An Exchange on Meaning of "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9


     The following is a sampling of an Internet exchange between several preachers and me relative to the meaning of "doctrine of Christ" in Second John 9-11.  I include it in Bible Truths with the hope that it may help you decide whether "doctrine of Christ" includes all Jesus' teaching or simply teaching about Jesus, his deity.  (Please first read, "What Does the 'Doctrine of Christ' in Second John 9-11 Mean?")


Don Martin to the list:


Jim wrote:

I would like to see someone provide an exegesis of 2 John 9-11, with special emphasis on the meaning of 2 John 9. I believe this passage has been grossly misunderstood.

Don comments:

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."

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. 8). However, 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. This religious/philosophic group 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 leave the reader with the firm belief that more is involved in serving Christ than simply and only the acceptance of Jesus' deity (see I Jn. 1: 5-7; 2: 9-11; 2: 15-17; 3: 3-9; 3: 10; 3: 17, 18; 3: 22, 24; 5: 18; 3 Jn. 3, 4; and 9-11). It is clear from all these passages that teaching that walking in the light; love of brethren; abstinence from the love of the world; not practicing sin; doing righteousness; assisting needy brethren; 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 not teaching belonging to or that Jesus issued. Based on the teaching and vocabulary of John, the phrase "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9 means Jesus' teaching, including the specific teaching relative to his being the Son of God. 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. One's sphere and walk who has God, then, is to be the "doctrine of Christ." Not just an occasional acquaintance with the "doctrine of Christ," but total 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 identify 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).

In closing, A. T. Robertson has these comments on 2 John 9:

Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament

Whosoever goeth onward (paß 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 mh menwn en th didach tou Cristou). 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.


Don Martin to the list:


I posted an article from Bible Truths, "What does 'Doctrine of Christ' in 2 John 9-11 Mean?," and ask that it be considered and any studious comments shared with the list. The thrust of the material, I explained, was to show that more is involved in "doctrine of Christ" than simply and only the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, viewed as a single item. "Matt" has posted some comments to the list. I appreciate Matt sharing his thoughts with us.

Matt wrote:


You have labored much in this post and taken much time to do so. I apologize for not doing the same, but I am "heading out" for the next few hours. I only have a couple of comments/questions to leave for you to tackle.

Don comments:

Thank you, Matt. It does take time to attempt to completely study a verse, beginning with the Greek, the syntax, the total verse, noticing word arrangement, connection, and contribution, the immediate context, and the remote context and then reverse the whole process. However, such discipline is required to a correct and complete understanding.

Matt wrote:

1. The "doctrine" of Christ is here stated in John as singular, not plural. It has a specific teaching in view. Now to understand what that specific teaching is, we have to rely on the makeup of the letters John wrote; the audience he has in mind; the ones' to whom he cautions against in the letters.

Don replies:

Matt, I think you have made a good observation in your second and third sentences. Our goal must be to always attempt to establish what the author meant, not what we want him to mean or what others mean when they employ the same phraseology.

Matt, I must respectfully disagree with your first sentence. Does "apostles doctrine" in Acts 2: 42 mean the apostles only had one teaching as opposed to additional truths? The grammar is materially the same as "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9. The doctrine or teaching of Christ would be any and all particular tenets that make up the whole, just as in the case of the apostles.

Matt wrote:

2. The "doctrine" referred to hear, is objective. It has a definite point of reference.

Don answers:

Matt, if you are speaking of "objective" in the grammatical sense, the article in Bible Truths addresses this matter. In teaching Greek, I make the point that some constructions can only be determine by the context. The subjective and objective genitive matter is a case in point. In the article, I use the total context (the writings of John and the supporting teaching of the entire New Testament) to show the "doctrine from Christ" is under consideration and not just the "doctrine about Christ."

Matt said:

3. Granted that it could be subjective, what teaching specifically is it? It is a specific, definite teaching "of Christ".

Don responds:

Matt, I am glad that you do at least grant the possibility of the subjective genitive, "from Christ." The answer to your good question is "doctrine of Christ" would be inclusive of any and all matters John and inspired writers included. We cannot restrict "doctrine of Christ." Some have the same problem with "the gospel." They want to limit the gospel to different items. The gospel just as the doctrine of Christ (equivalent terms) are inclusive of many particulars (see Gal. 2: 11-14).

Matt said:

4. Allowing for the plural, subjective view- how many teachings do we have in view here in John's epistles? How many in view from Matthew to Revelation? If there is to be an outer-reference here, other than what the teaching CONCERNING Christ is, we must have those in precise and accurate detail. Otherwise, we are utterly left to our own intellectual achievements to decipher how many "teachings"(plural); what they are; and who they are addressed to.

Don answers:

If "doctrine of Christ" is inclusive of all of God's will for man in this final dispensation (I am convinced it is), then all of God's requirements are included in "doctrine of Christ." The article that I posted addresses these matters. Acts 8: 35 is a simple illustration to prove that "preaching Jesus" involves more than simply Jesus' person and deity. When "Jesus was preached," it involved baptism (Acts 8: 35-40).

Matt stated:

5. The doctrine John has in view here is objective in every sense of the word. It is the centrality of the Gospel- the virgin birth, the sinless life, the suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation, and present ministry at the right hand of God.

That gospel is central to all "sound doctrine" and pivotal in apostolic teaching. Failure to comprehend the Gospel of Christ is the cause of all doctrinal error in the Christian community. It is the reason for distorted understanding, and erroneous emphases.

Don comments:

Matt, you have now gone from the "could be" to the "must be," same as I have done. The difference, though, is you are saying "doctrine of Christ" must be only teaching concerning Christ and I am saying it must be teaching from Christ, all Jesus' required teaching (inclusive but not limited to teaching about Christ). I have shown in the material that more is required in order to be saved and extend fellowship to others than simply and only the belief in Jesus' deity.

Matt observes:

6. The Gospel itself is the center of reasoning for the people of God. That is why these "antichrists" or gnostics are being warned about.....

Don reflects:

Matt, I have stated in the article that it appears Docetic and Cerinthian Gnostic beliefs are being refuting in John's writings, as far as the immediate application (cf. 2 Jn. 7). However, I think I have also shown that John presents more than just Jesus' deity as essential, even in the case of the Gnostic belief system. I notice you do not address any of the arguments and expressed biblical facts contained in the article.

Matt wrote:

7. One form of gnosticism today is the idea that Jesus could not sin, that He in His deity was incapable. But such teaching denies the fact that of the subject of the text, that Jesus came "in the flesh"; He had emptied Himself out; was made in the likeness of man, tempted in all points as we.

Don here:

Matt, I think you make a good point in the immediately above (Heb. 4: 15).

Matt said:

8."EVERY spirit that does not confess Jesus is come in the flesh" (1 John 4 :3) has, by that very failure, made known they are NOT from God. They have nothing from God to give us, for God offers nothing apart from Christ Jesus.

Don replies:

In the simple test for the Gnostics, Matt, yes, this was the criterion used. However, there is contained in John's writings much criteria (plural), requisite matters in being saved and extending fellowship to others.

Matt observes:

9. The Spirit reveals the following about "Antichrist." The presence of antichrist is an indicator of the "last time" or "hour" (1 John 2:18). There are "many antichrists" (1 John 2:18). This is a spirit that denies Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22a). This spirit denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:2 2). The spirit of antichrist denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (1 John 4: 3). Believers were told this spirit was coming (1 John 4:3). The spirit of antichrist was already in the world at the time First John was written (1 John 2: 22). The spirit of antichrist DOES NOT confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh (2 John 7).

Don concludes:

Matt, I agree with your last statement. However, again, John presents criteria not just criterion.

Matt's final statement:

I hope to be able to lay out a more extensive study when I get some time.


Don's final observation:


Matt, in all kindness, I wish you had reviewed my article. The article addresses all the above and more. Again, I believe the material shows that more than simply believing in Jesus' deity is required in order to be saved and extend fellowship to others. Many teachers say they believe in Jesus' deity, but they deny water baptism, Jesus' church, etc. Are they saved and should the Christian fellowship them? (See Acts 2: 38, Acts 20: 28.) An increasing number in the church are seeking to circumvent and limit "doctrine of Christ." Some have said, "doctrine of Christ means Jesus' deity plus baptism." Others, "it means Jesus' deity plus the church." Matt and the list, I kindly but candidly say, the "doctrine of Christ" includes everything that Jesus and the inspired writers of the New Testament included, no more, no less.

Matt, thanks again for your time and thoughts. May we all proceed with reverence and great caution in our determination of "doctrine of Christ," especially in view of the warning about "adding to" and "taking away from" God's word (Rev. 22: 18, 19, Gal. 1: 6-9).


Don Martin to Dale, Gary, and the list:


Some on the list, such as Gary, want to discuss particulars relative to 2 John 9-11 when they evidently believe "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9-11 is limited to Jesus' deity. Hence, Jesus' deity is the only test John gave to determine salvation and baptism. While they want to limit "doctrine of Christ" to belief of Jesus' deity, they still, when pressed, want to affirm the necessity of water baptism.

I maintain that "doctrine of Christ," when defined in the total concept and vocabulary of John's writings, takes in a number of maters, some of which I have repeatedly presented. Not one single item, such as Jesus' deity, is to be viewed as totally exclusive of other required matters, such as brotherly love (I Jn. 3: 14). I, therefore, maintain that all of God's commandments for man today are required and are the criteria to determine salvation and fellowship. A number on this list do not agree with what I have just said. I really do not see much need to say any more. We each accept or reject the scriptures. All I know to teach and attempt to practice is implicit obedience to God's law, knowing that even so, we are still undeserving servants (Lk. 17: 10). Now, you can call me a legalist, sectarian, etc., as some of you have, I will have to just keep right on, because this is all that is taught in the New Testament. Consider Dale's comments:

I wrote:

Dale, since you believe "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9-11 is limited to belief in Jesus' deity in matters of salvation and fellowship, do you still attempt to maintain that baptism for the remission of sin is required for salvation and fellowship?

Dale responds: There is no "attempt" to it, brother Don, and putting that word into the question was unnecessary, IMO. I do indeed maintain that baptism for the remission of sin is required for salvation and fellowship. And I pray that the Almighty will give me the strength to continue to preach that truth for the remainder of my days.

Don asks: If the answer is, yes, how do you attempt to harmonize all of this?

Dale responds: By respecting the context of John's letter. Do YOU "attempt" to respect that context, Don? Was there some reason that you did not acknowledge the example I gave?

Don answers:

I have repeatedly said that "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9 is contextually referring to the deity of Christ (vs. 7). I also have said that in view of the broader context, vocabulary, and conceptual presentation in John's writings, "doctrine of Christ" is a comprehensive phrase that includes all that John and inspired writers taught as being required of man today. I not only have said the just mentioned, I have repeatedly proved it. Kind reader, it is utterly inconsistent to say that "doctrine of Christ" only involves Jesus' deity and the means to determine salvation and whom to fellowship and then turn around and say baptism is required. To top it off, some who are doing this have trouble with me because I say all of God's commandments for man today are to be obeyed. They say none except belief in Jesus' deity, then add baptism, then condemn me because I say there is more than belief in Jesus' deity.

Dale wrote:

At any rate, "chain studying" is NOT a reliable method of studying God's Word. "Chain" references are those little verse numbers printed in the middle column of the page in many modern Bibles. What that is based on is when you run across a certain word or a phrase when reading, you might see a little letter beside it that corresponds to a verse number in the middle column. If you look up that verse, you will very often find the same word or phrase.

Don answers:

I am not sure what Dale means by "chain studying." Since he is referring to my reasoning and teaching, I suppose he means taking in all that is said on a given subject. With Dale's reasoning, I must beg to differ.

Again, I say to Gary that there is no use discussing particulars when there is no agreement about particulars others than Jesus' deity being necessary. I have been up-front in this matter. Please, Dale and Gary, hear me again:

I believe "doctrine of Christ" in 2 John 9 has as one requisite particular the deity of Jesus and that this is the paramount particular in 2 John 9 (vs. 7). However, in view of John's vocabulary, concepts, and total teaching, the doctrine of Christ, the means to determine salvation and fellowship of others, is a generic phrase that takes in all that John and inspired writers taught as being required of man today. How can I be misunderstood? I have provided the simple illustration that the belief of Jesus' deity is presented as the test but also brotherly love is seen as the test. I am doing violence to the scriptures if I stress brotherly love to the exclusion of Jesus' deity. "Don Martin is divisive and a legalist, how many commands are there....," is the manifestation of a poor attitude toward God, his authority, and his commands.

Dale continues and concludes:

The FACT remains, brother Don, whether you want to continue to ignore it or not, that your application of 2 John 9-11 means that you are strictly commanded not to have ANYTHING to do with anyone who disagrees with you on ANY word of the New Testament. So SEVERE is that commandment that if you even utter goodbye (God speed) to someone who disagrees with you, then YOU are a "partaker of their evil deeds". Can you stop just long enough to consider that such an application actually condemns YOU, Don?

Don concludes:

"You are misunderstanding what these fellows are saying, Don," some might say. I know I am capable of misunderstanding, that is why I ask so many questions. Dale and the list, I do not want to deprecate, depreciate or de-emphasize any of God's commands for me. I know that without grace, I am lost. But I also know I must have respect for God's commands (Heb. 5: 8, 9; I Jn. 5: 3). Dale, I must respectfully point out that John did not say do not study or discuss differences.
You have inserted this into 2 John 9-11.

I was hoping that the thing that would have happened is that we would have gotten on first base, if you will, by agreeing that we must seek to do all the will of God. We could have then discussed particulars. However, we cannot even agree that the "whole counsel of God" is necessary (Acts 20: 27). Dale said, "I do not have the patience or the desire or the health to keep repeating myself on this, brother." I feel the same. We each have said what we think and we each will stand before God in Judgement.

Dale, I gather your health is not good. I desire and trust your health will improve. Dale, Gary, Steven, and others, thank you for your time in this discussion. We should all realize that while we are closing this chapter of discussion without agreement, others have been afforded the opportunity of examining our logic, use of scriptures, and thinking. I also commend those of you who have followed this discussion.