1. Title. In the ancient Greek manuscripts the title is simply Ioµannou G, literally, “Of John 3.” See on the Title of the First Epistle (p. 623).

2. Authorship. Had there been no second epistle, the authorship of the third might have been a matter for considerable dispute. But the similarity in style between the second and third epistles points to a common authorship, so that once John is accepted as the author of the second epistle, he may also be accepted as author of the third.

3. Historical Setting. The epistle is clearly a personal letter written to an unidentified Gaius, a faithful Christian who is highly commended for his hospitable charity toward traveling teachers. Two other characters are named: Diotrephes, a contentious leader; and Demetrius, who is possibly one of the traveling teachers. The picture that emerges from what is written about these three men represents an advanced stage of development in the Christian church, and suggests that this epistle was written after the second, and consequently still closer to the end of John’s life. The ministry of itinerant preachers, or of visiting brethren, appears to be well established (vs. 5–8); Diotrephes assumes the power to cast from the church, possibly by a form of excommunication (v. 10), those of whom he does not personally approve; and the apostle’s authority has been undermined by the Diotrephes faction (vs. 9–11). All this points to a development of the situation revealed in the second epistle, and makes the third the last in the trio of letter preserved to us. This is not to say that John wrote no other letters. There is no evidence to prove that the letter referred to in v. 9 was the second epistle, although it is an attractive possibility; and there is no way of determining the length of time that passed between the writing of the second epistle and that of the third, but it seems probable that the interval was brief, since the letters are so closely related in style and content.

4. Theme. This is simple and direct. Whereas the second epistle was written to warn against itinerant false teachers, this one is sent to oppose the schismatic tendencies exemplified by the actions of Diotrephes.

It is probable that Diotrephes was the elder of the church and that he had accepted some of the false teachings of the Gnostics (see pp. 625, 626). When John wrote to the churches to rebuke such false teaching, Diotrephes appears to have refused to read the letter to the members (v. 9). Visiting ministers who may have been sent by John were also refused a hearing, and those who listened to them privately were signally disfellowshiped by this arrogant man.

By writing to Gaius, John endeavors to ensure the delivery of his message to the loyal members. He may have been preparing them to accept a change of church elders when he should come and “remember” the deeds of Diotrephes (v. 10).

The same spirit of tender personal affection is evinced in this letter as in the apostle’s other writings, and, over and above the immediate purpose of the epistle, there shines the beauty of the apostle’s own character and the inspiration that he brings to his readers in all ages.

5. Outline.

I.      Introduction, 1.

II.     Message, 2–12.

A.     Good wishes and satisfaction, 2–4.

B.     Hospitality praised, 5–8.

C.     Hostility opposed, 9, 10.

D.     A lesson and recommendation, 11, 12.

III.    Conclusion, 13, 14.

He commendeth Gaius for his piety, 5 and hospitality 7 to true preachers: 9 complaining of the unkind dealing of ambitious Diotrephes on the contrary side, 11 whose evil example is not to be followed: 12 and giveth special testimony to the good report of Demetrius.

1. The elder. John (see on 2 John 1).

Wellbeloved. Rather, simply, “beloved,” a term of affection frequently used in NT greetings (Rom. 1:7; 16:5; Col. 4:9; etc.), usually in connection with people who are personally known to the writer.

Gaius. A common name in the Roman Empire, and one borne by at least three other NT characters (Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14). See on Acts 19:29. There are no grounds for identifying any of these men with the Gaius to whom John is now writing. Nothing is known of this man apart from what is disclosed in this epistle.

I love. See on 2 John 1.

In the truth. See on 2 John 1.

2. Beloved. See on v. 1.

I wish. The clause literally reads “concerning all things, I wish [or, “pray”] thee to prosper.” This rendering reveals a more balanced desire on John’s part: he is not supremely concerned about prosperity and health, as the KJV implies, but has general prosperity in mind, thus covering spiritual as well as material well-being. John’s prayer illustrates a good habit for Christians to form; remembrance of a friend should stimulate prayer on his behalf (cf. on Phil. 1:3, 4; 1 Thess. 1:2, 3).

Prosper. Gr. euodooµ, originally, “to have a prosperous journey,” then used in a general sense, “to be successful,” “to prosper” (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2). The Lord is not unmindful of our temporal needs. He wants us to succeed in our temporal as well as our spiritual affairs. A good Christian should be a good businessman, or workman, since, in addition to natural ability he may also enjoy the blessing of God on his daily duties.

Be in health. Gr. hugiainoµ (cf. our word “hygiene”), “to be sound,” “to be in good health,” and so used by the physician Luke (Luke 5:31; 7:10; 15:27). Paul uses it of those who are “sound in faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2). God is interested in our physical condition, and wants us to enjoy the best of health. Because of the close connection between mind and body, when the soul or character prospers, the body is better able to be healthy (Ex. 15:26; Prov. 14:30; MH 241). Conversely, when the health of the body is neglected and bad physical habits are established, the religious life also suffers (MH 280, 315, 319).

As thy soul. Here the reference appears to be to Gaius’ spiritual life, which was strong. It is possible that his physical condition was not so good. He may have neglected the physical concerns of life for the religious. Such neglect is harmful; balance is essential to successful living. The enemy of souls is also well aware of the importance of balance, and seeks to drive earnest Christians into extreme positions (MH 318–324). The combination of a balanced health program with genuine spiritual advancement will prepare us to overcome the temptations of modern life and help us to meet the high standard set for entrance to heaven (2T 375, 376).

All who are followers of Christ may well make John’s prayer for Gaius their own, for themselves, their households, and their fellow believers.

3. I rejoiced greatly. See on 2 John 4.

When the brethren came. The Greek construction implies repeated visits by the brethren, so that John received frequent reports concerning Gaius.

Testified. Or, “bore witness.” Note that the brethren were willing bearers of good reports; they did not carry malicious gossip.

Truth that is in thee. For comment on the Johannine concept of truth see on John 1:14; 8:32. Compare on 2 John 1. Note that “the truth” is “in” Gaius-he has appropriated it and made it his own.

Walkest. Gr. peripateoµ, “to conduct oneself” (see on Eph. 2:2). Gaius was not content with possessing truth; he also practiced the beliefs he held.

4. No greater joy. The greatest possible joy fills a Christian worker when he sees the members of his flock taking a strong and resolute stand for right and truth. He is far happier than if he heard only of their success in acquiring wealth or position (cf. 2 Cor. 7:7; 1 Thess. 3:6).

My children. Rather, “my own children.” This may indicate that Gaius was one of John’s own converts (cf. on 1 John 2:1; 2 John 4; cf. 1 Thess. 2:7–12; 1 Tim. 1:2).

Walk in truth. Or, “walking in the truth,” that is, continuing to order the life in harmony with the revelation of God’s character as given by Jesus Christ.

5. Beloved. See on v. 1.

Faithfully. Or, “a faithful thing.” All the kindly deeds of Gaius were acts of faith.

To the brethren. That is, fellow members of the church.

And to strangers. Textual evidence favors (cf. p. 10) the reading “and this to strangers,” meaning “especially to strangers,” (see RSV). Many whom Gaius so liberally entertained were strangers to him, although their credentials assured him of their worthiness.

6. Charity. Gr. agapeµ “love” (see on 1 Cor. 13:1).

Church. Gr. ekkleµsia (see on Matt. 18:17).

Bring forward on their journey. Gr. propempoµ, “to accompany,” “to escort,” “to help on one’s journey.”

After a godly sort. Literally, “worthily of God” (cf. on 1 Thess. 2:12). Gaius was to see in every faithful Christian worker an ambassador for God, one who merited respectful treatment because of the work he was doing (see on Matt. 10:40; 2 Cor. 5:20).

Do well. The hospitality Gaius gave to traveling brethren would, in addition to promoting the preaching of the gospel, help to bind the believers together and counter the tendency for the workers to separate themselves into a hierarchy.

7. His name’s sake. Textual evidence attests (cf. p. 10) the reading “for the sake of the name,” that is, the name of Jesus (see on Acts 3:16; 4:12; Rom. 1:5).

Went forth. That is, from their home church, possibly Ephesus. In John’s day the evangelistic spirit, leading Christians to publish the good news from place to place, was commendably active.

Taking nothing. That is, expecting no support from the heathen people to whom they preached the gospel (cf. on 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Thess. 2:9). This made the missionaries all the more grateful for hospitality offered by their fellow Christians. There is no scriptural prohibition against accepting help that is willingly offered (see on Matt. 10:8–14; Phil. 4:10, 14–17).

Gentiles. Gr. ethneµ, “nations,” “Gentiles” (see on Gal. 3:8). Textual evidence favors (cf. p. 10) the reading ethnikoi, “pagans” “heathen people” (see on Gal. 3:8).

8. We therefore. Because the missionaries took nothing from the heathen, and because there was no regular support from a treasury at that time, it was necessary that men like Gaius help the workers and thus relieve them of the necessity of asking alms. By his use of “we” John acknowledges his own duty in this matter of hospitality.

Ought. See on 1 John 2:6.

Receive. Gr. apolambanoµ, “to take back,” or “to receive from,” but textual evidence favors (cf. p. 10) the reading hupolambanoµ, here used in the sense “to support.”

Such. That is, those mentioned in v. 7. John is careful to define those who qualify for the believers’ hospitality (cf. on 2 John 10, 11).

Fellowhelpers. Rather, “fellow workers.” Those who aid the workers are themselves counted as workers.

To the truth. There are two possible interpretations to this phrase: (1) the hospitable members are fellow workers with the missionaries in proclaiming truth; (2) the hospitable ones are fellow workers with truth, truth being personified. John’s use of the word “truth” makes the second interpretation acceptable (cf. 1 John 1:6; 2:4; 3 John 3, 4; etc.).

9. I wrote. Textual evidence favors (cf. p. 10) the reading, “I wrote somewhat,” an expression that is generally taken to refer to a previous short epistle. It is possible that John is referring to the second epistle, but strong arguments have been advanced against this view and in favor of a lost letter. In favor of the second epistle is the similarity in content between the two letters: the first gives negative advice concerning traveling preachers; the second seems to deal more with the positive point of view. It may have been that Diotrephes refused to read the second epistle because he had Gnostic leanings (see pp. 625, 626) and did not wish to refuse hospitality to the false teachers who shared his views. But whatever explanation is proposed it can at best be but hypothetical, and it is possible that John is referring to a letter that has not been preserved in the sacred canon. If this is the case, we here have another instance of apostolic writing that has not been included in the Scriptures (cf. on 1 Cor. 5:9).

The church. That is, the church of which Diotrephes and Gaius were members.

Diotrephes. Gr. Diotrepheµs, from Dios, meaning “of Zeus,” and trephoµ, “to nourish,” “to nurse,” hence, “nourished by Zeus.” Some have suggested that there may be significance in the fact that Diotrephes had retained his heathen name; however, see on v. 12. He may have retained elements of heathen philosophy, and thus have been particularly susceptible to Gnostic influences.

Loveth to have the preeminence. Diotrephes harbored unholy ambition in his mind. He aspired to be first for the sake of position rather than for the sake of the good he might accomplish. The position itself is not defined, and there is no evidence to show that a bishopric is referred to. The Christian church was already well instructed concerning undesirable ambition (Matt. 20:20–28; Luke 22:24–27; John 13:1–17).

Among them. That is, among the members of the church to which Gaius and Diotrephes belonged.

Receiveth. Gr. epidechomai, “to accept,” “to recognize someone’s authority.” The word is used only here and in v. 10 in the NT. Here it refers to acceptance of a person’s authority; in v. 10 it refers to receiving a person hospitably. It would appear that Diotrephes refused to read John’s epistle, and thus rejected the authority of the apostle and his associates.

10. If I come. Some see in these words a reference to the hope expressed in 2 John 12, and as support for identifying the second epistle with the letter mentioned in 3 John 9. But it must be noted that the hope expressed in v. 14 of this present epistle is similar to that in the second epistle; so the present reference, “if I come,” may be no more than an anticipation of a future visit.

I will remember. Gr. hupomimneµskoµ, “to bring to remembrance” (cf. John 14:26). The apostle asserts his leading position; he is confident of his authority, and does not quail before the disrupter.

Prating. Gr. phluareoµ, “to talk nonsense,” “to bring unjustified charges against.”

Malicious words. Or, “evil words.”

Not content therewith. Diotrephes was not satisfied with wicked words that were intended to undermine apostolic authority; he continued his opposition in unfriendly deeds.

Receive. Gr. epidechomai (see on v. 9). In refusing to offer hospitality to the traveling workers Diotrephes refused to acknowledge John’s authority, for the traveling brethren carried the apostle’s commendation with them.

Forbiddeth. Gr. koµluoµ, “to hinder,” “to prevent,” “to forbid,” suggesting that Diotrephes took active steps to prevent others from offering the hospitality that he himself refused to give. The form of the Greek verb implies a repeated hindering. The unfriendly act reflects the power possessed by Diotrephes in the local church, but the situation shows that the church was not wholeheartedly with him, for some, at least, were in harmony with the apostle and wished to receive the traveling workers.

Casteth them out. That is, excommunicates them (cf. John 9:34). It is clear that the contention was serious: there was a major clash between the apostolic school and the adherents of the false teachers. In this particular church the heretical party was at least temporarily in the ascendancy, and could impose its will on the body of its members.

11. Follow not. Rather, “imitate not.” John pauses in his discussion of the conflict within the church, and states general truths which, if observed, will enable Gaius always to make right decisions.

That which is evil. Literally, “the bad.”

That which is good. Literally, “the good”. In this stark language the apostle is probably analyzing the situation that confronted Gaius and his friends—the course pursued by Diotrephes is “bad,” and is not to be imitated; the course commended by John in vs. 5–8 is “good,” and should be put into practice.

Doeth good. In the remainder of the verse there is a striking similarity to the language used in the first epistle of John (cf. 1 John 3:6–10). Here is the positive expression of the truth that is stated negatively in 1 John 3:9. See comment there.

Doeth evil. Equivalent to the “sinneth” of 1 John 3:6.

12. Demetrius. The name means “belonging to Demeter,” that is, to the goddess of agriculture, known to the Latins as Ceres. John’s commendation of Demetrius removes any suspicion that the retention of his pagan name indicates any lingering sympathy with heathen religion (cf. on “Diotrephes,” v. 9).

There is no certain knowledge of Demetrius apart from what is found in this epistle. Some have suggested that he is identical with “Demetrius, a silversmith” (Acts 19:24), and that he had been converted under John’s ministry at Ephesus. Others have sought to identify him with Demas (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:10; Philemon 24), but there is no scriptural support for either of these views. Since John is commending him to Gaius, it may be that he was the bearer of the letter in which he is mentioned, but even this is conjectural. The most that can be said with certainty is that Demetrius was a faithful Christian, loyal to the apostle, and that John felt impelled to give Gaius a specific and strong recommendation concerning him. This makes it reasonable to suppose that Demetrius’ conduct had been under suspicion, and needed to be cleared by John before he would be unreservedly accepted by the apostolic party in the church of which Gaius was a member.

Hath good report. Literally, “has been witnessed to.”

Of the truth itself. That is, Demetrius lived in harmony with Christian standards. John here personifies truth, and makes it witness to the excellence of his friend’s character.

We also bear record. Gaius does not have to rely on a general commendation only concerning Demetrius, but is here given the personal testimony of John and his associates.

Ye know. Textual evidence favors (cf. p. 10) the reading, “though knowest,” in harmony with the fact that the epistle is addressed to an individual, Gaius (cf. v. 13).

13. I had. That is, when John began to write the epistle he planned to discuss many matters, but contemplation of the grave situation in connection with the work of Diotrephes leads him to plan an early visit to the troubled church.

Many things. See on 2 John 12.

Pen. Gr. kalamos, “a reed,” which, with its end beaten into a fine brush, was used for writing on papyrus.

14. Shortly. Gr. eutheoµs, almost invariably translated in the NT as “immediately,” or its equivalent. If this third epistle was destined for the same church as the second, the word eutheoµs would indicate that the canonical order of the books is also the chronological order, with the third letter being written immediately prior to John’s intended visit to the church (see p. 683).

Face to face. See on 2 John 12.

Peace. See on John 14:27; Rom. 1:7.

Our friends. Rather, “the friends,” probably those who were likeminded with John and Gaius. There would be a close bond between the apostolic circle and the loyal members in the church of which Gaius was a member. Trouble raised by Diotrephes would but serve to strengthen the bonds of Christian friendship among the faithful members.

Salute. Gr. aspazomai (see on Rom. 16:3).

By name. Since no names are mentioned, it is probable that the apostle personally knew the companions of Gaius.

On a personal, friendly note, the epistle ends, as it had begun. Although the peace of the church had been disturbed by Diotrephes, the apostle did not allow the disruption to destroy the holy fellowship that united him with his spiritual children.

Amen. Textual evidence attests the omission of this word.

Ellen G. White comments

2    CG 398; MH 113, 288; ML 135; 7T 65; 9T 153

11        ML 118