Revisiting the Historical Priority of Second John for the Johannine Epistles

The study revisits the literary sequence of the Johannine epistles, with a fresh proposal for the historical priority of 2 John. Based on social and material evidence examined on-site in Asia Minor, the study reviews the proposals from Marshall (1978), Strecker (1996), and Myers (2019) and contends for the following historical reconstruction. Stage 1: As the antichrist controversy erupted, 2 John functioned as an initial defense letter to deter the spread of the secessionist movement. Stage 2: In response to the itinerant ministry of the secessionists (2 John 9–11), 3 John encouraged counter-missionaries to promote orthodox apostolic teaching throughout the region. Stage 3: After leaving his recipients with “many things still left to write” (2 John 12; 3 John 13), the elder finally composed the lengthier exhortation of 1 John to circulate his remaining instructions throughout the region. This historical reconstruction also gives special attention to the material form of 2 and 3 John, both of which were written to fill a single sheet of papyrus and dispatched with urgency (see 2 John 12; 3 John 13–14). The study also considers further implications and contingencies with the early reception and circulation of the Johannine epistles, particularly in light of the cover letter hypothesis propounded by Myers (2019).

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