Q.

I was curious as I read the short book of 2 John. Has the “elect lady” mentioned in it ever been identified?

A.
Interestingly, the “elect lady” of 2 John may not be a human being at all! Conservative Bible scholars differ over this identity. Some believe the elect lady refers to the local church. Others believe it is a person. Let’s examine the two views and some of their strengths and weaknesses.

The local church. If 2 John uses the “elect lady” to refer to the Body of Christ in general or to the local body of Christ in particular (a local church), it is not unique. Some similar Scripture passages use what we call metaphors or literary form. In other words, we find a descriptive term or phrase that is used in place of another to suggest some kind of likeness or analogy between them. Ephesians 5:22 and 23, 2 Corinthians 11:2, and Revelation 19:7, for example, show the Church as the “bride” of Christ. Further, the Church is referred to the feminine “she.” So if this view is correct, John personified the local church as “the chosen lady” and the church’s member as her “children.”

Some scholars note that John dropped the singular in the Greek for his pronouns after verse 5 and used the singular only one more time (in the last verse). Words such as “we,” “yourselves,” and “our” might indicate that John was writing to more than one person to the believers in the local church.
Also, some scholars believe that the letter’s instructions and warnings are more appropriate for a group of believers than for lust one person. Furthermore, since 1 John addresses a group of believers, it makes sense that 2 John addresses a group of believers.

If this view is correct, the “elect sister” (v. 13) might be John’s own congregation.

A specific lady. Those who do not take the former view argue that the letter’s simplicity wouldn’t call for such a strange metaphor. The second view has two main branches. One branch claims that the “elect lady” is the name of an actual person; Electa, or Kyria (Greek), is considered a real name. It might be the Greek equivalent to the Aramaic “Martha” (meaning “lady”). Some have ventured to say it is the same name as “Lord,” except it is in the feminine. Most scholars believe this view has little substance.

The other branch of this school of thought has more credibility. It regards the designation “elect lady” as referring to an unidentified believer who had children living with her, though all attempts to name the lady have been futile. She was a lady who, nonetheless, obviously loved the doctrine of Christ and was likely exposed to, and helped by, John’s ministry.

Perhaps John didn’t identify her by name because of persecution. If the letter had inadvertently found itself in the wrong hands, she would have been in trouble. Her home could have been the location of the home church with which she was affiliated. Some think she lived near Ephesus. Others believe John penned the letter from Ephesus (as he probably did 1 John). John was called to be the pastor of the church at Ephesus and apparently served there until he died, except, of course, during his exile on the island of Patmos due to persecution, when God gave him the vision we know as the Book of the Revelation.

Second John teaches believers to avoid giving hospitality to those who are unsound in the faith, and this theme is not lost among those holding to this view of the elect lady’s identity. The theme goes with the fact that anti-Christian teachers often prey upon women. Even today cults often visit in the daytime when women are more likely to be home alone without a man around. One well-known pastor specifically warned men that radio speakers whose programs are aired during the day have a lot of potentially unrestrained influence upon women; therefore, believers must beware.

The warning of 2 John would be in keeping with its supposed intended recipient, a woman, and it would harmonize with 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve.” Also, it fits Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:14 and 2 Timothy 3:6 and 7:

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. . . . For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly [”weak-willed” in the New International Version] women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts.

This question of whether the elect lady was a real person or a personification of the Church is by no means a settled issue. It is one of those things we may find out when we get to Glory.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (January 1997).
© 1997 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.