Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.2 John 9
Four and a half years ago, I resigned from my job at the Piedmont Church of Christ. The night I did it, my uncle got up and said he was very disappointed in me because I had left the doctrine of Christ, so anyone who would fellowship with me would partake in my evil deeds (2 John 10-11). 2 John 9 is the passage he had in mind, and Christians on Facebook have quoted it in my comments over the last two weeks to condemn those who do not interpret the Bible in the way they do.
Elders, preachers, and brotherhood schools use this passage to condemn anyone who does not agree with them. Those who use one cup in the communion claim that those who don’t have left the doctrine of Christ. Individuals who do not have a fellowship building cite this passage when condemning those who do. Churches who use instrumental music have left the doctrine of Christ according to congregations that demand acappella music.
There are a few problems with using the passage in this way.
First, without looking at the translation, the doctrine/ teaching that John has in mind is not the total of everything in Scripture; the context must determine its meaning. If this is what John meant by “doctrine of Christ,” then we have a problem! Noone has perfect knowledge, so there is not a single person who “abides in the doctrine of Christ” in this way.
A casual reading of 2 John reveals what he has in mind.
Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.2 John 5–7
Specifically, John is talking about Jesus’ command to love one another. Here are two articles that cover John’s first epistle in which he defines “truth” in the same way:
Second, the expression “doctrine of Christ” may be misleading. The word “Christ” is in the genitive case which means we must determine whether the word is objective, subjective, or plenary. Plenary means the word is both objective and subjective. If we were to translate this passage to reflect the objective genitive, then it would function similar to Matthew 12:31.
“Against the Spirit” is a genitive noun, and it is an example of the objective genetive. One would not translate this “blasphemy belonging to the Spirit” (which is what the word “of” can convey). The same could be true with 2 John 9. One could translate this “the doctrine concerning Christ” or “about Christ.” In that case, the context of the passage clearly defines what John is talking about: whether someone affirms that Jesus came in the flesh (v. 7). This agrees with 1 John 2.
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.1 John 2:22
To use 2 John 9 to condemn those who use instruments, worship with multiple cups, or allow women to take part in the Sunday assembly is to rip the text from its original context.
A third option, and one that I think to be most likely, is that this is both subjective and objective genitive (plenary). John is warning of those who do not come bearing a message of love (doctrine of Christ) and speaking against those who teach that Jesus did not come in the flesh (doctrine concerning Christ).
As a last example, here is another instance in which the objective genitive is used.
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,Romans 16:25
The expression “preaching of Jesus Christ” is speaking of the preaching concerning Jesus and not the contents of Jesus’ preaching.
In conclusion, we must use good arguments to support correct conclusions. We can’t just use a passage like 2 John 9 to condemn someone with whom we disagree, even if we are correct! If we don’t honor the context, then we are no better than those with whom we disagree. 2 John 9 cannot be used to address general disagreement; it has a specific teaching in mind, like the entirety of 1 John!
For more study on this subject, see my friend Dallas’ article: