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Archive for September, 2011

The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 3 John 5-9

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck
Week Three: Sept 25, 2011
This week we continue the study in 3 John picking up in verse 5.

I. Body

Having finished with the formal introduction of the letter, John now begins to move towards the purpose of his letter which centers on the support of traveling missionaries. First he starts with praise of Gaius and his treatment of traveling missionaries before moving on to a problem that has arisen.

a. Commendation of Gaius (5-8)

5 – Dear friend, you are faithful in whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers.
– Again (see last week verse 2) John begins this section with a statement of affection.
– He points out how Gaius’ personal ministry was one marked by service to fellow Christians. Yet Gaius did not restrict his service just to his friends. It is one thing to help friends. It is quite another thing to help strangers. But Gaius seems to have gone out of his way to help those he did not know. Gaius’ ministry brings to mind Mt 25:40 – “I tell you with certainty, since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’”
6 – They have testified before the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.
– Evidently when the traveling missionaries returned from their trip they gave a report to the church and they made mention of the kindness Gaius had shown them.
You will do well
– While in English this can carry and air of warning, in Greek it is an idiom expressing a polite form of request. John is simply encouraging Gaius to continue to extend his hospitality in future visits.
a manner worthy of God.
– Those in the service of the gospel need our support. 1 Tim 5: 18 says – For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox while it is treading out grain,” and “A worker deserves his pay.”
o Side note: This is a citation from Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7. But both are being referred to as scripture.
7 – After all, they went on their trip for the sake of the Name,[1] accepting no support from gentiles.
– John supports his request by pointing to their dedication (the sake of the Name) and their need (accepting no support from gentiles). This was an unusual practice for the time period as many teachers, philosophers, and non-Christian religious preachers lived by selling their services. Priests of a Syrian Goddess would brag that each “missionary” journey would bring in 70 bags of gold. (Rogers) Instead as Jesus told his disciples in Mt 10:8 You have received without payment, so give without payment.
8* – Therefore, we ought to support such people so that we can become fellow workers[2] with them.
– Note here that John switches to “we.” He is making a universal point that all Christians ought to support those who work to spread the Gospel. The Greek word for “ought” is one for a moral obligation, or to owe a debt. (Rogers)
so that we can become fellow workers with them
– While we are all to share our faith, not all are called out for evangelism. Instead God has gifted and called some for this task. If we are not called, then we should support those who are. This makes us fellow workers all working together for the same goal.
– This should be our view for all ministries. If we are not out on the front lines, how can we help those who are?
b. Criticism of Diotrephes (9,10)
9 I wrote a letter[3] to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be in charge, will not recognize our authority.[4]
– Having laid out the positive part of his message, John now comes to the heart of the letter. This was the problem that had spawned the letter. He had sent an earlier letter to Diotrephes, apparently with some instruction or council, but it was rejected. This immediately raises three questions. Which letter is John referring to? To which church did he write? And who was Diotrephes?
Question 1: What Letter is John referring to?
There are basically three possible answers, 1 John, 2 John, or a missing letter. Based on the context in this letter, the earlier letter John wrote seems to have dealt with the support of traveling missionaries. This would seem to rule out 1 John, which is concerned with a group that split away from the church, not traveling missionaries. While 2 John does deal with traveling missionaries, the missionaries in that letter are spreading false teachings. There is no indication of false teachings in 3 John. So that would seem to rule out 2 John.
That leaves us with the option of an unknown missing letter. This is not a problem. We know that not everything the apostles wrote made it into the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 5:9 seems to refer to an earlier letter, and the description of the severe letter mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:3-9 does not really match 1 Corinthians. While we do not know why these two letters were not included in the New Testament, the reason that earlier letter from John mentioned in this verse was not included is probably very simple. Having rejected the letter, it is highly unlikely that Diotrephes would have saved it.
Question 2: To which church did he write?
The most natural reading of this would indicate that the church in question was Gaius’ church. But this raises an issue. From what we have read so far, Gaius was mostly likely a prominent person in his church. This would also be indicated by the fact that John is writing to him, and not someone else. But if Gaius was such a leader in same church as Diotrephes, then why is John writing to tell him about things he should have already known?
This has led some to conclude that the church headed by Diotrephes was a different church than Gaius’. In this case John is warning Gaius lest Diotrephes’ influence spread to Gaius’ church. While this may initially seems a better solution, as we look closer it is not. First off, given the praise of Gaius in previous verses, it is difficult to see that there was any real threat that Gaius would be influence by Diotrephes. Even more difficult is John’ statement in the next verse saying, “When I come…” So it would seem that Gaius was a member of Diotrephes church.
So how do we explain the letter? There would appear to be three options. First, it is possible that Diotrephes destroyed the letter before Gaius and the rest of the church knew about it. His attempt to communicate with Diotrephes having failed, John is now writing Gaius. This would also explain why we do not have the letter.
A second option is that Gaius, while a prominent member, lived far enough away so as not to have known what was going on. This explanation also has an added benefit; in this case it would explain why Gaius was so important to traveling missionaries.
A third option is that it is possible that Gaius had been ill. We saw in verse 2 that John prayed for Gaius’ health. While this does to mean that Gaius was in fact ill, it is a possibility, and would explain the need for the letter. Finally, it could have been some combination of the above.
Question 3: Who was Diotrephes?
This is the only mention of Diotrephes in the New Testament. During the first century the name was not very common, and literally means “Comes from Zeus” or “Zeus-Nurtured.” When the name is found it is normally associated with nobility. The Greek word for “loves to be in charge” (philoproteuon) means a desire to be first, the desire to lead others. It indicates that the root of the problem was an issue of power and ego, not doctrine. Diotrephes wanted to run his church as he saw fit, and was rejecting the authority of John. He also had some other issues as we will see in the next verse.
It is easy to write this off as simply a personal problem with Diotrephes; one that has little to teach us, but when we consider the time and place it is also easy to see that there was some more going on here that does speak to our time.
When John wrote this letter he was probably old and very likely the last of the Apostles. The early church was in a period of transition, from the rule of the Apostles, to what would end up as the rule of Bishops. But none of this was formal or structured. That would come much later. As such, it should not be all that surprising that in this time of transition there would be a young ambitious man who would come to think he could do things better, and in doing so would question why he should have to submit to John.
The problem of Diotrephes is something that many young people have felt in many walks of life. It is something that many young pastors have struggled with. But it is not limited to pastors. We all tend to think that we could do things better or different. While at time the old are too reluctant to change, likewise at times, the young are too eager. We must guard against both.
Eph 5:21 says that we should “submit to one another out of reverence for the Messiah.” Yet this is not a command, even though it often appears as such in many translations. This is because all translation must balance readability with accuracy. In modern English long complicated sentences are to be avoid. Here the sentence begins back in Eph 5:18 with the command to “keep on being filled with the Spirit, then you will…” What follows is a list of the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus when we get to verse 21, submitting to one another is result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, not a command.
This is a particularly important message today because it is so counter cultural. Our culture sees submission as a bad thing. In fact we see rebellion as a good thing. On top of that, our culture emphasizes the young, and devalues the old. Even within the church, tradition is rejected and the new is sought. So Diotrephes would fit right in with our modern view of the world, and as such is a warning to the modern Church.


I encourage an open class and a range of questions, not just those dealing with the material covered in the class that week. This week two people had a question on how to deal with co-workers. In one case the co-worker was a Jehovah Witnesses, and in the other a Mormon. The first point I made is to avoid loaded words like “cult.” This is because nothing is gained, except to divert attention on to a semantic discussion on the meaning of the word. Instead, I refer to these groups in factual terms, i.e., that they differ from the beliefs that have historically defined Christianity. Most Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses I have talked to would agree. They differ from historical Christianity, because they think historical Christianity is wrong. This keeps the discussion way from semantic debates and focused on what really matters, which view is correct.
The second point I made was to point out that this is primarily a spiritual issue and not really an issue of evidence and reason. Jesus makes magnificent arguments. In terms of reason, logic, and evidence his arguments were solid. Yet in response his opponents wanted to stone him. He raised Lazarus from the dead and in response his opponents wanted to kill Lazarus. We cannot expect to do better than Jesus did.
So what then can we do? Pray. This is a spiritual battle, and our first line of defense is to pray. Pray for them, and pray for yourself. Second, listen. You are not witnessing to “a Mormon,” or “a Jehovah Witness.” You are witnessing to a person who has their own issues and beliefs. Why are they a Mormon? Why are the Jehovah Witness? Why do they hold the belief that they do? Three, don’t feel like you need to be the Bible Answer man. Feel free to say “That’s a good point, let me look into that.” This will give you time to research the issue and get back to them. Forth, seek to ask questions more than make points. The evidence and the facts are on our side. Let them defend how they get around those facts, and why they ignore the evidence.
Finally, I made the point that you should not expect to see results. If you do, great! But, often we never see how the Holy Spirit will use what we have said. When I was an atheist, it was not the statements that Christians said that affected me, it was how the Holy Spirit used those statements, how I struggled with them later on, which had an impact.
Next week we will start in 3 John 10
If you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.
See here for more background on the class.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission.
Note: Some places I have modify the text from the version ISV. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

[1] 7 I.e. God
[2] ISV: genuine Helpers
[3] 9 Lit. wrote something
[4] 9 The Gk. lacks authority

The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 3 John 1-4

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

Week Two: Sept 18, 2011

3 John


The structure of 3 John is very close to a typical 1st century letter, and thus there is pretty broad agreement on the outline by scholars.


a.      Address (1)
b.      Prayer (2)
c.       Personal Words for Gaius (3-4)


a.      Commendation of Gaius (5-8)
b.      Criticism of Diotrephes (9,10)
c.       Commendation of Demetrius (11,12)

III. Conclusion

a.      Final words (13-14)
b.      Greetings (15)


I. Opening

a.      Address (1)

1 – From:[1] The Elder
To: My dear friend Gaius, whom I genuinely love.

The Elder

The typical opening of a 1st Century letter contains 4 components: From, To, Greetings, and Prayer.  John opens with the first two of these components.

John does not use his Name but rather his title.  This would indicate that he had a position of great respect.  Elsewhere the plural (elders) is used to refer to the leaders in a local church, (Acts 11:30, 1 Tim 5:17).  It does not have quite the same meaning here as The Elder is apparently writing to a church other than his home church.  Thus it would appear that The Elder is someone who had authority over many churches

The fact that John refers to himself as “THE” elder could indicate that John was the last of the twelve.  The term elders would also indicate that John was elderly, though for the 1st century that is not saying much.

To: My dear friend Gaius

Gaius was a very common name in the first century, and so we really do not know who this is.  Detailed address information would have been given to the carrier of the letter, which was probably Demetrius (v11-2).  From the rest of the letter we know that Gaius was a Christian, was probably a prominent member of his church and that this church was most likely one of those under the care of John.

whom I genuinely love.

A genuine statement of affection.

For some reason John breaks with custom and does not include the formal greeting that would normally appear at this point.  This also could be a sign of familiarity, i.e., to dispense with custom,  or it could just be that John cared little for custom.  He somewhat breaks with custom in 2 John and 1 John does not follow the format of a letter at all, though it is likely that 1 John is not actually a letter.

b.      Prayer (2)

2* – Dear friend, I pray that you are doing well in every way and that you are healthy, just as your soul is doing well.[2]

Dear friend,

Another statement of affection.  As we will see, John seems to use this and similar statements as a means of dividing up his letters.  Here he does this just before starting his prayer.

I pray that you are doing well in every way

While skipping the traditional greeting, He does include the customary prayer.

The Greek word here (euodousthai) literally means “to lead along a good path” (Friberg) .  In Romans 1:10 it is used literally by God’s will I may at last succeed in coming to you. Here it is being used metaphorically, with the meaning “that your journey through life is a good one.” Outside of the NT it was also used to refer to gain or profit in business (Louw).

While spiritual welfare is important John does not limit his prayer just to that.  He also prays that Gaius prosper and succeed.

and that you are healthy

Literally: To have well, an idiom for good health

While this does not indicate that Gaius had health problems, it does not rule them out.  When we get to verse v9 we will see that health problems might explain some difficulties there.

just as your soul is doing well.

The Greek word for doing well here is the same as earlier in the verse.  Here it indicates that Gaius’ soul is progressing well, so well that John prays that the rest of Gaius life is doing as well as his soul is doing.

Note: John is praying that Gaius do well both physically as well as spiritually, both are important to John.  Getting the right balance between the physical and spiritual is tough.

c.       Personal Words for Gaius (3-4)

3* – I have greatly rejoiced with every arrival of brothers that testified about your truthfulness [3]and how you live according to the truth.

I was overjoyed with every arrival of brothers that testified

John was not just happy but very happy.  The Greek work for erchomenow is a present middle participle, and indicates repetition either by the same brothers many times, or by different groups of brothers.  Either way, it is clear that John knew of Gaius, which is another indication that Gaius held a prominent position.

about your truthfulness

Literally “your truth.” This is more than just honesty, but also includes an adherence to the true.  A key feature of Gaius’ faith was his adherence to the truth, i.e., to sound doctrine.  This was so key that others would report on it.

and how you live according to the truth.

Gaius faith was more than just belief, he lived it as well.  He put his beliefs into practice.

What would other say about us?  What would their report be?

4 – Ihave no greater joy than to hear that my children are living according to the truth.

John stresses how much this pleased him.  The word John uses for “greater” is an interesting one.  The Greek word is meizoteran.  In Greek the word for great is megas, which is where we get the English prefix mega-.  Greek normally uses an ending (- teran ) to make a comparative, similar to the way English use the ending –er as in great + er is greater.  But instead of using the normal ending Greek as a special word for greater : meizon.  John, however really wants to make sure his readers understand just how great his joy really is, so he takes the Greek word for greater, and then for emphasis adds the –teran ending.  In literal English, for him there is no “greaterer” joy.

my children

This could mean John led Gaius to Christ, or it could just be that he had spiritual authority over him.

What is our greatest joy?  What is the greatest demand we put on our children?  Is it School?  Grades?  Success?  A particular career?  If you were to ask parents today which was most important would it be that their children “live according to the truth” (or in secular terms that their children be good) ?  Or would it be that their children get a good education and a career?  More importantly, what would your children say was your greatest desire for them?


One question that came up in class concerned the relationship of truth and love.  A key problem is that living truth and living in love are sometimes in conflict.  Living in truth requires a strict adherence to the truth.  If we are not careful, this can lead to division and we find ourselves splitting over even minor disagreements about what the Bible teaches.  On the other hand, living in love leads us to overlook differences in favor of just loving one another.

As with so many things this is a balancing act one of standing for the truth, but not in a cold doctrinal way, but one that stress Love, one where the focus is on reconciliation, not division.  At the extremes it is pretty easy.  We do not want to divide on minor issues such as whether the pre-mid-post tribulation rapture.  On the other hand we do need stand firm on the deity of Christ.  But as we get closer to the middle it gets harder to know exactly where the line is or just how we should respond.  This is one of the main themes we will be looking at in this class.

Next week we will start in 3 John 5

If you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

See here for background

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission.

Note: Some places I have modify the text from the version ISV. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

[1] 1 The Gk.  lacks From

[2] ISV your soul is healthy

[3] ISV: I was overjoyed when some brothers arrived and testified about your truthfulness

The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love

Sunday, September 18th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

This year I am beginning a study into the letters of John. I will be posting the study here online as well as teaching it at the church I attend.   If you are in the area of Wausau Wisconsin and want to attend the class live, it is at Wausau campus of Highland Community Church and starts about 9:20 AM every Sunday from Labor Day through Memorial Day.  In my classes, I encourage questions and discussions, so if you have questions about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

Week One:  Sept 11, 2011


This week we will deal with a lot of the background information.  Some consider this unimportant and boring, but it can be important to understanding the context of the letters, and thus to understanding the letters themselves.  As you will see as we go, I am a very big believer in the importance of context. So we will be spending some time, not only on the background information, but also the structure of the letters particularly 1 John.

One advantage of the online version will be that you can skim this background information for the moment, and just focus on the conclusions.  Later as issues arise in the letters, you can refer back here as needed.

Finally, this is a class, not a full commentary.  Thus, what I am presenting here, particularly in this first week, is the summary of my studies.  While many may conclude I am going into too much detail, a few will notice the large amount of information I am skipping over.  I can only say that this is a balancing act. If you think I am out of balance, feel free to ask a question.   With that said, let’s get started.


As one begins to look at the authorship of these three letters one thing that quickly becomes clear is that they are very closely linked to the Gospel of John.  Even a causal reading reveals a marked similarity between all four documents (Gospel + 3 letters) and that they are somewhat different from other books in the New Testament.  (Note: The similarity or difference with the book of Revelations  raise some other issues which will not be addressed here.)

While some scholars claim that the internal evidence point to different authorship, these are arguments are very weak for the following reasons.

1)       2 and 3 John are too short for conclusions.  They seem to have the same author but there are not long enough to reach a firm conclusion either way.

2)      The Gospel and all three epistles do show a strong relationship in language.  For example, they all present similar themes in terms of opposites with no middle ground such as Light/Dark, Life/Death, Truth/Lie, Love/hate.

3)      As for the supposed difference between them, they are easily accounted for by context.

Thus in Gospel, the Holy Spirit is our paraclete (counselor) while in 1st John it is Jesus. But this is not a conflict because John 14:16 make it clear that the Holy Spirit is “another counselor” and that the Spirit is coming because Jesus is leaving.

2 and 3 John were letters sent by “the elder.”   1 John does not identify the author, though it is clear he was known to those to whom he wrote.  The Gospel, likewise, does not identify the author by name, but there are enough details in the account to see that the author was the Apostle John.

Bottom line: The internal evidence is for a common authorship of the Apostle John.

When we come to the external evidence it is both early and clear.  In particular, are Papias, who knew and studied under John, and Iraenaeus who studied under Polycarp, who like Papias knew and studied under John. Both were in a position to know, and both identified John as the author.

Often these early sources simply appear as references, but I thought it might be nice to actually quote them.  First are a number of allusions to the letters of John, i.e., that is the message and words seem to be strongly influenced by these letters, but without a direct citation.  These will be followed by the passages in John’s letters that appear to be the source.   Finally I will cite some passages where the source is identified as John.   Note that the parts in bold are the parts that are influence by John’s letters.


Clement of Rome  – AD 96

1 Clement 49:5 Love joineth us unto God; love hideth a multitude of sins; love beareth all things; is long suffering in all things. In love there is nothing illiberal, nothing haughty. Love hath no schism; love maketh not sedition; love doth all things in harmony; in love all the elect of God have been made perfect. Without love nothing is acceptable unto God.

1 Clement 50:3 All the generations, from Adam even unto this day, are gone by; but they who have been made perfect in love according to the grace of God inhabit the abode of the pious, and shall be made manifest in the visitation of the kingdom of Christ.

Didache AD 90-120

Didache 10:5 Remember, Lord, Thy Church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Thy love;

and gather it together from the four winds- even the Church which has been sanctified-into Thy kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever.

1 John – Perfected in Love

1 John 2: 5 But whoever continually keeps his commandments is the kind of person in whom God’s love has truly been perfected. This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God.

1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1 John 17-18 There is no fear where love exists.  Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love.

The Epistle of Barnabas  – c130

Barnabas 5:9 – 11 And when He chose His own apostles who were to proclaim His Gospel, who that He might show that He came not to call the righteous but sinners were sinners above every sin, then He manifested Himself to be the Son of God.  10 For if He had not come in the flesh neither would men have looked upon Him and been saved, forasmuch as when they look upon the sun that shall cease to be, which is the work of His own hands, they cannot face its rays. 11 Therefore the Son of God came in the flesh to this end, that He might sum up the complete tale of their sins against those who persecuted and slew His prophets.

Barnabas 12:10 Behold again it is Jesus, not a son of man, but the Son of God, and He was revealed in the flesh in a figure. Since then men will say that Christ is the son of David, David himself prophesieth being afraid and understanding the error of sinners; The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand until I set thine enemies for a footstool under Thy feet.

Polycarp Epistle to the  Philippians  c135

Polycarp 7:1 For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist: and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan.

1 John – Come in the Flesh

1 John 4:2-3 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 But every spirit who does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist. You have heard that he is coming, and now he is already in the world.

2 John – Come in the Flesh

2 John 1:7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Direct Mentions:

Papias  110-140

Eusebius Church History Book 3 39:16 16. But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: “So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.” And the same writer[Papias] uses testimonies from the first Epistle of John and from that of Peter likewise. And he relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. These things we have thought it necessary to observe in addition to what has been already stated.  (Note: First Epistle is Eusebius’ term not Papias’)

Irenaeus c 180

Against Heresies Book 3 16   2. That John knew the one and the same Word of God, and that He was the only begotten, and that He became incarnate for our salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord, I have sufficiently proved from the word of John himself… he has thus testified to us in his Epistle: “Little children, it is the last time; and as you have heard that Antichrist does come, now have many antichrists appeared; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but [they departed], that they might be made manifest that they are not of us. Know therefore, that every lie is from without, and is not of the truth. Who is a liar, but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist.”  Loosely quoted from 1 John 2:18

Against Heresies Book 3 16 8 And again does he [John] say in the Epistle: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which separates Jesus Christ is not of God, but is of antichrist.” 2 John 7-8

Bottom line: Taken as a whole, the external and internal evidence is strong that all 4 documents (Gospel & Epistles) were written by the same person, and that this person was the Apostle John.

While this conclusion is question by more liberal scholars, I believe it to be solid. In fact, it is so solid that it raises question as to why these scholars continue to question the authorship of John.  For those interested, I wrote a post on this when I was doing this part of the research, and I refer those interested to that post.


With the authorship established the next question is to whom did John write?  This will of course depend on the letter.

1 John has no address or greeting that was the normal custom of the time.  Its only parallel among the “letters” would be the book of Hebrews.   Based on evidence from the letter itself, it would seem that 1 John was sent to a church.

2 John is a more conventional letter and was written to,  “the chosen lady and her children.”  For reasons we will go into when we get there, I believe that this refers to a particular church and its members.

3 John was written to a person named Gaius. Unfortunately this was a very common name in the 1st century and so does not help us much with identifying the particular person.  It would somewhat be like finding a letter in Mexico addressed simply to “Jesus” or in Saudi Arabia addressed to “Mohammed.”  The Gaius mentioned in 3 John, was probably not one of the other Gaius’ mentioned in the Bible, although there is a 4th century document that says it was sent to Gaius of Derbe in Acts 20:4.

Reasons for the letters

While we will go into the details for this as we work our way through each letter, here is a summary as to why the letters were written.

1st John

It seem that a splinter group had begun to question key teachings the faith and as a result had broken away from the church to whom the letter was written.

2nd John

Unnamed traveling preachers were spreading false doctrines.

3rd John

Diotrephes, a leader in the local church, was resisting John’s oversight and causing problems.


Since John died around AD 98, that would put an upper limit on the date.  As we saw above Clement appeared to use 1 John in his letter written  in 96, which would move the upper limit for 1 John a few years earlier.

The date of 1 John is linked to the date of the Gospel.  This is because, as we will see later, it would appear that the splinter group talked about in the letter, was an early version of Gnosticism, a religious movement that would really take shape in the 2nd century.  Gnostics liked large parts the Gospel of John with it imagery of, for example, light and darkness.  Of course they ignored those parts that directly conflicted with their views, but overall they like the Gospel of John.  Many scholars have pointed out that 1 John can be seen as a corrective, not so much to the Gospel, but to the distortion of the Gospel by these early Gnostics.

From this we can draw two conclusions:  Firstly, the Gospel was written before Gnosticism became an issue otherwise John would probably have been a little clearer so as not to leave room for Gnostic distortions.   Secondly, 1 John was written long enough after the Gospel, such that this early form of Gnosticism could begin to grow, and to begin to distort the Gospel.

Some other factors are that in the Gospel there is no indication of the destruction of the temple (70 A.D.), which would indicate that it was either written before the temple was destroyed, or long enough after that it was no longer an issue.   Finally, it would appear likely based on John 21:19 that Peter was already dead when the Gospel was written which would place it after 65 AD.  This also makes it more likely that the Gospel was written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD than before.

All of this taken together would tentatively point to a date in the early 80s for the Gospel, which would then put 1 John somewhere in the early 90s.  Since the traveling preachers in 2 John have similar teaching to the group in 1 John it was probably written about the same time.   3 John on the other hand could have been written at almost any time during the latter part of John’s life.

Order of Writing

The order found in the NT does not necessarily reflect the order in which they were written.  In fact, 1 John was probably put first because it was the largest.   So we do not really know what order in which they were written.

There does seem to be an progression in the nature of the problems,  with 3 John addressing a church leader who was rejecting John’s authority,  2 John addressing the arrival of traveling teachers spreading false teachings,  and 1 John dealing with a split in a church over false teaching similar to those of the traveling teachers in 2 John. Yet we do not even know if the letters were all sent to the same church, much less addressed common problems.

Still this progression of problems is a useful way to approach these letters.  Even if it is not a chronological order, it is still a useful order.

So we will start our study beginning with 3 John and then working our way back to 1 John.   This will have the added advantage of giving more emphasis to 2 and 3 John, rather than treating them as after thoughts.

So Next week will pick up with 3 John 1:1.  Again if you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.


Some have asked me about the source material I use for in my research.   So for those who are interested, here are the major sources I am using in this study.

English Translation

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission.

Note:  Some places I have modify  the text from the version ISV.  Passages that I have modified have been noted and the ISV text included in a footnote.

Main Commentaries

I Howard Marshall; The Epistles of John.  The New International Commentary on the New Testament.

Glen W. Barker; 1,2 & 3 John, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 12

Other References

Friberg Greek Lexicon

Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon

Cleon L. Rogers Jr, Cleon L. Rogers III; The New Linguistic and Exegetical key to the Greek New Testament

D. A. Carson; The Gospel According to John.

Donald Guthrie,  New Testament Introduction.

D.A. Carson,  Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris; An Introduction To the New Testament.

Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament

W. Hall Harris II, The Prologue of 1 John (1:1-4)