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1 John · 2 John · 3 John
|New Testament manuscripts|
The Third Epistle of John, often referred to as Third John and written 3 John, is a book of the New Testament attributed to John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles of John. This Epistle is the shortest book in the Bible (fewest words; 2 John has fewer verses).
Indications within the letter suggest a genuine private letter, composed to Gaius to commend a party of Christians led by Demetrius, who were strangers to the place where he lived, and who had gone on a mission to preach the gospel (verse 7). The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Gaius, and to warn him against the party headed by Diotrephes, who refuses to cooperate with the presbyteros who is writing.
Regarding the letter addressee Gaius: the same name occurs in four New Testament texts. Thus, the question naturally arises whether the Gaius of 3 John is the same man mentioned in any of the others contexts. First, a Christian Gaius is mentioned in Macedonia as a traveling companion of Paul, along with Aristarchus(Acts 19:29). One chapter later, a Gaius from Derbe, is again named as one of Paul's seven traveling companions who waited for him at Troas (Acts 20:4). Next, a Gaius is mentioned residing in Corinth as being one of only a few people there (the others being Crispus and the household of Stephanas) who were baptised by Paul, who founded the Church in that city (1 Corinthians 1:14). Lastly, a Gaius is referred to in a final greeting portion of the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:23) as Paul's "host" and also host of the whole church, in whatever city Paul is writing from at the time. In all likelihood, this was Corinth.
The language, pastoral concerns, and brevity of 3 John are similar to those of 2 John, suggesting a common author and purpose. Both are written by a person identifying himself as "the Elder". This is assumed by some to be John the Presbyter.
See Authorship of the Johannine works for a more complete discussion.
All three letters of John likely date from the mid-first-century, during a time of intense inter-apostolic rivalry between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders, evidenced most dramatically, for example, in Paul's epistle to the Galatians. However, their allusions and opposition to Gnostic and docetic teaching, which denied the full humanity of Jesus, could place the letters closer to the end of the first century, when this teaching was gaining ascendancy. Their many parallels with John's Gospel may also indicate a date after that of the Gospel.
De Jong argued for a date of 100-110 AD, imagining links with writings of Ignatius and Polycarp.
Marshall suggests a date of between the 60s and 90s.
Rensberger suggests a dating of around 100, assuming that the Gospel of John was written in the 90s and the letters must have followed after.
Brown argues for a date of between 100 and 110, with all three letters composed in close time proximity.
A date past 110-115 is unlikely, as parts of the 1 John and 2 John are quoted by Polycarp and Papias.
The letters do not indicate the location of authorship, but some later traditions placed John in the city of Ephesus.
Earliest knowledge of the letters comes from Asia Minor.
The earliest possible attestations for 3 John come from Tertullian and Origen of Alexandria. Tertullian, "On Monogamy" ch.vi quotes a brief phrase—"follow the better things"— from 3 John 1.11 "Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good", a phrase that might also have been adapted from the Septuagint Psalm xxxvi. 27 (xxxvii in the Hebrew Bible) or from the First Epistle of Peter 3.11 . Origen's Commentary on Matthew book xi says "But many things might be said about the Word Himself who became flesh", which has been offered as a parallel showing the use of logos in 3 John 1.7. . Irenaeus in Adversus Haereses iii. 16. 7 (written ca. 175), quotes 2 John. 7 and 8, and in the next sentence I John 4:1, 2, as from "the Letter of John."; he does not quote from 3 John. The Muratorian Canon accepts two letters of John only.
The first reference to 3 John is in the middle of the third century; Eusebius says that Origen knew of both 2 and 3 John, however Origen is reported as saying "all do not consider them genuine." Similarly, Dionysius of Alexandria, Origen's pupil, was aware of a "reputed Second or Third Epistle of John." Also around this time 3 John is thought to have been known in North Africa as it was referred to in Sententiae Episcoporum, produced by the Seventh Council of Carthage.
There was also doubt about the authority of 3 John, with Eusebius listing it and 2 John as "disputed books" despite describing them as "well-known and acknowledged by most." Although Eusebius believed the Apostle wrote the Gospel and the epistles, it is likely that doubt about the fidelity of the author of 2 and 3 John was a factor in causing them to be disputed. By the end of the fourth century the Presbyter (author of 2 and 3 John) was thought to be a different person to the Apostle John. This opinion, although reported by Jerome, was not held by all, as Jerome himself attributed the epistles to John the Apostle.
All three Johannine epistles were recognised by the 39th festal letter of Athanasius, the Synod of Hippo and the Council of Carthage. Additionally Didymus the blind wrote a commentary on all three epistles, showing that by the early 5th century they were being considered as a single unit.
The late attestation for 3 John in the 3rd century, and doubts about authority continuing until even later, is probably due to the lack of certainty regarding the epistle's authorship. 1 John does not give direct information about its author, but it was considered apostolic, alongside the Gospel of John. 2 and 3 John, in comparison, are written by the mysterious "elder" or "Presbyter". This difference was responsible for the belief that 2 and 3 John were written by some one other than the apostle. Paradoxically their acceptance in to the canon was due to the change in belief that they were in fact of apostolic origin. However Brooke does caution that the late attestation may be due to the very short nature of the letter.
3 John is preserved in many of the old manuscripts of the New Testament. Between the different copies there are no major difficulties or differences, meaning that there is very little doubt over determining what is the original text.
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