The Third Letter of St. John

The Third Letter of John preserves a brief glimpse into the problems of missionary activity and local autonomy in the early church. In contrast to the other two letters of John, this work was addressed to a specific individual, Gaius. This brief letter and the situation that it mirrors show us how little we know about some details of early development in the church: schools of opinion existed around which questions of faith and life were discussed, and personal ties as well as doctrine and authority played a role in what happened amid divisions and unity.

Excerpts from Third John:

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The Third Letter of St. John:

Chapter 1

1 The Presbyter to the beloved Gaius whom I love in truth.
2 Beloved, I hope you are prospering in every respect and are in good health, just as your soul is prospering.
3 I rejoiced greatly when some of the brothers came and testified to how truly you walk in the truth.
4 Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
5 Beloved, you are faithful in all you do for the brothers, especially for strangers;
6 they have testified to your love before the church. Please help them in a way worthy of God to continue their journey.
7 For they have set out for the sake of the Name and are accepting nothing from the pagans.
8 Therefore, we ought to support such persons, so that we may be co-workers in the truth.
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us.
10 Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing, spreading evil nonsense about us. And not content with that, he will not receive the brothers, hindering those who wish to do so and expelling them from the church.
11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does what is good is of God; whoever does what is evil has never seen God.
12 Demetrius receives a good report from all, even from the truth itself. We give our testimonial as well, and you know our testimony is true.
13 I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen and ink.
14 Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face.
15 Peace be with you. The friends greet you; greet the friends there each by name.
  • [9] Who loves to dominate: the Presbyter does not deny Diotrephes’ place as leader but indicates that his ambition may have caused him to disregard his letter and his influence.

  • [10] If I come: the Presbyter may visit the community to challenge the actions of Diotrephes toward himself and the missionaries. Will not receive the brothers: Diotrephes may have been critical of the teachings of the Presbyter and sought to maintain doctrinal purity; cf. 1 Jn 2:19 and 2 Jn 10–11.

  • [11] Do not imitate evil: Gaius should not be influenced by the behavior of Diotrephes.

  • [12] Demetrius: because of the fear of false teachers, Demetrius, perhaps the bearer of the letter, is provided with a recommendation from the Presbyter; cf. 2 Cor 3:1; Rom 16:1. Even from the truth itself: this refers probably to the manner of Demetrius’s life that testifies to his true belief; cf. Gaius above (3 Jn 3).