences in vocabulary and grammar, and Charles [Revelation, vol. i, p. xlii, though he assigns all the four to the same author.] thinks that linguistically 2, 3 John stand nearer to the Gospel than 1 John.
The similarities, side by side with the differences, make it improbable that the writer of the epistle imitated the Gospel.
If there was a movement of thought at Ephesus conditioned by the intellectual environment, and quickened by the need of opposing certain errors, Christian writings within the movement would tend to be similiar in style and language as well as in thought.
The Deuteronomic movement affords a parallel; products of it are seen in Deuteronomy, in Jeremiah, in the Deuteronomic elements in other parts of the Hexateuch, and in 1, 2 Kings, and no one thinks of them all as the work of one pen. [Cf. A. Lods, Histoire de la litterature hebraique et juive, 1950, pp. 376-97.]

More noteworthy, however, are differences in ideas and points of view, which may possibly be due to different authors.
These are indicated in A. H. McNeile's New Testament teaching in the light of St. Paul's, pp. 303-9, and may here be summarized.
In the epistle there are no quotations from the Old Testament or even clear allusions to it except the mention of Cain (iii. 12). No hostility is shown to Jews as such, and there is no reference to popular Messianic ideas.
Eschatology plays a larger part, and allusions are made to the current Jewish expectations of Antichrist (ii.18; iv.3).
The conception of God is shaped by ethical rather than metaphysical considerations; He is 'Light' (i.5) and 'Love' (iv.8, 16) rather than 'Spirit' (John iv.24).
Correspondingly, it is on what Christ means for men rather than on His eternal relation with the Father that stress is laid; the word 'Glory', frequent in the Gospel to describe the attributes or characteristics of Deity, does not occur.
'The Gospel teaches what Christ is, and consequently what He does to unite men with God.
The epistle dwells rather on what God is, and consequently what He docs to unite men with Himself through Christ.'
Salvation, as in the Gospel, consists of passing from the lower to the higher category, but the epistle is more definitely concerned with the way in which it is done; the saving work of Christ occupies a larger place; His destroying of the works of the devil (iii.8), His 'propitiation for our sins' (ii.2; iv.10), our cleansing by His blood (i.7), His advocacy with the Father (ii.1) are momentous ideas, all of them absent from the Gospel, the first reminiscent of St. Paul, and the others of Hebrews.
In the last there is a marked difference from the Gospel as regards both the meaning and the Person of the Paraclete (cf.John xiv.26; xv.26; xvi.7).

The writer does not speak of these in such a way as to suggest that he wished to supplement or correct the Gospel.
Does he make any reference to it?
The threefold ἔγραψα (ii.13b, 14) has been so explained.
[Wendt, who thinks (Das Johannesevangelium, 1900, pp. 158 ff., and Zeitschr. f. d. neutest. Wiss., 1911, pp. 53 ff.) that the Discourses and the Prologue belong to a different stratum of the Gospel from the narratives, finds a connexion of i John with the former but not with the latter. But he holds (op. cit., 1922, pp. 140-6) that ἔγραψα refers not to either of these but to 2 John, which he dates before the First Epistle.]

But the words 'because ye have known ... because ye have known ... because ye are strong', &c. read very unnaturally as a reason why the Gospel was written.
If they are not a reference to 2 John or to a lost epistle, they may be only a rhetorical repetition of the preceding γράφω clauses, all referring to the present epistle.
[If the passage meant that he was as confident of his readers now as when he wrote before, the ἔγραψα clauses would more naturally have come first, with aorists and imperfects instead of ἐγνώκατε, νενικήκατε, and έστε, μένει.]

The reason for writing is that the readers have been privileged to share in the blessings of Christianity.
The author recalls to them their privileges, while he warns them not to allow errorists to rob them of what they have gained. And the same purpose underlies i.1-3.
If the opening words had run 'He who was from the beginning, whom we have seen ... that is, the Word of Life', it would have been natural to see in them a reference to the subject of the Prologue of the Gospel, the eternal Logos who has life in Himself and who became Flesh.
But the remarkable use of the neuter, 'That which was, &c.', and the expression 'concerning the Word of Life' probably yield a different thought, i.e. that the divine 'Message the acceptance of which gives Life' was that of the indwelling. Incarnate Christ in humanity, which the Church had mystically experienced.
'From the beginning' no doubt means 'from all eternity', as in ii. 13, since the indwelling, which formed the subject of the message, was in the eternal counsel of God.
There is no reason to suppose that it means, as some have thought, 'from the beginning of Christianity'.
In any case the thought of the writer seems to be, 'We, the Christians of an older generation, have had immediate personal experience [Cf. the use of ψηλαφήσειαν in Acts xvii.27.] of the indwelling Christ, which is the burden of the life-giving message of Christianity; and we [i.e. I, as representing this older generation] write to you that ye also may have your full share in our privileges'.
If the γραψα clauses do not refer to the Gospel, the passage has no bearing on the priority of either writing.

Examination, however, of 1 Jn.ii.7-8 and iii.8-15 in comparison with Jn.i.34 and viii.44-47 respectively leads to the conclusion that the First Epistle was written after the Fourth Gospel and with a knowledge of it, as C. H. Dodd has said.
[Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, xxi, 1937, pp. 129-56.]
The latter has given the fullest presentation of the case against the unity of authorship of the First Epistle and the Fourth Gospel, his work superseding that of H. J. Holtzmann, E. von Dobschiitz, H. Windisch, and A. H. McNeile in this field.
[McNeile inclined to this view in the first edition of this book.]
He adduces linguistic, stylistic, and doctrinal arguments the author of the First Epistle having a far less flexible and a more monotonous vocabulary, 1 John contains no Semitisms, as one would expect of the author of the Fourth Gospel.
Yet he writes as though he had picked up some of the evangelist's phrases, such as (πᾶς) ὁ with the participle or certain forms of the conditional sentence, and as though he were running these mannerisms to death.
Doctrinally he is closer, Dodd alleges, to the thought of the primitive Christian community than the evangelist, especially in his eschatology and his doctrines of the Atonement and of the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, Dodd argues, he is much nearer to Gnostic thought than the evangelist had been.
These arguments have been subjected to very searching criticism especially by W. F. Howard [J.T.S. xlviii, 1947, pp. 12-25.] and independently by W. G. Wilson [J.T.S. xlix, 1948, pp. 147-56.], with the result that one may conclude that the verdict reached after careful linguistic analysis by R. H. Charles [Revelation, i, pp. xxxiv ff.] and A. E. Brooke [Johannine Epistles, pp. Ixi ff.] that the Fourth Gospel and all three Johannine epistles were penned by the same person has not been overthrown. [This conclusion detracts in no way from the excellence of the recent commentary on the Johannine epistles by Dr. Dodd.]


3- 2, 3 JOHN

the elder. | 2 john. | 3 john. | top

The elder.

Papias, the fons et origo of many problems, appears to use the word πρεσβύτερος, not in the ecclesiastical sense of one who held an official position in the leadership of a local Church, but in the sense of one who belonged to an older generation of Christians, a 'senior', an 'ancient worthy'.
See the passage (ap. Eus. H.E. iii. 39) quoted on p. 284, where the conclusion is reached that when he speaks of the Elder John he appeals to the authority of one who was still alive, but old enough to relate things that had been said by apostles.
In the same chapter Eusebius quotes him as saying, with reference to the work of St. Mark, 'This also the Elder used to say'.
And this usage was taken over by Irenaeus.
Since, then, the writer of 2, 3 John calls himself 'the Elder', the tradition, voiced by Jerome [De vir. illustr. 9. l8.], may very well have been correct that he was the Elder John of whom Papias wrote.
In the former passage Jerome shows that tradition expressly distinguished between the writer of 1 John and that of 2, 3 John, the former being the work of the evangelist, the latter of the Elder, 'to the memory of whom another sepulchre is shown to this day'.
Dionysius of Alexandria also, though he rejects the view that the Apocalypse was written by the apostle, mentions the tradition of two tombs of Johns at Ephesus.
Eusebius (loc. cit.), on the other hand, thought it probable that the Apocalypse was written by John the Elder, 'unless anyone should prefer' to ascribe it to the apostle.
Many modern writers, with Jerome, assign 2, 3 John to the Elder, and 1 John to another writer.
Some go farther and assign to the Elder the Apocalypse also.
But it is no easier to account for the differences in style and grammar between the epistles and the Apocalypse than between the Gospel and the Apocalypse (see Charles, Revelation, i, pp.xxxivff.).
There is no insuperable difficulty, in spite of some differences of language, in supposing that the author of the First Epistle wrote also the other two, especially if there was some interval of time between them, according to the suggestion made above.
And if that is correct, he can have been the writer of the Gospel also.

2 john.

For the understanding of the two epistles it is important to notice that in 2 John the 2nd person plural is employed from v. 6 onwards, and in 3 John the 2nd person singular throughout.
This suggests that the former was written to a Church, while the latter was clearly addressed to an individual named Gaius.
Moreover, he appears to have been a member of the same Church, 'I have written somewhat to the Church' (3 John 9) being best explained as referring to the other letter.
The expression 'to the elect lady (ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ) and her children' has in it a touch of official formality as well as of pastoral affection, a community being addressed to which the presbyter feels that he has the right to speak with authority.
Some who think that the 'lady' is an individual suggest that she is either 'the lady Ekiekta' or 'the elect Kyria'; the latter, but not the former, is known to have been a proper name.
The former is rendered very improbable by the greeting {v.13) from 'the children of thine elect sister', evidently another Church in which the writer holds a position of authority.
And the use of the feminine singular for a Church is supported by 1 Pet.v.13: 'the fellow-elect [lady] in Babylon greeteth you', which our writer has perhaps imitated.
In any case the contents are not suitable to an individual lady and her children.
She is loved by 'all who know the truth, because of the truth which abideth in us [sc. in the community and in the presbyter who represents it]' (vv.1 f.). '[The command] which we had from the beginning' (v.5), 'as ye heard from the beginning' (v.6) looks back to the Christian tradition of the Church from the earliest days.[Cf. 1 Jn.i.1, ii.13.] 
'I found some of thy children walking in the truth' (v.4) points to a community, not to a family; some of its members were in danger, and needed the warning in v.8. And vv.10, 11 would have very little point if it were merely advice to a certain lady not to receive heretics into her house.
It is an injunction to the whole community to use the disciplinary measure of excommunication.
The heretics are of the same Gnostic type (vv.7, 9) as those attacked in 1 John.


3 john.

This letter teaches us more about the writer. While writing authoritatively to one Church, of which Gaius was a leading representative, he is also, as we have seen, in authority in the Church from which he writes.
He had recently sent certain Christians who were unknown to Gaius (v.5) with a recommendation to receive them and to forward them on their journey.
The system of letters of commendation (cf. Rom.xvi.1, 2; 2 Cor.iii.1) was common, and under ordinary circumstances he would probably not have written a special ' word of praise to Gaius and to another member of the Church, Demetrius (v.12), for acting according to instructions.
But a certain Diotrephes had risen in rebellion against his authority; he had tried to usurp the leadership of the Church, and, not content with reviling the presbyter, had refused to receive the visitors whom he had recommended, and had excommunicated any who did so (vv.9, 10).
Gaius and Demetrius are therefore warmly thanked for defying him, as the visitors, on their return, had reported (v.6), and an exhortation is given to continue to do so (v.11), which suggests that the bearers of the letter were visitors of the same kind.
The presbyter says that he will deal with the offender when he comes (v.10).
The visitors 'had gone forth on behalf of the Name, receiving nothing from the Gentiles', i.e. they were probably itinerating prophets who went from church to church preaching, and depending for their maintenance on the charity and goodwill of the Christians.
If a conjecture is allowable, Diotrephes may have had Gnostic tendencies, which easily fostered spiritual pride.
If so, this letter and the warning in 2 John 10, 11 reflect the two sides of the conflict.


For a full bibliography, as well as an excellent introduction, see P. H. Menoud, L'evangile de Jean d'apres les recherches recentes, 1947, esp. pp. 78-88.

E. A. Abbott,

Johannine Grammar, 1905.


-- Johannine Vocabulary and Grammar, 1906.

B. W. Bacon,

The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, and ed., 1911.


 -- The Gospel of the Hellenists, 1933.

R. Bultmann,

Johanneische Schriften und Gnosis, 1940.

C. F. Burney,

The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel, 1922.

Lord Charnwood,

According to St. John, 1925.

E'. C. Colwell,

The Greek of the Fourth Gospel, 1931.

C. H. Dodd,

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, xix, 1935, pp. 329-43, and xxi, 1937, pp. 129-56.

P. Gardner,

The Ephesian Gospel, 1915.

P. Gardner-Smith,

St. John and the Synoptic Gospels, 1938.

A. E. Garvie,

The Beloved Disciple, 1922.

W. F. Howard,

The Fourth Gospel in recent Criticism and Interpretation, 1931.


  Christianity according to St. John, 1943.

H. Latimer Jackson,

The Problem of the Fourth Gospel, 1918.

M. Lidzbarski,

 Das Johannesbuch der Mandaer, 1905-15.

T. W. Manson,

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, xxx, 1946-7, pp. 312-29.

C. Masson,

Revue de theologie et de philosophic, 1940, pp. 297-311, and 1944, pp. 92-96.

H. Odeberg,

The Fourth Gospel..., 1929.

E. B. Redlich,

An Introduction to the Fourth Gospel, 1940.

A. Schlatter,

Der Evangelist Johannes, 1930.

E. Schweizer,

EGO EIMI..., 1939.

V. H. Stanton,

The Gospels as Historical Documents, iii, 1920.

B. H. Streeter,

The Four Gospels, 1924, pp. 363-481.


On the Fourth Gospel:

W. Bauer (2nd ed., 1935), J. H. Bernard (1929), F. Blass (1902), R. Bultmann (1941), W. Heitmuller (4th ed., 1918), Sir E. C. Hoskyns and F. N. Davey (2nd ed., 1947), M. J. Lagrange (3rded., 1928), A.Loisy(2nd ed., 1921), G.H.C.Macgregor (1928), A. Plummer (1893), A. Schlatter (4th ed., 1928), J. Wellhausen (1908), B. F. Westcott (1908), T. Zahn (6th ed., 1921).

On the Johannine epistles:

A. E. Brooke (1912),F. Buchsel (1933), J. Chaine (1939)) C H Dodd (1945), A. Plummer (1886), B. F. Westcott (1883), H. Windisch (1930).