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New Testament: 3 John

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Summary

John, Hans Memling  (1468)John the Elder writes the New Testament's closest thing to a typical personal letter. He writes to his friend and fellow Christian, Gaius, for help with disciplining Diotrephes, who is resisting John's leadership. The letter probably originally accompanied a letter to a larger house church, perhaps either 1 or 2 John.

So What?

This short letter gives us a window into issues of leadership, authority, and hospitality in early Christianity.

Where Do I Find It?

The Third Letter of John is the twenty-fifth book in the New Testament. It is the last of the three "Johannine Letters," a collection of writings that share much in common with each other and with the Gospel of John.

Who Wrote It?

The "elder" who wrote this letter is often identified as John, the same person who probably wrote the Gospel of John (maybe in cooperation with other writers). This elder may or may not be the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.

When Was It Written?

The Third Letter of John comes from around 90 C.E. It was probably written before 1 John, but after the Gospel of John.

What's It About?

John the Elder writes to his friend and coworker Gaius, asking for help with the discipline of Diotrephes, another leader in a local house church.

How Do I Read It?

Read this letter in its social and historical context, written from John the Elder to his friend and fellow leader in a local church, Gaius. Notice the theme of hospitality and the need to apply discipline to other leaders in the church.

AUTHOR: Alan Padgett, Professor of Systematic Theology

I. Greeting and Address (3 John 1)
John greets Gaius and identifies himself.

II. Opening (3 John 2-8)
John briefly lays out the larger issues at the back of his main point, including living in the truth and providing hospitality to Christian leaders.

III. Diotrephes (3 John 9-12)
John explains the main reason for this letter: problems with Diotrephes, who spreads false accusations and does not acknowledge John's authority.

IV. Closing and Travel Plans (3 John 13-15)

John ends his letter with a short note about his possible arrival in person and with a blessing.

AUTHOR: Alan Padgett, Professor of Systematic Theology

This letter takes its place among the three Letters of John. The ninth verse indicates that 3 John may have accompanied or been included with either 1 or 2 John, which deal with false teachings. Yet, in 3 John, Diotrephes is the main concern, and he is not a false teacher but a leader in a local house church who is not submitting to John's authority. In contrast, the elder recommends Demetrius, who may have carried the letter to Gaius.

AUTHOR: Alan Padgett, Professor of Systematic Theology

Relationship with the Gospel of John and the other letters of John. The relationships among this letter, the Gospel of John, and the other two letters remain unresolved issues among biblical scholars. The letter is likely written by the same person or people responsible for the Gospel of John. It is probably older than 1 John, but its relationship to 2 John remains an open question. One idea is that both 2 and 3 John were written at the same time, one to the church at large (2 John) and one to a key leader in a house church (3 John).


Who was Diotrephes? We know almost nothing about Diotrephes. Scholars debate whether he was a false teacher or a church leader and what was his general relationship to John the Elder. He does not seem to have been a false teacher, in contrast with the "antichrists" of 1 John. It is significant that issues of leadership and proper discipleship were so important to the mission and character of the early church. Here they are clearly linked to ongoing community in Christ (vv. 9-10).


Who was Gaius? The role of Gaius in the local church and his relationship to John the Elder remain questions that concern biblical scholars. John writes to him in a familiar, familial way, calling Gaius his child (v. 4) and "beloved" (vv. 2, 5). John's authority seems to be rather informal, whereas Gaius may well have been an official of some kind in the local house church.

AUTHOR: Alan Padgett, Professor of Systematic Theology

Authority in the church. What kind of authority did John the Elder possess? He does not seem to have been an official leader, but an older Christian disciple (perhaps an apostle) with informal authority. How shall we understand the authority of individual ministers in the larger church today? The relationship between formal office, informal authority, and the gifts of the Spirit are still key to Christian leadership.


Hospitality. The ethics of hospitality in early Christian communities are strong concerns in this short letter. How shall we best practice hospitality today in our churches? Welcoming the stranger, including those who are quite different from ourselves, remains an important mark of true Christianity. A central issue in this letter is hospitality to visiting foreign missionaries from other local churches.

AUTHOR: Alan Padgett, Professor of Systematic Theology