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John, The Book of 3 (Third Epistle of)

RELATED: Apostle(s), Caius (Gaius), Epistle, John (the Apostle); John, The Book of 1; John The Book of 2
AUTHOR: John (the Apostle)
READ: American Standard Version, King James Version, New American Standard Bible
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

is addressed to Caius, or Gaius, but whether to the Christian of that name in Macedonia ( Acts 19:29 ) or in Corinth ( Romans 16:23 ) or in Derbe ( Acts 20:4 ) is uncertain. It was written for the purpose of commending to Gaius some Christians who were strangers in the place where he lived, and who had gone thither for the purpose of preaching the gospel (3 John 1:7).

The Second and Third Epistles were probably written soon after the First, and from Ephesus.


Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

(no entry)


Smith's Bible Dictionary

The third epistle was written for the purpose of commending to the kindness and hospitality of Caius some Christians who were strangers in the place where he lived. It is probably that these Christians carried this letter with them to Caius as their introduction.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


1. Canonicity and Authorship:

It is not surprising that these brief and fugitive Epistles are among the New Testament writings which have had the hardest struggle for canonical recognition. One is probably, the other certainly, a private letter; and neither the same reason nor the same opportunity for their circulation existed, as in the case of church letters. The 2nd Epistle contains little that is distinctive; the 3rd Epistle is occupied with a vexatious episode in the internal history of a single congregation. Both are written by a person who designates himself simply as "the Presbyter"; and the names of the person (or church) to which the one is addressed and of the church with whose affairs the other is concerned are alike unknown. The fact, therefore, that, in spite of such obstacles, these letters did become widely known and eventually attained to canonical rank is proof of a general conviction of the soundness of the tradition which assigned them to the apostle John.

Like all the catholic epistles, they were unknown to the early Syrian church; when 1 John, 1 Peter and James were received into its Canon, they were still excluded, nor are they found even in printed editions of the Syriac New Testament till 1630. They were not acknowledged by the school of Antioch. Jerome distinguishes their authorship from that of the 1st Epistle. They are classed among the disputed books by Eusebius, who indicates that it was questioned whether they belonged to the evangelist or "possibly to another of the same name as he." Origen remarks that "not all affirm them to be genuine"; and, as late as the middle of the 4th century, the effort to introduce them in the Latin church met with opposition in Africa (Zahn).

On the other hand, we find recognition of their Johannine authorship at an early date, in Gaul (Irenaeus); Rome (Muratorian Canon, where, however, the reading is corrupt, and it is doubtful whether their authorship is ascribed or denied to the apostle John); Alexandria (Clement, who is reputed by Eusebius to have commented upon them, and who in his extant works speaks of John's "larger epistle," implying the existence of one or more minor epistles); Africa (Cyprian reports that 2 John was appealed to at the Synod of Carthage, 256 AD). Dionysius, Origen's disciple and successor, speaks of John's calling himself in them "the Presbyter." Eusebius, though conscientiously placing them among the antilegomena, elsewhere writes in a way which indicates that he himself did not share the doubt of their authenticity.

The internal evidence confirms the ultimate decision of the early church regarding these letters. Quite evidently the 2nd Epistle must have been written by the author of the 1st, or was an arrant and apparently purposeless piece of plagiarism The 3rd Epistle is inevitably associated with the 2nd by the superscription, "'the Presbyter," and by other links of thought and phraseology.

2. The Presbyter:

The mention of this title opens up a wide question. The famous extract from Papias (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39) vouches for the existence, among those who were or had been his contemporaries, of a certain "Presbyter" John (see JOHN, GOSPEL OF, II, 5). Jerome, moreover, speaks of the two smaller Epistles as, in contrast with the 1st, ascribed to the Presbyter (De Vir. Illustr., ix); Eusebius inclines to ascribe to him the Book of Revelation; and modern critics, like Weizsacker and Harnack, have improved upon the hint by finding in this shadowy personage the author of the Fourth Gospel. Into this far-reaching controversy, we cannot here enter. It may be noted, however, that whether, in the confusedly written passage referred to, Papias really intends to distinguish between John the Apostle and John the Presbyter is a point still in debate; and that Eusebius (Evangelica Demonstratio, III, 5) does not regard the title "Presbyter" as inapplicable to John, but observes that in his Epistles he "either makes no mention of himself or calls himself presbyter, nowhere apostle or evangelist." Dionysius, too, remarks that "in the 2nd and 3rd Epistles ascribed to him, he writes anonymously, as the Presbyter." These Fathers, both exceptionally learned men and presumably well acquainted with primitive usage, saw nothing anomalous, although they did see something characteristic, in the fact, or supposed fact, that an apostle should designate himself by the lowlier and vaguer title. In the very sentence from Papias already referred to, the apostles are called "presbyters"; not to say that in the New Testament itself we have an instance of an apostle's so styling himself (1 Peter 5:1).

To sum up, it is evident that no one desiring falsely to secure apostolic prestige for his productions would have written under so indistinctive a title; also, that these brief and very occasional letters could never have won their way to general recognition and canonical rank unless through general conviction of their Johannine authorship--the very history of these Epistles proving that the early church did not arrive at a decision upon such matters without satisfying itself of the trustworthiness of the tradition upon which a claim to canonicity was rounded; finally, the internal evidence testifies to an authorship identical with that of the 1st Epistle, so that the evidence cited regarding this is available also for those. These letters, along with Paul's to Philemon, are the only extant remains of a private apostolic correspondence which must have included many such, and for this reason, apart from their intrinsic worth, possess an interest, material and biographical, peculiar to themselves. We proceed to consider the two Epistles separately, and since an interesting question arises as to whether the 2nd is that referred to in 3 John 1:9, it will be convenient to reverse the canonical order in dealing with them.

The Third Epistle.

This brief note gives a uniquely authentic and intimate glimpse of some aspects of church life as it existed in Asia Minor (this may be taken as certain) somewhere about the end of the 1st century. It concerns a certain episode in the history of one of the churches under the writer's supervision, and incidentally furnishes character-sketches of two of its members, the large-hearted and hospitable Gaius, to whom it is written (and whom it is merely fanciful to identify with any other Gaius mentioned in the New Testament), and the loquacious, overbearing Diotrephes; also of the faithful Demetrius, by whose hand probably the letter is sent. The story which may be gathered from the Epistle seems to be as follows. A band of itinerant teachers had been sent out, by the Presbyter's authority, no doubt, and furnished by him with letters of commendation to the various churches, and among others to that of which Gaius and Diotrephes were members. Diotrephes, however, whether through jealousy for the rights of the local community or for some personal reason, not only declined to receive the itinerant teachers, but exerted his authority to impose the same course of action upon the church as a whole, even to the length of threatening with excommunication (3 John 1:10) those who took a different view of their duty. Gaius alone had not been intimidated, but had welcomed to his home the repulsed and disheartened teachers, who when they returned (to Ephesus, probably) had testified to the church of his courageous and large-hearted behavior (3 John 1:6). A 2nd time, apparently, the teachers are now sent forth (3 John 1:6), with Demetrius as their leader, who brings this letter to Gaius, commending his past conduct (3 John 1:5) and encouraging him to persevere in it (3 John 1:6). The Presbyter adds that he has dispatched a letter to the church also (3 John 1:9); but evidently he has little hope that it will be effectual in overcoming the headstrong opposition of Diotrephes; for he promises that he will speedily pay a personal visit to the church, when he will depose Diotrephes from his pride of place and bring him to account for his scornful "prating" and overbearing conduct (3 John 1:10). So far as appears, the cause of friction was purely personal or administrative. There is no hint of heretical tendency in Diotrephes and his party. Pride of place is his sin, an inflated sense of his own importance and a violent jealousy for what he regarded as his own prerogative, which no doubt he identified with the autonomy of the local congregation.

On the 2nd and 3rd Epistles see Commentaries: Lucke, Huther, Ebrard, Holtzmann, Baumgarten, Westcott, Plummer, Bennett, Brooke; Expositions: Findlay, Fellowship in the Life Eternal; S. Cox, The Private Letters of Paul and John; J.M. Gibbon, The Eternal Life.



bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of 3 john, caius (written to), define, demetrius, diotrephes, gaius, john, new testament, third epistle of john



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