Herbert Bateman and Aaron Peer, John’s Letters: An Exegetical Guide

Bateman IV, Herbert W and Aaron C. Peer. John’s Letters: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching. Big Idea Greek Series Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2019. 441 pp. Hb; $36.99. Link to Kregel Academic.

This new series from Kregel Academic is an exegetical guide for busy pastors, overloaded professors, and students with demanding Greek professors. As Bateman and Peer explain in the introduction to the series, the authors do not make any assumptions that pastors will remember their seminary Greek classes (p.27). This book will be a helpful supplement for first-year Geek students translating John’s letters for the first time.

Epistles of John Exegetical GuideHerb Bateman wrote A Workbook for Intermediate Greek: Grammar, Exegesis, and Commentary on 1-3 John (Kregel, 2008) and thanks Peer in the preface for his years serving as Bateman’s teaching assistant. John’s Letters: An Exegetical Guide differs significantly from this earlier book. The workbook was exactly that; the book was intended as a supplement for reading through the epistles of John in Greek in a classroom. Pages were worksheets that guide the student through syntactical and grammatical questions. My copy of this book came with perforated pages which were three-hole punched so students could remove their assignments, turn them in, and then file them in a notebook. The big Greek idea series is a 400+ page hardback book, we should get a place alongside other exegetical commentaries on the library shelf. 

The book begins with a thirty-two-page introduction explaining what the authors mean by a causal outline. Although this is similar to Bill Mounce’s “phrasing,” Guthrie and Duvall’s “grammatical diagram, or Gordon Fee’s “syntactical display,” there are significant differences. Bateman and Peer focus on visualizing subordinate and coordinate clauses in order to tease out syntactical relationships, parallelisms and other grammatical emphases.  

In the body of the book Bateman and Peer break the epistles of John into units. Each unit begins with a “big Greek idea.” This is the main idea for the unit, reminiscent of Haddon Robinson’s “big idea” for preaching. The authors then provide a structural overview, a brief outline, and their clausal outline for the unit. This clausal outline appears in both Greek and English, interlinear style. Following this display, the authors move through the syntax word by word.  They identify each word grammatically, followed by the syntactical in semantic nuances of the word. This section cites BDAG frequently although there are few references to intermediate and advanced grammars in the section. Verbs are parsed and important uses of tense voice and mood are identified. Bateman and Peer often compare and contrast English translations when there are significant variations. 

Scattered throughout the text are gray boxes which the authors call “nuggets.” These are exegetical insights which will be convenient for a pastor with a little Greek who are looking for an insight to enhance their preaching and teaching. Thankfully, these insights are indexed in the back of the book. 

There are six categories of nuggets in the book, although sometimes these are combined in the text. These are phrased in the form of an answer to an exegetical question. First, grammatical nuggets highlight the function of particular Greek words. For example, how is the word “not” being used in 1 John 2:19 or is the significance of the personal pronoun in 1 John 4:6? 

Second, syntactical nuggets deal with the function of articles, prepositions and cases. For example, is the prepositional phrase in 1 John 4:17 anaphoric or cataphoric (looking forward or looking back)? Although this seems like a fine point of syntactical discussion, Bateman and Peer show why it is important that the prepositional phrase points back to the abiding relationship with God and imitating his self-love. Sometimes these syntactical notes discuss the finer points of Bateman and Peer’s clausal outlines. There are several notes on how a ὅτι clause is being used.  

Third, there are fewer semantical nuggets than the other types, and sometimes these are very similar to the syntactical notes. There are several on ὅτι clauses, for example. One reason this type is less frequent is the grammar of the Epistle of John is simpler than other books in the New Testament. Although Bateman and Peer discuss the meaning of the imperative in 2:15 and the pluperfect in 2:19, it’s just not that much tricky grammar in John’s Letters.

Fourth, lexical nuggets are brief word studies of key vocabulary in the Epistles of John. These insights usually survey the use of a particular word throughout the rest of the New Testament, or the Septuagint if necessary. There is little reference to the standard word study tools, such as TDNT, EDNT, or TLNT. These are listed in the bibliography, but don’t appear in the lexical nuggets. Although some readers may see this is a flaw, it is refreshing to see a word study done rather than a series of reports from other lexicons.

Fifth, there are a quite a few theological nuggets. For example, on 1 John 4:21b, there is some ambiguity regarding the antecedent of the pronoun him. This could refer to God or could refer to Jesus. The authors refer to this as “Trinitarian ambiguity.”  In 1 John 5:16 Bateman and Peer comment on the “sin not leading to death” and place it in the context of other Second Temple texts. 

Finally, there are several textual critical nuggets when a variant appears in the text. Here are the authors way the evidence from the UBS text, and often site Bruce Metzger’s commentary on New Testament textual criticism. Some of these are more brief than I expected. For example, on the classic text critical problem in 1 John 5:9 briefly explain that the Trinitarian language does not appear in the text route tradition until 1215 CE. Perhaps the brevity is the result of the goal of the volume; this is for pastors preparing to preach and teach the text. They do not need a multi-page discussion of the textual history of 1 John 5:9. 

Conclusion. There are several other series which do similar exegetical work as the Big Greek Idea series. The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament from B&H Academic is similar in some ways to Kregel’s series. See my reviews of Greg Forbes, 1 Peter (2014); Charles Quarles, Matthew (2017); John Harvey, Romans (2017). But Bateman and Peer have more on closet relationships, and intentionally attempt to assist the pastor in preparing to teach the text. Likewise, the Big Greek Idea series differs from the Baylor Handbooks on the Greek Text deal almost exclusively with grammatical and syntactical issues. There is nothing like Bateman and Peer’s causal outlines in Baylor handbooks. 

John’s Letters: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching will be useful for a pastor who is supplementing reading in a commentary on the epistles of John as preparation for preaching and teaching the text. Or, sadly, an over-worked seminary student who wants to get a little ahead in their Greek homework. This is the stated goal of the volume and in this it succeeds. Not every pastor has the time to read their text in the Greek Bible in preparation for a sermon, so this book bridges the gap between reading the New Testament books and the work found in quality exegetical commentaries.


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


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