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Bible Commentaries
3 John

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical CommentaryAlford's Greek Testament Commentary

- 3 John

by Henry Alford


2 & 3 JOHN



1. THE question of the authorship of both Epistles is one which will require some discussion. On one point however there never has been the slightest doubt: viz., that both were written by one and the same person. They are, as it has been said, like twin sisters: their style and spirit is the same: their conclusions agree almost word for word. I shall therefore treat of them together in all matters which they have in common.

2. Were the two Epistles written by the author of the former and larger Epistle? This has been answered in the affirmative by some critics who do not believe St. John to have written the first Epistle: e. g. by Bretschneider and Paulus. Their arguments for the identity of the writer of the three will serve, for us who believe the apostolicity of the former, a different purpose from that which they intended. But the usual opinion of those who have any doubts on the Authorship has taken a different form. Ascribing the first Epistle to St. John, they have given the two smaller ones to another writer; either to the Presbyter John [200] , or to some other Christian teacher of this name, otherwise unknown to us. Another exception is found to this in the modern critics of the Tübingen school, Baur and Schwegler, whose method of proceeding I have briefly noticed in the Prolegomena to the former Epistle (§ i. par. 29), and need not further characterize.

[200] So Erasmus, Grotius, Dodwell, Harenberg, Beck.

3. It will now be my object to enumerate the ancient authorities, and to ascertain on which side they preponderate: whether for, or against, the authorship by the Apostle John.

Irenæus, adv. Hær. i. 16. 3, p. 83, says: Ἰωάννης δὲ ὁ τοῦ κυρίου μαθητὴς ἐπέτεινε τὴν καταδίκην αὐτῶν , μηδὲ χαίρειν αὐτοῖς ὑφ ʼ ἡμῶν λέγεσθαι βουληθείς · ὁ γὰρ λέγων αὐτοῖς , φησί , χαίρειν , κοινωνεῖ κ . τ . λ . (2 John 1:10-11 .)

And in iii. 16. 8, p. 207: “Et discipulus ejus Joannes in prædicta epistola fugere eos præcepit dicens Multi seductores,” &c.

It is true that in the case of this latter citation Irenæus has fallen into the mistake of supposing it to be taken from the first Epistle: but this very circumstance shews him to have had no suspicion that the two were written by different persons.

4. Clement of Alexandria, in a passage already cited above (ch. v. § i. par. 5), cites the first Epistle thus, Ἰωάννης ἐν τῇ μείζονι ἐπιστολῇ … thereby showing that he knew of more Epistles by that Apostle.

And again in the fragments of the Adumbrations, p. 1001 P., he says, “Secunda Joannis Epistola, quæ ad virgines scripta simplicissima est: scripta vero est ad quandam Babyloniam Electam nomine, significat autem electionem ecclesiæ sanctæ.”

5. Dionysius of Alexandria, in a passage (Eus. H. E. vii. 25) quoted at length below in the Prolegg. to the Apocalypse (§ i. par. 48), noting that John never names himself in his writings, says, ἀλλ ʼ οὐδὲ ἐν τῇ δευτέρᾳ φερομένῃ Ἰωάννου καὶ τρίτῃ , καίτοι βραχείαις οὔσαις ἐπιστολαῖς , ὁ Ἰωάννης ὀνομαστὶ πρόκειται , ἀλλὰ ἀνωνύμως ὁ πρεσβύτερος γέγραπται . Whence it appears that Dionysius found no offence in the appellation ὁ πρεσβύτερος , but rather a trace of St. John’s manner not to name himself. No argument can be raised on the expression φερομένῃ Ἰωάννου , that Dionysius doubted the genuineness of the two Epistles. Eusebius calls the first Epistle τὴν φερομένην Ἰωάννου προτέραν . All we can say of the expression is, that it gives the general sense of tradition.

Alexander of Alexandria cites 2Jn 1:10-11 with ὡς παρήγγειλεν ὁ μακάριος Ἰωάννης . (Socrates, H. E. i. 6.) And the subsequent Alexandrian writers shew no doubt on the subject.

Cyprian, de hær. baptiz., in Migne, Patr. Lat., vol. iii. p. 1099, in relating the opinions of the various bishops in the council at Carthage, has: “Aurelius a Chullabi dixit: Joannes Apostolus in epistola sua posuit dicens, Si quis ad vos venit,” &c. 2 John 1:10 .

He does not in his own writings cite either Epistle, nor does Tertullian. But the above testimony shews that they were received as apostolic and canonical in the North African church.

6. The Muratorian fragment on the canon speaks enigmatically, owing partly to some words in the sentence being corrupt: “Epistola sane Jude et superscripti Johannis duas in catholica habentur et sapientia ab amicis Salomonis in honorem ipsius scripta.” Routh, Rel. Sacr. i. p. 396.

Lücke, Huther, al., find here a testimony for the Epistles: Düsterdieck on the contrary understands the sentence (reading ut sapientia) as meaning that they were not written by John, just as the Wisdom was not written by Solomon.

Most probably the Peschito did not contain either Epistle. Cosmas Indicopleustes (Cent. vi.) says (lib. vii. p. 292, in Migne, Patr., vol. lxxxviii.) that in his time the Syrian church acknowledged but three catholic Epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John, and James. Still Ephrem Syrus quotes the second Epistle, as also 2 Peter (see Prolegg. to 2 Pet. § iv. 13) and Jude: possessing them probably, as he did not understand Greek, in another Syriac version.

7. Eusebius, H. E. iii. 25, reckons both Epistles among the antilegomena: saying, τῶν δ ʼ ἀντιλεγομένων … ἡ ὀνομαζομένη δευτέρα καὶ τρίτη Ἰωάννου , εἴτε τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ τυγχάνουσαι , εἴτε καὶ ἑτέρου ὁμωνύμου ἐκείνῳ .

Still, Eusebius’s own opinion may be gathered from his Demonstratio Evangelica, iii. 5, vol. iv. p. 120, where he says of St. John, ἐν μὲν ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς αὐτοῦ οὐδὲ μνήμην τῆς οἰκείας προσηγορίας ποιεῖται , ἢ πρεσβύτερον ἑαυτὸν ὀνομάζει , οὐδαμοῦ δὲ ἀπόστολον οὐδὲ εὐαγγελιστήν . Whence it would appear that he received the two smaller Epistles as genuine.

8. Origen mentions them with a similar expression of doubt (Eus. H. E. vi. 25): καταλέλοιπε ( Ἰωάννης ) δὲ καὶ ἐπιστολὴν πάνυ ὀλίγων στίχων · ἔστω δὲ καὶ δευτέραν καὶ τρίτην · ἐπεὶ οὐ πάντες φασὶ γνησίους εἶναι ταύτας · πλὴν οὐκ εἰσὶ στίχων ἀμφότεραι ἑκατόν .

9. Theodore of Mopsuestia, if we are thus to interpret Leontius of Byzantium (see above, ch. iii. § i. 11), rejected these in common with the other catholic Epistles.

10. Theodoret makes no mention of them.

11. In a Homily on Mat 21:23 ascribed to Chrysostom, but written probably by some Antiochene contemporary of his, we read τὴν δευτέραν καὶ τρίτην οἱ πατέρες ἀποκανονίζονται .

12. Jerome (Vir. Illustr. c. 9, vol. ii. p. 845) says, “Scripsit Joannes et unam epistolam, … quæ ab universis ecclesiasticis et eruditis viris probatur: reliquæ autem duæ, quarum principium … ‘Senior,’ … Joannis presbyteri asseruntur, cujus et hodie alterum sepulchrum apud Ephesios ostenditur.”

13. In the middle ages there seems to have been no doubt on the authenticity of the Epistles, till Erasmus revived the idea of their being the work of John the Presbyter. This view, grounded on the fact that the Writer names himself πρεσβύτερος , has been often maintained since: e. g. by Grotius, Beck, Fritzsche, al.

14. If we take into strict account the import of this appellation, it will appear, as Lücke, Huther, and Düsterdieck have maintained, to make rather for than against the authorship by St. John. For in the first place, assuming, which is very doubtful, the existence of such a person as John the Presbyter, this name could only have been given him by those who wished to distinguish him from the Apostle, and would never have been assumed by himself as a personal one, seeing that he bore it in common with many others his co-presbyters.

15. Again, such an appellation is not without example as used of Apostles, and might bear two possible senses, either of which would here be preferable to the one just impugned. In the very fragment of Papias (Eus. H. E. iii. 39), from which the existence of the presbyter John is inferred, he several times uses the term πρεσβύτερος of Apostles and apostolic men as a class. He tells ὅσα παρὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἔμαθον : he says that if he met with any one who had conversed with τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις , he enquired about τοὺς τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λόγους . Here it is certain that πρεσβύτερος must not be taken officially, but of priority in time and dignity: it bears that meaning from which its official sense was derived, not that official sense itself [201] .

[201] Cognate to this sense is that taken by Lyra: “qui tunc regebant ecclesias senes vel seniores dicebantur ratione discretionis vel maturitatis in moribus: inter rectores vero ecclesiarum qui tunc erant in Asia, Joannes erat principalior:” by Bartholomæus Petrus, understanding that John designates himself as Bishop, and Primate of Asia: by Corn.-a-lapide, taking the word as equivalent to Senior, Seigneur, Signore: by Beza, Whitby, Mill, Bertholdt, Baumgarten-Crusius, Lücke, Huther, &c.

16. And this leads us to the other meaning, that of the old age of the writer [202] . St. Paul in Philemon 1:9 , calls himself Παῦλος ὁ πρεσβύτης in this sense: and πρεσβύτερος is but another form of the same word, though a form carrying a different possible meaning.

[202] This is taken by Piscator, Erasm.-Schmid, Hermann, G. C. Lange, Wolf, Rosenmüller, Benson, Carpzov, Augusti, al. Some of the above, and Aretius and Guericke, unite the two.

17. It is impossible to decide for which of these reasons the Apostle might choose thus to designate himself, or whether any other existed of which we are not aware. But we may safely say that inasmuch as St. Peter ( 1Pe 5:1 ), writing to the πρεσβύτεροι , calls himself their συμπρεσβύτερος , there was no reason why St. John might not thus have designated himself. And we may hence lay down that the occurrence of such a word, as pointing out the Writer of these Epistles, is no reason against their having been written by that Apostle.

18. On the whole then we infer from the testimony of the ancient Fathers, and from the absence of sufficient reason for understanding the title πρεσβύτερος , of any other person than the Apostle himself, that these two smaller Epistles were written by St. John the Apostle and Evangelist.



1. The third Epistle leaves no doubt on this question. It is addressed to one Γάϊος (Caius). Whether this Caius is identical with Gaius of Macedonia ( Act 19:29 ), with Gaius of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14 ; Rom 16:23 ), or with Gaius of Derbe ( Act 20:4 ), it is impossible to say. The name was one of the commonest: and it is possible, as Lücke remarks, that the persons of St. John’s period of apostolic work in Asia may have been altogether different from those of St. Paul’s period. A Caius is mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions, vii. 46, Migne, Patr. Gr., vol. i. p. 1052, as bishop of Pergamus: and Mill and Whiston believe this person to be addressed in our Epistle.

2. It is not so plain to whom the second Epistle was written. The address is ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς : τὰ τέκνα σου are mentioned in Acts 20:4 ; κυρία in the vocative occurs Acts 20:5 ; τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς are mentioned as sending greeting, Acts 20:13 .

3. On these data the following doubts arise. Is it an individual lady who is addressed? And if so, is either of the two words a proper name ἐκλεκτή or κυρία , and which? Or is it a church, thus called figuratively? And if so, is it some particular body of Christians, or the Church universal?

4. These questions were variously answered even in ancient times. The Scholiast (ii.) says, ἢ πρὸς ἐκκλησίαν ἢ πρός τινα γυναῖκα διὰ τῶν εὐαγγελικῶν ἐντολῶν τὴν ἑαυτῆς οἰκίαν οἰκονομοῦσαν πνευματικῶς . We have also in Œcumenius and Theophylact, as a comment on the last verse of the Epistle, βούλονταί τινες διὰ τοῦτο βεβαιοῦν ὡς οὐ πρὸς γυναῖκα ἡ ἐπιστολὴ αὕτη , ἀλλὰ πρὸς ἐκκλησίαν · περὶ οὗ οὐδὲν τῷ βουλομένῳ διενεχθείη . The individual hypothesis was held in its various forms by Lyra, Cappellus, Wetstein, Grotius, Middleton (taking Ἐκλεκτή for the proper name); Benson, Heumann, Bengel, G. C. Lange, C. F. Fritzsche, Carpzov, Jachmann, Paulus, De Wette, Lücke, al. (taking Κυρία as the proper name [203] ); by Luther, Piscator, Beza, Aretius, Heidegger, Bart.-Petrus, Corn.-a-lap., Joachim Lange, Wolf, Baumg.-Crusius, Sander, al. (taking neither word as a proper name, “to the elect woman, a lady”): Corn.-a-lap. giving a tradition that she was named Drusia or Drusiana: Carpzov, a conjecture that she was Martha the sister of Lazarus and Mary. Another conjecture has been, that she was Mary, the mother of our Lord [204] .

[203] So too Athanasius apparently, γράφει κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς .

[204] Kraner, in the Stud. u. Krit. for 1833, part 2, pp. 452 ff.

5. On the other hand, the ecclesiastical hypothesis has been held by Jerome, Ep. 123 ad Ageruchiam, vol. i. p. 909, taking the words as meaning the whole Christian church: so also perhaps Clem.-Alex., as cited above, § i. par. 4. The Scholiast i. in Matthiæ says, ἐκλεκτὴν κυρίαν λέγει τὴν ἔν τινι τόπῳ ἐκκλησίαν , ὡς τὴν τοῦ κυρίου διδασκαλίαν ἀκριβῆ φυλάττουσαν . And so Cassiodorus, Calov., Hammond, Michaelis, Hofmann [205] , Mayer, Huther, al. Some have carried conjecture so far as to designate the particular church; e. g. Serrarius, supposing the Caius of the third Epistle to have belonged to this church, and that it consequently was at Corinth: Whiston, arguing for Philadelphia: Whitby, for Jerusalem, as being κυρία , the mother of all churches: Augusti, for the same, as being κυρία , founded by our Lord Himself.

[205] Schriftbeweis, i. 301.

6. In now proceeding to examine these various opinions, we will first dispose of a grammatical point. It has been insisted by Huther and others, that were Κυρία a proper name, St. John would have written not ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ , but Κυρίᾳ τῇ ἐκλεκτῇ , as Γαΐῳ τῷ ἀγαπητῷ , 3 John 1:1 . But this argument seems to me not to hold: and that principally on account of the peculiar nature of the name. Κυρία , like Κύριος , often in the LXX and N. T., is really an anarthrous appellation, abbreviated from ἡ κυρία , as that from ὁ κύριος . This being so, it follows, even when used as a proper name, the rules of anarthrous nouns in general. Thus we have 1 Corinthians 10:21 , ποτήριον κυρίου , τραπέζης κυρίου , whereas in 1Co 11:27 we have τὸ ποτήριον τοῦ κυρίου , τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ κυρίου : cf. also ib. 1Co 16:19 ; 2Co 3:18 bis, and the expression κύριος παντοκράτωρ , 2 Corinthians 6:18 , whereas when ὁ θεός follows it is κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ , 1 Corinthians 4:8 ; 1Co 15:3 al. So that no argument can be fairly founded on this. If κυρία was a proper name, it still retained in the mind of the Writer its power as an anarthrous substantive, and caused the adjective following to drop its distinctive article.

7. In weighing the probability of either hypothesis, the following considerations are of importance. It would seem, as I have remarked in my note in loc., as if the salutation in 1Co 15:13 rather favoured the idea of a church being addressed, because we have no mention there of the elect sister herself, but only of her children. But then we must set against this the fact, that in the process of the Epistle itself, the κυρία herself does distinctly appear and is personally addressed. It would be, to say the least, strange, to address the whole church in the one case, and not to send greeting from the whole church in the other.

8. Again, would it have been likely that the salutation should have run ἀσπάζεταί σε τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου , if the κυρία had been a mere abstraction? Does not this personal address, as well as that in Revelation 15:5 , καὶ νῦν ἐρωτῶ σε , κυρία imply personal reality of existence?

9. Let us, again, compare the address of this Epistle with that of the third, confessedly by the same Writer. The one runs ὁ πρεσβύτερος ( Γαΐῳ τῷ ἀγαπητῷ ) ὃν ἑγὼ ἀγαπῶ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ . The other ὁ πρεσβύτερος ( ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς ) οὓς ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ . Can any one persuade us that the well-known simplicity of St. John’s character and style would allow him thus to write these two addresses, word for word the same, and not to have in the words enclosed in brackets a like reference to existing persons in both cases?

10. Besides, as Lücke has well observed, we are not justified in thus attributing to St. John a mystic and unaccountable mode of expression, not found in any other writer of the apostolic age, nor indeed even in the apocryphal writings which followed it.

11. St. Peter’s expression, ἡ ἐν Βαβυλῶνι συνεκλεκτή , 1 Peter 5:13 , even if understood of a church, which I have questioned in my note in loc., would not justify a like interpretation of κυρία here: though in the use of ἐκλεκτή the passages are closely connected. If a person be addressed here, it is highly probable that we must understand a person there also: if a church be conceded to be addressed there, we have still the strange and unaccountable κυρία to deal with here [206] .

[206] It appears certain that Clem.-Alex. must have confused the two passages in his memory, when he stated (see above, § i. par. 4) that this Epistle was written “ad quandam Babyloniam Electam nomine.”

12. On all these grounds I believe that an individual and not a church is addressed. And if so, first, is either of the words ἐκλεκτή or κυρία a proper name? We may safely answer this in the affirmative, on account of the anarthrousness of κυρίᾳ and ἐκλεκτῇ in 1 Peter 5:1 , which I submit could only be occasioned by one or other of the words being a proper name.

13. Then if so, which of the two words is the proper name? Here again there can be little doubt, if we compare ἐκλεκτὴ κυρία with τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς . Both sisters were ἐκλεκταί : but both had not the same name. Hence it would appear, unless we are to understand τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς in 1Pe 5:13 to be a mere play on the name of the person addressed, that ἐκλεκτή is not the name, but an epithet. And if so, then Κυρία is the name, and ought perhaps to be substituted for the rendering “lady,” in the notes. The name is elsewhere found: so in Gruter, inscriptt. p. 1127, No. xi., φένιππος καὶ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ κυρία : and in other examples given by Lücke, p. 351, note 2.

14. This Kyria then appears to have been a Christian matron generally known and beloved among the brethren, having children, some of whom the Apostle had found (at a previous visit to her?) walking in the truth. She had a sister, also a Christian matron, whose children seem to have been with the Apostle when he wrote this Epistle.

15. In the third Epistle, mention is made of Demetrius with praise, and of Diotrephes with blame, as a turbulent person, and a withstander of the Apostle’s authority. But it is quite in vain to enquire further into the facts connected with these names. We know nothing of them, and conjectures are idle.

16. Of the occasion and object of these Epistles, it is hardly needful to remark. Both are too plainly declared in the letters themselves, to require further elucidation.



1. It is impossible to lay down either of these with any degree of certainty. From the similarity in style of both Epistles, it is probable that the times of writing were not far apart. The journeys mentioned in 2Jn 1:12 and 3 John 1:10 ; 3 John 1:14 , may be one and the same. Eusebius, H. E. iii. 23, relates that the Apostles, ἀπὸ τῆς κατὰ τὴν νῆσον μετὰ τὴν Δομετιανοῦ τελευτὴν ἐπανελθὼν φυγῆς … ἀπῄει παρακαλούμενος καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ πλησιόχωρα τῶν ἐθνῶν , ὅπου μὲν ἐπισκόπους καταστήσων , ὅπου δὲ ὅλας ἐκκλησίας ἁρμόσων , ὅπου δὲ κλήρῳ ἕνα γέ τινα κληρώσων τῶν ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος σημαινομένων . It may have been in prospect of this journey that he threatens Diotrephes in 2 John 1:10 . If so, both Epistles belong to a very late period of the Apostle’s life: and are probably subsequent to the writing of the Apocalypse. See below in the Prolegomena to that book, § ii. par. 7.

2. With regard to the place of writing, probability points to Ephesus: especially if we adopt the view suggested by the passage of Eusebius just cited.

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