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3 John

  Date: 60-90 AD


Kümmel writes,
II and III John have the same author. They speak the same language. They nearly agree in length and in epistolary form (address, introduction, conclusion). They carry at their head the same characteristic self-designation of the author, ho presbyteros...Now both Epistles are closely related to the Gospel of John and I John in language, style, and world view (summary of the material in R. H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John, ICC, I, XXXIV ff., XLI ff.). The emphasis upon the truth of the author's testimony in III 12 is similar to that in Jn. 19:35 and 21:24. III 11 expresses the characteristic Johannine view that one's fundamental being is to be inferred from the way one acts. II 4 ff. is full of parallels to conceptions from I John.
II and III John are either artificial creations prepared in conscious imitation of Johannine writing (so Dibelius, Jülicher-Fascher) - but their unpretentiousness militates against that - or they stem from the same author as I John and John.
As far as objections to the author of 2 and 3 John to have written the other Epistle and Gospel, Kümmel again writes,
Certain scholars, of course, have sought to ascribe II and III John to a different author from that of I John, because of particular differences in thought and language (e.g., Jülicher-Fascher, J. Jeremias, "Joh. Literarkritik," ThBl 20, 1941, 43, note 39, Bultmann). The following are not supposed to agree with Johannine thought: designation of a single false teacher as "the antichrist" (II 7); no "progressivist" (II 9) is to be received by the congregation (10 f.); Jesus Christ who "is come in the flesh" (I 4, 2) is called Jesus Christ who "comes in the flesh" (II 7); in contradiction to Jn. 1:18 and I 4:12a, III 11 says, "he who does evil has not seen God." These differences, however, are too trivial to be taken seriously.
The question of authorship inevitably runs into the problem with Diotrephes in 1:9-10. Marxsen makes the excellent point that if the author had been an Apostle, much less John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, Diotrephes would have never been able to make a secession from the author and ban his supporters from the church. This inevitably however reads the text too much on the surface. It's true that Diotrephes has split off the church from the authority of the author. However, let's just gather the facts about the situation insofar as we can determine it from the epistle:

The problem happens after the author has left the church. This is supported by the fact that although his messengers are barred from the church, as are supporters of the author in the church itself, he presumes with complete certainty to be able to address the congregation (1:10). At this point the possibility that the church which Diotrephes attends meets at the house of Diotrephes cannot be ignored. There is no monarchical episcopacy where one bishop presides over the other presbyters, deacons because Diotrephes would not have to resort to malicious gossip (1:10) in order to obtain his authority, and this is shown by the fact that he can merely bar brothers sent to the church by the author, as well as members of the congregation supportive of the authors at will (1:10). If he is doing both at the same time, as well as banning members of the congregation that try to welcome brothers of the author, then he is in all probability no monarchical bishop because he wouldn't need to resort to this if he had authority by being such (one that would probably be deposed by the other presbyters anyway, see 1 Clement 57). So if the church which Diotrephes is a part of met at Diotrephes' house, this would explain how he can assume the authority to do these things.

Why would he do this and how could there be anyone in the congregation to support him as opposed to the Apostle John? The first question can be easily answered by 1:9 which talks about Diotrephes loving "to be first". This doubtless means that he does not want to be under the authority of the author. How can a disciple of Christ be rejected not only in the minds of the congregation but in the personal mind of Diotrephes himself is easily answered by the example of Marcion's conclusion that the Apostles (except Paul) had distorted the true teachings of Jesus and proceeded to himself distort the teachings of Paul. The malicious gossip would therefore be his method of having the congregation side with him as opposed to the author, who therefore could be John the Apostle. Furthermore, the author simply tries to appeal to the congregation as Paul does in similar situations (1 Cor 1:10-16, 2 Cor 10-11). Similar charismatic figures ("super apostles") deceived the Corinthian church away from Paul's authority and influence (2 Cor. 11:1-15). Paul himself opposed one of the Twelve, Peter, as Galatians 2:11ff. informs us with apparently successful results as the whole testimony of Galatians 1-2 implies. An apostle, even one of the Twelve, certainly could be accused of having misunderstood, forgotten, or distorted the original teaching.

As in 2 John, the title "the presbyter" does not negate an apostle of the Twelve being the author since Papias refers to five of the apostles of the Twelve (among whom John is named) as "presbyteroi". Plus is it really a surprise that Diotrephes could have done this, especially seeing how passively (yet certainly not inactively! 1 Jn. 4:1-4, 2 Jn. 1:8-11, 3 Jn. 1:10: "So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing") the author addresses his problems? If Gaius wanted to turn into a schismatic, all he has to do is reject the author's congratulation as walking in the truth in III John 1:3! So John the Apostle as the author cannot be outruled, and there is nothing in the other two Epistles that object to this, but only support it.


Seeing as we are not dealing with heretics and advanced schismatics in 1:9-10, but with a local church whose house-owner apparently decided to assume authority, we don't need to posit a late date. In fact, the primitiveness of the author's appeal to a sister church headed by Gaius' house for help leads to the conclusion that there is no monepiscopacy, which developed by 100 in the East (Syria), and ~125-150 in the West (Rome). Yet Clement of Rome (1 Clement) and Ignatius presume some influence over other churches, and one does not sense the influence of a major church as a recourse here, which again confirms the writer's authority. He is like the John of Revelation who addresses the churches from Patmos himself. He seeks to appeal to the congregation as Paul does in his similar problems (1 Cor 1:10-16, 2 Cor 10-11), so a date after 90-100 is improbable. Thus 60-90, probably closer to 90, seems the best range for 3 John.

External Attestation

The external attestation is not a problem even though it's somewhat scant (no mention until the 3rd century). The letter is short and may have been doubted as apostolic and therefore Scripture, making its material, which is minimal to say the least, useless to cite, not to mention that there is nothing in it that I John, which was accepted by the early 2nd century, would not have covered.

Other Information

-The author's church is either new or he hasn't visited it frequently (or Gaius is a recent convert but that is highly unlikely since he has a church in his house, 1:14) since his friend Gaius is not personally known to the congregation and vice versa (1:5-6). It is also Gaius' church (1:14) which meets in a city nearby Diotrephes' because Gaius is presumed to know of Diotrephes yet is apparently unaquainted with that church's problems and can welcome the brothers sent by the author.


  1. Kümmel, W.G., Introduction to the New Testament, p.315
  2. Kümmel, ibid.
  3. Kümmel, ibid.
  4. Marxsen, W., Introduction to the New Testament
  5. The difficulty of accepting Diotrephes' actions over the author if he were not John the Apostle are not removed, because the author clearly had authority over Diotrephes and the church before his departure (the malicious speaking in 1:10). They are only lessened, but as shown above, there is no problem with the rejection of the authority of an apostle, even a disciple of the Lord.