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Bible Commentaries
3 John 1

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSE 3 John 1:1 1The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

v. 3 John 1:1 "The elder" The term elder is synonymous with the term "pastor" and "bishop" (cf. Titus 1:5, Titus 1:7; Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28). See full note in 2 John 1:1.

"the beloved" This is characteristic of John's letters (cf. 1 John 2:7; 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:21; 1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11; 3 John 1:2, 3 John 1:5, 3 John 1:11), but is not found as a title for believers in the Gospel or the Revelation.

"Gaius" There has been much discussion as to whether Gaius or Diotrephes is the pastor of this local church. It is hard to make any dogmatic statement from this slight amount of information which is available. Because of 3 John 1:9, where "the church" and "them" are mentioned, it is possible that Diotrephes was the leader of one house church and Gaius was the leader of another house church which was very close by, but this is pure speculation.

"whom I love in truth" "Love and truth" are found together often in John's letters (cf. 2 John 1:2, 2 John 1:3, 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3, 3 John 1:4, 3 John 1:8, 3 John 1:12). Truth can refer to

1. the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:17)

2. Jesus the Son (cf. John 8:32; John 14:6)

3. the content of the gospel (cf. 1 John 2:2; 1 John 3:23)

Verses 2-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 3 John 1:2-4 2Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

v. 3 John 1:2 "I pray" This follows a typical Greek letter opening. It is a prayer/wish for the recipients' prosperity and health. It was a way to greet a loved one. This cannot be used as a proof text for the "health, wealth gospel," so popular in modern America. See Gordon Fee (a charismatic scholar), The Disease of the Health, Wealth Gospel. For my views on healing, please see my notes on James 5:0 online at www.freebiblecommentary.org.

"that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health" This is a typical opening prayer in the Greco-Roman world of the first century. It was never meant to be a proof-text for "health, wealth, and prosperity" preachers. Bible texts removed from context can be used to assert anything. The text cannot mean today what it never meant in its own day. The only inspired person is the original author. We must follow his thoughts, not interject our own!

"soul" This term "psuche" (soul) is almost synonymous with "pneuma." They are used to refer to the essence of personhood or self. This does not refer to an isolated part of man (body, soul, spirit). Humans are a unity (cf. Genesis 2:7). We are a soul; we do not have a soul.

v. 3 John 1:3 "I was very glad" (cf. 2 John 1:4; Philippians 4:10).

"came and testified" Both of these are present participles which imply that

1. members of this church traveled regularly to Ephesus and reported to John

2. that returning missionaries reported Gaius' generosity

Possibly John, an old man, could not travel easily, but he loved to hear the condition and growth of the churches.

"walking in the truth" This phrase is theologically parallel to "walk in the light" (cf. 1 John 1:7). Christianity is not primarily a creed, a ritual, or an institution to be joined, but a life to be lived in relationship with Jesus Christ. The early church was first called "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2, Acts 9:19:9, Acts 9:23; Acts 24:22). Truth is not only intellectual (content), but also a relationship (first with God through Christ resulting in love for one another). See Special Topics on Truth at 3 John 1:5 and 17:3.

v. 3 John 1:4 "my children" This is a common designation in John's letters (cf. 1 John 2:12, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:7, 1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21). The emphasis here is on (1) John's apostolic authority or (2) John's term of affection for the churches and Christians of the Roman Province of Asia Minor (western Turkey), where he spent his last days of ministry.

Verses 5-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 3 John 1:5-8 5Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

v. 3 John 1:5 "you are acting faithfully" These actions by Gaius are exactly opposite of Diotrephes' actions in vv. 3 John 1:9-10. See Special Topics: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness at John 1:7 and John 1:14.

"in whatever you accomplish" This is a relative pronoun with ean and an aorist middle subjunctive which expresses a condition with the prospect of being fulfilled. Gaius had helped traveling missionaries on every occasion and in every way possible.

"especially when they are strangers" The church should have been welcoming and supporting these itinerant Christian missionaries, but because of the local situation, Gaius alone was helping these brethren of whom he knew nothing except that they also knew, served, and loved Jesus Christ.

v. 3 John 1:6 "they have testified to your love before the church" Obviously the early church in Ephesus had a missionary report time during their corporate worship.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Church (ekklesia)

"You will do well" This is a Greek idiom found in the Egyptian papyri (see Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament) for "please" (cf. Acts 10:33).

"to send them on their way" This is a technical idiom for equipping, praying for, and supplying the needs of traveling missionaries (cf. Acts 15:3; Romans 15:24; Romans 1:0 Cor, 16:6; 2 Corinthians 1:16; Titus 3:13).

"in a manner worthy of God" This means in a significant, loving, abundant way (cf. Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12). Believers are to treat gospel workers in a manner befitting who they serve (cf. Ephesians 4:1).

v. 3 John 1:7

NASB, REB"they went out" NKJV"they went forth" NRSV"they began their journey" TEV, NJB"they set out"

This very common verb is used of

1. the false teachers leaving the church in 1 John 2:19

2. false prophets going out into the world in 1 John 4:1

3. many deceivers going out into the world in 2 John 1:7

4. true Apostolic witnesses going out (into the world) in 3 John 1:7

NASB"for the sake of the Name" NKJV"for His name's sake" NRSV"for the sake of Christ" TEV"in the service of Christ" NJB"entirely for the sake of the name"

This is an example of "the name" standing for the person and work of Jesus Christ. As believers believe in His name (cf. John 1:12; John 3:18; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:9-11), they are forgiven in His name (1 John 2:13), they also act for His name (cf. Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:12, Luke 21:17; John 15:21; John 20:31; Acts 4:17; Acts 5:41; Acts 9:14; Romans 1:5; 1 Peter 4:14, 1 Peter 4:16; Revelation 2:3).

NASB"accepting nothing from the Gentiles" NKJV"taking nothing from the Gentiles" NRSV"accepting no support from non-believers" TEV"without accepting any help from unbelievers" NJB"without depending on non-believers for anything"

This phrase refers to these witnesses trusting God for His provision, much like Jesus' words to the Twelve in Matthew 10:5-15 and the Seventy in Luke 10:4-7.

This is the late first century use of "Gentiles" as an allusion to pagans or unbelievers (cf. Matthew 5:47; 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 4:3). Believers are to support gospel work! Who one helps reveals his heart.

In John's day many traveling teachers taught for money and reputation. God's teachers/preachers/evangelists were to be helped not for their words, but because of their Lord whose mission they were sacrificially involved in.

v. 3 John 1:8 "we ought" This is an oft repeated, moral admonition (cf. John 13:14; John 19:7; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:11). The term opheilô means literally to be in financial debt, but it came to be used figuratively to be obligated or to be indebted to someone.

"to support such men" Hospitality was a crucial duty of the early church because of the deplorable moral conditions of most of the local inns (cf. Matthew 25:35; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:10; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).

"so that we may be fellow workers with the truth" As believers help missionaries, they are involved in their work of faith and truth. This is a gospel principle! The NT guidelines for Christian giving are found in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

Verses 9-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 3 John 1:9-10 9I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them our of the church.

v. 3 John 1:9 "I wrote something to the church" This may refer to I or 2 John or to a lost letter; in all probability it refers to 2 John. See Special Topic: Church (Ekklesia) at 3 John 1:6.

"Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them" This is a present active participle. This is a compound term "love" (phileô) and "to hold first rank" (prôteuô). It is used only here in the NT, but the second term is used in Colossians 1:18 of Christ's premier rank. This man is the first recorded "power-broker" or "church boss." We do not know if he was the pastor or simply a significant layman. However, this does show his motives. This kind of egotistical individual has been present in the church in every age! Whether he was also a Gnostic is uncertain and unstated, but possible.

James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p. 392, sees Diotrephes as an example of "early catholicism."

"In particular, John's individualism is very plausibly to be understood precisely as a protest against the kind of institutionalizing trends so evident in Pastorals (above pp. 129f., cf. again Hebrews and Revelation - §§31.2, 3). Likewise the Johannine writings seem if anything to be opposed to the kind of sacramentalism which is already clearly established in the early catholicism of Ignatius ('the medicine of immortality' - Eph., 20.2) (see above §41). Most intriguing of all is the attack of 'the elder' on Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9f. Diotrephes was clearly in control of this church at least: not only was he able to refuse a welcome to visiting Christians, but he also 'expels from the church' those who crossed him. Diotrephes, in other words, was acting with the authority of a monarchical bishop (cf. Ignatius, Eph., 6.1; Trall., 7.2; Smyrn., 8.1f), and it was against this lust for ecclesiastical prominence and power (philoprôteuôn) that 'the elder' wrote. In other words, assuming that 3 John comes from the same circle as I and 2 John, it is best seen as the response of a kind of convention or conventicle Christianity, an anti-institutional and individualistic pietism, protesting against the increasing influence of early catholicism."

"does not accept what we say" Not only did Diotrephes reject John's Apostolic authority, but he was aggressively involved in rejecting Apostolic policy and even taking his vengeance out on those who would follow!

v. 3 John 1:10 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence which means potential action.

"I will call attention to his deeds" John wants to clearly delineate this man's motives (cf. 3 John 1:9) and actions (cf. 3 John 1:10):

1. NASB - "unjustly accusing us with wicked words"

NKJV - "prating against us with malicious words"

NRSV - "spreading false charges against us"

TEV - "the terrible things he says about us and the lies he tells"

NJB - "the wicked accusations he has been circulating against us"

2. "he himself does not receive the brethren"

3. "he forbids those who desire to do so"

4. "he puts them out of the church"

This man wants the attention and will not share the spotlight with anyone. He also removes anyone from the church who disagrees, or might disagree, with him.

"puts them out of the church" This same strong verb (ekballô) is used in John 9:34, John 9:35 for the blind man who Jesus healed being excommunicated from the Synagogue.

It is also used of Satan being cast out in John 12:31.

Verses 11-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 3 John 1:11-12 11Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

v. 3 John 1:11 "do not imitate what is evil" This is a present middle (deponent) imperative which often implies to stop an act in process. We get the English term "mimic" from this Greek word (mimeomai). We must carefully choose our role models. They ought to be mature Christian persons in the church (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 13:7). Demetrius is a good example, Diotrephes is a bad example.

"The one who does good is of God" John's letters have three tests by which one can know they are Christian. This refers to the obedience test (cf. 1 John 2:3-6, 1 John 2:28-29; 1 John 3:4-10; 1 John 5:18; 2 John 1:6). There are also allusions to the other two tests: (1) doctrine (3 John 1:3-4) and (2) love (3 John 1:1-2, 3 John 1:6).

"the one who does evil has not seen God" The false teachers claimed to know God intimately but lived godless and loveless lives. This reflects the antinomian, libertine Gnostics who believed that salvation was an intellectual truth to be affirmed but had no relationship to daily life.

v. 3 John 1:12 "Demetrius has received good testimony" This is a perfect passive indicative. This really seems to be a letter of recommendation from John to Gaius about the missionary Demetrius, who may have delivered 3 John to Gaius. For other letters of recommendations in the NT, see Acts 18:27; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 8:16-24; Colossians 4:10.

"and from truth itself" Truth (see Special Topics at 3 John 1:5 and 17:3) is personified as another witness to Demetrius' good testimony.

"you know that our testimony is true" John is asserting his own trustworthy witness to Christ (cf. John 19:35; John 21:24).

Verses 13-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSES 3 John 1:13-14 13I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

v. 3 John 1:13 This is very similar to 2 John 1:12.

Verse 14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: VERSE 3 John 1:14b 14bPeace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

v. 3 John 1:14 "Peace be to you" This is obviously a reference to the Hebraic idiom shalom (cf. Luke 10:5). It can mean "hello" or "good-bye." It expresses not only the absence of problems but the presence of God's blessings. These were the resurrected Christ's first words to the disciples in the upper room (cf. John 20:19, John 20:21, John 20:26). Both Paul (cf. Ephesians 6:23) and Peter (cf. 1 Peter 5:14) used this as a closing prayer for God's people.

"by name" This is an idiom for individually, personally, and warmly. It was used often in the Egyptian papyri.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on 3 John 1". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/3-john-1.html. 2021.
 
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