3 John: “Information”

Orienting Data for 3 John

Date: Most scholars agree that 1, 2, and 3 John were written at the same time as the Gospel of John, from AD 85 to 95. The late date is based on evidence from early church witnesses (Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria), and the early stage of the Gnostic heresy.

Author: The author of 1, 2, and 3 John, is John the son of Zebedee. John was an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, and the author of the Gospel of John and Revelation. John was one of three disciples in Jesus’ inner circle, and was called the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13: 23). In 2 and 3 John, he calls himself “the elder” (2 John 1: 1; 3 John 1). Although some scholars think the name refers to a different John, the title of “elder” was common in the early church, even for the apostles (see 1 Peter 5: 1 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder”).

Recipients: John’s third letter was addressed to “Gaius,” a Christian in one of the churches in Asia Minor. Gaius was a common Roman name at the time so it is difficult to identify who he was.

Overview of 3 John

This is the shortest letter in the New Testament and thus the shortest book in the Bible (it is twenty-five Greek words shorter than 2 John). Along with Philemon, it is a personal letter; unlike Philemon, it is a private letter as well.

At issue is Christian hospitality, as evidence that one is “walking in the truth.” The recipient, Gaius, perhaps a convert of John (v. 4), is a dear friend (vv. 1, 2, 5, 11; “dear friend” translates the Greek word agapētos, “beloved”). Along with the truth of the gospel (vv. 3–4), Gaius and the elder share the practice of Christian hospitality toward approved itinerants (vv. 5–8, 11–12).

Sandwiched between Gaius’s two responses of hospitality toward strangers is the opposite example of Diotrephes, who has a twofold problem: (1) He is self-assertive in terms of leadership in the church (KJV, “he loveth to have the preeminence”!), and (2) his way of asserting himself is to reject both a letter from the elder and the approved itinerants who were being commended to the church in that letter. In light of 1 and 2 John, one is tempted to see Diotrephes as also on the false teachers’ side of things, although doctrinal issues as such are not mentioned in this case. But in light of 2 John 10–11, hospitality toward strangers is not automatic; they must be approved as those who walk in the truth.

Specific Advice for Reading 3 John

This letter may seem strange to a North American culture, where itinerant ministers are usually invited to the church and put up in motels or hotels. But in some ways you might find the original recipients’ culture more to your liking. In the first century, hospitality toward strangers was considered a virtue, and accommodations were often linked to a temple or synagogue. This practice became heart and soul for the earliest Christians. Thus if you were on the move, you could expect to receive hospitality within a local church community anywhere in the known world, a fact that runs throughout the New Testament. We find it in Jesus’ sending out the twelve and the seventy-two (Luke 9:4–5; 10:5–8); it is mentioned by Paul as an expression of love (Rom 12:13) and is urged as a form of Christian conduct in Hebrews 13:2. By the very nature of things, such hospitality was usually expected of a householder, who was also the leader of the church (1 Tim 3:2), but it could also be the responsibility of any others who had sizable households (1 Tim 5:10).

Together 2 and 3 John help us see how closely connected a householder, hospitality in her or his house, and the church that meets in the house were in the first-century church. Strangers who claimed to be bearers of the good news about Jesus Christ needed to have letters of commendation (such as 3 John is for Demetrius) in order to be given Christian hospitality in the home that housed a church community. But even when the itinerants were well known (e.g., Titus in 2 Cor 8:16–24), they often carried a letter of commendation from a leader known to the community to which they were going (see Acts 15:23–29; Rom 16:1–2; cf. 2 Cor 3:1–3, where Paul is miffed at the idea that he needed such a letter in Corinth).

This cultural phenomenon is crucial to your understanding of 3 John, as well as of 2 John 10–11. In the present case, such a letter from the elder had accompanied some whom he had sent to a church; but Diotrephes had rejected it, refused hospitality, and disfellowshipped those who would like to have shown it—exactly the position the elder himself took in 2 John 10–11, indicating that the touchstone of everything is the gospel of Christ.

2 John: “Information”

I’m not sure if you know this or not, but 1, 2, and 3 John are the least read books of the entire bible! Here’s the thing; there in the book for a reason, so rather than do what everyone else does with these books, let’s take a deeper dive into what exactly is going on in these letters.

Orienting Data for 2 John

Content: “the elder” warns against false teachers who deny the incarnation of Christ

Author: The author of 1, 2, and 3 John, is John the son of Zebedee. John was an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, and the author of the Gospel of John and Revelation. John was one of three disciples in Jesus’ inner circle, and was called the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13: 23). In 2 and 3 John, he calls himself “the elder” (2 John 1: 1; 3 John 1). Although some scholars think the name refers to a different John, the title of “elder” was common in the early church, even for the apostles (see 1 Peter 5: 1 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder”).

Date: Most scholars agree that 1, 2, and 3 John were written at the same time as the Gospel of John, from AD 85 to 95. The late date is based on evidence from early church witnesses (Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria), and the early stage of the Gnostic heresy.

Recipients: the “lady chosen by God”

The following information is from the book “Bible Overview” by Rose Publishing. 

Overview of 2 John

2 John: Since false teachers were corrupting the gospel, John warned believers to use discernment when welcoming teachers into their homes. John also encouraged believers to seek love, hospitality, unity, and recognize the truth that Jesus came “in the flesh” (1: 7).

The following information is from the book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Fee and Stuart.

Specific Advice for Reading 2 John

Second and 3 John are both the size of ordinary letters in the Greco-Roman world, written on a single sheet of papyrus. Note how both letters close with a notice about John’s wanting to talk with the recipients “face to face” (which probably indicates that he was running out of space on his piece of paper).

Given its brevity, you should especially note significant repeated words, both where they occur and how often. In fact, you may wish to do this for yourself before you read further, using different colored pens for the different words.

Did you note in verses 1–6 the repetition of truth (5x), its companion walk (3x), the associated word love (5x), and love’s companion command (ment) (4x)? In verses 7–11, “the truth” is now the teaching (3x), which has to do with “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” and thus with his being the true Son of the Father. Several words refer to those who reject this teaching:deceivers (2x), antichrist, anyone, them, etc. This exercise pretty well tells the story about this letter.

1 Peter 1: “Introduction”

Welcome to 1 Peter!

Below is helpful information I found in Fee and Stuarts Book, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book:


Orienting Data for 1 Peter

Content: a letter of encouragement to Christians undergoing suffering, instructing them how to respond Christianly to their persecutors and urging them to live lives worthy of their calling

Author: the apostle Peter; written by Silas (5:12), the sometime companion of Paul

Date: ca. a.d. 64–65 from Rome (5:13, Babylon was used by both Jews and Christians to refer to Rome as a place of exile)

Recipients: mostly Gentile believers (1:14, 18; 2:9–10; 4:3–4) in the five provinces in the northwest quadrant of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), referred to—with a play on the Jewish Diaspora—as strangers (= exiles) in the world

Occasion: probably concern over an outbreak of local persecution that some newer believers (2:2–3) were experiencing as a direct result of their faith in Christ

Emphases: suffering for the sake of righteousness should not surprise us; believers should submit to unjust suffering the way Christ did; Christ suffered on our behalf to free us from sin; God’s people should live righteously at all times, but especially in the face of hostility; our hope for the future is based on the certainty of Christ’s resurrection


Overview of 1 Peter

Peter’s primary concern is for truly Christian living in the context of hostility and suffering. The letter moves forward in a kind of elliptical way, embracing first one and then the other of these concerns, returning to them over and over again along the way. At the same time these concerns are placed within the context of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, his suffering offering a pattern for believers as well as saving them, his resurrection giving them hope in the midst of present suffering.


Specific Advice for Reading 1 Peter

The special vocabulary of 1 Peter tells much of the story and should be watched for as you read. These words are especially important: suffering (11x); anastrophē (“way of life, behavior” 6x[1:15, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16]); God (39x); Christ (22x); Spirit/spiritual (8x); God’s will (4x); election/calling (10x); save/salvation (6x); and hope (5x)—along with a number of other words that point to the future (inheritance, glory, etc.), plus a large vocabulary reminding them that they are God’s people, living as “foreigners” or “strangers” or those in exile in the present world.

What propels the letter from beginning to end is their suffering. Peter’s concern is that they understand their suffering in the larger context of God’s saving purposes. Thus the strong emphasis on the work of the Triune God. God, the author of salvation, has both chosen and called them to be his people in the world. Suffering may therefore be understood as in keeping with God’s higher purposes (his will); yet Christ’s death and resurrection have made their final salvation altogether certain so that they live in hope. Note that Peter—significantly—always refers to Christ’s redeeming work in terms of his suffering (rather than “dying”) for us, which at the same time also serves as the example to be followed (2:21–24; 3:15–18)—all of which is enabled by the Spirit (1:2; 2:5; 4:14). All of this is said over and over again, with obvious interest in encouraging and reassuring them.

You also need to have a sense of the first-century household in order to appreciate what is urged in 2:18–3:7. In ways that are hardly understandable to Western cultures over the past several centuries, in the first-century Greco-Roman household the male head of the house was the absolute “lord and master.” In most such households, if he cared at all for things religious (and religion was a part of their way of life, whether taken seriously or not), then it was customary for the entire household (wife, children, household slaves) to adopt the religion of the householder. Peter is speaking into this context, where some household slaves and wives have gotten out of line on this matter by becoming followers of Christ, whereas when he speaks in a secondary way to the husband in 3:7 he assumes that he and his household have all followed Christ.

James 1: “Introduction”

Welcome to James!

Although it’s only five chapters long, each chapter of James is power packed with practical and insightful information.

Below is helpful information I found in Fee and Stuarts Book, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book:

Orienting Data for James

Content: a treatise composed of short moral essays, emphasizing endurance in hardship and responsible Christian living, with special concern that believers practice what they preach and live together in harmony

Author: James, brother of our Lord (Gal 1:19), who led the church in Jerusalem for many years (Acts 15; Gal 2:1–13)—although questioned by many

Date: unknown; dated anywhere from the mid–40s a.d. to the 90s, depending on authorship; probably earlier than later

Recipients: believers in Christ among the Jewish Diaspora

Occasion: unknown, but the treatise shows concern for real conditions in the churches, including severe trials, dissensions caused by angry and judgmental words, and abuse of the poor by the wealthy

Emphases: practical faith on the part of believers; joy and patience in the midst of trials; the nature of true (Christian) wisdom; attitudes of the rich toward the poor; abuse and proper use of the tongue

Specific Advice for Reading James

James is admittedly difficult to read through, because of its many starts and stops, twists and turns. But along with seeing the threads that hold things together, which we noted above, several other matters should help you to read this letter with better understanding.

First, in terms of content, you will find the letter to have a variety of kinds of material in it, all of it directed specifically at Christian behavior, rather than propounding Christian doctrine. Included are a goodly number of sayings or aphorisms that look like Old Testament wisdom on the one hand and the teachings of Jesus on the other. That is, much as the Synoptic Gospels often present the teaching of Jesus in the form of sayings—which at times ring with echoes of Jewish wisdom—so with James. This is found both in his emphasis on wisdom as such and in the frequent aphoristic nature of so much that he says. In this vein you should also look for his frequent echoes of the teachings of Jesus (e.g., 1:5–6; 2:8;5:9, 12). As with all Jewish wisdom (see the introduction to the Old Testament Writings, p. 120), the concern is not doctrinal or logical, but practical; the test of its truthfulness has to do with how it works out in the reality of everyday life.

Second, in terms of form, you will find a kind of sermonic quality to James. As you read, note the various rhetorical devices he employs, especially some that reflect the Greco-Roman diatribe (see “Specific Advice for Reading Romans,” p. 319)—direct address (“my [dear] brothers and sisters” 14x), rhetorical questions (e.g., Jas 2:3–7, 14, 21; 3:11–12, 13; 4:1, 5), and the use of an imagined interlocutor (2:18–20; 4:12, 13, 15). Thus James’s use of the Wisdom tradition is not proverbial but sermonic; he hopes to persuade and thus to facilitate change in the way God’s people live in community with one another.

Third, don’t fall into the habit, which is easy in this case, of reading James as though it were addressed to individual believers about their one-on-one relationship with God and others. Nothing could be further from James’s own concerns. From the outset his passion is with life within the believing community. While it is true that each must assume his or her individual responsibility to make the community healthy, the concern is not with personal piety as much as it is with healthy communities. To miss this point will cause you to miss what drives this letter from beginning to end.

Finally, you need to read the sections about the rich and poor with care (1:9–11, 27; 2:1–13; 4:13–5:6), since it is not easy to tell whether both groups are members of the believing community. In any case, James is decidedly—as is the whole of Scripture—on the side of the poor. The rich are consistently censured and judged, not because of their wealth per se, but because it has caused them to live without taking God into account and thus to abuse the lowly ones for whom God cares.