Book Review: Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John (Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries)

Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, Notes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 425 pp. Pb; $32.   Link to Eerdmans

This commentary on John by F. F. Bruce is not new, but it is the first of nine commentaries in the new Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series. Some of these Classic commentaries were NICNT volumes replaced by new commentaries (Verhoef was replaced by Mignon Jacobs, Murray on Romans was replaced by Douglas Moo, for example). Eerdmans recognizes the ongoing value of these older commentaries and modern printing technology makes it is possible for publishers to keep older works in print. As the series preface observes, these commentaries have been used by pastors, teachers, seminary students, and are cited literary thousands of times by later works.

Eerdmans plans to republish these the following commentaries by the end of the year:

  • The Books of Haggai and Malachi, Pieter A. Verhoef
  • Romans (Shorter Commentary), C. E. B. Cranfield
  • The Epistle to the Hebrews, F. F. Bruce
  • The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray
  • A Commentary on the Revelation of John, George Eldon Ladd
  • The Gospel of John, Herman Ridderbos
  • The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris
  • John, Merrill C. Tenney

The first in the series is a 1983 commentary on the Gospel of John by F. F. Bruce. The text of the book is identical to the earlier edition so this is a true reprint rather than a second edition. Bruce had been studying the Gospel of John for more than thirty years when he wrote this book and now the book is another thirty years in the past. Although this means the bibliography is obviously out of date, few modern students of John’s Gospel interact with much of this secondary literature on John.

The body of the commentary offers short paragraphs on one or two verses at a time. Bruce provides his own translation of each verse and then comments on the text. Where Greek appears it is always transliterated. The minimal endnotes cite other major commentaries. In his preface, Bruce acknowledges his debt to C. H. Dodd and Barnabas Lindars appears often in the notes as well. One element of the commentary which may seem dated is the use of rabbinic sources in the endnotes. On a number of occasions Bruce cites the Talmud, the Exodus Rabbah, etc (p. 187, for example). In more modern commentaries these might be omitted since it is impossible to state that any given saying in these late sources has relevance for a first century Jewish context.

What is striking about the body of the commentary is how brief Bruce’s notes are. But this is the way commentaries were written at the time. It is refreshing to read a simple, well-written commentary which does not get bogged down in parallel literature, hunting for intertextual allusions or reception history. Also missing are homiletical pointers or attempts to “bridge the gap” between an ancient writer and a modern reader. This is what helps Bruce’s commentary to retain its value over the years. Bruce offers what is necessary to illuminate the text and allows the reader (pastor, teacher) develop appropriate application in their own context. It is refreshing to sit and read a commentary without the distraction of hundreds of notes to other literature. Although Bruce is not as minimal as J. B. Lightfoot’s John commentary, it will seem light to anyone who has read Craig Keener first. There is a place for the exhaustive commentary or for a commentary which traces reception history, or a commentary which closely studies Greek syntax and rhetorical features. It is, however, refreshing to read a clear and concise commentator like F. F. Bruce.

It is fair to question the relevance of a thirty year old commentary which has been replaced, but each volume of this new Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series is worthy of staying in print. Each generation of Bible student ought to have the chance to read the work of these scholars.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John (Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries)

    • That is a rare thing these days. It is in paperback, but all the typesetting was done three decades ago. That makes it a little less expensive to the consumer and Eerdmans makes a decent profit. Everyone wins.

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  1. Always associated FF Bruce with the book of Acts, the life of Paul, & Paul’s epistles. Last year I used FF Bruce’s commentary on John and thought it was incredible. Not surprised it was the result of 30 year’s of studying the gospel of John. It shows.

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    • Bruce’s 1988 Acts commentary is still in print in the NICNT series. He did a another commentary on the Greek text (Eerdmans, 1954). Apostle of the Heart Set Free is a classic “life of Paul.”

      I expect they will replace the Acts commentary eventually (if only there was a plucky blogger who they could get to write it…!)

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