Review: John [BECNT]

John BECNT

John: He comes as a part of the ‘Gospels’ package. He wears the uniform, but he’s the last one to the party. He’s a bit different. He’s not like the others. People put words in his mouth, claims about an adulteress woman. He’s always lingering about, reminiscing about breakfast on the beach.

What am I talking about? Come and see.

Like every book of the Bible, especially when compared to the Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel is unique, drawing many in. One group wonders why the Synoptics are so similar, while the other has suspicions on how John can be so different. Kostenberger (K) states “John, together with Romans, may well be considered the enduring ‘twin towers’ of NT theology,” with John giving us an ‘eagle’s’ eye view  of the life of the majesty of the Son of God.

The purpose of the BECNT series is to “address the needs of pastors and others involved in the preaching…of the Scriptures…” (ix).

K states the present commentary has three distinctives.

  1. It is “based on historical research.”
  2. It consistently draws “on the insights of literary studies on individual Johannine narratives.”
  3. “…[H]istorical and literary works are regarded as [supplementary] to the theological appreciation of John’s Gospel” (xi-xii).

The Introduction

In the Introduction, K moves first through the Significance and Interpretation of John, and second through Hermeneutical Presuppositions.

While some think seminaries are equivalent to cemeteries (and some are), it should be said that K does not come from nor teach at a cemetery, and this commentary reflects that. “An active, born-again faith in Jesus Christ as Lord is unashamedly acknowledged as the vantage point from which exegesis is undertaken…. Rather than being a liability, this faith – together with the enabling work of the Holy Spirit in interpretation, if tempered with humility, exegetical work, and openness to the findings of others – can be a great strength” (3-4, emphasis mine).

This is key, for what is the use of teaching about the Holy Spirit if we don’t believe he is with us now, especially in interpretation?

Next up are the Historical Setting, Literary Features, an Outline of John, a Chronology of Jesus’ Ministry in John, Theological Emphases, and John’s Place in the Canon, all under 20 pages (‘light reading’ compared to Carson’s 90 pages and Michaels’ 42 pages). This brevity is seen all throughout K’s commentary. There is nothing wrong with a commentary being “long” (Keener’s two volume set on John is almost 1700 pages). But K’s brevity is immensely helpful when the pastor does not have the time to read and note 1700 pages, especially when we know K’s Hermeneutical Presuppositions are from a conservative, evangelical standpoint.

Commentary Conclusions

2.13-22; K takes the Temple clearing here to be the first clearing with the Synoptics showing a second clearing. This is located in the early part of Jesus’ ministry at the first of three Passovers. K doesn’t believe John rearranged the Synoptic material, but may “represent a ‘doublet,’ a certain type of event occurring more than once in Jesus’ ministry” (111).

4.23-24; The words in spirit and truth point John’s readers to worship in the Holy Spirit. True worship doesn’t consider the location, posture, or rituals, but of the heart and the Spirit. Stibbe says “True worship is paternal in focus (the Father), personal in origin (the Son), and pneumatic in character (the Spirit)” (157).

5.24-25; Contemporary Judaism considered eternal life to be a future event. Here Jesus states that believers have eternal life. “The pronouncement represents one of the strongest affirmations of realised (inaugurated) eschatology in John’s Gospel” (188).

7.53-8.11; In a short excursus entitled The Pericope of the Adulterous Woman, K looks at internal and external evidence and contends that not only is this passage not original, but that it should “be omitted from preaching in the churches” (248). K moves directly from 7.52-8.11.

15.1-6; While Israel was God’s vineyard (Isa 5), they only bore rotten fruit. Jesus is the True Vine who bears good fruit. Bearing fruit was “God’s primary creative (Gen. 1:11-12, 22, 28) and redemptive purpose (cf. John 15:8, 16) (452). The one who does not remain will be picked up and thrown into the fire (Jn 15.6; Ezek 15), with Judas being the prime example.

14.12; The disciples’ ministry and work being greater than Jesus’ is due to his completed “cross-work (12:24; 15:13; 19:30) and that it belongs to a more advanced stage in God’s economy of salvation [Mt 11.11; Jn 5.20] (433).

19.14,31; K contends that the Day of Preparation of Passover describes the week of Passover, not the “day.” It refers to the day of preparation for the Sabbath (i.e., Friday) of Passover week. It is not in conflict with the Synoptics.

20.22; The reference to receiving the Holy Spirit is a symbolic promise of the “soon-to-be-given gift of the Spirit.” The disciples receiving the Spirit in 20.22 would be in conflict with them receiving the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2. It would conflict with John’s earlier statements that the Spirit would be given after Jesus’ return to the Father. And, if they had the Holy Spirit, why did the disciples act so strangely in John 21? It’s best to conclude that “Jesus constitutes them as the new messianic community in anticipation of the outpouring of the Spirit subsequent to his ascension” (575).

21.1-25; John’s Gospel does not ‘really’ end on chapter 20, but 21. This chapter was not tacked on by another author, but is authentically Johannine. As an epilogue, it highlights the positive relationship between Peter and the beloved disciple, it identifies the beloved disciple as the Fourth Evangelist, and there are positive links in terminology between John 1-20 and John 21. The different Greek terms for “love” in vv15-17 don’t differ in the intended meaning (indicating no difference between phileo and agape).

The Spoiled Milk

K’s brevity is a two-edged sword. Where there is brevity and an ease of reading, elaboration remains lacking. Of course, we must remember this is an exegetical commentary in the BECNT series and not a necessarily theological commentary. While there is theology in there, K also has written a book on the Theology of John.

This commentary’s page length just breaks (exactly) 700 pages, which is less than the other Gospel commentaries in the series, and is quite less than non-Gospel commentaries (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Thessalonians, Revelation). This brevity means there are many verses that are merely touched on. In 10.29 K affirms eternal security, but gives it a mere two sentences with a following footnote quoting Morris and the apostle Paul (Rom 8.39).

In this volume, being an exegetical commentary, K is showing what the text says (for that is what exegesis is). But this series is also for pastors (and while this does include Greek-learned pastors), more elaboration of the Gospel’s theology would be appreciated by many.

K’s constant citations can seem more like parroting than being original. K covers a lot of ground in 606 pages (of actual commentary). Yet he often cites and refers to other commentators. This becomes a problem when combined with K’s brevity. It’s hard to find a paragraph that doesn’t have an in-text citation. The citations load the text up, making it harder for the reader to make out the text. Though K is an incredible scholar, it can seem more like he’s repeating the other commentators than drawing his own conclusions.

Recommended?

This is certainly an exceptional work on John from a conservative, evangelical standpoint (which is exactly what I would want). This is a great resource for both the academic and the teacher. Yet, even with K’s brevity, this would not be the first choice for a pastor. While exegesis is spot-on (I have a few mere quibbles), the brief explanation of the text leaves one wanting. Despite this, K explains John’s Gospel holistically and is always sensitive to context. It’s amazing to see how he always keeps the context in mind (especially true in his Theology of John). K is good, though I would say that Carson’s Pillar volume still holds the top spot.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (December 1, 2004)
  • Amazon: US // UK
  • PDF Sample Here

[Special thanks to Mark at SPCK and Trinity at Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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