Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This is the fifth in a series of lessons on The Third Letter of John. Watch the video or scroll down to read the transcript.
Hi, thanks for watching Bible Mountain. This is the fifth lesson in a series of lessons on The Third Letter of John.
In the first four lessons we learned that 3 John is one of the last portions of Scripture that was written. It’s part of the collection of letters that were written by various church leaders to Christians and other churches. This letter specifically tells us how we should treat other Christians who are strangers and/or engaged in evangelism.
In this lesson, I’m going to start going through 3 John verse by verse. I’m going to look at verse one, which tells us the author and recipient of this letter. I will explain what we know and what we don’t know about the author and recipient. Then at the end I will explain why it is important to be clear about what we know and don’t know.
Let’s start by reading verse 1.
3 John 1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
The text tells us it was written by the elder, but it does not identify the elder. Also, it tells us the letter was written to a man named Gaius. Let’s start with Gaius.
The name Gaius shows up five different times in the New Testament. There is a man named Gaius mentioned in Acts 19. That particular Gaius was from Macedonia. There is a Gaius mentioned in Acts 20. The text tells us that particular Gaius was a man from Derbe. Derbe was in Asia. Since these two men named Gaius are from two different places, I conclude that the Gaius in chapter 19 is a different man than the Gaius in chapter 20. Paul wrote about a man named Gaius in Romans 16. Paul also wrote about a man named Gaius in 1 Corinthians 1. In both of those cases Paul did not say much about those men. We don’t know if they were the same man or two different men. Finally, we have this reference in 3 John where we see that the elder was writing to a man named Gaius.
We know very little about these men named Gaius, other than there were apparently at least two men named Gaius who were involved with Paul’s missionary journeys. As I said earlier, later in this lesson I will explain why it’s important to know that we actually don’t know much about Gaius.
Now let’s talk about the author. The text tells us it was written by the elder. The text does not tell us the name of the elder. However, for centuries, this book has been known as The Third Letter of John. Obviously, at some point, people concluded it was written by a man named John. Let’s look at why that might be, where that is coming from, and where it is not coming from.
As we study the Bible and try to learn who wrote each book, the first thing to look for is to see if there’s anything in the book itself that tells us who wrote it. As we saw earlier, this book does not tell us the name of the author.
Another way to get information about the author of a book of the Bible is from extra-biblical sources. Sometimes those sources are called church tradition. During the first century AD, there was a lot of missionary activity as the church was growing and spreading the good news of Jesus throughout the world. As that was happening, the apostle Paul and other Christian leaders wrote letters that eventually became part of the Bible. Their writings became part of the Bible because the church at that time recognized that the men who wrote those letters had been inspired by the Holy Spirit when they wrote.
The letters that became part of Scripture were not the only letters being written during that time. Church leaders and Christians were writing other letters to churches and believers that did not become part of Scripture. Those writings did not become part of Scripture because the church understood and knew that those writings had not been inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Even though those writings did not become part of the Bible, many of those writings survived in various manuscripts and we have the text of those letters today. We can read them and study them. While we don’t treat them as scripture because they’re not scripture, and while we don’t treat them as inerrant because they’re not, we can read them and gain valuable information from them.
For example, it is extra-biblical sources that give us information on the death of Peter, the fact that he also was crucified. Also, it is extra biblical sources that give us information about some of the other apostles that aren’t mentioned much in the book of Acts. Extra-Biblical sources tell us where they went and preached, and how they died.
Sometimes extra-biblical sources give us information on who wrote particular books of the Bible. However, extra-biblical sources do not give us information on who wrote The Third Letter of John.
So why, for centuries, has this letter been ascribed to John? The reason is the similarities between Third John and other portions of Scripture.
For example, let’s look at the first verse of Third John and the first verse of Second John.
3 John 1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
2 John 1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth;
These verses are very similar and indicate that Second John and Third John could have been written by the same person.
There are also indications that Second John was written by the same person who wrote The Gospel According to John. For example, 2 John 6 says
2 John 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
This is a concept we see in The Gospel According to John.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me;
So we see similarities between The Gospel According to John and Second John. John 21:20-24 tells us The Gospel According to John was written by the Apostle John. If Third John was written by the same person who wrote Second John, and if Second John was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel According to John, then we would conclude that Third John was written by the Apostle John.
Having said all that, ultimately, we have to say we don’t really know for sure. The conclusion that Third John was written by the Apostle John is based on a lot of assumptions.
Now let me talk about why this is important. Sometimes the best way to understand what something is, is to understand what it isn’t. In this case, one of the best ways to understand the ramifications of not knowing the author is to think about what we can do when we do know the identity of the author.
Think about the letters of the Apostle Paul. As you go through the New Testament and read his letters, they clearly identify the author. Look at the first verse of any of those books and it says clearly that it was written by Paul.
Furthermore, the book of Acts gives us a lot of information about Paul. Huge sections of the book of Acts tell us what Paul did during his missionary journeys as he traveled around the Mediterranean world spreading the good news of Jesus. When we read Paul’s letters we often use this information from the book of Acts to put Paul’s letters into context and to add understanding to Paul’s letters.
In his letters Paul wrote about suffering and being willing to suffer for Jesus. We know from the book of Acts that Paul lived what he preached. When we read the book of Acts we see many examples of Paul suffering and being persecuted for his belief in Jesus and for his missionary work.
So when we read the letters that Paul wrote, we can go to the book of Acts, learn information about Paul’s life, and then understand his letters in that context. We cannot do that with The Third Letter of John because ultimately we don’t know for sure who wrote it.
Third John is short and there’s not a lot of information there, so there’s not a lot of need to put Third John in context. However, as we seek to be students of the Bible and apply it correctly, we have to make sure we are careful about what we know and what we don’t know. In the case of Third John, we don’t really know for sure who wrote it. So we have to be careful as we read through and study Third John that we don’t color our understanding of Third John based on information elsewhere in the Bible about people named John or Gaius, because ultimately, we don’t know for sure if there is a connection with the other men named John and Gaius.
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Scripture quotations from 3 John taken from a translation by Bible Mountain.
“All other Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)