New Testament Commentary Reviews: John

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Thousands of commentaries have been written about the Bible, and it’s easy to become confused because these resources are written to various audiences. Choosing the “best” will depend upon the kind of analysis you desire. Commentaries are often divided into three categories:

  • Devotional/Introductory–the primary focus is application of the Word and growing in Christ. Lots of “how to” questions are answered.

  • Pastoral/Intermediate–these commentaries also contain application but are more information oriented. Some go deep into the history or cultural background of the text, while others pay more attention to linguistics. Lots of “what does it mean” questions are answered. Useful for any Christ follower and especially helpful to those who teach.

  • Technical/Advanced–primary value is to teachers and advanced students. Some technical commentaries focus on textual criticism (the reliability of the text), while others address linguistics (the text itself). Lots of minutiae. These commentaries contain Greek text (sometimes transliterated, sometimes not) and require familiarity with Koine Greek to extract their full benefit, but even those with no knowledge of Greek will find these commentaries useful.

My recommendations identify which category each book falls into. Some commentaries overlap; when they do, both categories will be noted (e.g., Pastoral/Technical). The recommendations are listed in order of their helpfulness to Bible students, teachers, and pastors.

The Gospel according to John

John is a favorite among commentators, and there are several excellent analyses of this gospel, but there are also many that have little value, and I have the books in my library to prove it. Below are two must-have resources and several others worth considering.

  • My top recommendation is by Don Carson in the in Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1990). Pastoral. Despite the number of good resources I have on John’s gospel, this one easily wins my “if I could only have one” contest. Great exegesis combined with a lucid writing style. Carson offers good insights on language, history, and theology, and if I were forced to choose one word to describe his analysis, it would be balanced. If you have any interest in the Gospel according to John, this commentary should be on your bookshelf.

  • A second commentary I reach for when studying John’s gospel is the two-volume set by Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, (Hendrickson, 2003). Pastoral. Massive (1636 pages) and delightful. Keener digs deep into the socio-historical background and unearths many treasures that pastors and teachers can polish and use. Jesus lived in a unique culture known as Second Temple Judaism, and Keener provides a terrific window into that time. There is a comprehensive introduction (300+ pages) and a thorough bibliography (almost 200 pages). Highly recommended.

  • My third recommendation is by Andre Kostenberger in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (BECNT), Baker. Technical/Pastoral. Kostenberger’s overview of John’s gospel is orthodox and detailed. He covers a lot of ground already covered by Carson, but there is still much here to like. One strength is his ability to provide concise summaries of the various scholarly positions on a passage. Very helpful for pastors and teachers with limited time.

  • Another recommendation is The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel (Eerdmans, 1982), by Lesslie Newbigin. Devotional/Pastoral. A thin but helpful commentary that, as the title suggests, is exposition rather than exegesis. There is little about history or linguistics–Newbigin is all about application. I don’t reach for this book when I want help with a complex passage in John; I reach for it when I want my spirit lifted. Teachers need inspiration, too, and this is a great book to use as a devotional while preaching or teaching the fourth gospel.

    Lagniappe: You can buy the paperback on the secondary market (Amazon, Ebay, etc.) for five bucks or so.

  • Another commentary I occasionally use is by Leon Morris in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1971). Technical/Pastoral. Once upon a time this was the premier commentary on John, but 40+ years have passed. It was revised in 1995, but Morris’s work remains in the long shadow of Carson and Keener.

    Lagniappe: J. Ramsey Michaels wrote a new NICNT in 2010 that replaced Morris. It has been favorably reviewed by many, but I find it hard to warm to. The prose is dense and often confusing, and it seems like everything I read in it has already been covered by other commentators.

  • A resource I recommend to new teachers is by Gary Burge in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2000). Pastoral/Devotional. Burge’s commentary is easy to read and understand, and it is a terrific resource if you are new to teaching or unfamiliar with the fourth gospel. But don’t let it the NIVAC be your only commentary on John. Couple it with Carson or Kostenberger.

Did I miss a commentary you are interested in? Drop me a line. These are not the only resources I am familiar with–these are just my favorites.

Next: Recommended commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles.

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3 thoughts on “New Testament Commentary Reviews: John

  1. Hi Henry,

    From your comments on Michaels it’s clear that choosing commentaries is subjective.
    Because I think Michaels has wrestled with the literary and theological perspective of John in a way never before.

    I have put Carson and Kostenberger on the bench because of him. I believe his approach to John is not only fresh but that’s the way to approach, i.e. approach John as John and as his own Interpreter.

    I’m not about to convince you, just expressing my experience with Michaels.

    Thanks for your recommendations. They are very helpful.

  2. Hello, I have a question: what do you think about Edward Klink’s commnetary from ZECNT ?
    Which one would you choose between Klink and Carson ? thank you