The opening verse of John’s letter is a little different. He ignores the custom of identifying himself in detail and gets right to his subject matter. He begins, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth.” John introduces himself simply as “the elder.” The Greek word is the one from which we get Presbyter. Some argue that he simply means “the old one.” Others say it is an official title for an office in the larger, universal church. Some will say that John is simply using it to say that he is old because it’s in the singular. When it’s used to refer to church leaders, it’s always in the plural. But I don’t think that matters much. He’s one of the many, and by the time of this letter, he is indeed an older man. Both could be true.

He’s writing “to the elect lady and her children.”  A side note about these two Greek words is made in the Translators Handbook. It says, “The Greek words used here have been interpreted by some as proper names (“Eklektē” and “Kuria”), but this is highly improbable.”[1] Is John addressing a specific lady and her household, or is he addressing a local church and its members? There are solid arguments for both sides of this discussion.  James Boice writes in support of it being a personal letter. He says, “A personal address of this kind is what would be expected in so short and straightforward a letter. Moreover, if the recipient is not an individual, then the address must be symbolic of something else, and it hardly seems necessary to read a symbolic message or meaning into so short a text.”[2] But Thompson says, “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.”[3] Kruse also adds some reasoning for this opinion: “The letter closes with the words ‘the children of your chosen sister send their greetings’ (v. 13), which appears to be a way of conveying the greetings of the elder’s Christian community to his readers.”[4] Then Palmer says, “I find it hard to agree with the church theory. It makes better sense in my view to interpret this letter in its most obvious sense, as a letter written by John to an esteemed friend and her family. The fact that no city designation is made also supports this view.”[5] I think both are correct. Many of the early churches met in people’s homes. Lydia had a church in her home. Philemon had a church in his home. So John addresses the household family and those that gather together at that home church.

The critical thought is that John loves them, as do all who “embrace the truth.”Does the phrase “Whom I love in the truth” mean that John is saying his love is genuine? Does he mean that his love, and the love of others of like faith, are based on their shared faith in Jesus? I take it to mean the latter. We’ve stepped out of a broader world where love is based on attraction, family relationships, or friendship into the circle of believers in Jesus.  The Love that John is talking about is “More than mere sentiment.  It does not lean on the attractiveness of its object.  It rests on the Truth Himself, Jesus the Lord.  Christian love rests on Christian truth.”[6] Smalley says, “Here is a congregation of believers which has its basis in the truth of Christ, and which is bound together by mutual love. Their truth and love are, or should be, typical of the Church in general.”[7] John, the Elder, addresses all of us who believe in Jesus.

[1] Haas, C., Marinus de Jonge, and J. L. Swellengrebel. 1994. A Handbook on the Letters of John. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Boice, James Montgomery. 2004. The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Thompson, Marianne Meye. 1992. 1–3 John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Kruse, Colin G. 2000. The Letters of John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.

[5] Palmer, Earl F., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1982. 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Vol. 35. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[6] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Books of 1, 2 & 3 John. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

[7] Smalley, Stephen S. 1984. 1, 2, 3 John. Vol. 51. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated.