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Introduction to

The Third Epistle of St. John the Apostle

 

The Gaius to whom this Epistle is directed is otherwise unknown to us. Attempts to identify him with one or another Gaius mentioned in other parts of the New Testament or in the writings of early commentators are all largely conjectural.

The Apostle tells Gaius how happy he is to hear that Gaius is leading a truly Christian life, and praises him for the hospitality he extended to a group of missionaries.

The Apostle has some harsh words to say about a certain Diotrephes who was ambitious and seems to have shown some contempt for the Apostle John. Diotrephes was not a heretic, but rather an ambitious ecclesiastic who resented and resisted the authority which St. John rightly sought to exercise over the congregation where Diotrephes held the leading position. Nothing further is known of this Diotrephes.

Demetrius, who cannot successfully be identified, receives words of high praise.

The Epistle was written some time after the year A.D. 90 from Ephesus or some place nearby.

From:        The New Testament, translated by
                  J.A. Kleist, S.J. and J.L. Lilly, C.M.
                  Bruce Publishing, 1954   

                  Imprimatur 22.10.52

The Third Epistle of St. John is addressed to a definite individual, ‘to the dearly beloved Gaius’, and differs from 2 John by its personal tone. In this letter the Apostle mentions that for unworthy reasons certain missionaries have been refused hospitality by Diotrephes, who is presumably the bishop of the local church. For this the Apostle rebukes him, while praising Gaius for his faith and charity. May he continue to show hospitality to visiting brethren. Demetrius also comes in for a word of praise. Finally, St. John expresses the hope of seeing Gaius shortly.

From:        A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture
                Thomas Nelson & Sons           

                Imprimatur 9.4.51
 

 

Index of Reflections and Related Text

This page is a work in progress:

(Meanwhile, please scroll down to chosen reading.)

 

 

1.        3 John:   1 to 4

2.        3 John:   5 to 8

3.        3 John:   9 and 10

4.        3 John: 11 and 12

5.        3 John: 13 to 15

 

 

The Third Epistle of St. John the Apostle

 

1.    3 John verses 1 to 4

The Presbyter to the beloved Gaius whom I love in truth.

Beloved, I hope you are prospering in every respect and
are in good health, just as your soul is prospering.

I rejoiced greatly when some of the brothers came and
testified to how truly you walk in the truth.

Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children
are walking in the truth.

A Note On the Salutation — As in the preceding letter, so here, St. John calls himself the presbyter (or in some translations ‘the ancient’) in addressing a short message to Gaius, a person about whom nothing definite is known. Whether Gaius was a layman or a presbyter, is not clear from the context of the letter. The Apostle’s salutation consists of a prayer that Gaius may prosper as much materially as he has spiritually. Subtle but very high praise!

St. John goes on to express great satisfaction with the reports he has heard about the character and activity of Gaius. He says: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth”.

2.    3 John verses 5 to 8   

Beloved, you are faithful in all you do for the brothers, especially
for strangers;

they have testified to your love before the church. Please help
them in a way worthy of God to continue their journey.

For they have set out for the sake of the Name  and are accepting
nothing from the pagans.

Therefore, we ought to support such persons, so that we may be
co-workers in the truth.

One of our sources offers this explanation of the following verses in St. John’s letter.
Besides commending the solid faith of Gaius, he lauds his sincere charity towards the brethren, who are strangers. These men were the itinerant missionaries, who praised the hospitality extended to them before the whole church. St John asks him to lend them further assistance, because they depended entirely on finding support in the different churches they visited, taking nothing of the Gentiles. He intimates that by rendering them this help, he himself was spreading the truth.

We offer a few comments to elaborate some of the important references.

●    St. John, among others such at St. Paul, gave evidence of how
important it was for labourers in the Lord’s vineyard to give their
all without obligation of payment “for work done”. They received
gifts and money for upkeep and ministry together with hospitality
all of which were freely given.

●    Those appointed to teach and preach avoided receiving anything
from sources outside the Church (verse 7, “accepting nothing from
the pagans,”) lest those payments open the way for non-Christian
influences to enter the workings of the Church; an ever present
danger, perhaps even more so in our competitive commercialised society.

●    St. John makes reference to “the Name”, which here means the
Lord Jesus Christ. The custom of avoiding the use of the Holy Name
of God was well established in Judaism. God’s Name was whispered
once a year in the Holy of Holies (the inner most sacred part of the
Temple) and otherwise substituted by terms such as “the LORD”.
Even today Jewish people often write the subsitutionary reference
to God as “G-d”, out of profound respect for Him. To some extent
this practice was retained by the Christian Church, and St. John,
here, gives evidence of that. Traditional Christians have thus retained
the practice of saving the use of the name “Jesus” for when they
intend consciously and deliberately to give sound to this very
precious Name. Otherwise they refer to “our Lord” or some similar
title out of love and reverence.

●     The same reverence was shown by St. Paul in his letter to the
Church at Philippi: ….. “God has exalted him and given him the
name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in
heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth should bend the knee
and should publicly acknowledge to the glory of God the Father
that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2: 9 – 11).

●    Finally in this short passage St. John calls on his readers to
accept the responsibility to provide for those appointed to teach
the faith. He raises this need to the level of a very great privilege
and assures us that by such generosity we participate in a very
true and real way in the spreading of Christ’s Gospel and the growth
of His Body, the Church. This is a very important principle
demonstrating how everyone can participate, in some way, in
evangelisation.

3.    3 John verses 9 and 10   

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate,
does not acknowledge us.

Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing,
spreading evil nonsense about us. And not content with that,
he will not receive the brothers, hindering those who wish to
do so and expelling them from the church.

A Note One The Censure of Diotrephes — Explaining, perhaps, why: such assistance was not rendered by the bishop or pastor of the church, the Apostle remarks: I wrote indeed to the church, presumably the one to which Gaius belonged, and of which Diotrephes perhaps was bishop. There is nothing definitely known about Diotrephes; only what is stated here. It seems that this man refused to entertain such itinerant missionaries, even those sent out by St John himself. He even dared to forbid anyone to show them hospitality, and excommunicated those, who like Gaius, disregarded his prohibition. So we have here an ambitious and selfish pastor, who set himself in opposition to the aged Apostle, who threatens to give him a public reprimand, should he come to this place.

4.     3 John verses 11 and 12

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does
what is good is of God; whoever does what is evil has never
seen God.

Demetrius receives a good report from all, even from the truth
itself. We give our testimonial as well, and you know our
testimony is true.

A Note On The Approval of Demetrius — the spirit and conduct of Diotrephes is not ‘of God’ and his example is not to be imitated. Highly commendable, however, has been the conduct of Demetrius, as everyone testifies, and as his truly Christian behaviour indicates. Again we are in ignorance about this individual, merely knowing that he was a true and loyal servant of God, as St John testifies.

5.    3 John verses 13 to 15  

I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen
and ink.

Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face.

Peace be with you. The friends greet you; greet the friends there
each by name.

St. John draws to a conclusion by saying a fuller explanation is not necessary because the Apostle hopes to see Gaius in the near future, when they can discuss details at greater lengths.

Here again (as at the end of his 2nd epistle) he reflects the understanding that his role as an Apostle, in fact as a Presbyter Bishop, is to go and teach (St. Matthew 28: 19 and 20) as one appointed for this purpose by the Lord Himself, rather than just leave it to the written word.

Finally, he sends greetings from those who are with him, and wishes to be remembered individually to all his friends.

Here ends the short but, as ever, third power-packed letter of St. John.

 

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