Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Third Epistle of John] This title, like that of the Gospel and of the other two Epistles, is not original, and is found in various forms, the most ancient being the simplest, 1. Of John T; 2. Third Epistle of John 3. Third Catholic Epistle of John 4. Third Catholic Epistle of the Apostle John. This letter has still less reason than the second to be styled ‘Catholic’ or ‘General.’ The Second Epistle may possibly be addressed to a local Church and be intended to be encyclical; but beyond all reasonable doubt this one is addressed to an individual.
The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.1. The Address
1. This Epistle, like the Second, and most others in N.T., has a definite address, but of a very short and simple kind: comp. James 1:1. It has no greeting, properly so called, the prayer expressed in 3 John 1:2 taking its place.
The Elder] See on 2 John 1:1. From the Apostle’s using this title in both Epistles we may conclude that he commonly designated himself thus. If not, it is additional evidence that the two letters were written about the same time: see on 3 John 1:13-14.
unto the wellbeloved Gaius] More exactly, to Gaius the beloved: the epithet is the same word as we have had repeatedly in the First Epistle (1 John 2:7, 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:21, 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11) and have again in 3 John 1:2; 3 John 1:5; 3 John 1:11. The name Gaius being perhaps the most common of all names in the Roman Empire, it is idle to speculate without further evidence as to whether the one here addressed is identical with either Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19:29), Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4), or Gaius of Corinth (Romans 16:23). See Introduction, Chap. IV. sect. ii. pp. 60, 61.
whom I love in the truth] Better, whom I love in truth: see on 2 John 1:1. This is not mere tautology after ‘the beloved;’ nor is it mere emphasis. ‘The beloved’ gives a common sentiment respecting Gaius: this clause expresses the Apostle’s own feeling. There is no need, as in the Second Epistle, to enlarge upon the meaning of loving in truth. In this letter the Apostle has not to touch upon defects which a less true love might have passed over in silence.
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.2–4. Personal Good Wishes and Sentiments
2. I wish above all things that] Rather, I pray that in all respects; literally, concerning all things. It might well surprise us to find S. John placing health and prosperity above all things; and though the Greek phrase (περὶ πάντων) has that meaning sometimes in Homer, yet no parallel use of it has been found in either N.T. or LXX.
prosper] The word (εὐοδούσθαι) occurs elsewhere in N.T. only Romans 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 16:2, but is frequent in LXX. Etymologically it has the meaning of being prospered in a journey, but that element has been lost in usage, and should not be restored even in Romans 1:10.
and be in health] Bodily health, the chief element in all prosperity: Luke 7:10; Luke 15:27; comp. Luke 5:31. We cannot conclude from these good wishes that Gaius had been ailing in health and fortune: but it is quite clear from what follows that ‘prosper and be in health’ do not refer to his spiritual condition, and this verse is, therefore, good authority for praying for temporal blessings for our friends. In the Pastoral Epistles ‘to be in health’ (ὑγιαίνειν) is always used figuratively of faith and doctrine.
The order of the Greek is striking, ‘all things’ at the beginning being placed in contrast to ‘soul’ at the end of the sentence: in all things I pray that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as prospereth thy soul. The verse is a model for all friendly wishes of good fortune to others.
For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.3. For] ‘I know that thy soul is in a prosperous condition, for I have it on good authority.’
I rejoiced greatly] See on 2 John 1:4. This cannot so well be the epistolary aorist, but rather refers to the definite occasions when information was brought. Of course if ‘rejoiced’ becomes present as epistolary aorist, ‘came’ and ‘bare witness’ must be treated in like manner.
testified of the truth that is in thee] Better, bare witness (see on 1 John 1:2) to thy truth (see on 3 John 1:6). The whole, literally rendered, runs thus; For I rejoiced greatly at brethren coming and witnessing to thy truth. John 5:33 is wrongly quoted as a parallel. There the Baptist ‘hath borne witness to the truth,’ i.e. to the Gospel or to Christ. Here the brethren bare witness to Gaius’s truth, i.e. to his Christian life, as is shewn by what follows. The ‘thy’ is emphatic, as in 3 John 1:6; perhaps in contrast to the conduct of Diotrephes. Comp. Luke 4:22.
even as thou walkest in the truth] Omit ‘the,’ as in 2 John 1:4. This is part of what the brethren reported, explaining what they meant by Gaius’s truth.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.4. I have no greater joy] In the Greek ‘greater’ is put first for emphasis, and this is worth preserving; Greater joy have I none than this. ‘Joy’ should perhaps rather be grace (χάριν) i.e. favour from God. The Greek for ‘greater’ is a double comparative (μειζοτέραν), like ‘lesser’ in English. In Ephesians 3:8 we have a comparative superlative. Such things belong to the later stage of a language, when ordinary forms are losing their strength. ‘Than this’ is literally ‘than these,’ where ‘these’ either means ‘these joys,’ or more likely ‘these things,’ viz. the frequent reports of the brethren. Comp. John 15:13.
to hear that my children walk in truth] Better, as R. V., to hear of my children walking in the truth. Similarly in Acts 7:12; ‘When Jacob heard of corn being in Egypt.’ ‘My children’ means in particular members of the Churches in Asia which were under S. John’s Apostolic care.
Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;5–8. Gaius praised for his Hospitality: Its special Value
5. Beloved] The affectionate address marks a new section (comp. 3 John 1:3; 3 John 1:11), but here again the fresh subject grows quite naturally out of what precedes, without any abrupt transition. The good report, which caused the Apostle such joy, testified in particular to the Christian hospitality of Gaius.
thou doest faithfully] So the Vulgate; fideliter facis: Wiclif, Tyndale, and other English Versions take the same view. So also Luther: du thust treulich. The Greek is literally, thou doest a faithful (thing), whatsoever thou workest (same verb as is rendered ‘wrought’ in 2 John 1:8) unto the brethren: which is intolerably clumsy as a piece of English. R.V. makes a compromise; thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest; which is closer to the Greek than A.V., but not exact. ‘To do a faithful act’ (πιστὸν ποιεῖν) possibly means to do what is worthy of a faithful man or of a believer, ostendens ex operibus fidem (Bede); and ‘to do faithfully’ expresses this fairly well: thou doest faithfully in all thou workest towards the brethren. But this use of πιστὸν ποιεῖν is unsupported by examples, and therefore Westcott would translate Thou makest sure whatsoever thou workest; i.e. ‘such an act will not be lost, will not fail of its due issue and reward’. The change of verb should at any rate be kept, not only on account of 2 John 1:8, but also of Matthew 26:10, where ‘she hath wrought a good work upon Me’ (εἰργάσατο εἰς ἐμέ) is singularly parallel to ‘thou workest toward the brethren’ (ἐργάσῃ εἰς τοὺς ἀδελφούς).
and to the strangers] The true text (אABC) gives, and that strangers (καὶ τοῦτο ξένους); i.e. towards the brethren, and those brethren strangers. Comp. 1 Corinthians 6:6; Php 1:28; Ephesians 2:8. The brethren and the strangers are not two classes, but one and the same. It enhanced the hospitality of Gaius that the Christians whom he entertained were personally unknown to him: Fideliter facis quidquid operaris in fratres, et hoc in peregrinos. Comp. Matthew 25:35.
Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:6. Which have borne witness of thy charity] Rather, as R.V., Who hare witness to thy love. There is no need here to turn the aorist into the perfect; and certainly in S. John’s writings (whatever may be our view of 1 Corinthians 13) ἀγάπη must always be rendered ‘love.’ In a text like this, moreover, ‘charity’ is specially likely to be understood in the vulgar sense of almsgiving.
before the church] Probably at Ephesus; but wherever S. John was when he wrote the letter. Only in this Third Epistle does he use the word ‘church.’
whom … thou shalt do well] The verb comes immediately after the relative in the Greek, and may as well remain there; whom thou wilt do well to forward on their journey: literally, whom thou wilt do well having sent on. The word for ‘send on’ or ‘forward’ occurs Acts 15:3; Acts 20:38; Acts 21:5; Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:11; 2 Corinthians 1:16; Titus 3:13. There would be abundant opportunity in the early Church for such friendly acts; and in telling Gaius that he will do a good deed in helping Christians on their way the Apostle gently urges him to continue such work. Comp. Php 4:14; Acts 10:33.
after a godly sort] This is vague and rather wide of the Greek, which means, worthily of God (R.V.), or, in a manner worthy of God (Rhemish), or as it beseemeth God (Tyndale and Genevan). ‘Help them forward in a way worthy of Him whose servants they and you are.’ Comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:12; Colossians 1:10.
Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.7. Because that for his Name’s sake] Much more forcibly the true text (אABCKL), For for the sake of the Name: the ‘His’ is a weak amplification in several versions. A similar weakening is found in Acts 5:41, which should run, ‘Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.’ ‘The Name’ of course means the Name of Jesus Christ: comp. James 2:7. This use of ‘the Name’ is common in the Apostolic Fathers; Ignatius, Eph. iii., vii.; Philad. x.; Clem. Rom. ii., xiii.; Hermas, Sim. viii. 10, ix. 13, 28.
they went forth] Comp. Acts 15:40.
taking nothing of the Gentiles] Hence the necessity for men like Gaius to help. These missionaries declined to ‘spoil the Egyptians’ by taking from the heathen, and therefore would be in great difficulties if Christians did not come forward with assistance. We are not to understand that the Gentiles offered help which these brethren refused, but that the brethren never asked them for help. ‘The Gentiles’ (οἱ ἐθνικοί) cannot well mean Gentile converts. What possible objection could there be to receiving help from them? Comp. Matthew 5:47; Matthew 6:7; Matthew 18:17, the only other places where the word occurs. There was reason in not accepting money or hospitality at all, but working for their own living, as S. Paul loved to do. And there was reason in not accepting help from heathen. But there would be no reason in accepting from Jewish converts, but not from Gentile ones.
Some expositors render this very differently. ‘For for the Name’s sake they went forth from the Gentiles, taking nothing;’ i.e. they were driven out by the heathen, penniless. But ‘went forth’ is too gentle a word to mean this; and the negative (μηδέν not οὐδέν) seems to imply that it was their determination not to accept anything, not merely that as a matter of fact they received nothing. For ‘receive from’ in a similar sense comp. Matthew 17:25.
We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.8. We therefore] ‘We’ is in emphatic contrast to the heathen just mentioned. The Apostle softens the injunction by including himself: comp. 1 John 2:1.
ought to receive such] Or, ought to support such, to undertake for them: the verb (ὑπολαμβάνειν not ἀπολαμβάνειν) occurs elsewhere in N.T. only in S. Luke’s writings, and there with a very different meaning. Comp. Xen. Anab. I. i. 7. There is perhaps a play upon words between the missionaries taking nothing from the Gentiles, and Christians being therefore bound to undertake for them.
that we might be fellowhelpers to] Rather, that we may become fellow-workers with. ‘Fellow-workers’ rather than ‘fellow-helpers’ on account of 3 John 1:5; see also on 2 John 1:11. Cognate words are used in the Greek, and this may as well be preserved in the English. ‘Fellow-workers’ with what? Not with the truth, as both A.V. and R.V. lead us to suppose; but with the missionary brethren. In N.T. persons are invariably said to be ‘fellow-workers of’ (Romans 16:3; Romans 16:9; Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Php 2:25; Php 4:3; [1 Thessalonians 3:2;] Philemon 1:24), never ‘fellow-workers to’ or ‘fellow-workers with:’ those with whom the fellow-worker works are put in the genitive, not in the dative. The dative here is the dativus commodi, and the meaning is; that we may become their fellow-workers for the truth. Sometimes instead of the dative we have the accusative with a preposition (Colossians 4:11; comp. 2 Corinthians 8:23).
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.9. I wrote unto the Church] The best authorities give I wrote somewhat to the Church; i.e. ‘I wrote a short letter, a something on which I do not lay much stress’. There is yet another reading; I would have written to the Church: but this is an obvious corruption to avoid the unwelcome conclusion that an official letter from S. John has been lost. The reference cannot be to either the First or the Second Epistle, neither of which contains any mention of this subject. There is nothing surprising in such a letter having perished: and Diotrephes would be likely to suppress it. That the brethren whom Gaius received were the bearers of it, and that his hospitality was specially acceptable on account of the violence of Diotrephes, does not seem to fit in well with the context. ‘To the Church’ probably means ‘to the Church’ of which Diotrephes was a prominent member: that he was presbyter of it cannot be either affirmed or denied from what is stated here.
who loveth to have the preeminence] The expression (ὁ φιλοπρωτεύων) occurs nowhere else in N.T.; but it comes very close to “whosoever willeth to be first among you” (Matthew 20:28). Perhaps the meaning is that Diotrephes meant to make his Church independent: hitherto it had been governed by S. John from Ephesus, but Diotrephes wished to make it autonomous to his own glorification. Just as the antichristian teachers claimed to be first in the intellectual sphere (2 John 1:9), so the unchristian Diotrephes claimed to be first in influence and authority.
9, 10. Diotrephes condemned for his Arrogance and Hostility
This is the most surprising part of the letter; and of the internal evidence this is the item which seems to weigh most heavily against the Apostolic authorship. That any Christian should be found to act in this manner towards the last surviving Apostle is nothing less than astounding. Those who opposed S. Paul, like Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14), afford only remote parallels (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 1:15). They do not seem to have gone the lengths of Diotrephes: the authority of Apostles was less understood in S. Paul’s time: and his claim to be an Apostle was at least open to question; for he was not one of the Twelve, and he had himself been a persecutor. But from the very first the N.T. is full of the saddest surprises. And those who accept as historical the unbelief of Christ’s brethren, the treachery of Judas, the flight of all the Disciples, the denial of S. Peter, the quarrels of Apostles both before and after their Lord’s departure, and the flagrant abuses in the Church of Corinth, with much more of the same kind, will not be disposed to think it incredible that Diotrephes acted in the manner here described even towards the Apostle S. John.
Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.10. Wherefore] Or, For this cause: see on 1 John 3:1.
I will remember] I will direct public attention to the matter, ‘will bear witness of it before the Church’ (3 John 1:6). It is the word used in John 14:26, ‘He shall bring all things to your remembrance.’
his deeds which he doeth] Or, his works which he doeth: see on 2 John 1:11.
with malicious words] Or, with evil words: it is the same adjective (πονηρός) as is used throughout the First Epistle of ‘the evil one.’ The word for ‘prate’ (φλυαρεῖν) occurs nowhere else in N.T. It is frequent in Aristophanes and Demosthenes, and means literally ‘to talk non-sense.’ Its construction here with an accusative after it is quite exceptional. ‘Prates against us,’ garriens in nos, cannot well be improved: it conveys the idea that the words were not only wicked, but senseless. Comp. ‘And not only idle, but tattlers (φλύαροι) also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not’ (1 Timothy 5:13). Other renderings are ‘chiding against us’ (Wiclif), ‘jesting on us’ (Tyndale and Cranmer), ‘pratteling against us’ (Genevan), ‘chatting against us’ (Rhemish), plaudert wider uns (Luther).
neither doth he himself receive the brethren] The same word (ἐπιδέχεται) is used here and at the end of 3 John 1:9. It occurs nowhere else in N.T. but is common in classical Greek. In 3 John 1:9 the meaning probably is ‘admits not our authority,’ or ‘ignores our letter.’ Here of course it is ‘refuses hospitality to.’ But perhaps ‘closes his doors against’ may be the meaning in both places; ‘us’ being S. John’s friends. By saying ‘us’ rather than ‘me’, the Apostle avoids the appearance of a personal quarrel.
casteth them out of the Church] He excommunicates those who are willing to receive the missionary brethren. The exact meaning of this is uncertain, as we have not sufficient knowledge of the circumstances. The natural meaning is that Diotrephes had sufficient authority or influence in some Christian congregation to exclude from it those who received brethren of whom he did not approve. For the expression comp. John 9:34-35.
Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.11. Beloved] The address again marks transition to a new subject, but without any abrupt change. The behaviour of Diotrephes will at least serve as a warning.
follow not that which is evil, but that which is good] More simply, imitate not the ill, but the good. The word for ‘evil’ or ‘ill’ is not that used in the previous verse (πονηρός), but a word, which, though one of the most common in the Greek language to express the idea of ‘bad,’ is rarely used by S. John (κακός). Elsewhere only John 18:23; Revelation 2:2; Revelation 16:2 : in Revelation 16:2 both words occur. Perhaps ‘ill’ is hardly strong enough here, and the ‘evil’ of A.V. had better be retained. Nothing turns on the change of word, so that it is not absolutely necessary to mark it. For ‘imitate’ comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 13:7 : the word occurs nowhere else in N.T.
He that doeth good is of God] He has God as the source (ἐκ) of his moral and spiritual life; he is a child of God. In its highest sense this is true only of Him who ‘went about doing good; but it is true in a lower sense of every earnest Christian. See on 1 John 2:16; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:8-9; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 4:6-7.
hath not seen God] See on 1 John 3:6. Of course doing good and doing evil are to be understood in a wide sense: the particular cases of granting and refusing hospitality to missionary brethren are no longer specially in question.
11, 12. The Moral
11, 12. This is the main portion of the Epistle. In it the Apostle bids Gaius beware of imitating such conduct. And if an example of Christian conduct is needed there is Demetrius.
Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.12. While Diotrephes sets an example to be abhorred, Demetrius sets one to be imitated. We know of him, as of Diotrephes, just what is told us here and no more. Perhaps he was the bearer of this letter. That Demetrius is the silversmith of Ephesus who once made silver shrines for Artemis (Acts 19:24) is a conjecture, which is worth mentioning but cannot be said to be probable.
Demetrius hath good report, &c.] Literally, Witness hath been borne to Demetrius by all men and by the truth itself; or less stiffly, as R. V., Demetrius hath the witness of all men. See on 1 John 1:2. ‘All men’ means chiefly those who belonged to the Church of the place where Demetrius lived, and the missionaries who had been there in the course of their labours. The force of the perfect is the common one of present result of past action: the testimony has been given and still abides.
and of the truth itself] A great deal has been written about this clause; and it is certainly a puzzling statement. Of the various explanations suggested these two seem to be best. 1. ‘The Truth’ means “the divine rule of the walk of all believers:” Demetrius walked according to this rule and his conformity was manifest to all who knew the rule: thus the rule bore witness to his Christian life. This is intelligible, but it is a little far-fetched. 2. ‘The Truth’ is the Spirit of truth (1 John 5:6) which speaks in the disciples. The witness which ‘all men’ bear to the Christian conduct of Demetrius is not mere human testimony which may be the result of prejudice or of deceit: it is given under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This explanation is preferable. The witness given respecting Demetrius was that of disciples, who reported their own experience of him: but it was also that of the Spirit, who guided and illumined them in their estimate. See note on John 15:27, which is a remarkably parallel passage, and comp. Acts 5:32; Acts 15:28, where as here the human and Divine elements in Christian testimony are clearly marked.
yea, and we also bear record] Better, as R. V., yea, we also bear witness (see on 1 John 1:2): the ‘and’ of A.V. is redundant. The Apostle mentions his own testimony in particular as corroborating the evidence of ‘all men.’
and ye know that our record is true] Rather, as R.V., and thou knowest that our witness is true. The evidence for the singular, οἶδας (אABC and most Versions), as against the plural, οἵδατε (KL), is quite decisive: a few authorities, under the influence of John 21:24, read ‘we know:’ comp. John 19:35. The plural has perhaps grown out of the belief that the Epistle is not private but Catholic.
John 21 is evidently an appendix to the Gospel, and was possibly written long after the first twenty chapters. It may have been written after this Epistle; and (if so) John 21:24 may be “an echo of this sentence” (Westcott).
I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:13. I had many things to write] With R. V., following אABC and all ancient Versions, we must add to thee. ‘I had’ is imperfect: at the time of my writing there were many things which I had to communicate to thee.
but I will not] ‘Will’ is not the sign of the future tense auxiliary to ‘write,’ but the present of the verb ‘to will:’ but I will not to write to thee; I do not care to write. See on John 6:67; John 7:17; John 8:44.
with ink and pen] In the Second Epistle we had ‘with paper and ink.’ The word for ‘pen’ (κάλαμος) occurs in this sense nowhere else in N. T. It signifies the reed, calamus, commonly used for the purpose. In LXX. of Psalm 44:2, ‘My tongue is the pen of a ready writer’, the same word is used; so also in Matthew 11:7 and Revelation 11:1, but in the sense of reed, not of pen.
13, 14. Conclusion
13, 14. The marked similarity to the Conclusion of the Second Epistle is strong evidence that the two letters were written about the same time. See notes on 2 John 1:12-13.
But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.14. But I trust I shall shortly see thee] More closely, but I hope immediately to see thee. The punctuation of this passage should be assimilated to the parallel passage in the Second Epistle. There is no reason for placing a comma before ‘but I hope’ in the one case, and a full stop in the other.
face to face] As in 2 John 1:12, this is literally ‘mouth to mouth.’
Peace be to thee] Instead of the usual ‘Farewell’ we have an ordinary blessing with Christian fulness of meaning.
Pax interna conscientiae,
Pax fraterna amicitiae,
Pax superna gloriae.
Comp. John 20:19; John 20:26. The concluding blessing 1 Peter 5:14 is similar; comp. Ephesians 6:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Galatians 6:16.
Our friends salute thee] Rather, The friends salute thee: there is no authority for ‘our’ either as translation or interpretation. If any pronoun be inserted, it should be ‘thy’: the friends spoken of are probably the friends of Gaius. It is perhaps on account of the private character of the letter, as addressed to an individual and not to a Church, that S. John says ‘the friends’ rather than ‘the brethren.’ Comp. ‘Lazarus, our friend, is fallen asleep’ (John 11:11); and ‘Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go unto the friends and refresh himself’ (Acts 27:3), where ‘the friends’ probably means ‘his friends,’ just as it probably means ‘thy friends’ here. In ‘Lazarus, our friend’ the pronoun is expressed in the Greek.
Greet the friends by name] Better, as R. V., Salute the friends by name: the same verb is used as in the previous sentence and in 2 John 1:13 (ἀσπάζεσθαι): ‘greet’ may be reserved for the verb used Acts 15:23; Acts 23:26; James 1:1; comp. 2 John 1:10-11 (χαίρειν). The former is much the more common word in N. T. to express salutation. For other instances of capricious changes of rendering in the same passage in A.V. comp. 1 John 2:24; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 5:10; 1 John 5:15; John 3:31.
by name] The phrase (κατ' ὄνομα) occurs in N. T. in only one other passage (John 10:3); ‘He calleth His own sheep by name.’ The salutation is not to be given in a general way, but to each individual separately. S. John as shepherd of the Churches of Asia would imitate the Good Shepherd and know all his sheep by name.