John’s letters, says Jackman, contain simple vocabulary but profound theology. In his introduction he makes a case for the apostle John as the author of these letters along with the gospel of John. The first letter intends to deal with the problem of the Gnostic false teachers who were vaunting their ‘anointing’ and ‘knowledge’. 1 John stands as a warning against knowing without doing. “Belief and behaviour” and “truth and love” are the major themes.
The commentary is broken into 20 short chapters, each dealing with a few verses. The last two chapters deal with 2 and 3 John respectively and are therefore slightly longer. The NIV text is included at the start of each chapter which is a useful feature that I wish more commentaries had (it’s very impractical to have a Bible and a commentary when reading in the bath). Jackman is willing to discuss issues of translation and Greek on occasions but it is never overly technical. He is also an appreciator of hymns, quoting them on regular occasions throughout the book. He has a good way with words, and at no point did I feel the book got bogged down with too many comments on one individual verse. As with all the New Testament BST volumes, there is a study guide at the end, which has a couple of (thankfully not patronising) questions on each chapter.
As he moves through the first letter, Jackman slowly deals with some of the heresies of the false teachers: their denial of the incarnation, their heretical views about Christ, their claims to perfectionism, their elite holier-than-thou attitude because of their special knowledge and their claiming to speak on behalf of God. Jackman shows how John counters these with affirmations of truth about Jesus and teaching about fighting sin. While the author hints that he can think of a few groups in the contemporary church that tend towards the same errors, he diplomatically avoids direct comparisons.
Love is a major theme of the book and the sections on how much God loves us as well as some practical teaching on how we love others are most valuable. The challenge to love one another is clearly spelled out, as it constitutes the irrefutable evidence of the new birth. Particularly excellent is the discussion of how love and obedience work together, and the way he shows that, for John, love is not merely a duty but a characteristic of real Christianity. The theme of truth is also clearly close to Jackman’s heart as he regularly stresses the importance of sound doctrine.
The chapters on 2 and 3 John both begin with a short discussion of authorship, both arguing for John again on stylistic grounds. In his comments on 2 John, Jackman talks about John’s concern for truth, particularly now that almost all the first apostles had died. He describes the competing trends in the church to either go for ‘new ideas’ or ‘old traditions’, neither of which is intrinsically right or wrong, but argues that the desire for ‘biblical truth’ should be paramount.
The chapter on 3 John is not surprisingly structured around the three men mentioned in the letter: Gaius who was welcoming and supportive, Diotrophes with his self-centred ambition and Demetrius the good example. The lessons they each teach the modern church are as important now as ever.