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The Third Epistle, then, is addressed to a particular person. At first sight, this seems to be so with the Second Epistle as well, when we read, “the elder unto the elect lady and her children.” But who is the lady? The last sentence of the Epistle runs: “The children of thine elect sister salute thee.” Does the author actually write from the house of the sister of the recipient? And what does verse 4 mean? “I rejoice greatly that I have found certain of thy children walking in truth.” Only certain? Was there not greater cause to express sorrow for the others? In short, the “lady” is not a particular woman; she is a community. We learn from Ephes. v. 31 f.; Rev. xix. 7, that the community was thought of as the bride of Christ who had been exalted to heaven, just as in the Old Testament the people of Israel is the bride of God. Since Christ is called “the Lord,” the community might be called “the lady.” It deserves to be called “elect” because it consists of all the chosen. Its children are of course the members of the community.


We need not stop to think, as regards this matter, that a community had been shown to be meant instead of what appeared at first sight to be one woman. Where should we have to look for it? There is no clue to anything of the kind. Any community, therefore, might suppose that it was greeted by that other community in which the author was staying. This means that the Epistle was meant for the whole church, and its contents suit this idea quite well. For a secondary purpose of the Epistle is found in the fact that the author wishes to warn people in quite a general way against the Gnostics and to emphasise the correct teaching about Jesus (2 Jn. 7-9). In this respect it falls into line with the first Epistle.

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