Survey of 3 John

Book Type: General letter, also called a Catholic Epistle (meaning the same thing). One of the apostle John’s five books, and the 25th book of the New Testament.

Author: The apostle John is the traditional author of this book. The letter does not specifically identify its author, other than calling him “the elder” (3 John 1:1).

Audience: Third John was one of five New Testament books written by the apostle John, along with the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation. This is the last of his three letters in the New Testament. It was written to a man called “the beloved Gaius,” an unknown believer who was an early church leader (3 John 1:1).

Several themes are included in this brief letter. John encourages Gaius in his hospitality towards teachers traveling to share the gospel. In addition, he speaks against Diotrephes, a prideful leader of one of the churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Third, John speaks positively of Demetrius and his good testimony.

Date: Unknown, though probably written around the same time as John’s Gospel and the letters 1 John and 2 John. Likely composed between AD 80 and AD 95.

Overview: This brief letter of 15 verses (divided into just 14 in some translations) includes only one chapter. This is the second shortest book in the New Testament after 2 John. Other one-chapter books in the New Testament include Philemon, 2 John, and Jude. Third John begins with a one-verse introduction to Gaius from “the elder,” traditionally believed to be the apostle John. This elder states that he loves Gaius “in truth,” a key theme in the letter.

Verses 2–8 then develop the positive traits of Gaius. He treats “the brethren,” traveling Christian teachers, well (3 John 1:5). They speak highly of him among the churches (3 John 1:6). Such traveling teachers serve “for the sake of the Name” and receive no monetary support from Gentiles (3 John 1:7). They are to be supported by “us” as missionaries or messengers of the truth (3 John 1:8).

Verses 9–10 speak of the evil committed by Diotrephes, a proud church leader who disregarded the authority of Gaius and John (3 John 1:9). John hoped to rebuke him and his actions against God’s people (3 John 1:10).

Verse 11 emphasizes that believers are to imitate good, not evil (3 John 1:11). Verse 12 shifts focus to a third person, named Demetrius, who has a good reputation with everyone (3 John 1:12).

Verses 13–15 offer a brief conclusion. John wants to meet in person (3 John 1:13–14) and offers a blessing. He passes on greetings from others, and asks readers to greet their common friends by name.

Key Verses (ESV):

3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

3 John 1:11: “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”