In the New Testament, the Apostle John’s second letter is addressed “to the chosen lady and to her children” (eklektē kuria kai tois teknois autēs). In this short letter, John warns the lady and her children about false teachers “who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (verse 7), and he instructs them not to offer hospitality to the false teachers (10-11). As in his Gospel and other letters, John emphasises the themes of truth (1-4) and love (5-6).
There has been much speculation as to who the orginal recipients of 2 John were. Who was the “chosen lady”? Was her name Electa, Kyria or Martha? Was she a mother, a church or a house church leader? Was she one of Philip’s daughters?
WHAT WAS THE CHOSEN LADY’S NAME?
Εklektē means “chosen” or “elect”. This woman was obviously a Christian, chosen by God, as all Christians are. While it is more likely that the word “elect” is simply used to describe the lady, Clement of Alexandra believed that Eklektē was this woman’s name; a name we would translate as “Electa”. If so, eklektē kuria in 2 John 1 could be translated as “to Lady Electa”.
The sister mentioned in the last verse of 2 John is also given the description as being “elect”; as is a woman in Babylon, cryptically mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13. Clement of Alexandria believed that the woman in Babylon (in 1 Peter 5:13) could have been the same lady in 2 John 1. In his notes about 2 John, Clement wrote: “The second Epistle of John, which is written to Virgins, is very simple. It was written to a Babylonian lady, by name Electa . . .” If the church of Lady Electa was comprised of virgins, as Clement claims, it is important to note that the congregation was not just of virgin women (as we will see.)
Kuria is the feminine equivalent of kurios. BDAG gives two definitions for kurios: (1) “one who is in charge by virtue of possession”, and (2) “one who is in position of authority.” Kurios is a very common New Testament word, occasionally translated into English as “master” or “sir”, but usually translated as “lord”.
In the New Testament, the word kuria occurs only in 2 John 1 and 5. The kuria of 2 John was literally a “lady”; meaning, she was probably of aristocratic birth and/or elevated socio-economic standing. Or perhaps kuria was already being used simply as a title of respect, as it was in later use. I believe that kuria was this woman’s title, but others believe it may have been her name.
Athanasius was possibly the first to propose that Kyria (a common transliteration of kuria) was actually the woman’s name. John Wesley also believed that Kyria was this woman’s name. In his explanatory notes on John’s second letter, Wesley claims that “Kyria is undoubtedly a proper name, both here [in 2 John 1] and in 2 John 5; for it was not then usual to apply the title of lady to any but the Roman empress.” BDAG, however, claims that it was rare for kuria to be used as a proper name and that its (rare) use as a proper name was late; (i.e. at a later time than the time of the writing of the New Testament). Yet, it is grammatically plausible that the recipient of 2 John was a woman named Kyria.
A few people suggest that the chosen lady may have been Martha of Bethany, a friend of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and John (Luke 10:38-41; John 11; 12:1-3). Kuria is a Greek equivalent of “Martha”; “Martha” being the feminine form of an Aramaic word meaning “lord” or “master.”
Martha was a woman of tremendous faith and spiritual insight (John 11:22,24,27). She was also the mistress of an affluent home that was spacious enough to accommodate Jesus and others (John 12:1-5). Martha may well have hosted and led a church in her home after Pentecost. Was “the chosen sister” (mentioned in the last verse of 2 John), Mary of Bethany, Martha’s sister? As appealing as this idea may be, there is no evidence in this letter, or from early Christian writings, that “the chosen lady” was Martha.
Some people believe that the chosen lady was Mary the mother of Jesus. Certainly Mary would have been worthy of the title “lady”; however she would have been deceased by the time John wrote this letter (circa 90-100AD). Also, it seems very unlikely that John would have had to write a letter to Mary to warn her about being deceived by false teachers. Moreover, Mary and John shared the same home after Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:26-27). John would not have written a letter to a housemate. Mary, the mother of Jesus, could not have been the chosen lady. [There is some debate about this in the comments below.]
Others suggest that the chosen lady was one of Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8-9). Early church writings inform us that Philip’s daughters were held in high esteem by the early church. Perhaps the chosen lady was one of Philip’s daughters, and the “chosen sister” another daughter.
WHAT WAS THE CHOSEN LADY’S ROLE?
While we cannot know this woman’s name with any degree of certainty, there are some details in John’s second the letter which indicate her role. This becomes even clearer when comparing 2 John with John’s other two New Testament letters; especially 3 John. There are several distinct similarities between 2 John and 3 John.
Some theologians who take the word “children” (tekna) very literally believe that this letter was written to a mother with believing children (2 John 1, 4 and 13). What these people have failed to take into account is that, in his three letters, John frequently used the word “children” (tekna and teknia) as a term to refer to Christians – “spiritual children”.
John writes to a man called Gaius in 3 John 4: I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Compare this with what John writes to the chosen lady in 2 John 4: I rejoiced greatly having found out from [some of] your children that they are walking in the truth.
3 John 4 is very similar to 2 John 4! The children of 1, 2 and 3 John are “spiritual children”, not natural, biological children. The children of the chosen lady were her “spiritual children” – Christians she personally cared about – her congregation.
Many Bible scholars believe that John wrote his second letter to a specific individual; however some Christians (who refuse to accept the possibility that a 1st century woman could be a church leader) believe that 2 John was addressed to a Christian community which John metaphorically referred to as “the chosen lady”. They also believe that the “chosen sister” in 2 John 13 refers to another Christian community.
The short coming of this view is that nowhere else in the New Testament is a Christian community referred to as a “lady” kuria (or a “sister” adelphē). It is unlikely that John would use a title of nobility for a 1st century congregation. Furthermore, John used the word “church” (ekklesia) three times in his third letter – in 3 John 6, 9, 10. Why would John use the word “church” plainly in 3 John, but refer to the church metaphorically as a “lady” in 2 John?
John addressed his second letter to “the chosen lady” and to “her children”. If the “chosen lady” represents a church, who then are the children? If the “chosen lady” is a congregation and the children are a congregation, then John is addressing the same group twice. This simply doesn’t make any sense.
In the Greek, John sometimes used the singular “you/r” when addressing the lady directly (in 2 John 4, 5 twice, 13 twice). For instance, in verse 5, John speaks directly to the woman and says, “Now I ask you lady . . .” This does not sound at all as though John were addressing a congregation. However, at other times in this letter, John uses the plural “you/r” when referring to the lady and to her “children”. The children were the church. The “lady” was not a metaphor for a church; she was the church’s leader.
A Leader of Women?
Still another speculation is that the woman was indeed a church leader but that her congregation consisted only of women. This speculation does not stand up to the Greek grammar of the text. When John speaks about the children as those whom he loved in verse 1, the relative pronoun “whom” is grammatically masculine. The participle for “walking” in verse 4, referring to the “children”, and the reflexive pronoun “yourselves” in verse 8 are also grammatically masculine.
The masculine gender is the “default” grammatical gender in Greek and is often used for groups that include both men and women. If the church of 2 John was only comprised of women, we would expect feminine relative pronouns and participles, etc. The Greek grammar seems to rule out the possibility that the chosen lady was the leader of an all-female congregation.
A House Church Leader?
For the first couple of hundred years following the day of Pentecost and the birth of the church, many Christian churches were house churches. We have ample and, I believe, irrefutable evidence that some of these churches were hosted and led by women. Even in the New Testament there are several women mentioned who were house church leaders. It seems that John’s second letter was written to such a woman.
The simplest and most straightforward explanation of the “lady” in 2 John 1 and 5 is to see her as a Christian leader who John addressed directly at times; and to see her “children” as the other church members. It is very unlikely that the chosen lady was a merely a mother. It is also unlikely that she symbolised a church. I believe that the chosen lady was a female church leader.
 Some Bible scholars believe that 2 John was witten by a well-known elder named John (mentioned by Papias and others), and was not written by the John the apostle.
 BDAG refers to: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker, University of Chicago Press, 2000.
 In the Gospels, the owner of a vineyard is called a kurios, that is, he was the owner of the vineyard and the master of those who worked there (Mat 20:8; 21:40; Mk 12:9; Lk 20:13, 15). Jesus is very often referred to as Lord (i.e. kurios) in the New Testament.
 Some people suggest that “kuria” was simply a term of respect or endearment. In the 1800s large amounts of ancient papyri were discovered in Egypt. Some of these papyri were letters addressed to women using the term kuria in a way that seems to denote both respect and affection. (Similarly some men are addressed as kurios as a term of respect and affection.) Kuria could be translated as “dear madam” in this context. (And kurios as “dear sir”.) Many of these papyri letters date from after 1st century making it dificult to know if kuria was used in this way in New Testament times.
 Others, such as James Strong (who collated Strong’s concordance), also believe that Kyria was a proper name.
 John Wesley’s notes on 2 John can be found here.
 One such person is German theologian, Johann Benedict Carpzov II (1639–1699).
 Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the Apostle, spent their last years at Ephesus. John wrote his Gospel and his letters from Ephesus.
 Matthew Henry, who refers to the chosen lady as Lady Electa, believes she was simply a mother rather than a church leader.
 John used the word “children” (tekna and teknia) numerous times in his first letter. (E.g 1 John 2:1, 28; 3:1-2, 7, 10, 18; 4:4; 5:2, 21.) These verses are not referring to his natural children, but to “children of God”.
 Gaius is a very common Roman name, and so we cannot know with certainty who he was.
 The Apostle Paul also used the word “children” or “child” in reference to the Christian converts at Corinth and Galatia, and of Onesimus and Timothy, etc. (1 Cor 4:14-15; Gal 4:19; Phm 10 cf Php 3:22).
 Clement of Rome and Jerome, and others, believe that the word “lady” (kyria) was used symbolically for a church, i.e. a Christian community. This is a popular view for people who do not acknowledge that women are permitted to be church leaders.
 It is true that God’s people in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament are often referred to in feminine terms. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, is grammatically feminine; however the church is never referred to as a “Lady” or a “Sister”, or anything even remotely similar, in the New Testament.
In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter writes, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together (or co-elect) with you sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark”. As mentioned in footnote 2, Clement of Alexandria actually believed that the woman in Babylon was the same person as the chosen lady in 2 John.
I do not believe that “she” in 1 Peter 5:13 was a woman. Since Peter describes the Christians in Asia Minor as “elect/chosen” in the opening of his letter (1 Peter 1:1), “she who is co-elect/chosen in Babylon”, mentioned at the closing of his letter, probably refers to the Christian community in Babylon, or more likely Rome. I am still strongly inclined to believe that the chosen lady and the chosen sister are individuals, like Rufus who is described as chosen/elect. (Romans 16:13.) (The NASB translates chosen/elect as choice here.)
 The old English of the King James Version makes it easier to distinguish between the singular (sg) “you”: thee, thy; and the plural (pl) you, ye, etc. Here is the King James Version of 2 John in its entirety:
1 The elder unto the elect Lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; 2 For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever. 3 Grace be with you (pl), mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy (sg) children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father. 5 And now I beseech thee (sg), Lady , not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee (sg), but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard (pl) from the beginning, ye should walk (pl) in it. 7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves (pl), that we [you,pl] lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we [you,pl] receive a full reward. 9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 10 If there come any unto you (pl), and bring not this doctrine, receive (pl) him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. 12 Having many things to write unto you (pl), I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you (pl), and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 13 The children of thy (sg) elect sister greet thee (sg). Amen.
 It is important to note that many (grammatically) masculine participles and other words used in the New Testament apply equally to men and women believers. Many verses about salvation are written using the default masculine gender.
 Priscilla (with her husband Aquila) (Ac 18:26; Ro 16:3-5, etc), Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Nympha (Col 4:15), Apphia (with Philemon and Archippus) (Phl 2), as well as “the chosen lady” (2 Jn 1) and “the chosen sister” (2 Jn 13), were all house church leaders mentioned in the New Testament.
Philip’s daughters (Ac 21:9), Phoebe (Ro 16:1-2), Junia (Ro 16:7), Euodia and Syntyche (Php 4:2-3) and probably Lydia (Ac 16:40), plus others, were New Testament women with significant Christian ministries and which probably included house church leadership. Just as there have been good and bad male leaders, there were good and bad female leaders. Sadly, the church in Thyatira was being corrupted by the teachings and false prophecies of a wicked and immoral female leader (Rev 2:20-24), as was the church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3-4 cf 2:12).
 The New Living Translation (2007 edition) translates “kuria” in 2 John 5 as “friends”! This incorrect “translation” obscures the ideas that kuria was an individual, a woman, and probably a church leader. The New Living Translation is a deliberately biased version of the Bible. The translators clearly do not believe that women can be church leaders and have doctored their Bible version accordingly! [The New Living Translation have inserted "So, an elder must be a man" into 1 Timothy 3:2. A phrase that simply does not appear in any Greek manuscript of the New Testament. ] My article Gender Bias in the NLT is here.
 There is really only one reason why people try to argue that the chosen lady was not a church leader. That reason is the understanding by some Christians that Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 (of a woman teaching and domineering a man) is a timeless and universal command. 1 Timothy 2:12 is discussed here.
© 29th of January, 2011; Margaret Mowczko
This article was first published at newlife.id.au here.