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III John

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Salutation Greeting to Gaius   Introduction Address and Greetings
v. 1 vv. 1-4 v. 1 v. 1a vv. 1-4
      v. 1b  
v,v. 2-4   vv. 2-4 vv. 2-4  
Cooperation and Opposition Commended for Generosity   Gaius Is Praised  
vv. 5-8 vv. 5-8 vv. 5-8 vv. 5-8 vv. 5-8
  Diotrephes and Demetrius   Diotrephes and Demetrius Beware of the Example of Diotrephes
vv. 9-10 vv. 9-12 vv. 9-10 vv. 9-10 v. 9-11
vv. 11-12   vv. 11-12 v. 11 Commendation of Demetrius
      v. 12 v. 12
Final Greetings Farewell Greeting   Final Greetings Epilogue
vv. 13-15 vv. 13-15 vv. 13-14 vv. 13-14 vv. 13-15
    v. 15 v. 15a  
      v. 15b  

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical Structure Textual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE ONE

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book.

2. Type of literature (genre)

 

READING CYCLE TWO

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

 

READING CYCLE THREE

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO
III JOHN

INTRODUCTION

A. This little letter is only entitled III John because it is slightly shorter than II John. I really think both II John and III John form a balanced message to a local church, probably somewhere in the Roman Province of Asia Minor, towards the end of the first century.

B. II John deals with the problem of heretical, itinerant preachers, while III John deals with the admonition to help itinerant Christian preachers.

C. There are three different men specifically named in III John.

1. Gaius (a godly man in the recipient church)

a. There are three Gaiuses mentioned in other parts of the Bible: Gaius of Macedonia, Acts 19:29; Gaius of Derbe, Acts 20:4; and Gaius of Corinth, Rom. 16:23; I Cor. 1:14.

b.The writings known as "Apostolic Constitutions" list the Gaius of III John as the Bishop of Pergamum, appointed by John.

2. Diotrephes (a godless trouble-maker in the recipient church)

a. This is the only mention of this man in the NT. His name is a very rare name which means "nursed of Zeus." How ironic it is that man named after "Zeus" would be against travelers when "Zeus" was the "protector of travelers."

b. His attitude is exposed in verses 9-10.

3. Demetrius (the bearer of John's letter to this local church)

a. Apparently he is one of the traveling missionaries and the bearer of the letter from the Apostle John in Ephesus.

b. The tradition called "The Apostolic Constitutions" lists Demetrius as the Bishop of Philadelphia, who was appointed by the Apostle John.

D. The early church struggled with how to evaluate and support traveling preachers/teachers/evangelists. One early non-canonical Christian writing from the early second century called The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles has these guidelines:

CHAPTER XI-CONCERNING TEACHERS, APOSTLES, AND PROPHETS

"Whosoever, therefore, cometh and teacheth you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not; but if he teach so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, according to the decree of the Gospel, thus do: Let every apostle that cometh to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goeth away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodgeth; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet" (p. 380).

CHAPTER XII-RECEPTION OF CHRISTIANS

"But whosoever saith in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, ye shall not listen to him; but if he saith to you to give for other's sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

But let every one that cometh in the name of the Lord be received, and afterward ye shall prove and know him; for ye shall have understanding right and left. If he who cometh is a wayfarer, assist him as far as ye are able; but he shall not remain with you, except for two or three days, if need be. But if he willeth to abide with you, being an artisan, let him work and eat; but if he hath no trade, according to your understanding see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he willeth not so to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that ye keep aloof from such" (p. 381).

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSE 1
  1The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

v. 1 "The elder" The term elder is synonymous with the term "pastor" and "bishop" (cf. Titus 1:5,7; Acts 20:17,28). See full note in II John v. 1.

▣ "the beloved" This is characteristic of John's letters (cf. I John 2:7; 3:2,21; 4:1,7,11; III John 1,2,5,11), but is not found as a title for believers in the Gospel or the Revelation.

"Gaius" There has been much discussion as to whether Gaius or Diotrephes is the pastor of this local church. It is hard to make any dogmatic statement from this slight amount of information which is available. Because of v. 9, where "the church" and "them" are mentioned, it is possible that Diotrephes was the leader of one house church and Gaius was the leader of another house church which was very close by, but this is pure speculation.

▣ "whom I love in truth" "Love and truth" are found together often in John's letters (cf. II John 1,2,3,4; III John 1,3,4,8,12). Truth can refer to

1. the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:17)

2. Jesus the Son (cf. John 8:32; 14:6)

3. the content of the gospel (cf. I John 2:2; 3:23)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 2-4
  2Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

v. 2 "I pray" This follows a typical Greek letter opening. It is a prayer/wish for the recipients' prosperity and health. It was a way to greet a loved one. This cannot be used as a proof text for the "health, wealth gospel," so popular in modern America. See Gordon Fee (a charismatic scholar), The Disease of the Health, Wealth Gospel. For my views on healing, please see my notes on James 5 online at www.freebiblecommentary.org.

▣ "that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health" This is a typical opening prayer in the Greco-Roman world of the first century. It was never meant to be a proof-text for "health, wealth, and prosperity" preachers. Bible texts removed from context can be used to assert anything. The text cannot mean today what it never meant in its own day. The only inspired person is the original author. We must follow his thoughts, not interject our own!

▣ "soul" This term "psuche" (soul) is almost synonymous with "pneuma." They are used to refer to the essence of personhood or self. This does not refer to an isolated part of man (body, soul, spirit). Humans are a unity (cf. Gen. 2:7). We are a soul; we do not have a soul.

v. 3 "I was very glad" (cf. II John 4; Phil. 4:10).

▣ "came and testified" Both of these are present participles which imply that

1. members of this church traveled regularly to Ephesus and reported to John

2. that returning missionaries reported Gaius' generosity

Possibly John, an old man, could not travel easily, but he loved to hear the condition and growth of the churches.

▣ "walking in the truth" This phrase is theologically parallel to "walk in the light" (cf. I John 1:7). Christianity is not primarily a creed, a ritual, or an institution to be joined, but a life to be lived in relationship with Jesus Christ. The early church was first called "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2, 19:9,23; 24:22). Truth is not only intellectual (content), but also a relationship (first with God through Christ resulting in love for one another). See Special Topics on Truth at John 6:55 and 17:3.

v. 4 "my children" This is a common designation in John's letters (cf. I John 2:12,13,18,28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21). The emphasis here is on (1) John's apostolic authority or (2) John's term of affection for the churches and Christians of the Roman Province of Asia Minor (western Turkey), where he spent his last days of ministry.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 5-8
  5
Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

v. 5 "you are acting faithfully" These actions by Gaius are exactly opposite of Diotrephes' actions in vv. 9-10. See Special Topics: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness at John 1:7 and John 1:14.

▣ "in whatever you accomplish" This is a relative pronoun with ean and an aorist middle subjunctive which expresses a condition with the prospect of being fulfilled. Gaius had helped traveling missionaries on every occasion and in every way possible.

▣ "especially when they are strangers" The church should have been welcoming and supporting these itinerant Christian missionaries, but because of the local situation, Gaius alone was helping these brethren of whom he knew nothing except that they also knew, served, and loved Jesus Christ.

v. 6 "they have testified to your love before the church" Obviously the early church in Ephesus had a missionary report time during their corporate worship.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Church (ekklesia)

▣ "You will do well" This is a Greek idiom found in the Egyptian papyri (see Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament) for "please" (cf. Acts 10:33).

▣ "to send them on their way" This is a technical idiom for equipping, praying for, and supplying the needs of traveling missionaries (cf. Acts 15:3; Rom. 15:24; I Cor, 16:6; II Cor. 1:16; Titus 3:13).

▣ "in a manner worthy of God" This means in a significant, loving, abundant way (cf. Col. 1:10; I Thess. 2:12). Believers are to treat gospel workers in a manner befitting who they serve (cf. Eph. 4:1).

v. 7

NASB, REB"they went out"
NKJV"they went forth"
NRSV"they began their journey"
TEV, NJB"they set out"

This very common verb is used of

1. the false teachers leaving the church in I John 2:19

2. false prophets going out into the world in I John 4:1

3. many deceivers going out into the world in II John v. 7

4. true Apostolic witnesses going out (into the world) in III John, v. 7

 

NASB"for the sake of the Name"
NKJV"for His name's sake"
NRSV"for the sake of Christ"
TEV"in the service of Christ"
NJB"entirely for the sake of the name"

This is an example of "the name" standing for the person and work of Jesus Christ. As believers believe in His name (cf. John 1:12; 3:18; Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:9-11), they are forgiven in His name (I John 2:13), they also act for His name (cf. Matt. 10:22; 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:12,17; John 15:21; 20:31; Acts 4:17; 5:41; 9:14; Rom. 1:5; I Pet. 4:14,16; Rev. 2:3).

NASB"accepting nothing from the Gentiles"
NKJV"taking nothing from the Gentiles"
NRSV"accepting no support from non-believers"
TEV"without accepting any help from unbelievers"
NJB"without depending on non-believers for anything"

This phrase refers to these witnesses trusting God for His provision, much like Jesus' words to the Twelve in Matt. 10:5-15 and the Seventy in Luke 10:4-7.

This is the late first century use of "Gentiles" as an allusion to pagans or unbelievers (cf. Matt. 5:47; I Pet. 2:12; 4:3). Believers are to support gospel work! Who one helps reveals his heart.

In John's day many traveling teachers taught for money and reputation. God's teachers/preachers/evangelists were to be helped not for their words, but because of their Lord whose mission they were sacrificially involved in. 

v. 8 "we ought" This is an oft repeated, moral admonition (cf. John 13:14; 19:7; I John 2:6; 3:16; 4:11). The term opheilō means literally to be in financial debt, but it came to be used figuratively to be obligated or to be indebted to someone.

▣ "to support such men" Hospitality was a crucial duty of the early church because of the deplorable moral conditions of most of the local inns (cf. Matt. 25:35; Rom. 12:13; I Tim. 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2; I Pet. 4:9).

▣ "so that we may be fellow workers with the truth" As believers help missionaries, they are involved in their work of faith and truth. This is a gospel principle! The NT guidelines for Christian giving are found in II Corinthians 8-9.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 9-10
  9I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them our of the church.

v. 9 "I wrote something to the church" This may refer to I or II John or to a lost letter; in all probability it refers to II John. See Special Topic: Church (Ekklesia) at v. 6.

▣ "Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them" This is a present active participle. This is a compound term "love" (phileō) and "to hold first rank" (prōteuō). It is used only here in the NT, but the second term is used in Col. 1:18 of Christ's premier rank. This man is the first recorded "power-broker" or "church boss." We do not know if he was the pastor or simply a significant layman. However, this does show his motives. This kind of egotistical individual has been present in the church in every age! Whether he was also a Gnostic is uncertain and unstated, but possible.

James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p. 392, sees Diotrephes as an example of "early catholicism."

"In particular, John's individualism is very plausibly to be understood precisely as a protest against the kind of institutionalizing trends so evident in Pastorals (above pp. 129f., cf. again Hebrews and Revelation - §§31.2, 3). Likewise the Johannine writings seem if anything to be opposed to the kind of sacramentalism which is already clearly established in the early catholicism of Ignatius ('the medicine of immortality' - Eph., 20.2) (see above §41). Most intriguing of all is the attack of 'the elder' on Diotrephes in III John 9f. Diotrephes was clearly in control of this church at least: not only was he able to refuse a welcome to visiting Christians, but he also 'expels from the church' those who crossed him. Diotrephes, in other words, was acting with the authority of a monarchical bishop (cf. Ignatius, Eph., 6.1; Trall., 7.2; Smyrn., 8.1f), and it was against this lust for ecclesiastical prominence and power (philoprōteuōn) that 'the elder' wrote. In other words, assuming that III John comes from the same circle as I and II John, it is best seen as the response of a kind of convention or conventicle Christianity, an anti-institutional and individualistic pietism, protesting against the increasing influence of early catholicism."

▣ "does not accept what we say" Not only did Diotrephes reject John's Apostolic authority, but he was aggressively involved in rejecting Apostolic policy and even taking his vengeance out on those who would follow!

v. 10 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence which means potential action.

▣ "I will call attention to his deeds" John wants to clearly delineate this man's motives (cf. v. 9) and actions (cf. v. 10):

1. NASB - "unjustly accusing us with wicked words"

NKJV - "prating against us with malicious words"

NRSV - "spreading false charges against us"

TEV - "the terrible things he says about us and the lies he tells"

NJB - "the wicked accusations he has been circulating against us"

2. "he himself does not receive the brethren"

3. "he forbids those who desire to do so"

4. "he puts them out of the church"

This man wants the attention and will not share the spotlight with anyone. He also removes anyone from the church who disagrees, or might disagree, with him.

▣ "puts them out of the church" This same strong verb (ekballō) is used in John 9:34,35 for the blind man who Jesus healed being excommunicated from the Synagogue.

It is also used of Satan being cast out in John 12:31.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 11-12
 11Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

v. 11 "do not imitate what is evil" This is a present middle (deponent) imperative which often implies to stop an act in process. We get the English term "mimic" from this Greek word (mimeomai). We must carefully choose our role models. They ought to be mature Christian persons in the church (cf. II Thess. 3:7,9; Heb. 6:12; 13:7). Demetrius is a good example, Diotrephes is a bad example.

▣ "The one who does good is of God" John's letters have three tests by which one can know they are Christian. This refers to the obedience test (cf. I John 2:3-6,28-29; 3:4-10; 5:18; II John 6). There are also allusions to the other two tests: (1) doctrine (vv. 3-4) and (2) love (vv. 1-2,6).

▣ "the one who does evil has not seen God" The false teachers claimed to know God intimately but lived godless and loveless lives. This reflects the antinomian, libertine Gnostics who believed that salvation was an intellectual truth to be affirmed but had no relationship to daily life.

v. 12 "Demetrius has received good testimony" This is a perfect passive indicative. This really seems to be a letter of recommendation from John to Gaius about the missionary Demetrius, who may have delivered III John to Gaius. For other letters of recommendations in the NT, see Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1; I Cor. 16:3; II Cor. 3: 1; 8:16-24; Col. 4:10.

▣ "and from truth itself" Truth (see Special Topics at John 6:55 and 17:3) is personified as another witness to Demetrius' good testimony.

▣ "you know that our testimony is true" John is asserting his own trustworthy witness to Christ (cf. John 19:35; 21:24).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 13-14
  13I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

v. 13 This is very similar to II John 12.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSE 14b
  14bPeace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

v. 14 "Peace be to you" This is obviously a reference to the Hebraic idiom shalom (cf. Luke 10:5). It can mean "hello" or "good-bye." It expresses not only the absence of problems but the presence of God's blessings. These were the resurrected Christ's first words to the disciples in the upper room (cf. John 20:19,21,26). Both Paul (cf. Eph. 6:23) and Peter (cf. I Pet. 5:14) used this as a closing prayer for God's people.

▣ "by name" This is an idiom for individually, personally, and warmly. It was used often in the Egyptian papyri.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. There have been many theories as to why Gaius and Diotrephes were at odds with one another. Some of the suggestions have been:

a. theological reasons

b. social reasons

c. ecclesiastical reasons

d. moral reasons

Explain each of these possibilities and how they might relate to III John.

2. How are II John and III John related?

3. List the three tests for Christian assurance found in I John which are repeated in II John and III John.