The end of this letter introduced another man named Demetrius. He may have been ordained a bishop of Philadelphia (now Amman, Jordan). Demetrius was probably a member of the group of missionaries discussed earlier in the letter. This elder wanted to recommend him to Gaius. Recommendation letters were quite common in the early church, since Paul often used them. Have you ever written a letter of recommendation?
This elder described his conflict with Diotrephes, who does not acknowledge his authority. This Diotrephes was excommunicating those people who welcomed missionaries. There was also a mention of a previous letter written to this church. However, Diotrephes suppressed this letter. This elder intended to visit that church and confront Diotrephes. The dispute between Diotrephes and this elder seemed to be based on church leadership and authority rather than doctrine. This elder never accused Diotrephes of teaching any heresy. Most scholars do not connect the letter that the elder mentioned in 3 John with the letter of 2 John, since there is nothing about a doctrinal controversy. Have you ever been involved with a church dispute?
This elder in 3 John commend Gaius for his loyalty and his hospitality towards a group of traveling “brothers”. These “brothers” were brothers in the faith or missionaries. They were following the command of Jesus in Mark, chapter 6:8–9 to set out on a journey without any money. This elder requested that Gaius provide for these brothers to help continue them on their journey. Have you ever been a missionary?
The name Gaius occurs four other times in the New Testament, other than in his epistle. First, a Christian Gaius is mentioned in Macedonia as a traveling companion of Paul, along with Aristarchus. One chapter later, a Gaius from Derbe is named as one of Paul’s seven traveling companions who waited for him at Troas. Next, a Gaius is mentioned residing in Corinth as being one of only a few people there who was baptized by Paul. Lastly, a Gaius is referred to in a final greeting portion of the Epistle to the Romans, as Paul’s host in Corinth. However, there is no strict reason to suppose that any of these men were the same Gaius of 3 John. Nevertheless, it is still a possibility. How many people do you know named Gaius?
The letter is written to a man named Gaius. Gaius seems to have been a wealthy man, since the epistle’s author did not think it would impose unduly on him to host some traveling preachers for a short time. This elder author may have converted Gaius, since he calls Gaius “his child in the faith.” There was a later tradition that Gaius was made bishop of Pergamon in Greece, although there is no early support for this statement. Do you now a wealthy Christian?
There is no doctrine laid out in 3 John. It is a strictly a personal letter. This author pointed out the importance of hospitality for those who were working to spread the gospel. 3 John is the shortest book of the Bible by word count, although 2 John has fewer verses. 3 John is the only New Testament book which does not contain the names “Jesus” or “Christ”. The original Greek uses the term Ὀνόματος, generally translated as “name”, referring specifically to the “Name of Jesus”. However, the text does not explicitly say “Jesus” or “Christ”. Can a New Testament book not name Jesus?
3 John is also linguistically similar to 2 John. These two letters shared 99 different words, but 21 were unimportant words like “and” or “the”. Thus, there were only 78 significant words. 23 of these words do not appear in 1 John or the Gospel of John. 3 John has 4 unique words. Approximately 30% of the significant words in 3 John do not appear in 1 John or the Gospel of John, compared to 20% for 2 John. These considerations indicate a close affinity between 2 and 3 John, although 2 John is more strongly connected with 1 John than it is with 3 John. Does this prove a common authorship of 2 and 3 John? Is linguistic analysis valuable?
There are many similarities between 2 and 3 John. Both follow the format of other personal letters of that era. In both letters, the author self-identifies as a “presbyter” or “elder”. They both deal with the themes of hospitality and conflict within the church. They are also extremely similar in length, probably because they were both written to fit on one papyrus sheet. Have you ever tried to write everything on one sheet of paper?
The Third Epistle of John is a personal letter sent by this elder to a man named Gaius. He is recommending a group of Christians led by Demetrius, which had come to preach the gospel in the area where Gaius lived. The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Gaius, and to warn him against Diotrephes, who refused to cooperate with the author of this letter. What do you think about visiting preachers?
Early church literature contains no mention of 3 John. The first explicit reference to 3 John comes from the middle of the third century. Eusebius (260-339) said that Origen (185-253) knew of both 2 and 3 John. Similarly, Pope Dionysius of Alexandria (pope from 248-264), Origen’s pupil, was aware of a “reputed Second or Third Epistle of John”. A lack of documentation is likely due to the extreme brevity of these two epistles. This work was accepted into the Biblical New Testament canon, since the language of 3 John echoed that of the Gospel of John. By the end of the fourth century the presbyter (author of 2 and 3 John) was thought to be a different person than the Apostle John. This opinion, although reported by Jerome (347-420), was not held by all, as Jerome himself attributed the epistles to John the Apostle. This epistle of 3 John is found in many of the oldest New Testament manuscripts, since its text is free of major discrepancies or textual variants. Thus, there is little dispute about its canonicity. What do you know about the canon of the Bible?