Search for page by title (auto-completes)
Advanced search
Translate into

The Bible

OT Overview

NT Overview

OT Books

NT Books

OT History

NT History

OT Studies

Pentateuch Studies

History Books Studies

Studies in the Prophets

NT Studies

Studies in the Gospels

Acts and Letters Studies

Revelation Studies

Inductive Study

Types of Literature


Early Church

British Museum


Historical Documents

Life Questions

How to Preach


SBS Staff

Advanced Search
Search for word or phrase within each page
Search by OT book and chapter
Search by NT book and chapter

Introduction to the Second and Third Letters of John

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Introduction to 1 John Introduction to 2 and 3 John
Introduction to John's Gospel Gnosticism

These two letters are the shortest in the New Testament. Each of them contains under 300 words in Greek, and would fit on a single sheet of papyrus.


The traditional view is that all five of what are called the Johanine books are by the Apostle John (John’s Gospel, three letters, and Revelation). Of these, only Revelation names the author. John was the last remaining apostle, the last surviving companion of Jesus.

Both 2 and 3 John are from someone who identifies himself as 'The elder'. Neither directly claim to be written by John. The question is whether the elder is John the apostle, or a different otherwise unknown writer.

Papias, the bishop of Hieropolis, wrote a now lost book called 'Expositions of the Lord's Oracles' in the early second century, where he names two different Johns. One, the member of the twelve disciples, and another he calls the 'elder or presbyter John'. These may be two different people, or he may be referring to the same person. “If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings, - what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say.” (Papias Fragments I, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History)

There has been considerable debate over many centuries about this quotation from Papias, particularly whether he intended to describe two different Johns.

Evidence from the Church Fathers

Because the two letters are so short they obviously do not contain much material suitable to be quoted by the early church fathers, so there is not a lot of external evidence for authorship.

The Muratorian Fragment is rather vague about John’s letters, mentioning two letters by John, which probably refer to his first two letters, so no mention is made of the third. “The Epistle of Jude, indeed, and two belonging to the above-named John-or bearing the name of John are reckoned among the Catholic epistles"

In his argument against those who denied the deity of Jesus, Irenaeus used evidence from John’s Gospel and letters, describing John as 'the disciple of the Lord'. He uses a quotation from 2 John 7: “These are they against whom the Lord has cautioned us beforehand; and His disciple, in his Epistle already mentioned, commands us to avoid them, when he says: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Take heed to them, that ye lose not what ye have wrought.” Irenaeus Against Heresies (III. 16.8)

Eusebius quotes the works of Dionysus of Alexandria who mentions a second and third letter by John the apostle. “But neither in the second or third epistle ascribed by John (the apostle), though they are very brief, is the name of John presented. But anonymously it is written, ‘the presbyter’ (elder).” Eusebius Ecclesiastical History (7.25)

Origen knew of the existence of 2 and 3 John, but does not quote them. In his description of Origen’s work, Eusebius says that Origen lists the writings of John, describing him as ‘the one who reclined upon the breast of Jesus’, indicating that he was referring to John the apostle. “He (John) has also left an epistle consisting of very few lines; suppose, also, that a second and third is from him, for not all agree that they are genuine, but both together do not contain a hundred lines” Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25

In his list of canonical books, Eusebius includes 2 and 3 John among the disputed books. “Among the disputed books, although they are well known and approved by many, is reputed, that is called the Epistle of James and Jude. Also the ‘Second Epistle of Peter’, and those called ‘The Second and Third of John’, whether they are of the evangelist or of some other of the same name." Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3:25

In his Lives of Illustrious Men Jerome says that many believed that 2 and 3 John were by John the elder. “He wrote also one Epistle which begins as follows ‘That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes and our hands handled concerning the word of life which is esteemed of by all men who are interested in the church or in learning’. The other two of which the first is ‘The elder to the elect lady and her children’ and the other ‘The elder unto Gaius the beloved whom I love in truth’, are said to be the work of John the presbyter to the memory of whom another sepulchre is shown at Ephesus to the present day, though some think that there are two memorials of this same John the evangelist.” Jerome Lives of Illustrious Men 9.

When these letters are compared with other writings connected with the apostle John, it is clear that the language and theological content is remarkably similar.

Date and place of writing

It is known that John the Apostle lived in Ephesus towards the end of his life, and if it is accepted that he was the author of these books, they would have been written in the last decade of the first century.

Whether written by John, or John the elder, it is normally accepted that they were written from somewhere in the Roman Province of Asia, probably Ephesus.

Both books address the issue of the way travelling teachers should be treated. In 2 John, the church is warned not to give hospitality to teachers who deny the doctrine of the physical incarnation of Jesus, while in 3 John the approach is more positive, where the author commends Gaius for the hospitality he has been giving to teachers of the truth. The two books together give quite a balanced approach.

2 John

Written to

The second letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children” (v1). Again there has been much debate over this, particularly over whether it refers to an individual woman known to the author, or to a local community of believers, or even to the universal body of believers.

If the letter was addressed to an individual woman, then her children would be her biological family. At the end of the letter, the writer sends greetings from “the children of the elect sister” (v13), who could be a member of John’s church. If addressed to a community of believers, then the children would be the members of the fellowship.

Purpose of the letter

The book is a warning to be aware of Gnostic deceivers who deny that Jesus came in the flesh. He describes these as the anti-Christ. “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (v7). He warns his readers not to offer hospitality to these people, “If any such one comes to you, and does not bring this doctrine (of Jesus coming in the flesh), do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting, for he who greets him shares his wicked work” (v10-11). These are probably the same false teachers as those referred to in 1 John.

John is saying that by greeting one of these false teachers as a brother and providing him with hospitality, the readers would be identifying with them and therefore encouraging and assisting them in spreading their false teaching. The false teachers were evidently travelling from church to church, staying in people's houses. John had already referred to these false teachers in 1 Jn 2:18-29.

John is saying that it is not compromising Christian love to refuse to welcome these false teachers. Denying hospitality may appear to be harsh, but John is showing that these people are denying the true humanity of Jesus Christ, thus undermining the foundations of the Christian faith. To deny hospitality to travelling false teachers would make it more difficult for them to teach these dangerous errors.

The Didache contains very similar instructions: to welcome travelling teachers, but not to listen to or welcome false teachers. “So if anyone should come and teach you all these things that have been mentioned above, welcome him. But if the teacher goes astray and teaches a different teaching that undermines all this, do not listen to him. However, if his teaching contributes to righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as you would the Lord”. Didache 11.


There is strong theme of truth and love running through the letter. The two are linked together, and neither may be sacrificed at the expense of the other. Truth is mentioned in these passages: Whom I love in the truth (v1), All who know the truth (v1), The truth which abides in us (v2), Grace, mercy and peace in truth (v3), and I rejoiced, that children are walking in the truth (v4). Love is found in these passages: The elect lady, whom I love in the truth (v1), Grace, mercy and peace in truth and love (v3), This is love, that you follow commandments (v6) and This is commandment, that you follow love (v6).

3 John

Written to

The letter is addressed to “the beloved Gaius” (v1). It appears that the letter was written to an individual, as all second person pronouns are singular.

Gaius was one of the most common Roman names, so making any identification becomes very difficult. There are three people called Gaius mentioned in the New Testament.

1. Gaius of Corinth
He was one of Paul’s converts in Corinth, who was baptised by Paul. The Corinth church met in his house. He was Paul’s host on his final visit to Corinth, where he wrote the letter to the Romans. According to Origen, he became the first bishop of Thessalonica. “I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1 Cor 1:14). “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.” (Rom 16:23)

2. Gaius of Macedonia
He was caught up in the riot at Ephesus, together with Paul and Aristarchus. “The city (Ephesus) was filled with confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions.” (Acts 19:29)

3. Gaius of Derbe
He was one of the several co-workers who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey, bringing the collection for the saints. They were waiting for Paul at Troas. “He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas” (Acts 20:4-5)

It is possible that this Gaius came from Macedonia rather than Derbe, in which case he was the same person the Gaius of Macedonia. This letter may have been written to either of the first two, or to someone completely different.

In the fourth century document 'Apostolical Constitutions', John addressed his letter to Gaius from Derbe, and appointed him as bishop of Pergamum. (7:46)

This Gaius was evidently a leader in the church and is commended for his hospitality to travelling preachers. He may have been the leader of the church in Pergamum. He may have been one of John's converts, as he is described as on of “my children” (v4). He was clearly greatly loved by John, as he is called “beloved” four times (v1,2,5,11). John also says that he is hoping to visit him soon (v14).

Purpose of the letter

There are three main points:

1. John writes an encouragement to Gaius, commending him for his hospitality to strangers, especially travelling preachers (v5-8)

2. John rebukes Diotrephes (v9-10), who does not acknowledge John's authority and refuses to welcome John's representatives. He was a false teacher, unsubmissive and full of his own importance. He clearly dominated the church or was a leader of a different church in the same town as Gaius. The name Diotrephes is very rare, meaning 'reared by Zeus'. Apparently the name has only been found in noble and ancient families. It is not possible to identify who this person was, but he seems to be a rather arrogant rival leader to Gaius (v9).

3. John commends Demetrius as a positive example to follow. He as a triple positive testimony - from everyone, from the truth, and from John (12). It is likely that he was carrying this letter (v11-12).

There is another Demetrius in the NT, the silversmith who stirred up the riot against Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:24,38). It is possible that this is the same person, but Demetrius is a common Greek name. The name Demas is a short version of Demetrius, but there is no evidence for the Demas mentioned in Paul’s letters being the same person (Col 4:14, 2 Tim 4:10, Phm 24). According to the Apostolical Constitutions (7:46), John appointed Demetrius as bishop of Philadelphia.


The same theme of truth and love runs through the third letter, as in the second. Gaius, whom I love in the truth (v1), the brothers testified to truth of your life (v3), as indeed you do follow the truth (v3), to hear my children follow the truth (v4), fellow workers in the truth (v8), testimony from the truth itself (v12), my testimony is true (v12).

Related articles

Introduction to 1 John Introduction to 2 and 3 John
Introduction to John's Gospel Gnosticism

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS