Typical of ancient letters (and like 2 John) 3 John begins with an identification of its author and intended recipient, followed by a thanksgiving and then a wish for the well-being of the recipient. Third John lacks a greeting such as that found in 2 John 3 (but compare v. 14) and other New Testament epistles, but such a lack does not suggest that the Elder is angry with or lacks affection for Gaius. The Elder addresses Gaius as my dear friend. While dear friend suggests cordiality, it is probably not strong enough to capture the meaning of the Greek word "beloved" (agapetos), found as an address to the readers throughout 1 John (2:7; 3:21; 4:1, 7). For love is not simply affection or attachment, but the God-given bond that unites Christians. And the Elder's statement that he loves Gaius in the truth points to the double-stranded cord that unites them: they are held together not only by love but also by the truth that they share in common.
The wish for health is also typical of ancient letters and here is really a prayer. Specifically, the Elder's prayer is that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. The word translated "soul" (psyche) refers to the whole being of a person. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is said to lay down his psyche, which certainly means more than to give his "soul" (compare Jn 10:15, 17-18). The author's confidence that Gaius is getting along well with respect to his soul would not simply point to a state of having one's soul saved, but rather to spiritual and moral health as evidenced in holding to the correct confession of Jesus and living in obedience to the commands of God and, particularly, to the command to love. In other words, "spiritual health" is to continue to walk in the truth (v. 3).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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