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Review: John (ZECNT)

The Gospel of John is a favorite among many. Rather than reading short bits of narrative with generally short teachings, John is filled with long teachings and little narrative (take John’s Farewell Discourse, which extends from John 13-17!). John is shallow enough for a child to understand, but deep enough for scholars to spit out huge tomes and never know all that John means. Since each generation needs fresh exegesis, Edward Klink has given us his interpretation of John’s Gospel in the new ZECNT series. Klink reveals his theological cards early on in his 54 page introduction:

“‘Scripture’ is a shorthand term for the nature and function of the biblical writings in a set of communicative acts which stretch from God’s merciful self-manifestation to the obedient hearing of the community of faith.” While such language might not be common vernacular in an introduction to an exegetical commentary, it should be, for the object of interpretation demands to be treated according to its true and sacred nature. Not to treat this Gospel as Scripture is itself a form of eisegesis, and it is a disobedient hearing of the (canonical) text’s own claim and of the God by whom it was authored. (25)

Klink notes that the Scriptures have their own genre—holy Scripture. The way God (or, here, the Gospel) speaks determines how we read Scripture:

  1. The Gospel speaks in time-and-space history, and history must remain subservient to the God of creation.
  2. The Gospel speaks in literary form, and the words must stay subservient to the Word.
  3. The Gospel speaks about the things of God, and theology must be defined by the person and work of God himself, the true subject matter of the things of God. (25)

Our doctrine of Scripture guides us to see God through “the work and person of Jesus Christ by the empowering Holy Spirit” (31).

Klink doesn’t try to historically reconstruct the event of John’s Gospel (besides John 2.1–11), because “each Gospel must be interpreted for the individual Gospel’s role or contribution to the one gospel, not in a manner that combines their events but in a manner that prepares to hear in unison their individual roles in the symphony of the gospel” (36).

Klink says (rightly) that the Bible is not a window to what is inspired; it “is the locus of revelation” (29). Our texts do refer to historical people, places, and events, but rather than seeing the Bible as a window to the inspired events, in God’s Word “God is giving divine commentary on his own actions in history” (29). “The meaning is derived from the text which speaks about an event” (34).

Commentary Divisions

The ZECNT commentaries divide each section into seven parts: Literary Context, Main Idea, Translation and Graphical Layout, Structure, Exegetical Outline, Explanation of the Text, and Theology in Application. I giver a fuller explanation of each section on my review of Grant Osbourne’s Matthew volume. Though I don’t always find the Translation and Graphical Layout section to be helpful, each of the other sections, especially the Main Idea (which compresses the passage into a brief sentence) and the Theology in Application (and which brings out helpful insights), are extremely useful.

Klink’s Interpretations

I can’t rehearse all Klink says, but here is a taste.

1.1: “The Word” is not common in the NT as a reference to Christ. John explains his use of the term throughout John’s whole Gospel (87).

Klink distinguishes historical contexts, narrative contexts, and cosmological contexts. In 7.27-28, Klink says

The reverberations from the prologue are crying out to the reader, who is well aware that Jesus is the Word-become-flesh, the light of humanity, the one “from above,” who was “in the beginning” with God. The cosmological identity of Jesus, so visible to the reader, remains completely veiled to the Jerusalemites. The one these interlocutors call “this man” the reader has been told is “God” from the very beginning of the Gospel (1:1). (370)

In the historical sense, the Jewish leaders know his physical ancestral lineage. In the cosmological sense, “they have no idea who he is or whose ancestral lineage they have challenged by their unbelief,” and within the narrative, Jesus rebukes their unbelief and prideful opposition to him. They should know better.

12.40:God is the cause of the unbelieving response to Jesus, not merely the judge of it.50 If the depiction of God as the cause of unbelief makes God look unjust, we must look not for resolution in the doctrine of God alone but in the presentation of God provided by his Son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly exemplifies the mercy and grace of God” (560). 

John 17: The pericope of John 17 “concludes Jesus’s farewell speech by setting the theological (cosmological) context of Jesus’s entire ministry and the work God will continue to do” (705).

Other Matters

Outside sources?

In his section on “Text Verses Event” (34-36), Klink says the location of revelation “is not the event behind the text but the text as Scripture, so that revelation is located in the text in a manner that includes not only the recorded account but also the interpretation . . . of the account” (34). As he goes on to argue, the author has included specific events, themes, and words for a reason, and as well that same author has decided not to include other events, themes, and words.

Klink says “To try to reconstruct what is not revealed in Scripture, unless the text gives implicit warrant, potentially creates a different story than the narrative.” (35). The author has already given us his perspective on the event in his narrative; why go looking for another perspective?

While I agree that “There is no better place from which to access what is real and true than from the words of Scripture,” and that “the reader is actually in a preferred position, beyond even those who were present at the historical event,what does this mean when it comes to using other documents to place the text in its historical timeframe (36)? Is it to the scholar’s detriment to use ANE documents to understand the thinking of the ancient Israelite? How much of the intertestamental period are we to (or not to) understand?

I am in much agreement with what Klink says here, but because he doesn’t give a specific example as to what he means (such as those seen in my questions above), I’m not sure how far to take what he says. Right now it appears to me that it is helpful to read historical documents (such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Greek and Roman writings, etc.) to situate us in the 1st century AD thought-world with the knowledge that Scripture is the revelation from God and of God.  

Recommended?

There are an enormous amount of commentaries on John, do we, do you, need another one? I’ll be honest, I haven’t read most of them, but “every generation must exegete Scripture in and for the church” (11). Klink emphasizes the use of one’s imagination (cf. John 7.1–13), and this is something that many theologians, commentators, interpreters, pastors, and Bible teachers need to learn (myself included). Imagination is required both in application and in interpretation. Klink’s commentary reminds me of Mark Seifrid–by looking at the text as a whole unit within the whole canon, Klink is able to see through and around the exegetical issues. He brings in nuances and twists of words (3.5–7). Klink is a humble interpreter, and he has written this volume primarily for pastors, bible teachers, and students. I hope this volume will be read widely.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Author: Edward W. Klink III
  • Hardcover: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (December 6, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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The Paraclete

What does “Paraclete” (παράκλητος) mean? In an in-depth look at “the Paraclete” in his commentary on John, Edward Klink says that the term for the Paraclete occurs only five times in the NT, and all five of those occurrences are within John’s writings (14.16, 26; 15.26; 16.7; 1 John 2.1), and the search for an equivalent Hebrew term is a lost cause.1 Klink notes the various ways Paraclete is translated in different translations: “Comforter” (KJV), “Advocate” (NRSV; NEB; JB; NIV), “Counselor” (HCS), and “Helper” (NASB; ESV).

The traditional scholarly opinion has been to see παράκλητος as having a legal or forensic meaning—thus, the term “advocate.” Yet scholars admit that John adds to this meaning by giving the word the connotations of “teacher” and “helper.” To define παράκλητος as “advocate” forces the word into one narrow definition from what John actually means. Some scholars have pushed back against the legal language saying that the term is “better interpreted . . . [for] a prophetic role or office.”2 While the term “‘could appear in legal contexts’ . . . when it did it was used ‘as a supporter or sponsor.’”3 Inevitably translators will have to choose one word as the primary meaning.

Klink, on the other hand, doesn’t translate παράκλητος, but transliterates it as the Paraclete “to avoid limiting or muting aspects of the identity and multifaceted function of the Paraclete that are core to its (his) identity.”4 Instead of looking to a historical or religious background to understand the Paraclete, Klink prefers to look to the foreground. John, and thus, Jesus, is teaching us about the Holy Spirit (John 14.26). He is developing a doctrine for his readers.

“The figure and function of the Holy Spirit cannot be defined by the history of religions, for it requires not only sensitivity to the Gospel’s own multifaceted portrayal but also the foregrounding depiction from the rest of the biblical canon — the primary source for offering a conceptual interpretation of the Spirit’s person and work.”5

In this in-depth section Klink gives three aspects of the Paraclete for his reader to understand ahead of time.

  1. The Paraclete is still to come.

John 14.26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Holy Spirit comes (proceeds) from both the Father and the Son and will do so soon at a future time. But the Spirit has surely been at work prior to the future point of his coming (cf. 1 Cor 12.3).

“It is significant that the Paraclete can only come when Jesus departs (16:7), for it suggests that his coming is a direct consequence of the saving work of Christ without which he could have no place or function at all. The Paraclete is therefore symptomatic of the era to come in the new covenant and the new life in Christ, the Spiritual life.”6

  1. The Paraclete has a special relationship to the disciples. “Without exception, the functions ascribed to the Spirit are elsewhere in this Gospel assigned to Christ.”7
    ..

    • All will know the Paraclete just as the disciples had the privilege of knowing Jesus (14.7, 9).
    • The Paraclete will indwell the disciples and remain with them just as Jesus is to remain in and with the disciples (14.16–17, 20, 23; 15.4–5; 17.23, 26).
    • The Paraclete as the Spirit of truth (14.17; 15.26; 16.13) will teach and guide the disciples into “all the truth” (16.13), just as Jesus is the truth (14.6; cf. 1.14).
    • The Spirit bears witness to Christ (15.26) and glorifies Christ (16.14), just as it is Christ from whom the Paraclete receives what he makes known to the disciples (16.14).8
  1. The Paraclete has a unique role in the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16.8). The world cannot “see” Jesus (5.43; 12.48); the world cannot see the Paraclete. The legal/forensic language comes in to play here because the Paraclete is both witness to Jesus (15.26; 16.14), but he also assists “the disciples in their witness in the world, since his witness takes place through their own.”9 The Paraclete is the Spirit of truth (14.17) who points to the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life; 14.6).

The Mission of the Trinity

There is an extremely close relationship between the Paraclete and Jesus. Not only do they share (some of) the same functions, but Jesus expressly states that the Paraclete is “another Helper” (ἄλλον παράκλητον; 14.16).10 Jesus too was a Paraclete, albeit one different from the Spirit (cf. 1 John 2.1).

Here we see how the Son and the Spirit can belong together (as God) and participate in the same work (the mission of God) and yet be different persons and have different assignments or functions, thus allowing for a distinction in purpose, a unity in function, and an equality in essence. And the relationship among the Trinity is gifted to us by means of the Spirit—the Paraclete, for at his departure (cross, resurrection, ascension) Jesus gives us “a share in his filial relationship with the Father by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”11

The title Paraclete “refers to the ministerial office of the Trinitarian God in the world, occupied by both the Son of God and the Spirit of God.”12 It refers to both the Spirit of God and to the Son of God, the one who is “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known,” Jesus Christ (1.18). This Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him. The Father sends the Spirit to his people in Jesus’s name (14.26). It is in this intimate relationship that believers—people, humans—are included. In fact, Jesus concludes his prayer to the Father by saying “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17.26). Jesus is in believers, and the love which God shows to his Son is shown to his sons and daughters in Christ.


1 Edward Klink, John (ZECNT), 632.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 632-33.

6 Ibid., 633.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 “The adjective ‘another’ (ἄλλον) signifies ‘another of the same kind.’” (634).

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., 635.


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The Farewell Discourse (John 13-17)

What is Jesus’ farewell discourse and why did John place it in his Gospel? The farewell discourse has a long history of interpretation, and Klink sets out to place this substantial discourse into its proper literary place in John. In his commentary on JohnEdward Klink suggests that there are four substantial monologues in John’s Gospel:

  1. The Identity of (the Son of) God (5:19–47)
  2. The Shepherd and the Sheep (10:1–21)
  3. The Hour has Come (12:20–50)
  4. The Farewell Discourse (13:31–16:33)

All four of these monologues occur during Jesus’ public ministry. The monologues “provide robust insight into the identity of Jesus and the work given to him from the Father.”1 As well, the monologues carry along the plot, “depicting in great detail God’s own argument and explication of his person and work in the world.”2 In one way, the farewell discourse is just another monologue, but Klink argues that the farewell discourse is much more complex than that. It is not a typical monologue. “Like the Gospel as a whole, the farewell discourse employs ‘a composite of various literary forms.’”3

Klink refers to the farewell discourse as “bilingual”— it is a dialect of the testament genre (see below), and it speaks with several other Jewish and Greco-Roman literary idioms.

The Testament

Most scholars agree that the farewell discourse illustrates a common literary pattern called a testament. Testaments are found in the OT in the farewell and blessing of Jacob to his children (Gen 47:29–49:33), Joshua’s farewell to Israel (Josh 22–24), and David’s farewell speech (1 Chr 28–29), and even the book of Deuteronomy.4 We can see a larger use of the testament genre in the intertestamental period with the pseudepigraphical work Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Klink quotes Raymond Brown on the origins of the testament genre: “The common situation is that of a great man who gathers together his followers (his children, his disciples, or the people) on the eve of his death to give them instructions that will help them after his departure.”5 John’s farewell discourse has many parallels with “farewell” speeches, but there is more going on here than just a testament. Klink describes two other “pressures” that distinguish the farewell discourse from the testament genre.

Dynamic Movement

Relying on the observations of Parsenios, Klink notes that the farewell discourse relies on “dynamic movement”:

In the standard testamentary farewell scenes, there are no exits; the speakers typically wait for death to come to them on a deathbed (see e.g., Gen 49:33). In the Fourth Gospel, by contrast, the entire farewell discourse, stretching from 13:1–18:1, is centered around two dynamic exits, that of Judas at 13:30 and that of Jesus, announced at 14:31 and executed at 18:1 . . . . These exits are readily recognizable in ancient drama, however, where exits and entrances profoundly affect narrative development.6

Exits can create a frame around a scene or a specific character (like an inclusio) to emphasize a certain theme or teaching.7

Ancient Consolation

Consolation literature used “therapeutic methods” to console their audience, and usually so because of an impending death. Klink lists three main functions of consolatory literature.

  1. With the knowledge that the beloved speaker will be departing, a replacement is offered to the remaining group. It is through this replacement “the departed figure remains present. In John the replacement is ‘another paraclete’ (14:16), who is the functional presence of Jesus for his disciples (14:18 – 21).”8
  2. The sorrow that would come from such a loss (e.g., think of the sudden loss of a parent, spouse, child, or friend) is preempted because it is predicted beforehand. Because of this the disciples can prepare themselves for their future loss of Jesus. “In John the departure of Jesus and the trials to follow are clearly articulated and explained (15:18 – 16:4).”
  3. Those who are left (i.e., the disciples) are encouraged to remain faithful since the pain of grief can lead one to give up hope and abandon one’s task. “In John the disciples of Jesus are exhorted to remain and bear fruit (15:1 – 16).”9

Not only does the farewell discourse proper (13:31 – 16:33) offer all three of these consolatory elements, but befitting ancient consolation even further, the entire farewell section of the Gospel (13:1–17:26) also contains the opening context of a symbolic meal (13:1–30) and a closing “prayer of departure” (17:1 – 26).10

The Reason for the Farewell Discourse

By the time Jesus gives his farewell discourse, his public ministry has ended. He “gathers his intimate disciples around a symbolic meal and instructs them for the last time concerning his person and work and their corporate identity and work as his disciples.”11 Jesus will soon be leaving. He will be beaten, mocked, and crucified, but he knows he will be resurrected and will ascend to the Father. “Jesus addresses their questions and fears, but he also exhorts them to stay the course, which involves remaining in him by the Spirit.”12 With his death on the horizon, “Jesus uses the farewell discourse to explain what is to come and where he must go.”13

Although he will be gone, Jesus explains his departure in two ways.

1. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to the Father, and in his absence he prepares a place for his disciples (14.3–6). He provides the route—the path—they will take by pouring out his Spirit upon them to walk in the way of the Lord—to die to themselves and serve others. He leaves so that the disciples can eternally be with the Christ and the Father whom no one has ever seen.

2. Jesus’ absence “allows him to be more fully present with his disciples (14:18; 16:7).”14

Only after his departure will he and the Father come and make their home with them (14:23), enabling the disciples to do greater works (14:12), to pray effectively by the use of his name (14:13–14; 16:23–24), and to be intimately united with him (15:1–11), having his peace (14:27) and sharing in his suffering (15:18–21) and ultimately his victory (16:33).15

The future is bright, though it must first be darkened. What is to come is good and necessary. It is part of God’s plan and mission to the whole world (Gen 12.1–3). The farewell discourse is given to guide Jesus’ disciples through the dark skies of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and death to his post-resurrection appearance and after his ascension to the Father. There will be a “new dispensation of God and his people,” which will now include Gentiles into the one who is the true vine (John 15:1).16

Outline for the Farewell Discourse

The discourse proper consists of six significant and developing thematic statements by Jesus . . . that are framed by what is functionally a prologue (13:31–38) and an epilogue (16:25–33).

The Farewell Discourse (13.1–17.26)

A. Introduction: The Love of Jesus (13.1–30)

B. The Farewell Discourse (13.31–16.33)

Prologue (13.31–38)

STATEMENT 1: “I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14.1–14)

STATEMENT 2: “I Will Give You the Paraclete” (14.15–31)

STATEMENT 3: “I Am the True Vine” (15.1–17)

STATEMENT 4: “I Have Also Experienced the Hate of the World” (15.18–27)

STATEMENT 5: “I Will Empower You by the Paraclete” (16.1–15)

STATEMENT 6: “I Will Turn Your Grief into Joy” (16.16–24)

Epilogue (16.25–33)

C. Conclusion: The Prayer of Jesus (17.1–26)


1 Klink, 58.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 571.

4 “The entire book of Deuteronomy can rightly be described as Moses’s farewell speeches to Israel” (571). Both Deuteronomy and John demonstrate their respective covenants “between God and his people (Deuteronomy, the old covenant; John, the new covenant)” (571).

5 Ibid., 572.

6 Ibid.

7 Judas’ exit in John 13:30 signals “that what follows is the beginning of the farewell discourse, with its conclusion signaled again when Jesus himself exits at 18:1” (572).

8 Ibid., 573.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Klink, 574.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Klink, 575.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.


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John’s Prologue

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (The Hobbit).

The beginnings of narratives provide us clues, purpose. They can lead us to expect one thing before unveiling the blinders over our eyes. They can provide pivotal information that we need for the rest of the story. If you read The Lord of the Rings, but skip The Fellowship of the Ring, you will, frankly, be utterly lost in Isengard without a compass.

The beginning of The Hobbit reveals that hobbits, like humans, love comfort. But as the story goes on, this hobbit, in particular, remains in no such cozy hobbit holes. He will later find himself stranded in such holes in which the ends of worms and oozy smells would bring him the greatest delight if he could see them only once more. Anything beats dragon breath.

John’s prologue is a guide to the remainder of his Gospel. If you miss this, you’ll be as lost as John’s characters. In ancient Greco-Roman writings, “prologues were often used to introduce the important characters in the narrative, situate them within the story, and give some understanding of their importance” (84). Prologues explained the “seen” and “unseen” forces that were at play throughout the drama.

Morna Hooker explains that prologues provided “vital information that would enable [the audience] to comprehend the plot, and to understand the unseen forces — the desires and plans of the gods — which were at work in the story” (84). Rather than reveal the plans of the Gods, John explains “the desires and plans of the God” (84). 

The prologue is not mere background information, for it is a guide to the drama. With John’s story of Jesus, “the reader is provided with comprehensive inside information about the origins, identity, and mission of ‘the Word’ (1:1, 14), a figure subsequently described as Jesus Christ (1:17)…. John’s Prologue places the reader in a position of privilege while the characters in the narrative remain in the dark” (Skinner, 9-10).

John’s prologue is not mere theological abstraction that comes right out of the ether. It is connected to the real events that take place throughout the drama. It explains the “unseen” forces in the midst of the “seen.” If Jesus is the unique Son of God, why do so few believe him, and why do so many of Israel’s leaders want to kill him?  He [the “true light”] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1.10–11). “Thus, the prologue is guiding the reader to see the invisible (God) in the visible (historical persons and events)” (85). 

There are two strands in John’s plot: the visible and the invisible. The first strand is the historical setting. Jesus, a real person, comes to tabernacle among God’s people in first-century Israel. In the second strand, “The setting of this second story is not Palestine in the first century but the cosmos in eternity itself. Interestingly, the cosmological story is the very first thing introduced to the reader” (85). It is in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus where both strands reach their climax. Jesus is the stairway to heaven, greater than what Jacob saw. He will ascend to the very real Father and send his very real Spirit to his physical disciples who will preach the message of the King who forgives sins.


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