I, II, & III John: A Commentary. The New Testament Library by WJK

I, II, & III John: A Commentary. The New Testament Library.

Author: Judith M. Lieu.
Publisher: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. pp. 336.
ISBN: 0664220983, 9780664220983

First, I’d like to thank the fine people at the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation for this review copy.

The New Testament Library published by Westminster John Knox Press has just newly released I, II, & III John: A Commentary. The author, Professor Dr. Judith M. Lieu, is a professor of Cambridge University’s Faculty of Divinity. She is also the editor of the journal New Testament Studies and is also the author of numerous books on early Christian identity.

Author Dr. Judith M. Lieu’s speaks about the historical aspect of these letters, as well as, the author, audience, and situation of the epistles’ setting. The introduction also covers the argument, style, and thought of the letters. The author’s question of the anonymity of the author leaves me wondering if it was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of John; however, her analysis and comparison between the similarities of the Johannine corpus still leaves me leaning towards the corpus as being written by one and the same person, which is traditionally agreed upon.

Lieu’s introduction to the commentary makes use of the latest biblical scholarship. Her expertise on early Christian identity lends itself nicely in this commentary because she also looks at the early Christian church through the eyes of John and how its dynamics influenced John’s letters. Lieu states:
Although 1 John moves within a dualist worldview, it is a profoundly Jewish one; in many ways, like other early Christian literature, this is an apocalyptic interpretation of history and experience. The denigration of “the (or this) world” owes something to the contrast in apocalyptic thought with “the world (or age) to come,” although that concept is not used in the Johannine literature….1 John’s favorite term for the eruption into the world of the Son of God is the verb phaneroo, to “reveal” or “manifest”; it refers to the past but also to the anticipated future revelation (2:28; 3:2, 5, 8). The emergence of the antichrists is a spurious imitative manifestation (2:19), and, although probably experienced in terms of human schism and conflict, they are described in all the language of the eschatological denouement.” (p.22)

Her identification of a literary element of rhythmic style within the first letter of John opened my eyes to there being a possible hymn of love in chapter. I am not entire convinced of this but there is definitely is some repetition.

The letters have a dualistic worldview. Concerning this, Lieu states:
Most fundamentally this worldview is characterized by dualism between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death, love and hatred; in the Gospel, but not in 1 John, there is a vertical dimension, above and below, and both writings set the (or this) world against that which is “not of the world.” (p.18)

The author agrees with the gender inclusive writing of the letters in using “brothers and sisters,” however, she realizes some difficulty in certain verses in stating:
While this may make the text more accessible to contemporary readers, it may also obscure the mindset of the earliest authors, who probably took for granted that priority of the masculine address….The associated image of strength and of victory over the evil one is apposite for the young male (neaniskos) but not for his coeval “sister.” Although it is unlikely that 1 John is addressed to an all-male community, such a reading would not be impossible.” (p.31).

Her scholarly assessment of the Epistles of John is quite in-depth and detailed. Going by a verse-by-verse exegetical format, she locates some of the difficult parts of the biblical text. For example, in 1 John 3:19-20, Lieu offers five alternative renderings based on the Greek text (p.155). In 1 John 4:9-10, the author also draws a parallel between this text and John 3:16-17. Lieu states:
Equally, while it is possible that the story of Abraham, the father who offered his only son, informed some other early Christian reflection on God’s giving of his Son (see Rom. 8:32), it is nowhere in view at this point in 1 John. These conclusions are reinforced by the verb “sent” (apostello). That Jesus is the Son sent by the Father, God, is axiomatic for the Fourth Gospel’s Christology…However, none of this can be read into 1 John; the three occurrences of the verb…are formulaic and do not invite further theological reflection.” (p.183)

This commentary’s exegesis of the biblical text is top notch. Overall, I would like to comment that the entire New Testament Library commentary series is not intended to provide much pastoral application because it is designed so that it leaves it up to the exegete to provide a pastoral application from the text. Other commentary series may provide much more pastoral application than the NTL. This series of commentaries provides a transliteration of the Greek so that it is accessible to those not familiar with Greek such as lay people; moreover, it is not so technical that only an academically trained person in the original languages can use it.

Lieu has written an excellent commentary on I, II, & III John. Her biblical exegesis of the text is thorough and very well done. This is definitely a commentary I would reference in my personal exegesis and interpretation of the letters of John.

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