"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into
your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is
partaker of his evil deeds" (2Jo
Without attempting a complete exposition of this letter, it
should be noted that John was addressing an unnamed sister and mother in the
Truth, one in whose home the ecclesia of that district met. In her kindness the
"elect lady" (v 1) had offered her hospitality to certain traveling preachers
who could scarcely, if at all, be called Christian.
What was the doctrine so heinous as to merit the title for its
purveyors of "antichrist" (v 7)? It was the erroneous contention that Jesus did
not "come in the flesh", in other words, that he was in essence God and only
seemed to suffer the frailties of humanity and the climactic death on the cross.
The apostle rightly saw this as a significant perversion of the gospel, which
effectively nullified all else of truth to be found in the itinerant speakers'
message. He therefore counseled the sister not to receive such men into her
house nor, by implication, to receive them at the Breaking of Bread held there.
They were to be shunned completely.
The question is this: Was such a prohibition intended to
apply, as a general rule, to any and every irregularity of belief or practice,
whenever and wherever manifested? The answer is, emphatically, "No". The
particular error in 2Jo is said to be that of "anti-Christ", etymologically
signifying that which replaces or stands as a contrast to the true Christ. The
name seems to be reserved for those errors which deny the nature and character
of Christ (1Jo 2:18,22; 4:1-3), thereby rendering unintelligible his redemptive
A passage from RR is often quoted to justify the disfellowship
of everyone who might, mistakenly or otherwise, break bread with some individual
who believes any error. RR says, among other things: "As to those who bring not
this doctrine, John's comment is -- 'Receive him not into your house, neither
bid him God speed!' This commandment we can no more evade than any other
commandment delivered unto us."
The citation is certainly forceful enough as it stands to
support most any wide-scale excommunication of individuals and ecclesias alike.
However, the effect is drastically mitigated when a portion of the immediately
preceding paragraph is also quoted:
"The doctrine of Christ is that he is God made and manifested in mortal flesh of
Abraham's race for the deliverance thereof, on his own principles, from 'that
having the power of death' " (SC 98).
It was to such as "bring not this doctrine" (according to both
JT and RR), and to such only, that the extremely harsh directive of the apostle
The sweeping use to which our brother's words are often put is
specifically denied by him in another passage. There he speaks of "fellowship"
on far more practical, reasonable, and (we might say) spiritual grounds than
some of his "followers" would care to admit:
"Fellowship is friendly association for the promotion of a common object -- with
more or less of the imperfection belonging to all mortal life. To say that every
man in that fellowship is responsible for every infirmity of judgment that may
exist in the association is an extreme to which no man of sound judgment can
lend himself. There will be flawless fellowship in the perfect state. Perhaps it
is the admiration of this in prospect that leads some to insist upon it now. But
it is none the less a mistake. This is a mixed and preparatory state in which
much has to be put up with when the true principles are professed" ("True
Principles and Uncertain Details", Xd
In reviewing v 10, other points of interest emerge:
"If there come any unto you..." -- These verses clearly refer
to some serious error introduced into one's local ecclesia. They give no
sanction to the searching out of alleged error in other ecclesias, much less
those which are great distances away, on the basis of some rumor.
"And bring not this doctrine" --These deceivers were active,
positive false teachers, engaged in a campaign, not just "holders" of false
doctrine or those who might be termed "weaker brethren" or "honest doubters",
who should be sought after and reclaimed.
"Neither bid him God speed" -- "God speed" was an unfortunate
choice by the translators of the AV, a choice which has colored much of
subsequent Christadelphian analysis of this passage. RR equates "God speed" with
"intimacy, toleration, and cooperation" (LM 285); this may be implicit in the
text, but it is certainly not the primary meaning: The Greek word is chairo --
which merely means "greeting" or "farewell", and it is so used many times in the
New Testament (Mat 26:49; 27:29; Luk 1:28; Joh 19:3; Act 15:23; 2Co 13:11; Jam
1:1). It may also mean "to rejoice" (Mat 2:10; Joh 3:29; 16:22; Rom 12:12; 2Co
6:10; Rev 19:7).
This presents us with a couple of alternative views of the
(1) These false teachers' doctrine was so extremely dangerous
that they could not even be greeted courteously, nor be given the most
elementary considerations due even to out-and-out worldlings, much more to
"erring brethren". Such a view, in conformity with our understanding of this
special doctrine, thus removes this passage from serious consideration as a
guideline to ecclesial duties toward most other, milder forms of error. Would
any "minority fellowship" brethren seriously want to adopt such an attitude
toward all other Christadelphians? The otherwise unanimous view of the apostolic
passages regarding errorists is that they are to be gently entreated, and
diplomatically led away from their follies. So we have here in 2Jo a unique
case, and consequently one which gives no real precedent for lesser
(2) The second possibility, much less likely, is this: If the
word chairo here signifies "to rejoice", then that which designates brethren
"partakers of the evil deeds" of gross errorists is their rejoicing in that evil
-- that is, wholeheartedly approving of and positively participating in the
propagation of error. This is not to suggest that something less, say a passive
toleration, is proper -- it may be wrong too, depending on circumstances -- but
only that it is not the "partaking" or "fellowshiping" of the error which some
interpreters would have it to be.
Therefore, no matter which of the two interpretations of
"Godspeed" be chosen, the v is not that clear-cut directive to the "block
disfellowship" of all who break bread with one false teacher. Even if the elders
of an ecclesia should decide to tolerate the membership of one holding false
doctrine, it cannot be said that members of that ecclesia who continue to use
every opportunity to expose and denounce his errors are "bidding him God speed"
or "partaking of his evil deeds". To say that they are is a travesty of
language. The situation has been known a hundred times over that something done
or said by a brother has been openly disapproved of by the rest of his ecclesia
without excommunication being applied. At times the simpler expedient of
removing such a brother from all speaking and teaching duties has allowed him
the scope to recover his spiritual balance and forsake his error.
RR's understanding of "Godspeed" certainly conforms with this.
"If men lend themselves to the evil projects of others and
wish them well in them, no doubt they are as responsible for those projects as
if they actually promoted them with their own personal labours. This is the
principle to which John gives expression when he says, 'He that biddeth him (the
holder of false doctrine) God speed is partaker of his evil deeds' " ("True
Principles and Uncertain Details" 187,188).
The problem in a single-minded reliance on this passage to
justify wholesale separation is evident when the effects are fully considered.
It is self-evident that an interpretation of a passage that "proves" too much
actually proves nothing at all -- for then there is surely something wrong with
that interpretation. This is so with an unbalanced view of 2Jo 1:10,11: (1) If
merely refusing to punish error is "bidding Godspeed" to it, then was Christ a
"partaker of the evil deeds" of the adulteress when he said, "Neither do I
condemn thee"? (2) Should brethren hold themselves to be "partakers" and thus
personally guilty of every aberration or "sin" of every brother or sister in
their "fellowship"? This is perceived as sheer folly when examples are
considered. Suppose, for example, one brother in your worldwide fellowship --
only one -- smokes; suppose another, but only one, occasionally drinks to
excess. Now you yourself never touch tobacco or liquor of any sort. Are you
nevertheless a "partaker" of these things, and many more, because you endure
these brethren in your "fellowship"? In short, is a brother really the sum of
all the worst parts of all his weakest brethren? Such ill-founded logic must be
our conclusion if we apply 2Jo 1:10,11 to any and every ecclesia
Two short quotations from JT would seem to go well
(1) Of the correspondent who accused him of being a "slave
owner", he wrote:
"His argument is that in fellowshipping slave owners, and
those who fellowship them, the parties so fellowshipping them are partakers with
them of their evil deeds; and therefore as much slave owners and slave holders
as if they actually held and drove them. The argument is specious but not sound"
(Herald 1851, 204).
(2) And again:
"The salvation of individuals is not predicated on the purity
of their neighbour's faith, though these may be members of the same
ecclesiastical organization" (Ibid, 120).
In conclusion: 2Jo 1:10,11 appears to be the only passage in
the Bible which puts "toleraters" on the same ground of condemnation as the
"false teachers" themselves. We have shown that, for the purposes of condemning
those who "bid them Godspeed", this passage proves either too little (for the
context is quite specialized) or too much (thus making us all "partakers" of
every "evil" to be found in our midst). The wisest course would appear to be
that we leave 2Jo alone as "pure fellowship" justification, and that we turn our
attentions to other passages which may give more solid footing, and practical
limitations as well, for Biblical "disfellowship".