Jobes, Karen H. John through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2021. 374 pp. Pb. $29.99 Link to Kregel Academic
Karen Jobes’s new volume in Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes series joins Andrew Le Peau’s Mark commentary (Kregel, 2017). Subtitled “A Background and Application Commentary,” the series is a basic commentary on the English text with a special emphasis on using the Old Testament to illuminate aspects a New Testament book.
Near the end of the book, Jobes observes “the Scripture of Israel are woven throughout the Gospel of John, though with a technique different from the other Gospels” (p. 319). Citing Richard Hays’s Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, John “simply and steadily presupposes the law of Moses and the words of Israel’s Scripture as the essential hermeneutical matrix for recognizing and understanding Jesus’s testimony” (p. 320). Jobes describes this as John’s “verbal artistry” (p. 24). She offers as an example Jesus changing the water to wine (John 2:1-11). As he tells this story, John has in mind the “symbolic value of wine in the Old Testament as a symbol of the messianic age and of blood” (p. 27). The six stone jars are an odd detail for most modern readers, but Jobes suggests an allusion to messianic imagery in 2 Baruch.
In her brief fifteen-page introduction to the Gospel of John, Jobes observes we cannot know for sure the author is John, the son of Zebedee, nor if the Beloved Disciple is John. However, she cites B. F. Wescott’s view the fourth Gospel was written by the disciple whom Jesus loved, by John the son of Zebedee with approval (p. 22). There is nothing in the introduction on often complicated theories of composition. In fact, she is clear in the introduction this commentary only briefly addresses the topics typically encountered in exegetical commentaries (p 14).
The body of the commentary proceeds through each chapter of John (except for John 15:26-27 which is included with chapter 16). The commentary is verse-by-verse, with occasional reference to Greek and Hebrew words (always transliterated). There is some interaction with secondary literature, although almost entirely in the endnotes. These notes include recent major academic commentaries and monographs. As expected, Jobes takes notice of allusions to the Old Testament.
There are three types of sidebars in each chapter, set apart from the main body of the chapter with a grey background. First, most chapters end with an overview of the section’s contribution to the theme of the series, “Through Old Testament Eyes.” For example, Jobes discusses the dignity of menial labor in the context of John 13 (Jesus washing his disciples’ feet). Commenting on John 15:1-17, Jobes discusses vine and vineyard imagery in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 5:1-7. Given the title of the series, it is curious there are no “Through Old Testament Eyes” sidebars in chapters 4, 5, 8 and 11.
Second, each chapter has at least one section entitled “What Structure Means.” For the most part, these sections discuss the outline of John and how the pericope in view fits into the overall context of the Gospel. There are occasional comments on Synoptic parallels or explanations of other literary features. For example, Jobes discusses the chiasm in John 4:4-42, which centers on true worship (p. 101). On one occasion she deals with a historical theological issue, the Filioque Debate.
Third, each chapter has at least one “Going Deeper” sidebar. Here is where Jobes deals with background details and practical implications of reading John through Old Testament Eyes. Some of these sidebars are theological in nature (the work of the Holy Spirit, p. 250-52). She discusses eating and drinking as a metaphor for faith (p. 144-45) and the sin of religious pride (p. 156).
This commentary does not attempt to point out the Jewish background to John’s Gospel as illustrated by the Mishnah and Talmud. For example, commenting on the six stone jars in John 2, Jobes discusses the regulations from Leviticus, but is not concerned with Rabbinic literature on utensils (m. Kelim 10:1, for example). Commentators tend to wear out their copy of Strack and Billerbeck to offer a “Jewish background” for details in John’s Gospel. Even her comments on the Jewish Festivals are grounded in the Old Testament rather than later traditions (p. 109, for example).
Conclusion. As series editor Andrew Le Peau observes in his series preface, although the commentary represents solid scholarship, Jobes does not write for an academic audience. There is no extended discussion of method or technical exegetical comments connecting some aspect of John’s gospel to a particular Old Testament passage. Occasionally the chapters seem frustratingly brief: John 15:26-16:33 is a mere eight pages, with no comments at all on 16:14-20, no sidebars on structure or “Through Old Testament Eyes.” In fact, two of the eight pages are a sidebar discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16..
However, John through Old Testament Eyes provides the reader with a basic guide for reading John’s gospel in the context of Israel’s scripture and Christian theology.
NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Published on Reading Acts, May 20, 2021