Mouth to Mouth

The apostle John uses the expression “mouth to mouth” twice in his epistles (2 John v12; 3 John v14). The AV renders this as “face to face”, although the Greek is completely different from that used in the “face to face” of Acts 25: 16. The word used in John’s epistles is stoma, which literally means opening. Hence what is particularly before John is the mouth (as directly transmitting the thoughts of the mind in contrast to sending those thoughts by “paper and ink” (2 John v12). Letter writing has its own intrinsic value (as witnessed by the epistles of the NT), but it is not conversation in the sense that the apostle had in mind. Of course, in the modern world we have telephones and even mobile phones, but these still fall short of what John wished. He had “many things to write” to the elect lady but he would not do so “with paper and ink” but hoped “to come to you” (v12, my emphasis) instead. To Gaius, he writes in a similar way, hoping “soon to see thee” (3 John v14, my emphasis). Being present gives atmosphere to the conversation, while the eyes are used to gauge and read the effect of our words. Here telecommunications fall short (whatever their practical advantages may be). Indeed, the telephone is really only a sophisticated version of “paper and ink” (2 John v12), for the other person’s voice is not actually heard—only the reproduction of it by a machine. That is why if I ring a friend seven hundred miles away, I can hear their voice almost instantaneously, even though sound can only travel at just over seven hundred miles an hour. The pattern of sounds made by my friend’s voice have been converted to a pattern of equivalent electrical signals in order for them to travel fast enough (in a cell phone, the signals are converted to strings of numbers), and what I hear is that information converted back into sound in an intelligible format. The invention is very clever, but the effect it produces appears more real than it actually is. It is not the direct “mouth to mouth” (v12) conversation of living beings. Of course, telecommunications have now advanced beyond sound to include ‘moving’ images, but the principles remain the same. The conversation is still indirect, and only has the appearance of reality. There is such a thing as “presence” (2 Cor. 10: 10; Phil. 1: 26; 2: 12) which technology cannot replicate, and for which man’s inventions are not a substitute.