Introduction to 3 John




The shortest book in the New Testament, 3 John is a letter with a kind but businesslike tone. “The Elder” sought to encourage Gaius, who was perhaps a pastor under his oversight. The epistle gives mostly positive counsel but also warns against a power-hungry leader named Diotrephes. Truth, love, and the goodness of God are predominant themes.

The tomb of John the Apostle, in St. John’s Basilica, Ephesus, near modern-day Selçuk, Turkey.

The tomb of John the Apostle, in St. John’s Basilica, Ephesus, near modern-day Selçuk, Turkey.


AUTHOR: Same as the author of 1 and 2 John (see Introductions there).

BACKGROUND: Same as 2 John (see Introduction there). The two short epistles of 2 and 3 John are often described as “twin epistles,” though they should be viewed as fraternal and not identical. There are some significant similarities worth noting. In both epistles the author described himself as “the Elder” (2Jn 1; 3Jn 1), and the recipients were those whom he loved “in truth” (2Jn 1; 3Jn 1). The recipients were a cause for great rejoicing by John (2Jn 4; 3Jn 3). They were “walking in the truth” (2Jn 4; 3Jn 3), and the elder has received good reports about them (2Jn 4; 3Jn 3,5). Both letters contain a warning (2Jn 8; 3Jn 9-11), and the Elder desired to see the recipients face-to-face (2Jn 12; 3Jn 14). Finally, both letters convey greetings from others (2Jn 13; 3Jn 14).


Third John is a personal letter that revolves around three individuals: (1) Gaius, the recipient of the letter; (2) Diotrephes, the one causing trouble; and (3) Demetrius, who was probably the bearer of the letter. The purpose was to give a word of exhortation to Gaius and encourage him not to imitate the bad example of Diotrephes. Instead, Gaius was to continue the good work he was doing in receiving and supporting the traveling teachers or missionaries.


This brief letter of apostolic instruction underscores certain central Christian convictions: love, truth, faithfulness, the church, and witness. It also testifies to the God-centeredness of apostolic faith (vv. 7,11). Jesus and the Spirit are not mentioned specifically (unless “the truth itself” in v. 12 refers to Jesus; see Jn 14:6; 1Jn 5:20). But in the writer’s view, Jesus and the Spirit were undoubtedly included in the reference to “God” whose “truth” this epistle appeals to so frequently (3Jn 1,3-4,8,12).


The letter follows the basic epistolary pattern with an introduction (vv. 1-4), body (vv. 5-12), and a conclusion (vv. 13-14). Though vv. 1-4 clearly function as the salutation, it is also possible to outline the letter around the four personalities of the book. Verses 1-8 contain a multifold commendation of Gaius. Verses 9-10 condemn the highhanded and malicious autocracy of Diotrephes. Verses 11-12, taken as a unit, praise the godly Demetrius. Verses 13-14 close with a glimpse into the heart of the Elder. Four men and their reputations (growing out of their behavior) are the sum and substance of 3 John’s subject matter. John constructed this letter with the building blocks of key-word repetition: “dear friend” (vv. 1-2,5,11); “truth” or “true” (vv. 1,3-4,8,12). Third John provides insight into a personality conflict that arose at the end of the first century and the strategy adopted by the Elder to resolve it.


I.Greeting to Gaius (vv. 1-2)

II.Joy at Seeing Christians Demonstrate the Truth (vv. 3-4)

III.Pressing Issues (vv. 5-12)

A.Support for traveling ministers (vv. 5-8)

B.The problem of Diotrephes (vv. 9-10)

C.Commendation of Demetrius (vv. 11-12)

IV.Impending Visit and Blessing (vv. 13-14)

AD 17-61

Ephesus experiences a destructive earthquake. 17

Paul travels through Ephesus toward the end of his second missionary journey. 52

Apollos comes to Ephesus and is mentored by Aquila and Priscilla. 52

Paul returns to Ephesus for a 2 1/2 year ministry. 54

Paul writes the letter to the Ephesians. 61

AD 62-67

Timothy, elder of Ephesus, receives first letter from Paul, 1 Timothy. 62

Peter’s first letter from Rome to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia 64

Peter’s second letter from Rome 66

The Jewish War is started by zealots who drive the Romans out of Jerusalem temporarily. 66

Timothy receives second letter from Paul, 2 Timothy. 67?

AD 67-70s

Peter and Paul’s death in Rome 64-67?

John leaves Jerusalem for Ephesus. 66-70?

The Romans crush the Jewish rebellion and destroy Jerusalem and the temple. 70

John is spiritual leader of the church at Ephesus. 70-100

John’s Gospel written 70s

AD 80s-100

John’s first letter (1 John) to churches of Asia Minor 80s

John’s letter to the elect lady (2 John) 80s

John’s letter to Gaius (3 John) 80s

John is exiled to Patmos and writes the book of Revelation. 95

Ephesus becomes the third largest city in the Roman province of Asia after Sardis and Alexandria Troas. 100