“10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 10–11 ESV).
Every Christian should occasionally remind himself of this passage and its meaning, especially in light of today’s pervasive pluralism. This passage yields two prohibitions (“do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting”) with an explanation for these prohibitions (“for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works”), and I will try to draw out the meaning of this passage below in a series of observations.
Observe, first of all, the context. The commands concern “anyone” who “comes to you,” and this “anyone” is such a one who “does not bring this teaching,” namely, that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (cf. 2 John 7), indicating that this “anyone” is certainly not a Christian (cf. 2 John 9). The “you” is a plural “you” (humas), referring back to “the elect lady and her children” (2 John 1), likely a figurative expression for a local church and its members, some of whom may have been returning to the rest as sent back from John with this letter (cf. 2 John 4). Understood for 2 John 10–11, then, is that its prohibitions and explanation are from the apostle John to a local church concerning what to do with false teachers.
Second, having the context in hand, we are now in a better position to understand what it means to forbid someone entrance into one’s “house.” Supposing this house were a personal, physical dwelling, to receive someone therein in John’s day would imply a solidarity of sorts between the host and guest. In this instance, the purpose of hospitality would be to facilitate the intentions of the guest. He (or multiple people) is the “anyone” who “comes to you,” apparently with a teaching, but not “this teaching” that confesses Jesus Christ to have come in the flesh (cf. 2 John 7). The host’s shelter, then, would imply an acceptance or at least a tolerance of this guest’s anti-Christian teaching, a heinous sin indeed (more on this point below). It is no wonder that John would command homeowners to “not receive him into your house.” It would communicate to the heretical guest and likely others that his false teaching could be tolerated, accepted, or even promoted, and the end result would be that the teacher and followers do not have God, a perilous result, to be sure (cf. 2 John 9).
But, third, suppose that the “house” referred to a personal, physical dwelling as it was used for the gathering of a local church for worship, as was typically the case in John’s day (cf. Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phm 2). If so, “house” would be a metonym in which the thing (house) closely associated with another (church) is used instead of the other. The command to “not receive him into your house” would then assume that he would not be received and recognized by the church that gathered together for worship in this house. Beyond that, he would certainly not be given opportunity to promote his heresy. One way or the other, the net effect seems to be the same. His intention to promote heresy would have made him unwelcome in a Christian’s home and thus the church. Or it could have made him unwelcome in the church and thus whatever assistance a member of such a church would provide.
Fourth, as to the previous point, it would seem that even shelter is denied to these false teachers because John commands to “not…give him a greeting.” The word for “greeting” (chairō) could be used for either a parting (cf. 2 Cor 13:11) or, more frequently, a greeting (cf. Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jas 1:1). If the emphasis is on the false teacher’s departure, John gives a tidy prohibition encompassing both the false teacher’s arrival and departure. The false teacher should receive neither aid when he comes nor blessing when he leaves. Or, if the “greeting” has the false teacher’s arrival in mind, John’s readers were to give him neither shelter nor even a standard greeting. Either way, the goal is to offer no assistance, Christian recognition, or opportunity for the false teacher to promote his heresy.
Fifth and last, the explanation for these prohibitions clearly shows why these prohibitions are so severe: “for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” As one lexicon explains, to take part “in the deeds of others means to be equally responsible for them.” In other words, to shelter and aid a false teacher, or even to wish him well, whether he is coming or going, is to be equally responsible for his heresy and leading others away from the truth. In John’s day, the heresy was to deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh (cf. 2 John 7). Whether this heresy or another, applying this command today would mean that we should deny Christian aid or recognition to anyone who denies the life-giving teaching of Christ and thus displays that he does not have God (cf. 2 John 9). Should we do any less, we share in his wicked works.