The latest installment in the New Covenant Commentary Series (NCCS) is on the Gospel of John by Jeyaseelan Kanagaraj (a.k.a. “Jey”). Jey J. Kanagaraj is a Professor of New Testament who served a number of years at the Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, N. India and who was the Principal of Bethel Bible Institute in Salem, S. India. He is now retired and has got invitation to go and teach in theological seminaries in Indonesia.
Here’s the blurb:
In this commentary Kanagaraj examines how John projects the church as God’s “new covenant community,” which, is characterized by two virtues: love and obedience. Impossible to exhibit under the old covenant based on Moses’ Law, these qualities became possible by the initiative grace and faithfulness of God revealed in Jesus and demonstrated by the power of the Spirit. God’s new community is an inclusive and progressive community because its witness to Jesus in a world that hates and persecutes it has the power to bring in all people so that they may become one flock under one shepherd. Kanagaraj argues that the idea of founding and nurturing a new community was in God’s heart even before the time of creation and not just at the time of incarnation.
I’ve also interviewed Jey about his commentary:
Very soon I became a lecturer in New Testament in a Biblical Seminary in India. This offered me a good chance to use the available library resources and learn. I also learnt through teaching the students and evaluating their papers. The Seminary sent me to do Ph.D. in New Testament under Prof. James Dunn in Durham University, UK.
My doctoral study offered me a wonderful and useful opportunity for learning and writing. After I finished my dissertation, the examiners in the viva voce encouraged me to publish my thesis as a book. After some revisions, my Ph.D. dissertation on “Mysticism” in John’s Gospel was published as a book. It got wider acceptance in the scholarly circles. This gave me confidence and encouragement to write more articles and publish them in journals, both in UK and in India. The seminary, where I was working, gave me opportunities to edit two books. I co-wrote a commentary on John with Rev. Ian Kemp in relevance to the Asian context and after seven years I wrote another commentary on John in relevance to the Indian context and got it published in India. Students and scholars found it useful to their study. Recently I was asked to write a commentary on John for the New Covenant Commentary Series. The work was over and it is now published by Cascade Books. I became a biblical student (“scholar”) by working hard in the library, by teaching, by writing and by developing a learning attitude.
John’s teaching on the Holy Spirit, which is quite different from other Gospels, his projection of God by the name “I, I am” in relation to the people in and through Jesus, his unveiling of truth about God’s mission performed by Jesus and now by the Church, the believing community, his underlying motif of God’s new covenant community, and many other such themes in John’s Gospel are enjoyable and thus to be cherished.
I understood the high Christology that underlies the Gospel of John. In John, theology can no other way be expressed except through Christology and Pneumatology. I was taught by my own study that the purpose of forming God’s new community was in God’s heart even before the time of creation and that he has been fulfilling it in Christ, the Son of God whom he sent into the world, and is still fulfilling it in the life and ministry of the church. The community motif is embedded in the Fourth Gospel from the beginning of the Gospel till the end. I could appreciate the meaning of the key words, used in John, such as the “Logos”, “flesh”, “light”, “life/eternal life”, the “Paraklētos”, “abiding in”, etc. I learnt how the Gospel of John is applicable even today, particularly when I wrote “Fusing the Horizons”.
There is a real search for God in our culture and religions. People are longing to see the one Ultimate Reality. This cultural background led me, when I approached the text, to find out that John’s Gospel addresses this longing by stating that the one true God can be seen not primarily in any places of worship or in rituals and festivals, but in a Person, Jesus, God’s only Son, sent by the Father from heaven.
Having sprung from South Indian soil, I could easily understand Jesus tying a towel around his waist before he washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5), and the Greeks approaching first Philip in order to have a meeting with Jesus and Philip bringing this matter to the notice of Andrew before they both went and told Jesus (John 12:20-22). Such deeds and approaches are normally practised in our culture too.
The need to worship God as the Father in spirit and in truth is a common message both to the West and the East in our times. According to John, meaningful worship takes place in a community context and therefore one cannot ignore worship services in the Church. Often divine services, even on Sundays, are ignored by Christians particularly in the West.
We are living at a time when denominations are divided and small churches, with independent creed and administration, are coming up fast, especially in the West. Christians in one denomination are suspicious of people who belong to other denominations. There has been many efforts, especially in the Eastern countries, to pull people from other denominations to their denominations by claiming that it is only their own denomination holds the truth of the gospel rightly.
Many denominations give more importance to money and property rather than to people. Politics has become very common in many churches. Jesus’ new commandment, as John’s Gospel shows, that Christians should love each other and that they should live in unity with him and with one another as one flock under one shepherd sounds as though he, in John, is addressing the splitting tendency of the churches/denominations today. Churches are not social clubs, as it is considered in many parts of the world, but they are the movements, the instruments in God’s hands, to bear witness to the world and bring other people into the fold of the church. John speaks of the inclusive nature of the church that breaks the barriers based on ethnicity, language, caste (in South India at least), and nationality.
The important criterion for the renewal of the church today, as John portrays, is that each believer needs to die for himself/herself daily so that the believing community may bear fruit in this corrupt world for the glory of the Father. The renewal of the churches involves suffering and facing the hatred of the world. This truth is often forgotten among Christians. The so-called “Prosperity Gospel” contains only half-truth. The other side of Christian life is to undergo suffering. John’s Gospel brings out this truth along with the assurance that the presence of Jesus is always with his people even when they undergo persecution. It is actually Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, in John’s Gospel, which is the point of revealing His/God’s glory.
Two outward marks of church’s renewal are good deeds and enthusiastic involvement in Jesus’ mission. John’s Gospel ends with a missional challenge: the church’s mission and the equipping power of the Holy Spirit to do it are highlighted. The church that reaches out is the life-bearing and life-giving church. A stagnant church is in danger of living for itself.