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Friday, May 29, 2015

"The Gospel of John" (Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV)

TITLE: The Gospel of John (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
AUTHOR: Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (368 pages).

Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has paid a lot more attention to the rising hunger for the Word of God. While they have been venerating the Scriptures for hundreds of years, it is only after Vatican II where the focus has become sharpened. With more desire from the laity to learn to interpret and to study the Bible for themselves, there is also a need for biblical resources like commentaries that are updated for the modern masses. This is where the "Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture" comes in. What makes this unique are the following:
  • Rather than technicalities of the texts, it focuses on the "meaning of the text for faith and life"
  • The Interpretation includes perspectives from Protestants and Orthodox groups
  • Though the main translation is the New American Bible, there are frequent comparisons to other translations like NRSV, JB, and NIV.
  • Special sidebars containing biblical background (historical, literary, theological, tradition, miscellaneous writings) information
  • Relating Scripture to Catholic doctrine
  • John being a special bridge to the other gospel writers as well as the three Johannine letters and Revelation. 
The two Catholic theologians serve in various teaching institutions of the Church. Francis Martin is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at the Dominican House of Studies while William M Wright is Associate Professor of theology at the Catholic Church's Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both of them writes from a Roman Catholic perspective.
With ten other CCSS commentaries on the New Testament already published, this volume deals with a gospel that was described by Pope St Gregory as a "smooth, deep river in which a lamb may walk and an elephant may swim." The gospel of John is indeed profound and no one tradition or interpretation can exhaust the depth of the gospel teachings. The Introduction covers quite a bit of background, beginning with the various interpretations to authorship. Traditionally, the authorship was ascribed to John being one of the Twelve. Later opinions point to a John outside the Twelve, namely a disciple of John the Baptist. Martin and Wright are not dogmatic about this authorship. Dating the gospel to the AD 90s, attention is paid not only to the textual meaning but also the literacy structure. In other words, it is not just what the stories are but how the author chooses to tell the stories. Some literary features include "paris of opposites," "special vocabulary," "irony," "misunderstanding," double meanings, and symbolism. Like many other commentaries, the authors agree with the central focus of John wanting to write such that readers will come to believe. The volume is large, comprising 22 parts that cover the entire 21 chapters of the gospel. The outline is clear with a step by step revelation of John's plan through the book. Many commentaries focus on the seven signs of John and the seven I-AMs of Jesus. Martin and Wright still refer to them but tailor it in terms of focusing on the days of Revelation, the Faith journey of the Samaritan woman, the Bread of Life discourses, the Jerusalem debates, the Shepherd discourses, the Farewell discourses, and the various contrasting symbolism used.

The commentary itself is very lively, beginning with a brief introduction of each pericope, then the biblical text, followed by a unique three part reference table.
  1. Some Old Testament references
  2. Some New Testament references
  3. A Catechism and/or Lectionary of the Church
There are colourful photos, maps, and helpful sidebars that add additional perspectives and contexts to the passages. From Augustine to the various Popes of the Church, contributions come too from Church Fathers recognized by most segments of Christianity, like John Chrysostom, St Thomas Aquinas, St Catherine of Siena, Justin Martyr and others.  The small glossary of terms is too brief to be any useful. Footnotes are kept to the minimum and the suggested resources are also very limited.

When reading the commentary, care needs to be taken with regards to the verse numberings. The authors remind readers that the NAB has a different numbering sequence which may cause some cross-references confusion when readers try to compare to other versions. The interpretive approach of this commentary is based on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) that ties interpretation with Church tradition. Non-Catholic readers may want to note that the Dei Verbum does point back to certain unique Catholicism doctrines like the Church being given the "authority to teach in their own place," referring to the Church as "holy mother Church," and the insistence on mysteries being revealed to "holy Apostles and prophets in the Holy Spirit" for the work of God.

This is a commendable effort on the part of the authors trying to remain faithful to Catholic doctrine and at the same time open to non-Catholic sources. Written primarily to pastors and teachers, lay persons may find it helpful as a resource in their studies of John.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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