Friday, 19 June 2020
To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2 John -1
The letter of 2 John does not bear a name to identify the author. Rather, the contents themselves make it clear that John is, in fact, the one who is penning the letter. Understanding this, he begins with words to identify himself to his audience, saying, “The Elder.” Here, he uses the word presbuteros, signifying an older person, or a person of seasoned judgment, as through experience. It is where the modern denomination Presbyterian comes from, signifying leadership by a body of seasoned and experienced men.
By the time this was written, John was more than likely the only surviving apostle. Calling himself the elder indicated both his age and his position. No other name would be needed as his identity would be well understood. From there, he then opens this letter “To the elect lady.”
Despite seeming to be a simple addressee to identify, it is actually an impossible thing to do so without something further to go on. The Greek words are eklektē kyria. Some take this as a particular lady, being addressed by name. However, even that becomes complicated. Is it a Greek woman, “the elect Kyria” (the Greek word for “lady” is kuria and was a common name at the time, like Sarah today); is it a Babylonian woman, “Electa the lady;” or is it a compound name, “Electa Kyria?” Some argue that this cannot be a proper name because the letter will later (verse 13) speak of “The children of your elect sister,” thus identifying it as a body of believers.
Further, John will begin to speak in the plural to the addressee in just a few verses. For example, verse 8 says, “Look to yourselves.” For this reason, it is then thought that it is a body of believers. Indeed, such changes in the pronouns are found elsewhere. When Moses addresses Israel in Deuteronomy, he switches between the singular and the plural quite often.
Due to this, it is then believed that the “elect lady” is a particular church body, and John is changing the pronouns in order to make points concerning individual or group issues. One reason for the unusual address – whether an individual or a body – could be to protect the identity of the believers from persecution. In writing it this way, it would be vague enough that nobody could clearly say, “We will get that person,” or “We will close down that church.”
In the end, the answer to this is debated over, but being dogmatic, without some type of further evidence, is not a sound approach. Rather, giving the options and allowing them to be considered by each individual will expand the understanding of the nuances for all who are so instructed.
John next adds in “and her children.” If an individual, it would be the actual children of the lady. Albert Barnes notes, “The word here rendered ‘children’ (τέκνοις teknois) would include in itself both sons and daughters, but since the apostle immediately uses a masculine pronoun, τοις tois it would seem more probable that sons only were intended.” However, even if daughters are included, it is certain that some children were sons. The Greek masculine will then cover both sexes.
If the elect lady is a body of believers, then the children are the parishioners. Again, the use of the masculine Greek would indicate males and possibly females as well. It could even be that the letter is an encyclical, and it is addressing each church that will receive the letter in this manner. Thus, it could be a reference to all true churches (and then, by implication, all churches to this day – because it is included in the Bible).
John next says of his addressee, “whom I love in truth.” Some versions say, “whom I love in the truth.” The inclusion of a definite article here is inappropriate. The Greek reads, “whom I love in truth.” By adding an article, it makes the love conditional based on the circumstances concerning “the truth.” No such thought is hinted at. Rather, John loves his addressee “in truth” and without conditions. They are believers, and his love extends to them, unconditionally, in that sphere. This is reflected, for example, in 1 John 3:18 –
“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
From there, he says, “and not only I.” These words indicate that the sphere of love, meaning “in truth,” is not limited to him alone. This does not help indicate who the addressee actually is. It still could be a single lady and her children or a church of believers. However, it is a word of comfort and assurance for either if they are isolated, small, persecuted, or so on. It is not simply John who loves them in truth, “but also all those who have known the truth.”
As this is a perfect participle, it should say something like, “having known,” or “have come to know.” It isn’t something they merely knew in the past, but it is complete and ongoing. All who are in Christ are included. The love in truth extends far beyond the ink of John’s pen to all believers. It is a note of great comfort to the elect lady and her children.
Life application: Whether a church and its congregants, or a lady and her children, John loved them personally and they were loved within the entire scope of the greater church. Because what he says in the letter could be addressed to a church group or a family as well, a broader picture of what is being said, without a final determination as to the addressee, is the better choice.
Concerning the other believers that John includes in the letter, meaning “those who have known the truth,” John states it in such a way as to refer to those who have personal knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is an attitude we today should continue to display as we deal with other believers in other bodies.
For now, we are in a new book, and in an exciting new adventure! Of the five books written by the Apostle John (John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation), this is the shortest of them all – containing only 13 verses and, hence, only 13 days to revel in it. Let us endeavor to do so!
Lord God, we look forward with anticipation to each new book of Your word, and to all the wonderful insights that You reveal to us in them. Thank You for having preserved Your precious word for us so that we can peer into Your heart, and into the intent You have for us by including them in Your Holy Bible. Amen.