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3 John Notes

BIBLE.ORG - 3 John Notes - Cole

In 1987, Marla and I had the privilege of traveling to Hong Kong, Macau, and China for ministry. In Macau, we were visiting with some missionaries and through their translation, talking with two courageous young Chinese women who slipped across the border into China each week. From there they mailed dozens of Bible correspondence courses. If they had been caught, they would have been imprisoned.

I asked these young women if they had ever heard of the "health and wealth" or "prosperity" teaching. They had not. When I explained to them that some in America were teaching that it is God's will for all of His children to be healthy and wealthy, these young women shook their heads and laughed softly. They said, "I don't think that Christians in China would fall for that!"

But many American Christians and now many in other countries have fallen for this unbiblical teaching. One of the main texts used to support it is 3 John 2, "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers." Ignoring the fact that the apostles and many Old Testament proph­ets, not to mention Jesus Himself, were poor and persecuted, the proponents of this false teaching brazenly appeal to the greed and selfishness of their spiritually naïve audiences.

They are those of whom Paul wrote (1 Tim. 6:5), "who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (see also, 2 Pet. 2:14-15). If these false teachers would bother to read 3 John 2 carefully, they would see that it really pronounces a curse, not a blessing, on them!

John is praying for his friend, Gaius, that he would prosper and be in good physical health to the same degree as his soul actually was prospering. It's worth pondering, if someone prayed that for you, would it be a blessing or would we need to call the paramedics? At the very least, it's dangerous when a Christian's material prosperity gets ahead of his spiritual prosperity. Paul warned (1 Tim. 6:9-10), "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

The apostle John said (v. 4), "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth" (not, "prospering financially"). He was talking about his spiritual children, of course. But, Christian parents should be able to say about their children, that their greatest joy is to hear that their children are walking in the truth. Sadly, I've known of Christian parents who are ecstatic when their children land top-paying jobs, but they don't seem to be as happy if the kids decide to be missionaries. Our main prayer for our children and for every Christian should be that they have prosperous souls. John describes for us here the prosperous soul:

The prosperous soul walks in the truth and love, submits to apostolic authority, and imitates godly examples.

Like 2 John, this one-page letter was written from "the elder," whom conservative scholars agree is the aged apostle John. Unlike 2 John, which I believe was written to a local church, 3 John is written to an individual, Gaius. We know nothing about this man (or the other two individuals mentioned in this letter) except what we learn here. He was a faithful Christian leader in a local church that was under the care of the apostle John.

In this church, a self-willed, power-hungry man, Diotrephes, had grabbed power. He openly attacked the authority of the apostle John, he denied hospitality to traveling Christian workers, and he even excommunicated those who defied him by offering hospitality to these workers.

Gaius, however, to this point had resisted the strong-armed tactics of Diotrephes. He had given hospitality and financial support to these traveling missionaries. John encourages Gaius to continue doing so, and he commends to him Demetrius, who was probably the bearer of this letter. John assures Gaius that he will deal publicly with Diotrephes when he visits the church in the near future. I'm sure that it would have been interesting to have a box seat to watch the fireworks when that happened!

The three characters named in the book provide us with three keys to pursuing a prosperous soul:

1. The prosperous soul walks in the truth and love (Gaius, the beloved example, 1-8).

As in all of John's writings, truth is a central concept in 3 John. He mentions it in verses 1, 3 (twice), 4, 8, and 12, plus the world "true" in verse 12. As we've seen, John's greatest joy was to hear of his spiritual children walking in the truth.

Why did the aged apostle hammer on the truth so often? One reason was that he was the last living apostle, and he saw numerous errors creeping into the churches. Also, the Lord Jesus had repeatedly emphasized the truth in His earthly ministry. In John 1:14 (see also, 1:17), John testified that Jesus was "full of grace and truth." In John 3:21, "he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." In John 4:23 & 24, Jesus explained that the Father seeks those who "worship in spirit and truth." In John 8:32, Jesus said, "and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." In John 14:6, Jesus claimed, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). He prayed (John 17:17), "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." Jesus told the skeptical Pilate (John 18:37), "For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

So truth was a huge emphasis in Jesus' ministry, and therefore, too, in the life and ministry of the apostle John. Contrary to the current postmodern philosophy that denies absolute truth in the spiritual realm, the Bible clearly affirms that there is theological and moral truth and error. This truth centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the God of truth in human flesh. Since God is the author of truth, whereas Satan is the author of spiritual lies (John 8:44), God's people must know and obey the truth as revealed in God's Word.

Gaius prospered in his soul because he walked in the truth (v. 3). Also, those who had visited Gaius reported back to John of Gaius' love before the church (v. 6). As we've seen, truth and love must always go together. Gaius' good example teaches us four things about these essential virtues, truth and love:

A. To walk in the truth implies knowing the truth.

Gaius didn't accidentally stumble onto the path called "truth" and just as accidentally stay on it. No one in this world under the dominion of the father of lies and deceit, walks in the truth accidentally. It requires deliberate purpose and effort, both to understand the truth and to walk in it.

The huge emphasis on truth in John's writings teaches us that truth matters! How a person thinks about God, man, salvation, and life determines how that person lives. A person with false concepts in these areas will live differently than the person with a biblical view in these important matters. Since Jesus Himself is the truth and since God's Word is truth, Satan works overtime to undermine the truth about the person and work of Christ and the truth of God's inerrant Word.

But there is an inherent danger as we grow in our knowledge of the truth. Paul said (1 Cor. 8:1), "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (my translation). If Satan can't prevent us from knowing the truth, then he tries to get us puffed up with pride over how much we know that others don't know. We would be wrong to conclude that we should remain ignorant so that we can stay humble! But, we should always remember that anything we know of the truth is only because of God's grace. If He had not been gracious, we would still be in spiritual darkness.

B. To walk in the truth implies growth in the truth.

Twice (vv. 3, 4) John mentions "walking in the truth." He does not say that we should sit and rest in the truth, but rather that we should walk in it. Walking implies steady movement in a purposeful direction. It requires discipline and effort. Walking is not as quick as running, but if you keep at it, walking will get you where you're going. After warning about the danger of being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, Peter commands us (2 Pet. 3:18), "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." You will not grow in the knowledge of Christ by accident! You must purpose to walk in the truth, studying to learn and then apply God's truth to your daily life.

C. Growth in the truth should always result in love.

As we've seen, truth and love are not opposed to one another. John affirms (v. 1) that he loves Gaius in truth, which means, in the sphere of the truth about Jesus Christ. In verse 6 he affirms that Gaius, who is walking in the truth (v. 4), is also known for his love. So often, people who are big on the truth use it as a club to wail on those who don't agree with them. Or, those who emphasize love are soft on the truth; they end up being nice when they need to stand up for the truth. But since God is the God of truth and love, godly people will be characterized by both truth and love.

Sometimes, love requires confronting a person who is in theo­logical or moral error. Presumably, Diotrephes did not teach the errors of the heretics, or John would have said something about that. But, Diotrephes was a self-serving, unloving man, and John hits him very hard for these sins. We must assume that the apostle of love was acting in love towards this sinning man. Of course, love not only confronts sin. Also...

D. Love manifests itself in practical good deeds.

A delegation that returned from visiting Gaius had testified of his love. Gaius had welcomed them into his home, even though they had been strangers to him before their visit. He had treated them "in a manner worthy of God." When they left, he loaded them with supplies for their journey and with money for their mission work. His love was not just talk. It showed itself in treating others as he himself would wish to be treated. Being hospitable is one qualification for being an elder (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). But all believers are commanded to "pursue hospitality" (Rom. 12:13). We are to be a people "zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). Biblical love isn't just feeling the warm fuzzies; it is practical good deeds.

John writes of these missionaries (v. 7), "For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles." These missionaries were not "peddling the word of God" (2 Cor. 2:17), receiving donations from the unbelievers that they were seeking to reach. John says (v. 8) that God's people should support such workers, and in doing so, we become fellow workers with the truth of the gospel that they proclaim. One practical way for you to show Christ's love by good deeds is to help support missionaries who go out for the sake of His name. The prosperous soul walks in the truth and in love.

2. The prosperous soul submits to apostolic authority (Diotrephes, the bad example, 9-10).

Diotrephes did not submit to apostolic authority (he did not accept what John said, v. 9). Rather than being a prosperous soul, Diotrephes was a destitute soul. His negative example gives us four characteristics of the destitute soul that we need to avoid if we want to have prosperous souls:

A. The destitute soul loves to be first.

Diotrephes "loves to be first among them" (v. 9). Therein lies the explanation for the majority of church problems down through history! People want to be first.

As I said, Diotrephes' theology was orthodox. If it had not been, John would have condemned him as a heretic. His problem was not his theology, but rather his personal ambition and pride that led him to oppose even the apostle John. He probably had reasons for his opposition. He may have said to the church, "John doesn't understand the danger of welcoming these traveling teachers into this church. We need to maintain pure doctrine here. We don't know what kinds of errors these men may bring in. John is just a senile old man who means well, but he's gone soft in his old age. Follow me! Don't receive these teachers into your homes. If you do, we'll have to put you out of the church." Diotrephes may have had the truth, but the only person he loved was himself!

When my brother was young, he formed a club with his friends, as young boys tend to do. Of course, such clubs must have rules. My brother's club rules were very simple: (1) I am the boss of this club. (2) You don't boss the boss! Our family often laughed about those rules.

But, when adult men and women bring those rules into a local church, it creates friction among the flock. I've seen many pastors and church leaders that play by those rules, seeking to lord it over the flock. During my first months here, I had lunch with the man who was then the state director of our association. He said, "Steve, you've got to build your power base in the church." I didn't say anything, but I was shocked. I thought to myself, "Sorry, but I'm not into building a power base in the church!" Paul specified that an elder must not be self-willed (Titus 1:7; see 1 Pet. 5:2-3).

B. The destitute soul uses gossip and slander to run down his opponents.

Diotrephes unjustly accused John and his delegates with wicked words. He barred these traveling teachers from the church because he wanted to be the sole authority and leader of the church. He wanted everyone to look up to him, not to Jesus Christ. It threatened him if people learned from others, and so he used gossip and slander to criticize even the apostle John.

Gossip is sharing information (which may be true) with those who have no business hearing it. The gossip uses it to bolster his status: He's in the know! Or, he uses it to prejudice people against someone. Slander is using partial truths or flat-out lies to damage someone's reputation. Often the slanderer will say something that is partly true, so that he can claim that he spoke the truth. But it was not the whole truth, and sharing it misled others to believe something false about the person. The name, devil, means slanderer, so it is a serious sin!

C. The destitute soul uses relationships for power.

Diotrephes did not receive the brethren and he forbade those who desired to do so, putting them out of the church. Why didn't Diotrephes welcome these godly Christian workers? Because he did not value people and relationships. Rather, he used people to build or protect his power base. If you didn't go along with him, he would force you out of the church, no doubt under the pretense of keeping the church pure.

That's exactly how the world operates. The way to move up in the world is to build relationships with powerful people. You do favors for them so that they owe you in return. You play one person off of another, all in an attempt to put yourself in a powerful position. But it leads to poverty of soul, not to prosperity of soul.

D. The destitute soul bullies others through intimidation.

If people in the church didn't agree with Diotrephes, he bullied them into compliance or he put them out of the church. He had the power to do it. It was church politics at the worst!

Again, how like the world! The world writes books on how to get what you want and how to win by intimidation. It runs TV shows with a supposedly successful, but ruthless boss, whose trademark line is, "You're fired!" As Jesus said (Mark 10:42-44), the "rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all."

Positively, the prosperous soul walks in the truth and love. He submits to apostolic authority, which we now have in the New Testament, seeking to serve rather than to be served.

The prosperous soul imitates godly examples (Demetrius, the good testimony, 11-12).

In verse 11, John again addresses Gaius, exhorting him not to imitate what is evil (the bad example of Diotrephes), but rather what is good (the positive example of Demetrius). Whether Diotrephes was a genuine believer or not, we cannot tell, although John says, "the one who does evil has not seen God." But Diotrephes was in the role of leader of a Christian church. He must have had some sort of following, or else John would not have written this warning. The point is, we all need godly examples to follow, but we must be careful in choosing those examples. Even those who are recognized Christian leaders may not be good examples to follow.

How do you discern whether a person is worth imitating or not? Look for the fruit of the Spirit in his or her character. Look at his deeds (v. 11). Are they in line with the fruit of the Spirit or the deeds of the flesh? Then, look at the person's reputation. In the case of Demetrius, everyone testified that he was a godly man. "Everyone" obviously means, "everyone in general." Diotrephes, I'm sure, would not have testified of Demetrius' good character or deeds. But those who are walking with God will agree about the godly character of a godly man.

Also, John says, "the truth itself" bore witness to Demetrius' good character. This means that his life was consistent with the character qualities and moral standards of God's Word. Rather than being domineering, as Diotrephes was, Demetrius was a humble servant. Rather than being self-centered, he practiced biblical love. Further, John added his testimony to Demetrius' godly character. If a man walks with God, other godly leaders will acknowledge that fact.

When you find such godly role models, imitate them! As I've said before, I have found more help spiritually by reading the biographies of godly men and women than from any other source outside of the Bible itself. None of them were perfect, of course, but all of them have shown me in practical ways what it means to walk in the truth of God's Word. I highly recommend that you read the lives of these great saints from the past. (There is a bibliography of Christian biographies on the church web site.)

Exegetical Commentary on 3 John 1-15


3 John, like 2 John, is written in the standard epistolary format. It is slightly shorter than 2 John (219 Greek words compared to 245 for 2 John), and is the shortest book of the Greek New Testament. 3 John begins with a praescriptio, or introductory formula (vss. 1-2), which mentions the sender and the addressee. It is the only one of the three Johannine letters to be addressed to a named individual. The greeting, a standard part of the introductory formula, is omitted, but unlike 2 John, the letter includes a health wish (v. 2). Following this is the body of the letter, which in 3 John is vv. 3-14. The letter ends with a concluding formula (v. 15), which includes greetings on behalf of others.822

The Introductory Formula (vv. 1-2)

1 From the elder, to Gaius my dear brother, whom I love in truth.


Again, as in 2 John, the author refers to himself as the elder. The addressee's name, Gaius, was a very common one in the Roman Empire and it is highly unlikely that the person addressed here is the same Gaius associated with Paul (Rom 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14; Acts 19:29, 20:4). This individual is well-known to the author of 3 John, but it is not so certain whether they had met in person before or not, since the report of Gaius' conduct toward the brothers is heard second-hand by the author. Nor is it certain whether Gaius belonged to the same local church as Diotrephes (v. 9) or was himself the leader of another local congregation. It is clear, however, that the author of 3 John regarded Gaius as orthodox (v. 3) and a valuable ally in the controversy with the secessionist opponents and their false christology.

Exegetical Details

The identification of the "elder" in v. 1. As in the case of 2 John 1, I would identify the author of the letter, who designates himself "the elder," as the author of 1 John, 2 John, and the Gospel of John,that is, John the Apostle.823

The significance of the author's self-designation as the "elder" in v. 1. Although a number of possible explanations have been suggested, it is still probable that this term is a self-designation of the author, whom I take to be the Apostle John.824

The identification of Gaius, to whom the letter is addressed. Little reliable information is available concerning the identity of the person to whom 3 John is addressed. Because the name Gaius was very common in the Roman Empire, it is highly unlikely that the person named here is to be identified with any of the other persons of the same name associated with Paul (1 Cor 1:14, Rom 16:23 [both of which probably refer to the same person]; Acts 19:29, Acts 20:4). A fourth-century tradition recorded in the Apostolic Constitutions 7.46.9 (ca. a.d. 370) states that John the Apostle ordained Gaius as the first Bishop of Pergamum, but this is questionable because of the relatively late date.825 The only certain information about this individual must be obtained from 3 John itself, and there is not a great deal there. It is obvious that this person is well-known to the author, but it is not so certain whether they had met personally or not, because the report of Gaius' conduct toward the brothers is received secondhand by the author (v. 3). Nor can it be determined with certainty whether Gaius belonged to the same local church as Diotrephes (v. 9), or was himself the leader of yet another local congregation, perhaps in the vicinity of Diotrephes' church. It is clear, however, that the author regarded Gaius as orthodox (v. 3) and a valuable ally in the controversy with the secessionist opponents and their false christology.826

The significance of the prepositional phrase ejn ajlhqeiva/ (en alhqeia, "in truth") in v. 1. This statement is similar to 2 John 1, although it is not qualified here as it is there.827 This is not merely the equivalent of an adverb ("truly"), but is a theological statement affirming the orthodoxy of Gaius, to whom the letter is addressed. "Truth" is the author's way of alluding to theological orthodoxy in the face of the challenge by the opponents.828

2 Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.


The author affirms that Gaius is well-off spiritually (it is well with your soul). He prays that Gaius' physical health would match his spiritual health. The "health wish" is a standard feature of the first-century epistolary format, but has been extended by the author here to include not only a wish for physical health, but for spiritual health as well.

Exegetical Details

The significance of the author's addressing of Gaius as "beloved" in v. 2. The author has already described Gaius as "beloved" (tw'/ ajgaphtw'/, tw agaphtw) in v. 1; he will address Gaius in the same way in vv. 5 and 11 (*Agaphtev, Agaphte). This is a term of endearment and personal warmth, much as it is when used by the author as an address to the letter's recipients in 1 John 2:7.

The meaning of the phrase in v. 2, kaqwV eujodou'taiv sou hJ yuchv (kaqws euodoutai sou Jh yuch, literally, "just as your soul is well off"). The noun yuchv (yuch) is used 10 times in the Gospel of John and 2 times in 1 John; of these 6 of the uses in the Gospel of John and both in 1 John refer to a person's "life" (as something that can be laid down). In John 10:24 and 12:27 the yuchv (yuch) is that part of a person where emotions are experienced; one's yuchv (yuch) is held in suspense or deeply troubled. This is, in other words, the immaterial part of a person as opposed to his physical existence. A close parallel is found in Philo: "therefore nourished with peace, he will depart, having procured for himself a calm and peaceful life, thus he is found fortunate as truly also blessed...he prospers with both health and strength of the body, and he prospers with the fruition of virtues of the soul (yuchv, yuch)."829 The equivalent contemporary idiom would be to speak of 'spiritual' health as opposed to physical health. The author affirms that Gaius is indeed well off spiritually, and he prays that Gaius' physical health would match his spiritual health, i.e., that Gaius would be as well off physically as he is spiritually.830 It is the spiritual health which is to be the standard by which one's physical health is measured, not the other way round.

The Body of the Letter (vv. 3-14)

3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, just as you are living according to the truth.


The noun truth in the Johannine letters may refer to orthodox christological belief (1 John 2;21-23; 4:2, 6; 5:10, 20; 2 John 7) or to ethical behavior (1 John 1;6, 2:4, 3:18-19, 4:20). Here it could refer to either. Certainly the author of 3 John assumes Gaius' orthodoxy and makes no effort to correct his doctrine. But according to v. 5 (below) it is Gaius' faithful work on behalf of the brothers - the traveling missionaries who needed support - which is commended by the author. Therefore in this context the emphasis is on Gaius' behavior rather than on his christological doctrine.

Exegetical Details

The meaning of the author's statement to Gaius, "the brothers came and testified to your truth" in v. 3. When the author tells Gaius that "the brothers came and testified to your truth" he is obviously referring to a report he has received concerning Gaius' belief or behavior. But it is difficult to know for certain what the author means by "your truth" (sou th'/ ajlhqeiva/, sou th alhqeia). The noun ajlhvqeia (alhqeia, "truth") in the Johannine letters may refer to orthodox christological belief (1 John 2:21-23; 4:2, 6; 5:10, 20; 2 John 7) or ethical behavior (1 John 1:6, 2:4, 3:18-19, and 4:20). Here the reference could be to either. Many would see it as a reference to Gaius' orthodox christological stand in light of the controversy with the secessionist opponents and their false christology. Certainly the author of 3 John assumes that Gaius holds to an orthodox (apostolic) christology, since he makes no effort to correct false belief in the letter. But according to v. 5, it is Gaius' faithful work on behalf of the brothers - the traveling missionaries who needed support - which merits commendation by the author. Therefore in the context the emphasis is on Gaius' behavior in this particular instance, rather than his christological doctrine. This is also implied by the author's reference to Gaius "living according to the truth" at the end of v. 3, which would seem to place more emphasis on behavior, and the fact that it is from the brothers (the traveling missionaries themselves) that the author has heard of Gaius' "truth." If what the author is commending is Gaius' asistance to these missionaries, it seems probable that he would have learned of this from the missionaries themselves. The final clause, "just as you are living according to the truth," may simply reflect the content of what the author heard about Gaius from the traveling missionaries.831 However, it is more likely a statement of the author's confidence in Gaius, that what the missionaries reported about him was indeed true.832

4 I have no greater joy than this: to hear my children are living according to the truth.


The author of 3 John may be referring to Gaius as one of his own converts (like Paul refers to "spiritual children" in 1 Cor 4:14-15, Gal 4:19, Phlm 10) but more likely the author simply regards those under his spiritual authority as his children.

Exegetical Details

The implication behind the author's statement in v. 4 with respect to "my children" (taV ejmaV tevkna, ta ema tekna). Since tevkna (tekna, "children") is plural, this is best understood as a general statement on the part of the author. Does the use of tevkna (tekna) here imply that Gaius himself is one of the author's converts? Although Paul can use the analogy of a 'spiritual' parent-child relationship (cf. 1 Cor 4:14-15, Gal 4:19, Phlm 10) it does not appear elsewhere in the Johannine literature of the New Testament. More likely the author simply regards those under his spiritual authority as his 'children'; this is consistent with his use of "elder" as a self-designation in both 2 and 3 John. The diminutive form teknivon (teknion) is found in John 13:33 and frequently in 1 John (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). There is no clear explanation for why the diminutive form is not used in 2 and 3 John.833

5 Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers).


Addressing Gaius as Dear friend, the author commends him for his faithful service to the traveling missionaries (the brothers), even though he did not know them personally (even though they are strangers).

Exegetical Details

The meaning of the author's statement pistoVn poieiv (piston poieis, literally "practice faithfulness") in v. 5. When the author tells Gaius in v. 5, "you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do" he is commending him for his faithful service to the traveling missionaries ("the brothers"). Gaius has aided them, and they have now returned with a report of this to the author (v. 3). The third edition of Bauer's lexicon offers the translation "act loyally" for the phrase pistoVn poieiv (piston poieis) in this context, a usage which is not common but does fit well here.834 The NET Bible's rendering "demonstrate faithfulness" is along similar lines. Since the author is going to ask Gaius for additional help for these missionaries in the following verse, he begins here by commending Gaius for all that he has already done in this regard.

The meaning of the phrase kaiV tou'to xevnou (kai touto xenous, literally "and this [to] strangers") in v. 5. Parallel to this expression is 1 Cor 6:6, where Paul in his accusation against some of the Corinthian believers states, "but you wrong and defraud, and this [you do to] brothers!" This is explained in Blass-Debrunner's standard reference grammar, which points out that kaiV tou'to (kai touto) means "and at that" or "and especially."835 Here we could translate v. 5, " demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers - and strangers at that!" Thus the faithfulness demonstrated by Gaius in assisting the traveling missionaries who have come his way is all the more remarkable because they were strangers to him; he did not know them personally. These appear to be the same missionaries mentioned in v. 3 who have brought back to the author such a favorable report of Gaius' hospitality, because their favorable report is mentioned again in the next verse in conjunction with the author's request for additional assistance on their behalf at the present time.836

6 They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.


The missionaries have returned and informed the author's home church of Gaius' support for them and their mission (your love). The author now asks for additional assistance from Gaius as the missionaries prepare to go out a second time.

Exegetical Details

The referent of the "church" (ejkklhsiva, ekklhsias) mentioned in v. 6. Which "church" does the author refer to here? The church where Gaius is, the church where the author is, a different local church where the "brothers" are, or the 'universal' church, the church at large? Since the suggestion in v. 3 is that the "brothers" have come and testified in the author's church to what Gaius has done for them, it seems most likely that the "church" mentioned here is also the author's church, where he is currently located.837 Other possibilities cannot be ruled out, but seem unnecessarily complicated.

The meaning of the author's statement in v. 6, "you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God." Here the author, after commending Gaius for his faithful service to the traveling missionaries in the past,838 now requests additional assistance at the present time. It would appear that the missionaries are on their way to visit for a second time the area where Gaius' church is located, having been there once already and returned with a good report of how Gaius had assisted them. It is entirely possible that they themselves carry with them the present letter as a 'letter of introduction'; along these lines it has been suggested that Demetrius is one of these traveling missionaries, perhaps the leader of the delegation, and the author is formally 'introducing' him to Gaius, since when he was there the last time he was a "stranger" (v. 5).839

The verb propevmpw (propempw) is used a number of times in the New Testament in the sense of providing missionaries with supplies to enable them to continue their journey to the next stopping place (Acts 15:3, Rom 15:24, 1 Cor 16:6, 16:11, 2 Cor 1:16, and Titus 3:13). It is virtually a technical term for such activity; the third edition of Bauer's lexicon defines it in this and similar contexts as "to assist someone in making a journey, send on one's way with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc."840 This use of the verb is part of the reason why we have designated "the brothers" mentioned in vv. 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 (and possibly 12) as 'traveling missionaries.' Another reason is given in the following section.

7 For they have gone forth on behalf of 'The Name,' accepting nothing from the pagans.


'The Name' refers to Jesus' name. The traveling missionaries sent out to combat the false teaching of the secessionist opponents have been accepting nothing from the pagans, that is, non-Christians. Their mission is not evangelization, but concerns an "in-house" debate over christology.

Exegetical Details

The meaning of the phrase uJpeVr...tou' ojnovmato (Juper tou onomatos, "on behalf of 'The Name'") in v. 7. This phrase almost certainly refers to some form of missionary activity. The verb ejxevrcomai (exercomai, "I go forth") is used of Paul's travels in Acts 14:20, and of his setting out on his second missionary journey in Acts 15:40. Again, like the verb propevmpw (propempw) in the preceding verse, this suggests missionary activity. Somewhat more difficult is the identification of 'the Name' on behalf of which these missionaries undertook their journey. Three possibilities have been suggested: (a) the name of God, suggested by the unqualified noun with the definite article.841 This would make good logical sense in 3 John, because in the previous verse the author has instructed Gaius to send the missionaries on their way "in a manner worthy of God." (b) Some have understood "the Name" as the self-designation of the Johannine community, or as a reference to the Christian cause at large, or as a way of designating Christians before the title "Christian" came into common usage. (c) The interpretation favored by most commentators is that this is a reference to Jesus' name.842 Paul uses a similar phrase in Rom 1:5, and in 1 John 2:12 the author wrote, "your sins are forgiven on account of his [Christ's] name." The Gospel of John also makes reference to believing "in the name of Jesus" (1:12, 3:18).

Of these possibilities, the second seems least likely, particularly in the absence of significant evidence for such usage. The first and third are both possible, and in fact may not be mutually exclusive. It is possible that while the broader Christian community tended to use the title "Lord" for Jesus (Rom 1:9, 1 Cor 12:3, Phil 2:9-11, etc.), within the community of Johannine Christians the Tetragrammaton or "I am" was used to refer to Jesus. This tendency is certainly possible in light of the use of this phrase in the Gospel of John. In other words, "the Name" in 3 John 7 would ultimately refer to God's name, yhwh, but since Jesus was himself God (Cf. John 20:28), and in light of the use of the "I am" phrase in the Gospel of John, there would be no inconsistency in using this designation for Jesus also.

The identification of the ejqnikw'n (eqnikwn, "pagans") in v. 7. The word ejqnikov (eqnikos) occurs only 4 times in the New Testament (the other 3 are in Matt 5:47, 6:7, and 18:17). It is virtually synonymous here with the far more common e[qno (eqnos, used 162 times in the New Testament in 150 verses). Both terms refer to the Gentiles (that is, pagans). Since the issue here is support for the traveling missionaries, and there is no indication that the author would want to forbid receiving support from Gentile converts to Christianity, the word must refer to Gentile unbelievers, i.e., pagans. The traveling missionaries sent out to combat the false teaching of the secessionist opponents have been accepting nothing by way of support from non-Christians. Why support from non-Christians should be refused is not entirely clear, although there is no indication in 3 John that such support has been offered to the traveling missionaries by the pagans either. A number of interpreters see the possibility of confusion with missionaries representing pagan deities.843

8 Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth.


The first person plural here is inclusive - the author refers to himself, Gaius, and all genuine Christians, all of whom should become coworkers in cooperation with the truth by supporting the efforts of the traveling missionaries (such people) in their efforts to resist and counteract the teaching of the secessionist opponents.

Exegetical Details

The referent of hJmei' (Jhmeis, "we") in v. 8. Clearly the author does not refer to himself alone by the use of the first person plural pronoun here, since the issue is support for the traveling missionaries. It stands in contrast to the pagans (ejqnikw'n, eqnikwn) mentioned in the previous verse, and is thus to be understood as inclusive of all true Christians: the author, Gaius, and all genuine Christians. All true Christians ought to support the endeavors of these traveling missionaries in their efforts to counteract the false christological teaching of the secessionist opponents.

The force and meaning of the i{na (Jina)-clause in v. 8. The Jina-clause indicates the result of such support for the traveling missionaries: the Christian who helps to support them in their efforts thus becomes a coworker in cooperation with the truth. Although the dative th'/ ajlhqeiva/ (th alhqeia, "with the truth") is somewhat difficult to classify, it would appear (corresponding to the sun-prefix of the noun modified) to indicate a sense of cooperation with "the truth" which is at work through the missionaries.844 There is precedent in the Johannine literature for understanding "truth" as personified (John 8:32, "the truth will make you free"; possibly also 1 John 3:19). More explicitly, 1 John 4:6 identifies the Holy Spirit as "the Spirit of truth", a characterization repeated in 1 John 5:6. Thus it seems likely that the "truth" at work through the missionaries here is ultimately the Holy Spirit, who works through their efforts. Thus the Christian who supports them becomes a coworker with the Spirit of God himself.

9 I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us.


Diotrephes appears to be an influential person (perhaps the leader) in a local church known to Gaius, but to which Gaius himself does not belong. John's description of Diotrephes as one who loves to be first among them suggests an arrogant person, and he has demonstrated this in refusing to acknowledge the author's prior written communication. Probably the author's written communication concerned the traveling missionaries (see next verse) and Diotrephes has refused to acknowledge the author's authority to intervene in the matter.

Exegetical Details

The church to which the author says he wrote something in v. 9. The church mentioned here, which the author says he may visit (v. 10) is not the same as the one mentioned in v. 6, to which the author apparently belongs (or of which he is in charge). But what is the relationship of this church in v. 9 to Gaius, to whom the letter is addressed? It is sometimes suggested that Gaius belongs to this church, but that seems unlikely, because the author uses a third-person pronoun to refer to the other members of the church (aujtw'n [autwn, "among them"]). If Gaius were one of these it would have been much more natural to use a second-person pronoun: "Diotrephes, who loves to be first among you (uJmw'n, Jumwn)". Thus it seems probable that Gaius belongs to (or is in charge of) one local church while Diotrephes is in another, a church known to Gaius but to which he does not belong.845

The identification of Diotrephes and why he is described as oJ filoprwteuvwn (Jo filoprwteuwn, "who loves to be first") in v. 9. Diotrephes appears to be an influential person (perhaps the leader) in a local church known to Gaius, but to which Gaius himself does not belong.846 The description oJ filoprwteuvwn (Jo filoprwteuwn, "[the one] who loves to be first") suggests he is arrogant,847 and his behavior displays this: he refuses to acknowledge the written communication mentioned by the author at the beginning of v. 9 (and thus did not recognize the author's apostolic authority). Furthermore (v. 10) he refuses to show any hospitality to the traveling missionaries already mentioned by the author. It has been suggested that the description oJ filoprwteuvwn (Jo filoprwteuwn, "who loves to be first") only indicates that Diotrephes sought prominence or position in this church, and had not yet attained any real authority. But his actions here suggest otherwise: he is able to refuse or ignore the author's previous written instructions (v. 9), and he is able to have other people put out of the church for showing hospitality to the traveling missionaries (v. 10).

The meaning of oujk ejpidevcetai hJma' (ouk epidecetai Jhmas, "does not acknowledge us") in v. 9. Since the verb ejpidevcomai (epidecomai) can mean "show hospitality to"848 it has been suggested that the author himself attempted a previous visit to Diotrephes' church but was turned away. There is nothing in the context to suggest an unsuccessful prior visit by the author, however; in v. 9 he explicitly indicates a prior written communication which Diotrephes apparently ignored or suppressed. *Epidevcomai (epidecomai) can also mean "refuse to acknowledge" in the sense of refusing someone's authority849 and such a meaning better fits the context here: Diotrephes has rejected the authority of the author to intervene in the situation of the traveling missionaries (perhaps because Diotrephes believed the author had no local jurisdiction in the matter; the exact reason for Diotrephes' refusal is not clear).

10 Therefore, if I come, I will call attention to the deeds he is doing - the bringing of unjustified charges against us with evil words! And not being content with that, he not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but hinders the people who want to do so and throws them out of the church!


Concerning Diotrephes the author of 3 John gives a warning: because Diotrephes did not recognize the author's authority, the author will expose Diotrephes' behavior for what it is if the author comes for a visit. Since Diotrephes made unjustified charges against the author, the author will bring charges of his own against Diotrephes.

Exegetical Details

The referent of diaV touvto (dia touto, "therefore") in v. 10. This refers to the preceding statements by the author, giving the reason why he will expose Diotrephes' evil deeds if he comes to Diotrephes' church. Because Diotrephes did not recognize the authority of the author, the author will expose his behavior for what it is if he comes for a visit. The third-class condition (ejavn e[lqw [ean elqw, "if I come"]) probably indicates real uncertainty on the author's part as to whether he will visit Diotrephes' church or not.850 But if he does, he will make the following charges against Diotrephes before the church: (1) Diotrephes is engaged in spreading "unjustified charges" against the author with "evil words"; (2) Diotrephes refuses to welcome the brothers (the traveling missionaries) himself; (3) Diotrephes hinders the others in the church who wish to help the missionaries; and (4) Diotrephes expels from the church people who aid the missionaries. (Diotrephes himself did not necessarily have supreme authority in the local church to expel these people, but may have been responsible for instigating collective action against them.)

11 Dear friends, do not imitate what is bad but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does what is bad has not seen God.


The statement do not imitate what is bad but what is good is clearly a reference to Diotrephes' behavior. By implication, at least, the author calls into question the genuineness of Diotrephes' faith (the one who does what is bad has not seen God).

Exegetical details

The meaning of the author's exhortation "Do not imitate what is bad, but what is good" in v. 11. This is clearly a reference to Diotrephes' evil behavior. The author exhorts Gaius (whom he wishes to continue assisting the missionaries) not to follow the negative example of Diotrephes, but to do what is right. Implicitly there may be a contrast between the bad behavior of Diotrephes and the good reputation of someone else, though it is not clear whether the one representing the good would be Gaius, to whom this letter is written, or Demetrius (mentioned in the following verse). It seems more likely that Demetrius is himself one of the traveling missionaries (perhaps their leader), rather than the leader of a local congregation (like Gaius) who, unlike Diotrephes, has supported the missionaries himself.

The meaning of the summary judgment in v. 11, "the one who does good is of God." This statement is asyndetic; its abrupt introduction without a conjunction adds emphasis. The statement reiterates the common Johannine theme of behavior as an indication of genuine faith, found in 1 John in 3:6, 10; 4:7, 20, and in the Gospel of John in 3:17-21. By implication, the genuineness of Diotrephes' faith is called into question, because he has obviously done "what is bad" (vv. 9-10). In Johannine terminology it is clear that the phrase "has not seen God" is equivalent to "is not a genuine Christian."

12 Demetrius has been testified to by all, even by the truth itself. We testify to him too, and you know that our testimony is true.


Demetrius is apparently someone Gaius has not met. He has a very good reputation. It is very possible he is the leader of the traveling missionaries. The author of 3 John commends Demetrius to Gaius.

Exegetical Details

The identification of Demetrius in v. 12. Apparently this is someone Gaius would have heard about, but whose character was not known to him. Thus the author is writing to Gaius to attest to Demetrius' good character. It appears that Demetrius is coming to Gaius' church and needs hospitality and assistance, so the author is writing to commend him to Gaius and 'vouch for' him. It is difficult to know more about Demetrius with any certainty, but the author is willing to give him a powerful personal endorsement. Demetrius may well have been the leader of a delegation of traveling missionaries, and may even have been the bearer of this letter to Gaius. The writing of letters of introduction to be carried along by representatives or missionaries in New Testament times is also attested in Paul's writings (1 Cor 16:3).851 The final phrase of v. 12, "and you know that our testimony is true," echoes John 19:35, "And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe." More than just a literary echo of affirmed and known testimony, this may look precisely at the claims of the secessionist opponents, who were denying among other things the salvific significance of Jesus' death on the cross, while the author of 1, 2, and 3 John stands firmly on the side of the apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus and affirms that Jesus came "not by the water only, but by the water and the blood (1 John 5:6). If one holds that the same author wrote the Fourth Gospel and the three letters, as I do, then the reference becomes even more pointed, because the author of 3 John 12 is in fact echoing his own words from John 19:35.

13 I have many things to write to you, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink.


As in 2 John 12, the author states he has many things to write to Gaius, but prefers not to communicate them in writing.

Exegetical Details

The meaning of the figurative phrase "by means of ink and pen" in v. 13. This is parallel to 2 John 12, suggesting that both letters may have been written at approximately the same time and in similar situations. The author tells Gaius that he has more to say, but does not wish to do so in writing; he would rather speak face to face (v. 14).852 It appears that the author anticipates a personal visit to Gaius' church in the very near future. This may be the same visit mentioned in connection with Diotrephes in v. 10. Gaius' church and Diotrephes' church may have been in the same city, or in neighboring towns, so that the author anticipates visiting both on the same journey.

14 But I hope to see you right away, and we will speak face to face.


Verse 14 states the author's desire to communicate with Gaius in person rather than by means of letter: it appears that the author anticipates a personal visit (we will speak face to face) to Gaius' church in the near future (see the previous section). This verse parallels 2 John 12.

The Concluding Formula (v. 15)

15 Peace be with you. The friends here greet you. Greet the friends there by name.


The author closes with greetings similar to 2 John 13.

Exegetical Details

The significance of the use of fivloi (filoi, "friends") in v. 15. This concluding greeting is analogous to 2 John 13, "The children of your elect sister greet you." It is possible that the designation fivloi (filoi) indicates that these are personal friends of Gaius who send their greetings, but if this is the case it is somewhat surprising that their names are not mentioned, especially when the author instructs Gaius to "greet the friends there by name." More likely this is an alternative to ajdelfoiv (adelfoi, "brothers") as an early Christian self-designation, especially within the Johannine community. It may have arisen in the Johannine community from Jesus' teaching in John 15:13-15, "you are my friends if you do what I command you."



3 John Commentary

1The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

The apostle John describes himself as an elder, likely implying that he is older, well-respected, and considered an authority figure in the church, especially given that he is an apostle. He writes to Gaius, who may or may not be the same as the Gaius referred to elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 1:14, Romans 16:23, Acts 20:4, Acts 19:29). This Gaius is beloved by John as he emphasizes again in verses 2, 5, and 11. This Christian love is founded in truth in that Gaius holds to the truth that is in Christ and His Word, without which Christian love disintegrates. 

 2Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

John tells Gaius that he prays for his physical health and all other aspects of his life. He wishes him to prosper and be successful, particularly in regard to his health. John is confident of his spiritual well-being and in regard to the state of his mind and heart in regard to Christ and His Word. Gaius is spiritually prosperous and healthy, and John prays that his body will match the state of his soul.

 3For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth.

Several men had come to John and bore witness to him that Gaius was walking in truth. This brought him great joy.

 4I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

John, being advanced in years and having devoted his life to the advancement of the gospel and the truth, finds his greatest joy in the fact that God is being honored in his spiritual children. Obviously, that a physical offspring walks in truth is a great honor to a parent. But to have those who have grown spiritually outside of our earthly family as a result of our spiritual labor is also a great joy. John's joy is not just that a certain person knows Jesus but that they are walking consistently and persistently in Him, sowing spiritual seeds of their own. We, like John, should find great joy when we see others doing well spiritually as a result of our spiritual labor. We will reap in due season if we do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9). 

 5Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers;

John tells Gaius that he is doing well to continue laboring on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He is continuing to do what he can to help them grow to maturity in Christ. He does this even for believers whom he does not personally know, knowing that they are all members of the body of Christ. Thus, they are all family, and he does well to treat them as such.

 6and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.

Thus, word has come back to John of Gaius' hospitality and kindness through these people as they speak highly of his love to others in the church. Thus, he tells Gaius to continue in his hospitality and kindness which honors God. It seems that these men were traveling missionaries, and he is able to look after their needs as they pass through.

 7For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.

These men had left home for the sake of carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. They didn't take money and goods from those who did not know Christ, but rather they depended only on the support of the church. 

 8Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Those who do step out in faith in service for Christ need to be supported by the church as fellow laborers of the truth. Even if we don't know them we can partner with them in the advancement of the gospel. The key is that they are doing what they are doing not for their own gain but truly for the glory of Christ in the proclamation of His gospel. 

 9I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.

John speaks of a letter that he wrote to the church perhaps in Gaius' home or another church that he was familiar with. Instead of respecting John's apostolic authority, Diotrephes refused to listen and obey what John said. He did this not because he believed he was right but simply because he wanted to dismiss John's authority and usurp it for himself. He wanted to be number one, having recognition, notoriety, and authority. 

 10For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

If John is able to come and visit this church, he will be sure to point out Diotrephes errors and arrogance. Otherwise, some might get led astray (Revelation 2:20). Thus, John is very bold to identify who the wolf in sheep's clothing is. Diotrephes speaks maliciously about John and other respected men of God. Of course, his accusations are incorrect. Diotrephes won't even receive those who come through in the name of Christ, let alone support them in their work. He goes so far as to not allow any other in the church to take them in. If somebody violates his desires, then he puts them out of the fellowship. This he does without following the appropriate guidelines for church discipline and without Biblical grounds for carrying it out. Thus, it is clear that he is on a power trip and that someone with obvious authority such as John needs to put him in his place.

 11Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.

Those who are of God are to live as God desires. Rather than learn from those who do wrong, we are to observe those who do right and do as they do. Our godly behavior demonstrates that we are indeed children of God. Those who continue in sin demonstrate that they are children of the devil (1 John 3:10). 

 12Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

One such person who is walking in righteousness is Demetrius. Others would readily testify to his goodness as does the Scripture. Since he obeys the Word of God and follows the truth, there is reason for John to affirm his character. John, emphasizing his apostolic authority, says that those who read this letter can be assured of his judgment in this matter. 

 13I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink;

 14but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

John has other things that he wants to say, but he would rather speak to Gaius face to face. He is expecting to see him shortly, so he chooses to wait until he sees him in person to address these issues. Some things are better said in person than on paper, but obviously this is all that God wanted us to have as part of His written, inspired Word.  

 15Peace be to you The friends greet you Greet the friends by name.

John blesses them by wishing them the peace of God. Whoever these friends were it is clear that Gaius knew who they were and would have been blessed to know that they were thinking of him. Those whom Gaius knew that also know John were to be greeted on behalf of John. This interconnectedness and community of the church from city to city was a beautiful testimony of unity in Christ.