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 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.

Think Conceptually

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.