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Monday, February 1, 2016

"John: A Commentary" (Marianne Meye Thompson)

TITLE: John: A Commentary (New Testament Library)
AUTHOR: Marianne Meye Thompson
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (576 pages).

The gospel of John has been said to be like a pool shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in. It is one of the most loved books of the Bible. Written for believers in the first century, the Apostle John records the ministry of Jesus in such a way so that readers would come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. There have also been many commentaries written on John in the past, which begs the question: What's so special about this latest addition to the huge collection now? For author Marianne Meye Thompson, the George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, the way to approach John is via a series of poignant questions on John's unique narrative of Jesus. Uniqueness such as:

  • Why John centers on Jesus' ministry in Galilee?
  • Why are there unique narratives only seen in John?
  • Why the specific signs?
  • Why the use of the symbols in John?
  • How do we understand the differences in John when compared to the other synoptic gospels?
  • Is John's account a more "spiritual" nature?
  • What is John's relationship to Jesus?
  • What can we make of the claims of Jesus in the gospel?

Thompson gives a very simple four part structure of the gospel.
  1. John 1:1-18 (Introduction to the Gospel of John)
  2. John 1:19-12:52 (The Book of Signs: Public Ministry of Jesus)
  3. John 13:1-21:22 (The Book of the Passion)
  4. John 21:23-25 (Epilogue)
Since the gospel is a "narrative of selected events in Jesus' life and ministry," there are two things which are foremost in Thompson's mind. Firstly, it is how John understood the event(s) as a first century person. This means unpacking John's perceptions on the structure, the narrative, the central theological themes, and the rhetorical arguments made. The goal of this commentary is to "illuminate the witness" of the John's narratives. In other words, it is expounding on John's understanding of the ministry and life of Jesus. Secondly, it is the significance of Jesus' ministry for people then and now.

For each section, the commentary comprises the following structure. It begins with an introduction to the passage, which sometimes form a summary of how the previous section ends. Major theological themes are listed, followed by a detailed commentary, complete with footnotes and special explanations on the Greek words used. There is an author's translation of the Greek and some explanations of the nuances of the grammar. As declared earlier, the author makes frequent reference to understanding the gospel from John's perspective and the socio-cultural contexts of that time. This helps us maintain the evangelical consistency of interpreting the texts in context. The commentary highlights interesting observations of John, comparing it with other scholarly works, sources, and why John narrate it as it is.

What is considered "Practical Applications" in some other commentaries are called "Excursus" in this commentary. Nine excursuses are included ranging from topics such as "word and wisdom," symbolism and signs to the significance of the "I Am" sayings and Johannine vocabulary. These give in depth treatment to relevant topics highlighted in the gospel of John. Thompson asserts that the gospel of John lends no credence to the historical reconstruction of Jesus. Instead, the gospel of John affirms the Word as the agent of life; the Word as the incarnation in our world; the Word as Saviour; the Word as forever with us. This commentary reveals Jesus, just as the gospel of John reveals who Jesus is. Like all good commentaries, this work comes complete with detailed bibliographies, index of primary and secondary sources, and tables to clarify and compare specific narratives to bring out the nuances of the gospel passage. There is always something new to learn about the gospel of John. With this commentary, it makes the reading and study of John even more refreshing.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

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