For those using the CLP Sunday School materials, our next quarter will be devoted to the study of the Gospel according to John. This is a theologically-rich Gospel! If you take time to dig into some study resources, your time in John may be even more rewarding.
Our first task in understanding Scripture well, of course, is to “simply” prayerfully read and re-read the sacred text. I say “simply” because good reading is hard work! We could mangle metaphors and say that you read what you sow. For some generally-applicable reading tips, see my post on “Study Resources for Hebrews.”
One way to get more out of your reading is to try to outline the text. This can be as easy as writing a headline for each chapter, or as detailed as you wish. Here is the outline that I started creating for John one of the last times we studied from it in Sunday School: John – Outline of Gospel. It is incomplete, but covers most of the material we’ll be studying this time around. Perhaps it will help you see more of how John has organized his thoughts, and perhaps you can finish it. Notice how I am attempting to use key verses and key themes to help me see John’s purposes and patterns in writing.
Two book resources that are accessible for all:
- Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Context, by Andreas Köstenberger. Don’t let the long title scare you. This is a very readable book! My wife pulled it from my shelf recently for use during her devotional reading, and commented how she liked it. It is written by an expert on John (I’ll be recommending several more books by Köstenberger), but it is very accessible, and full of charts, lists, and pictures. Perhaps my favorite feature of the book is its concordance of John’s Gospel, which records its key theological and literary terms (light, love, believe, etc.). The great thing about this concordance, besides the fact that it only covers John and thus is super-readable, is that it organizes related terms together. So, for example, all the various words dealing with light and darkness are grouped together thematically, so you can quickly scan for John’s key themes. And Greek words are even distinguished for those of us who want to trace John’s thought on that level.
- John (NIV Application Commentary), by Gary Burge. Köstenberger‘s book won’t answer your detailed verse-by-verse questions, as my wife also found during her devotional reading. So you may want a true commentary, such as this one by Burge. This one does not expect you to know any Greek, and it emphasizes both understanding and applying the text, so it is ideal for most Sunday School teachers.
Moderately technical commentaries:
- John (Pillar NT Commentary), by D. A. Carson. This is the classic evangelical commentary on John. In fact, it is the highest-rated commentary on bestcommentaries.com out of all commentaries on all books of the Bible! It is indeed good. That said, I can’t honestly say it is my favorite Bible commentary. Besides its undeniable high quality, several other factors help explain its high ranking: (a) It filled a gap in evangelical scholarship at the time, claiming unoccupied space by taking the best from Leon Morris’ earlier classic commentary and adding updated scholarship, (b) bestcommentaries.com has wonderfully comprehensive listings, but their rankings are quite dated, (c) the author Carson has become a super-star scholar within some Calvinistic circles.
- John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT), by Andreas Köstenberger. I do not own this one, but reviews I’ve read suggest it is similar to Carson’s. Some prefer it over Carson because it summarizes scholarship that has come out since his volume (including Carson); others think Carson is still superior, just as some still prefer the old Morris! My thoughts? If you are looking to buy just one well-rounded volume to summarize recent scholarship, I’d choose this one.
- John (New International Commentary on the NT), by J. Ramsey Michaels. I do not own this one, either, but list it here because (a) it is even newer than Köstenberger, (b) Carson gives it “pride of place” in his most recent commentary survey, and (c) it is reported to be a contrasting work to those above, drawing on a different balance of historical commentaries and including the author’s own insights. I hear it is weak on historical background and strong on the literary study of the text itself. (If you want a commentary with lots of historical background and ancient literary parallels, see Craig Keener’s two-volume work, which has enough Greco-Roman citations to assemble your own Roman legion. It has lots of information you won’t need, although I’ve found you can scan until you get to the relevant data. This shouldn’t be a first choice for most readers, however.)
- A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God (Biblical Theology of the New Testament), by Andreas Köstenberger. I do not own this, but it would be my first choice on the topic, given the expertise of the author. That said, if someone has a good non-Calvinist theology of John to recommend, I would like to hear it.
- John (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament), by Murray J. Harris. I don’t own this one, either, but I have found other works by Murray helpful. This brand-new volume would be my first choice for those who wish to wrestle with the Greek text.
What other resources would you suggest for studying John? Share them in the comments below. May God bless your study of the Scriptures!
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