Book Review: Craig Keener, John (ZIBBC 2A)

Keener, Craig. John. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary 2A. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2019. 251 pp. Hb; $29.99.   Link to Zondervan

This new commentary from Craig Keener replaces Andreas Köstenberger’s John commentary in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Ed. Clint Arnold, Zondervan, 2001). Unfortunately Köstenberger work contained “accidental plagiarism,” something Köstenberger himself has recognized. This led to the decision to remove Köstenberger’s commentaries from the Baker Exegetical New Testament Commentary (2004) and the ZIBBC.

The result of this is another Craig Keener commentary on John. His earlier commentary on the fourth Gospel (Hendrickson, 2003; now Baker Academic) was two volumes and 1242 pages of introduction and commentary, plus another 166 pages of bibliography and 225 pages of indices. The ZIBBC is much more concise at a mere 212 pages of introduction and commentary and 39 pages of endnotes and indices. As a result, this new commentary is a useful tool for laypeople and busy pastors who want to read the Gospel of John with added clarity.

Like other volumes of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary this commentary has only brief notes on the text, more than provided by a major study Bible. At the title of the series implies, the notes focus on cultural, historical, geographical, archeological, and literary backgrounds which may illuminate the text as one reads John’s Gospel.

As an example of a geographical note, Keener locates the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2) at the church of St. Anne’s in Jerusalem. The editors proved a photograph of the Jerusalem Temple model at the Israel Museum, an artistic reconstruction of the five-portico pool and a photograph of the remains of the pools as they appear to visitors today.

Throughout the commentary there are sidebars explaining cultural and theological issues. For example, Keener provides about a page of material on Second Temple Jewish mourning customs as the background for the mourners around the tomb of Lazarus (p. 114-15). He cites the Mishnah, the apocryphal book Judith and the pseudepigraphical book Jubilees. He provides two pages on the historicity of Jesus’s trial (p. 176-77), citing several texts from the Mishnah.

Keener frequently draws parallels to other Second Temple literature. As an example of literary background, on John 1:4 Keener points our Jewish teachers often associated life with wisdom, citing a series of Old Testament texts along with Baruch 4:1, Psalms of Solomon 14:2 and 2 Baruch 38:2. He includes a brief excerpt of each text since most readers will not have easy access to these books.

This short commentary on John provides the reader with sufficient background material for reading John’s Gospel in the context of the Second Temple period world. Advanced readers will find it too brief, but there are enough footnotes to point interested readers to more in-depth resources. Keener’s commentary will serve well as a supplement to personal Bible study or a small group setting.

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

Published on May 16, 2019 on Reading Acts.

Book Review: Grant R. Osborne, John: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  John: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 542 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

This short commentary on the Gospel of John by Osborne is part of his series from Lexham Press published simultaneously in both print and electronic Logos Library editions. Six commentaries were published in 2017 (Romans, Galatians, Prison Epistle, Revelation) with three more due in 2018 (Luke, Acts, 1 & 2 Thessalonians).

In the introduction to the commentary, Osborne argues for the traditional view John the apostle is the single author of the fourth Gospel. He also adopts the traditional view that the beloved Disciple is the author of the book, John. Although there are some other suggestions (Lazarus, a fictional character), Osborne does not find the objections sufficient to overturn the traditional view. Nor does he accept the once-popular “Johannine circle” view made popular by Raymond Brown. For Osborne, John was a brilliant writer who carefully constructed his Gospel to simply present the gospel of Jesus, but with a depth and complexity which is unrivaled in the New Testament. Osborne dates fourth Gospel dates to the early A.D. 80s from Ephesus. He argued in his Revelation commentary John the apostle also wrote Revelation in the early 90s from Patmos.

With respect to the purpose of the Gospel, Osborne is persuaded by the recent discussion among Gospels scholars dismissing the idea that the Gospel writers addressed issues within their own local communities. Rather, the Gospels were written for the church as a whole. Osborne sees John’s Gospel is particularly evangelistic, citing John 20:31 as primary evidence. He also points out the frequency of salvation language (faith, believe, eternal life, truth, etc.)

Osborne briefly comments on the historical reliability of the Gospel of John in his introduction, but often deals with John’s reliability in the body of the commentary. Even in the early church John was considered to be a “spiritual gospel.” Historical reliability is a problem for Johannine studies since John’s Gospel is so different than the Synoptic gospels. For example, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus’s Temple action takes place in his final week, but it occurs early in John 2:13-25. Although this seems like a singular event, Osborne accepts the recent suggestion from Craig Blomberg that Jesus made two protests in the Temple, one early in his career and a second one in his final week (p. 66). For Osborne, the emphasis on chronology in the fourth Gospel indicates it comes from an eyewitness who was interested in writing an accurate account of Jesus’s ministry.

The body of the commentary is divided into twenty-nine chapters following the outline in commentary’s introduction. Since one of the goals of the commentary series is to provide study notes for devotional reading or a small group Bible study, each chapter is limited to about fifteen pages. Although the series is subtitled “a verse by verse commentary, it is almost impossible to comment on every verse for a book the length of John and retain Osborne’s goal of a readable book for a small group. Usually his comments are on whole paragraphs, and this is almost always sufficient. There are some sections which need a word-by-word study (John 1:1-3, 3:16, for example).

Osborne includes a bibliography of important John commentaries he has used in the preparation of the commentary, but he rarely cites these secondary works and footnotes are used for additional information or cross-references (and are also quite rare in the book). This is not to say Osborne has not read widely on John. The simple, readable style of the commentary precludes the kind of detailed interaction expected in an exegetical commentary. He occasionally refers to the Greek text, but words appear in transliteration. Specialized vocabulary appearing in the glossary are printed in bold. Each chapter ends with a summary drawing theological and practical implications from the text.

Conclusion. As with the other commentaries in this series, Osborne’s Verse-by-Verse Commentary will serve pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne certainly achieves his goal of helping pastors to “faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” Although scholars may find the brevity of the commentary frustrating, this commentary will be an excellent guide for anyone who desires to read John’s Gospel with more insight and understanding.


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

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.

Book Review: Michael J. Buckley, What Do You Seek?

Buckley, Michael J. What Do You Seek? The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 158 pages; pb. $18.00   Link to Eerdmans

This short monograph collects fourteen short meditations on questions asked by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Many of these questions are recognized as programmatic in the Gospel of John. For example, Buckley draws his title for the book from the first question Jesus asks in the book. In In John 1:35-38, the first words Jesus speaks in the book asks two disciples following him, “What do you seek?” The Gospel of John returns to this theme frequently as people seek something from Jesus (healing, living water, bread from heaven, etc.) In his final question in the Gospel Jesus asks Peter, “Peter do you love me?” (John 21:15-16). Jesus’s question demands a response just as the whole Gospel of John demands a response from its readers.

Buckley’s short reflections on the text focus on the challenge issued by Jesus’s questions. For example, his comments on Jesus’s question to Peter in 21:15-16 concern forgiveness. He devotes two chapters to questions asked in the passion narrative, “what shall I say, save me from this hour?” and “shall I not drink this cup?”) On occasion the meditation ranges far from the original intention, such as in John 2:3-4, when the wedding runs out of wine Jesus asks his mother, “What has this to do with us?” Buckley uses this question to address concern for the suffering and responding to those in need. Perhaps, but Jesus used the opportunity to reveal something about himself by providing wine at a wedding. When Jesus asks his disciples “how can we buy bread” (John 6:5), he reveals something about himself as “bread from heaven,” but Buckley develops an application from the text about the unpredictability of the power of God and our weakness in service. Since this book is devotional reading, these applications are inspiring and challenging even if they seem tertiary to the text.

The book is rich in allusions to classic literature (many citations of T. S. Eliot, Dostoyevsky), philosophy and especially classical of western spirituality (St. John of the Cross, Cardinal Newman) and a few nods to modern scholarship (Bultmann, Barth, and Raymond Brown). Buckley reflects his Roman Catholic background (pp 34-24, for example) but this is not at all distracting.

Readers will be challenged by Jesus’s questions and Buckley’s thoughts on these questions.

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


Book Review: John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven

Under an Open HeavenJohnson, John E. Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2017. 256 pp. Pb; $15.99. Link to Kregel

John Johnson has served as a pastor and a professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary in Portland. This blend of experience serves him well as he presents thirteen conversations from the Gospel of John. Each chapter is a meditation on an encounter with Jesus in the fourth Gospel. Johnson uses this conversation to present the theology of John’s gospel in a personally challenging way. Some of the conversations are with seekers (Nicodemus and the woman at the well), people seeking healing (the blind men), and others with people antagonistic toward Jesus (his brothers and the Jews in John 8:30-59, even Pilate in John 18:28-19:11).

Johnson presents enough historical and cultural detail (although not exegesis) to set the story in its proper context. For example, he explains the Jesus’s unusual response to his mother in John 2:4 or the clear parallels between Nicodemus and the woman at the well, or the contrasts between the two blind men in John 5 and 9. But since his goal is not to write a fully researched commentary on John, many details are overlooked. For example, there is far more to say about the Feeding of the 5000 than “pointing to a better meal” (116), or the quantity and quality of the wine Jesus provides in John 2 than “Jesus can be so generous” (50). Still, Johnson’s goal is a devotional reading of the text, it is not fair to expect him to fully tease out all of the theological implications of John’s Gospel.

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion. Johnson also maintains a blog which touches on some of the topics in this book.

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




Book Review: J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary

Lightfoot, J. B. The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 3; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 317 pp Hb; $40.00.   Link to IVP

In the last two years IVP published the first two volumes of newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. With this commentary on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter all of manuscripts discovered by Witherington have been published.

lightfoot-corinthainsCompared to the other two volumes in this series, the commentaries on 2 Corinthians or 2 Peter are brief and fragmentary, 2 Corinthians runs about seventy pages and 1 Peter has a twenty page introduction with a mere nineteen pages of commentary with the notes breaking off in 1 Peter 3. Many of the comments on 2 Corinthians are simply textual notes with only a word or two of comment. Chapter 9, for example is about a half-page of text.

Since the commentary is less than 100 pages, the editors have included several additional essays by Lightfoot to round out the volume. As an introduction to 2 Corinthians commentary Lightfoot wrote a “Pauline Prolegomena” on the chronology and context of the letter. The essay interacts with a German text on Pauline chronology by Wieseler published in 1848, although these pages take the form of notes on Wieseler’s work.

Following the 1 Peter commentary are several appendices. The first is an essay on the mission of Titus in 2 Corinthians originally published in The Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology (1885). This essay was originally collected in Biblical Essays (1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). The second appendix is a reprint or some lectures notes on “St. Paul’s Preparation for Ministry” (1863), also reprinted in Biblical Essays. Appendix three is a sermon preached in 1877 on 2 Corinthians 3:6 entitled “The Letter Killeth but the Spirit Giveth Life.” The sermon was preached at St Paul’s in Cambridge and collected in an 1893 volume.

The fourth appendix reprints “Lessons of History from the Cradle of Christianity.” Witherington had discovered this essay among Lightfoot’s papers, although a later edited version was published in the Durham University Journal in the 1980s. This manuscript was handwritten timed essay, eventually edited and published (and subsequently reprinted in the Durham University Journal in 1987).

Appendix five reprints “The Christian Ministry.” This 90 page essay first appear in Lightfoot’s commentary on Philippians. As Witherington comments in his note, editing this lengthy essay was the last scholarly work undertaken by B. F. Wescott, longtime mentor and friend of Lightfoot. This edition includes several pages of notes from Lightfoot not included in my copy of his Philippians commentary (Zondervan reprint, 1973).

Appendices six and seven essays evaluating the contribution of Lightfoot published in a 1992 Durham University Journal celebrating the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. First, C. K. Barrett’s considers Lightfoot as biblical commentator and James Dunn offers an essay looking back at the influence of Lightfoot, especially his commitment to historical inquiry. Initially this took the form of responding to D. F. Strauss. Lightfoot calls Strauss a “mythicizer” who dismisses the search for historical truth in the biblical records as hopeless. Lightfoot strenuously disagreed and sought to study early Christian with historical rigor, believing there is nothing to fear from the “full light of science and criticism” (cited by Dunn, 307). I find this a less-than-common attitude among conservative biblical scholars more than 100 years after Lightfoot.

Conclusion. When I reviewed the previous volumes in this series, I asked why a modern reader care about a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? That IVP Academic would be interested in reprinting the notes for commentaries never completed by a scholar who died more than a hundred years ago is a testimony of the influence Lightfoot had on scholarship. That Ben Witherington and Todd Still would devote effort to organize the volumes is a significant testimony to Lightfoot’s long shadow over contemporary biblical studies, even if that influence is not always recognized.

My main criticism of this volume is that these are not newly discovered commentaries, but brief notes which Lightfoot may have later used to write a commentary. The bulk of this book are reprinted essays by Lightfoot and two celebrating his legacy. This does not limit the value of the three volumes of this series published by IVP Academic. The series is a fitting tribute to an important scholar and will serve as worthy introduction of Lightfoot to many younger students of the Bible and early Christianity.


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

What Do the Seven Thunders Say in Revelation 10:3-4?

The Mighty Angel stands in his place and speaks.  The speech is described as the roar of a lion, and he is answered by the “seven thunders.” This description is significant for several reasons. It is the only place in Revelation where an angelic messenger speaks, but the words are not recorded.  Why is the shout described in this way, and not recorded?

First, thunder is a stock metaphor for divine speech. In the Hebrew Bible, the voice of God is often described in terms of thunderous noise (2 Sam 22:14/Psalm 18:3; Job 37:2-5). It is possible thunderous speech is related to the description of the Lord as the “lion of Judah” (Amos 1:2, 3:8). Occasionally angels have voices like thunder, such as 3 Baruch 11:4, and in The Odyssey, Zeus speaks like thunder.

3 Baruch 11:4 And while we were waiting, there was a noise from the highest heaven like triple thunder. And I Baruch said, “Lord, what is this noise?” And he said to me, “Michael is descending to accept the prayers of men.”

So he spoke in prayer, and Zeus the counsellor heard him. Straightway he thundered from gleaming Olympus, from on high from out the clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. (The Odyssey, 20.100-104).

Why are there “seven thunders?” Psalm 29:3-9 has a seven fold description of the voice of God as thunder (although the word “voice” is not repeated seven times.)  There is a rabbinic tradition that the voice of God was heard as seen thunders on Mt. Sinai (Exod. Rab. 28:6).

As John prepared to write the content of the words spoken by the thunders, a “voice from heaven” prevents him. John is told to “seal up the vision” and not write it down. The source of the voice is not identified and it is common in Revelation for John to hear an unidentified voice from heaven. Given the background texts where a divine voice sounds like thunder, perhaps this is the voice of God prohibiting John from writing what the thunders said.


The way the command is given is odd: he is told to seal up the vision (which would imply keeping it a secret), but also not to write anything down.  If he had not written the words, what is the point of also sealing the scroll?  There is a tradition in Jewish apocalyptic of a person being given revelation but forbidden to share it. David Aune suggested this ensures that prophet alone knows the information, making him “wiser” than his readers.  It was a mark of authenticity to hold back a little revelation from the readers, if you gave it all then perhaps there were skeptics.

So what did the seven thunders say? Obviously we cannot know since it is still a secret, but John may have been given another series of judgments like the seals, trumpets, and bowls. He was told not to record this series for some reason. Caird suggested the reason John is told not to record the content of the visions is that God “cancelled” the judgments out of his grace and mercy (Revelation, 126-127). This would mean there were four sets of seven judgments, one set was set aside, perhaps an allusion to the four sets of curses in Leviticus 26:14-46.

Book Review: J. B. Lightfoot, The Gospel of John: A Newly Discovered Commentary

Lightfoot, J. B. The Gospel of John: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 2; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 317 pp Hb; $40.00.   Link to IVP

Last year IVP released the first of three newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. IVP plans one more volume collecting Lightfoot’s notes on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.

Lightfoot JohnWhen I reviewed Lightfoot’s Acts commentary, I asked why would anyone care to read a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? For some modern readers, Lightfoot’s legacy has been forgotten.  But the mid-nineteen century, Lightfoot was considered one of the foremost scholars of his day. The editors of this book begin their introduction with the words of William Sanday: “No one could match Lightfoot for ‘exactness of scholarship, with the air addition, scientific method, sobriety of judgment and lucidity of style.’” His commentaries on the Galatians (1865), Philippians (1868) and Colossians (1875) are often reprinted and his work on the Apostolic Fathers was the standard until the Loeb edition by Krisopp Lake.

The forward to Lightfoot’s John commentary is nearly identical to the Acts forward and the Editor’s Introduction only adds three pages specific to Lightfoot on the Gospel of John. Witherington points out that Lightfoot had often lectured on John at Cambridge and was deeply concerned at the negative impact the higher criticism of F. C. Baur had on the study of John’s Gospel. Although it was unusual for a British scholar to be too concerned with German scholarship, Lightfoot read Baur and others seriously and sought to defend the authenticity of John’s Gospel against the protestant liberalism of his day.

For this reason the commentary includes a lengthy discussion of the external and internal evidences for the authenticity of John (pages 41-78) as well as two appendices reprinting articles published posthumously in Bible Essays (pages 205-66, external evidences, pages 267-325, internal evidences; Macmillan, 1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). More than a third of this commentary is devoted to answering challenges to John’s authenticity by the Tübingen school popular in the late nineteenth century.

Unfortunately the body of the commentary only covers the first twelve chapters of John. After a short note on the meaning of Logos (pages 80-86), the commentary proceeds as does Lightfoot’s other published commentaries. He begins with a brief summary of the pericope followed by short notes on Greek words and phrases of interest. After this commentary, there are a few pages of notes on the Greek text itself, commenting on textual variants and suggesting solutions. As Hengel comments in his appendix to this book, Lightfoot’s academic method was based on the recovery of the text of early Christian writing (p. 333). Compared to modern commentaries (Keener on John, for example), the comments are indeed sparse.

There are at least two reasons for this. First, this is an unpublished set of notes, not a full commentary. If Lightfoot had intended to finish this commentary, the notes would have been expanded, although not as much as demanded by modern commentary buyers. Second, commentaries produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century focused on helping a scholar to read the Greek text of the Bible. Notes on textual variations and translation issues were the stuff of commentaries, with little or no interest in historical background or theology. Lightfoot was not uninterested in those issues, but the commentary was not the place to deal with background or theological issues.

Perhaps the most interesting section of this commentary is a reprinted article by Martin Hengel on Lightfoot and German scholarship on John’s Gospel” (p. 326-58). Originally printed in the Durham University Journal (1989) on the occasion of the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. As Witherington points out, Hengel himself was a historian and linguist at Tübingen, although he was far more sympathetic to Lightfoot’s views than F. C. Baur. Hengel offers a brief history of David Strauss and F. C. Baur and their approach to the Gospels, especially John. Baur famously dated the book to about A.D. 170. For Baur, Valentianian, Montanism and Gnosticism were “historical background” to the Gospel of John (p. 329).

By the time Lightfoot entered Oxford’s Trinity College in 1847, the influence of the Tübingen School was at its height. Baur would outlive Lightfoot by 8 years. Lightfoot’s work on the Apostolic Fathers was considered a “nail in the coffin” of Tübingen (p. 336) and his excursus on Paul and James in his Galatians commentary “the most important contribution to the Tübingen controversy” (337). Lightfoot did not engage in polemics, but built a positive argument for the authenticity of John, as is evidenced by the detailed material in this commentary.

Hengel’s essay also includes an assessment of Lightfoot’s influence on scholarship in England. Some considered him a representative of unbelief on par with Voltaire and some compared him to the antichrist (p. 352)! Ironically his commentary on John is now published by an evangelical publisher and Lightfoot is presented as a premier biblical scholar who stood against the inroads of protestant liberalism of his day. Hengel points out that Lightfoot not only remained a faithful member of the Church and “wore himself out” serving as both bishop and scholar (p. 342). It is a sad commentary on attacks on real scholarship done within the church by conservative Christianity in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Perhaps this is the best reason to read Lightfoot’s commentaries today.

Conclusion. Like Lightfoot’s newly discovered commentary on Acts, this commentary is a valuable contribution to the history of scholarship on the Book of John. In some ways it is dated since few scholars would argue along with Baur today that John is the product of the late second century. Yet Lightfoot’s model of Christian scholarship is important for a new generation of students of the Bible.

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

Book Review: Ruth B. Edwards, Discovering John

Edwards, Ruth B. Discovering John: Content, Interpretation, Reception. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 272 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans

This book joins Ian Boxall’s Discovering Matthew as the first volumes of a new (or rebooted) Discovering the Bible series from Eerdmans and SPCK. The series intends to be a “comprehensive, up-to-date and student friendly” introduction to the books of the Bible. Edwards originally published this book in 2003, so this is a second edition even if the fact is not noted on the cover the book. As Edwards comments in the preface to this second edition, in the ten years since the original Discovering John was published, a number of significant commentaries have appeared. She has attempted to update this second edition with as much as this new material as possible.

Edwards_Discovering John_wrk 03.inddThe book breaks into three sections. The first five chapters cover what is normally included in an introductory text (authorship, purpose, audience, place and date of composition, etc.), but also a short chapter on reading strategies for John’s gospel. Edwards’s study is based on the historical-critical method but she fully understands the contributions of literary, social, historical and religions settings for illuminating the text of John (22).

With respect to authorship, she weighs various views on the Beloved Disciple as the author, and concludes there no proof for any specific individual in early Christianity. He is not the author of the Gospel, but the person the author uses to enhance the reliability of the Gospel (32). She reviews the Johannine Community hypothesis and concludes the Gospel would have been produced in the context of a community, but this codes not imply the Gospel was intended only for that community (53). The Gospel was written sometime between 75-95 CE to a Jewish Christian community in Asia Minor or Syria.

With respect to the historicity of John’s Gospel, Edwards recognizes it is “a well-nigh impossible task” to find Jesus’ exact words even in the Synoptic gospels (43). John’s Gospel is not a historical archive of Jesus’ words and deeds, but a “dynamic interpretation of how the Gospel’s author(s) understood him in the light of the Holy Spirit’s guidance (44). More could be said on the cultural content of John’s Gospel as an accurate reflection of Jewish life and religious practice in the first half of the first century.

The next four chapters of the book deal with the Christology of John. First, miracles serve as a catalyst for faith in Jesus (60). Although Jesus is a healer and worker of miracles, John intends his readers to see Jesus as the inauguration of the new eschatological era (71). Second, there are a number of Christological confessions in the Gospel which serve as a kind of “narrative theology: reinforcing the signs (85). Each of the titles given to Jesus in the Gospel contribute to John’s Christology, culminating in Thomas’s “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). Third, in the Passion and Resurrection narrative, Jesus is presented as willingly submitting to the cross as the means of his glorification (99). The cross is not a humiliation inflicted on Jesus, but the very reason he has come into the world. Fourth, Edwards discusses John’s prologue as a presentation of Jesus as the Word Incarnate. Jesus as Logos associations him with both Creation and Revelation; Jesus is the agent through whom all things were made as well as the agent of God’s revelation in the Gospel. As the Word of God incarnate, the “Only Son is the Father’s Exegete” (110). John 1:18 claims Jesus made known the Father, but as Edwards points out, the Son explains or interprets the Father, focusing on the verb exegoumai.

The final four chapters deal with some special issues in John’s gospel. First, Edwards surveys the characters in John’s story. She divides this into male and female disciples. Do the male disciples function as “ideals” or role models for the later church? Do they represent future Christian leaders and the rivalries of the early church? She concludes they do not, in fact, nothing in John connects Peter with “Jewish Christianity” or the Jews at all. The so-called rivalry between Peter and John is not an accurate portrayal of their relationship (119).

Edwards approaches the difficult problem of Anti-Semitism in John’s Gospel by first examining John’s use of the word “Jews.” Bultmann, for example, thought the term was always used for “representatives of unbelief.” Edwards does not think this can be sustained since not all Jews in the Gospel are “ignorant, deceitful and unbelieving” (134). Certainly the Gospel is confrontational and paints the Jews as Jesus’ opponents, but this is not unique to John’s Gospel either in the New Testament or in Second Temple Judaism (137-8). The Qumran community refereed to their rival Jews as “Sons of Darkness” who would be destroyed when the messiah comes. This sort of language is not anti-Semitic, but rather the language of the prophets.

A related issue is potential “Replacement Theology” in John’s Gospel. Jesus certainly challenges some aspects of Second Temple Judaism, but Edwards concludes he does not attack Jewish worship nor is there a clear replacement of Jewish practice with Christian practice. John depicts Jesus as a Jew and writes his Gospel in order to appeal to both Jews and Gentiles (148). More problematic is John’s claim that Jesus is God. There are hints throughout the Gospel that Jesus is divine, but they remain hints. The “I Am” statements, for example, may disclose who Jesus is, but that is not always obvious. John is not setting Jesus up as a separate deity who is a rival to the Jewish God (as if one should worship either the Jewish God or Jesus). As Edwards points out, John in not unique in the New Testament in calling Jesus God, both Paul and the writer of Hebrews refer to Jesus with divine language.

In the final chapter, Edwards suggests a number of reasons John’s Gospel has value for the Christian reader today. These short meditations attempt to draw on John’s Gospel as a source for “being Christian” today. The book concludes with two excurses, the first on the text of John, the second on the problem of “eyewitness” testimony in John.

Conclusion: Edwards’s introduction to John’s Gospel is a brief introduction to many of the key issues one encounters when studying the Fourth Gospel. She fairly presents major view on controversial topics without prejudicing her own view. This book would be an excellent textbook for a university or seminary class on the Gospel of John, but is written at a popular level so most readers will find it enjoyable. I look forward to future installments of this series (Discovering Genesis, Iain Provan and Discovering Romans, Anthony C. Thiselton are scheduled for 2016).

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

L. Scott Kellum, Preaching the Farewell Discourse

Kellum, L. Scott. Preaching the Farewell Discourse: An Expository Walk-Through of John 13:31-17:26. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 350 pp. Pb; $29.99.   Link to B&H AcademicClick here for a 51-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and introductory chapter.

Rather than a commentary on John 13:31-17:26, this book is primer for expository preaching. Kellum laments the “unmistakable and disturbing gap between our hermeneutics and are preaching” (p. 5). While there are excellent books on either homiletics or hermeneutics, rarely does a handbook intended for students include both a hermenutical method and homiletical practice.

Kellum, Preaching JohnMany preachers assume that they are doing exposition because they are preaching through a book of the Bible. Kellum suggests this is a mistake, since it is entirely possible to “dismember the application of the passage” through poor exegesis. Even if someone preaches through a whole book of the Bible, they may not be doing “expositional preaching.” I have heard many sermons based on a passage of Scripture having little to do with what the text was actually saying. Usually the sermon was topical, with only a slight nod to the passage.

Kellum’s goal in this book is to move from text to sermon. In order to do this he traces a basic hermeneutical strategy in his introductory chapter. Beginning with the reading of the text, he describes how to identify the genre, and shows how proper identification of genre assists in the exposition of a text. He encourages pastors and preachers to make their own “pragmatic translation of the text,” including observation of textual variants. While a pastor should not discuss textual variants from the pulpit a good preacher will inform his congregation of these matters in some other teaching environment. Kellum only briefly discusses word studies, making the usual sorts of warnings about avoiding cognates, anachronisms and using the whole range of a word. He offers an example of a proper Greek word study used to illustrate the meaning of the text (p. 20).

With respect to historical context Kellum suggests the expositor investigate the perspective of the original writer as well as the writer’s “mindset.” Backgrounds can be as dangerous as word studies. For example, it is a mistake to find Gnostic ideas in Colossians. He therefore encourages the expositor to investigate cultural environment, relevant political civil and religious institutions primarily to illuminate the text. Kellum briefly describes setting a particular text into a canonical context focusing on where the particular story fits into the overall plot of the Bible which he calls covenant dimensions.

In order to prepare to proclaim a passage from the pulpit, he suggests identifying the “main idea of the text” (MIT). Once a simple statement of the main idea is clear, this MIT is converted to the “main idea of the message” (MIM). After identifying the main idea of the text and the main idea of the message, the expositor should begin to find illustrations and applications for the text. I suspect many preachers find a good illustration first, then look for a good passage to preach from. With respect to illustrations, Kellum first suggests other biblical texts. He does encourage personal anecdotes, observations, news reports, biographies, historical allusions and finally statistics. He warns about the overuse of statistics as illustrations since these are often are skewed and intended to create some sort of fear in the mind of the hearer.

Chapter 2 of this book is a highly detailed approach to analyzing the literary structure and flow of the passage. He begins at the book level by examining the whole outline of the book of John. Once the preacher has determined a passage to preach on (in this case the Farewell Discourse), Kellum describes how to determine the boundaries of the passage using conjunctions, indicators of time and space, summary statements, rhetorical questions etc. He describes this as a “point of departure.” After determining the boundaries he offers a highly detailed linguistic flow chart in order to track the movements of the passage. This looks a great deal like discourse analysis, similar to Steve Runge and the new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series.  While Kellum says this method is helpful to track the flow of the text, I find it extremely difficult to follow and may not yield the same level of results for me as it does for Kellum.

After laying this hermeneutical and homiletical background home offers a chapter over viewing the farewell discourse. Chapters 4 through 7 of the book constitute examples of his method applied to particular sections of the Farewell Discourse. First, he examines John 14 “commands that comfort,” then John 15-16:4c, “Commands that unite.”  In his third unit, Kellum describes the “advantages of Jesus’s departure” (John 16:4-33) and Jesus’ final prayer (John 17).

Each chapter offers an example of “relational structure” for the passage, demonstrating the method Kellum developed in his second chapter. Following this chart, he provides a brief analysis of the text in order to indicate the limits of the section. He then steps through the text making brief interpretive comments. This is not a full commentary, but are intended to be examples of how an expositional sermon might deal with some of the details of the text. Finally, Kellum outlines each unit in “sermon sketch.” Here is gives the “main idea of the text” and “main idea of the message.” A brief introduction and sermon outline. He occasionally includes illustrations (although there are more in the appendix to the book) and conclusion to the sermon. As Kellum makes clear in the introduction, these are examples of how an expositional sermon might develop a text and should not be confused with a critical commentary. He is not claiming these sermons are the only way to approach the text, but are the results of his own prayerful study of the text following the method outlined in the first two chapters of the book.

Kellum concludes his book with two two appendices. First, he gives a list of the tools an expositor needs in order to preparing for the study of any text. Kellum offers his opinion on English Bibles and other language tools, Bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, introductions, chart books and commentaries. He briefly comments on both Systematic and Biblical theologies and other communicator’s tools. For example, most public speakers want to have access to a good dictionary for the purpose of using words properly. However, he warns there is nothing more irritating than someone saying “Webster defines righteousness as…” I agree wholeheartedly: a Greek lexicon for biblical words not an English Dictionary (p. 233). He concludes the section by offering some comments on the use of the Internet and some warnings for using Wikipedia. Most of these are fairly common sense. I found it interesting he included a valuable resource such as Google books since it contains many older commentaries which may be used freely. As the author warns, many of these commentaries are quite old, limiting their value to the expositor.

He briefly comments on choosing a Bible program such as Logos, BibleWorks or Accordance. He warns that there are several mistakes and expositor can make when using Bible software. First, do not think Bible software is perfect. They all rely on human data entry and mistakes can be made. Second, language tools are useless unless you know the basics of the grammar. Knowing a verb is in the aorist tense is of no help whatsoever if you don’t know what the aorist tense is. “Being unfamiliar with the program’s terminology might result in some bizarre heresies.”  He also warns about being satisfied with a single search. Computer program can only search what you tell it to search so there is some skill needed in knowing how to get a program such as log onto recordings to give you the data that you want.

The second appendix is “a sermon series through the farewell discourse.” This appendix is almost 100 pages in includes sermon outlines, main idea of text, main idea of message, introductions, conclusions, and suggested illustrations useful for preaching through this section. Kellum has written out the introductions and conclusions fully, but hopefully no one will read these verbatim as part of their own sermons. They intended as a model for how to do expositional preaching. I found this appendix strange since it often reproduces the text verbatim the main chapters of the book. For example the outline on page 156 is identical to the outline on page 283; the only differences I can see are the illustrations. Perhaps there is a better way to present this material that does not increase the size and cost of the book.

Kellum conclude with a select bibliography useful for studying the book of John as well as several hermeneutical texts. Like his appendix on basic tools, this section is a kind of ‘buyer’s guide” for seminary students. This “expository walk-through” will be useful in a homiletics class, but any pastor or teacher who wants to polish their expositional skills will profit from reading this book.


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