The earliest extant testimony that links the apostle John to this letter is that of Irenaeus (second century CE). In Against Heresies (I, 16), Irenaeus quoted from verses 10 and 11 of 2 John, attributing the words to “John, the disciple of the Lord.” Possibly because of being a short personal letter, 2 John does not appear to have been widely circulated. This letter is, in fact, not preserved in any form among the sixty-nine earliest Greek papyrus manuscripts. It may have been on account of their somewhat limited circulation that, in early centuries, 2 and 3 John did not gain acceptance among all communities of believers. Eusebius referred to 2 and 3 John as among the disputed books but familiar to most. He identified these letters as the work of the “evangelist” (that is, the apostle John) or of someone else with the “same name.” (Ecclesiastical History, III, xxv, 3) Origen (c. 185 to c. 254 CE), in the fifth book of his Commentary on John’s Gospel, mentioned that not all considered the second and third letters as genuine, that is, as having been written by the apostle John.
Eusebius seems to have based his view that 2 and 3 John were written by “John the presbyter,” and not the apostle John, on the comments of Papius (c. 60 to c. 135 CE). In his Ecclesiastical History (III, xxxix, 4), he quoted the words of Papius, “If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders — what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.” Drawing on these words, Eusebius reasoned, “It is worthwhile observing here that the name John is twice enumerated by him. The first one he mentions in connection with Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the apostles, clearly meaning the evangelist; but the other John he mentions after an interval, and places him among others outside of the number of the apostles, putting Aristion before him, and he distinctly calls him a presbyter.” (III, xxxix, 5)
The view of Eusebius has been questioned even in recent times, as there is no ancient corroborating tradition about a prominent disciple known as “John the presbyter.” Some have concluded that Eusebius misunderstood the words of Papius and consider the references to John and to John the presbyter to be to the same person, that is, to the apostle John who was also a presbyter or elder. Their reasoning is that, in the first case, John is referred to because of what he and the other apostles said in the past and then he is mentioned again as still being alive and teaching as did Aristion. They do not consider the mention of John after Aristion to be significant, for previously Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, and James are likewise mentioned first.
Second John resembles 1 John in providing a warning about those who spread false teaching about Jesus Christ, and there is no compelling reason not to regard both letters as having originated from the same person. Still, in the the second letter itself the apostle John is not specifically identified as the “elder.” So, in keeping with the introductory words of 2 John, the commentary that follows refers to the writer as the “elder.”
Opinions vary widely as to the person or persons to whom 2 John is addressed. The Greek words eklekté kyría have been understood to be directed to the “elect” or “chosen lady” (a prominent believing woman), a believing woman named Kyria (the elect or chosen Kyria), Electa (the lady Electa), or Electa Kyria. Another possibility that has gained wide acceptance is that the designation applies to a congregation, and that the “children” are the individuals who are members thereof. Those who favor this view suggest that a cryptic designation was used in order to protect believers from persecution. Third John, which appears to date from the same period, includes personal names, raising a question as to why a cryptic designation would have been used in the second letter.