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New Testament Commentary Recommendations (3)


Next to Romans, I suspect that more commentaries have been written on the gospel of John than on any other NT book. Once again, of course, my list of recommended resources will be quite selective and in no way representative of the plethora of volumes written on this portion of God's Word.

I was preaching through John when I resigned from my pastorate in Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1993. I had just begun chapter thirteen and, sadly, had to terminate the series. But in working through the first twelve chapters and doing some additional study in the Upper Room Discourse, I've become acquainted with a good bit of the literature available.

As with his volume on Matthew's gospel, the commentary by D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, in the Pillar series is probably the best (Eerdmans, 1991, 715pp.). Although Carson is written primarily for those with a working knowledge of Greek, everyone can profit greatly from it. This is where pastors and Bible study teachers should begin. Make it first among commentaries on John that you purchase.

Running a close second to Carson is the commentary by Leon Morris in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Eerdmans, 1971, 936pp.). Morris has written numerous commentaries on a variety of books, but this, in my opinion, is his magnum opus. He keeps most technical discussions in the footnotes (but read them; they are a wealth of information), which makes his commentary entirely accessible to readers of all sorts. There is yet another resource on John's gospel from Morris that I highly recommend. In 1988, Baker Book House combined four separate volumes written by Morris into a one-volume Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (1988, 750 pp.). This is considerably less technical and is a tremendous help for pastors in sermon preparation. It is very practical, applicable, and theologically rich.

As I've said before, I'm not a huge fan of the NIV Application Commentary, but certainly one of the better contributions to this series is by Gary M. Burge on John's gospel (Zondervan, 2000, 618pp.). Burge does a great job of combining scholarly insights on John's gospel with contemporary application, which, I suppose, is the point of this series! I don't always agree with Gary's theological conclusions, but he is always challenging.

By far and away the most extensive treatment of John when it comes to background, cultural setting, and socio-historical context is the two-volume work by Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John (Hendrickson 2003). It is simply stunning to witness the wealth of information provided by Keener. However, I should point out that of the 1636 total pages in the two volumes, 330 pages are devoted to the Introduction and 393 pages to Bibliography and a variety of Indices! Still, the 913 pages of commentary are a great resource to have close at hand.

Several other more technical works should be cited, such as the two-volume work by Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, in The Anchor Bible series (Doubleday, 1966/1970, 1208 pp.). I always found Brown helpful, although with Carson and Keener providing so much exegetical data, it has dropped down the list a bit. Andreas Kostenberger has written two books on John that appear to be quite good, although I've only had a chance to peruse them. His commentary on John in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2004, 700pp.) and the earlier volume, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, (Baker 1999, 277 pp.) are both worth the investment.

C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (SPCK 1975, 531pp.) can always be counted on for helpful insights and F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Pickering & Inglis, 1983, 425 pp.) is one of the better, shorter commentaries on the English text.

In addition to the volume noted above, Carson has also written a popular and more pastoral exposition of the Upper Room discourse, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: an Exposition of John 14-17 (Baker, 1980, 207pp.). This is an excellent book that not only provides a careful treatment of the text but also devotional, ethical, and practical insights that are eminently preachable.

In my comments on Mark and Luke I mentioned a few works that are less than helpful. When it comes to John's gospel, there is only one. George R. Beasley-Murray wrote the volume on John for the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books, 1987, 441pp.). I distinctly recall my excitement at the release of this book and began working through it when I started my sermon series on John. My disappointment was as deep as my initial excitement. I don't know how to put it, but every time I wanted Beasley-Murray to go deeper theologically, I was left empty and frustrated. I've long appreciated his work in other areas, but this commentary simply didn't live up to what we've come to expect from him.

Now, having said that, I should also point out that in 1999 a Second Edition of this commentary, at an expanded 592 pages, was released. I haven't read it, but I can only hope that the editors recognized the shortcomings of the first edition and greatly improved it. However, Carson's quick comparison of the two "disclosed no change in substance in the actual commentary" (71). In any case, if you are wanting to purchase the entire Word series, be sure you get the second and expanded edition.

In sum, if you get Carson, Morris, Burge, and Keener, you should be well set.

Acts is next . . .