The second letter from John was written around the same time as the first, between 85–95 AD. This is a more personal letter and just briefly touches on the topic of Gnosticism, which taught that God could never indwell human flesh.
John introduces himself as “the Elder” (Gk. presbuteros), and writes to “the chosen master”. The Greek word typically translated as “lady” and sometimes transliterated as a proper name, is kuria. According to the Strong’s listing, it comes from the base word kurion which carries the following meanings and forms:
Notice that all forms of the word are given the same range of meanings— lord, master, ruler, authority— but the feminine form alone is not assigned any of those terms. The only places the feminine form is found are here in this letter, vs. 1 and 5. The usual commentaries seem split on this, and they argue against each other’s position. There is also one that argues against John’s likelihood of addressing anyone as “master” by virtue of Jesus being called “the Master”, but the logic in that is very weak. After all, believers are called “holy ones” and so is Jesus, and some believers are called “masters” (e.g. Eph. 6:1).
We turn to Ockham’s Razor1 in the midst of many theories, and the simplest interpretation is that John is addressing a woman who has leadership of a community of believers (“children”). Most translations agree that this concerns a community of believers in some way. If John is just writing to a family he knows, why did he not address it to the man? And why was this letter considered holy scripture and preserved with all the other scriptures? The simplest view would be that since the early believers considered it holy scripture, then it must concern the community of believers at large, making this woman the leader of that group.
Linguistically and historically, there is no reason to treat the feminine form here any differently that the masculine form. Prejudice is the only explanation.
John is happy that at least some of the people are living a life of truth, and he repeats his “old/new” law from the first letter: love your neighbor. Again he points out the need for action and not just words.
False teaching was a big problem even in the young church, and John again takes aim at the Gnostics, who deny that Jesus came in the flesh. He encourages the people not to lose their hard-earned rewards by backsliding.
Now we see a rule putting restrictions on hospitality and who we allow into our meetings: anyone who doesn’t bring the teachings of the apostles is not to be welcomed. If we welcome them anyway, we are held accountable for participating in their false teachings. Churches today ignore this warning, letting in anybody teaching anything, “because they might get saved.” But the community of believers is to go out into the world, not let the world in among us.
We probably wish John had written more on these matters instead of talking with the people only in person. But if God had wanted those words preserved, they would have been. John then signs off with greetings from the “chosen sister” he is fellowshipping with at the time he wrote the letter.