Who Is the “Elect Lady” in 2 John?
- Johnny Cisneros Bible Study Magazine
- 2014 21 Jan
Searching for an Audience
“The Elder to the elect lady.” Who is the elusive recipient of John’s second letter? A quick review of commentaries reveals divergent opinions. Two views are most prominent.
Option 1: One commentary concludes that “John appears to have been writing [to] a Christian woman and her family” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, pg. 717). Eklektos (ἐκλεκτός) usually translated as “elect,” or kyria (κυρία), usually translated as “lady,” could be personal names.
Option 2: Another commentary suggests that “[eklektos kyria] is more likely a reference to some local church over which the elder had authority” (Holman Concise Bible Commentary, pg. 652).
What do we do when Bible commentaries differ? Determine which commentary has better support from the Bible. To figure that out, we need to look at a primary source and a detailed secondary source.
Here’s our strategy for searching our primary source, the Bible.
A primary source is a source of information created during the time period under study. The writer has direct knowledge of the events described. The Bible is a primary source.
A secondary source discusses or builds upon the content of a primary source. The writer has limited direct knowledge of the events described in the primary source. A Bible commentary is a secondary source.
Limit Your Study to the Same Literary Genre
Since 2 John is a letter, limit your study to the other biblical letters (Romans-Jude). Words have meaning in context, and genre provides the context we need.
Search for the Individual Words in the Phrase
Start by searching for less common words using Biblia.com or Bible software. In our passage, these words are “elect” and “chosen.” Is either word used as a personal name in the Bible, like option number one suggests? No.
Does either “elect” or “chosen” describe a personal name? Yes. In Romans 16:13, Paul refers to Rufus as “chosen” (eklektos, ἐκλεκτός) in the Lord. However, the same Greek word also occurs in 2 John in the phrase “elect sister” (v. 13). This suggests that a personal name is not in view in 2 John 1. This supports option number two.
Consider other terms related to “lady” that are used in a figurative sense for the people of God. Paul, for instance, refers to the church as a bride (Eph 5:22). This also favors option number two.
In our primary source study, we’ve found that eklekte kyria most likely refers to the local church, but what about a secondary source?
Here’s how to use secondary sources.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The best commentaries for resolving these interpretive issues will list out the various positions along with each of their strengths and weaknesses. Then the commentary will present the best choice given the evidence. That’s what we find in Womack’s commentary, The College Press NIV Commentary: 1, 2 & 3 John.
Some have argued that the lady is an “unknown sister” in one of the local congregations. This is probably the best position for those who insist on the one-recipient view.
Others have held that there was a lady by the name of Eklecte or Eclecta (literally taking the Greek to indicate an actual name of a specific woman, … Eklecte). For example, Clement of Alexandria held this view. But we find this word again as an adjective in verse 13.
We could argue for another lady named Kuria or Cyria by transliterating the word for lady (κυρία in Greek, the equivalent of “Martha” in Hebrew). But there is little evidence in early Christian literature to support such a view.
If John was using cryptic language in this epistle, the chosen lady and her children would be the local church.
It is my opinion that this last view is the correct one. Both the Greek pronouns and verb forms used here are plural (1, 2 & 3 John, pg. 141).
The Church wins.
So both primary sources and secondary sources favor the eklekte kyria as a reference to a local church, not a real person. We were able to come to this conclusion by searching the primary source and by consulting a detailed secondary source.
Take these strategies and apply them the next time you’re researching the audience of a book.
Morris M. Womack, The College Press NIV Commentary: 1, 2 & 3 John (Joplin: College Press, 1998). Logos.com/CPEJohn
Robert B. Hughes, and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001). Logos.com/TCBC
David S. Dockery, Holman Concise Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998). Logos.com/HCBComm
Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Mar–Apr 2011): pg. 38.