Authorship

The author of the letter known as 3 John only refers to himself as “the elder,” but the early church credits the apostle John with authorship.  John was one of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus.  For more information about the apostle John and his authorship of this letter see the introductory pages for John, 1 John, and 2 John.

Place and Date of Writing

The early church father Irenaeus wrote that the apostle John served as a bishop in the city of Ephesus.  It is believed that John died around the year AD 100.  Therefore John most likely wrote the five books of the New Testament credited to him (John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation) at some point in the last decade of his life.  For more information see the introductory pages for John and 1 John.

Recipients

John addresses this letter to a man named Gaius, which was a very common Latin name in Roman culture.1“In Roman culture, as in today’s English-speaking culture, people were generally given three names by their parents. They had their personal name (nomen), their family name (cognomen), and a first name, which was usually abbreviated the way we abbreviate our middle names (praenomen). For example, the famous Roman general and emperor’s full name was Gaius Julius Caesar. Gaius is said to be the most common of the praenomens in Roman culture.” Jeske, Mark A. James, Peter, John, Jude. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002.  There are three men mentioned in the New Testament with the name Gaius (from Macedonia, Acts 19:29; in Corinth, 1 Cor 1:14 and Rom 16:23; and from Derbe, Acts 20:4).  It is unclear if any of these three are the Gaius whom John addresses here.  It’s possible that this particular Gaius was one of those three, but since John refers to him as one of his “children” (3 John 3-4) he could simply have been a convert and student of John’s.

Purpose and Content

The letter of 3 John is a companion letter to 2 John.  Both letters have a similar structure and subject matter, but 2 John addresses more the caution against false teachers while 3 John encourages the reception and care for teachers of the truth.  While John also touches upon the topic of false teachers in 3 John (3 John 9-10), his main focus is to thank Gaius for his hospitality shown to teachers of the truth and to encourage him to continue to do so.  His letter is brief because he plans to visit Gaius soon and speak with him face to face (3 John 13-14).

The letters of 2 John and 3 John show the importance of fellowship in teaching the truth of the gospel message.  John’s pastoral heart for the believers under his care shows itself in protecting them as a shepherd would protect his sheep from wolves or as a father would protect his children from danger.  He calls out false teachers and those acting in opposition to the gospel (2 John 7-9; 3 John 9) in order to protect the souls of his spiritual “children,” imploring them to do the same (2 John 10-11; 3 John 11).  But his work is not only defensive; he also goes on the offensive with the gospel, inspiring a love for the truth for the sake of continued evangelism (3 John 6-8,12).

Notable Passages

  • 3 John 8
  • 3 John 11

Outline

The letter of 3 John is only 14 verses long, but a brief outline is given below.

  1. Introduction (3 Jn 1-2)
  2. Commendation of Gaius (3 Jn 3-8)
  3. Condemnation of Diotrephes (3 Jn 9-10)
  4. Exhortation to Gaius (3 Jn 11)
  5. Recommendation of Demetrius (3 Jn 12)
  6. Conclusion (3 Jn 13-14)

References   [ + ]

1. “In Roman culture, as in today’s English-speaking culture, people were generally given three names by their parents. They had their personal name (nomen), their family name (cognomen), and a first name, which was usually abbreviated the way we abbreviate our middle names (praenomen). For example, the famous Roman general and emperor’s full name was Gaius Julius Caesar. Gaius is said to be the most common of the praenomens in Roman culture.” Jeske, Mark A. James, Peter, John, Jude. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002.