Posted by: Tim | September 29, 2008

In the Beginning was the Word – Commentary Review

On Sunday I preached the second message in the Gospel of John series at Prairie Tab. The text was John 1:1-5. It took an unusual amount of study and preparation, in particular on understanding the term “The Word” (Logos in Greek).

Here are the commentators I found the most helpful on this passage, and on understanding the important term Logos, in particular.

1. Craig Keener

Keener had a long section (20-30 pages?) on Logos and I found it to be incredibly helpful. His commentary on John is considered must-have and is often described as ‘magisterial’, which I assume is latin for “I hope you’ve got some time on hour hands to read this” (Haha!).  I didn’t use Keener in the introduction sermon two weeks ago because his intro was just too long (300+ pages!!) for me to make use of it in my limited time constraints for preaching prep. But in retrospect I wish I had browsed through some and perhaps I will get a chance in the future. But the section on Logos was not hard to read and I was able to glean a lot from it fairly quickly. Keener is thorough and very well read. In one section he argued against the significance of the connection between the Jewish Targum and the term Logos. This was contra Morris, but I found Keener more convincing and it kept me from using it in my sermon (though Morris’ commentary was still very good, as described below). Here is a sample quote from Keener summarizing his section on the background of Logos:

“John’s choice of the Logos (embracing also Wisdom and Torah) to articulate his Christology was brilliant: no concept better articulated an entity that was both divine yet distinct from the Father. By this term, some Diaspora Jewish writers had already connected Jewish conceptions of Wisdom and Torah with Hellenistic conceptions of a divine and universal power. Finally, by using this term John could present Jesus as the epitome of what his community’s opponents claimed to value: God’s word revealed through Moses. Jesus was thus the supreme revelation of God; the Torah had gone forth from Zion.”  (p363)

2. Leon Morris

Despite finding Keener more convincing on the issue of Logos and the Targum, Morris’ additional notes section on the Logos was also very helpful. Morris’ Gospel of John commentary is a solid pick and I expect to get much use out of it during this series. Here is a sample quote:

“The Logos, he says, “alike for Jew and Gentile represents the ruling fact of the universe and represents that fact as the self-expression of God. The Jew will remember that ‘by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made’; the Greek will think of the rational principle of which all natural laws are particular expressions. Both will agree that this Logos is the starting-point of all things.” John was using a term that, with various shades of meaning, was in common use everywhere. He could count on all his readers catching his essential meaning.” (p108)

3. D. A. Carson

Carson’s work is arguably the most recommended all-purpose commentary on the gospel of John, and I can see that I will be quoting liberally from him during this series. This week, I found his introductory remarks about the prologue of John (1:1-18) to be very good:

“The Prologue summarizes how the ‘Word’ which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility – in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme.” p111

4. Robert Mounce

Honourable mention goes to Robert Mounce’s commentary in the Expositor’s Commentary Series (latest edition). I found his brief summary to cover all the basic issues in a very winning and concise style. Only one complaint: he dated Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who was the first to use the term Logos in his philosophy, to the fifth century BC, while others (Keener, for example) dated him sixth century. I went with the majority (guess I could’ve googled it, but figured Keener would probably be right!…just checked Wikipedia, that often reliable source of online knowledge, says it is uncertain but mentions him around 504-501 BC, so I guess it is close b/w 5th and 6th century). Anyway, here’s a quote:

While it is helpful to be aware of Greek and Semitic backgrounds, John’s doctrine of the logos is only incidentally related. John does not begin with a metaphysical concept but with the person and work of the historical Christ. W.F. Howard notes that “Jesus is not to be interpreted by Logos: Logos is intelligible only as we think of Jesus. At the same time it is true that the broad and varied usage of the term provided an excellent link to contemporary thought and allowed John the opportunity to redefine logos in terms of the incarnate Son of God. (pp367-368)

I used other volumes as well, but these four won out this week.

On a more personal note, I found this week’s sermon to be a great challenge to preach as I wanted to really give a grand vision of the Logos, Jesus Christ. By His grace, I think it turned out OK. I was personally blessed and encouraged in my love and knowledge of my Lord.

PS Sorry the font above is different from everything else on my blog…I did some cutting a pasting from MS Word and it didn’t turn out too well. I have no idea how to get back my normal font…if you’ve got any ideas I’m all ears…

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