Review: John: A Commentary

John-2015Marianne Meye Thompson (PhD, Duke University) is George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Theology where she has been on the faculty for over three decades. Thompson is the author of several books, including, 1–3 John (IVP New Testament Commentary, InterVarsity Press, 2011), A Commentary on Colossians and Philemon (The Two Horizons Commentary, Eerdmans, 2005), The God of the Gospel of John (Eerdmans, 2001), The Promise of the Father (Westminster John Knox, 2000), and co-author of Introducing the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2001). She has also published numerous articles and reviews in scholarly journals with specific emphasis on Johannine literature. Most recently, Thompson released her much-anticipated commentary on the Fourth Gospel in the highly acclaimed New Testament Library series.

John: A Commentary begins with a substantial bibliography of up-to-date commentaries, monographs, and essays related to the Gospel of John. At 24 pages, a quick glance of the bibliography displays a well-researched commentary, and the content therein embodies the reality of this information well. Still, Thompson is clear that her efforts are not primarily about interaction with the scholarship of the Fourth Gospel. Instead, she seeks to present an understanding of the text within a narrative framework, as she traces and explores the holistic understanding of the ministry and significance of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John. This unique approach to the Gospel of John makes this commentary both accessible and useful to the specialist and nonspecialist alike. Thompson has effectively guided the reader through the depths of the narrative without losing sight of the cultural context and scholarly concerns required for a top-tier commentary in a growing market.

The introduction to the commentary is filled with helpful information for the trained and untrained reader. Some readers will likely just skim over this section or skip it altogether. However, this approach is not recommended. Thompson has an excellent and stimulating discussion on the relation of the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels. For Thompson, the Fourth Gospel is to be understood as an ancient historical biography, and thus the author maintains the complete liberty to expand and correct the material for his purpose (p. 8). Consequently, Thompson acknowledges that John did not intend to write a history about Jesus that would be “understood by all,” but rather understood by John (p. 13). This is thought, according to Thompson, to explain the divergence of the Fourth Gospel from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Thompson’s arguments are convincing, but the reader will need to be the judge of such claims.

Thompson has done excellent work illuminating John’s understanding of Jesus, but there are a few likely concerns the reader will encounter. For the sake of space here, I will list only two. First, despite the almost universal internal and external attestation of Johannine authorship being attributed to John, the son of Zebedee, Thompson views the traditional understanding of the authorship of the Gospel as unlikely. Her reasons are explained and the case is well made, but she still doesn’t give a clear answer to the question of authorship. Second, the reader may be stunned to see some of the textual decisions that Thompson makes in her translation of the Gospel. For example, Thompson finds “the only son (huios)” to be the most natural reading of John 1:18. This reading is certainly possible, but the most difficult reading of “the only God (theos)” has both early and important attestation. In fact, it is almost universally understood that theos is the correct reading of the text, and huios was the result of later scribal assimilation to other passages in the Gospel (John 3:16, 18).

John: A Commentary by Marianne Meye Thompson is an up-to-date commentary on one of the most important and influential biblical books in the New Testament. Thompson approaches the author of the Gospel on his terms and guides the reader through the depths of the narrative. The reader will find Thompson’s reading of the text fresh and inviting. The introduction is a worthy starting point for readers of all background and expertise. Her exegesis is sometimes prematurely saturated with theological bias, sometimes making theological statements about the text that directly oppose even a mere reading of the text itself (e.g. John 6:44). Her textual decisions are also sometimes interesting, but the reader should find her conversation on such decisions as an added benefit to their library. Nonetheless, despite the pros and cons, this is a much-anticipated commentary by a seasoned and experienced Johannine scholar. It is true that in some cases the anticipation has outshined the publication, but this is certainly not one of those cases. If you are looking for an up-to-date commentary on the Gospel of John, this volume by Marianne Meye Thompson should be at the top of your wishlist.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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