Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - May 1, 2007 

The Two Apostle Johns

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1979
Transcribed and Edited by David Sielaff, May 2007

Read the accompanying Newsletter for May 2007

 

This is part 1 of 3 articles about the Apostle John and the Gospel of John.

The second article in the series titled "The New Apostle John" is at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d070601.htm.

The third article titled "The Apostle John, the Lamb, and the Spirit" is at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d070701.htm.

This presentation concerns the background of one man, the apostle John. I will speak about the historical circumstances surrounding this man’s long life. His life before he met Christ or before he was converted will not concern me. My interest is directed to the apostle John after his conversion. Strange as it may seem, the New Testament clearly shows that there were two apostle Johns, though there was only one man called the apostle John, and only one man under discussion.

John was one of the original apostles of Christ, an associate with James and Peter in the Jerusalem ekklesia, and one of the pillar apostles who had a commission to proclaim the Gospel to the Jews. This special commission to the Jews lasted until a major and revolutionary revelation came to the apostle Paul in 63 C.E. 1 From that time until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., there was a great deal of re-evaluating what all the apostles had been preaching for the 30 years prior to those new revelations.

Indeed, the leaders in the Christian ekklesia 2 began to see a new Christianity coming on the scene. The concepts and principals that governed their thinking between 30 and 63 C.E. were suddenly and drastically altered. The implications of these new revelations from Christ were so astounding and far reaching that many of the apostles must have staggered at what these new concepts meant. Their theologies, their goals, and even their commissions were radically altered. So thorough was this new direction into which Christ placed them by his final revelations to Paul and others, that many of the preliminary teachings they taught about Christ and His doctrines from about 30 to 63 C.E. were now given a brand new environment of understanding.

The very essence of Christianity took on a new image altogether. Indeed, when the apostles were able to analyze what Christ was now teaching them by His new and astounding revelation through the Holy Spirit, they saw that a new Christianity was emerging on earth. What they had been teaching in its first 30 years had to be reinterpreted and placed within the context of new and final revelations which Christ gave them.

The analyses of the revelations began as soon as Paul and others received them, but the full appreciation and understanding of them did not grace their consciousnesses until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. When that physical event occurred, the last bastion of the first and preliminary Christianity disappeared.

A new man emerged, a new John. Although the love that he expressed for Christ, his brethren, and fellow humans in the earlier periods of his Christian life was not altered, there was a new impetus and direction placed on his love. The final revelation of Christ made a new man out of John.

I will discuss the first apostle John since his conversion to Christ and then show the second and final John, the new man in Christ after the new and final revelations were given. What happened to John was supposed to happen to the entirety of the Christian ekklesia. It is hoped that this study, which is clearly shown in the New Testament, can make us to be a new and mature person in Christ.

Early Christianity

Let us look at the first John, or shall we say the first apostles. The first apostles came into existence in the 2½ year ministry of Christ. 3 Christ Himself said that they were unconverted at that time because they did not yet have God’s Holy Spirit (John 7:39, 14:26). Christ died on the tree of crucifixion, 3 days later He was resurrected, and then for about 40 days He instructed the apostles. He went back to heaven and then on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit of God came with power and entered into all of the apostles. You might say preliminary Christianity or the preliminary Christian ekklesia began at that time.

Romans chapter 8 makes it quite clear that a person who has God’s Holy Spirit can certainly be called a Christian if he has his faith in Christ, His crucifixion, and resurrection. During this preliminary stage of Christian teaching of 30 years, the apostles were given teachings step by step by the Holy Spirit. God through Christ showed them how they could finally come to the fullness of the teachings of Christ.

In that 30 year period many beautiful teachings were learned and many of those teachings never changed as far as their spiritual emphasis was concerned. However, they began to learn step by step that circumcision was not necessary, that sacrifices were not necessary for sin, and that many other things were not necessary. They could not change from the Mosaic to the pure and full system of Christianity all at once. It is almost impossible for a human being to go through such a revolutionary change so quickly.

God gave them 30 years to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. During that time many beautiful parts of the New Testament were written. But, the fullness of the teaching of Christ did not come until about 63 C.E. to the apostle Paul in his first Roman imprisonment, after the 28 chapters of the Book of Acts ended. That was when he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Those epistles are profound and comprise no less than the final revelation of God. 4

In the period up to that time James, John, Peter, and even to a certain extent Paul and the rest of them, were growing in grace and in knowledge. They were in a preliminary Christianity because the fullness of the Gospel had not YET been given. When the knowledge of the mature teachings of Christ came to earth, the apostles then began to see a Christianity that Christ wanted them to believe from the very beginning. When that Christianity emerged, they had to drastically change their thinking.

The Preliminary Stage

In this preliminary stage of Christian teaching there were two Christian ekklesias in evidence. One Christian ekklesia in this preliminary period was Jewish. It had certain customs, ceremonies, duties, and requirements for Jews to perform within Christianity. Later, the Gentiles were brought into Christianity, but a vision from God instructed the apostle Peter to go to Caesarea and see a man named Cornelius. When he saw Cornelius, an uncircumcised Gentile Roman centurion, and his family having God’s Holy Spirit without being circumcised, that to Peter was a revelation (Acts 10:1–33). That happened several years after Pentecost. Here was a Gentile coming on the scene and he was not circumcised.

The apostle Paul preached to Jews but also to Gentiles. He saw that the Gentiles were converted and given God’s Holy Spirit in an uncircumcised state. How could these people be saved if they are not circumcised? The Old Testament from beginning to end supports circumcision. A decision was made that the disciples who were Gentiles could go ahead and act in one particular way as far as outward ceremony was concerned. It meant that they did not have to be circumcised any longer like the Jews did. On the other hand, the Jews were to continue with circumcision, keeping holy days, sabbaths, and the customs.

The apostles understood that Christianity was united through the tree of Christ, and His death for all people (there was unanimity of belief on that), which made them all Christians with God’s Holy Spirit. Yet, there were two distinct divisions (they felt) in the Christian ekklesia. One was Jewish. The other was Gentile. Many outward ceremonies, rituals, customs, and rites were different from one another. This had the tendency of causing hostility between the two groups.

The apostles at first believed this type of an arrangement was proper. After all, when Christ was here on this earth ministering for 2½ years He only preached to the House of Israel. In fact, the apostle Paul said in a most interesting Scripture (if we would just believe it), which tells us quite a bit about Christ’s ministry while He was on earth:

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision [to the Jews] for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.”

Jesus Christ was to preach only to the Jews or to the Israelites. In Matthew chapter 15:21–28 Christ meets a Syro-Phoenician woman. She comes asking Him for a favor, to heal her daughter. He said: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel (verse 24). She keeps begging Him to heal her daughter. He said, “It is not meet [fitting] to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs(verse 26). She persists and even the apostles, not knowing the circumstances, try to get her away from Christ, who kept resisting. She pleaded and pleaded and finally Christ said to her, go your way, your daughter is healed. The woman went away and her daughter was healed. But note, Christ did not offer that Canaanite woman salvation! He gave her what she wanted, and her offspring was healed. Clearly Christ was only going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When Christ sent the apostles on a journey throughout Israel He said:

Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

They went only to Israel. After His resurrection Christ gave the apostles a new commission to Gentiles:

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [Spirit].”

Here was the authority not to go just to the Jews, but to go now to the nations, which means to the Gentiles. He was opening the gates so that the Gentiles might come in and be baptized, just like all the Jews baptized by John the Baptist and Christ’s disciples, and become Christians.

Early Requirements for Gentile Believers

I want to ask you: what was in the minds of the apostles just after Christ’s resurrection when He told them to go to the Gentiles? They were to go to “all nations” and preach. Was it in their minds that the nations could come in without being circumcised? Not for one moment!

Several years later when the apostle Peter was given a vision to go and preach to Cornelius in Caesarea, that man along with his Gentile family received God’s Holy Spirit without being circumcised! It was a marvel to the apostle Peter and to those Jews accompanying him. In the 11th chapter of Acts Peter and tells the elders in Jerusalem what had happened. They also marveled and were amazed! They said, well, then God has granted to the Gentiles repentance. They knew of Christ’s command to go “and teach all nations,” but they were surprised when an uncircumcised man was given God’s Holy Spirit. When they considered Christ’s statement of Matthew 28:19, they knew that the Gentiles could now be brought into the orbit of Christianity, but they interpreted what Christ meant was to make good Jews out of those Gentiles.

The Book of Deuteronomy says that any Gentile could become a member of the household of Israel if he would be circumcised and take up all of the rituals of Israel. Isaiah chapter 56 speaks of a future time in the Millennium when Gentiles will be joined to Israel. The apostles knew all this. Isaiah 56:3 is just one Scripture out of many that could be given:

“Neither let the son of the stranger, that has joined himself to YHWH, speak, saying, ‘YHWH has utterly separated me from his people’; neither let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’”

Note the context. The Lord speaks of a time when a Gentile can be joined to and be part of Israel, and never say “I am separated from Israel.” Even a eunuch can become an Israelite and have the promises of Abraham. A eunuch technically cannot be circumcised and is kept out of the Temple. 5

“Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to YHWH, to serve him, and to love the name of YHWH, to be his servants, every one that keeps the sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of my covenant.”

That meant the covenant that YHWH made with Israel, which included the sabbath, the holy days, and all those things, a Gentile, even in the Book of Deuteronomy could join Israel and partake of all of those things.

“Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar.

Gentiles can go in the Temple and offer sacrifices along with keeping the sabbath. Some who keep the sabbath as a means to salvation (and they should not do this) point to these Scriptures and say, you know, even Gentiles should keep the sabbath. It also says there in verse 7 that they should also offer burnt offerings and sacrifices on the altar. This is talking about a specific time when there will be a Temple and Gentiles join themselves to Israel in the fashion of Deuteronomy, which says they shall be circumcised. That is how you become a member of Israel. Christ told His apostles to “Go … and teach all nations, baptizing them ...” (Matthew 28:19). All the Jews were baptized to become Christians. They in turn would go and baptize the Gentiles, who would have to be circumcised to join Israel. Absolutely. That was the way it was done.

There was much proselytizing by Pharisees and others, as Christ acknowledged:

“You compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell [gehenna] than yourselves.”

There was a great effort to convert Gentiles to become Jews. When the apostles saw the Matthew 28:18–19 commission they felt that Gentiles must become circumcised, take up the customs of Moses, the sabbath, the holy days; they could now go to the Temple and sacrifice. That is how they looked at it.

It was only after the experience of the apostle Peter with Cornelius, and later by Paul and Barnabas and the rest in Asia Minor, that the ekklesia began to see something entirely different. Now Gentiles did not have to be circumcised. That means they do not have to keep the customs and laws of Israel — maybe.

That is what the big problem was — maybe. Do they have to be circumcised? Do they have to keep the customs or not? This was a big problem in the Christian ekklesia. Acts chapter 15 tells of a conference of the whole of the Jewish ekklesia of Jerusalem when the apostle Paul, Barnabas, and the others went to discuss whether the Gentiles had to be circumcised or not. First, Peter spoke and said he saw Cornelius having God’s Holy Spirit and he baptized him. He was not circumcised. Then they heard from the apostle Paul and Barnabas. They had been in Asia Minor, in Greece, and areas like that. They saw God’s Holy Spirit come into these Gentiles and they were not circumcised.

Then James cited Amos 9:11 where God will call out a people for His name amongst the Gentiles. James says because of all of the scriptural and physical and spiritual evidences told of, he came to an opinion (and the assembly agreed) that it is not necessary for Gentiles to take up with the customs that we Jews keep. Peter said, why we have not been (and our fathers had not been) able to bear these burdens we have been under for years and years. They agreed that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised any longer like Jews do, but they have to keep four things: (1) keep way from things strangled, (2) from blood, (3) from fornication, and of course (4) from idols (Acts 15:20, 29). They made this into a little epistle (a letter), sent it by Paul, Barnabas, and the others. They went throughout the Roman world telling the Gentiles that they do not have to do these things. However, it did not say one thing about the Jews NOT having to do them.

This is important to understand. Some people think that the decision not to be circumcised in Acts 15 referred to the totality of the Christian ekklesia. Check that carefully. It says only the Gentiles were not to be circumcised. It says nothing about the Jews because Jews still had to be circumcised by the legislation of God. This is clear in Scripture, without doubt.

Paul’s Return to Jerusalem: Acts Chapter 21        

The discussion in Acts chapter 21 occurred around 57 C.E., some 7 or 8 years after the conference of Acts chapter 15. The apostle Paul went to Jerusalem to see James and some of the others.

“And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders [of the Jerusalem ekklesia] were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him [Paul], ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe.’”

In Greek it does not say “thousands,” it says myriads which means tens of thousands. Tens of thousands of Jews who believed were in Palestine. James was in charge of most of them and the elders of Jerusalem. Can you imagine tens of thousands of Jews who believed? That was the case. There is no doubt from the historical evidence (supported by Josephus) that many Jews were turning to be Christians under James, but they were still Jews. We see that very clearly proved because James says this:

“You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law [Moses’ law]. And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.

They were not interested in Paul telling about the Gentile believers. That was decided in the conference of Acts chapter 15. Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or walk in the customs of Moses. But they had received reports that Paul was not only teaching the Gentiles that, which was legal, but that he was teaching the Jews that also, and they were incensed over it. James was upset, the elders of Jerusalem were upset, and these tens of thousands were upset. They had heard that the apostle Paul disturbed the Jews with these things.

“What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that you are come. Do therefore this that we say to you: We have four men which have a vow on them [a Nazarite vow]; Them take, and purify yourself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know [all tens of thousands of these Jews] that those things, whereof they were informed concerning you, are nothing; but that you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law.”

Keep the law, why? Paul must keep the law also because he was a Jew and he must walk in the customs. James was saying, I am a Jew and I walk in them. Peter was saying, I am a Jew and I walk in them. And the elders were saying, we are Jews and we walk in them. For the Gentiles, that is different. We Jews walk in the law. Paul, we want you to go to that Temple and sacrifice an animal at the conclusion of this Nazarite vow, “be at charges with” these four men, which means to pay for their animal sacrifices. If you do that, it will show these at Jerusalem that what is said about you is not true.

James says: “As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing (Acts 21:25). Notice it, this is important: “that they observe no such thing.” What things? Circumcision, the customs, and the law of Moses. “We have written and concluded that they observe no such thing.” It was not just circumcision; it was the whole gamut of the Law under discussion here:

“… save only that they keep themselves [1] from things offered to idols, and [2] from blood, and [3] from strangled, and [4] from fornication. 6 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering [animal sacrifice] should be offered for every one of them.”

About 57 C.E., 7 to 8 years after the Jerusalem council in Acts chapter 15, and we find James, all the elders, and the people in Jerusalem (who were all Jews), tens of thousands of them, including Paul (also a Jew) — all were keeping the customs of Moses and circumcision, but the Gentiles did not have to do them.

Divisions in the Ekklesia

Did this not show two divisions of the Christian ekklesia based on racial lines — one thing the Jews do, another thing the Gentiles do? One has to keep all the Laws of Moses, the other does not? One has to keep circumcision, the other does not? One has a history that goes back to Abraham and Moses, the other has a history that goes back a short time. Nevertheless they are united in Christ. The customs, ceremonies, and rituals are vastly different between the two groups.

Note also that there were two separate commissions in the Christian ekklesia at this time given to some of the apostles. Galatians chapter 2 tells of when the apostle Paul went to Jerusalem and met the apostles there. They all decided to make distinctions as far as commissions are concerned.

“When they [the Jerusalem apostles] saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision [to the Jews], the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John …”

This discussion is on “The Two Johns.” I have not mentioned him much but I want to bring him in now. I want to show you the group with whom John was associated:

“And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars [top men in the ekklesia], perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen [the Gentiles], and they unto the circumcision.”

If we have two separate commissions (and we do have them), who will go to the circumcised? The ones who were circumcised, keeping the Law of Moses, having a Temple, having all those things, plus having Christ of course: “James, Cephas, and John,” and the others at Jerusalem.

Who was to go to the Gentiles, who did not have circumcision, did not have the customs, did not have Temple, did not have physical priesthood? It was the apostle Paul and Barnabas, and their associates. The apostle Paul and Barnabas were Jews, that is quite true, but they were going to Gentiles who did not have to do these things. But the Jews, they had to do them.

What type of situation developed here? In the time when the Jews were in control in Palestine and Gentiles were around, the Jews’ religion forbade them to eat with Gentiles. They would not eat with them at all. Here is the apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 2 mentioning these two commissions and that James was head, with Peter and John, of the one to go to the Jews, whereas Paul and Barnabas were to go to the Gentiles. I will show you the result: two distinct divisions were formed. Here is what happened:

“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.”

Peter and others were eating with Gentiles, which was against Jewish custom and against the tradition from the Old Testament as they interpreted it. Those with James at Jerusalem did not approve of any Jew eating with a Gentile. That is the only conclusion you can come to. When those “from James” came to Antioch they convinced Peter, Barnabas, and the Jews there that they should separate from and not eat with the Gentiles. Why? Because they were different. This caused division in the Christian ekklesia.

“And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles [which Peter was certainly doing], and not as do the Jews, why compel you the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?’”

Peter was saying, maybe you should be circumcised, then we can all eat together. That was why Paul put this in here, because these Galatian Gentiles felt left out of mainline Christianity, and they wanted to be accepted like anybody else. They thought, fine, we will be like the other apostles and be one group. Let us be circumcised, keep the feasts, keep the sabbath, keep the customs, wear phylacteries, and do everything they do. The apostle Paul devotes six chapters of the Book of Galatians utterly condemning that, saying do not “pervert the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7) because you Gentiles do not have to keep days, times, seasons, and years. You do not have to keep circumcision. You are not under the Law, and James admits you are not under the Law. But Peter and the others lapsed in this particular case, and the apostle Paul was very angry about the whole matter.

Differences between Jews and Gentiles

This matter of not eating with people had vast ramifications to it. A 1st century Jew would not eat or have any social intercourse with a Gentile whatsoever. In Edersheim’s work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, we have some excerpts of relations between Jew and Gentile in the 1st century:

“In truth, the bitter hatred which the Jew bore to the Gentile can only be explained from the estimate entertained of his character. The most vile, and even unnatural, crimes were imputed to them [to Gentiles]. It was not safe to leave cattle in their charge, to allow their women to nurse infants, or their physicians to attend the sick, nor to walk in their company, without taking precautions against sudden and unprovoked attacks. They should, so far as possible, be altogether avoided, except in cases of necessity or for the sake of business. …

… their feasts, their joyous occasions, their very contact, was polluted by idolatry; and there was no security, if a heathen were left alone in a room, that he might not, in wantonness or by carelessness, defile the wine or meat [food] on the table, or the oil and wheat in the store. Under such circumstances, therefore, everything must be regarded as having been rendered unclean.”

If a Gentile even touched a wine cask, the whole cask of wine had to be thrown away.

“Milk drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not been present to watch it,  bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was wholly interdicted — the mere touch of a heathen polluted a whole cask; nay, even to put one’s nose to heathen wine was strictly prohibited! Painful as these details are, they might be multiplied.”

That is the environment which James, Peter, John, and the rest of them were reared. A Gentile to them was absolutely a dog that they would have nothing to with (reflected in Matthew 15:6). The Jews could not help it, but this philosophy went over into their Christian experience, and we find it in Galatians chapter 2.

Does this make the Gentiles feel wanted, needed, or part of the community? No. The only way they could be a person of the community was to be circumcised and do the same thing the Jews did. Only then would the Jews eat with them. What a terrible situation! There was utter hostility between the groups. That philosophy, that teaching (and most of it initially came from the Old Testament) caused hostility, anger, and resentment between the two groups. This difference between the Jews and the Gentiles was very profound because James, Peter, and John, the man we will talk about, in the earlier part of their Christian ministries went only to Jews. The Jews kept circumcision, holy days, sabbaths, the law of Moses, and all the customs.

James wrote his letter to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad ...” (James 1:1). He did not preach or teach to Gentiles. The 5 chapters of James went to the tribes of Israel, being circumcised, keeping holy days, and keeping the laws of Moses. Read those 5 chapters believing that and they will open up to you as never before.

Peter was also a minister at first to the circumcised “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered …” (1 Peter 1:1). These “strangers,” that is a technical word in Greek which means diaspora, it means “scattered Jews” in northern Asia Minor. Peter wrote to them because his commission was to Jews. Second Peter was written to the same people, as he says in 1 Peter chapter 3. You have to put those two epistles as going to Jews who were circumcised, keeping the festivals, the customs, and the laws of Moses.

The Apostle John

The same thing applies to the apostle John in his short epistles. In 1 John chapter 1 he identifies himself with the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, the ones that preached to the circumcision. The three epistles of John, no matter how beautiful they are or how many gold nuggets of truth you find in them, were written primarily to Jewish people who were circumcised, keeping holy days, and keeping the customs of Moses:

“That which was from the beginning, which WE have heard, which WE have seen with OUR eyes, which WE have looked upon, and OUR hands have handled, of the Word of life.”

Notice the plural pronouns. Who had seen Him, looked upon Him, and held Him? The original apostles: James, Jude, Peter, Nathanial, Andrew, the apostles to the circumcision, and of course John:

“(For the life was manifested, and WE have seen it, and [WE] bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto US;) That which WE have seen and heard declare WE unto you, that you also may have fellowship with US: and truly OUR fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

Read the rest of chapter 1 of First John and you will see the WEs, the OURs, and the USes coming out through that first chapter where he identifies himself with the apostles in Jerusalem, “we who handled,” “we who saw,” “we who walked.”

In chapter 2 he starts out My little children,” “these things I write unto you.” From then on it is in the 1st person singular: I, I, I, I. This is John writing personally. But in the first chapter it is we, we, we, we. That may sound odd to put it that way, but it is important. That 1st chapter identifies him with the original Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, and what he will write involves them and their commissions. All of First John, Second John, and Third John were written exclusively to a Jewish community. 8

Third John was written to a man called Gaius by John, who called himself “the elder.” He wrote about a group of people that he, John, sent to several Christian communities, communicating various teachings that he was giving to them. Some people were not accepting the men whom John was sending, Gaius was. John was very pleased with Gaius, and instructed him to assist these brethren that he was sending, to give them money, let them go from area to area, and then return finally to John. They could report on the progress they saw in different areas. That is what this epistle was about. John introduces his letter to Gaius:

“For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, even as you walk in the truth.”

These men returned from their journey, they had seen Gaius, and had been to the ekklesias. They were pleased with what Gaius was doing. These men reported to John what they found in Gaius’ area:

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatsoever you do to the brethren, and to strangers.”

Notice these words, “the brethren.” The “brethren”being mentioned are not brethren in general but the particular brethren John sent from area to area reporting to various ekklesias and groups about John’s teachings. These brethren would come back and relate to John what was going on in the various regions. John praised Gaius for being faithful and he asked that “whatsoever you do to the brethren and to strangers,” carry on being faithful.

John is telling Gaius to send them on their journey wherever they go. If they are supported in this journey in “a godly sort,” you Gaius “shall do well.” Look at verse 7, it is most important because it is overlooked by many people: “Because that for his name’s sake they [these brethren] went forth [on a journey sent from John], taking nothing of the Gentiles (3 John 1:7).

These representatives were giving information from John, and they were bringing information back to John. Look at verse 7 again: “Because that for his name’s sake they went forth” on their journey. Notice the last five words of verse 7, which are most important: taking nothing of the Gentiles.” What does this mean? It means not taking support of any kind from Gentiles.

The brethren that John is asking Gaius to help are taking no support whatsoever from the Gentiles. That means Gentile Christians, not Gentile heathen in the world. 9 They are not taking a drachma from them. John was sent to the circumcision. The brethren on this journey were Jews. Gaius, although a Greek name, was a Jew. The others mentioned also were Jews. They were not taking anything from Gentile Christians.

We [all of us Jews] therefore ought to receive such,that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth. I wrote unto the church [ekklesia]: but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, receives us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words …”

Diotrephes did not receive these men on their journey, but he should have. They were not taking anything from Gentile Christians, but Diotrephes should have received them as Gaius did. This means that Diotrephes was also a Jew, but he wanted preeminence amongst the ekklesia.

“… and not content therewith, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and forbad them that would, and cast them out of the church [ekklesia]. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that does good is of God: but he that does evil has not seen God.”

What does this small epistle tell us? It tells us that in this preliminary period when the Christian ekklesia was developing there were apostles sent to Jews and to Jews alone. On occasion they would speak to Gentiles, but when Peter spoke to and got amongst Gentiles, and even when he started to live like Gentiles, to eat with them, etc., he was criticized by his Jewish people, by James and by those from Jerusalem. It was a development period, and James, Peter, and John were the pillar apostles to go to the circumcised, not to the Gentiles. That was the job of Paul and Barnabas and Silas, and later Timothy, Titus, and others; they were to go to the Gentiles. John and the rest were to go to the Jews.

In Third John the representatives John sent (to areas he was unable to go to at first), went to Jewish ekklesias, and they took not a drachma from Gentile Christians.

The New Revelation

We are talking about the first apostle John. But there will come along a new John. That newness came about 63 C.E. with a revelation that God gave to the apostle Paul and others. That teaching got rid of all racial and social distinctions between groups that existed in the preliminary stage of Christianity. It transformed Christianity into the universal type of Christianity that we should be familiar with today. That revelation is described by Paul in Ephesians chapter 2:

“Wherefore remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands.”

Whether you were a Christian or not, you were either circumcised or uncircumcised. Those uncircumcised in the flesh the Jews considered without having any hope at all in God. Paul goes on to say:

“That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”

No wonder that many Galatian Gentiles wanted to be circumcised like the Jews. They wanted to join the Jewish community that came out on top in most occasions. Who had the most authoritative apostles? It was the Jewish segment of the ekklesia, with the holy days, laws of Moses, and circumcision. Some Jews were saying that unless the Gentiles kept those things they could not be saved.

We know what Galatians says. It was not necessary for the Gentiles to be circumcised, keep days, wear phylacteries, or sacrifice. But even though it was not necessary for Gentiles to do those things, because the Jews were doing them and Gentile Christians were not doing them, enmity and even hostility arose between those two groups. Something had to change in the Christian ekklesia to bring about harmony and peace throughout the Christian community.

God began that change in 63 C.E. when He brought in the revelation that solves the disharmony which God Himself allowed to exist in the preliminary stage of Christianity for its first 30 years. Yes, the Gentiles were without hope. They had not God in the world; they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. They were uncircumcised, that is true. But look at verse 13:

“But now [at this time] in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain [two] one new man, so making peace.”

Notice it: “the enmity,” the hatred between Jew and Gentile, God will now bring peace. But He can only bring peace if He abolishes laws of “commandments contained in ordinances,” decrees that separated one group from another. In the Old Testament the Israelite was separated from the Gentile, but in the New Testament the Jew was still separated for the first 30 years from the Gentile. There was not peace.

You see that demonstrated in Galatians chapter 2 in what happened with Peter and the rest of them. There was hostility. When you have barriers of one group doing one thing and a different group doing something else, you have antagonism. This is what the apostle Paul says.

Around 63 C.E. God begins to bring in peace, to cause two to become one. How does He do it? By breaking “down the middle wall of partition.” What was that “middle wall”? Read the 2nd chapter of Ephesians. Paul is talking about the Temple in Jerusalem. 10 That Temple existed in the time of Christ and the apostles. It represented in a physical form God’s throne which exists in heaven at the present time. But it had its compartments; it had its barriers. The Gentiles were cut off from God in the earlier period because they could not pass the portals of the Temple, that “middle wall of partition.” They could not pass it to go to the holy altar and offer a sacrifice. If you could not offer a sacrifice for sin, you would die in your sins; you had no hope in a symbolic sense.

Paul says the “middle wall of partition” has been broken down. All of the commands made in ordinances and decrees which separate Jew from Gentile (in the Old Testament and also in much of the New Testament, because this word “ordinances”here is “decrees”) are now eliminated. The decrees made in Acts chapters 15 and 16 separated Jewish from Gentile Christians. Paul is saying there will be an abolishment of decrees by God removing the “middle wall” that put the Jew on the inside and made the Gentile remain outside.

Now with this revelation of the Mystery, that “middle wall” separating Jew from Gentile has been broken down. Effectively, the nation of Israel with all of its distinctions passes out of existence. It is not necessary any longer. There are no longer any distinctions between Jew on the one hand and Gentile on the other. You do not have to be circumcised. If you are circumcised, it makes no difference, you can both go hand-in-hand right through; there is no gate, no portal any longer. You walk right up to the holy altar where Christ Jesus symbolically died for the sins of the world. We can all go up and wrap our arms around His legs because therein is salvation, and no racial distinctions are in our way any longer.

There are still two other areas of the Temple to be dealt with. Only the priests could go up the 15 steps into the Holy Place. Then only the High Priest could go beyond that curtain into the area where the Mercy Seat was, the throne of the heavenly Father. Do you know what Paul says in Hebrews? That veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies that only the High Priest could go through has been torn in two. 11 That effectively destroyed the last barrier between man and God.

If you tear down the outer wall of the Temple (which means that Jew and Gentile can mingle around the holy altar) that is beautiful because all can come to Christ. Do you know what tearing down that curtain signified? It signified that now there is no barrier of the priesthood standing in the way. Anyone can walk up those steps and go boldly to the throne of God any time he pleases. All in the open are the altar with the furniture by it, the Mercy Seat and its furniture. God the Father and Christ in the open, accessible with no barriers whatever. This revelation in Ephesians chapters 2 and 3 (repeated in Colossians chapter 2) shows that there are no longer any physical racial distinctions whatsoever, because we are all one “in Christ.”

That revelation was not given until 63 C.E. It was not put into effect in a practical sense until about 7 years later. It takes a while for things to sink in to people. What God did in 70 C.E. was to completely destroy the Temple, the priesthood, the altar, and all those customs in the great conflagration when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

God made observance of the law of Moses impossible. All physical things that made the Jews to be distinct people (the priesthood, the Temple, the altar, etc.) were now in physical ruins. They received the revelation in 63 C.E. so that spiritually speaking it was in ruins anyway, and the middle wall of partition, the curtain, everything was broken down. When they saw all that, then suddenly these earlier commissions, given by God and allowed by God, by Christ (the commissions of James, Peter, and John to go to the circumcised, and Paul and Barnabas to the uncircumcised), all that was meaningless.

A whole new type of Christianity emerged. James died in 62 C.E. so he did not see the final development of mature Christian teaching. Peter was killed about 67 C.E. Even Paul died about 67, before 70 C.E. But John lived beyond 70 C.E. He was the last apostle we have record of living on this earth, and he lived at least, as far as we know, 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

The New John

When John lived past 63 C.E. and particularly 70 C.E., the whole structure and fabric of Old Testament Judaism (even God’s way of looking at things) passed by the wayside. When that all happened, what happened to John? John became a new man. John had a new commission because his old commission to Jews passed away. In God’s sight Jews no longer existed from a spiritual point of view. After 63 or 70 C.E. all distinction between Jew and Gentile ceased. Commissions to Jews or Gentiles become irrelevant. 12

Those separate commissions to Jews or to Gentiles disappear because there is no longer any Jew or a Gentile from the point of view of God and Christianity, no distinctions between any people whatsoever. This is clearly pointed out in the Gospel of John. It has a totally different emphasis from the three general epistles of John, though many words are the same. The preliminary stage of Christianity was now over. Now John presents the full mature teaching of Jesus Christ with no racial distinctions whatsoever.

John writes his Gospel in an entirely different vein than his epistles. John puts in the mouth of Christ that the Temple is no longer necessary, nor are the keeping of circumcision, holy days, sabbaths. In John 5:18, reflecting back some 60 years before, John said Christ cancelled the Sabbath! John would have never said that to Jewish people as long as the commission to the Jews was there. He would have never said anything about circumcision. But now much later, after the revelation of the Mystery, after the destruction of Jerusalem, he came to see what the fullness of the teaching of the Gospel of Christ was.

Have you noted the emphasis upon the Spirit in the Gospel of John? The Spirit of God does this, the spirit does that. In chapters 13–17, in His last day of life on earth Christ is emphasizing what? The Comforter coming, the Spirit coming, how you are to worship God “in Spirit and in truth” as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman (John 4:23–24). God does not want a person to worship Him in a Temple in Jerusalem or in Gerazim where the Samaritan temple was. He wants people to worship Him “in Spirit and in truth.”

John’s Gospel emphasizes the Spirit and not materialism, whether that materialism involves the law of Moses or any other thing. Emphasis is now directed toward the Spirit, spiritual truth without physical things such as barriers, no matter what they are. Look at John 1:17: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” This is the only time grace is used in any of the Gospels in this way because grace was revealed to the apostle Paul, as in salvation without works. In the other Gospels you find admonition to keep the commandments, you should do this, you should do that; and true, Christ said all of those things. But after mature understanding of the Gospel of Christ, reflecting on what Christ actually said, John admits “the law was given” through Moses, “but grace and truth” comes through Jesus Christ.

In John’s Gospel the holy days, formerly very important to Jews, are now unnecessary. James kept the holy days when Paul went to Jerusalem in Acts chapter 21. He observed sacrifices and circumcision. All the apostles going to Jews kept these things. Granted, Gentiles did not have to keep them, but Jews did. When John’s Gospel was written, 63 C.E. had passed with the revelation of the Mystery, 70 C.E. had passed with Jerusalem destroyed. John wrote long after he had full knowledge of what Christ wanted to give in the mature and full teaching of the Gospel. Do you know what John says about holy days from this time forward? He calls them the Jewish holy days.

All these things had become “Jewish,” and the Jews were still keeping them. But interestingly John used these expressions such as “the Jews’ passover,” the Jews’ this and that. If he were still the apostle to the circumcision he would never use language like that, if he is writing just to Jews. He would just say the Passover, this and that. But now emphasis is on these holy days and all other Jewish customs, as being “of the Jews.” Moses’ law is “their law.” It is not our law any longer.

In Third John he says not to take a dime from Gentiles. In his Gospel he talks of people in such a way as “the Jews say this,” “the Jews say that.” He makes himself someone who is in a sense not a Jew although John was a Jew. The whole emphasis now is not on Jewish ways or Mosaic law, the emphasis is on the Spirit, the Spirit of “grace and truth.” We see that throughout John’s Gospel. It can be proved that John in his Gospel is no longer writing to Jews. By the phrase “of the Jews,” John is explaining to someone who does not understand what Jews were doing. His audience cannot be Jews.

The individuals to whom he is writing did not know Jerusalem very well either. They certainly did not know the customs of the Jews. Not at all.

A full analysis of John’s Gospel shows clearly that his emphasis was away from the physical, whether it be Jerusalem, sacrifices, sabbaths, holy days, or whatever, and on to the spiritual: the Spirit and truth, grace, and things like we find in the apostle Paul’s letters that he finally brought out, particularly after 63 C.E. The ekklesia began to see that nothing physical should stand between God and man, except Jesus Christ. All barriers have now gone by the wayside. There is no such thing as a Jew or a Gentile, or a priest that stands between you and God, only Jesus Christ. This is what the Gospel of John is all about. 13

Christ did not even baptize anyone, that is physically, literally. In John 4:1–2 the whole emphasis in John is away from the physical and is leading toward the spiritual. There are to be no longer any physical barriers, no matter whether they are racial, religious, found in the Old Testament with its decrees and ordinances, or brethren — I will be very plain — even if they are found in the New Testament as decrees. 14

All physical things, though ordained by God in a former time, like holy days, Jewish customs, the law of Moses, and all that, have now become unnecessary because all of them have been fulfilled by Christ. We now have Jesus Christ and His grace and His truth, and we need no physical barriers to stand between us and God the Father. We only need Jesus Christ. We are now talking about the new John. We are not talking about the preliminary Christianity, we are talking about the final Christianity.

After the final revelation of God in 63 C.E. to the apostle Paul and others, after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E., you find a new John coming on the scene, a new apostle who wrote his Gospel. Its whole emphasis is against racialism. It is for universalism. The whole world has been given salvation in Christ. Remember that verse in John we all love so much and quote so many times? You find it only in John:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal [eonian] life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

There are no longer any physical distinctions since the revelation of the Mystery in 63 C.E. in the eyes of God. We all stand on the same common platform whether we are Jew, Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, whether we have gone into a Temple, whether we have sacrificed or not. It makes no difference. All we have to do is to come to the tree of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the present time God wishes all to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. That is the Gospel of John, the new John, the final Gospel given through the Spirit of almighty God. I pray that we walk in it and not try to depend on the physical. Let us look to the Spirit.

Ernest L. Martin, 1979
Edited by David Sielaff, May 2007

This is part 1 of 3 articles about the Apostle John and the Gospel of John.

The second article in the series titled "The New Apostle John" is at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d070601.htm.

The third article titled "The Apostle John, the Lamb, and the Spirit" is at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d070701.htm.


1 Throughout the tape Dr. Martin says the year 61 A.D. It is my common practice to change all A.D. to C.E. Furthermore, Dr. Martin later came to understand that the year 63 was the correct year of the introduction of revelation of the Mystery. Therefore I have changed 61 A.D. to 63 C.E. throughout.  DWS

2 Throughout this article I changed Dr. Martin’s usage of “church” to ekklesia, which he later felt was more biblical and more accurate.  DWS

3 Original tape talks about a 3½ year ministry, but later research by Dr. Martin demonstrated to his satisfaction that Christ’s ministry was 2½ years and the crucifixion occurred in 30 C.E. See Dr. Martin’s article “The Case for a Thursday Crucifixion” at http://www.askelm.com/news/n010501.htmDWS

4 See the fuller expositions of the Mystery in chapter 24, “‘Our Destiny’ — The Final Revelation of God” at http://www.askelm.com/essentials/ess033.htm from Dr. Martin’s book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK Publications, 2001, 2004), “The Mystery of God” at http://www.askelm.com/news/n040101.htm, “The History of the Revelation of the Mystery” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d040101.htm, “The Mystery and the New Covenant” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d920501.pdfDWS

5 The laws in the Old Testament which forbade that: “He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of YHWH” (Deuteronomy 23:1, Revised Standard Version).  ELM

6 These are the same four items listed in a different order from those of Acts 15:20, 29.  DWS

7 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 8th edition rev., vol. 1, chap. 7 (London, 1896), pp. 91–92.  DWS

8 First John and Second John are difficult to date. While there is no absolute way of dating Third John, they were all written about the same time. This is clear from the language and style. John at this time was not commissioned to go to the Gentiles, as he says in this own words. When we understand that these letters were not to Gentiles, new light emerges on this epistle. Our beloved apostle John wrote that he and his associates were at that time going to Jews. (Later they go to everyone.)  ELM

9 Gentiles in one way of looking at it could be ordinary people walking the streets of Ephesus or Antioch or wherever it might be, in Egypt, or in places like that. Do you think that ordinary Gentiles would want to give money to some Christians sent out by the apostle John to go from ekklesia to ekklesia, giving teaching to those ekklesias? I do not think an ordinary Gentile would support them at all, by no means.  ELM

10 In the Temple were three compartments. There was the court of the Israelites that separated Israelites from Gentiles. A wall separated the two. Although an Israelite could enter that court of the Temple where the altar was, he could not walk up the steps into the Holy Place because only priests could go in there. In the Holy Place was another compartment, a third and final one, called the inner sanctum, separated from the outer Holy Place by a large curtain. Only the High Priest once a year on the Day of Atonement could go into that Holy of Holies. That is where the Mercy Seat was that represents God’s throne in heaven.  ELM

11 Hebrews 6:19, 9:3, and 10:20. It was historically torn in two from the top down at the exact moment of Christ’s death on the cross.  ELM The parallel accounts are in Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45.  DWS

12 The emphasis of the epistles of 1, 2, and 3 John contrasted the Gospel of John is so different that some people believe the man who wrote the Gospel of John could not be the same man who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John. It is the same man, but it is a different John writing the Gospel. When John wrote the 3rd epistle to Gaius about the brethren he says they were to take nothing of the Gentiles. Those brethren from John did not come in contact with Gentile Christians. They were to go to the circumcised, as were John, James, Peter and the rest of them, and they stayed within the limits of their responsibilities. That happened up to the revelation given to the apostle Paul in 63 C.E., and certainly up to 70 C.E. when the Temple and everything concerning Israel became defunct from a spiritual point of view.  ELM

13 John deemphasizes sacrifices, the paying of temple taxes, showing self to a priest if you are healed, paying tithes, keeping the commandments to be saved, the Gospel only going to the Jews, the Sermon on the Mount with the do’s and don’ts, no matter how beautiful they are. You do not find that in John’s Gospel. You do not find the emblems of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel of John even though five whole chapters are given to the very discourse that took place on that evening.  ELM

14 If you study his Gospel carefully you find the whole emphasis of John is contrary to the physical. All physical things we formerly had to go by, even the laying on of hands. John shows in his Gospel that Christ can heal a person when He is a long way away. He does not have to lay hands on anyone. We find an emphasis toward the spiritual: not Jerusalem on this earth, but the Jerusalem which is above; not the sacrifices of animals, but the sacrifice of our Lord; not the sabbath kept on earth, but a perpetual rest that we have in Christ.  ELM

Go to ASK Home Page •  Print Page

© 1976-2014 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions