Third Epistle of John
The Third Epistle of John, often referred to as Third John and written 3 John, is a book of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 attributed to John the Evangelist
John the Evangelist
Saint John the Evangelist is the conventional name for the author of the Gospel of John...

, traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 and the other two epistles of John. This Epistle is the shortest book in the Bible (fewest words; 2 John has fewer verses).


Indications within the letter suggest a genuine private letter, composed to Gaius to commend 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
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 (verse 7). The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Gaius, and to warn him against the party headed by Diotrephes, who refuses to cooperate with the presbyteros who is writing.

Regarding the letter addressee Gaius: the same name occurs in four New Testament texts. Thus, the answer naturally arises whether the Gaius of 3 John is the same man mention in any of the others contexts. First, a Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 Gaius is mentioned in Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

ia as a traveling companion of Paul, along with Aristarchus(Acts
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

 19:29). One chapter later, a Gaius from Derbe
Derbe is an ancient city in today's Turkey. This city is mentioned in the biblical book of Acts - , and was situated near ancient Lystra.- Location :...

, is again named as one of Paul's seven traveling companions who waited for him at Troas (Acts 20:4). Next, a Gaius is mentioned residing in Corinth as being one of only a few people there (the others being Crispus and the household of Stephanas) who were baptised by Paul, who founded the Church in that city (1 Corinthians
First Epistle to the Corinthians
The first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians, often referred to as First Corinthians , is the seventh book of the New Testament of the Bible...

 1:14). Lastly, a Gaius is referred to in a final greeting portion of the Epistle to the Romans
Epistle to the Romans
The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that Salvation is offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ...

 (Romans 16:23) as Paul's "host" and also host of the whole church, in whatever city Paul is writing from at the time. In all likelihood, this was Corinth.

Authorship of 3 John and other Johannine texts

The language, pastoral concerns, and brevity of 3 John are similar to those of 2 John, suggesting a common author and purpose. Both are written by a person identifying himself as "the Elder". This is assumed by some to be John the Presbyter
John the Presbyter
John the Presbyter is an obscure figure of the early Church who is either distinguished from or identified with the Apostle John, by some also John the Divine. He appears in fragments from the church father Papias of Hierapolis as one of the author's sources and is first unequivocally distinguished...


Scholars are more divided on the question of whether this is the same as the author 1 John, the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 and the Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

, all three of which place the author in a leading eyewitness role in the Church origins.

A fourth century Council of Rome
Council of Rome
The Council of Rome was a meeting of Christian Church officials and theologians which took place in 382 under the authority of the bishop of Rome, Damasus I. The previous year, the Emperor Theodosius I had appointed the "dark horse" candidate Nectarius Archbishop of Constantinople...

 decreed that John the Evangelist
John the Evangelist
Saint John the Evangelist is the conventional name for the author of the Gospel of John...

should be distinguished from John the Presbyter.

See Authorship of the Johannine works
Authorship of the Johannine works
Authorship of the Johannine works has been debated by scholars since at least the 2nd century. The main debate centers on who authored the writings, and which of the writings, if any, can be ascribed to a common author.Ancient tradition attributes all the books to John the Apostle...

 for a more complete discussion.

Date and location of writing

All three letters of John likely date from the mid-first-century, during a time of intense inter-apostolic rivalry between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders, evidenced most dramatically, for example, in Paul's epistle to the Galatians
Epistle to the Galatians
The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, often shortened to Galatians, is the ninth book of the New Testament. It is a letter from Paul of Tarsus to a number of Early Christian communities in the Roman province of Galatia in central Anatolia...

. However, their allusions and opposition to Gnostic and docetic teaching, which denied the full humanity of Jesus, could place the letters closer to the end of the first century, when this teaching was gaining ascendancy. Their many parallels with John's Gospel may also indicate a date after that of the Gospel.

De Jong argued for a date of 100-110 AD, imagining links with writings of Ignatius and Polycarp.

Marshall suggests a date of between the 60s and 90s.

Rensberger suggests a dating of around 100, assuming that the Gospel of John was written in the 90s and the letters must have followed after.

Brown argues for a date of between 100 and 110, with all three letters composed in close time proximity.

A date past 110-115 is unlikely, as parts of the 1John and 2 John are quoted by Polycarp and Papia.

The letters do not indicate the location of authorship, but some later traditions placed John in the city of Ephesus
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, and later a major Roman city, on the west coast of Asia Minor, near present-day Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek era...


Earliest knowledge of the letters comes from Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...


Early quotations

The earliest possible attestations for 3 John come from Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 and Origen of Alexandria. Tertullian, "On Monogamy" quotes a brief phrase—"follow the better things"— from 3 John 1.11 "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
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

) or from the First Epistle of Peter
First Epistle of Peter
The First Epistle of Peter, usually referred to simply as First Peter and often written 1 Peter, is a book of the New Testament. The author claims to be Saint Peter the apostle, and the epistle was traditionally held to have been written during his time as bishop of Rome or Bishop of Antioch,...

 3.11 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
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

in 3 John 1.7. Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 in Adversus Haereses
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, today also called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called , commonly called Against Heresies , is a five-volume work written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century...

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
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 knew of both 2 and 3 John, however Origen is reported as saying "all do not consider them genuine." Similarly, Dionysius of Alexandria
Dionysius of Alexandria
Pope Dionysius of Alexandria, named "the Great," was the Pope of Alexandria from 248 until his death on November 17, 265 after seventeen years as a bishop. He was the first Pope to hold the title "the Great" . We have information on Dionysius because during his lifetime, Dionysius wrote many...

, 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.

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. 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
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

, was not held by all, as Jerome himself attributed the epistles to John the Apostle.

All three Johannine epistles were recognised by the 39th festal letter of Athanasius, the Synod of Hippo
Synod of Hippo
The Synod of Hippo refers to the synod of 393 which was hosted in Hippo Regius in northern Africa during the early Christian Church. Additional synods were held in 394, 397, 401 and 426....

 and the Council of Carthage. Additionally Didymus the blind
Didymus the Blind
Didymus the Blind was a Coptic Church theologian of Alexandria, whose famous Catechetical School he led for about half a century. He became blind at a very young age, and therefore ignorant of the rudiments of learning...

 wrote a commentary on all three epistles, showing that by the early 5th century they were being considered as a single unit.

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. 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.


  • v.1-3 Gaius commended for the truth that is in him
  • v.5-8 Hospitality and generosity commended
  • v.9-11 Diotrephes
  • v.12 Demetrius
  • v.13-14 Farewell

See also

  • Textual variants in the Third Epistle of John

External links

Online translations
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