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An Introduction To The Book Of 3 John

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I. AUTHOR: Probably the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee.

A. External Evidence: This evidence is not as strong as that for 2 John,1 yet its brevity of the letter and the unlikelihood of it being quoted may account for some of this (as with 2 John)2

1. Disputed by Origen (c. 185-254)

2. Named as authentic by Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-86)

3. Disputed by Eusebius (c. 325-40)

4. Named as authentic by Jerome (c. 340-420)

5. Named as authentic by Augustine (c. 400)

6. Named as authentic by all of the canons (Muratorian (c. 170), Barococcio (c. 206), Apostolic (c. 300), Athanasuis (c. 367) except the Marcion (c. 140) except for Cheltenham (c. 360) who disputed it

7. Named as authentic in the Old Latin (c. 200)

8. Named as authentic in all of the councils except for Nicea (c. 325-40) [ Hippo (392), Carthage (397) and Carthage (419)].

B. Internal Evidence:

1. Guthrie writes, “As in 2 John the writer introduces himself as ‘the Elder’, and so the decision reached with respect to 2 John should apply here.

2. Similarities Between 2 John and 3 John:

a. Much emphasis is placed upon the ‘truth’ with a similar context of false teaching assumed

b. Both speak of hospitality:

1) John forbids it for false teachers

2) John commends it for the true

c. Both rejoice over others who walk in the truth (2 Jn 4; 3 Jn 3)

d. In both the author intimates his intention to visit the recipients (2 Jn 12; 3 Jn 13)

e. In both the author intimates that he has much to write but would rather not write in “paper and ink” (2 Jn 12), with ‘pen and ink’ (3 Jn 13)

II. DESTINATION: Gaius (even though his identity is obscure)

A. “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth” (1)

B. The identity of Gaius is uncertain:

1. A traveling companion of Paul’s form Macedonia who is taken up in the riot in Ephesus (along with Aristarchus) on his last missionary journey (Acts 19:29)

2. A Corinthian whom Paul baptized (1 Cor 1:14) This may well be the Macedonian of Acts 19:29.

3. A traveling companion of Paul’s on his third missionary journey from Derbe Galatia (Acts 20:4)

4. All of the above references relate people to Paul and his ministry, but this Gaius may well have been a convert (“spiritual child”) of the elder John (4). This would not preclude any activity with Paul so he could still be one of his companions. It is also possible that the Elder in 3 John is simply adopting a fatherly attitude over those whom he has pastoral care in which case, there would not necessarily be any reference to a convert

5. Someone who shows hospitality to the whole church (Rom 16:23). This could be a correlation to the Gaius mentioned in 3 John since he there also does for ‘strangers’ who bear witness to his love before the whole church (5-6)

In conclusion it is not possible to identify Gaius with any degree of certainty with the information provided above. If one were to guess, it may be that 1, 2, 4, and 5 are all one and the same person because none of this information excludes any other and because it would be natural for John to have such a pastoral relationship with the church at Corinth. Thus Gaius would be a Corinthian who showed hospitality to strangers and accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey and who now was also under the care of John. Again this is speculation at best. This may be another person than any of those mentioned thus far since John mostly had contact with those in Asia.

III. DATE: Probably similar to 2 John (AD 85-90)

A. This epistle and 2 John are complementary are were thus probably written and sent on the same occasion

B. Even if these two letters were not written on the same occasion, there is nothing in 3 John to require a great time interval between it and 2 John

C. It is not possible to determine whether 3 John preceded or followed 2 John in spite of 3 John 9 (which could or could not refer to 2 John)

D. Guthrie writes, “In all probability this Epistle and 2 John were the latest Johannine writings and the latest of all the New Testament literature...”3

IV. OCCASION AND PURPOSE:

A. Occasion: It seems that the early church practiced the support of traveling Christian teachers and missionaries by providing food and lodging for them. John commends Gaius for outstanding service in this regard (5-8), but Diotrephes had refused to show such hospitality to emissaries sent out from John. In fact he absolutely refused to receive them and even went to far as to try to excommunicate anyone who did (9-11)

B. Purposes:

1. To commend Gaius for his stand against Diotrephes4

2. To assure Gaius that he will deal with Diotrephes when he visits the church

3. To commend Demetrius to Gaius’ private hospitality in view of the actions of Diotrephes


1 It is uncertain that any external evidence can be cited before the third century. But as Guthrie writes, “the absence of early attestation is not very surprising in view of the character of its contents” (NTI, 895).

2 Guthrie, NTI, 884-85. In addition Guthrie writes, “It is significant that the earlier writers appear to have less hesitation about apostolic authorship than the later, which is the reverse of what would be expected if the doubts were based on accurate tradition. It is just possible that the ascription to John the Elder caused more confusion at a later date because of the belief in some circles in a John the Elder distinct from John the apostle....On the whole, there are no conclusive external reasons for denying the authenticity of these Epistles” (Ibid., 886).

3 NTI, 899. The only other exception to this would be the book of Revelation which was probably written AD 95-96.

4 This name meaning “fostered, cherished by Zeus” from Διος for “Zeus” and τρεφω meaning “to cause to grow or increase, bring up, rear, as in children) [Liddell and Scott, 434, 1814) may refer to his pagan background rather than being a second or third century generation Christian (Burdick, 454).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines