John, Knowledge, and the Doctrine of Christ

By Jeffery Kingry

There has been controversy stirred up by a few brethren over the interpretation and application of 2 Jno. 9. The thinking goes’ that contextually John can only be referring to the doctrine concerning Christ, i.e., that Jesus is not a gnostic phantom, or a spiritual Superman, untouched by temptation, but indeed was humanity and deity at he same time. In the context, of course Christ’s deity and mutual humanity is what is under consideration, but must we deduce that this is all that John had in mind when he referred to the “doctrine (teaching) of Christ?” Do we disservice to the text to claim that what John meant was the “doctrine from Christ” as well as the “doctrine about Christ?@

Normally, this controversy would be of little importance, except for the fact that those who would limit 2 Jno. 9 do it in an effort to avoid the import of the succeeding verses: ‘”If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (teaching), receive him not into your house,. neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” This passage in 2 John puts limits on our fellowship and sharing with those who do not abide in the “doctrine of’, Christ.” Therefore it becomes of great importance to those who would bring in all manner of leaven to our “passover feast” (I Cor. 5:5-8) that the scope of the doctrine of Christ be limited to “one fact.”

It is interesting that the majority of the scholars who have written commentaries dismiss this misuse of 2 Jno. 9, and use “the doctrine of Christ” in a broad sense to include everything Christ taught. Even the Anglican commentator and translator William Barclay, ecumenical advocate par excellence, does not permit his personal feelings to color his interpretation and commentary on 2 Jno. 9. “Verse nine is an interesting and significant verse. We have translated the first phrase of it everyone who goes too far. The Greek word is proagon. The verb means to go on ahead, or to go out in advance. The false teachers claimed that they were progressives, that they were the advanced thinkers, that they were the men of the open and adventurous mind. John himself was one of the adventurous thinkers in the New Testament. But he insists that however far a man may advance, he must abide in the teaching of Jesus Christ, or he loses touch with God… He is saying that Jesus Christ must be the touchstone of all thinking, and that which is out of touch with Jesus can never be right. John would say, ‘Think but let your thinking be led by Jesus Christ. . .’ Christianity is not a nebulous, undefined, uncontrolled Theosophy: it is anchored forever to the historical figure of Christ.” No wonder our “progressive thinkers” must destroy the import of 2 Jno. 9: It so adequately and completely condemns them.

But, truth seldom is supported by one scripture alone. Truth complements itself in different ways. So it is with the “doctrine of Christ.” One reason 2 Jno. 9 is rejected as a text which puts responsibility upon man to know all the doctrine from Christ, is because the “New Unity Movement” denies man’s ability to know truth. Put another way, these “new lights” claim that man’s intellect is limited and since each man has differing degrees of ability to comprehend, we ought not to require that all men “Speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement” (1 Cor. 1:10). Why stigmatize a brother as a sinner who does not look upon the church and its function in the same way we do? Why withdraw from a brother who insists on using an organ to worship God? Why cut off the false teacher? As Brother Edward Fudge put it, “We dare not therefore, patronize the rejection of God’s dear children, because they may not be able to see alike in matters of human inference… it is cruel to excommunicate a man because of the imbecility of his intellect” (Christian Standard; July 8, 1967).

Now if we understand this correctly, according to the “doctrine of Christ” we may withdraw from a brother if he denies the humanity of Jesus, but not if the brother corrupts the teachings from Jesus. Why is it that we are considerate of the “imbecility of intellect” of the man who cannot “comprehend” worship in spirit and in truth, but we cannot appreciate the “imbecility” of one who can only view Christ as impeccable? One kind of attitude we reject, but not the other.

What is basically wrong with this use of 2 Jno. 9 is that the basic assumptions just are not true. Man is capable of knowing truth – all truth – all the truth that is revealed – all the truth that is necessary to save one’s soul. Every aspect of John’s writing deals with man’s intellectual capacity to know God’s will and understand it.

“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith T know Him,’ and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whosoever keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: Hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him (Jesus) ought himself also so to walk, even as he (Jesus) walked” (1 Jno. 2:3-6). The man who claims a relationship to Christ to whom Jesus is mere “Exegesis,” “Contextual Criticism,” and “Christological Theology” is a liar, and there is no truth to his claim of oneness with Christ. A man who dwells in the good favor of God is one who keeps the words of Jesus. Which words? “Howbeit when he the spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak. . .he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Jno. 16:13; 4:26).

“But,” one may say, “That was to the Apostles. We cannot have that all-encompassing knowledge.” Yet John reminds us that in matters of faith (Rom. 10:17) the humblest Christian need have no feeling of inferiority to the most learned scholars. The essentials of faith are in the possession of every man, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 Jno. 2:20). The man who does the good revealed in the word of God, and follows the pattern given by God for all things has a confidence and an assurance that the “grace-alone” folks cannot touch. “And hereby (in doing the truth) we know that we are of the truth: and shall assure our hearts before him” (1 Jno. 3:19). The man who follows God’s revelation as revealed by the Apostles need not fear deception or any false prophet. “We (the inspired apostles) are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us; He that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error@ (1 Jno. 4: 1.6). The things which God has given us. once read; digested, and put into our life give us a full assurance of heaven. “These things have been written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life; and that ye might believe on the name of the Son of God” (Jno. 5:13).

To speak of Christ in 2 Jno. 9 and attempt to divorce what Jesus taught from who Jesus is, is legalism and scholasticism gone to seed. Jesus tried to get hard-hearted Jews to realize that accepting his person was not the same as accepting his message. The Jews that ate the free meals would have crowned him king, but Jesus cried out, `Yam the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. .. verily, verily I say unto you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (Jno. 6:35-58). This drove away many who had no faith in Jesus or his way of doing things. Jesus made it plain that the “doctrines of Christ” was not something intellectually understood, but something which was spiritually eaten, digested, and used. Jesus is teaching for those who love him. “It is the spirit that makes alive; the flesh profiteth nothing: The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (Jno. 6.63).

Truth Magazine, XVIII:47, p. 8-9
October 3, 1974