Book Review: Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. Second Edition. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 282 pp. Hb; $40.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Colin Kruse published his original Pillar commentary on the Letters of John in 2000. This second edition brings the bibliography up-to-date, lightly edit the text, and include the NIV 2011 as the English basis of the commentary.

Kruse, Letters of JohnNot much has changed in the introduction to the book. As all commentaries on the Letters of John must do, Kruse sets out a likely scenario for the writing of each of the three letters. Kruse assumes a close relationship between an early form of the Gospel of John and the Letters, and that the Beloved Disciple is responsible for that early version of the book. The beloved disciple is a member of a community of believers in and around episodes in the Roman province of Asia. After the early form of the fourth gospel was written, some members of the community begin to express views about the person and work of Jesus unacceptable to the author of the Letters. This sharp disagreement led to the secession of those who held the new views (1 John 2:19). We’re leaving the community these secessionists organized a group of itinerant preachers to circulate their beliefs among the community’s churches. First John is a circular letter sent to these churches to encourage the readers and (indirectly) challenged the teachings of the secessionists. Kruse suggests the Beloved Disciple died sometime during or after the writing of the three letters, and the final form of the Gospel of John was complete.

The introduction includes a new paragraph drawing several parallels between the letters of John and the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3 (5). Citing Robert Yarbrough’s 2018 commentary, “there may be a need to rethink the consensus that there is no historical setting for John’s letters.” For Kruse, a case could be made for some o of the seven Asian churches as part of John’s community. Another brief addition is a short paragraph on non-polemical views of the letters (Jobes, following Lieu) and a note to two recent articles.

An addition to this new edition of the commentary is a short summary of the paragraph and the text of the section from the NIV (2011). The body of the commentary proceeds through the text verse by verse, occasionally breaking verses into sub-sections. All Greek appears in transliteration, both in the main text and in footnotes. Kruse’s commentary is expositional, focusing on lexical and theological issues, although occasional textual critical issues appear in the footnotes. The Letters of John are not a difficult grammatically, so Kruse rarely needs to explain difficult syntax. More important in this commentary is John’s usage of words like righteous/just, advocate, faith, antichrist, etc. At the end of each pericope is a new Theology summary for each pericope. These helpful summaries are no more than a page drawing out a few implications of the exegesis.

I noticed several new footnotes interacting with recent articles. For example, commenting on the phrase “born of God” in 1 John 2:28, Kruse has added a note to Menken’s article in Novum Testamentum (2009). The body of the commentary is unchanged by this added note. In another example, Kruse as altered the commentary and added a reference to Roy Ciampa’s 2010 Novum Testamentum article on John 1:7 in Codex Alexandrinus. There are many new footnotes adding a quotation from historic commentaries drawn from the Ancient Christian Commentary (vol. 11, edited by Gerald Bray).

There are a few editorial and cosmetic changes in this new edition. Sections headings are clearer in the introduction. The text describing rhetorical categories is reformatted and much easier to read. The outline for the 1 John is also reformatted so the chiastic structure is clear. In the first edition, words drawn from the verse were printed in bold, the second edition abandons this practice (except on pages 55-7 and the top of page 67). I noticed the early edition started sentences with “1 John,” these have been changed to “First John.” The excurses are now numbered and indexed separately (p. ix). There are two new excurses: “A Note on ‘Children,’ ‘Fathers’ and ‘Young Men’” and “A Note on God’s Invisibility.”

Conclusion. This is not a major revision of the original commentary. Since 2000, several major commentaries have appeared: Akin (NAC), Bray (ACCS), Jobes (ZEBTC), Parsenios (PCNT), Smalley (WBC, revised edition) and Yarbrough (BENTC). Other than Bray’s Ancient Christian Commentary, these new commentaries appear only rarely in the notes. Jobes is not listed in the index of modern authors at all, although she appears in at least one footnote. However, this new edition uses the New International Version (2011). Unlike the original edition, the text of each pericope appears before the commentary section.


Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke
Colin Kruse, Romans
Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians
Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus
Peter T. O’Brien, Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

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

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