The Third Epistle of John.

Posted on 01 July 2012

Students Study Notes

1. ‘The Elder’. See 2 Jn 1. Common authorship between the two epistles seems required.

‘to the beloved Gaius’. In view of the popularity of the name in NT times there can be little certainty that this Gaius can be identified with any of the others mentioned in the NT. Whether Gaius occupied an official place in his local congregation we cannot know. He was, however, presumably an important and influential Christian and this would appear to explain John’s writing to him.

This is one of the few personal letters in the NT (Marshall) yet the formality of the title may suggest that what was written was intended to have a wider circulation. This might explain the somewhat restrained and formal character of the introduction.

John’s reference to Gaius as ‘beloved’ and the addition of the emphatic ‘I’ in the phrase ‘who I love in the truth’ may suggest that Gaius was unpopular among certain sections of his church (Jackman, Westcott). This phrase seems to stand in place of the usual greeting.

2. The conventional expression of good wishes follows (Marshall). It is possible that the reference to good physical health suggests the fact that Gaius was not in good health (Marshall). The evidence of his life confirmed that his spiritual life was vibrant. Again there may be a slightly polemical emphasis here.

3. Specific evidence is now recounted. John mentions that ‘brothers’, possibly ordinary Christians or, perhaps more likely, ‘missionaries’ (see 5-8) who have repeatedly (note the present participle ‘coming’) reported to John Gaius’ faithful lifestyle. The last phrase may be John’s own corroboration of the ‘brothers’ reports or may complete their report (Marshall).

4. John indicates that it repeatedly (present tense of ‘I hear’) gives him joy when his own converts (or more likely, those under his pastoral care; ‘children’) show evidence for knowing the truth by living it out. This, again, may have some polemical intent.

The intensive may indicate the closeness of the relationship between the pastor and his spiritual children (Smalley).

5. It would appear that Gaius had incurred the displeasure of some because of his entertaining strange brethren (Westcott). Indeed, this is probably the situation that has provoked this letter (Smalley).

However, John regards the entertaining of ‘strange brethren’ (a better rendering than ‘brothers and strangers’) as faithful, possibly over against Diotrephes.

6. This faithful conduct has been recounted before the church (presumably John’s congregation and on the occasion(s) alluded to in verse 3, Brooke) and John’s statement seems to imply the approval of his fellowship.

The last part of the verse constitutes an encouragement to Gaius to continue to engage in such activity (under pressure from those who disagreed with his conduct?). The phraseology suggests a polite request (Marshall) and ‘send’ seems to be an idiom which implies that resources and support for the journey is to be given to such ‘brothers’ (op. cit.).

7. The reason for such conduct is offered here. Apparently they had engaged in missionary work (‘they went out’ seems to have this technical sense here), not as other pedlars of new philosophies (Marshall) or (?) pseudo-Christian workers (Dodd) by gaining subscriptions and support from ‘unbelievers’ (this seems to have this sense here rather than the more specific ‘Gentiles’). Rather, they were dependent upon the support of local Christians when they engaged in work ‘of the name’. Such a worthy service deserved the support of local believers (Jackman).

8. This concludes John’s encouragement of faithful service by emphasising the obligatory nature of such a request for support of missionaries (‘we ought’, present tense). Other things may deserve the support of believers but here is something they are obliged to do (Stott).

But not only so, to do so is to make such persons (‘fellow helpers in the truth’). These three reasons remain valid today! Jackman notes that the NT motivation for evangelism/mission is nort ultimately concern for the lost but faithfulness to Jesus.

9. Sadly, such support for Christian missionary activity is not being adopted by all! John has already written (presumably along these lines) to Gaius’ church (Westcott and others) but the former letter had been suppressed (and, therefore, presumably, lost to us and not to be identified with any other extant Johannine correspondence).

The agent of the suppression had been ‘Diotrephes’ of whom nothing is known except what is recorded here. The name is unusual and tended to be associated with noble and ancient families (Stott). Diotrephes, possibly from such a background, certainly assumed and desired such prestige in the local congregation.

Commentators debate endlessly Diotrephes position in the church. All that can be said with certainly is that he had the prestige or power of personality to be able to influence people (whether from an’official’ position in the church or not, we do not know).

Interestingly, nothing is said about Diotrephes orthodoxy; only his ambition is blamed (Westcott).

Apparently, he felt thwarted by the influence of the Elder and ‘his’ missionaries (Marshall) and, characteristically of those whose concern is for personal power, he sought to denigrate his opponents by any means possible (Jackman).

10) Thus, he engaged in unjustified accusations (‘talk nonsense’ [Stott]); senseless words which were, at the same time, wicked. Not content with this he opposed that which John commended, probably for no better reason than that John did support it (op.cit.). Then, by whatever means available to him, he sought to ensure that only those who were willing to (or were cowed to) submit to him remained in the fellowship. Presumably Gaius was himself threatened in some way with censure (Jackman, who notes that the spirit of Diotrephes is not absent from our churches today and reminds us there is only one head of the church; the Lord Jesus Christ).

Dodd notes that it is possible to water down ‘excommunicates’ and see it as reference to physical violence or ‘tries to work for exclusion’. However, he rightly suggests that the most natural sense is that by whatever means he had at his disposal he was actually engaged in the task of excommunication. The present tense suggests this is still going on and/or describes his ‘policy’ (Brooke).

John intended to put all this right. His words may, however, suggest some uncertainty over whether he would be able (or even allowed) to come.

11) Simply this verse teaches that behaviour is an indication of spiritual condition (Smalley). Almost certainly Diotrophes and Demetrius are intended to be seen as examples (Westcott and others).

The last phrase is not a reference to the beatific vision but to the continuing (Perfect tense) relationship possible here and now in the sort of life John expects here (Smalley).

12) John doesn’t descend to a battle of words with his opponents but offers a positive example (Marshall, Jackman). He cannot be identified positively from any other NT writing. His name (‘belonging to Demeter’) suggests he was a pagan convert.

Whatever his antecedents, however, he is given a threefold commendation: the testimony of his life was widely known (‘everyone’); it was in accordance with the truth (probably the best interpretation of ‘and by the truth itself’ and John, himself, can testify to it.

The second commendation may include the community, ‘approved of by the community of those who walk in the truth’ (Smalley).

13-15) The final greetings are largely paralleled in 2 John. Verse 14 is, however, distinct and may suggest a felt sense of urgency in John to tackle the issue (Smalley).

The words are appropriate in a context of strife (Stott). Once again, John indicates that Gaius is certainly not alone; he has friends and supporters in John’s church (‘friends’). The last clause; ‘greet the friends by name’) need not indicate the smallness of the group with which Gaius was associated, but may refer to his ‘housegroup’ or simply be a convention emphasising affection. 

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