1:8 Therefore we 1 ought to support such people, so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth. 2
1:9 I wrote something to the church, 3 but Diotrephes, 4 who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us. 5 1:10 Therefore, if I come, 6 I will call attention to the deeds he is doing 7 – the bringing of unjustified charges against us with evil words! And not being content with that, he not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but hinders the people who want to do so and throws them out of the church!
1 sn Clearly the author does not refer to himself alone by the use of the first person plural pronoun we here, since the issue is support for the traveling missionaries. It stands in contrast to the pagans mentioned in the previous verse, and is thus to be understood as inclusive of all true Christians: the author, Gaius, and all true Christians. All true Christians ought to support the endeavors of these traveling missionaries in their efforts to counteract the heretical teaching of the opponents.
2 tn The ἵνα (Jina) clause indicates the result of such support for the traveling missionaries: The Christian who helps to support them in their efforts thus becomes a coworker in cooperation with the truth. Although the dative τῇ ἀληθείᾳ (th alhqeia) is somewhat difficult to specify, it would appear (corresponding to the σύν- [sun-] prefix of the noun modified) to indicate a sense of cooperation with “the truth” which is at work through the missionaries. There is precedent in the Johannine literature for understanding “truth” as personified (John 8:32, “the truth will make you free”; possibly also 1 John 3:19). More explicitly, 1 John 4:6 identifies the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Truth,” a characterization repeated in 1 John 5:6. Thus it seems likely that the “truth” at work through the missionaries here is ultimately the Holy Spirit, who works through their efforts. The Christian who supports them thus becomes a coworker with the Spirit of God himself.
3 sn The church mentioned here, which the author says he may visit (3 John 10) is not the same as the one mentioned in 3 John 6, to which the author apparently belongs (or of which he is in charge). But what is the relationship of this church in v. 9 to Gaius, to whom the letter is addressed? It is sometimes suggested that Gaius belongs to this church, but that seems unlikely, because the author uses a third-person pronoun to refer to the other members of the church (among them). If Gaius were one of these it would have been much more natural to use a second-person pronoun: “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among you.” Thus it seems probable that Gaius belongs to (or is in charge of) one local church while Diotrephes is in another, a church known to Gaius but to which he does not belong.
4 sn Diotrephes appears to be an influential person (perhaps the leader) in a local church known to Gaius, but to which Gaius himself does not belong. The description of Diotrephes as one who loves to be first suggests he is arrogant, and his behavior displays this: He refuses to acknowledge the written communication mentioned by the author at the beginning of v. 9 (and thus did not recognize the author’s apostolic authority), and furthermore (v. 10) refuses to show any hospitality to the traveling missionaries (welcome the brothers) already mentioned by the author. It has been suggested that the description “loves to be first” only indicates that Diotrephes sought prominence or position in this church, and had not yet attained any real authority. But his actions here suggest otherwise: He is able to refuse or ignore the author’s previous written instructions (v. 9), and he is able to have other people put out of the church for showing hospitality to the traveling missionaries (v. 10).
5 tn Since the verb ἐπιδέχομαι (epidecomai) can mean “receive into one’s presence” (BDAG 370 s.v. 1; it is used with this meaning in the next verse) it has been suggested that the author himself attempted a previous visit to Diotrephes’ church but was turned away. There is nothing in the context to suggest an unsuccessful prior visit by the author, however; in 3 John 9 he explicitly indicates a prior written communication which Diotrephes apparently ignored or suppressed. The verb ἐπιδέχομαι can also mean “accept” in the sense of “acknowledge someone’s authority” (BDAG 370 s.v. 2) and such a meaning better fits the context here: Diotrephes has not accepted but instead rejected the authority of the author to intervene in the situation of the traveling missionaries (perhaps because Diotrephes believed the author had no local jurisdiction in the matter).
6 tn The third-class condition (ἐὰν ἔλθω, ean elqw) seems to be used by the author to indicate real uncertainty on his part as to whether he will visit Diotrephes’ church or not.
7 sn Because Diotrephes did not recognize the authority of the author, the author will expose his behavior for what it is (call attention to the deeds he is doing) if he comes for a visit. These are the charges the author will make against Diotrephes before the church: (1) Diotrephes is engaged in spreading unjustified charges against the author with evil words; (2) Diotrephes refuses to welcome the brothers (the traveling missionaries) himself; (3) Diotrephes hinders the others in the church who wish to help the missionaries; and (4) Diotrephes expels from the church (throws them out) people who aid the missionaries. (Diotrephes himself may not have had supreme authority in the local church to expel these people, but may have been responsible for instigating collective action against them.)