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3 Things to Know about the Shortest Book in the Bible

Bible open to 3 John

The Bible, as you may already know, is made up of 66 books. When you have that many books, one of them must be the shortest. When you think about what the shortest book in the Bible is, there are two ways to look at it. You could go by the book with the least number of verses, or you could go with the book that has the least number of words. Since the Bible was not originally written with verses and chapters then it makes sense to go with the book that has the least number of words. When we use that parameter then the shortest book in the Bible is 3rd John. 

However, it is a really close race between 2nd John which is right behind it. To be completely fair we would need to count the words in the Greek and not use English. What can happen when you translate from Greek into English the length of the books may change because you may need more words in English to help understand the word in Greek. The length of the books in English can also vary depending on the translation you use. For example, in the NIV, which is an English translation from the Greek, 2nd John is shorter than 3rd John. However, when you go back to the Greek, 3rd John is shorter. As we look at 3rd John here are some things we can learn from the shortest book in the Bible.

1. The book of 3rd John was a letter written to a specific person.

Second John and 3rd John follow the same structure in that they were written to one individual. Second John was written to the elect lady and her children, while 3rd John was written to Gaius. First John is not addressed to anyone specifically, and it is not clear which group or audience it is written to. Most scholars believe 1st John was written to a Gentile group of believers, primarily because of the lack of Old Testament references in the book. 

Third John was specifically addressed to a man named Gaius. The Bible doesn’t speak much about this man, and he is one of several men named Gaius mentioned in Scripture. The name Gaius was a common name in that day and what we know of him is that he was a leader in this church. Just like the other two letters that were written by John, we are not certain of the location of this church. Even though we don’t really know a lot about Gaius, there are some amazing descriptions that give us insight into his character. Here is what we know from reading this one chapter.

Gaius is a dear friend of John and truly beloved by him. Depending on which translation you use Gaius is described as either dear friend, esteemed, or beloved. The word in the Greek, agapétos, has the word apage as its root which shows the depths of affection John had for Gaius. As you continue to read through the chapter there are other words that bring Gaius’ character to light. Gaius is described as generous, hospitable, faithful, and one who continues to walk in the truth. Though this is the shortest book in the Bible, this picture painted of Gaius helps us to see that Gaius was an effective leader showing much care and love for those he was leading.

2. The letter addresses an issue the church had.

As with many of the epistles that were written in the New Testament, even in the one that is the shortest book in the Bible, there was an issue that had to be addressed in that local congregation. The issue in 3rd John centered around a man named Diotrephes.

"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." – 3 John 1:9-10

What we learn about Diotrephes is it seems he is almost the opposite of Gaius. While Gaius is written about as selfless, Diotrephes seems to be selfish and self-centered. He doesn’t appear to be hospitable and as John wrote he loves to be first. It appears that Diotrephes has an issue and a desire to remain in control (this is my observation you may have another).

As outlined in this short book we see two people who are described so differently. You could make an argument this letter demonstrates a contrast between two types of believers, and you could even say these types of believers still exist in the church today. There are those who are hospitable and welcoming. They are generous with their time and resources, and they care about those who carry the message of the gospel forward. These types of people put the interest of the kingdom of God and the people of God first. These are the kind of people that make the gospel attractive. The other types are exclusive. They like it the way it is, especially if they are in a position of influence or power. They are not interested in bringing anyone else in because that threatens their position. Instead of trying to draw people in, they would rather find ways to keep people out. These types of people make Jesus and the gospel unattractive. Of these two men we see that Gaius was held in high esteem by John and Diotrephes was one John wanted to deal with when he got to this church.

3. The Bible Book of 3rd John is about the character of men.

There is one more person introduced in this book, which seems to be a lot when you consider it is the shortest book in the Bible. The third person named in this book is Demetrius. Again, it is important to note the way Demetrius is described. John writes that he is well spoken of by everyone, which again speaks to his character. One thing to note is what John wrote right before talking about Demetrius. Here is what he wrote.

"Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God." – 3 John 1:11

In this one verse, John is giving us a marker or identifier of those who belong to God. The defining mark between one who knows God and one who has never seen God is their behavior. Those who truly walk with God do what is good or have a burning desire to do what is good. Those who don’t walk with God, not only will they seek to imitate what is evil, which will be seen in their actions, they will not have a desire to do what is right. These things reflect the character of a man, which ultimately reflects what is in their heart.

Though 3rd John is the shortest book in the Bible, it speaks volumes in a few words about the importance of who you are, how you live, and how you are perceived. This does not mean we should live in such a manner to try to appease people, because that can never really happen. It does mean we should always live as people of good character who represent Christ well to those who are around us, whether they are believers or unbelievers.

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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.




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