Who Was Diotrephes in the Bible? Unveiling His Troublemaking Role

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Who Was Diotrephes in the Bible

Diotrephes is mentioned in a single passage in the Bible, specifically in the brief letter of 3 John. He was a self-seeking troublemaker in an unnamed local church during the first century. Little is known about his background, other than his likely Gentile heritage, suggested by his name, which means “nurtured by Jupiter.”

John wrote 3 John to his friend Gaius. Here’s the passage mentioning 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).

From these two verses, we learn several things about Diotrephes: 1) he loves to be first; 2) he refuses to welcome the apostles into the church; 3) he spreads malicious gossip about men of God; 4) he withholds hospitality from other believers; 5) he forces others to follow his poor example; and 6) he excommunicates anyone who crosses him.

John’s description suggests that Diotrephes was a leader, or at least an influential member, of the local church where Gaius belonged. Diotrephes was clearly abusing his position of authority. For some reason, he was jealous of the apostles and refused to allow them in his church. Instead of following the pastoral command to be hospitable and “not quarrelsome” (2 Timothy 3:2–3), Diotrephes was inhospitable and combative. Rather than seeking to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35), Diotrephes loved to be in charge.

John states his plan to visit Gaius’s church, and when he does, he will publicly rebuke Diotrephes for his actions (3 John 1:10). The slander, sectarianism, and self-seeking behavior would be addressed. The apostle was not willing to ignore such behavior.

In contrast, John commends Gaius for his hospitality toward itinerant preachers of the gospel passing through his city (3 John 1:5–8). Diotrephes, with his inhospitable and self-serving attitude, stands as the “anti-Gaius.” John’s advice to Gaius to “not imitate what is evil” (3 John 1:11) is likely another way of saying, “don’t be like Diotrephes.”

Those who, like Gaius, minister to preachers of the gospel honor God (3 John 1:6). Those who, like Diotrephes, hinder the spread of God’s Word deserve rebuke (3 John 1:10). The pastorate is no place for power-hungry, jealous, and slanderous men who reject the apostles’ teachings. Instead, a pastor “must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught” (Titus 1:8–9).

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