What does the "Doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9-11 Mean?
There are many key and pivotal clauses and phrases found in
the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit (cp. I Cor. 2: 13). Whole concepts and truths are often
introduced in the scriptures by a word, phrase, or clause. The expression "doctrine
of Christ" in 2 John 9-11 is a case in point. Second John 9-11 reads as follows:
"9: Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.10: If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:11: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."
In the case of the combination of words thus forming the phrase "doctrine of Christ," a study of the original Greek does not produce much fruit. The expression in Greek didache tou christou ("doctrine or teaching of Christ") is ambiguous. The phrase can either be the subjective (the teaching which Christ taught) or objective genitive (doctrine about Christ). It is comparable to the phrase, "the love of God," is God's love for man or man's love for God meant? In the case of "doctrine of Christ," the question is does it mean the teaching about Jesus (his deity, etc.) or the teaching emanating from or being given by Jesus? In the latter case, it would be a situation of and/or, because Jesus' teaching in general is inclusive of not only what Jesus taught, but also what he taught about himself (we must also be aware that the inspired apostles' teaching constitutes Jesus' teaching, as well, I Cor. 14: 37). There is indication, though, that the particular construction "doctrine of Christ" when examined beside comparable expressions, does mean the teaching from Jesus, but the indication is not conclusive (see such expression as, "doctrine of the apostles," "didache ton apostolon," Acts 2: 42). The meaning of the ambiguous phrase "doctrine of Christ," then, must be conclusively determined by other means. Such as, the placement of the phrase within the verse and the contribution immediately connected words provide, the immediate context , and the remote context. The vocabulary of the one using the expression is invaluable in determining the precise usage of a term or phrase, especially the broader conceptual meaning.
Many who do not want religious restraint and commandments are heard saying, "'the doctrine of Christ' only involves matters pertaining to the person and deity of Christ, not commands on how to live and what to believe." I admit that the immediate contextual reference is pertaining to "Christ coming in the flesh" (vs. 7). Does the immediate context, then, mean that "doctrine of Christ" in verse 9 has to be viewed as limited to teaching about Jesus? To be complete in our quest for the precise meaning of the phrase, we must be more investigative.
Remember that I mentioned the vocabulary of the writer and how he used words, particularly concepts? When you examine the Book of Second John, you find that John did not simply present the idea of Jesus' deity being the only required belief (a commandment), but that John stressed "commandments" (plural). Hear John, "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments..." (vs. 6). The immediate reference of verse nine regarding those not abiding in Jesus' doctrine appears to be the Gnostics of John's day. The Gnostics denied that Jesus had come in the flesh (I Jn. 4: 2, 3). The Gnostics understood "Jesus" to signify the man and "Christ" to suggest the deity. Since they believed in the intrinsic evil of the flesh and the material, they could not conceive of Christ ever being in the flesh.
It is sometime contented that John does make the deity of Jesus issue the only issue or criterion to determine salvation and fellowship (I Jn. 4: 2, 3). However, such a view is a misunderstanding of John's teaching. The criterion "Jesus is come in the flesh" is obviously used by way of synecdoche (a part for the whole). I know this to be the case, because just three verses later John introduces additional criteria to determine those who are saved (vs. 7, 8, we shall shortly address this more). The "Jesus is come in the flesh" test, however, was ideal relative to the Gnostics. Nonetheless, we are developing a model from which to deduce the meaning of "doctrine of Christ," the model being John and his overall teaching.
I furthermore submit that this religious/philosophic group
(the Gnostics) was condemned for more than simply denying the deity of Jesus. Consider
John's teaching in I John 2: 3-6. Notice how emphasis is placed on "keeping his
commandments," not simply commandment (believing in Jesus' deity):
"3: And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4: He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5: But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6: He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked."
The entire vocabulary of the apostle John's writings is such that leaves the reader with the firm belief that more is involved in serving Christ than simply and only the acceptance of his deity. Let us carefully, but briefly view some of John's specific teaching, all of which is in the general climate of "doctrine of Christ" in Second John 9.
"5: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6: If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I Jn. 1).
Beloved, "walking in darkness" is not simply the matter of only denying Jesus' deity and, conversely, "walking in the light" does not only involve the acknowledgement of Jesus' Sonship.
"9: He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10: He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11: But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes" (I Jn. 2).
It will be observed that John makes it emphatically plain that the love of brethren is absolutely required to being saved and that the absence of such love, results in one being lost, even if one were to believe in Jesus' deity.
"15: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16: For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I Jn. 2).
All should certainly agree based on the foregoing teaching that those who love the world are not saved, regardless of the fact that they may believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
"3: And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. 4: Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5: And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6: Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. 7: Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8: He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10: In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother" (I Jn. 3).
One would be manifestly wrong to attempt the above teaching to be limited to only a belief in Jesus' deity or teaching about Jesus.
"22: And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I Jn. 3, see also I Jn. 3: 24).
Again, notice the accent that John places on "commandments," plural. Belief in teaching about Jesus is just one commandment (Jn. 8: 34).
"9: I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10: Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. 11: Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God" (3 Jn.).
It is unmistakable that John is saying that following the evil example of Diotrephes will result in not being saved.
It is evident, based on these passages, that teaching that
walking in the light; love of brethren; abstinence from the love of the world; not
practicing sin; doing righteousness; keeping God's commandments; avoidance of sin; walking
in the truth; and shunning the example of Diotrephes and emulating the life of Demetrius
are all necessary to maintaining a saved relationship with the Father and the Son. Hence,
the "doctrine of Christ" (didache tou christou) in 2 John 9 must not be
restricted to the meaning of the teaching about Christ (his deity) and exclusive of teaching belonging to or that Jesus issued. Based on the teaching and vocabulary of John, the phrase "doctrine of Christ" in Second John 9 means Jesus' teaching, including the specific teaching relative to his being the Son of God (this conclusion is also the only conclusion that harmonizes with the rest of the New Testament pertaining to the general necessity of purity of doctrine, I Timothy 1: 3, I Corinthians 15: 12, John 4: 24). Any particular teaching that is presented as essential, then, must be respected. Any law or commandments must be obeyed. There are no dispensable or non-essential commandments or laws (see Jas. 2: 10). The "doctrine of Christ" is inclusive of all that John and inspired writers meant to be included and certainly does not only and simply mean a belief that Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh.
The "doctrine of Christ" is presented by John as being a requisite to having "both the Father and the Son." In presenting this concept of the required "doctrine of Christ," John wrote, "he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ" (vs. 9). "Abideth" is from the Greek menon and means to live, have as one's sphere; hence, to persist, walk in, or continue. The "doctrine of Christ" is the sphere and walk of one who has God. To "abide in the doctrine of Christ" is not just an occasional acquaintance with the "doctrine of Christ," but familiarity and contact. Not just an impermanent relationship as a tenant, but as one who abides or continues in a permanent dwelling (idea of the Greek, menon).
The "doctrine of Christ" is also presented by John as the means of testing others, as to their spiritual identity and acceptance (10, 11). The one not bringing the "doctrine of Christ" is characterized by "evil deeds" (the absence of the "doctrine of Christ" and the presence of false teaching). To accept or fellowship one not bringing the "doctrine of Christ" also causes the one to be "partaker of his evil deeds" (vs. 11).
I stress the two consequent teachings to "abiding in the doctrine of Christ" to show the importance of this walk and life. Some, though, have wanted to segregate the two consequences. They have wanted belief in Jesus' deity to be the only criterion and requirement to fellowshipping others. Anyone, as a result, who says that they believe in Jesus' deity (doctrine about Christ) is to be received into the fellowship of the local church. However, to be consistent, they must also say that all who simply and only believe in Jesus' deity are saved. Hence, there is no need for repentance or baptism (Acts 2: 38). Such a conclusion is necessary and axiomatic. Churches of Christ that want to do away with God's requirements for fellowship must also do away with God's requirements for salvation. Of interest, there has been a historic example of progression. These churches and preachers who so restrict "doctrine of Christ" to mean only teaching about Jesus and not include teaching from Jesus, end up accepting and incorporating the thinking that belief in Jesus' deity is the only requisite to salvation, not repentance or baptism.
In closing, understanding "doctrine of Christ" in
Second John 9 to mean the doctrine or teaching from Jesus that includes many particulars,
such as the teaching about Jesus, is the only tenable conclusion that can be reached (see
also the addendum). Limiting the phrase to mean teaching about Jesus, creates many
contradictions and obviously violates the intended meaning of the writer, the inspired
apostle John. (Click on, "An Exchange on Meaning of
'doctrine of Christ'" to read more.)
Addendum: Regarding the grammar of Second John 9, A. T. Robertson wrote: "Whosoever goeth onward (pas o proagwn). 'Every one who goes ahead.' Proagw literally means to go on before (Mark 11:9). That in itself is often the thing to do, but here the bad sense comes out by the parallel clause. And abideth not in the teaching of Christ (kai me menwn en te didache tou Christou). 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 John 2:6). See John 7:16; John 18:19. These Gnostics claimed to be the progressives, the advanced thinkers, and were anxious to relegate Christ to the past in their onward march. This struggle goes on always among those who approach the study of Christ. Is he a 'landmark' merely or is he our goal and pattern? Progress we all desire, but progress toward Christ, not away from him. Reactionary obscurantists wish no progress toward Christ, but desire to stop and camp where they are. 'True progress includes the past' (Westcott). Jesus Christ is still ahead of us all calling us to come on to him" (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament).