“Chapter 52: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 52,” New Testament Student Manual
John and Jude wrote their epistles at a time when apostasy was threatening the Church. Even though it had been only a few decades since the death of Jesus Christ, false teachers were teaching a “doctrine” different from that taught by the Apostles (see 2 John 1:9–10). Some claimed that Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh (see 1 John 4:1–3). Diotrephes, a local Church leader, refused to recognize John’s authority (see 3 John 1:9–10). John bluntly labeled those who taught false doctrine as being “antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3), and he encouraged Church members to shun falsehoods and remain with him in fellowship “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Jude warned the Saints of “ungodly men” who had “crept in unawares” (Jude 1:4; see also verse 15). As eyewitnesses of the resurrected Savior, John and Jude counseled the faithful on how they might resist false doctrines.
The Epistle of 1 John was written at a time when apostasy was spreading in the Church. In this epistle John addressed the dangerous spread of apostate influences in the Church and gave an apostolic warning to the Saints to have no fellowship with darkness but to stay in the safety of gospel light. Although some of the false teachings that John refuted in this epistle are different from those prevalent in the world today, studying 1 John can help modern Church members become more discerning of false teachings about Jesus Christ, and following John’s counsel can help them maintain close fellowship with the Lord as they abide in the truth.
The author of 1 John did not identify himself in the epistle; however, as early as the second century, Christian scholars have identified the author as the Apostle John, one of the original Twelve. Some commentators have noted similarities between 1–3 John and the Gospel of John, suggesting that they had a common author. In addition, the author of the Epistles of John was an eyewitness of the resurrected Savior, which was certainly true of John the Apostle (see 1 John 1:1–4; 4:14). For more information on John, see “Who wrote John?” in chapter 21.
Although John spent a major portion of his life in Palestine, the area was hostile to Christians and Jews following the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70. Tradition states that John left Palestine to live in Ephesus during his later years; therefore, 1–3 John could have been written from Ephesus. New Testament commentators generally believe that 1 John was written between A.D. 70 and 100, perhaps in the last few years of the first century.
The audience of 1 John is not explicitly stated. In form, 1 John is more of a doctrinal essay or treatise than an epistle to a specific Christian congregation. John wrote to believers (see 1 John 1:3–4; 2:12–14), perhaps those in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), where historical sources say John lived and ministered in the late first century A.D. False teachers had created a schism, or division, among the Saints in the region (see 1 John 2:18–19, 22, 26; 4:1).
A particular philosophy that was gaining popularity at the time was Docetism. Docetism was part of a larger movement known as Gnosticism. A core teaching in many forms of Gnosticism was that the spirit was wholly good and that matter, including the physical body, was wholly evil. Followers of Gnosticism believed that salvation was not achieved by being freed from sin but rather by freeing the spirit from matter, meaning the physical body. They also believed that salvation was achieved through special knowledge (gnosis) rather than through faith in Jesus Christ.
Followers of Docetism overemphasized Jesus’s spiritual nature to the point that they rejected the idea that He came to earth in actual bodily form. They believed that God was invisible, immortal, all-knowing, and immaterial, and they considered the physical world and the physical body to be base and evil. Therefore, they believed that since Jesus was the divine Son of God, He could not have experienced the limitations of being human. In their view, Jesus Christ was not literally born in the flesh, and He did not inhabit a tangible body, bleed, suffer, die, or rise with a physical resurrected body—He only seemed to do these things. Docetism comes from the Greek dokeo, meaning “to seem” or “to appear.”
John refuted these false teachings by bearing witness of the Savior’s physical existence (see 1 John 1:1–2; 4:2–3, 14; 5:6). He declared that Jesus Christ indeed came to earth in the flesh, that His suffering and death made up His redeeming act, and that God sent His Son because of His great love for us.
As one of Jesus Christ’s original Apostles, John was a special witness of the resurrected Savior. John began this letter by declaring that he had personally seen, heard, and touched the resurrected Jesus Christ. Expanding on this personal witness, John invited his readers to have “fellowship” not only with John and those who ministered with him, but also “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Love is a central theme of John’s First Epistle. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles summarized 1 John’s theme of divine love as follows:
“That God is love;
“That love is the foundation upon which all personal righteousness rests;
“That all the purposes and plans of Deity are based on his infinite and eternal love; and
“That if men will personify that love in their lives, they will become like the Lord himself and have eternal life with him” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 3:371).
John affirmed his personal witness of Jesus Christ and invited his readers to experience a similar joy and fellowship with the Father and the Son. The blood of Christ cleanses us from sin. Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father. John warned of antichrists and false prophets. When Christ comes again, the righteous will be like Him. We show our love for God by loving others and by our obedience to the commandments. John taught that God is love; that perfect love casts out fear; and that water, blood, and spirit testify of Christ.
John spoke about how he and others had personally seen, heard, and touched the resurrected Jesus Christ (see 1 John 1:1–3). John apparently wanted his readers to understand that he was writing this letter as his personal witness of the resurrected Christ (see Luke 24:36–39; Acts 1:3). John’s testimony of Jesus Christ and His role in our salvation powerfully refuted the false teachings that were then entering into the Church.
John wrote that one purpose of his letter was to help his readers have fellowship with those who had seen and heard Jesus Christ, and then in turn enjoy fellowship “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (John 1:3). Fellowship includes the ideas of communion, partnership, and sharing a common life. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “To have fellowship with the Lord in this life is to enjoy the companionship of his Holy Spirit, … and to have fellowship with him in eternity is to be like him, having that eternal life of which he is the possessor and originator” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 3:374).
John taught that in order to have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, we must become like Them. Therefore we should walk in the light, apply the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, confess and repent of our sins, keep the commandments, and love one another (see 1 John 1:5–10; 2:3–11).
John wrote that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (John 1:5). The idea that God is light is found elsewhere in John’s writings and other scripture (see John 1:4–9; 8:12; 9:1–5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; D&C 50:23–24; 88:49–50, 67–68). Those who seek fellowship with God must leave the darkness of sin in order to walk in the light of Jesus Christ. We deceive ourselves when we ignore our sins or say that we have no sin.
John sometimes referred to Church members in the areas in which he ministered as his “little children” (1 John 2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7; 4:4; 5:21). This term can be seen as one of endearment, much like when Paul referred to Timothy as his son (see 1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2). Note that in 1 John 2:13, “little children” appears to refer to actual children who were members of the Church. The phrase “little children” is used similarly in John 13:33 and Doctrine and Covenants 78:17.
John called the Savior our “advocate with the Father” and “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2). An advocate is a person who supports or pleads the cause of another person. Because Jesus Christ was perfectly righteous and satisfied the demands of justice for the sins of others, He is qualified to plead on our behalf before the Father (see Hebrews 7:25–26; 2 Nephi 2:9; D&C 29:5; 45:3–5).
A propitiation is a sacrifice made to regain God’s favor or goodwill (see 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that allows us to regain God’s favor. The Savior endured the suffering due for the accumulated sins of the whole world; however, only those who truly repent will receive the full benefits of the Savior’s Atonement (see D&C 18:10–12; 19:16–19). To read more about Jesus Christ as our propitiation, see the commentary for Romans 3:25.
Obedience to God’s commandments is an important theme in John’s writings, as expressed in 1 John 2:3–6. In his Gospel, John recorded Jesus’s teaching that those who love the Savior keep His commandments: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” (John 15:10).
In this epistle, John repeatedly contrasted light with darkness and encouraged readers to abide in the light. John associated light with love and darkness with hate (see 1 John 2:9–11). When we love others, we invite the light of Christ to illuminate our lives. Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught how we might dispel darkness from our life and walk in the light:
“As children, we learned how to keep darkness away by turning on a light. Sometimes, when our parents went away for the evening, we would turn on every light in the house! We understood the physical law that is also a spiritual law: light and darkness cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
“Light dispels darkness. When light is present, darkness is vanquished and must depart. More importantly, darkness cannot conquer light unless the light is diminished or departs. When the spiritual light of the Holy Ghost is present, the darkness of Satan departs.
“… We are engaged in a battle between the forces of light and darkness. If it were not for the Light of Jesus Christ and His gospel, we would be doomed to the destruction of darkness” (“Out of Darkness into His Marvelous Light,” Ensign, May 2002, 70; see D&C 93:39).
Speaking of false teachers among the Saints, John warned that “even now are there many antichrists” (1 John 2:18). An antichrist is “anyone or anything that counterfeits the true gospel plan of salvation and that openly or secretly opposes Christ” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Antichrist”; scriptures.lds.org). Prior to His death, the Savior had warned His disciples about the coming of “false Christs” (Matthew 24:24).
Even as John pointed out how antichrists were at work within the Church, he assured the Saints that “an unction from the Holy One” would allow them to “know all things” as they sought to resist false ideas (1 John 2:20). Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the meaning of “unction” in this verse: “Literally, an unction is the act of anointing, as with oil for medicinal purposes; figuratively, it is an anointing from on high, meaning that those so endowed receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus John said of the saints, ‘Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things’ (1 John 2:20), that is, they had received the Holy Ghost so that the spirit of revelation and knowledge rested with them” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 812–13).
John called the Saints “the sons of God” and said that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:1–2). This is one of many biblical passages that teach about man’s potential to become like God and His Son, Jesus Christ (see Matthew 5:48; John 10:34; Romans 8:17; Revelation 3:21). For more information on becoming heirs of God, see the commentary for Romans 8:17.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency explained that the purpose of mortal life is to become like God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ:
“In the theology of the restored church of Jesus Christ, the purpose of mortal life is to prepare us to realize our destiny as sons and daughters of God—to become like Him. … The Bible describes mortals as ‘the children of God’ and as ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:16–17). It also declares that ‘we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together’ (Rom. 8:17) and that ‘when he shall appear, we shall be like him’ (1 Jn. 3:2). We take these Bible teachings literally. We believe that the purpose of mortal life is to acquire a physical body and, through the atonement of Jesus Christ and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, to qualify for the glorified, resurrected celestial state that is called exaltation or eternal life. …
“… (This destiny of eternal life or God’s life should be familiar to all who have studied the ancient Christian doctrine of and belief in deification or apotheosis). …
“… Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them. Under the merciful plan of the Father, all of this is possible through the atonement of the Only Begotten of the Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 86–87).
President Oaks referred to the early Christian doctrine of deification—the idea that human beings can become like God. This doctrine continued to be taught by many Christian writers after the deaths of the Apostles. For example, the bishop Cyprian (about A.D. 200–258) wrote: “What man is, Christ was willing to be, that man also may be what Christ is. … What Christ is, we Christians shall be, if we imitate Christ” (“The Treatises of Cyprian,” 6.11, 15, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325: Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. , 5:468–69).
John provided a concise definition of sin: “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).
The King James Version of 1 John 3:6 reads, “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him [Christ], neither known him.” The Joseph Smith Translation of 1 John 3:6, 8–9 clarifies the difference between one who sins and one who continues in sin:
“Whosoever continueth in sin hath not seen him, neither known him. …
“He that continueth in sin is of the devil. …
“Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin; for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; and he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received that holy Spirit of promise” (in 1 John 3:6, footnote b; 3:8, footnote a; 3:9, footnote b).
John also contrasted those who choose to continue in sin with those who “abide in” Christ (see John 15:1–11).
“We should love one another” is one of John’s central messages (1 John 3:11). He heard this principle taught by the Savior, who is the source of enduring love. Love has been taught “from the beginning,” and on the last night of the Savior’s mortal ministry, He taught it again: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
John acknowledged the hostility that Church members were facing, encouraging his readers to “marvel not … if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13). He then taught that disciples of Jesus Christ have an obligation to love their brethren. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: “If you haven’t already, you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith or perhaps even endure some personal abuse simply because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such moments will require both courage and courtesy on your part” (“The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 6).
President Dallin H. Oaks similarly taught: “As the ‘salt of the earth,’ we are also the ‘light of the world,’ and our light must not be hidden (see Matthew 5:13–16). The Apostle John warned that this will cause the world to hate us (see 1 John 3:13). That is why those who have made the covenant to change have a sacred duty to love and help one another. That encouragement must be extended to every soul who struggles to come out of the culture of the world and into the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John concluded, ‘Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18)” (“Repentance and Change,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 40).
To receive “whatsoever we ask” of God, we must “keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22). The Bible Dictionary states: “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them” (“Prayer”). To learn more about receiving answers to our prayers, see 1 Nephi 15:8–11; Alma 26:22; 3 Nephi 18:20; Doctrine and Covenants 46:30; 50:29–30; 88:63–64.
Some individuals in the Church were teaching that Jesus Christ did not have a physical body. John referred to these people as “spirits” who possessed the “spirit of antichrist” (see 1 John 4:1–3). Their opinion was that Jesus Christ only “seemed” to have a physical body and to suffer and die on the cross. John exhorted his readers to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). In this case the test that determined true teachers was whether they taught “that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2). The existence of similar false teachings is also evident in Paul’s writings (see Colossians 2:8–9).
Forms of the word love appear more than 20 times in 1 John 4. John taught that “love is of God,” that “God is love,” and that God’s love was manifest in the gift of His Only Begotten Son (1 John 4:7–9; see also John 3:16–17). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland similarly expressed that Christ came to demonstrate the great love God has for His children:
“Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness’ [Lectures on Faith, 42]. In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, ‘This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.’ …
“… And in the spirit of the holy apostleship, I say as did one who held this office anciently: ‘Herein [then] is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another’ [1 John 4:10–11]—and to love Him forever, I pray” (“The Grandeur of God,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 72–73; see also the commentary for John 3:14–17).
The King James Version of 1 John 4:12 reads, “No man hath seen God at any time.” The Joseph Smith Translation of this verse clarifies the misconception that mortals are unable to see God: “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe” (in 1 John 4:12, footnote a). John continued by teaching: “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). John himself had seen God the Father (see Revelation 5:1; D&C 67:11). To read more about mortals being able to see God, see John 14:23; Acts 7:56; Doctrine and Covenants 93:1; Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17; and the commentary for John 1:18.
For the Church members John addressed, fear would have been a natural response to the hostilities they faced. However, John wrote that “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles related an experience from the life of Elder James E. Talmage that illustrates how Christlike love casts out fear:
“Elder James E. Talmage, a man who is remembered for his doctrinal teachings, showed great kindness to a neighbor family in distress. They were complete strangers to him. Before he was an Apostle, as a young father, he became aware of great suffering at a neighbor’s home whose large family was stricken with the dreaded diphtheria. He did not care that they were not members of the Church; his kindness and charity moved him to act. The Relief Society was desperately trying to find people to help, but no one would because of the contagious nature of the disease.
“When he arrived, James found one toddler already dead and two others who were in agony from the disease. He immediately went to work, cleaning the untidy house, preparing the young body for burial, cleaning and providing for the other sick children, spending the entire day doing so. He came back the next morning to find that one more of the children had died during the night. A third child was still suffering terribly. He wrote in his journal: ‘She clung to my neck, ofttimes coughing [germs] on my face and clothing, … yet I could not put her from me. During the half hour immediately preceding her death, I walked the floor with the little creature in my arms. She died in agony at 10 a.m.’ The three children had all departed within the space of 24 hours. He then assisted the family with the burial arrangements and spoke at their graveside services. This he did all for a family of strangers. What a great example of Christlike kindness!” (“The Virtue of Kindness,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 28).
As an extension of his teachings on love in 1 John 4, John reminded his readers that we demonstrate our love for God by keeping His commandments, which “are not grievous” (1 John 5:2–3). Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught that when we obey the commandments out of love, obedience ceases to be grievous:
“Do you love the Lord?
“Spend time with Him. Meditate on His words. Take His yoke upon you. Seek to understand and obey, because ‘this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments’ [1 John 5:3]. When we love the Lord, obedience ceases to be a burden. Obedience becomes a delight” (“The Great Commandment,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 30).
John pointed out that our faith in Jesus Christ allows us to overcome the world (see 1 John 5:4–5). To read about the blessings that come to those who overcome the world, see Revelation 2:11, 17, 26–28; 3:5, 12, 21.
Certain phrases may have been added to 1 John 5:7–8 as late as the fourth century A.D. The apparent addition is the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.”
Whether these words reflect John’s original writing or were later added by an unknown person is debated. What is important is that these verses emphasize the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ was part of the Atonement and Jesus Christ’s real suffering. This truth refuted the docetic heresy that Jesus Christ did not have a mortal body (see 1 John 1:7; 5:6). Water, blood, and the Spirit are related to mortal birth, spiritual rebirth, and the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, as the following chart illustrates (see Moses 6:59–60):
Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice
The child is surrounded by water in the womb.
Baptism is performed by immersion in water.
While on the cross, water flowed from Christ’s pierced side.
The life of the physical body is in the blood.
The mother’s blood is shed during childbirth.
Christ’s atoning blood allows us to be born again.
Christ shed His blood for all humankind.
Each person born in mortality is literally the offspring of heavenly parents, having received a spirit body in the premortal world.
The Holy Ghost has cleansing power.
Through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice and perfect spirituality, we are able to be born again and receive spiritual sanctification.
In this epistle, John expressed concern over apostate influences in the Church. At the same time, he also expressed joy for Church members who had remained strong and loyal (see 2 John 1:1). This rejoicing illustrates the joy and gratitude that Church leaders, both ancient and modern, feel for those who remain faithful to the Lord. John reminded his readers that in spite of antichrists who try to deceive, they must not lose the spiritual progress they have made (see 2 John 1:8).
The author identified himself as “the elder” (2 John 1:1) and is traditionally understood to be the Apostle John. The vocabulary, writing style, and themes closely match those of 1 John and 3 John, leading most commentators to conclude that the epistles had the same author.
New Testament scholars believe that 2 John was written between A.D. 70 and 100, probably in the last years of the first century. We do not know the location of its composition.
The Second Epistle of John was written to “the elect lady and her children” (2 John 1:1). Since the epistle addresses a group of people, many commentators conclude that “the elect lady” actually refers to a Christian congregation (see 2 John 1:13). The Greek term for church is feminine, and it was common to personify the Church as a woman (see Ephesians 5:25–27, 32; Revelation 12:1–4, 17; 19:7–8). Another possibility is that “the elect lady and her children” were John’s wife and family.
John apparently wrote this epistle for the same purposes as 1 John. Responding to docetic teachings, he testified that Jesus Christ literally came to earth in the flesh, labeling those who taught otherwise as “antichrist” (2 John 1:7). He explained that members who taught that Christ did not have a physical body should be cast out of the congregation (see 2 John 1:10).
In this epistle John warned about false teachers who had entered into the Church. John warned Church members not to heed or befriend these individuals.
John rejoiced because “the elect lady and her children” were true and faithful (2 John 1:1). He warned of antichrists.
John described himself as “the elder”; “the elect lady” he was writing to (see 2 John 1:1) is either a figurative reference to a branch of the Church or a literal reference to a female member, perhaps even his wife. In our dispensation, Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was called “an elect lady” (D&C 25:3). John rejoiced that he found the children of the elect lady walking in truth and following the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John warned his readers that “many deceivers are entered into the world” (2 John 1:7). John advised the Saints that if they encountered a false teacher, they should “receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 1:10). John was not suggesting that the Saints should fail to extend common courtesy to those who taught contrary doctrines. However, since early Christian congregations gathered to worship in the homes of Church members, traditional customs of hospitality could inadvertently enable heretical teachers to infiltrate congregations. President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned modern Church members not to associate with deceivers and antichrists operating in our day:
“Let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce. …
“Perhaps most damningly, they deny Christ’s Resurrection and Atonement, arguing that no God can save us. They reject the need for a Savior. In short, these detractors attempt to reinterpret the doctrines of the Church to fit their own preconceived views, and in the process deny Christ and His messianic role” (“Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 63).
In this brief epistle, John praised Gaius, a Church member who was loyal during a time of rebellion against Church leaders. John’s teachings provide insights on apostasy in the New Testament Church and can inspire modern-day Saints who remain faithful to Church leaders despite opposition.
As in 2 John, the author identified himself as “the elder” (3 John 1:1) and is traditionally understood to be the Apostle John. The vocabulary and style closely match 1 John and 2 John, leading most commentators to conclude that the epistles had the same author.
New Testament scholars believe that 3 John was written between A.D. 70 and 100, probably in the last years of the first century. We do not know the location of its composition.
The epistle of 3 John was written to Gaius, a faithful member of the Church whom John praised for showing unselfish devotion to the cause of Christ by providing accommodations for God’s traveling servants (see 3 John 1:5–8). John also warned Gaius about one Diotrephes, who may have held a local leadership position in the Church or perhaps was the host of a local house-church congregation. Diotrephes openly opposed John and other Church officials and even prevented local Church members who wished to receive the Church officials from attending or speaking in Church meetings (see 3 John 1:9–10). John encouraged Gaius to continue in goodness and informed him that he would soon visit him (see 3 John 1:11–13).
In 3 John we see John’s concern about apostate influences in the Church. We also see John’s love for others and the joy he felt for those who were choosing a life of obedience (see 3 John 1:4).
John praised Gaius, who was charitable to men who spoke the truth. John expressed joy because his “children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4). He warned Gaius about Diotrephes, who sought for power and refused to take in Church leaders when they visited.
Diotrephes was apparently either a leader in a local branch or the host of a house-church. John noted that because Diotrephes loved to have “preeminence” among the Saints, he rejected the authority of John and other Church leaders. Concerning people like Diotrephes, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) wrote, “It is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39; see also 2 Nephi 26:29).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency cautioned: “There is a certain arrogance in thinking that any of us may be more spiritually intelligent, more learned, or more righteous than the councils called to preside over us. Those councils are more in tune with the Lord than any individual person they preside over” (Finding Light in a Dark World , 121).
This epistle allows readers to understand Jude’s earnest concern about the forces of apostasy that were at work in the Church near the end of the first century A.D.
The author identifies himself as “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” (Jude 1:1). Traditionally the author has been understood to be Jude the half-brother of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). Jude was evidently an active Church member of high esteem in Jerusalem, and he had traveled as a missionary (see Acts 1:13–14; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Though Jude does not appear to have held a prominent leadership position in the early Church, early Christians held his epistle in sufficient esteem to include it in the New Testament canon.
If this letter was indeed authored by Jude the brother of Jesus, it was probably written between A.D. 40 and 80. The location of its composition is unknown.
Jude is a general epistle addressed to faithful Christians—“to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1). Jude’s stated purpose was to encourage his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith” against ungodly teachers who had entered the Church, promoting immoral behavior and false teachings that denied the Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 1:3).
Some commentators have noted similarities between Jude and 2 Peter and suggested that one writer may have used the other as a source or that both drew from a common source. Jude 1:4–9 is indeed similar in wording to 2 Peter 2; however, Peter was prophesying of future apostasy whereas Jude spoke of an apostasy that was currently taking place (see 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 1:4).
Jude’s words are sharp and incisive against those who opposed God and His servants. Jude cited scripture and Jewish apocryphal accounts to show how God had dealt in times past with individuals who openly opposed His work.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie noted several unique characteristics of Jude:
“In the whole Bible, it is Jude only who preserves for us the concept that pre-existence was our first estate and that certain angels failed to pass its tests.
“It is to him that we turn for our meager knowledge of the disputation between Michael and Lucifer about the body of Moses.
“He alone records Enoch’s glorious prophecy about the Second Coming of the Son of Man” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 3:415).
Jude encouraged his readers to defend the faith. He warned that “certain men crept in unawares” and were spreading works of apostasy (Jude 1:4). He taught of the “first estate” and explained what awaits those who rebel against God and His work (Jude 1:6).
Jude’s language in Jude 1:1 conveys his belief that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate Beings.
According to Jude, he had originally intended to write about “the common salvation” (Jude 1:3), meaning the idea that “salvation is available to all men, not just a select few” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:416). However, Jude instead found it needful to exhort his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). Here Jude was referring to the faith that was taught originally by Christ Himself and then by His Apostles. The same faith that we read about in the New Testament has been restored in our day and is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) related how as a young man he had sought after the faith that had been taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles:
“I read the New Testament. I learned verse after verse and chapter after chapter. … It taught me the Gospel of life and salvation; it taught me a Gospel of power before the heavens and on the earth. It taught me that the organization of the Church consisted of Prophets, Apostles, Pastors and Teachers. …
“These are the things which I learned, and they made an impression upon me. I believed in them; yet I had never heard them taught by any clergyman or divine upon the earth. … On one occasion I attended one of those great meetings which were sometimes held in Connecticut, at which forty or fifty ministers of various denominations were gathered together. … At this meeting permission was given for anybody to make remarks. I was quite young then. I arose and stepped into the aisle, and I said to that body of ministers: ‘My friends, will you tell me why you don’t contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints? Will you tell me why you don’t contend for that Gospel that Jesus Christ taught, and that His Apostles taught? Why do you not contend for that religion that gives unto you power before God, power to heal the sick, to make the blind to see, the lame to walk, and that gives you the Holy Ghost and those gifts and graces that have been manifest from the creation of the world? …’
“The presiding elder said: ‘My dear young man, you would be a very smart man, and a very useful man in the earth, if you did not believe all those foolish things’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , 35–36).
Wilford Woodruff finally heard the gospel preached by an authorized servant of God—Elder Zera Pulsipher—and recognized it as what he had been searching for. He was baptized just a few days later.
Jude acknowledged the ongoing apostasy in the ancient Church as he described ungodly men who entered the ranks of the Church without the awareness of the members and then taught false doctrines (see Jude 1:4). Jude compared these rebellious individuals to people in Old Testament times who were destroyed for their disobedience—the Israelites who were led out of Egypt and later failed to forsake their sins, and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude also gave the example of the angels in the premortal world who chose to rebel against God and follow Satan (see verses 5–8). Jude used these examples to put his readers “in remembrance” of what awaits those who rebel against proper authority and fail to repent (verse 5).
Jude wrote about the spirits who rebelled against God in the premortal world and followed Lucifer, calling them “angels which kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6; see also Abraham 3:26, 28). Here, “estate” refers to a person’s rank or position. Because these spirits rebelled against the Father, they lost their standing before God and did not qualify for the privilege of coming to mortality—our second estate.
While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder L. Lionel Kendrick discussed the premortal events that led to the casting out of Satan and his followers: “Lucifer used his divine gift of agency to make a decision that would lead to his eternal damnation. In bold opposition, he rebelled against God and ‘kept not his first estate’ [Abraham 3:28]. ‘A third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me [the Lord God] because of their agency’ [D&C 29:36; italics added]. Even with the possibility of their eternal damnation, Heavenly Father would not take their agency from them. To do so would be counter to eternal law. As a result of their rebelliousness, Lucifer and his followers were cast out of heaven and forfeited the blessings of eternal life” (“Our Moral Agency,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 30–31).
Sodom and Gomorrah were ancient neighboring cities located somewhere near the Dead Sea, probably at its southern end. Jude said that these two cities were destroyed because their people indulged in the sins of “fornication, and going after strange flesh” (Jude 1:7; see also Genesis 19:27–29). The phrase “going after strange flesh” refers to engaging in homosexual acts. To read more about the Church’s teachings regarding homosexual acts, see the commentary for Romans 1:26–27.
Jude 1:9 says that Michael the archangel disputed with the devil over the body of Moses. Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave insight about this verse: “Commentators assume … that Jude had before him and was quoting from a then current apocryphal book, ‘The Assumption of Moses,’ which has been preserved to us in fragmentary form only. This non-canonical work presents the doctrine that Moses was translated and taken up into heaven without tasting death. It appears to deal ‘with certain revelations made by Moses,’ and ‘with his disappearance in a cloud, so that his death was hid from human sight. … Michael was commissioned to bury Moses. Satan opposed the burial. … Finally, all opposition having been overcome, the assumption took place in the presence of Joshua and Caleb’ (R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2, pp. 407–413.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:421).
From the Book of Mormon we learn that Moses was translated and taken into heaven without tasting death (see Alma 45:19). This was necessary so that Moses could appear on the Mount of Transfiguration two thousand years later with his physical body and lay his hands on the heads of Peter, James, and John to give them priesthood keys (see History of the Church, 3:387).
Apocryphal books like the Assumption of Moses are not included in the Bible because of their dubious authenticity or validity. Even though these works often have some value, they are not felt to be correct in every particular. See Doctrine and Covenants 91 for what the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith about apocryphal works.
Jude compared false teachers to the rebellious Cain, Balaam, and Core (or Korah, as it is spelled in the Old Testament), each of whom sinned grievously in the eyes of the Lord (see Jude 1:11). Cain murdered his brother Abel in order to gain his brother’s flocks (see Genesis 4:8; Moses 5:32–33). Balaam used his God-given gift of prophecy to seek after riches and honor (see Numbers 22:5; 25:1–8). And Korah rebelled against Moses because he was excluded from priesthood office (see Numbers 16:1–3, 31–35). In each instance the Lord cursed these men for their wicked actions. Jude’s epistle would have helped his readers discern evil people of his day. His epistle can help us avoid similar apostate teachings in our own time.
Jude alone recorded a prophecy of Enoch about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Jude may have quoted from the apocryphal book of Enoch, which is not in our present canon of scripture. The book of Moses, however, confirms that Enoch was given knowledge of the last days and of the Savior’s Second Coming (see Moses 7:62–66). On one occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that Enoch appeared to Jude (see History of the Church, 4:209).
Jude urged his readers to remember “the words which were spoken [by] the Apostles” (Jude 1:17; see also 3 Nephi 12:1–2). Safety is found in following apostolic direction, as President M. Russell Ballard expressed:
“These are difficult times, and the world’s cultural and sociological landmarks of propriety, honesty, integrity, and political correctness are constantly shifting. … At such times, we might well ask, ‘Is there one clear, unpolluted, unbiased voice that we can always count on? Is there a voice that will always give us clear directions to find our way in today’s troubled world?’ The answer is yes. That voice is the voice of the living prophet and apostles. …
“Today I make you a promise. It’s a simple one, but it is true. If you will listen to the living prophet and the apostles and heed our counsel, you will not go astray” (“His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 65–66).
Jude’s reference to mockers in Jude 1:18–19 probably refers to those who mocked Christians in his day, and it applies to conditions in the world today. Those who most aggressively mock the Church and its standards are those who “walk after their own ungodly lusts” and who “separate themselves” from the believers because they do not have the Spirit (Jude 1:18–19; see also 2 Peter 3:3).