Third Epistle of John

Third Epistle of John

The New Testament Third Epistle of John (often referred to as 3 John), written in the form of an Epistle, is the 64th book of the Bible.

3 John —the second-shortest book of the Christian Bible by number of verses and shortest in regard to number of words (according to the Authorized King James Version)— is written by a man identified only as "the "presbyteros".

While the letter is addressed to Gaius (Caius), scholars are uncertain if this Caius is the Christian Caius in Macedonia (Acts 19:29), the Caius in Corinth (Romans 16:23) or the Caius in Derbe (Acts 20:4) is the intended recipient. ["Easton's Dictionary"]

Indications within the letter suggest a genuine private letter, written to commend to Gaius a party of Christians led by Demetrius, who were strangers to the place where he lived, and who had gone on a mission to preach the gospel (verse 7). The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Caius, and to warn him against the party headed by Diotrephes, who refuses to cooperate with the "presbyteros" who is writing.


JohnEdgar Goodspeed saw this and 2 John as cover letters for 1 John, as the only likely reason for their preservation. The language of this epistle is remarkably similar to 2 John, and it is the scholarly consensus that the same man wrote both of these letters, although it has been debated whether or not this man also wrote the Gospel of John, 1 John, or Revelation, and the Authorship of the Johannine works is generally agreed by modern scholars to have been by multiple people (all known as "John") rather than just one. Even in ancient times it was argued that this "John the Presbyter" was different from the John who wrote 1 John, and this was affirmed by an official church ruling at the Council of Rome, where it was ordered that the author of 1 John should be known as "John the Evangelist" while the author of 2&3 John should be known as "John the Presbyter".

Date and location of writing

Traditionally the Epistles of John have been dated late in the first century, in part to match the dating of the Gospel of John.Marshall, 47] 1 and 2 John are both concerned with the same issue, making it safe to assume that they were written at a similar time. 3 John is not connected to the situation found in the previous two letters, which means it may have been written earlier or later. [Rensberger, 29-30] Although 2 and 3 John follow a similar format, this only implies that they are written by the same author, and not that they were necessarily written at the same time. 3 John's ideas about church and mission are less Johannine that in the other works, and may imply the idea are more developed. This would suggest that 3 John was the last of the epistles to written, although it is hard to be certain about this. [Rensberger, 29-30]

de Jong argued for a date of 100-110 AD, due to the Epistles links with Ignatius and Polycarp, while Marshall suggests a date of between the 60s and 90s. Rensberger suggests a dating of around 100 for the Johannine Epistles, on the basis that the Gospel of John was written in the 90s. Brown has also argued for a date of between 100 and 110 with all three epistles being written in close proximity. [Brown, 101] A date later than 110-115 is thought unlikely as parts of the first two Epistles were quoted by Polycarp and Papia. [Rensberger, 29-30; Brooke, lviii] Additionally Marshall cautions that greater precision in dating is unwelcome due to that lack of more precise evidence.Marshall, 48]

Church tradition has placed all the Johannine Epistles in Ephesus, although the letters themselves do not implicitly support or contradict this opinion, the Gospel of John has internal and external evidence suggesting Ephesus. [Brown, 102] The first knowledge of the letters comes from the area of Asia Minor, which does perhaps support the Ephesus hypothesis. Both 2 and 3 John refer to travelling, implying that the communities may not have been in the same location, although that would have had to be in the same general vicinity. [Rensberger, 30] Additionally the teaching opposed in 1 John may link that letter with Cerinthus, which by extension to the other Epistles, may link them to Ephesus.

Nuack proposed linking the Epistles to Syria, however his interpretation is not generally accepted, and the evidence is considered weak.

Early quotations

The earliest possible attestations for 3 John come from Tertullian and Origen of Alexandria. Tertullian, "On Monogamy" quotes a brief phrase—"follow the better things"— from 3 John i.11 "Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good", a phrase that might also have been adapted from the Septuagint Psalm xxxvi. 27 (xxxvii in the Hebrew Bible) or from the First Epistle of Peter iii.11 [] . Origen's "Commentary on Matthew" book xi says "But many things might be said about the Word Himself who became flesh", which has been offered as a parallel showing the use of "logos" in 3 John i.7. [] . Irenaeus in "Adversus Haereses" iii. 16. 7 (written ca. 175), quotes 2 John. 7 and 8, and in the next sentence I John 4:1, 2, as from "the Letter of John."; he does not quote from 3 John. The Muratorian Canon accepts two letters of John only.

The first reference to 3 John is in the middle of the third century; Eusebius says that Origen knew of both 2 and 3 John, however Origen is reported as saying "all do not consider them genuine." [Brown, 11; Brooke, lix] Similarly, Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen's pupil, was aware of a "reputed Second or Third Epistle of John." Also around this time 3 John is thought to have been known in North Africa as it was referred to in Sententiae Episcoporum, produced by the Seventh Council of Carthage. [Brown, 11]

There was also doubt about the authority of 3 John, with Eusebius listing it and 2 John as "disputed books" despite describing them as "well-known and acknowledged by most." Although Eusebius believed the Apostle wrote the Gospel and the epistles, it is likely that doubt about the fidelity of the author of 2 and 3 John was a factor in causing them to be disputed. [Brown, 11-12] By the end of the fourth century the Presbyter (author of 2 and 3 John) was thought to be a different person to the Apostle John. This opinion, although reported by Jerome, was not held by all, as Jerome himself attributed the epistles to John the Apostle. [Brooke, lxii; Brown, 12]

All three Johannine epistles were recognised by the 39th festal letter of Athanasius, the Synod of Hippo and the Council of Carthage. Additionally Didymus the blind wrote a commentary on all three epistles, showing the by the early 5th century they were being considered as a single unit. [Brown, 11-12]

The late attestation for 3 John in the 3rd century, and doubts about authority continuing until even later, is probably due to the lack of certainty regarding the epistles authorship. 1 John does not give direct information about its author, but it was considered apostolic, alongside the Gospel of John. " and 3 John, in comparison, are written by the mysterious "elder" or "Presbyter". This difference was responsible for the belief that 2 and 3 John were written by some one other than the apostle. Paradoxically their acceptance in to the canon was due to the change in belief that they were in fact of apostolic origin. [Brown, 12-13] However Brooke does caution that the late attestation may be due to the very short nature of the letter.


3 John is preserved in many of the old manuscripts of the New Testament. Between the different copies there are no major difficulties or differences, meaning that there is very little doubt over determining what is the original text [Brooke, lxiv]



* Brooke, A. E. (1912) "A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles". International Critical Commentary. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
* Brown, R. E. (1982) "The Epistles of John". Anchor Bible, 30. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

See also

* Earlier Epistle of John

External links

Online translations
* [ Read 3 John at Bible Gateway] (various versions)
* [ Kirby, Peter. "3 John." Early Christian Writings. 2006:] 3 John: text, on-line and print resources
* [ "Easton's Bible Dictionary", 1897] Commentaries
* [ The Third Epistle of the Apostle John: Exegesis and Commentary by Luke C. Werre]
* [ The Third General Epistle of John from Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible] Other
* [ The Letters of John] by Colin Kruse (Preview at Google Book Search)
* [ Johannine bibliography]

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