The Case of Diotrephes (3 John) - An Exemplar of Heresy, Sowing Seeds of Apostasy
Updated: Aug 27
3 Jn 1:9-11 reads:
“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth themout of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”
You could say Diotrephes was a heretic in the very sense of the word, what the apostle John went through with him, something I have personally and not so long ago experienced in similitude with the leadership, pastor Tim Krahn, of a specific church, that of Victory Faith Church. He exemplified Diotrephes who was an exemplar of heresy, sowing seeds of apostasy. Many times I don’t name names or I do first approach the person about their public error or sin, but this is purely an act of mercy and grace that the Bible doesn’t even require of me. On occasion a public sin would be better to treat in a private manner. It could save embarrassment. Sometimes someone needs public exposure, particularly if they remain unrepentant. Such is the case here. Both the Apostle Paul and John deal with people in public even in the church. Both named names, Paul no less than ten times in 1 and 2 Timothy alone. It‘s become a portion of the eternal Word of God, names the world over has read and reread millions if not billions of times. What I write is needed even more now with the growth of apostasy in these last days of the last days (2 Tim 3 & 4).
Gaius wasn't someone Diotrephes would tolerate, because Gaius was someone the Apostle John loved (v 1), and desired to see “prosper and be in health” (v 2), for he walked in the truth (v 3). When Gaius came along, he wouldn’t be accepted in the unidentified church to which John had written according to his 3rd epistle (v 9a). Diotrephes, the pastor of this church, is the personification of heresy and in his qualities are the seeds of apostasy. John indicts Diotrephes on at least three counts, one of which stands above the rest.
1. First, John had written to this church, so when John writes, Diotrephes "receiveth us not," he meant that Diotrephes did not accept or distribute the contents of what he had written. That's how he doesn't receive John. I have found in my lifetime as a born again Christian that I'm not received because someone is not receiving what I say, not because it isn't the truth, but because it is. Like Diotrephes, someone doesn't want to hear the truth. Jesus refers to this in John 8, “He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (v. 47). When someone “resists the truth” (2 Tim 3:8) and won’t acknowledge it, this is what they are doing.
John was an Apostle. What he sent and would send was authoritative, whether scripture or like scripture, because it was apostolic. Diotrephes suppressed and opposed it. Why? Because he had greatest affection for himself, what John communicates: "who loveth to have the preeminence." This translates a compound Greek word (philoproteuo), which is made up of two words, phileo, "to have strong affection," and proteuo, "to be first." Whenever Scripture—the truth that John taught and in which Gaius walked—clashed with Diotrephes strong affection for putting himself first, he chose himself above the truth. He desired the preeminence. This is very very common in our day and precisely what I also experienced.
When someone rejects the truth of what Scripture teaches on the local church (vs the heresy of universal church); on church membership (vs no membership); on the Lord’s Supper (vs not having communion at all or corrupting communion by practicing something different than closed); on repentance and Christ’s Lordship-thus the gospel (vs teaching a false gospel of easy believism); on objective evidence of salvation, what scripture teaches (vs subjective evidence); on true Scriptural interpretation and preaching (vs unBiblical allegoricalism, numerology, false typology, eisegesis, manipulating, etc); on judging, contending, discerning, warning and reproving (vs despising and hating these things); on the Bible doctrine of preservation (vs claiming the KJV is Gods promise of preservation and rejecting Gods inspired preserved Word in that of Hebrew Masoretic text and Greek Textus Receptus); on God’s law (vs claiming Christ nailed the law on the cross and that born again believers are not obligated to fulfil the law, and other law-related errors); on church discipline (vs rejecting Gods instructions and casting out those he envies and hates, even though they preach the truth); on sanctification (vs Keswick/ Higher Life/ Deeper life-type of “theological” heresy); on partiality and respect of persons (vs practicing these abominable sins, which actually disqualifies the pastor); on the sins of the tongue such as slander, talebearing (vs loving the truth and hating envy and evil); etc; — that person is putting himself above the truth of Gods Word and thus above God. The one who puts himself first, will also not discuss or debate a subject with an open Bible. He will not do well in the face of criticism. Precisely.
Heresy is dividing from the truth, causing a faction, and this relates to apostasy, which is turning from the truth. Compromisers, heretics and false teachers teaching or preaching heresies, are often nameless and obscure in the Bible (but not always — again, ten times Paul mentions heretics in 1 and 2 Timothy by name and John does the same here). Diotrephes is a real person, hence an exemplar of heresy in scripture. In him we see illustration of what some of the other heresy and apostasy passages, such as 2 Peter and Jude, are teaching (at least in part). What we read in those epistles and the example of Diotrephes aren’t contradictory. The strong affection to be first in Diotrephes is walking according to ones lust in 2 Peter and Jude. When he doesn’t get first, he goes into silent (or ignoring) mode and ghosting (I.e. Ungodly form of “separation,” consisting of ignoring and cold-shouldering) in return.
In 2 Peter and Jude, this means eliminating any competition to that lust, whoever says, "No." John would be one. Gaius would be another. Anyone who walked with John and Gaius and behaved liked they did, who contended for the faith and put truth first, would be eliminated. Only “yes” men are allowed, for they keep the “the Lords anointed” on the pedestal. Being first meant having your way and the truth would be a casualty to lust when it needed to be. The heretic or false teacher of 2 Pet 2 also denies the Lordship of Christ as we read in v. 1, and sets his faithful followers against the one speaking the truth (v. 2). Why and how? Because of “covetousness” (envy) and through “feigned words” (v. 3). Diotrephes actively suppressed and opposed truth, and it is implied that some truth(s) in particular clashed with Diotrephes. Again, precisely the case.
2. Second, John said he was "prating against us with malicious words" (3 Jn 1:10). "Prating against" is literally to make false accusations. The same word in 1 Tim 5:13 is translated, "tattlers,” which is to tell tales, false and unfounded accusations, to cause people to distrust that person or his teachings or warnings, who is saying something different than what they want to hear, even if its truth. They don't want they’re teaching and then undermine them by saying false things about them to others. "Malicious words" are harmful ones with the intent to harm that person's reputation, to make him of enough disrepute that his words won't be trusted, trashing him so that they’ll be free of him. Once again, this fits accurately what I personally experienced.
3. Third, Diotrephes also exemplified heresy by not being receptive to those like-minded with John in the truth of scripture. These are they who see the truth the same way as John and love the Lord by obeying the Lord, but these people are not received—they are rejected. This is expressed in 3 Jn 1:10 as "neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would." Whoever agrees with John and his teaching can't be allowed or received, nor anyone else who would accept those who agree with him. It’s called censorship. John heavily taught on the evidence of salvation. His first and second epistle are entirely based on the subject; a major means to address false professions, but Diotrephes didn’t like it. This is yet another bulls eye hit concerning my experience with the pastor Tim.
In the way of Diotrephes, an exemplar of heresy, are the seeds of apostasy. John says in 3 Jn 1:9, "if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth." I have remembered. John was a contender for the faith. He says, I'm going to expose the man if I come. I will make it an issue of his conduct because it is an issue to be contending against and of discipline. I'm not going to overlook this. It’s apostasy. Something must be done about it. Paul likewise speaks of such men who “resist the truth” and “of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.” (2 Tim 3:8). What does he say to do with them? “But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men” (2 Tim 3:9). Expose them. Mark them and avoid them (Rom 16:17). Their “mouths must be stopped,” (Tit 1:11) for they bring reproach to the name of Christ.
The heretic, the one turning from the truth, to whatever varied degree, doesn't want to hear that he's going to be dealt with, only that he's going to be tolerated and will continue however he wants, as the lord over the flock. No one will tell him what to do, not even the Word of God. Jesus referred to those guilty of this as impersonating lost Gentiles who “exercise lordship over” and “exercise authority upon” (Lk 22:25) the flock, as “lords over God's heritage,” (1 Pet 5:3). When a Diotrophes isn't dealt with Biblically, his belief, attitude, and behaviour will influence others, spread, and turn people or keep people on a different direction than they should be going.
As briefly already mentioned, how does a Diotrephes keep the people on his side? By setting his followers against the one speaking the truth (2 Pet 2:1-2), “by good words and fair speeches, deceive[ing] the hearts of the simple” (Rom 16:17-18), and by slandering and smearing his opponent and playing the victim, and by “cast[ing] them out of the church.” (3 Jn 1:10). Isaiah 66:6 speaks to this:
“Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.”
Anyone involved in this type of behaviour is impersonating Diotrephes.
In this environment, the seeds of apostasy are well under way, being fed and watered by the ongoing evil and unrepentant behaviour. The path of apostasy is “faithless.” It removes confidence in the Word of God by opposing the truth and perverting the truth therein. Someone who cares about the truth, like John, won't ignore it. He will deal with a Diotrephes because the truth is more important than the potential grief that comes from the unjust, malicious accusations of a man who is most interested in having his own way. He will also encourage the “Gaiuses” to follow “that which is good” which is truth, since “he that doeth evil” like Diotrephes, “hath not seen God.” (3 Jn 1:11-12).
If you read here and you suspect your pastor is a Diotrephes, you shouldn’t resist the truth but love it and then dissociate from him lest you become like him. If you stay with him, you are impersonating him. John exhorted Gaius to separate, and Gaius obeyed because he was of the truth and walked in the truth. That means he was saved and exemplified his converted state by obeying Gods Word (as repeatedly commanded in scripture: e.g. Jn 14:15-24; 15:1-10; 1 Jn 2:3-5; 2 Jn 1:6; Rev 22:14-15).
Read here also whether Your Pastor is a Shepherd or a Hireling?