The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary. I will also include artwork and illustrations.
The third letter of John is the shortest document in the New Testament, at 219 words in the original Greek. It is a private letter, addressed specifically to a man named Gaius, and was probably written near the end of the first century C.E. It shares themes and concerns with 1 and 2 John—love within the community and an emphasis on “the truth.” It is unique in the New Testament, in that it never mentions Jesus Christ. Verse 7, which is usually translated "for the sake of Christ" literally means "for the sake of the the name."
Because it is a personal letter, and mentions specific individuals, 3 John gives a fascinating glimpse into the interpersonal dynamics of the community it emerged from. Gaius and another guy named Demetrius are commended for their excellent behavior and beliefs, while a man named Diotrephes is criticized for his ego (he “likes to put himself first”) and for denying the authority of the author (he “does not acknowledge our authority”). The author says that, when he returns to the community, “I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us.”
It is almost refreshing to read that this community faced the same kind of interpersonal power struggles and conflicts that characterize pretty much all human communities. The author, who is clearly concerned with the health of the community, ends with a lovely closing statement: “Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name.” In the midst of interpersonal conflict, the author advocates peace and communication.
|Title page of the Third Letter of John (12th century Byzantine manuscript)|