In three places in the Church History (Bk. III. chap. 24, § 17, chap. 25, § 2, and chap. 39, § 16) Johns “former” epistle is referred to, as if he had written only two. In the last passage the use of προτέρα instead of πρώτη might be explained as Westcott suggests (Canon of the New Testament, p. 77, note 2), by supposing Eusebius to be reproducing the words of Papias; but in the other passages this explanation will not do, for the words are certainly Eusebius own. In the Muratorian Canon only two epistles of John are mentioned, and in Irenæus the second epistle is quoted as if it were the first (see Westcott, ibid. p. 384, note 1). These facts lead Westcott to ask: “Is it possible that the second epistle was looked upon as an appendix to the first? and may we thus explain the references to two epistles of John?” He continues: “The first epistle, as is well known, was called ad Parthos by Augustine and some other Latin authorities; and the same title πρὸς Π€ρθους is given to the second epistle in one Greek manuscript (62 Scholz). The Latin translation of Clements Outlines (IV. 66) says: Secunda Johannis epistola quæ ad virgines (παρθένους) scripta simplissima est. Jerome, it may be added, quotes names from the third epistle as from the second (De nom. Hebr.).” On the other hand, in Bk. V. chap. 8, § 7, Eusebius speaks of the “first” (πρώτη) epistle of John, and in Bk. III. chap. 25, § 3, he expressly mentions a second and third epistle of John. It is evident, therefore, that whatever the use of προτέρα instead of πρώτη in connection with Johns first epistle may mean as used by others, it does not indicate a knowledge of only a first and second as used by him. It is by no means impossible, however, that Westcotts suggestion may be correct, and that the first and second epistles were sometimes looked upon as but one, and it is possible that such use of them by some of his predecessors may account for Eusebius employment of the word προτέρα in three separate passages.
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