Textbooks and Commentaries on the Gospel of John

Textbooks and Commentaries on the Gospel of John November 8, 2012

Regular readers and others who know me will know that I did my doctoral dissertation on the Christology of the Gospel of John. With my primary research focus having moved elsewhere, I am delighted when I get to teach my upper-level class on the Gospel of John and return my attention there.

I’m still trying to decide which commentary or other textbook(s) to assign for the course. Older ones like that by Raymond Brown are no longer readily available. The students do not have Greek, and so that rules out a few options. A commentary spanning multiple volumes would be excessive.

There are a great many commentaries on the Gospel of John, and so the challenge in picking a textbook for such a course is really a matter of being spoiled for choice. There are classic ones still in print by Culpepper, Moloney, Kysar, and

relatively more recent ones by O’Day, Bruner and Michaels.

Yet most of the commentaries and other books on the Gospel of John that were published since I wrote The Only True God are ones that I am relatively unfamiliar with except superficially. One exception is the textbook I used last time, Andrew Lincoln’s commentary, which students seemed to find helpful and at just the right level. Before that I used Charles Talbert’s which I regret is out of print. Jerome Neyrey’s is another that looks promising, which I haven’t used for a class before, although I know Neyrey’s scholarship on John well from my time as a graduate student.

There are other books which I would consider if there were some way to preview them online, such as Befriending The Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John. Plus ones that take a more thematic approach (e.g. Paul Anderson’s The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John and Raymond Brown’s poshumously-published Introduction) which are perhaps less useful for a course in which I plan to work through the Gospel from start to finish.

And so one advantage of blogging is the possibility of crowdsourcing such dilemmas. If you’ve taught or taken a course on the Gospel of John in recent years, what textbook did you use, and would you recommend it?

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  • Dustin

    Warren Carter’s book on John avoids reading into the Gospel Nicene theology and attempts to situate it in the christology available in the 2nd temple texts.

    • Mark A Matson

      I am using this book next semester as well. Good balance to Koester’s book John’s theology.
      Koester’s book in Symbolism is also good for basic study of John.

    • Kaz

      Are you referring to “John and Empire: Initial Explorations”? (Found here: http://www.amazon.com/John-Empire-Explorations-Warren-Carter/dp/0567028402/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352594315&sr=8-1&keywords=John%2C+Warren+carter)

      If so, I’m intrigued, and will probably check that one out to see how he negotiates developing a Christology situated in 2nd temple Jewish concepts with concepts common to the political environment of Imperial Rome. I’m glad that he avoids reading Nicene Christology into John, because, IMO, to do otherwise is no longer to be reading John.

    • Kaz

      I wanted to followup and thank you for recommending Carter’s book, as it appears to be an important contribution to the study of John, which apparently has the potential to cause a paradigm shift in Johannine studies, e.g.:

      “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BOOK that, if taken seriously, will generate a
      new paradigm for the interpretation of the Gospel of John. To put the
      matter more starkly: if the main thesis of Warren Carter’s book John and
      Empire is correct, the bulk of Johannine studies over the past 150 years
      will have to be marginalised.” – Francis J . Moloney

      Mononey’s review can be found here:


      Another review can be found here:


      Another here:


      I’m not sure how this one fell outside my radar, but I’m grateful that you’ve corrected that problem:-)

      • Kaz

        “Mononey’s review can be found here:”

        So sorry, Francis, I meant “Moloney’s” review.

  • Do you have any opinions on Craig Keener’s two-volume commentary on John? I won it last year from Baker Academic and think it’s pretty useful.

    • I’ve not worked through it in detail but when I’ve dipped into it I’ve found it useful. But I think a one-volume commentary on John will be better for this class.

  • Kaz

    I haven’t taught participated in a class on the Gospel of John, but there are a few that I would not want absent from my own library, and I think they’re worth considering:

    1) Understanding the Fourth Gospel, by John Ashton

    2) The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, by Paul N. Anderson

    3) The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Structures and Issues, by William Loader

    It’s too bad the last one by Loader is out of print, because it would make a very good starter, IMO. I think that all of these have been around since the 90s, so they may not represent the cutting edge, but they are all very interesting.

    Better yet, how about convincing yourself or one of your colleagues to translate Jan A-Buhner’s historically significant work on John’s Gospel into English, so that they can get first hand exposure to the arguments that, more than any other (it seems), influenced many to see “agency” as a central theme in John?

    • Those are fantastic books on John, all of which I found very helpful when working on my dissertation. I’d say that for an undergrad class, which is liable to include people studying the Bible at university for the first time, those might prove too challenging. I’ll bring up a lot of the topics those books discuss in class, but the books themselves assume a prior familiarity with academic Biblical studies that it isn’t safe for me to assume students in the class will have. (I’ve considered adding a prerequisite for the class, but that would most likely severely diminish the class’s enrollment).

      • Kaz

        Yeah, that makes sense. I read “upper level class” and mistakenly inferred that it was an advanced class on John. Your observation is esp. applicable to the work of John Ashton. I think that Loader’s work would accessible, perhaps for a 2nd semester course. For beginners, I’d love to see a commentary on John that approaches that one book in a manner similar to how Kenneth Schenck approaches the New Testament as a whole in “Jesus Is Lord: An Introduction to the New Testament”. I enjoy his work on biblical studies as much as I do yours, so I should thank you, because I was introduced to it on your blog.

        You mentioned the commentary by Neyrey, which I haven’t read, though I’ve read some of his articles, most memorably “‘I Said: You are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10” (JBL, 108 [1989]: 647-663), where he takes the “gods” referenced by Jesus to be the Israelites at Sinai. Was he the one who influenced your own interpretation of that account? (A brief post on my own thoughts can still be found here http://kazesland.blogspot.com/, which is a blog I started but then just never found the time to keep up. I don’t know how you bloggers manage the time commitment!)

        • If you only managed one substantive blog entry, at least you made it a serious and worthwhile one! There are blogs out there with thousands of times more entries but which say much less.

  • Levi

    Keener’s commentary is wonderful, but probably a bit much for an undergrad class. When I took a class on John in undergrad, we used the Augsburg commentary by Kysar (pretty basic, but great series for pastors/undergrad students), D Moody Smith’s “The Theology of the Gospel of John” (pictured above) for overview and issues into Johannine studies, and Sloyan’s “What are they Saying about John?” which I would imagine is out of print by now. Those 3 did work together pretty well, and they are all relatively cheap books.

  • Michael Willett Newheart

    In a fit of shameless self-promotion, I will set forth my 2001 book _Word and Soul: A Psychological, Literary, and Cultural Reading of the Fourth Gospel_ (Liturgical). I call it a poetic commentary on the Gospel of John. For a review, see http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/1733_3195.pdf , and for an excerpt of the book, see http://www.litpress.org/excerpts/0814659241.htm. My students love it, and colleagues who have used it in their classes say their students love it. Beware, though, reading it is–gasp!–fun!

  • Evan Hershman

    The Raymond Brown commentary is, as far as I know, still available… the exegesis class on John at my seminary this year was able to easily get a shipment of new copies.

    Moloney or Lincoln would be my best bets, although I’m not particularly familiar with the literature of Johannine studies.

    • Thanks so much – you are right, it is still available. Given how expensive it would be to have students buy the two volumes, I will probably use something else…

  • Mark A Matson

    As commentaries go, my choice is with Frank Moloney’s. The 1 volume work in Sacra Pagina is good. His three volume paperback set (Belief in the Word, etc) is even better, but probably out of print. Of course Moloney’s approach in these is narratively focused, not historical critical.

    Not a commentary, but I am using this semester Craig Koester’s “Word of Life” as a theology of John. Nice way to highlight major themes.
    Craig Keener’s commentary is good, but almost too much detail for most students. Also, you often want a commentary to have a bold “vision” of the book. (hence my liking Moloney)

  • Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    May I invite the readers to visit Samaritan-Jewish Commentary on John’s Gospel that I am in process of writing. It tends to be very different from the normal shpil 🙂 http://jewishstudies.eteacherbiblical.com/samaritan-jewish-commentary-on-gospel-of-john/