Perhaps, I can be a kitchen-table scholar, I thought to myself after reading an article on Boundless webzine several years ago. One morning I sat down at my dining room table and began to read the first chapter of John's second epistle. This reading turned out to be more than I had expected as I applied the inductive bible-study method of Observation, Interpretation, and Application, something I learned from my mentor at College.
The Lady in Second John
Funny as it may be, the first thing that caught my attention was that John was addressing his letter to a 'Lady.' Many thoughts raced through my mind because I had never heard of an apostle writing a letter to a woman before: Was this a New Testament version of Songs of Solomon? Romance sparks, then exploded in the air – maybe I was watching too many film adaptions of Jane Austen novels. But the more I read through, the language of John's letter presented a different type of relationship – my next thought was "Maybe this was a brother and sister-in-law relationship?" For example John stated that: "The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings" (v. 13).
Providentially, this thinking did not last too long as the reins of my mind were yanked by the Holy Spirit. I was being careless with my imagination for the rule of thumb to the study of literature is "We must not speak for the text but allow the text to speak to us" and this is why context is everything. But even more, what is important is that, as we seek to uncover the intent of God's Word we must pray and ask Him to reveal his message and to guard our hearts and mind against false ideas.
After careful study of Second John, I concluded that the apostle was addressing an unknown congregation and not a woman!
The Bride and Body of Christ
John used the term 'Lady' similarly to the term 'bride of Christ' that is men and women who accepted Jesus' gift of salvation. The effect then of using the term Lady would be the same as when the Apostle Paul addressed his letters to "the believers." It was a matter of courtesy and a function to distinguish his audience. John's style of writing, particularly his diction, was just notably different.
For example, John also addresses this letter to the children of the lady. This distinction highlights that the letter was not written to the church but to a specific congregation. The Bride of Christ is also the Body of Christ: many members contributing to the whole church. But what is important to note is that even though there are many individual congregations in the church, they are still the Bride of Christ, therefore John's Lady.
John's Relationship to the Lady
John writes to the Lady and her children to warn them about false teachers and doctrines; yet, this is not the first letter which undertakes this concern. As an apostle he is in position to propagate and protect the teachings of Christ. In First John he warns the entire Body about anti-Christs and what is interesting is that at the start of this letter John does not immediately address his congregation; this comes later in chapter two to which he refers to his audience as his children – men and women he brought up in the faith and look to his apostolic leadership.
Nevertheless, the second epistle addresses a single congregation, men and women who though under the leadership of an elder, still depended on his superintendence in these matters of heresy and apostasy. John is better able to address these issues because we actually walked with Jesus. It is as a result of his and the other apostles early ministry that the church grew in number.
Here now, a second generation of believers is challenged by false teachers and their doctrines and John saw it fit to address the church as a whole and in part. It is because of his choice of words that we are able to distinguish between his audiences and to determine the nature of his relationships. The Lady and her children are related to John not by marriage but by faith in Jesus Christ.
The Danger of Misinterpretation
Most Christians know that in order to grow and develop in the faith they must read God's Word. January, the start of the New Year is usually the time that persons embark on a "Read the Entire Bible in a Year" regime. Nonetheless, the minute discoveries in Second John underscore the importance of studying God's Word over reading. It is not enough to say that we have read an entire chapter or book; rather, it is critical to comprehend the words we read, even those in the address lines of the epistles.
John's second letter highlights that the early church combatted false teachers and doctrines; still, in this day and age our greatest enemy can be our imagination and presuppositions. Imagine for one moment if I had never dug deeper, beyond the surface levels of the Word and my basic understanding of words. I would have been misled by self and perhaps would have led astray other bible-scholar enthusiasts.
At the end of the year, it is better to explain key lessons having studied God's word more so than how many chapters and books that I have read. One thing that is certain, regardless as to if John wrote to a church or to a lady, we must not entertain false teaching. The best way to do so is to seek truth. Here is how you may do so:
- Personally study the truth of God's Word, utilizing the inductive bible-study method.
- Ask the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit to guide and lead you into all things.
- Study the Word with mature brothers and sisters in Christ to clarify varying interpretations, in light of the facts of God's Word.
- Utilise commentaries and Bible dictionaries and encyclopaedias.
Janine Williams is a fulltime theology student, passionate about the word of God which is powerful to transform the lives of individuals and nations.
Janine Williams' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/janine-williams.html