- Introduction (1-4)
- True workers encouraged (5-8)
- Opponents of truth rebuked (9, 10)
- Commencing a witness for truth (11, 12)
- Conclusion (13, 14)
Authorship, date, and background
Tradition has it that this letter, like those of 1 and 2 John, was written by the apostle John who also wrote the Gospel of John. Its form and vocabulary clearly indicate that the three letters of John were all written by the same person. The salutation identifies the author as "the elder," for the name of John does not appear in the Greek. Scholars in the liberal tradition do not accept the Johannine authorship and suggest a possible date after the death of the apostle. Assuming Johannine authorship, as conservatives always have, it was written sometime around A.D. 90. The absence of any reference to the Roman persecutions in any of the three letters by John suggests all were written before the Emperor Trajan's time and probably before the last years of Domitian, whose reign ended in A.D. 96.
3 John is less theological. It deals with administrative matter for local congregations. This letter was addressed to Gaius, who was a pastor or a leader in the church. But where the church was located is not stated. In those days, travelling prophets, evangelists, and teachers went from church to church. They were entertained by the churches to which they went and were helped on their way to the next station. It appears that Gaius knew Diotrephes, who is also mentioned in the letter. Gaius was a beloved and faithful servant of the Lord. Diotrephes, on the other hand, refused to help the travelling visitors, withstood the authority of the elder, and took occasion to speak against him. Moreover, those members of the congregation who wished to help the visiting preachers were put out of the church.
Characteristics and content
John encourages faithful Gaius, who remains unknown to us although the name appears in Acts 19:29, 20:4, Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14. John evidently has the authority over some of the churches and feels put upon by Diotrephes for his insubordination. He expects to visit the church and put things right. He commends Demetrius whose reputation is excellent and who clings to the truth. Implied in the letter is the Gnostic problem mentioned in 1 John, a heresy agitating the churches and destroying the true gospel. Beloved Gaius is urged not to let the evil influence of Diotrephes influence him. John emphasizes one aspect of the faith which is always pertinent to believers. He says, "he that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God" (11).