Posted by: Tim | September 17, 2008

Commentary Survey: Introduction to the Gospel of John

In preparing for last Sunday’s message “An Introduction to John” (pdf notes here), I read the introductions of five commentaries, and browsed a few more. Here is a list of the five in the order I read them, followed by a my comments on which I liked best and why:

1) Andreas Kostenberger John Baker Exegetical Commentary NT (BECNT)

2) D.A Carson, The Gospel According to John Pillar NT Commentary Series

3) Gary M. Burge, John, NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC)

4) Colin G. Kruse John Tyndale NT Commentaries

5) Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Revised) New International Commentary NT (NICNT) (note that I read some but not all of Morris’s introduction)

1st Favourite: Carson…He provides just the right balance between technical information and pastoral help. Very thorough, yet very readable. Fairly long at about 100 pages, but manageable. Best line (my paraphrase): John 3:16 has been the most well known verse in the Bible though it may now have been replaced by Matthew 7:1. (Judge not lest you be judged…)

2nd & 3rd Favourite – Toss up between Kostenberger and Morris.

Morris: I might have ranked Morris as high as Carson, if I had finished reading his whole introduction. Morris reads smoothly and provides a strong conservative evangelical introduction to John.

Kostenberger: For some reason I thought Kostenberger would be a tough read, but he wasn’t. The intro was only about 20 pages long but gave a good survey of the basic issues. I am glad that I read his intro first as it got my mind in gear for the rest (ie for the longer and more technical introduction by Carson).

4th favourite: Kruse’s commentary is smaller by design, so it’s not totally fair to compare with Carson, but he still manages a good introduction to the major issues (about 50 pages). It ranked 4th, but is still very worthwhile.

5th favourite: Burge’s work is considered one of the better volumes in the NIVAC and though I ranked it fifth, I still found it helpful. I was a little disappointed that he leaned towards the Johannine community for final authorship (though it was a direct compilation of John’s teachings compiled shortly after his death). To roughly paraphrase Carson (or was it Morris?), if it is possible for John’s followers to collect and edit the basic stories from John, then it is possible for John to do it himself, so why introduce the community authorship?

Here is a summary of some of the key introductory issues:


Carson – John

Morris – John

Kostenberger – John

Kruse – John

Burge – John, but the final product assembled by a community of his followers after his death, based on John’s teachings (see Burge’s proposed reconstruction on pp38-39). In my opinion, the problem with such a reconstruction is that it is an educated but unprovable guess, and it seems simpler to just assume that John wrote it, as the church fathers believed and internal evidence makes probable.

Other Notes: All of the introductions listed above agree that the apostle John best fits the internal and external evidence for the identity of the author of the Gospel of John.


Carson – 80-85AD

Morris – prefers a pre-70AD date

Kostenberger -between 81 & 100 AD

Kruse -80’s or 90’s

Burge – based on early apostolic traditions from 60-65AD, but likely assembled and published later (scholarly opinion is 80-100AD).

Notes: Carson suggests that any date is plausible from about 55-95AD. However, most seem to settle on 80’s to 90’s. It should be noted that 100 years ago, liberal scholars argued for a much later date of mid-late 2nd century (well beyond the possible lifetime of John). Then in 1920 a scrap of papyrus was discovered in Egypt that included five verse from John 18. The scrap of papyrus was dated in the early 2nd century, making a date for the Gospel of John beyond 100AD very improbable. (see Kruse, p30)

Other Introductory Issues

For more about themes, purpose and other issues, you’ll have to read the introductions yourself!

I would be interested to hear your comments below on these five introductions, or on other introductions to the Gospel of John.

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