Christianity 201

November 7, 2018

Studying the Envelope vs. Reading The Letter

I didn’t set out to give this devotional the title it bears, but at the end of spending about two hours considering a particular aspect of John’s Epistles, it seems an appropriate conclusion. (Perhaps I’m just tired.)

But I know that in my own life, it is easy to get caught up in discussions about — I don’t want to use the word superficial — tangential aspects of a text to the point where we miss the core of what the text is saying. I can think I’m going deeper (which is part of C201’s tag line) when in fact I’m devoting my energy to an aspect of the text that isn’t the primary emphasis. 2 John isn’t in our Bibles so that we can debate the salutation.

Its message is that love means walking in obedience to His commands. (verse 6)

This week I found myself revisiting a passage of scripture that we had studied here a year ago. It is the subject of much discussion among Bible scholars, and I’m only scratching the surface here; perhaps whetting the appetite of those who want to go deeper with this one.

The text section at the beginning is the same as we presented before, but for subscribers, everything that follows is fresh content. Since it represents a complete rewrite of the original article, I thought I’d share it here as well.

1 John:1 The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— 2 because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. (NIV click here for the full text)

So who is this woman?

The IVP Bible Commentary offers this:

The congregation to which he is writing is designated metaphorically as the chosen lady and her children; we would say “the church and its members.” Regularly in the Scriptures Israel or the church is designated as a woman or the bride of Yahweh or Christ (Is 54:1, 13; Jer 6:21; 31:21; Lam 4:2-3; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Gal 4:25-26; Eph 5:22; Rev 18—19). Chosen recalls Jesus’ statement in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” The church is not a voluntary organization but the fellowship of those called together by Christ. For such a fellowship, family imagery is all the more appropriate, for it suggests the bonds of intimacy and love that bind the family together. Family imagery also underscores that it was not by the children’s initiative that this family came into existence.

Matthew Henry* would disagree:

The apostle here salutes an honourable matron and her children…This lady and her children are further notified by the respect paid them, and that,

1. By the apostle himself: Whom I love in the truth, or in truth, whom I sincerely and heartily love. He who was the beloved disciple had learnt the art or exercise of love; and he especially loved those who loved him, that Lord who loved him.

2. By all her Christian acquaintance, all the religious who knew her: And not I only, but also all those that have known the truth. virtue and goodness in an elevated sphere shine brightly. Truth demands acknowledgment, and those who see the evidences of pure religion should confess and attest them; it is a good sign and great duty to love and value religion in others. The ground of this love and respect thus paid to this lady and her children was their regard to the truth

So why not just name her? Jamieson-Faussett-Brown’s (JFB)* commentary notes:

Dionysius of Alexandria (in Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 7.25]) observes that John never names himself in his Epistles “not even in the Second and Third Epistles, although they are short Epistles, but simply calls himself the presbyter, a confutation of those who think John the apostle distinct from John the presbyter…”

So both writer — admittedly John — and recipient are anonymous here. Or is it? JFB continues:

The address of the Second Epistle is more disputed. It opens, “The elder unto the Elect lady” (2Jo 1). And it closes, “The children of thy elect sister greet thee” (2Jo 13). Now, 1Pe 1:1, 2, addresses the elect in Asia, &c., and closes (1Pe 5:13), “The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you.” Putting together these facts, with the quotations (above) from Clement of Alexandria, and the fact that the word “Church” comes from a Greek word (kyriake) cognate to the Greek for “lady” (kyria; “belonging to the Lord,” kyrios); Wordsworth’s view is probable. As Peter in Babylon had sent the salutations of the elect Church in the then Parthian (see above on Clement of Alexandria) Babylon to her elect sister in Asia, so John, the metropolitan president of the elect Church in Asia, writes to the elect lady, that is, Church, in Babylon. Neander, Alford, and others, think the Greek “kyria” not to mean “lady,” but to be her proper name; and that she had a “sister, a Christian matron,” then with John.

Clarke’s Commentary* offers not one, but two possible names:

The elect lady – Εκλεκτῃ Κυρια· As Κυρια, kuria, may be the feminine of Κυριος, kurios, lord, therefore it may signify lady; and so several, both ancients and moderns, have understood it. But others have considered it the proper name of a woman, Kyria; and that this is a very ancient opinion is evident from the Peshito Syriac, the oldest version we have, which uses it as a proper name koureea, as does also the Arabic kooreea.

Some have thought that Eclecta was the name of this matron, from the word εκλεκτη, which we translate elect, and which here signifies the same as excellent, eminent, honorable, or the like. Others think that a particular Church is intended, which some suppose to be the Church at Jerusalem, and that the elect sister, 2 John 1:13, means the Church at Ephesus; but these are conjectures which appear to me to have no good ground. I am satisfied that no metaphor is here intended; that the epistle was sent to some eminent Christian matron, not far from Ephesus, who was probably deaconess of the Church, who, it is likely, had a Church at her house, or at whose house the apostles and traveling evangelists frequently preached, and were entertained. This will appear more probable in the course of the notes.

We could go on, but clearly we see numerous possibilities both for the woman and her role in the early church. This article is a good overview written in more modern language.

So why do we sometimes find generic characters in scripture? I often think of Barabbas, the name literally meaning ‘the son of his father.’ Barabbas goes free and Jesus is crucified in his place. The former is an Everyman type of character, standing in for both you and I. We should have been crucified, but Christ dies in our place.

The balance of 2 John is for all of us; all “who love truth” but especially those who lead. We can get caught up in to whom it was written and lose the importance of what it says. Reiterating a part of it and then adding a few more verses is probably an appropriate ending; and for this we’ll switch to The Message translation

4-6 I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed.

7 There are a lot of smooth-talking charlatans loose in the world who refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was truly human, a flesh-and-blood human being. Give them their true title: Deceiver! Antichrist!

8-9 And be very careful around them so you don’t lose out on what we’ve worked so diligently in together; I want you to get every reward you have coming to you. Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God. But whoever stays with the teaching, stays faithful to both the Father and the Son.

10-11 If anyone shows up who doesn’t hold to this teaching, don’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil ways, making you his partner.


* At least two dozen more Public Domain commentaries are available at BibleHub

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