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Introduction to the Third Epistle of John                            


I. Writer


Both the Second Epistle of John and the Third Epistle of John are short, but they have many expressions in common: 1) both of them mention “the elder” who writes the epistle (see v.1; 2John v.1); 2) both of them mention the recipient is “the one whom I love in truth” (see v.1; 2John v.1); 3) both of them express that the writer has no greater joy than to hear that the recipient walks in truth (see v.4; 2John v.4); 4) both of them mention there are many things to write in the end but that writer does not wish to write with pen and ink but hopes to see the recipient shortly and speaks face to face to face (see v.13-14; 2John v.12).

Therefore, the two epistles are written by the same one. Most Bible scholars agree that this epistle and the Second Epistle of John were written by the apostle John.

As for the details of the apostle John, please read the Introduction to the First Epistle of John. 


II. The Time and Location the Epistle was Written


The time and location the epistle was written were probably the same with that of the Second Epistle of John, about 90-99 AD, in Ephesus.


III. The Recipients


The recipient of this epistle was called “Gaius” (v.1). We can know from this epistle: 1) he was a beloved brother the apostle John knew in truth (v.1 the original); 2) his health condition might not be well (v.2); 3) his soul prospered (v.2) and he was full of love to others (v.6); 4) the truth abode in him and he walked in truth (v.3); 5) he often received the brethren who went forth to work for the sake of truth (v.5) and was testified by many brothers before the church (v.6).

“Gaius”, a common name at that time in Roman Empire, there were still another three men named “Gaius” in the News Testament: 1) the man of Macedonia, Gaius (Acts 19:29); 2) Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4); 3) the Corinthian, Gaius, who had ever received the apostle Paul. Probably, the church in Corinth held gatherings in his house (see Rom. 16:23; 1Cor. 1:14). The recipient of this epistle might be one of the three men.

According to a godfather’s Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, a Gaius of Derbe had ever been mentioned, who was once the fruit of Paul’s preaching the gospel (see Acts 14:20-21). When Paul died, Gaius had become the spiritual child of the apostle John (see 3John v.4). After the Third Epistle of John was completed, the apostle John went to the place where Gaius lived at that time to deal with the problem of Diotrephes. John dismissed his ministry and made Gaius replace him.


IV. The Motivation for Writing this Epistle

In the early church time, the apostles and free preachers were sent by the Spirit and the church to go forth to preach the gospel and build new churches. Besides, they chose elders in the churches they had built to oversee the shepherding works and government of the local churches and keep the fellowship among all the churches (see v.10-11). Soon, the churches were faced with two kinds of crises: one is the external heretical false teachers (see Acts 20:29; 1John 2:18-19; 2John v.7-11), and the other is that the ambitious leaders arose inside the churches (see Acts 20:30; 3John v.9). Both crises caused grievous problems in the early churches.

In order to deal with the problems caused by the heretical false teachers, the church had to refuse to receive them and close the door of the church to them. However, if the door of the church was completely closed, there would be another problem, namely, connivance at the leaders in the church; therefore, whether the door of the church shall be opened or closed should be held precisely. The Third Epistle of John gives more details about “not receiving” in the Second Epistle of John ---- all believers with right and just motivations shall be “received” (note: to receive them does not mean letting them preach).

Some Bible expositors infer the motivations of writing this epistle according to this epistle as follows. They are just for reference. Before this epistle, the apostle John had ever written a short epistle to the local church, but Diotrephes rejected the epistle (v.9). Diotrephes was not a heretic but “loved to have the preeminence” without obedience to the authority of John. Therefore, John had not taken drastic measures, but tolerated him and “would call to mind his deeds which he did” (v.10) when they saw face to face. Diotrephes prated against the apostle and his fellow-workers “with malicious words” and forbade the local believers to receive the fellow-workers of John and put those who did not hear him out of the church (v.10). The apostle John had to deal with this problem to write this epistle, so he wrote this epistle and asked Demetrius who had a good testimony to send this epistle (v.12) to Gaius who was zealous in receiving believers (v.5-6). Probably, Gaius was another leading brother in the local church, so he had not been cast away of the church. The apostle John may intend to hold on some believers in the church lest the whole church should uphold Diotrephes overwhelmingly. And then he went forth personally to deal with the problems (v.13-14).


V. The Importance of this Book


This epistle provides precious materials for us to know the three kinds of potential dangers among the church ministries: 1) the ministry of apostles ---- which is represented by the apostle John; 2) the ministry of local church ministers ---- which is represented by Gaius and Diotrephes; 3) the ministry of those who visit the churches ---- which is represented by Demetrius;

This epistle speaks in a matter – of – fact voice without many truth principles, but the spiritual wisdom because of the mature life is manifested between the lines that we will see the common difficulties in the churches throughout the generations and know the ways of dealing with these problems. The difficulty of the churches in the past generations is the misuse of spiritual authority (e.g. Diotrephes), and the ways of dealing with the problems are as follows: 1) he who holds the higher authority (e.g. the apostle John) shall use the authority properly; 2) encourage other believers (e.g. Demetrius) to help those who have misapplied the authority (note that the apostle John had not asked Gaius to get involved into the contradiction him and Diotrephes).


VI. Main Structure and General Description


    Encourage believers to do good and receive those who sojourn to work for the sake of truth in love; abstain believers from doing evil; those who have authority shall not grab all the power in the church;


VII. Special Points


This epistle has the following characteristics:

1.    There are 218 letters in the original of this epistle, which is the shortest epistle of the whole Scriptures. However, though it is short, there are many precious teachings.

2.    This epistle takes three living persons as examples in order to teach the readers reject evil and do good and keep truth in love.

3.    This epistle tells us that physical condition is as important as that of soul, so bodily exercise and godliness shall be both emphasized.

4.    This epistle also shows us that we shall walk in truth ourselves and help those who work in truth in love.

5.    This epistle encourages us to imitate the examples of doing good and warns us not to imitate those who do evil.


VIII. Its Relations with Other Books in the Scriptures


The theme of the First Epistle of John is fellowship and mutual love as well as the serious problems of heretical false teachers at that time in the church. As for how to have right fellowship with the preachers who preach all places and love one another, the Second Epistle of John indicates what should be rejected (2John v.10-11) and this epistle points what shall be received (see v.5-10). Therefore, this epistle and the Second Epistle of John can be seemed as the supplement to the First Epistle of John, providing proper principles for the opening and closing of the door. Here the relative points concerning the Second Epistle of John and the Third Epistle of John are listed as follows:

1.    (The Second Epistle of John) the truth produces love; (The Third Epistle of John) keeping the truth manifests love.

2.    (The Second Epistle of John) love in truth; (The Third Epistle of John) practice the truth by love.

3.    (The Second Epistle of John) refuse to receive the heretical force teachers according to truth; (The Third Epistle of John) receive the brothers who go forth to work for the truth.

4.    (The Second Epistle of John) he who receives the heretical false teachers shares in their evil works; (The Third Epistle of John) he who receives the workers of the Lord becomes fellow workers for the truth.

5.    (The Second Epistle of John) be careful of the deceivers; (The Third Epistle of John) do not imitate those who resist the truth.

6.    (The Second Epistle of John) expose the doctrine of the antichrist; (The Third Epistle of John) expose the works of he who loves to have the preeminence.


IX. Key Verses


“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God” (v.11);


X. Key Words


“Truth” (v. 1, 3, 3, 4, 8, 12);

“Receive” (v. 8, 9, 10, 10, 10);

 “Testimony” (v.3, 6, 12, 12, 12, 12);


XI. Outlines of the Book



A.   Examples of Gaius who receives brothers in love (v.1-3);

B.   The warning example of Diotrephes who is unwilling to receive brothers (v.9-11);

C.   The testimony of Demetrius who does good (v.12);

D.   The concluding section and greeting (v.13-15);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou