Tom Roberts

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Associate Editorial

2 John 9

There is a current trend among some brethren to "broaden fellowship" who must accept a tolerance toward error before such broadening can be accomplished. We are told that since "everybody is wrong about something" (and we are!), we can be sure of nothing (which does not follow!).

In the past 2 John 9-11 has been used by brethren to show that there are limits to fellowship. I find nothing wrong with this and believe it to be a proper use of this passage. The "doctrine of Christ" makes proper allowance for one "growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ" as well as making provision for one's mistakes. This matter of "growing in the grace and knowledge" (2 Peter 3:18) includes the fact that we do not know everything. Forgiveness includes the premise that we sometimes know and do not ... thereby sinning. Both of these factors are built-in features of New Testament Christianity. God planned this when He set up the scheme of Redemption. However, while taking this into consideration, God still teaches that while we may not know everything, there are things we must know and things we are accountable for knowing. Simply because we do not know everything does not permit the theory that we cannot know anything! Such nonsense puts a premium on ignorance.

2 John 9 infers that there are some things we must know. And this is not limited to the teaching that Jesus Christ really came in the flesh. Following is an article penned by Robert Turner, which originally appeared in Volume 13, Number 7 of Plain Teaching. It does a good job of explaining the scope of the passage:

¿You Know What?

    Bro. Turner:

    In 2 Jn. 9, does "the doctrine of Christ" mean what Christ taught, or teaching concerning Christ come in the flesh? Does the Greek clarify? BT


    I dread these "Greek" questions for they mean slow, laborious searching through material that is over my head. I'll explain this as clearly as my knowledge will allow. "Of Christ" is genitive — the case of genus or kind. A.T. Robertson's Grammar (and at $17.50 it had better be a good grammar) says, "In itself the genitive is neither subjective nor objective, but lends itself readily to either point of view." Four other grammars in my library are in substantial agreement. The context must determine the meaning. Viewed purely from the grammatical angle we could translate: "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the Christ-kind of teaching..."

    Every Greek expositor available to me, with the possible exception of Wuest, says this passage refers to teaching that has Christ as its author. Robertson's "Word Pictures" has "Not the teaching about Christ, but that of Christ which is the standard of Christian teaching as the walk of Christ is the standard for the Christian's walk (1 Jn. 2:6). See Jn. 7:16; 18:19." Meyer says, "tou Christou is not the objective ... but the subjective genitive ... the doctrine which, proceeding from Christ, was proclaimed by the apostles." Wuest says, "teaching with reference to Christ," but broadens this to "the limits of true doctrine." His barbs are aimed at Unitarian, Modernist, or Liberal.

    Wescott says, "the doctrine which Christ brought" and says the usage of the N.T. is uniformly in favor of such an interpretation. Alford also pleads uniformity of N.T. usage, and between them they cite Matt. 7:28; Mk. 4:2; Jn. 18:19; Acts 2:42; Rev. 2:14-15. Both mention and repudiate the idea that this is an objective genitive.

    It is not my practice to array the "scholars" for you, but in such a technical matter this seemed wise. It seems to me that both context and N.T. usage require 2 Jn. 9 to refer to that which Christ taught, personally and through His apostles. John warns of a particular error (that Christ had not come in the flesh) but this does not negate a more general application of the principle given. In 1 John 4:2 are we to understand that the only test for determining those "of God" is the confession that He is come in flesh? Or is this simply one example (currently needed) of a broad principle? (Note v. 6). Do all who say Jesus is Lord, have a "spiritual gift"? (1 Cor. 12:3). See Deut. 13:2 for O.T. example of citing a specific error to teach a general principle.

    The teaching that came from Christ would, of course, include the fact that He came in the flesh. So far as immediate context is concerned, it would also include His commandment concerning love (vs. 5-6), and all the "truth ... which abideth in us" (vs. 2).

    Limiting this passage to the error concerning Christ in the flesh is convenient for those who would "broaden fellowship," but neither scholarship, context, nor Bible usage sanction it. (end of Turner's article)

Contrary to charges hurled at us, this is not "perfectionism." Note again my points above that the "doctrine of Christ" has built into it the provision that we must "grow" in grace and knowledge. But does a state of growth imply no sure truth? Is there nothing that we can know for sure simply because we are still growing?? First principles (to the alien) are not the only things that are "knowable." There are also principles described as "faith to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39), that are essential to a Christian's salvation. We are told to "understand the will of the Lord" (Ephesians 5:17). We are to be able to recognize "sound doctrine" and to "mark those" who teach anything contrary to it. (Romans 16;17).

A basic fallacy in the current "unity movement" is a denial of what 2 John 9 teaches in limiting our tolerance of error. When one seeks to limit this passage to a single application (re: the nature of Jesus), it is but a short step into the "new unity movement." And not a few seem to be taking that step!

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