That Elect Lady

That Elect Lady September 18, 2014

Not often observed in the conversation (ahem, debate) about women in ministry is 2 John, a letter addressed by John (according to traditional scholarship) to a woman who is the leader of a house church. The whole text immediately follows so you can read it, with important expressions italicized:

2John 1    The elder,

To the chosen lady and 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:

2John 3    Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

2John 4    It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.  5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.  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.

2John 7    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.  8Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

2John 12    I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

2John 13    The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.

 Yes, in church history some have argued that the “elect lady” of 2 John is the church itself and not a female leader. But William David Spencer, in his final piece as editor of Priscilla Papers (28.3, 2014, pp. 1-4), has devoted some space to showing that in fact it is far more likely that the “elect lady” is the church leader of a house church.

1. 2 and 3 John are close enough that few question the same authorship, making parallels between the letters especially important.

2. Inasumch as 3 John’s address is Gaius, who is clearly the leader of that church, it follows that the “elect lady” of 2 John is most likely the same at “her” church. Some speculated her name was “Electa” or “Kuria” (from the Greek of 2 John 1).

3. The use of “children” in the Epistles of John refers to church members. The lady must be distinguished from the children and, therefore, the “lady” cannot be the church itself.

4. By calling them “your children” the “lady” functions as the pastor of those children, much as Gaius does in 3 John. To call the “lady” the church as a whole, then, fails at the simplest level of language.

5. Women were the point persons/leaders in many early house churches: Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Lydia (Acts 16:40), mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), Nympha (Col 4:15), Prisca and Aquila (Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19), Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus (Philemon 1-2), and perhaps Stephana (1 Cor 16:15, 17) [from p. 3, from his wife Aida Besancon Spencer’s study].

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