Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Elect Lady (II John 1:1)

Which book is written to “the elect lady”? II John [II John 1:1]

Second John is a brief letter comprised of only thirteen verses (II John 1:1-13). It encourages its readers to remain steadfast in the faith (II John 1:4-6) and to reject false teachers (II John 1:7-11).

Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) describes:

Second John is a message “from the front lines,” much like a scrap of war correspondence discovered long after the battle has passed. The tension implied in I John takes on a desperate tone. Therefore, John writes with two purposes in mind: to buttress his followers’ commitment to the truth and to warn them about the severity of their opposition and the need to protect themselves...Because this is a personal letter, it follows conventional first-century epistolary form—unlike I John, which is not actually a personal letter but a public theological document. (Burge, The Letters of John (NIV Application Commentary), 231)
The epistle preserves correspondence between “the elder” and a “chosen lady and her children” (II John 1:1 NASB).
The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth. (II John 2:1 NASB)
Second John is the only New Testament book addressed to a woman (II John 1:1). Her precise identity remains a mystery as the Bible does not directly identify this “elect lady”.

Allen Dwight Callahan (b. 1957) introduces:

Second John is an appeal to “the elect lady” [II John 1:1], a chosen authority in the community of the addressees: an alternative rendering of her title is “the chosen authority.” The letter is also addressed to “her children” [II John 1:1], that is, all those under her authority. In II John women, “elect ladies,” lead these circles and the Elder addresses II John to them. (David L. Petersen [b. 1943] and Gail R. O’Day [b. 1954], Theological Bible Commentary, 465)
Second John complies to the standard epistolary format of the period. Karen H. Jobes (b. 1952) compares:
Both II John and III John are in the conventional form of a Greco-Roman letter — the one as an open letter to the church personified as the “chosen lady and her children” [II John 1:1], the other written to an individual apparently known well by the author [III John 1:1]. Both end with the conventional greetings (II John 1:13; III John 1:15). (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament))
R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) expounds:
The salutation follows the traditional letter form: A to B, greetings. In II John, however, the sender is identified by title rather than by name, the recipient is identified by a metaphorical reference (“an elect sister and her children” [II John 1:1]), and the greeting is delayed until after an elaborate description of the elder’s relationship to the recipients. (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts), 276)
Though its structure is normative, Second John’s addressee is peculiar (II John 1:1). Birger Olsson (b. 1938) observes:
This description of the letter’s recipients is unique [II John 1:1]. Early Christian letters—like ancient letters generally—normally have a name at this point, or they refer to the recipients as the church, God’s church, the saints, or the elect in a given location. This cryptic formula in II John early on led to other suggested translations: “to the lady (of the house) Eklekta and her children,” attested in the third century and after; “to the chosen Kyria and her children,” fourth century and after; “to the charming lady and her children.”. (Olsson, A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach, 48)
Second John deems its recipient an “elect lady” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), “chosen lady” (NASB, NIV, NLT) or “very special woman” (CEV). The Message paraphrases the expression as “dear congregation”.

To be precise, Second John refers to an (CEV) elect lady, not the elect lady (II John 1:1). Though supplied by most contemporary translations (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), the definite article is absent from the Greek text.

Tom Thatcher (b. 1967) praises:

Stephen S. Smalley [b. 1931], 318...correctly emphasizes the absence of the definite article at II John 1:1 with the translation “to an Elect Lady”. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews ~ Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 514)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) comments:
The introductory greetings (II John 1:1-3) are addressed to ‘the chosen lady’ (eklektē kyria) and her children’. The rest of the letter has these people in mind, even though what is said is addressed sometimes to the ‘lady’ (kyria) using the second person singular (II John 1:4-5, 13), and sometimes to both the lady and her children using the second person plural (II John 1:6-12). (Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 37)
The epithet is distinctive. Peter H. Davids (b. 1947) notes:
Elect Lady [is]...a title appearing only in II John 1:1, 5. The “elect lady”(Greek eklektē kyria) is said to have children [II John 1:1] and an elect sister, who also has children [II John1:13]. (David Noel Freedman [1922-2008], “Elect Lady”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 389)
Ruth B. Edwards adds:
There is no exact parallel to this designation in biblical or secular Greek. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27)
On the surface, the letter appears to be addressed to a woman (II John 1:1). John Christopher Thomas (b. 1954) inspects:
The letter is addressed to the Elect Lady (ἐκλεκτη κυρία) [II John 1:1]. At first sight it appears that II John is addressed to a woman and her children, as ‘Lady’ (κυρία) is used frequently in the papyri, but usually qualified in some way...Cf. the examples in Adolf Deissmann [1866-1937], Light from the Ancient East, pp. 167, 192-93. (Thomas, The Pentecostal Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 39)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) delineates:
The word translated “lady” [II John 1:1] is a respectful term meaning “mistress.” It is the feminine form of the word “lord”; possibly there is a hint of the church being the bride of the Lord [Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8], so that her children are the spiritual offspring of the Lord and his church. She is “chosen,” an adjective often applied to Christians to denote that it was God who called them to be his people; the word always signifies those who have responded to this call and thus actually become the people of God. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60-61)
The lady is said to be “elect” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) or “chosen” (NASB, NIV, NLT) (II John 1:1). Birger Olsson (b. 1938) defines:
The Greek word eklektos [II John 1:1] means chosen, exquisite, excellent, and kyria means lady (of the house), mistress...The fact that specifically kyria is used, rather than, e.g., gynē (“woman”), can be explained according to some people in terms of its associations with Kyrios “Lord.” Kyria is the feminine form of Kyrios. (Olsson, A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach, 48)
Daniel L. Akin (b. 1957) construes:
“Chosen lady” [II John 1:1] is a term of endearment and respect...She is “chosen” because God elected her to belong to himself. God called the lady and those who comprise her family to be his own. The fact that she is chosen [“by God” is clearly implied] indicates the initiative of her election was with God and that her privileged position is not accidental. The spiritual status believers enjoy is the result of God’s grace and goodness. (Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (New American Commentary), 220)
Robert Kysar (1934-2013) designates:
Elect is used of Christians elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 24:22; Romans 8:33; Titus 1:1), and means those selected from humanity by God to be his people. (Kysar, I, II, III John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 123)
Though found elsewhere in the New Testament, the word “elect” is uncommon in the Johannine corpus. John Painter (b. 1935) analyzes:
The adjective eklektos is used only here (and II John 1:13) in the Johannine epistles. There is a contested reading in John 1:34 where “the elect of God” has minority support against “the son of God.”...Revelation 17:14 describes the called and the elect and the faithful (all in the nominative plural) with the triumphant Lamb. The term is somewhat characteristic of I Peter (I Peter 1:1, 2:4, 6, 9). The verb “to choose” is used in John 6:70, 71, 13:18, 15:16, 19. (Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), 338)
Though the terminology is scarce in the Johannine literature, the concept may not be. Peter Rhea Jones (b. 1937) probes:
The idea of election may not be pronounced in John, but it does appear in terms of Jesus as the Elect One of God (John 1:34) and the disciples as chosen (John 6:70). Indeed, rather emphatically we find the Johannine Christ saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). (Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 251)
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) correlates:
John describes this local church as “a select lady” [II John 1:1] in the sense that like the original disciples of Jesus, they’ve been selected out of worldly society (compare John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16, 19, but above all see Revelation 17:14). God has selected them for salvation (John 6:37, 39, 17:12). Mention of the selection assures them that they needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, pay heed to false teachers who tell them they lack what’s needed for salvation. John is going to warn against such teachers [II John 1:7-11]. (Gundry, Commentary on First, Second, and Third John (Commentary on the New Testament))
Reconstructing the identity of the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) presents several challlenges. Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) inquires:
Who is this “elect lady” (KJV, ESV, NRSV), “lady/Lady chosen by God” (TNIV, NEB), “very special woman” (CEV), or “dear lady” (TEV)? “She” presumably knew, but interpreters today are less certain. Moreover, she is spoken of as having children; is this literal or metaphorical? (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 333)
Equivocal addresses are not uncommon in the New Testament. Judith M. Lieu (b. 1951) asks:
Is the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] any more precise than the “all those who follow the equally valuable faith as us” of II Peter 1:1, or than “those called who are beloved in God and preserved in Christ Jesus” in Jude 1:1? (R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) and Paul N. Anderson [b. 1956], “The Audience of the Johannine Epistles”, Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles, 129)
The “elect lady” is shrouded in mystery (II John 1:1). Martin M. Culy (b. 1963) acknowledges:
Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] (223) notes, “the rendering of this phrase is beset by great difficulties.” Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] (652-54) points out that either the first or second term may be construed as a proper name (“the Lady Electa” or “the elect Kyria,” though the former is highly unlikely given the use of της ἀδελφης σου της ἐκλεκτης at the end of the letter [“the children of your chosen sister ”, II John 1:13 NASB]); the expression may be viewed as a courteous way of greeting a female addressee (“dear lady”); or “Elect Lady” may be viewed as a figurative way of referring to the church. (Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text, 141)
Urban C. Von Wahlde (b. 1941) diagnoses:
There are two problems here [II John 1:1]. The first is the meaning of the title and the second is to whom it refers. The resolution of the second helps in the resolution of the first. (Von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: The Three Johannine Letters (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 225)
Many possibilities have been raised as to the elect lady’s identity. Daniel L. Akin (b. 1957) surveys:
This [II John 1:1b] is a unique designation of a New Testament letter, and it has engendered significant discussion. Interpreters are divided over exactly who eklektē kuri kai tois teknois autēs [“the chosen lady and her children”, II John 1:1 NASB] is, and the following views have been offered...1. It is a figurative reference to a local church and its members. II John 1:13 would likewise refer to another local church...2. It is a reference to the church universal (a view favored by Jerome [347-420])...3. The recipient is an individual lady and her children. (Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (New American Commentary), 219)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) relays:
Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] lists five interpretations for the meaning of ‘elect lady’: (I) the lady Electa, referring to a certain Babylonian lady named ‘Electa;’ (ii) ‘the noble Kyria’; (iii) ‘dear lady’, a colourless term of courtesy addressed to an individual woman; (iv) an elect lady, meaning the church at large; (v) an elect lady and her children, a symbolic reference to a church in a town at some distance from the community centre in which the author is living. Brown, like many others, adopts the fifth option. (Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 38)
Though many options exist, there is a clear favorite among modern interpreters. David Jackman (b. 1942) traces:
Some have taken the addressee to be an individual named Kyria (lady or mistress), or the Lady Electa (following Clement of Alexandria [150-250]). Some older commentators, Alfred Plummer [1841-1926] among them, regard her as a matriarch, perhaps a widow, ruling her family in the ways of the Lord. But most modern commentators (including Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901], R.C.H. Lenski [1864-1936], F.F. Bruce [1910-1990] and I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934]) opt for a corporate identity and see the destination of the letter as a local church, personified as a lady. Others (such as Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976]) suggest the catholic or universal church; but the church in that sense has no sister (II John 1:13). (Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters (Bible Speaks Today))
For a time, the majority of scholars presumed that the elect lady was an historical individual. Though this reading is no longer dominant, it is possible and still has supporters.

Ruth B. Edwards contemplates:

Could eklektē kyria in II John 1:1...be taken in its more natural sense of a real woman? Four possible interpretations have been put forward: (a) Kyria might be a proper name, and eklektē an adjective (ancient Greek did not use capitals to indicate proper nouns); (b) kyria might be an adjective and Eklektē a proper name; (c) both Kyria and Eklektē might be proper names; (d) perhaps neither is a proper name. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27)
Peter Rhea Jones (b. 1937) annotates:
Early on, Clement of Alexandria [150-250] suggested that the Elect Lady was some influential woman by the name of Electa in a church in the vicinity of Ephesus. Other scholars such as Adolf Deissmann [1866-1937] and Johannes H. Ebrard [1818-1888] opted for an individual, some of them thinking of Kyria or Curia as a proper name. Still others recknoned simply with “Dear Lady.”...The author has even been associated with Ruth in the Old Testament (Rendel Harris [1852-1941]). (Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 251)
There is a grammatical possibility that either “elect” or “lady” could represent a proper name (II John 1:1). If this is the case, the recipient would be the only named figure in Second John.

Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) researches:

Is ἐκλεκτη κυρία (eklektē kyria, chosen lady) [II John1:1] the proper name of a lady (“Kyria”), with “chosen” as a modifier? (Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:653 points out that “Eklecta” is unattested as a name at this time.) This view goes back to Clement of Alexandria [150-215]’s Adumbrations 4 (Gerald Bray [b. 1948] 2000:231) and is also reflected in a Syriac version (Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] 1883:224). Among commentators, William Alexander [1824-1911] (1901:283-86) takes this position, with great imaginative powers sketching her as a lonely but noble widow of heroic stature. I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934] (1978:60n5) cites some older scholars who follow suit. A parallel might be Romans 16:13 where Paul writes, “Greet Rufus, the chosen [τὸν ἐκλεκτόν, ton eklekton] in the Lord.” Since II John lacks the definite article before “chosen” [II John 1:1], however, Romans 16:13 is not a good parallel (John Painter [b. 1935] 2002:340 and many others). (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 333-34)
Like Eklekta (“elect”), Kyria (“lady” could also be a proper name. This view is ancient as well, dating at least to Athanasius (296-373). John Wesley (1703-1791) espoused this theory, writing, “Kyria is undoubtedly a proper name, both here [II John 1:1] and in II John 1:5; for it was not then usual to apply the title of lady to any but the Roman empress.” James Strong (1822-1894) also advocated this interpretation.

Ruth B. Edwards supports:

Kyria, meaning ‘mistress’, ‘lady’ (cf. Aramaic ‘Martha’) is found as a personal name in both inscriptions and papyri; eklektē, meaning ‘chosen’, or ‘elect’(of God) is an appropriate epithet for a Christian leader (cf. Romans 16:13. Rufus, the elect in the Lord; Ignatius [35-98], Letter to the Philadelphians 11.1. Rheus Agathopous, an elect man). It has been objected that one might expect the definite article with eklektē. We can reply that this letter is not written in fully idiomatic Greek, having other linguistic peculiarities (cf. the occurrence of ‘Father’ both with and without the article in II John 1:3); if eklektē kyria means ‘the Church’ the absence of the article is odd...In favour of kyria as a common noun is its frequent appearance in the papyri as a polite and affectionate form of address to an older woman (cf. Oxyrhynchus Papyri 744, ‘to Berous my lady’, etc.) Against this has been argued the absence of ‘my’ with Kyria and lack of evidence for Eklektē as a personal name in contemporary papyri (so Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:653). Indeed George G. Findlay [1849-1919] alleged that ‘Eklektē occurs nowhere else in Greek...as a proper name’ (1909:23). One may reply that ‘my’ is not always found with kyria in the papyri, and although the name Eklektē has not so far been found in the papyri, it is attested in Greek inscriptions, along with a parallel male name Eklektos (known also in literary sources). We may mention also a series of inscriptions of imperial date from Rome with the woman’s name Eclecte or Eglecte (c.7x). Although the inscriptions are in Latin, the form of this name is Greek. The idea that Eklektē might be a personal name also receives some support from Clement of Alexandria [150-250], who thought that II John was written to ‘a certain Babylonian woman called Electa’ (according to Adumbrationes, a Latin translation of his Hypotyposes)...The idea that both Kyria and Eklektē might be proper names is described by Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] (1902) as ‘very strange’, but such double names are common in the ancient world, and Eclecte occurs combined with other personal names in the Roman inscriptions mentioned. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27-29)
Most modern scholars have rejected this theory. John Painter (b. 1935) dismisses:
If the addressee is named (eklektē kyria) we may understand either “to the lady Electa” (Clement of Alexandria [150-215]) or “to the elect Kyria.” Though each of these is theoretically possible, only Kyria is a well-attested name, and Romans 16:13 provides precedent for reference to a name with the epithet “elect”(Rhouphon ton elekton). As indicated by the example in Romans, we would expect the article with this form (tē eklektē kyria). Thus there are grammatical problems with the suggestion that kyria here is a proper name. (Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), 340)
Ruth B. Edwards defends:
A problem often raised with understanding Eklektē as a proper name is its reappearance in II John 1:13. Mention of two women with the same name in such a short letter might seem improbable, but the ancient world had a smaller range of women’s names than we do (cf. all the New Testament Marys). The woman in II John 1:13 need not be a blood sister; she may equally well be a Christian sister, herself a church leader. Alternatively eklektē in II John 1:13 could be the adjective ‘elect’. It might seem awkward to use the same Greek word both as a proper name and as an adjective within 13 verses, but ancient writers were not so sensitive to such grammatical distinctions as modern ones; the repetition of eklektē in II John 1:13 must deliberately echo II John 1:1, and it is likely the two women shared a common role. Incidentally the final greetings are not from the ‘elect sister’ herself, but from her children. If this is a real woman, she must either be deceased or at least not present with the writer. In either case it is hard to believe she is a church. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 28-29)
Elect lady (II John 1:1) need not be a proper name for the epithet to designate an individual. Ruth B. Edwards recognizes:
The case for the ‘elect lady’ [II John 1:1] as a real woman does not stand or fall on taking Kyria or Eklektē (or both) as a proper name. ‘Chosen lady’ could equally be a sobriquet (or nickname), like the Gospel of John’s ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ [John 13:23, 18:15, 16, 19, 26, 26, 20:2, 3, 4, 8, 21:7, 20, 23, 24], for someone whom the author, for whatever reason, did not wish to name directly. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 29)
Tom Thatcher (b. 1967) reflects:
The Greek eklekē kyria (Edward W. Goodrick [1913-1992] and John R. Kohlenberger III [b. 1951] 1723 + Goodrick and Kohlenberger 3257) [II John 1:1] could literally mean “to the elect Kyria” or “to the lady Electa,” both proper names, or could be an honorary nickname for a Christian woman (“the Elect Lady”). Alfred Plummer [1841-1926], 132, advocates this last option arguing that the reader is a female Christian and the literal mother of the “children” John mentions. In his view, this explains the author’s “somewhat informal [self-] designation” as “the Elder” [II John 1:1] (cf. Ruth B. Edwards, The Johannine Epistles [New Testament Guides, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996], 27-29). In support of this interpretation, one might note Romans 16:13, where Paul refers to his friend Rufus as “elect [NIV, chosen] in the Lord.” (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews ~ Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 513-14)
Earl F. Palmer (b. 1931) documents:
Alexander Ross [b. 1888]...(Eerdmans, 1954) argues that the letter is written to a person and her family who probably live in Asia Minor. This would mean that the letter therefore addresses her personal situation. J.L. Houlden [b. 1929] (Harper, 1973)...has observed that the word kuria (“lady”) is an equivalent to the name Martha in Aramaic, a well-attested proper name. (Palmer, 1, 2, 3 John, Revelation (Mastering the Old Testament))
The belief that the “elect lady” represented an historical individual was once dominant. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) footnotes:
Older scholars (e.g. Alfred Plummer [1841-1926], 57ff; David Smith 162 ff; Alexander Ross [b. 1888], 129ff; Leon Morris [1914-2006], 1271) took the phrase [II John 1:1] literally as a reference to a particular lady and her children. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60)
This literal reading still has some advocates. Ruth B. Edwards directs:
For the ‘Elect Lady’ (or her sister) [II John 1:1] as probably an individual woman: Charles Bigg [1840-1908], The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910), especially p. 197 on the ‘elect sister’...Leon Morris [1914-2006], in D.A. Carson [b. 1946], R.T. France [1938-2012] et al. (editors), New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), p. 1271...Dorothy R. Pape [1913-2011], God and Woman (Oxford: Mowbray, 1977), p. 206...Donald Guthrie [1915-1992], New Testament Introduction (Leicester: Apollos; Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 4th edition, 1990), p. 889. (Barnabas Lindars [1923-1991], Edwards and John M. Court [b. 1943], The Johannine Literature: With an Introduction by R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], 131)

Allen Dwight Callahan (b. 1957) contests:

The interpretation of the addressee’s designation as signifying a church rather than a female is an old one. Clement of Alexandria [150-250] claims that this epistle is addressed to the holy church in Babylonia because he reads “to an elect lady,” of II John 1:1 as a gloss for “the likewise elect [church] in Babylon” mentioned in I Peter 5:13. The interpretation is as venerable as it is strained, and flies in the face of the plain sense of the text. The Byzantine commentator Oecumenius comes close to the obvious: “He writes with commandments of the Gospel to a church or to some woman giving spiritual governance to her household. He writes this epistle to one of the women who have received the proclamation.” Apparently independently, this is the interpretation of the Order of the Eastern Star, an African American organization for wives, widows, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the Prince Hall order of the Masons. Eastern Star rites claim five biblical women as heroines: Jeptha’s anonymous daughter [Judges 11:34] to whom the Order has given the name Adah, Ruth [Ruth 1:4], Esther [Esther 2:7], Martha [Luke 10:38], and Electa. “Electa” is the Elect Lady in II John 1:1. The sisters of the Eastern Star hold Electa to have been a martyr and assign to her the color red, symbolizing fervency and commitment. (Callahan, A Love Supreme: A History of Johannine Tradition, 11)
John F. MacArthur (b. 1939) argues:
Many commentators believe the phase “the chosen lady” (II John 1:1) refers metaphorically to a local church. The more natural understanding in the context, however, is to take it as a reference to an actual woman and her children, whom John knew personally. The letter’s obvious similarity to III John, which clearly (III John 1:1) was written to an individual, favors the view that II John was also written to an individual. Further, it would be unnatural to sustain such a figure of speech throughout the whole letter. Such an elaborate metaphor is also not in keeping with the letter’s simplicity and the tenderness of its tone. Finally, the change from the singular form of the personal pronoun “you” in II John 1:5 to the plural form in II John 1:12 applies more naturally to a woman and her children than to a church and its members. (MacArthur, 1 – 3 John (MacArthur New Testament Commentary), 212)
Earl F. Palmer (b. 1931) agrees:
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. (Palmer, 1, 2, 3 John, Revelation (Mastering the Old Testament))
Judith K. Applegate (b. 1948) bolsters:
First, it has been shown that there is only one clear instance of the title ‘elect’ used to refer to a named person in the New Testament (Romans 16:13), but not a church. In addition, there are at least two New Testament greetings that address unnamed women, even in the midst of other greetings to women who are named (Romans 16:13, 15). In light of these references, it is not impossible to conceive of an unnamed woman being addressed by the title ‘elect’, rather than by name. Second, Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] points out that Johannine literature contains other references to titled, but unnamed people, such as the ‘beloved disciple’ [John 13:23, 18:15, 16, 19, 26, 26, 20:2, 3, 4, 8, 21:7, 20, 23, 24] and the ‘mother of Jesus’ [John 2:1, 3]. In this tradition it would not seem unusual to find another titled woman addressed without reference to her name. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Maria Mayo Robins, “The Co-Elect Woman of I Peter 1”, A Feminist Companion to the Catholic Epistles and Hebews, 95)
There is precedent for a woman guiding a house church. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) concedes:
It is possible that “the chosen lady” [II John 1:1] is a particular woman in whose house the church met, as in the case of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), or Lydia (Acts 16:40). (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], John, Hebrews–Revelation (Bible Knowledge Background Commentary), 193)
If the elect lady is an historical figure, it adds intrigue to her identity. George R. Knight (b. 1941) reveals:
The “chosen lady” [II John 1:1]...has elicited a great deal of discussion. It could certainly have been an individual. Those who have followed that route have speculated much regarding who she might be. Favorite candidates are Mary the mother of Jesus and Martha of Bethany. Some argue for Martha because the word for “lady” in Aramaic (the common language of first-century Palestine) was “Martha,” while others sponsor Mary since Jesus left her in the care of John, and her traditional area of residence in her later years was Asia Minor. But all such theories are nothing but speculation. (Knight, Exploring the Letters of John & Jude: A Devotional Commentary, 182)
As noted, Mary the mother of Jesus, perhaps the most “elect” woman of all (Luke 1:30), is among the candidates posited. Though Mary would certainly have been worthy of the title, this hypothesis raises the potentially divisive possibility that there was need to write a letter to Mary to warn her about being deceived by false teachers (II John 1:7-11).

There are significant implications to the elect woman’s role if she represents a literal, historical figure (II John 1:1). Ruth B. Edwards wonders:

One sometimes suspects that a reason why the ‘elect lady’ [II John 1:1] has been so rarely taken as an individual is reluctance to assume that a woman could have led a church. But female church leaders are attested elsewhere in the New Testament: we note particularly ‘Nympha and the church at her house’ (Colossians 4:15) and Phoebe, minister or deacon of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1). (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 29)
Stanley J. Grenz (1950-2005) and Denise Muir Kjesbo (b. 1957) investigate:
Is there a specific example that offers...confirmation that women acted as congregational leaders? In this context, egalitarians occasionally cite the “co-elect woman” Peter perhaps mentions in the close of his first epistle (I Peter 5:13). More commonly mentioned, however, is the “elect lady” of the Johannine community [II John 1:1]. John the elder addresses his second epistle to “the elect lady” and her children” (II John 1:1)...The egalitarian use of this text hinges on the identity of the recipient of the letter...Several clues in the epistle suggest that its recipient may have been a woman church leader—a prominent patron of a Christian community, like Mary [Acts 12:12] or Lydia [Acts 16:14, 40]—together with the congregation under her care. The word translated “lady” (kyria) fits best with this personal interpretation. The term is the feminine form of “lord” (kyrios), which could connote a guardian, the master of a house or the head of a family. The personal interpretation is preferable in that the New Testament nowhere uses the word as a metaphor for a congregation. This interpretation also fits best within the address itself. If “lady” refers to the church and not a female church leader, the greeting to “her children” is redundant. John’s use of children elsewhere of “my children” to address the members of his community (I John 1:1, 12-14, 3:7) suggests that in this text “her children” refers to the community ruler under the watchful care of this leader, many of whom may have become believers through her witness...In addition to the form of address, the admonition to reject false teachers [II John 1:7-11] favors the suggestion that the letter was intended for the leader of a house church...To date, the exegetical question has not been answered definitively. There are good reasons to see in this epistle support for the contention that the early congregation had women leaders. But the exegetical case is admittedly inconclusive. (Grenz and Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, 91-92)
Leonard Swidler (b. 1929) deliberates:
Though in New Testament times there was no “monarchial episcopacy,” episkopoi (literally “overseers”) did appear late in the period as sort of chairpersons of committees of presbyters. Many scholars argue that the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] (lady—kyria, as parallel to lord,kyrios) to whom the Second Epistle of John is addressed, and her “elect sister,” whose children send greetings [II John 1:13], must be “symbols” of churches. But they are perhaps just as properly understood as real persons. (For a similar view, see Ernst Gaugler [1891-1963], Die Johannesbriefe, p. 283; Zurich: EVZ-Verlag, 1964). Judging from the content of the letter, the elect lady is responsible not only for her natural children but also for the Christians in her charge (a house church as with Priscilla [Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:13; I Corinthians 16:19; II Timothy 4:19], Nympha [Colossians 4:15], etc.?); does she not then have the function of an “overseer,” episkopa, even though the title is not mentioned, but rather kyria is? Her sister also?...Already within the same century when John’s epistle was probably written, i.e, the second century, church father Clement of Alexandria [150-250] spoke of “elect persons” as a designation for officers of the church—which included not only bishops but also widows—supporting the contention that the “elect” lady of II John could be properly be understood as a generic term for church officers. (Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman, 315-16)
The evidence is inconclusive. John Painter (b. 1935) confesses:
This decision concerning the meaning of the opening [II John 1:1] and closing forms of address [II John 1:13] has nothing to do with the question of whether the leaders of such churches might have been women. We know too little of the situation to hazard an informed guess in relation to the church to which II John was addressed. Certainly the possibility that the leader of the church addressed was a woman should not be excluded. (Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), 334)
If the “natural” reading of II John 1:1 is that the elect woman is a literal female human, the equally natural inference is that at the very least she has influence on a Christian community.

As has been documented, most modern scholars have rejected the idea of a literal individual in favor of a metaphorical church (II John 1:1). Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) rebuffs:

An ancient tradition has thought “chosen lady” [II John 1:1] refers to a person. Both words are personal names for women in Greek (Electa, Kyria). But this usage here is unlikely. Not only does the tone of the letter imply a wider audience, but the letter itself lapses into the plural at many points (II John 1:5, 6, 8, 10, 12). (Burge, The Letters of John (NIV Application Commentary), 231)
Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) remarks:
If neither ἐκλεκτη nor κυρία is apt to be a personal name, the possibility raised and rightly rejected by William Loader [b. 1944] (1992:84-85) that this refers to a prominent Christian sister is unlikely. Apart from the unsuitedness of either of the words for this purpose, the discourse in the epistle shifts so frequently to second-person plural [II John 1:6-12] that most likely a group, not an individual, is being addressed. (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 334)
William Barclay (1907-1978) rejects:
It is possible to take Kuria as a proper name...The objections are threefold. (a) It seems unlikely that any single individual could be spoken of as loved by all those who have known the truth (II John 1:1). (b) II John 1:4 says that John rejoiced when he found some of her children walking in the truth; the implication is that others did not walk in the truth. This would seem to imply a number greater than one woman’s family could contain. (c) The decisive objection is that, throughout the letter, the eklektē kuria is addressed sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. The singular occurs in II John 1:4, 5, 13;and the plural occurs in II John 1:6, 8, 10, 12. It would be almost impossible that an individual would be addressed in this way. (Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (New Daily Study Bible), 147)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) further renounces:
It is not impossible that an individual, the Lady Electa (the head of a house church?), is being addressed but there are several reasons to reject this conclusion: (1) It is most natural to take II John 1:13 as a reference to a sister church, where the author worships, whose members are called offspring and send greetings. (2) Notice that the author calls himself “the old man/elder” [II John 1:1]. That is, he is the familiar “old man,” not just an anonymous elder, and he assumes authority over the audience. Notice, by contrast, that “elect lady” has no definite article before the word in question, suggesting that we are not dealing with a particular individual. “While the addressees are referred to as ‘the chosen lady and her children’ in II John 1:1 and the elder says ‘it has given me great joy to find some of your [singular] children walking in the truth’ in II John 1:4, in the rest of the letter (II John 1:6,8, 10, 12) he addresses all of his readers in the second person plural, suggesting that’“the chosen lady and her children’ [II John 1:1] is another way of addressing all members of a local church.” (3) Notice that the document concerns community problems, not those of an individual, and so it does not read like III John, which is a personal letter [III John 1:1]. (4) The reference to the giving of a new command [II John 1:5] seems to imply a community of believers to whom it was given. In the Old Testament and elsewhere in the New Testament the people of God sometimes are personified as a woman (cf. Isaiah 54:1-8; Galatians 4:25; Ephesians 5:22-25; II Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 12:7, 21:2). It is perfectly natural for our author to address his audience this way. It would be far less appropriate to address a particular individual in this vague sort of way in a letter, and III John shows that the author is not reluctant to use personal names where appropriate [III John 1:1, 9, 12]. Thus I conclude that the “lady” is the church addressed, and her children are the members of the house church. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 565-66)
The “elect lady” (II John 1:1) as a personification of a church is now the standard view among contemporary scholars. Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) determines:
“It is now generally agreed that this title [II John 1:1] refers to a sister church” (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946] 1998:276; cf. Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:654-55; Gail R. O’Day [b. 1954] 1992:375; Ben Witherington III [b. 1951] 2006:563-64). Marianne Meye Thompson [b. 1954] (1992:151) points out that the people of God, whether Israel or the church, are frequently referred to in Scripture as a woman or bride, whether of God or of Christ (Isaiah 54:1, 6, 13; Jeremiah 6:2, 31:21, 32; John 3:29; Galatians 4:25-26; Ephesians 5:22; Revelation 18:1-19:21). First Peter refers to “elect” (ἐκλεκτοις, ekletois) sojourners (I Peter 1:1) as the author writes from a “co-elect” (συνεκλεκτή, syneklektē) congregation in “Babylon”—likely Rome (I Peter 5:13)—showing that ἐκλεκτη can denote a local church (Brown 1982:655). (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 334)
Rodney Combs (b. 1965) enumerates:
A personification designating a local congregation of believers...seems the best interpretation for several reasons: the language of love and the command given to love in II John 1:5 seems inappropriate for an individual; there are no explicit personal references such as those found in III John [III John 1:1, 9, 12]; the writer switches between “you” singular [II John 1:4-5, 13] and “you” plural [II John 1:6-12] often in the letter (unobservable in most modern translations) while being consistent with the singular in III John; and it was normal to personify towns or institutions in the first century much as we do today. (Combs, I, II & III John (Shepherd’s Notes))
David Walls (b. 1953) and Max Anders (b. 1947) support:
The lack of any personal references in the letter, in contrast to III John [III John 1:1, 9, 12], suggests that it is addressed to a church. In that case, it might be a sister church to the church John wrote to in his first epistle. (Walls and Anders, I & II Peter, I, II, & III John, Jude (Holman New Testament Commentary), 236)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) presumes:
“The chosen lady and her children” [II John 1:1]...is a metaphorical way of saying “the church and its members.” If the letter was sent to a particular church, there was no need to specify more particularly which church was meant—and this may have been indicated on the package containing the letter. The personification of a community was not uncommon in ancient writings. Jerusalem was regarded by the Jews as the mother of the nation [Isaiah 54:1-8; Baruch 4:30-37, 5:5; Galatians 4:25; Revelation 12:17], and it was natural for Christians to think similarly of the church. When Peter writes about her “who is in Babylon, chosen together with you” (I Peter 5:13), he is using the same idea...The interchange of singular [II John 1:4-5, 13] and plural [II John 1:6-12] in the letter and the reference to the lady’s sister [II John 1:13] all support the view that the writer is personifying the church. For detailed argument in support of this position see Alan England Brooke [1863-1939], 167-70. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60)
Birger Olsson (b. 1938) contends:
A collective sense of the term kyria [II John 1:1] is most likely: the word “lady” indicates a local (house-)church, and her children are its individual members. Biblical linguistic patterns, the vacillation between you-singular [II John 1:4-5, 13] and you-plural [II John 1:6-12] in the letter, the qualifier “elect,” and the fondness for the collective aspect of Jesus’ disciples in the Johannine writings, speaks in favor of this reading. (Olsson, A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach, 48)
Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) suggests:
The word translated “lady” is the Greek word kyria...This Greek word was also used for a sociopolitical subdivision in Athens, a subdivision of the larger ekklesia (often translated in the New Testament as “church”). John appears to be using a word for a local congregation that is not attested elsewhere in early Christian writings. The word is chosen because of distinctive local social and linguistic conventions about when we have no additional information. “Chosen lady,” then, simply means a local congregation who, as God’s people, are by definition “elect” or “chosen” (a common term for Christians, see, e.g., Romans 16:13; I Peter 1:1, 2:9). (Clinton E. Arnold [b. 1958], Hebrews to Revelation (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 96-97)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) critiques:
Hans-Josef Klauck [b. 1946] points out that Walter Bauer [1870-1960], William F. Arndt [1880-1957] and F. Wilbur Gingrich [1901-1993]’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is misleading when it cites Hellenistic sources (which include references to kyria ekklēsia) in support of an interpretation of eklektē kyria as lady congregation. The references cited refer to an Athenian assembly and provide no support for a metaphorical interpretation of kyria ekklēsia. Nevertheless, Klauck agrees with most modern commentators that eklektē kyria does refer to the congregation, and he finds support for this interpretation in the many references in the Old Testament and Apocrypha to Israel as wife, bride, mother, daughter, etc. (Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 38)
Though not always preeminent, the theory that the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) represents the church is ancient. Hilary of Arles (403-449) asserts:
The elect lady [II John 1:1] is clearly a church to which the letter is written. It is elect in faith and mistress of all virtues. Introductory Commentary on II John. (Gerald Bray [b. 1948], James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, Jude (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture))
That the “elect lady” refers to a church is now undoubtedly the dominant view. Marianne Meye Thompson (b. 1954) catalogs:
Many commentators hold to the interpretation of the chosen lady as a personification of a local church and its members (Glenn W. Barker [1920-1984] 1981:361; Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:654; F.F. Bruce [1910-1990] 1970:137; C.H. Dodd [1884-1973] 1946:144; Kenneth Grayston [1914-2005] 1984:152; J.L. Houlden [b.1929] 1973:142; I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934] 1978:60; Stephen S. Smalley [b. 1931] 1984:318; D. Moody Smith [b. 1931] 1991:139; John R.W. Stott [1921-2011] 1988:204), since the verbs and pronouns of the epistle are all in the plural (“you all”) [II John 1:6-12]. Moreover, the New Testament elsewhere speaks of the church as a woman or bride, and when greetings are sent from the children of your elect sister (II John 1:13), it suggests the greetings from one church to another. (Thompson, 1-3 John (IVP New Testament Commentary), 150-551)
Tom Thatcher (b. 1967) echoes:
Most modern commentators...conclude that “the Elect Lady” is a general reference to an entire congregation, so that “her children” are the individual members of that congregation (so J.L. Houlden [b. 1929], 142; R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], 117; I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934], 60-61; John R.W. Stott [1921-2011], 203-04; David Rensberger (b. [1948], 148). This reading is supported by the closing verse of II John, where the elder sends greetings from “the children of your elect [NIV, chosen] sister,” apparently the congregation of which John is a member (II John 1:13). While it is possible that both congregations were led by individual Christian women, it seems more likely that the terms “lady” and “sister” are used metaphorically to portray a familial relationship between the two churches. Outside the Johannine literature, the New Testament frequently portrays the church as a woman or bride of the counterpart of Jesus (II Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-32; Revelation 19:6-9). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews ~ Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 514)
Some have seen Second John as having been written not to a single church, but rather to multiple churches. Martin M. Culy (b. 1963) examines:
The greeting from τὰ τέκνα της ἀδελφης σου της ἐκλεκτης [“The children of your chosen sister”, II John 1:13 NASB] makes it clear that ἐκλεκτη κυρία [“the chosen lady and her children”, II John 1:1 NASB] cannot be a metaphor for the universal church (Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998], 653). Brown (654) thus posits that the lack of article with ἐκλεκτη κυρία marks this as “a circular letter meant to be read in several communities. (Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text, 141-42)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) infers:
In II John the author clearly is at some distance from the audience. Notice also that in II John the church is addressed rather formally as the “Elect Lady” [II John 1:1]. I therefore agree with Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] that in II-III John we have documents written in order chronologically to two different but related house churches over which “the old man”[II John 1:1] has some jurisdiction. The picture that one gets from both Paul and the later writings of Ignatius [35-98] is that Ephesus had numerous house churches, as did the outlying cities. But are the congregations addressed in II-III John merely in the suburbs of Ephesus? Probably not. The writing of these letters suggests that these churches are far enough away that letters needed to be written to them. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 406)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) relays:
Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976], 107ff, thinks that the letter is a “catholic” epistle to be taken to a number of churches. But to justify this view he has to argue that the details in the letter which suggest one particular destination are fictitious. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60)
Bultmann’s proposal has been largely rejected based upon the fact that the church universal would have no sister (II John 1:13).

The use of feminine language for a church has precedents; even the Greek word for church is feminine. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) documents:

In Revelation, the Lord returns for his bride, the church (Revelation 19:7-8), and I Peter 5:13 speaks of the church as “she who is in Babylon.” The Shepherd of Hermas sees a maiden (parthenos), whom he recognizes as the church (Visions 4.2.1-12), and Tertullian [160-225] wrote of “our lady mother the Church” (Ad Martyras1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers 3:693). Similarly, Ignatius [35-98] addresses the Trallians as “elect” (Trallians, address), and I Peter is addressed to exiles who have been “chosen” (ekletois; I Peter 1:1). (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], John, Hebrews–Revelation (Bible Knowledge Background Commentary), 193)
Paul S. Minear (1906-2007) characterizes:
Akin to the image of the Messianic mother of the book of Revelation [Revelation 12:1-2] is that of the elect lady, a phrase used in II John 1:1 to designate the congregation to which the elder addressed his letter. Associated with this image of the local church as mother is the reference to its members as her children and to another congregation as her sister (II John 1:13; cf. I Peter 5:13). Blended in this phrase are two common ideas: that of the church as the elect...and that of the Messianic community as a woman bearing children. (Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (New Testament Library), 54)
Gail R. O’Day (b. 1954) observes:
The author of II John, who identifies himself as the “elder” (II John 1:1), uses feminine imagery to speak of the church. The community to which he writes is addressed a “elect lady” (II John 1:1, 5), and the community from which the elder writes is identified as “your elect sister” (II John 1:13). Lady and sister are thus metaphors for the church...The noun “lady” (kyria) is the feminine form of the noun “lord” (kyrios). This vocabulary emphasizes the relationship between the church (lady) and its Lord. This language links II John with other New Testament writings that use feminine images for the church (e.g., Revelation 12:1-2; Ephesians 5:22-31). These images may show the value the early church placed on female leadership in the church, or they may indicate the beginning of patriarchal structures of governance in which the elder becomes “lord” over lady church. (Carol A. Newsom [b. 1950], Sharon H. Ringe [b. 1946] and Jacqueline E. Lapsley [b. 1965], Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, 623)
Second John’s imagery is not holistically feminine. Robert Seesengood (b. 1969) acknowledges:
The Johannine epistles all address questions of early Christian missionary work. They refer to the church as “the elect lady” [II John 1:1], but consistently use masculine metaphors for God and believers (II John 1:2, 5, 13; I John 2:1, 12-14). (Julia M. O’Brien [b. 1958], “Masculinity and Femininity in the New Testament”,The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies, 532)
Those who view the elect lady (II John 1:1) as an individual naturally object to the title being read collectively. Ruth B. Edwards counters:
Most modern commentators suppose the phrase is used metaphorically for a church. In the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem or Zion is often personified as a woman; sometimes Israel is pictured as God’s bride—imagery occasionally picked up in the New Testament (cf. Revelation 21:2; Ephesians 5:25-28). In the Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century CE allegorical writing, the Church appears as a woman in a vision and is addressed by the author as kyria (V.I.5). But there are major differences between these images and II John’s. In Revelation, Ephesians and Hermas it is the new Jerusalem or the church as a whole which is personified, not one congregation. Yet if the ‘elect lady’ of II John 1:1 is the whole church, who is her ‘elect sister’ in II John 1:13? (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27)
If “elect” lady” (II John 1:1) is a reference to the church, it is one of many. Robert L. Reymond (1932-2013) registers:
In addition to their most common term, ekklesia for the noun “church,” the New Testament writers employ many other singular figurative expressions to describe the entire church such as the following: one flock (John 10:16), one body (I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:18), one new man (Ephesians 2:15), the temple of God (or of the Holy Spirit) (I Corinthians 3:16; II Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22; II Thessalonians 2:4), the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4:26), the new Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22), the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), a letter from Christ (II Corinthians 3:2-3), the olive tree (Romans 11:13-24), God’s field (I Corinthians 3:9), God’s building (I Corinthians 3:9), the chosen lady (II John 1:1), the wife (or bride) of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-31; Revelation 21:9), God’s house (Ephesians 2:19), the people of God (I Peter 2:9-10), a chosen people (I Peter 2:9), a holy nation (I Peter 2:9), a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9), the circumcision (Philippians 3:3-11), the tabernacle of David (Acts 15:16), the remnant (Romans 9:27, 11:5-7), the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16), God’s elect (Romans 8:33), the faithful in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:1), a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17), the kingdom of God (or of heaven) (Matthew 13:1-52), the Way (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:14, 22), and the brotherhood of believers (I Peter 2:17). (Chad Owen Brand [b. 1954] and R. Stanton Norman [b. 1963], “The Presbyterty-Led Church: Presbyterian Church Government”, Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity, 113)
In the Johannine Literature,the church is most commonly described with familial imagery. David Rensberger (b. 1948) inventories:
Of all the Johannine writings, only III John uses the word “church” [III John 1:6, 9, 10]. Second John uses the unusual terminology of the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] and her “elect sister” [II John 1:13] to refer to Christian congregations, which may express a sense of the church’s diving calling (Judith M. Lieu [b. 1951] 1986, 67); but the letter says nothing further about this. Otherwise, all three epistles plainly show the marks of a communal history, the only term they have for the community is adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” used seventeen times to refer to other Christians. The metaphor of Christians as a family of God’s children is thus the primary way of speaking about the church (Dietrich Rusam 1993, 163-65, 185-86). (Rensberger, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries))
George L. Parsenios (b. 1969) professes:
In II John 1:1, the Elder addresses his letter to “the Elect Lady and her children,” which interpreters generally understand to be a symbolic reference to a church and its members. Support for this interpretation comes from the close of the letter in II John 1:13, where the Elder speaks of “your Elect Sister and her children,” a phrase that clearly refers to the Elder’s own church and its members. Christians are children of God, children of their teachers, children collected within churches, and brother and sisters of one another. The use of family language to describe ecclesisastical relations raises interesting historical questions and provides valuable insight into the social relations of early Christianity, as it seems to reflect an effort to deal with the crisis of conversion to a new faith. (Parsenios, First, Second, and Third John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament))
Others have viewed the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) as an artificial straw figure utilized to present a standard teaching. If this is the case the traditional reconstruction is misguided and does a disservice to Second John’s literary artistry.

Judith M. Lieu (b. 1951) develops:

The identity of the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] is...obscure, although “lady” (kyria) is a common epithet in letters, whether used of a mother or sister or of someone more exalted. The profile at first presented by II John is of a woman with her children, of their responsibility for a home to which visitors may come, and of her sister, who is well known to the author. However, this is hardly sustained throughout the letter: the lady plays no real role and the letter lacks any personal details such as characterize III John [III John 1:1, 9, 12]; the second person plural address quickly takes over from the singular (II John 1:8, 10, 12; see also II John 1:5); the children are sufficiently numerous for the author to have encountered “some” of them (II John 1:4); and that he knew only the female siblings (II John 1:13) seems unlikely. On these grounds it is frequently assumed that the “real” addressee of the letter is a church, while the “sister” and her “children” represent another community...II John is not simply an ordinary letter, as is also evidenced from the high degree of artificiality when compared to III John...Second John initially has to be read as creating its own narrative, independently of questions as the intended audience of the text; within this, the “narrative recipient,” the lady is not to be dissolved as a symbol of a “real recipient”; to seek to identify “a real recipient” who might justify the personification as an “elect lady” fails to recognize that the letter creates its own, self-contained narrative world...The anonymity of the sender is matched by that of the recipient, “the elect lady”...and is sustained throughout the letter (cf. II John 1:13). This introduces an artificial note, which could suggest that the contrast between “the elder” and “the lady” is deliberately chosen as appropriate to a letter of concern and direction; the letter format was commonly used in antiquity as a fictional device and as a vehicle for teaching, for example of a philosophical nature, although the recipient is named even in these. (Lieu, I, II, & III John: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 244-45)
Not only is the identity of the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) contested, it is also unknown why the epistle opts not to name its recipient. C. H. Dodd [1884-1973) conjectures:
The possibility should perhaps not be excluded, that, in the unfavourable situation of Christianity at the time (see I John 3:13), it was judged safer, in case a document implicating the Church should fall into hostile hands, that it should appear to be a harmless letter to a friend. It is possible that the names of the writer and of the church addressed are omitted for prudential reasons—though both may have appeared...on the outside of the postal packet, according to custom. (Dodd, Johannine Epistles (Moffatt Commentary), 145)
Beth Moore (b. 1957) explains:
Many...believe that the address was more likely metaphoric to hide the identity of New Testament believers in a time of fierce persecution. If the letter fell into the wrong hands, no one could be singled out. The letter may well have been written to a church. (Moore, The Beloved Disciple: Following John to the Heart of Jesus, 213)
Regardless of whether Second John addresses an individual or a church, it is clear that the writer speaks favorably and loves its recipient (II John 1:1). Before confronting the reader with her precarious circumstances, the epistle’s opening line sets a loving tone. Second John speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

How irregular is the salutation “elect lady” (II John 1:1)? To whom do you think the “elect lady” refers (II John 1:1)? What is the most natural way to read the text? If the title refers to an historical individual, who is she? Why does Second John not reveal the elect lady’s proper name? Do you know of anyone who uses the title “elect lady” today? Does anyone address you by a title? If Second John addresses a woman and her children (II John 1:1), where is the father? Why is the church commonly personified as a woman (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8)? How do you think of church; what terminology would you use to exemplify it? How does the interpretation of Second John change if it is read as having been addressed to an individual as opposed to a group?

While there is a natural curiosity associated with an ambiguous epithet like “elect lady” (II John 1:1), it does not alter the letter’s application. The spiritual content of the letter’s words outweigh its recipient’s identity.

Daniel L. Akin (b. 1957) assures:

Regardless of how one interprets these words [II John 1:1]...the basic application of the epistle remains unchanged. What the author would expect in belief and behavior of a lady and her children he would also expect of a local church and its members. (Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (New American Commentary), 220)
The elect lady and her children are addressed (II John 1:1). As such, a group is involved regardless. Ruth B. Edwards concludes:
Our eklektē kyria may well have hosted or led a local congregation; ‘her children’, to whom the letter is also addressed [II John 1:1], were probably not her physical children, but rather members of her house church. Thus the letter is still written to a church even if the ‘elect lady’ is taken to be an individual. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 29)
David L. Allen (b. 1957) interprets:
In II John 1:13 John signs off his letter much the way as he began it by sending greetings to them from “children” of a sister church whom he refers to as “your elect sister.” As in II John 1:1, notice that John’s use of the word “elect” does not refer to an individual election, but to corporate election as he views the local congregation as a whole to be an elect body. (Allen, 1–3 John: Fellowship in God's Family (Preaching the Word), 266)
David G. Buttrick (b. 1927) advocates:
Virtually everything in scripture is written to a faith-community, usually in the style of communal address. Therefore, biblical texts must be set in communal consciousness to be understood. Even when texts are ostensibly addressed to individuals—“Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), “Philemon”(Philemon 1:1), “The Elect Lady” (II John 1:1)—they are nonetheless addressed to individuals who share communal Christian consciousness. Thus, texts do not address individuals in individual self-awareness. The issue is tricky, but crucial. Because we interpret scripture individually we tend to assume that scripture speaks to individual consciousness, to an individual in existential self-awareness. Thus, our “applications” of the Bible tend to be personal in character...As interpreters we do not ask, “What does the text say to me?” or even “What does the text say to me as representative human being” but “What is the text saying to our faith-consciousness?” Most of the “you”s that show up in the New Testament texts, in the letters of Paul or in the teachings of Jesus, should rightly be translated into “Southern” as “you-alls.” (Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures, 276-77)
Regardless of who the elect lady is, Second John is written to a community, an elect community. Peter Rhea Jones (b. 1937) postulates:
One suspects from the perspective of I John regarding the world and from John 15:19 and II John 1:7 that the Elder means to infer that the believers addressed were chosen out of the world. This election does encompass receptive believing and obedience to the commandments (II John 1:5). This election is corporate, experienced in Christian community (II John 1:1, 13). (Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 251)
Urban C. Von Wahlde (b. 1941) concurs:
It is not a title bestowed only on that specific community...as is indicated by the fact that in II John 1:13, the Elder will also refer to his own community as “elect.” In the Gospel (John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16, 19), the disciples are said not to have chosen Jesus but to have been chosen by him. In light of this usage, it would be particularly appropriate for members of the community to refer to themselves as “elect.” Nevertheless, it is not unusual for the wider circle of early Christians to refer to themselves or others as “chosen” (eklektos). Similar usage is found in I Peter 5:13 and in the salutation of Ignatius [35-98], Letter to the Trallians. Consequently, although I am inclined to think that choice of the title is based on Johannine usage, it cannot be proved that the derivation is particularly “Johannine.” (Von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: The Three Johannine Letters (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 225)
Though it is natural to glean individual insights from the New Testament writings, they are written to groups. The elect lady is one of many elect. All Christians are chosen ones.

Why did the standard interpretation of the “elect lady” shift from an individual woman to a collective church? Have you ever written a (personal?) letter to a group? To whom would the title “elect lady” describe today? Does the adjective “elect” apply to you? Do you feel chosen?

“When you lose touch with your chosenness, you expose yourself to the temptation of self-rejection, and that temptation undermines the possibility of ever growing as the Beloved...When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.” - Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996), Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Falls of the Righteous (Proverbs 24:16)

According to Proverbs, how many times does a righteous man fall and rise again? Seven times (Proverbs 24:16)

Proverbs 24:16 is a straight forward maxim which highlights the resilience of the righteous.

For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again,
But the wicked stumble in time of calamity. (Proverbs 24:16 NASB)
The Message paraphrases, “No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces”.

Emerson Eggerichs (b. 1951) internalizes:

Proverbs 24:16...gives me such hope. Good people are not perfect, but God says: “A righteous man [or woman] falls seven times, and rises again.” (Eggerichs, The Love & Respect Experience: A Husband-Friendly Devotional that Wives Truly Love, 2)
This proverb is attached to its predecessor: “Do not lie in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous;/Do not destroy his resting place” (Proverbs 24:15 NASB).

Christine R. Yoder (b. 1968) connects:

The second proverb [Proverbs 24:16] explains why the ambushes [Proverbs 24:15] are doomed to failure. Seven times, a number that signifies completeness, the righteous will fall and get up again (Psalm 20:7-8)...By contrast, the wicked, who by “lying in wait” [Proverbs 24:15] assume that they have an upper hand, are tripped up by their own wickedness. Lack of a parallel “arise” or similar verb of recovery in Proverbs 24:16b underscores the finality of their fate. They do not get up again. (Yoder, Proverbs (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), 240-41)
Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) expounds:
The unit’s first prohibition [Proverbs 24:15-16] cautions the disciple not to join the ranks of wicked to take away the abode of the righteous by cunning deceit and violence (Proverbs 24:15). The prohibition rests on the godly person’s faith and conviction that the righteous will recover from their fall and the wicked will finally fall through their evil and never recover from their misery. For signals the connection between the admonition (Proverbs 24:15) and its validation (Proverbs 24:16), a connection strengthened by the catchwords righteous (Proverbs 24:15a, 16a)..and wicked (Proverbs 24:15a, 16b)...The double prohibition uses imagery from the field of animal husbandry, that is, “pasture” and “bed for animals” (cf. Proverbs 24:15; cf. Isaiah 35:7, 65:10), and the double rationale uses the metaphor of travel (“stumble and fall”; Proverbs 27:16). The rationale entails that the wicked kill the righteous to plunder them (see Proverbs 1:10-19) and that they may not get their deserts until the end when the righteous triumphantly rises from his destruction...In sum, the rationale of Proverbs 24:16 adds to the promise of Proverbs 24:14 that before the wise/righteous enjoy an eternal future they may first be utterly ruined. It also adds the threat that the wicked are damned. Both promise and threat demand faith that the LORD stands behind this moral order (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6, 22:23, 23:11, 24:18, 21). (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 282)
Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) interprets:
The words for “house”—nāweh “pasture, dwelling,” and rēbes, “resting place” [Proverbs 24:15]—are a pair fixed in Isaiah 35:7 and Isaiah 65:10. In this saying, the ambusher rather than the ambushed is the one actually in danger, for the righteous person always (“seven times” [Proverbs 24:16]) makes a comeback. The wicked person, however, is tripped up by only one fall—perhaps the very act of ambushing. The proverb can be extended to ethics generally, where it is a sign of a righteous person to be able to rise up after a fall (Alonso Schökel [1920-1998]). (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 215)
Proverbs 24:16’s wisdom is paralleled in the Psalms. Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) correlates:
If the righteous man suffers harm—such as an encroachment on his field—he will recover, but wickedness is a dead-end road. A Wisdom Psalm states this principle theologically: “Many are the misfortunes of a righteous man, but the Lord will save them from them all” (Psalm 34:20). (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (Anchor Bible), 749)
Proverbs 24:16 directly contrasts the falls of the righteous and the wicked. Roland Murphy (1917-2002) notes:
Hebrew rāšā (wicked) of the Masoretic Text is taken by the NIV as a kind of apposition; others understand it as a vocative. (Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler [b. 1952], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series))
Though the fate of the righteous is ultimately superior to that of the wicked, their path is not necessarily clear. In fact, they may endure as many as seven falls (Proverbs 24:16). Here, the number seven is proverbial (pun intended): It indicates the potential for repeated falls.

Ellen F. Davis (b. 1950) deciphers:

The number seven may be a conventional round number, similar to our use of “a dozen” (see Proverbs 24:16, 26:16). (Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Westminster Bible Companion), 71)
Roger N. Whybray (1923-1997) concurs:
Seven times...means an indefinite number of times [Proverbs 24:16]. The point is that the good man may suffer temporary misfortune at the hands of the rascal, but virtue will triumph in the end. (Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament), 140)
Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) reveals:
Seven times...Even seven times...is equivalent to “many” (Sa‘adia). The Syriac Ahiqar (version S2) says: “My son, the wicked falls and does not arise, while the honest man is not shaken, because God is with him” (§21) This is based on the present verse [Proverbs 24:16]. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (Anchor Bible), 750)
This usage of the number seven is a common biblical trope. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) survey:
While numbers have great religious symbolism, few are given any real significance in the Bible. There are, however, a few exceptions to this. The number seven, for instance, is most prominent. It is reflected in the seven days of creation [Genesis 2:2-3], the Sabbath as the seventh day [Exodus 16:26, 20:10, 31:15, 35:2, Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:14], the Sabbatical year [Exodus 23:10–11; Leviticus 25:4, 8; Nehemiah 10:31; Jeremiah 34:13-14], the Jubilee year of seven times seven [Leviticus 25:8-13], and the Omer cycle of seven times seven days [Leviticus 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:9-10]. In Jericho seven priests blew seven shofars seven times on seven days in seven circuits (Joshua 6:1ff). (Kravitz and Olitsky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 68)
Oftentimes, the righteous are frequent fallers; they are not exempt from falling consistently and perhaps even completely.

The adage has a two-fold purpose (Proverbs 24:16): It encourages the righteous to remain steadfast in the face of adversity while discouraging the temptation to shortcut righteousness for temporary gains.

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) considers:

As it in the Masoretic Text, the passage [Proverbs 24:15-16] is most naturally understood as addressed to the wicked. If so, then the proverb serves as a warning against trying to undermine the righteous on the basis of its futility. However, it might be that this is a fictional address and that the actual hearer of the proverb is the student of the sage, in which case the proverb would serve as an encouragement in the light of the attacks of the wicked. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 439)
In the face of the facade of the wicked’s prosperity, the righteous could be tempted to circumvent their principles. Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) asserts:
Saying Twenty-Seven (Proverbs 24:15-16)...is a warning addressed to the evildoer to leave the righteous alone...The resilience of the good man (expressed in his getting back up seven times [Proverbs 24:16]) is such that the evil cannot win. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 199)
Dave L. Bland (b. 1953) advises:
Do not bother to bring about the downfall of the righteous man’s house because it will only be a waste of time [Proverbs 24:15-16]. The righteous are a hardy bunch. They will continually recover from adversity or temptation (seven times) and be even stronger (notice a different scenario in Proverbs 25:26). In contrast, the wicked are brought down when they face a single crisis. (Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon (College Press NIV Commentary), 217)
Allen P. Ross (b. 1943) understands:
It is futile and self-defeating to mistreat God’s people, for they survive, whereas the wicked do not [Proverbs 24:16]! The warning is against attacking the righteous; to attack them is to attack God and his program, and that will fail (Matthew 16:18). The consequence, and thus the motivation, is that if the righteous suffer misfortune any number of times (= “seven times,” Proverbs 24:16), they will rise again; for virtue triumphs in the end (R.N. Whybray [1923-1997], 140). Conversely, the wicked will not survive; without God they have no power to rise from misfortune. The point, then, is that ultimately the righteous will triumph and those who oppose them will stumble over their evil. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Proverbs ~ Isaiah (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 200)
In short, in the long run, crime doesn’t pay.

Other interpreters have focused on the call to perseverance (Proverbs 24:16). As the cliché asserts, tough times don’t last but tough people do.

Roland Murphy (1917-2002) characterizes:

Proverbs 24:15-16 [is]...an admonition with motivational rationale. The admonition warns against ruling the dwelling place of the righteous [Proverbs 14:15]. It grants that the latter can suffer repeated adversity (the proverbial seven times [Proverbs 24:16]), but in the long run he will prevail and the wicked will not. (Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler [b. 1952], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series))
David Hubbard (1928-1996) professes:
The long-range vindication and prosperity of the wise is affirmed...here. The motivation tells us how (Proverbs 24:16). The “righteous” person, loyal to the Lord and His people, may come on hard times (“fall”) repeatedly...but each time he will “rise,” as the Lord, whose hand is at work though His name is not mentioned, vindicates him in due season (see the delayed timing of Proverbs 23:18, 24:14). “Wicked” people (the noun is plural here, but singular in Proverbs 24:15) are made to stumble (“fall”” in Proverbs 24:16 translates two different Hebrew words; the second ka shal describes stumbling over an obstacle or being tripped up; Proverbs 4:12, 19; see noun form at Proverbs 16:18) and never get up. “Calamity”...hits them as divine judgment and lays them low once and for all. (Hubbard, Proverbs (Mastering the Old Testament), 375)
Alyce M. McKenzie (b. 1955) preaches:
Perseverance is a crucial quality for...Christians to cultivate...because we live in a society where not all perseverance is fueled by faith in God and directed toward the good of the community...A great deal of perseverance...is fueled by the pursuit of material possessions that make for a life rich in things and poor in soul...Then there is the perseverance fueled by the desire for improving the quality of our lives in community in the best sense of the word quality: “Persistence prevails when all else fails”...The Korean proverb “Fall down seven times and get up eight” expresses the quality of tenacity for which the Korean people are renowned...Then there is the perseverance that is fueled by faith toward godly goals...Perseverance continues to build communities’ resolve and self-esteem. (McKenzie, Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit, 143-44)
Though unstated, the righteous’ perseverance can surely be attributed to God. Crawford H. Toy (1836-1919) presumes:
The righteous, it is said, shall never be permanently cast down (Micah 7:8); the wicked, on the contrary, has no power to rise above misfortune — once down, he does not rise. The couplet probably refers not to the natural inspiriting power of integrity and the depressing effect of moral evil, but to divine retribution [Proverbs 24:16]. (Toy, Proverbs (International Critical Commentary), 448)
Raymond C. Van Leeuwen (b. 1948) agrees:
These verses [Proverbs 24:15-16] form an admonition against attacking the righteous (see Proverbs 1:11, 23:10-11). Its point is in the motive clause: Although the righteous are not free from troubles, even though they fall again and again, they get up and go on (Psalm 20:7-8). The wicked, however, are brought down (literally, they stumble and fall), like the wicked in Proverbs 4:12, 16, 19 (see also Proverbs 24:17). The underlying premise is that God rewards people according to their deeds (see Proverbs 24:12, 29). (Van Luewen, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Book of Wisdom, Sirach (New Interpreter’s Bible, 211)
John M. Perkins (b. 1930) confesses:
We will stumble and fail along the way. Our purest motives and sincerest efforts will not protect us from failure. We need to mentally accept this ahead of time. We must go through the fiery trial of failure before we are able to fully accept the fact that failure “comes with the territory.” In this struggle we will confront the cultural value of success. Says Robert D. Lupton [b. 1944]: “Success is not an automatic consequence of obedience. ‘A righteous man falls seven times and rises again’ (Proverbs 24:16). Saint and sinner alike must take their lumps and go on to the next risk. But for the believer there is one guarantee. We have a dependable God who made a trustworthy commitment that no matter what happens—success or failure—He will use it for our ultimate good.” (Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development, 172-73)
Some have imagined the divine not only walking by the side of the righteous but picking them up after their falls. Jan Silvious (b. 1944) envisions:
As each of my three boys learned to walk, our hands were always there. They fell to their knees, many times, but we never let them fall on their heads or get permanently hurt. In the same way, the Lord is always there to keep us. He will not let us be cast down. “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). (Silvious, The Five-Minute Devotional: Meditations for the Busy Woman, 126)
Neil T. Anderson (b. 1942) and Joanne Anderson (b. 1941) encourage:
We probably learn more from our mistakes than we will ever learn from our successes. A mistake is only a failure when you fail to learn from it: “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16 NIV). If you make a mistake, get back up and try again and again and again. This is not a question of self-confidence. Our confidence is in God. (Anderson, Overcoming Depression, 75)
The righteous cannot fall so frequently, completely or lowly that God cannot lift them up. There is hope, even for the wicked who can repent and become counted among the righteous.

Proverbs 24:16 affirms that both the righteous and wicked fall. This circumstance is a universal part of the human condition. The difference is in the result: The righteous emerge from the fall. And the determining factor is God. Proverbs agrees, you can’t keep a good man (or woman) down.

Is Proverbs 24:16 written more to deter wickedness or encourage the fallen righteous? Why is Proverbs 24:16 true: is the universe designed to self correct in this way or does God intervene? Is the resilience of the righteous the reason for the wicked’s ultimate defeat? What raises the righteous that the wicked lack? What is the correlation between righteousness and resilience; is perseverance intrinsic to Judeo-Christian faith? When have the wicked prospered while the righteous fell?

Implicit in Proverbs 24:16 is the recognition that the righteous are not promised sure footing: They do fall. Jesus echoes this in the Sermon on the Mount: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NASB).

Intrerpreters have long realized the inevitability falling. Augustine (354-430) restates:

The text, “For a just man shall fall seven times and shall rise again” [Proverbs 24:16], means that he will not perish, however often he falls. There is here no question of falling into sins but of afflictions leading to a lower life. CITY OF GOD 11.31. (J. Robert Wright [b. 1936], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 152)
The fall of the righteous is so common that the assurance of their triumph must be reiterated repeatedly. Tomáš Frydrych (b. 1969) realizes:
The premise about prosperity of the wise and destruction of the fools has to be reiterated again and again. This suggests at least indirectly that in the real world to which the sages are addressing themselves, this principle might not always be so obvious, and therefore, persistent reinforcement is required. Consider...Proverbs 1:10-13...Proverbs 10:30...Proverbs 19:10...Proverbs 24:15-16...Proverbs 25:26...These sayings, and other[s] like them, only make adequate sense if in the sages world at least occasionally those who ambush the innocent fill their pockets with loot, the righteous stagger, the wicked have the upper hand and fools live lives of luxury. Thus, there are both explicit and implicit indications that the proverbial sages were aware that the picture of the world they paint is not entirely accurate. (Frydrych, Living Under the Sun: Examination of Proverbs & Qoheleth, 38)
Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) analyzes:
The last command [Proverbs 3:11-12], regarding divine discipline, tacitly acknowledges that simplistic forms of retributive theology, according to which God makes good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, are wrong. Good people do not always enjoy good circumstances, or else this exhortation would not be necessary for such people to interpret their lives and respond rightly. Proverbs 24:16 provides even more obvious nuance about righteous suffering: “The righteous falls seven times and rises again,/but the wicked stumble in times of calamity” (ESV). So-called retribution, not always manifest in circumstantial moments, ultimately pertains to final ends. (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 25)
Albert H. Baylis assures:
Proverbs knows there is no mechanical guarantee about these formulas. Some good people die young. You and I could both name some. The righteous have their setbacks (Proverbs 24:16). The wicked often do so well that the righteous are tempted toward envy (Proverbs 24:1-2, 23:17, 3:31). But as our own folk wisdom recognizes, those people are “living on borrowed time.” They are swimming against the tide. The odds will catch up with them. (Baylis, From Creation to the Cross: Understanding the First Half of the Bible))
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) acknowledges:
The sages understood that the righteous wise would suffer in life, but they also have the endurance to withstand the attacks of life [Proverbs 24:16]. Life may beat them down, but they both have hope...because of wisdom. They see beyond the present misfortune. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 439)
Given the seeming contradiction between Proverbs 24:16’s assertion and the present reality, many have long looked to the next life for its fulfillment.

Cassiodorus (485-585) dissects:

A Christian is said to rise again in two senses; first, in this world when he is freed by grace from death of vices, and he continues being justified by God; in the words of the most wise Solomon, “A just man falls seven times and rises again” [Proverbs 24:16]. Second, there is the general resurrection, at which the just will attain their eternal rewards. EXPOSITIONS OF THE PSALMS 19.9. (J. Robert Wright [b. 1936], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 152-53)
Milton P. Horne (b. 1956) associates:
The instruction [Proverbs 24:15-16] is important because it provides insight on the nature of “future hope” that the preceding instruction mentions (Proverbs 24:14). It does not mean that the righteous will not fall, but that they will recover. Or to put it another way, the future hope for the righteous does not preclude suffering; it simply assures success and fulfillment in the long run. By comparison, the wicked is swept away. (Horne, Proverbs–Ecclesiastes (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 292)
Though there is undoubtedly hope for justice in the next life, the Bible is also replete with examples of righteous believers who have overcome numerous falls. Cody L. Jones (b. 1949) relates:
Do not...raid [a] righteous man’s house. Though they fall seven times, the upright will rise again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Proverbs 24:15-16). When King Chedorlaomer raided Sodom, he inadvertently raided the house of Abram by carrying off Lot [Genesis 14:12]. Abram followed and routed Chedorlaomer’s party and rescued his nephew [Genesis 14:13-16]. (Jones, The Complete Guide to the Book of Proverbs, 188)
John Phillips (1927-2010) illustrates:
The classic example of Proverbs 24:15-16 is the story of David and King Saul. King Saul was the man who lay in wait “against the dwelling of the righteous” [Proverbs 24:15]. After Saul threw a javelin at David and missed, David escaped and made his way home [I Samuel 18:10-11, 19:10]...David, on the other hand, was the just man who fell seven times, only to rise up again [Proverbs 24:16]. In spite of all his faults and failings, David loved the Lord. (Phillips, Exploring Proverbs, Volume Two: An Expository Commentary, 275)
The most obvious biblical example of rising from a fall is Jesus’ rise, even from death. T.D. Jakes (b. 1957) exhorts:
The whole theme of Christianity is one of rising again. However, you can’t rise until you fall. Now that doesn’t mean you should fall into sin. It means you should allow the resurrecting power of the Holy Ghost to operate in your life regardless of whether you have fallen into sin, discouragement, apathy, or fear. There are obstacles that can trip you as you escalate toward productivity. But it doesn’t matter what tripped you; it matters that you rise up. People who never experience these things generally are people who don’t do anything. There is a certain safety in being dormant. Nothing is won, but nothing is lost. I would rather walk on water with Jesus. I would rather nearly drown and have to be saved than play it safe and never experience the miraculous. (Jakes, Can You Stand to Be Blessed?, 14)
The righteous’ ability to rise is at the core of Christianity. The good may not win every battle but the war has been won. This proverb is both evidenced and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Do you find Proverbs 24:16, with its admission that the righteous may endure repeated setbacks, encouraging? Do the righteous get stronger through their falls? Are there benefits to falling, from emerging from setbacks? Are the righteous assured of rising in the present world; is there justice in this life? Are there benefits to being righteous; what is the reward of the righteous? Who or what best embodies the wisdom of Proverbs 24:16?

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”, 1997