Sunday, January 30, 2011

Orientation to the Book of 3rd John

Orientation to the Book of 3rd John

Itinerant Preachers had been sent out by the Apostle John to churches in Asia, of whom some had been rejected by a dictatorial leader, Diotrephes. This letter was written to his friend, Gaius, to praise and encourage him for showing hospitality to John’s messengers, and as a side warning to Diotrephes that he planned to deal with him when he visited.

I. Introductory Elements

A. Authorship

The author of 3rd John is John, the Apostle, son of Zebedee; also the author of the Gospel of John, and Revelation.

1. Internal Evidence

The author does not specifically identify himself, but simply refers to himself as “The Elder”. Obvious similarities to 1 John, 2nd John and the Gospel of John suggest the same person wrote all three of those books, so it is widely accepted that the Apostle John did in fact write them. As noted above, in 3rd John, the writer once again refers to himself as “The Elder” in the introduction to the letter. In addition, phrases such as “love in the truth”, in verse 1 of both 2nd and 3rd John, “walking in the truth” in verse 4 of 2nd and 3rd John, and similar conclusions all point to John the Apostle as the author of 3rd John.

2. External Evidence

The common belief among the Church Fathers was that the Apostle John was the author of 1st, 2nd and 3rd John. Eusebius listed 2nd and 3rd John among the antilegomena. Irenaeus twice quotes from 2nd John in his Against Heresies. Clement of Alexandria speaks of John’s “longer epistle”, which would probably indicate that he was aware of some shorter epistles that John had written. Tertullian (c. 150-222) and Origen (c. 185-253) both designated the author as the Apostle John as well. As far as can be determined, no one else was suggested by the Church Fathers.

B. Recipients

to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth identifies the recipient. As to which Gaius this is, no one is completely sure, as Gaius was a common name in the Roman Empire. Gaius could have been any one of four possible. 1. A Macedonian who accompanied the Apostle Paul on his travels. 2. A man from Derbe who went with Paul from Corinth on his last journey to Jerusalem. 3. A man of Corinth who was his host in his second sojourn in that city. 4. or an unknown Christian.

C. Place and Date of Writing

It is widely accepted that 3rd John was written about the same time as 1st and 2nd John. These letters are difficult to date with precision, but evidence from early Church Fathers (Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria), the early form of Gnosticism reflected in the denunciations of the letter and the advanced age of John suggest the end of the first century, it has therefore been deemed reasonable to date these letters somewhere between A.D. 85 and 95. The letters do not indicate the place of authorship, but some later traditions placed John in the city of Ephesus.

D. Occasion

The Apostle John had sent out itinerant preachers to help start and grow new churches in Asia. Since these men were sent out with the idea that they were to start new churches, but take nothing from the Gentiles of the region, it was important that they got full support from the faithful.

E. Purpose

This letter is written to John’s friend Gaius, whose reputation for helping these men had made it back to John. Also in the letter is a not so veiled threat that John will make sure to confront a man named Diotrephes when John visits the area, because Diotrephes has been speaking poorly of John, has refused to help the itinerant preachers, and has even threatened to excommunicate anyone from the local church who does help them. It also mentions Demetrius, stating that he also has a good reputation among the brethren. Demetrius could have actually been the deliverer of the letter, and his mention in it would serve as an introduction, letting Gaius know he’s to be taken care of.

F. Synopsis

The Apostle John is writing to his good friend, and possible personal convert to Christ, Gaius. In the letter he gives his salutation and expresses his hope that all is well with Gaius. He goes on about the fact that some of the brethren he had sent out to start and train new churches in the region had come back and expressed the hospitality given to them by his good friend.

In addition, John expresses his disdain for a local church dictator named Diotrephes, who refuses to accept any letters from John, will not show any grace or hospitality to the preachers John sends to them, and expresses to the local church members that if they do, he will excommunicate them from the church.

John closes the letter by exhorting Gaius to continue in the way he has been doing, imitating good instead of evil, and by introducing a character named Demetrius, who also has a good report from the church. Demetrius may be just a local member who also shows mercy to traveling preachers; or as some scholars believe, may have been the one delivering the letter to Gaius and this is John’s way of letting him know that Demetrius is one of them and is to be trusted. He then expresses that he has other things to say, but prefers to say them face to face instead of writing them.

G. Literary Genre of the Book

The Book of 3rd John is categorized as a General or Catholic Epistle.

H. Literary Structure

Vs. 1 Salutation

Vs. 2-4 Godliness of Gaius

Vs. 5-8 Generosity of Gaius

Vs. 9-11 Pride of Diotrephes

Vs. 12 Praise for Demetrius

Vs. 13-14 Benediction

Part One: The Commendation of Gaius (Vs. 1-8)

Part Two: The Condemnation of Diotrephes (Vs. 9-14)

I. Theological Issues

The main theological issue in 3rd John is “love your brother”. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus says: "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

That theme is visited again by the Apostle John in 1 John 2:10-11, “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he who hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not wither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”

Probably Gaius and Diotrephes were teachers or preachers in the same congregation, although they could have had neighboring churches in the same community. At least they were rivals and Diotrephes was far different in character from Gaius. Diotrephes, who loveth to have pre-eminence. To apply some of the tests given in I and II John, Gaius measures up as a true believer: he walks in truth (lives righteously), serves God faithfully and obeys the commands, he demonstrates that the love of God is fulfilled in him as he loves and ministers to others. Diotrephes, on the other hand, measures up as a false teacher, an imposter! He loves himself more than anyone else; the word loveth to have the pre-eminence means literally, “to love first place.” He does not receive the word of the apostles as the Word of God, but instead continues to reject it personally (cf. I Thess 2:13, where a cognate word for receiveth us not appears). His works are evil, and he shows hate rather than love for the missionaries as well as the members who want to help them. (Liberty Bible Commentary, pg. 2645)

J. Christological Purpose

In verse 4 of 3rd John, we see John say, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”. The word truth here is “alētheia” in the Greek language. One definition of this word is: “the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians”. As there were a lot of Gnostics and false teachers in John’s day, walking in “the truth” would obviously be very important. When John speaks of the “truth”, he clearly means the way and lifestyle Jesus said would identify us as Christians, i.e. showing Christian love and hospitality to our brothers and sisters; loving your neighbor as yourself, which Gaius clearly has a reputation for. In commending Gaius for his actions, John is not only sending a clear signal of how Christians are supposed to act in his day, but how Jesus would expect Christians to act in the future as well.

K. Theme

The overwhelming theme here is clearly Christian brotherly love. Verse 11 states, “Dear Friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” The contrast between the two main characters in this letter is clear. Gaius loves the brothers even though they’re strangers to him, so be like Gaius. Diotrephes clearly does not have the love of Christ in him and is a false teacher, so don’t be like Diotrephes.



Godliness of Gaius

Generosity of Gaius

Pride of Diotrephes

Praise for Demetrius



Vs. 1

Vs. 2-4

Vs. 5-8

Vs. 9-11

Vs. 12

Vs. 13-14




This letter was written about the same time as 1 and 2 John (A.D. 85-95)


The Apostle John

In the first verses of both 2 and 3 John the author identifies himself as “the elder”. Note other similarities: “love in truth” (v. 1 of both letters), “walking in truth” (v. 4 of both letters) and the similar conclusions.


King James Version Number of Chapters

Number of Verses

Number of Words





The Book of 3rd John is categorized as a General or Catholic Epistle

Expositional Commentary on Third John

I. The Commendation of Gaius – vv. 1-8

A. Greetings to Gaius – v. 1-2

1. John’s Salutation, the writer identifies himself – v. 1a – The elder

The author of 3rd John does not identify himself specifically, but simply refers to himself as “The Elder”. The word, (Gr. Presbyteros), is synonymous with ‘pastor’ or ‘bishop’ in New Testament literature, and implies that John has a superior position of leadership in the Christian community.[1] An early church leader Eusebius, mentions a John the elder who was a disciple and companion of John the apostle in Ephesus. Although it cannot be said for sure, it may be that the elder is the same elder mentioned in 2nd and 3rd John. If so, the he wrote the Gospel of John as well as these three letters, as the style and content are the same.[2]

2. The recipient of the letter – v. 1b – to my dear friend Gaius

a. The name Gaius is found in four other places in the New Testament, and all four of them are associated with the Apostle Paul. In Acts 19:29, Gaius is a traveling companion of the Paul and is probably the same Gaius mentioned in Acts 20:4, described as Gaius from Derbe. Gaius is mentioned as one of the people Paul baptized in 1Cor 1:14, and is probably the same Gaius mentioned in Rom 16:23 who was his host in Corinth. Therefore, it appears that at least two different men are mentioned as associates of Paul’s; however there is no indication that either of these men is to be identified as the Gaius of 3rd John.[3]

b. Gaius is addressed as my dear friend (agapētos), which is an affectionate term from John. There is no clear indication that Gaius is head of a house church or holds a position of leadership, but definitely appears to be a significant person in the circle of Christian friends.[4]

c. Spirituality – v. 1c – whom I love in the truth..

Love expressed is wont to kindle love. Here seems to be either the sincerity of the apostle's love or the religion of it. The sincerity of it: Whom I love in the truth, for the truth's sake, as abiding and walking in the truth as it is in Jesus. To love our friends for the truth's sake is true love, religious gospel love.[5] John speaks much about Christian love and how, if the truth is in us, we should walk in that truth and love each other as such; and makes reference to that here. He loves Gaius as a brother in Christ, (the truth).

3. John prays for Gaius’ physical health – v. 2a -- I pray that you may enjoy good health

a. John acknowledges in v. 2b that obviously Gaius’ spiritual health is well, and is saying that he hopes his physical health is in line with his spiritual health. This once again falls in line with the idea of Christian brotherly love.[6]

b. John acknowledges the spiritual health of Gaius – v. 2b -- even as your soul prospers

The word prosper (euodoō) which occurs with soul as well as with respect to physical well-being, literally means “getting along well”. John hopes his letter finds Gaius in as good a health physically as spiritually.[7] John knows of the walk that Gaius is walking, and acknowledges that here.

B. John’s joy at Gaius’ godliness – vv. 3-7

1. John’s joy – v. 3a – It gave me great joy

a. When John states here that it gives him great joy, he’s expressing the reason and basis of John’s knowledge of Gaius’ “prosperous soul.” He knows that Gaius is doing well spiritually because of the situation he is about to describe.

b. Testimony of the brethren – v. 3b – when the brethren came and testified

John uses the progressive present tense to describe here that this was not a one-time witness; it implies that from time to time brethren have come back to John and spoken of the faithfulness of Gaius and how he has helped them on their way.[8] This is part of the reason for John writing to Gaius; he knows Gaius’ character and how he’s living the Christian life.

c. Gaius’ continued faith – v. 3c – of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. Here is further proof of Gaius’ Christian walk. Gaius is not just a hearer of the Word, but a doer. John acknowledges that Gaius has the “truth” in him, which is contrasted even in the words of John’s writings with people who say they believe, but produce no fruit (brotherly love).

2. John’s joy for his spiritual children – v. 4

a. John’s greatest joy – v. 4a – I have no greater joy

John is expressing to Gaius here that there is nothing he loves to hear more than what he’s about to say in the next part of the verse; that his spiritual children are walking in the truth; which of course means that they “get it”, they understand what it means to love the brethren; and that is what makes John happiest.

b. Gaius is one of John’s spiritual children – v. 4b – than to hear that my children walk in truth. As referenced above, Gaius could be anyone of a few different people, and no one is sure which he would be; however, John seems to have a stake here in his conversion as he refers to him as a spiritual child. It wouldn’t make sense for John to reference him as such if he were not. As John Gill says, when he speaks of Gaius as a spiritual child he means: “meaning his spiritual children, those whose conversion he had been the instrument of; and among these it seems Gaius was one.”[9]

C. The Godliness of Gaius – vv. 5 – 8

1. Generosity of Gaius – v. 5a – Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest

a. Gaius is once again referred to as beloved by John, which once again shows how much John cares for him. “In “the beloved Gaius” we see a spiritually-minded saint whose interests were centered in the Lord’s people. In a few brief words the apostle delineates the beautiful Christian graces that marked this brother.”[10] The theme that keeps coming up with Gaius is his undying love for the brothers, which John acknowledges again and again.

b. Gaius’ faithfulness shown to the brethren – v. 5b – to the brethren,

John had dispersed itinerant preachers to minister to the early churches of Asia Minor, who took nothing with them. These itinerant preachers were reliant on the hospitality of Christian brothers and sisters for their very sustenance. Gaius is showing true Christian hospitality by taking these preachers in and caring for them while they are in the area. On the obligation to provide hospitality, please see Rom. 12:13, 1 Tim. 3:2, 5:10, Titus 1:8, Heb. 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9.[11]

c. Gaius’ hospitality to strangers as well – v. 5c – and to strangers;

Gaius’ reputation has made it back to the apostle John that he takes care of the preachers whom John has sent, but that he shows hospitality to strangers. This is a true act of Christian brotherhood. But these are not to be understood as two separate groups; the brethren are the strangers, or those to whom the hospitality is shown. It is important that aspiring bishops show this quality, among others (I Tim 3:2).[12] Once again, Gaius, having the truth and walking in the truth, he acted faithfully towards the brethren and strangers who were wholly devoting their lives to the service of the Lord.[13]

2. Testimony of the brethren – v. 6

a. Made known by the brethren – v. 6a – Which have borne witness of thy charity

These itinerant preachers had obviously come back to John and specifically informed him of Gaius’ hospitality. Gaius was marked not only by his faithfulness, but by his love. It is possible to be faithful, but lacking in love, or, in seeking to show love, fail in faithfulness. In Gaius, faithfulness and love were happily joined. Moreover, we note again that his love, like his walk, was not a matter of boasting on his part, but was borne witness to by others.[14]

b. To the church – v. 6b – before the church:

In the Gospel and Epistles of John, the word church (Ekklesia) is used only in Third John, where it appears three times, vv. 6, 9, and 10. In the first instance, it seems to refer to the Elder’s community. In v. 9, it may be the church in a wider sense or the community of Diotrephes, which is certainly in view in v. 10.[15] This also gives some indication of the conduct of meetings where missionaries gave reports and testified before the group.

c. Sending out missionaries – v. 6c – whom if thou bring forward on their journey

Another indication of the life of the early church is the use of the technical term to denote missionary support, “bring forward, or send forward.”[16] It makes clear the obligations of Christians to support those who are doing the Lord’s work. It is the church’s responsibility to make sure that missionaries have what they need to do the work of Christ, not only in John’s day, but now as well. This is a timeless message for all Christians.

d. Continue what you’re doing – v. 6d – after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:

After a godly sort is an idiom meaning that Gaius’ support is deserved by the missionaries in the Christian system, since they have given themselves to serve as God’s representatives.[17] The use of “do well”, actually “acts well”, in the translation here is somewhat awkward, but is intended to reflect the parallelism of v. 5, where the same Greek verb (poieo) is used. In English, one would typically say “and you will do well.” The verb here is in the future tense and seems to exhort Gaius to future conduct with the same emissaries who had (seemingly) already returned to the community (Ekklesia) of the Elder. This clause frequently occurs in secular letters and introduces the main purpose of the letter.[18]

3. The reason they went – v. 7a – Because that for his name's sake they went forth,

a. These itinerant preachers were sent out by John to help build churches and build up the body of Christ. John is making a point here that they went out for the sake of His name, in direct opposition to false teachers going throughout the region teaching other religions or cult followings; as even Christian love can be counterfeited by people who present the appearance without the reality.[19] John is making a point here of explaining exactly why and by whose name these men went out on their missionary journeys.

b. They asked for no support from non-Christians – v. 7b – taking nothing of the Gentiles. Once again, these itinerant preachers had gone forth in the name of Christ, casting themselves upon God,[20] and taking nothing from the Gentiles. Gentiles, although it usually means Gentiles in contradistinction to Jews, here means non-Christians.[21] The false teachers going throughout the land would sometimes use the goodness of people, staying with them for long periods and really giving nothing in return. John sent his preachers out with instructions to take nothing from the pagans they came in contact with, and relying only on the Lord for their sustenance. John wanted his preachers to instill trust in the surrounding people, and not have them suspicious of the men coming to preach Christ. It would also show them that as these men relied on the one true God, that He would supply their needs; giving an even greater witness for all to see.

c. Our obligation as Christians – v. 8a – We therefore ought to receive such,

This is the proper deduction from the fact that these missionaries go out in behalf of the name of Christ and take or receive nothing. We on our part, all the rest of us Christians, ought to join hands with them in helping.[22] In essence, it is our distinct duty to help the brethren who are preaching the word and spreading the gospel. This basic tenant of Christianity goes back to John’s earlier epistle, “If we say we are in Him, and have no love for the brethren, we make Him a liar”. John makes it very clear here that helping out Christians in need is tantamount to our claim to be in Christ.

d. It involves us in the process – v. 8b – that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.

Here John is saying that when we help others, we become involved in the task; and not only involved in the task, but involved in Christ’s work. James said, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”[23] It’s one thing to hear preaching and to claim to be a Christian; it’s another thing entirely to actually be involved in the work of Christ and helping others. When James says, be ye doers, this is what he’s talking about. John is reiterating that here. We may not be able to travel from region to region. We may not be the greatest speaker the world has ever heard. We may not be the most knowledgeable student of the Word; but we can all open our hearts and our doors and help those that are doing. We get to share in the rewards of Christ when we do this; and John uses this passage to encourage not only Gaius, but the other hearers of this word, even today.

[1] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[2] The Liberty Illustrated Bible Dictionary Copyright 1986 by Thomas Nelson Publishers

[3] The Letters of John Colin G. Kruse 2000 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 255 Jefferson Ave S.E. Grand Rapids, MI 49503 p. 220

[4] The Letters of John Colin G. Kruse 2000 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 255 Jefferson Ave S.E. Grand Rapids, MI 49503 p. 220

[5] Matthew Henry Commentary Third Epistle of John

[6] 1,2,3 John: Comfort and Council for a Church in Crisis W. Hall Harris Biblical Studies Press, LLC 2001 p. 258

[7] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[8] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[9] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

[10] The Epistles of John Hamilton Smith Publisher 74 Granton Rd. Edinburgh EH5 3RD

[11] 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina) By John Painter Liturgical Press 2008 p. 369

[12] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[13] The Epistles of John Hamilton Smith Publisher 74 Granton Rd. Edinburgh EH5 3RD

[14] The Epistles of John Hamilton Smith Publisher 74 Granton Rd. Edinburgh EH5 3RD

[15] 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina) By John Painter Liturgical Press 2008 p. 369

[16] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[17] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[18] The Gospel and Letters of John: the Gospel of John By Urban C. Von Wahlde Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2140 Oak Industrial Dr. Grand Rapids, MI 49505 2010 p. 258

[19] The Epistles of John by I Howard Marshall Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 255 Jefferson Ave, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 1978

[20] The Epistles of John by Hamilton Smith

[21] Liberty Bible Commentary Copyright 1983 by Old-Time Gospel Hour

[22] The Three Epistles of John by Richard C. Lenski Augsburg Fortress Box 1209 Minneapolis, MN 55440 1945

[23] James 1:22 KJV

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