The Gospel according to John
A review of Colin Kruse's, "The Gospel According to John," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.
Kruse, Colin G. The Gospel according to John. TNTC, rev. Leicester: IVP; Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2004. $16.00. Paperback 395 pp. ISBN 0-8028-2771-3.
The Tyndale volumes have long been the premier shorter-length commentary series on both testaments throughout the English-speaking world. The New Testament volumes were completed well before the entire Old Testament set was finished, so that revisions began to appear already in the 1980s. With Colin Kruse’s volume on John, the entire New Testament set has now been revised.
Kruse is a recently retired professor of New Testament at the Bible College of Victoria, who has already distinguished himself with outstanding volumes on 2 Corinthians (also among the Tyndale revisions) and the Epistles of John (in the Pillar Commentary series), to mention only the most well-known of his other works. His offering on John forms a fitting conclusion to this series.
Contributors to this series have to be selective in their comments because of its scope and format. Kruse was undoubtedly particularly sensitive to this issue, since an earlier manuscript initially designed as the revised TNTC volume on John was rejected by the publishers for being far too long (and it wound up being published in an altogether different series). Contributors likewise have considerable freedom as to what to select to include. In Kruse’s case, he has focused primarily on an explanation of each text, section-by-section, in context, highlighting controversial and/or theologically significant words, expressions and passages, surveying the main interpretive options before defending his own for the most important controversies, and showing how texts fit other Scriptural teaching on the same topic. Both Old Testament background and the most important other New Testament texts (virtually all of which could have influenced John, however indirectly, writing as he did near the end of the first century) come under scrutiny. A judicious use of the intertestamental and rabbinic literature also recurs.
Lacking in this volume, though present in some others in the series is any consistent interaction with skeptical approaches to the historicity of the biblical book being treated. Footnotes, too, often give added explanations or Scriptural cross-references but only rarely refer to secondary literature, despite other volumes usually doing somewhat more in this area. The bibliography and the contents more generally, however, demonstrate Kruse’s wide reading and familiarity with that literature. Also missing are virtually all cross-references to earlier treatments of a topic, leading to various bits of information repeated, sometimes several times, throughout the book.
Few surprises appear in the introduction. Kruse well defends standard conservative convictions—the author is the son of Zebedee, writing in the 80s or 90s, to the church(es) of Ephesus, highlighting such themes as Jesus the Son, the role of the Holy Spirit, eternal life, signs, love and obedience, witness, and so on. The harsh words in numerous contexts for “the Jews” do not reflect anti-Semitism but must be understood as an in-house Jewish debate. The main dividing point of the book comes between chapters 12 and 13. Somewhat more out on a limb, Kruse follows D. A. Carson in seeing an evangelistic purpose for unsaved Jews taking priority over other more commonly cited purposes, such as strengthening the faith of believers. Kruse also largely follows Richard Bauckham’s approach to John as presupposing the Synoptic kerygma, though not necessarily in written form, and being designed to be spread quickly to numerous parts of the empire after reaching its initial audience.
A smattering of some of the more interesting exegetical highlights include the following. The best understanding of 1:1 may be, with Francis Moloney, “what God was the Word also was.” 1:18 introduces an important Johannine theme—the invisibility of God, with Jesus revealing God’s fullness contrasting with Moses (anthropomorphically) seeing only God’s back in Exodus 33:19-20. The miracle at Cana (2:1-11) seems to have occurred as the servants carried the water they had drawn to the master of the banquet. If “born again,” “born from above,” “seeing the kingdom” and “entering the kingdom” are all parallel phrases in John 3, then “born of water and the Spirit” in verse 5 most likely is synonymous, too. 4:21 refers to people who worship the Father “in the Spirit and in accordance with the teaching of Jesus” (p. 134). The miracle of John 5 reminds us that Jesus performed some miracles without any faith present in those whom he healed. Verse 18 suggests the problem was not Jesus standing in God’s place but “making himself” to do this, rather than clearly having God put him in that position (contrast Exod. 7:1).
Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood in 6:53-55 has nothing to do with the Eucharist but refers to believing in him (cf. v. 40). Recognizing the truth of God’s teaching does not depend on formal learning or intellectual ability but someone’s willingness to do God’s bidding (7:16-17). Abraham’s seeing Christ’s day in 8:56 refers either to Gen. 17:17 or the kind of tradition reflected in Genesis Rabbah 44:22. Because the man born blind was healed only after he went to the Siloam pool to wash, he not only could not know where Jesus had gone (9:10-12), he could not have recognized Jesus even if he saw him! The oneness of Jesus and the Father in 10:30 is functional (a unity of mission and purpose), whereas in 17:21-23 it involves “unity of being” (p. 242). One wonders if this is backwards, since in chapter 10 Jesus’ antagonists attempt to stone him, while in chapter 17 believers are said to share the same kind of unity that Jesus has with the Father!
11:45 and 12:42-43 form important reminders that some of “the Jews” in John’s Gospel sympathized with Jesus and others even came to genuine belief in him. Chapter 13 should be taken as the Passover meal, with subsequent references in 18:28 and 19:14 not contradicting this. Both John and the Synoptics agree as to the day Jesus was crucified. Unpacking the metaphor of “mansions” or (better) “rooms” in 14:2 should lead us away from literal spaces or places to “the privilege of abiding in God’s presence (p. 296)” Theologically, God’s pruning of his people as branches may include discipline, but nothing in the context of 15:3 suggests this. The verb is better rendered as “purifying.” The whole filioque debate that ultimately led to the schism between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, based heavily on 15:26 was misguided from the outset, as in context Jesus is referring to God’s sending the Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, not to the timeless nature of inner-Trinitarian relationships.
The hostility described in 16:2 (and elsewhere) is not the sign of late first-century composition in view of the tensions at that time between church and synagogue. One has only to read the account of Stephen’s stoning (within two or three years of Christ’s lifetime) to see an example of murdering Jesus’ followers while thinking one was offering a service to God. 17:22-23 provides a powerful evangelistic device via the unity of true believers in the visible church; conversely lack of unity does great damage to our objective of outreach. The Sanhedrin demonstrates terrible irony throughout the trials and execution of Christ by maintaining concern for legal procedures and purity while committing the grossest injustice of all. 20:22 should be understood as the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises throughout the Fourth Gospel about sending the Spirit, even if a deeper experience of the Spirit still awaits Pentecost. The closing verses of the Gospel suggest that a redactor has added his stamp of approval to John’s Gospel, probably after his death, along with the clarifying conversation about that very topic, and possibly scattered other verses throughout the book. But the fundamental witness, whose testimony is true, historically as well as theologically, remains that of John.
Typos include a repeated “of the” (p. 68), citing “p. 67” for a work by Koester that contains no such page (p. 142, n. 1), “word” for “world” (p. 152), “lead” for “led” (p. 160, n. 1 and p. 353), and “her” for “she” (p. 201). It is also unclear why the Strack-Billerbeck reference on page 259 is put as a parenthetical note in the text, while everywhere else in the book such references appear in footnotes.
In 1991, evangelicals had produced only the commentary by D. A. Carson over the previous twenty years that truly merited a strong review. Today we have the revised Morris, Milne, Witherington, Ridderbos, Whitacre, Burge, Borchert, Keener, Köstenberger and now Kruse, with varying scopes and formats as excellent supplements to Carson. But at the introductory level, for someone who nevertheless wants interpretive and theological “meat,” based on thorough and sound scholarship, Kruse should probably be his or her first choice to buy or consult.
Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament