|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part one of a 5-part series
What should be the Christian's attitude toward false teachers, and what should motivate that attitude? How should this govern the church? How should this govern the Christian home? What should you do when you become aware of false teachers in the church, or when representatives of the cults come to your door? In his short second epistle, the Apostle John gives answers that run counter to much of contemporary teaching on these vital questions:
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 John 9-11)
Over time, several readers and listeners have asked us specific questions about this passage, such as these:
What is the focus of the commandment given here? Does the word "house" at the end of verse ten mean a church, since many early churches met in individuals' houses? Or, is John speaking only of a person's house as his dwelling place?
Is John giving instruction concerning false teachers to the local church as a body of believers, or to an individual or perhaps the family unit?
Should the command, "Do not receive him into your house," determine how I deal with people from cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons when they come to my door?
False Teachers: An Ever-Present Danger
The answers to these questions are vitally important in our time. The cults are more active than ever before, not only going door to door in neighborhoods, but also in some cases even openly entering evangelical churches. But far more frequently, false teachers of various kinds come into the visible church without being noticed. They come as men and women who profess to be Bible-believing Christians. However, careful discernment of their words and deeds discloses that they are "deceitful workers" striking the pose of trustworthy teachers, "transforming themselves into [more literally, masquerading as] apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13).
One of the key characteristics of false teachers is that they have often crept into the pew or pulpit "unnoticed" (Jude verse 4). They do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ but rather their own sinful cravings, "and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:18). In the original language, the "simple" are the akokon, those who are guiltless themselves but are also inclined to be naive about the possible presence of false teachers within the church.
It is significant that we find the Apostle John taking up the warning against false teachers in his second epistle, which was one of the last books of the New Testament to be written. The problem that first manifested itself early in the book of Acts had continued for several decades, and would remain an ever-present danger to the church over the centuries. Therefore the Holy Spirit used the pen of John to deliver one of the final warnings and exhortations on this vital matter.
Second John is a brief letter, only 249 words in the original Greek, typically reproduced in the early church on a single sheet of papyrus. But in those few words, God through John gives us a powerful warning against false ecumenism and spiritual compromise on the part of Christians individually, and the church as a body. John's brief epistle is also a powerful encouragement to Christians to seek unity on the only proper basis, "the doctrine of Christ" (verse 9).
Using Sound Principles to Understand the Warning
To understand this short book's warning against false teachers, and the answers to our readers' questions, we must follow sound principles of interpretation - two in particular.
The first principle has to do with context. God's words always have a meaning that is governed by the context in which the Holy Spirit places them. To understand what is meant by "do not receive [the false teacher] into your house" we must understand those words within the immediate context of John's letter, the wider context of John's other writings to the church, and the full context of God's entire Word. For example, we have already seen examples of the fact that strong warnings against false teachers and their damaging influence on the church appear in many other places in the New Testament.
Secondly, we need to understand key words within John's epistle, and how they are used. We shall begin with the word that is translated "house," but we shall see that there is much more to consider - especially the word "love" which John uses four times in the first six verses, and the words "receive" and "share" in verse ten.
Oikia and Oikos
The Greek word that is translated "house" in Second John verse ten is oikia. Used nearly one hundred times in the New Testament, oikia in the vast majority of cases refers to a house as a physical building. Oikia is also is used on a few occasions to refer to the inhabitants of a house as well (e.g., Matthew 10:12, Luke 10:5, 1 Corinthians 16:15).
The related Greek word oikos also appears over one hundred times in the New Testament, and is also most often translated "house" or in some cases "household." In the koine Greek used to write the New Testament, oikos primarily denotes the house not merely as a physical building (the oikia) but more importantly as an establishment. The word oikos speaks of the entirety of the property, goods, and people associated with the house, and it also often speaks of the reputation of that establishment.
In Romans 16:5, Paul uses oikos to speak of the church that met in the house of Prisca and Aquila. In 1 Timothy 3:5 he uses oikos to speak of the gathering of the believers whenever and wherever they meet as a visible church, which is called "the house (oikos) of God." Likewise, Peter in his first epistle uses oikos to speak of the body of believers in Christ as "a spiritual house" (2:5) and "the house of God" (4:17). The Apostle Paul also uses a form of oikos when he writes of false teachers "who subvert whole houses" (Titus 1:11, KJV).
God the Holy Spirit chose all of the words of Scripture carefully, down to the smallest letter (Matthew 5:18). There are no mistakes with God, and we find precision in the language He has used to communicate revealed truth to us. What, then, is the significance of John's use of oikia (emphasizing the physical building) rather than oikos (emphasizing the household) in 2nd John verse 10? We shall find the answer as we continue.
Next: The Motivation for Sound Doctrine
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