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Here is a link to three reviews of Craig Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1 on Review of Biblical Literature. Keener’s commentary is a a masterpiece, the introduction is at least three or four monographs worth of material.
Richard I. Pervo is quite complementary, despite a careful review of Keener’s view of the value of the history of Acts. Even though Keener does not accept Pervo’s view on Acts as Novel, Pervo finds much in this commentary similar to his own thinking. Pervo argues in this review that “every episode should be evaluated for historical worth on its own merits,” rather than resorting to literary or historical theories in each case. For the most part Keener does not interact with Pervo since his work was more or less finished by the time that Pervo’s commentary was released.
Joseph B. Tyson looks more closely at Keener’s approach to “Acts as an apologetic historiography.” As he states, it is hard to judge how this will work out in the commentary since the only the first two chapters are included in the first volume. But it is clear that Keener is willing to accept more as historical than most modern commentaries, especially miracles. ”to dismiss claims about miracles is a Western ethnocentric, largely academic, worldview and that an unbiased approach would consider their possibility,” writes Tyson. This is not really a surprise since Keener has also written a lengthy defense of miracles.
Daniel L. Smith is a bit less complimentary, finding that the length of the book makes for difficult reading, with “occasional redundancies and repetitions.” The commentary is “cumbersome at times” yet still in many ways “fresh and appealing.” Despite any misgivings, Smith still describes the commentary as “the result of the careful, balanced work of a senior scholar.”
All the more reason for you to invest in Keener’s first volume on Acts!
The latest Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters (Fall 2012) arrived today. The theme of the issue is Galatians. The Journal opens with two articles on Salvation History in Galatians, Bruce Longenecker, “Salvation History in Galatians and the Making of a Pauline Discourse,” and Jason Maston, “The Nature of Salvation History in Galatians.” Both these articles argue that Paul does in fact have some idea of “salvation history” in Galatians, Matson is especially focused on Martyn’s classic commentary on Galatians and the more recent contribution by Martinus De Boer on the NTL series. De Boer responds to both articles, arguing that “In his letter to the Galatians, Paul has no interest or stake in saying positive things about the law” (114) nor is Paul interested in “articulating a notion or theory of salvation history with respect to the people of the law, Israel” (105).
The issue also contains an article on the Lev19:18 as a Christological witness in Gal 5:14 by Michael Suh. The article argues for an intertextual reading of the verse which “resonates with the larger context of Lev 19” (115). By alluding to the verse and omitting the phrase “I am the Lord,” Paul is able to claim that Jesus is the Lord of Lev 19:18.
Todd Still contributes a short article on Galatians as an apocalyptic story, combining the apocalyptic reading of Galatians found in Martyn’s 1997 commentary with the narrative substructure approach found in Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ. All apocalyptic literature asks., “what time is it,” Paul’s answer in galatians is that it is time to start living out the Gospel. Still comments that Paul is “gob-smacked that the Galatians, who have been baptized into and had ut on Christ (3:27), would even contemplate, much less commit, to living in a B.C. way in an A.D. day” (141).
Joel Willitts interacts with the proposal of Matthew Novenson that the word “Christ” in Galatians ought to be understood as Messiah (“Davidic Messiahship in Galatians: Clearing the Decks for a Study of the Theme in Galatians.”) After reviewing Novenson’s Christ Among the Messiahs (Oxford, 2012), Willitts attempts to clarify and extend Novenson’s argument, testing the proposal in an exegetical study of Gal 1:1-4. “When we read Galatians with Davidic eyes,” says Willitts, “Gal 1:1-4 brims with Davidic elements” (160). Novenson briefly responds to Willitts in the following article, although the two are largely in agreement.
The journal includes a summary of Stephen Carlson’s dissertation on the Txt of Galatians and a review article of two recent Galatians commentaries (Martinus de Boer and Thomas Schreiner), by Peter Oakes and Roy Ciampa.
If you have not subscribed to Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters, you are missing out on a wealth of quality scholarship. This issue contained seven serious articles on Galatians, 184 pages in all. If this was a volume of essays published by Brill it would cost ten times as much.
The final week of the year is the time when the blogosphere makes there “top ten” lists for the year. I suppose this should be entitled, “top ten books I have personally read this year and found quite useful.” If you are reading this blog, you probably have a sense that my top ten are not going to jive very well with the Amazon top religious books of the year or the top Christian best sellers. (I am just not that into soft-core Amish romance novels, sorry.)
As a result, this list is completely focused on me and my interests, and is probably “Grand Rapids-centric.” Living in the same town as Eerdmans, Baker, Zondervan and Kregel helps to expand one’s library. An additional complication is that there are quite a few books I only discovered this year but are in fact a few years old. These “new to me” books are not included on this list.
As always, these are just my opinions, read Jim West’s recent comments on these sort of “best of 2012 lists.” There are many more of these sorts of lists cropping up around the blogosphere. For example, here is a great of books which differs from mine considerably from Scot McKnight at JesusCreed, or Joel Watts at Unsettled Christianity.
Mark J. Broda and J Gordon McConville, Dictionary of Old Testament Prophets. All of the IVP Dictionaries are worth having, this one finishes out the series. Concise introductions to all the biblical prophets, several with “history of interpretation” sections. There are excellent bibliographies at the end of each entry. One problem, there are now two dictionaries in this series which can be abbreviated DOTP. This bothers my OCD just a bit.
Second Temple Period
A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, ed. Henze. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. This is a collection of essays covering biblical interpretation from the Hebrew Bible through the Second Temple Period, including Qumran and the Hellenistic Judaism of Philo and Josephus.
George Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam. 1 Enoch: The Hermenia Translation. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. This is technically not a new book since the translation appeared in the Hermenia commentary on 1 Enoch, but the publication of just the translation in a handy (and inexpensive) format is welcome. I look forward to picking up a few more in this series, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, for example.
New Testament: Gospels
Frederick Dale Bruner, John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. Sometimes reading a commentary is a chore, but Bruner’s style makes for easy reading. I particularly like the beginning of each section where he collects a few excellent quotes from a wide range of commentaries on John.
Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012. I reviewed this book for a journal and it was a very enjoyable read. Pennington describes a theological – narrative hermenutical method which could be applied to any narrative portion of scripture. He does not dismiss historical studies, but favors a reading of the Gospels which stands on the foundation of history but also attempts to apply the text to the present church.
Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, Second Edition. Downers Grove, Ill. Inter-Varsity Press, 2012. This has long been my favorite book on parables and it is good to see a “substantially revised” edition.
New Testament: Acts
Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012. This is monster commentary with 638 pages of introduction to the study of Acts and commentary on the first two chapters of the book, for a total of 1038 pages. The volume comes with a CD-ROM containing indices and bibliography – a PDF file with another 426 pages! Since I am teaching Acts this semester, I expect to have a number of posts through the winter and spring based on my reading of this book.
While not as epic as Keener, Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012) is worth a look. It is another huge commentary on Acts, part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. I list it here
Darrell Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. This forms a sort of conclusion to Bock’s BENTC commentaries on Luke and Acts and is similar in approach to Köstenberger’s Theology of John (2011).
New Testament: Paul
Colin Kruse, Romans. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. I reviewed this commentary more in-depth in August. I have found all the Pillar commentaries I have used useful, and it is nice to see a commentary which is not over 1000 pages.
Constantine R. Campbell. Paul Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. This is a thorough study of the idea of being “in Christ” in the Pauline letters. Large sections of this book are detailed exegetical studies of prepositional phrases like “in Christ,” “through Christ,” etc. The chapter on Pauline metaphors for union with Christ is worth the price of the book alone.
New Testament: Revelation
Paige Patterson, Revelation. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012. This recent addition to the NAC series is somewhat unique in today’s crowded field of Revelation commentaries since Patterson attempts to read Revelation from the perspective of a premillennialist as well as a pretribulational Rapture. It is strange to say that this is unique, but most recent commentaries have dispensed with this sort of thing (Fee, for example). I include it here since I think there is a need for a pre-mil, pre-trib voice on Revelation.
Zondervan is giving away a copy of the ZECNT volume on 1-2 Thessalonians by Gary Shogren and all you have to do is tell them who the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2 is by leaving a comment on the Koinonia site.
This brings to mind a great new way to solve theological debates. Blogs can give away a prize to whoever can solve the Synoptic Problem or explain who those people were who were raised to life in Matthew 27:52-53. We just need to find a prize big enough to bring in the heavyweights in to leave comments.
Anyway, Zondervan is kind enough to give away a copy of this fine commentary, leave a comment and / or retweet the page for a chance to win. Fortunately I posted by thoughts on this passage a few weeks ago, so Reading Acts subscribers have an inside track.
Here is a great “community price” deal from Logos, thirty “classic” books on Parables (and miracles, a few on the Sermon on the Mount), currently priced at $30. My experience is that these things usually do go for the suggested price, making the cost a dollar a book. A few of these might be overpriced at $1, but the volume by H. B. Swete is good (a series of lectures at University of Cambridge in 1908). I would like to at least read Siegfried Goebel (1883, T&T Clark, 480 pages). The two books by William Arnot are both substantial volumespublished in 1893. A. C. Gaebelein is an early dispensationalist and the book is really a booklet / pamphlet. At the very least he represents a form of dispensationalism that is all but dead almost 100 years later. I do not recognize many of the names, for $1 a book I will at least look them over.
All thirty are out of print and (likely) all available through Google books, but the Logos format is worth paying for (searching, indexing, etc.) My guess is that a few are egregious allegorizors, A. B. Bruce for example “builds on the foundation of Trench.” But I bought the set for Swete and Goebel alone, and I enjoy comparing approaches on Parables – these thirty are not in my library and I will enjoy reading them in the Logos format.
When Logos gets enough “bidders” they will produce the books, there is no charge until they ship the books via download. Check out the list of books, and bid what you want.
The second issue of the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament is now available at the JESOT site. This journal is free to download in PDF format, printed copies are available through Wipf & Stock (link goes to vol 1.1, 1.2 is not yet on the website).
Articles in Issue 1.2 include:
- “The Election and Divine Choice of Zion/Jerusalem” by DAVID B. SCHREINER
- “Wisdom Incarnate?: Identity and Role of (“the Valiant Woman”) in Proverbs 31:10-31? by JISEONG KWON
- “Abraham’s Tamarisk” by MATTHEW UMBARGER
- “The Gibeonite Revenge of 2 Sam 21:1-14: Another Example of David’s Darker Side or a Shrewd Monarch?” by BRIAN NEIL PETERSON
- “Correlation of Select Classical Sources Related to the Trojan War with Assyrian and Biblical Chronologies” by RODGER C. YOUNG and ANDREW E. STEINMANN
There are a number of book reviews, I am particularly fond of the one on Isaiah 40–55 by R. Reed Lessing. You can still download the first journal as well.
I am reading a paper on Wednesday morning at the national Evangelical Theological Society meeting. Since the paper is at 8:30 AM on the first day of the conference, and no one has any idea who I am, my guess is that it will be lightly attended. I have put the paper up on Academia.edu, if you are interested in reading it: Who are the “Many Who Will Come From the East and West”? (Matthew 8:11).
Here is the introduction:
In this brief logion in Matt 8:11, Jesus states that “many will come from the east and west to recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” That Jesus is alluding to a banquet or feast at the beginning of the eschatological age seems clear. The idea that Lord himself would prepare a banquet at the beginning of the eschatological age appears as early as Isa 25:6-8 and is found in several Second Temple Period texts. The saying appears in two different contexts in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew it is attached to a miracle story in which a Gentile demonstrates great faith in Jesus (Matt 8:5-13), but in Luke it is attached to s response to a question, “are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:22-23).
The problem this paper seeks to address is the identity of the “many who will come from the east and west.” The vast majority of interpreters understand this verse to refer to Gentiles. By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written many Gentiles were in fact coming to faith in Jesus the Messiah. The saying is therefore thought to be an allusion to the success of Gentile mission at the time the Gospel was written.
But this reading of the saying does not take into account the context of Jesus’ mission in Galilee. Jesus does not draw Gentiles into his table fellowship nor does he specifically target Gentiles at any point in his ministry. It is therefore the contention of this paper that the “many who will come” are Jews who are on the fringe of society, the very ones who do respond to Jesus’ message.
The Religion section various news outlets have all covered the story of a new fragment written in Sahidic Coptic which implies (kind of, but not really) that Jesus had a wife, presumably Mary Magdelene. Remarkably the DaVinci Code still gets name-checked in these articles. I think that it is quite silly that a legitimate news outlet could state “The text is being dubbed ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” citing a PDF copy of a paperwritten by Karen L. King of Harvard. This is a draft of a paper which will appear in the Harvard Theological Review in January.
If you are interested in the fragment, read the paper – it is well written, includes a transcription of the fragment and has judicious conclusions. The paper states quite clearly that the fragment does not prove Historical Jesus had a wife. It is a fragment, “measuring c. 4 cm in height by 8 cm in width,” with 8 complete lines on one side, 6 on the other. All lines are fragmentary so reconstruction is necessary. Since the fragment is small and does not say that much, King’s article is a good introduction to Gnostic literature in general and how Gnostic Literature uses marriage imagery. The bottom line is that this fragment is interesting, but adds little to what was already known about Gnostic thinking the second and third century.
Does this fragment tell us anything about historical Jesus? No, and I do not think that the document, if we had the whole thing, would claim to be making historical statements about Jesus. This is not a lost or suppressed tradition about the way Jesus really lived, it is a bit of theology from the fringes of early Christianity. That alone makes it interesting, but it cannot be trotted out as evidence for the Real Jesus. As King herself concludes, “our papyrus is much too fragmentary to sustain these readings with certainty” and that the late date “argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus.”
The NBC News story interviews Ben Witherington and links to Jim West and James McGrath. Two observations are in order here. First, Witherington is a generally conservative voice, yet his scholarship has drawn the attention of a “big news” organization. I like this trend and would like to see more voices from conservative scholars int he media – perhaps even an evangelical or two. I cannot imagine Darrell Bock has nothing to say about the fragment. Second, that two scholar-bloggers are cited is an indication that the biblio-blog community should be taken seriously as an outlet for real scholarship. Given the format of a blog / website, scholarly response to these sorts of media frenzies are much more swift than a journal article, which may be published months later, long after the media has moved on to something else.
Introduction. Revelation commentaries can be frustrating to many readers because they do not always answer the questions people have about the final book of the New Testament. There are some excellent commentaries on Revelation, but a great many more which are just plain bad. I have commented in the past about reading Revelation as an example of apocalyptic literature which uses metaphors and other imagery to convey some sort of “literal truth.” The problem is that most people are not very good at interpreting metaphors in the context of the first-century Greco-Roman world. A good commentary will help unpack these metaphors, a bad one will twist the metaphor around and make it something unintended by the author.
Presuppositions are a major factor for selecting a commentary on Revelation. If one assumes that the book is about the future return of Jesus, then the imagery in the book takes on a prophetic value. If one assumes that the book is a veiled description of events of the first century (whether the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 or persecution of Christians later in the century), then there is no “future” in the book. It is possible to read the book as a graphic description of the struggle between good and evil at any time in history, so that there is nothing in the book which is specifically predictive. (I have several posts on futurist, preterist, and idealist interpretations of Revelation.) Most recent commentaries reject a single view of the book preferring to blend two views, producing a commentary which grounds Revelation in the first century yet emphasizes the value of the book for every Christian throughout church history even to the second coming of Jesus.
One aspect of Revelation commentaries which might be frustrating is the preoccupation with John’s allusions to the Hebrew Bible or other Second Temple Period literature. This is certainly true for Aune and Beale. Both of these books are rich with potential allusions to other texts, often listing dozens of possibilities. Older commentaries are not as worried over the allusions to older books and some (especially evangelical) commentaries are not interested in parallel material in 1 Enoch or other apocalyptic literature. While I continue to find this sort of work fascinating, it is possible that the “search for allusions” has run out of steam.
David Aune, Revelation (3 Vol.; WBC; Dallas: Word, 1997). At more that 1200 pages, this commentary is the most detailed written in the Word series on any book and sets the standard for Revelation commentaries for years to come. His exegesis of the Greek text is excellent. He places the book in the context of the first century and demonstrates that much of the imagery in Revelation is at home in the apocalyptic writings popular among Jews and Christians at the end of the first century. He offers detailed textual comments and syntactical observations. Aune has an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek and Jewish source which he brings to bear on every line of the book of Revelation. For example, when he interprets the sixth seal in Rev 6, he provides a summary of “ancient prodigies,” or unnatural occurrences in Greek and Roman literature. In the space of two pages, dozens of primary sources are cited. It is possible that some (or, many) of the texts Aune cites are not particularly helpful. For example, in his comments on the angel coming down from heaven with chains to bind Satan in Rev 20:1, he lists 1 Enoch 54:3-5, 2 Apoc. Baruch 56:13, Sib. Or. 2.289, as well as Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4. Since all of these are examples of Jewish apocalyptic literature known in the late first century, they are all legitimate “parallel” material. But then he goes on to list several examples of chaining gods (Apollodorus 1.1.2), the Titans (Hesiod, Theog. 718) and even the chaining of Prometheus (Odyssey 11:293). While it is certain that binding Satan is a common “apocalyptic motif,” whether it is “derived” from Greco-Roman myths is more tenuous. Nevertheless, Aune’s awareness of the literature of the Second Temple Period enriches his commentary greatly.
Greg Beale, Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Beale’s mammoth commentary followed Aune’s and is equal in size and value to scholarship. Beale has written a great deal on “Old Testament in the New” issues, so it is no surprise to find large sections in this commentary devoted to John’s Hebrew Bible sources. His interest is in John’s use of the Hebrew Bible so there is less reference to Greek and Roman sources than in Aune’s commentary. Beale includes a twenty page summary of his view of what constitutes an allusion and his controlling method for deciding what may be an allusion and what is not. He describes his approach to the book as a “redemptive historical form of modified idealism” (48). By this he means that the symbols of the book of Revelation had some specific referent in the first century which will provide some comfort or teaching to Christians throughout history, but will find ultimate fulfillment in the future. In the commentary proper Beale works through the Greek text phrase-by-phrase, commenting on syntactical issues where appropriate. The style of the commentary tends to use a smaller font for textual details, allowing a reader to skip over these elements. Like most readers of the Greek of Revelation, Beale puzzles over some aspects of John’s style, finding in many cases that he employs a Semitic syntax more than Greek. Beale has a number of excursuses devoted to how specific metaphors functioned in Judaism. For example, after his commentary on Rev 9:19, he has a page on serpents and scorpions in Judaism. While a page does not seem like much, there are dozens of references to the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic texts unpacking the metaphor of a scorpion. One criticism: a single 1200+ page volume is unwieldy to use, even with the lighter paper. I would have liked Eerdmans to publish this book in at least two volumes. The spine of my copy has split near the center.
Grant Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002). It is hard to imagine that an 800+ page commentary should be considered brief, but in comparison to Aune and Beale, Osborne’s commentary more efficient and user-friendly. I find his introductory material very well written and insightful, celebrating what he called the “hermeneutics of humility” (16). Osborne is aware that reading Revelation generates more questions than answers and advises students of Revelation to be humble in their exegesis, willing to not understand everything in the book. He includes about 18 pages on the theology of the book. He includes two pages on Mission in Revelation, a topic which is not among the first things one thinks of when reading Revelation! Osborne’s approach to the book is to combine futurist and idealist readings of the book, with an emphasis on the future. He defines apocalyptic as “the present addressed through parallels with the future” (22). In the commentary proper, Osborne moves phrase-by-phrase through pericopes, commenting on the Greek text with transliterations provided. Greek does appear in the footnotes, where he makes more detailed syntactical observations. After the exegetical section, Osborne offers a “summary and contextualization” section, drawing out theological insights of major sections.
Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition (NINTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977, 1997). Mounce’s commentary is brief because he does not spend the time searching for John’s sources or worrying over potential parallels. While the commentary is quite aware that John stands on the foundation of the Hebrew Bible and that there is parallel material in other Jewish apocalypses, Mounce wrote his initial version of this commentary prior to the rise of scholarly preoccupation with sources. Mounce reads Revelation as reflecting his own culture, but understands that “the predictions of John…will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history” (45, first ed.). He finds this blending of John’s present and future consistent with the nature of prophecy in the New Testament. In the preface to the revised edition of commentary Mounce states that he still has the same basic approach to the book and he remains a premillennialist, but he has a deeper appreciation for other views of the book. (Another difference between the editions is that the Revised uses the NIV rather that the 1901 ASB). The body of the commentary is based on the English text, with details of Greek grammar relegated to the footnotes. I think that this is a good commentary for the busy pastor or layman who wants a bit more in-depth study without the details of Aune or Beale.
George Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972). If the measure of a classic commentary is wear and tear, then Ladd’s commentary on Revelation certainly qualifies for me. My copy 1983 reprint is fairly well marked, the spine is broken and pages are falling out. I suppose it is possible that the paperback binding was not designed to last, but I have used this book often over the years. This is a brief, easy to read commentary, but there is a great deal of depth to the book as well. With only 14 pages of introduction, Ladd is focused on the text rather than method. (In his defense, he treats the theology of the book of Revelation in his New Testament Theology.) He blends preterist and futurist methods as a representative of what is now known as ‘historic premillenialism” (see page 261 for his millennial position). Ladd reads the books as applicable to the first century, but also as a prophecy of the return of Jesus in the future. Occasionally he weighs alternate views of the book in the commentary, as he does in treating the measuring of the Temple in Rev 11, for example. The commentary proper is on the English text, only rarely does he deal with Greek directly and always in transliteration. This makes for an easy-reading commentary for the laymen.
Conclusion. There are quite a few quality studies I have left off this list to keep it to “five top commentaries.” I still consult R. H. Charles ICC Commentary, even though it is a rather dated. I reviewed Gordon Fee’s recent commentary here, and Elaine Pagels book on early Christian apocalyptic, Revelations, here. I am looking forward to Paige Patterson’s commentary on Revelation due in September in the NAC series. What have I omitted which you have found helpful for your study of this difficult book of the New Testament? What is the “classic” every pastor should have on their shelf?
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation
Introduction. Authorship is an issue most introductions the Letters of John must treat, but usually the Gospel of John and the Letters are viewed as coming from the same person or persons, often a “community” living in Ephesus near the end of the first century. More critical commentaries will leave open the question of whether the author is the Apostle John (the traditional view) or a community formed around the teaching of the Apostle.
A second issue which commentaries must deal with in an introduction is the identity of the opponent in 1 John. Since John calls then “antichrists” because they deny that Jesus came in the flesh, they are frequently associated with Docetism, an early attempt by Jewish Christians to understand Jesus as fully divine, only appearing to be human. Brown surveys every suggested opponent and concludes that there are similarities to several groups, but we simply do not know enough about the target of John’s polemic to be certain they are “early Gnostics” or any other known teacher.
Since 1 John is usually the first book of the New Testament that most beginning Greek students read through, there are several handbooks for reading the letters. In general, these books move through the Greek text word by word with detailed comments on grammar aimed at helping the beginning Greek student learn how exegesis works. I will mention three of these here before moving on to commentaries proper.
Marvin Wilson and Chris Alex Vlashos, A Workbook for New Testament Greek: Grammar and Exegesis in First John (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998). This little book is broken up into assignments, with unusual vocabulary / parsing at the beginning of the assignment. The student is then given a series of questions which point them to the major Grammars (Zerwick, Moule, Turner, Winbery) as well as exegetical commentaries. There are a few “for further study” questions which require a bit more thought and discussion. The book has a handy “vocabulary of 1 John” as well as a parsing guide for the book. This book would be good for someone trying to work through John on their own, but it is best used in a classroom setting.
Martin M. Cully, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco: Baylor, 2004). This book is a running commentary on the syntax of the letters of John, identifying grammatical categories for virtually every word. The English paragraph is printed, followed by each verse in Greek, then each phrase in the verse with commentary. For some words or phrases Cully points out that “scholars differ,” providing the various options for the student to sort out. Only rarely does Cully cite a particular grammar, which has the advantage of allowing professors to use whatever intermediate grammar they choose. The book is certainly a handy size, making it an easy read along side the Greek New Testament.
Herbert Bateman, IV, A Workbook for Intermediate Greek: Grammar, Exegesis and Commentary on 1-3 John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel 2008). This is a workbook for the serious student of New Testament Greek. At over 600 pages, it would be difficult to finish the book in a single semester! The text of the letters of John is broken into 35 sections, beginning with 3 John, then 2 John. Each section features some syntactical category (the perfect tense, infinitives, etc.) Bateman has a twelve-step exegetical process (16) which he uses in each pericope of the Letters, although not every step appears in every chapter. Since this is a workbook, there are questions and space for answers. For syntax questions, Bateman provides pages in several major grammars to review elements of grammar. He asks syntactical, lexical / semantical, and theological questions. By the time a student worked through this book, they will have written their own commentary on the Letters of John!
Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John (New York: Doubleday, 1982). Along with his commentary on the Gospel of John and his Introduction to the Gospel of John (completed by Maloney after Brown’s death), this commentary is one of the most significant contributions to the study of the Johannine literature in the twentieth century. Brown introduced his views on the Johannine community in his commentary on the Gospel of John and develops it further in this commentary. I highly recommend the 130 page introduction to the commentary as required reading for anyone working seriously in John. While interest in his theory of the “Johannine Community” has waned, it is hard to read a commentary on John’s Gospel or Letters which do not engage Brown on nearly every page. At almost 800 pages, this commentary on the Epistles of John is the most detailed exegetical commentary available. The commentary proceeds through the text word-by-word, dealing with lexical and syntactical matters. Greek appears only in transliteration, all sources are cited in-text. After the detailed note section, Brown provides a “comment” in the overall theology of the pericope, often connecting it to his previous work on the Gospel of John. These comments all assume his Johannine community theory. Sections end with a bibliography pertinent to that section.
Ben Witherington, Letters and Homilies to Hellenized Christians, Volume 1 (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2006). Witherington treats the letters of John in his socio-rhetorical commentary along with the Pastoral Epistles. The commentary argues that hte letters were written at the end of the first century to serve a “Johannine community” which had recently suffered a schism based on a view of Jesus which differed from the Beloved Disciple. In general, Witherington finds these letters to be amenable to his form of rhetorical study. Second and Third John are “deliberative discourse” while 1 John is epideictic, “a sermon” (409-10). The commentary is based on the English text, with transliterated Greek treated in the footnotes. Because of the style of the commentary, Witheringtom makes occasional grammatical comments in the footnotes, the main text is interested in the flow of the argument. Like other socio-rhetorical commentaries, Witherington provides sometimes lengthy “Closer Look” sections. Of particular interest is his section on “Avoiding Sin and Going On To Perfection” (501-5), a refreshingly non-Calvinist view of the issue, even if in the end I disagree with his conclusion.
Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Cruse beings his commentary by suggesting a plausible scenario for the production of these letters. Assuming the Letters and the Gospel of John were produced by the apostle John (“the fairest way to read the evidence,” 14), Kruse argues that the letters were written after a first form of the Gospel was written in response to a successionist group which differed from John on the nature of Jesus. This group appears to have been aggressive in that they sought to bring others into their circle. First John is a circular letter to all of the congregations in and around Ephesus, 2 and 3 John are to specific house churches advising them directly what to do with traveling teachers “peddling their new and heretical teaching” (3). After the letters were written, John died, and the final form of the gospel as we have it today was published. What happened to the successionists is unknown, but they may develop into Gnosticism. The body of the commentary is based on the English text, with Greek details in the footnotes. The style is very readable, with occasional excursuses. For example, Kruse briefly comments on the use of chrisma in 1 John 2:20; in another place he has a useful summary of the New Testament teaching on antichrist.
Daniel Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001). Akin affirms the traditional view that John the Apostle wrote both the Gospel and Letters which bear his name in the New Testament. Like most, Akin understands that John was writing in response to an attack from a specific false teaching concerning Jesus, but also a defective morality and arrogant spirituality (31). In the introduction he has a brief overview of the theology of the letters, including a paragraph on the overlooked eschatology of the letters. The body of the commentary prints the English text followed by detailed comments with Greek in transliteration. This makes for a readble commentary which will be useful for preparing to preach these letters.
Conclusion. There are a new missing here, such as I. H. Marshall’s 1978 commentary in the NICNT series or F. F. Bruce’s brief 1970 commentary. I omitted Robert W. Yarbrough contribution in the Baker Exegetical series simply because I do not own a copy and have not used it yet. I also cheated a bit on my “five commentary” rule to get the exegetical guides in. What have you found useful for teaching the letters of John?
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation