Book Review – REBC 1-3 John (Tom Thatcher)

This commentary is another in the new Revised Expositors Bible Commentary, from the same volume as Hebrews by R T France, which I reviewed in a previous post.

One of the strengths of this series is a really well laid out format, including the NIV text of the Bible, and Greek and Hebrew is always both transliterated and translated. It is aimed at the biblical expositor, so it is not application heavy, but it is not overly academic either.

This particular commentary starts with an introduction that covers all three letters. Thatcher talks about the “Johannine community”, a distinct branch of the early church, and likes to highlight John’s unique emphases when compared say to Paul or Matthew. Although interesting, I do feel that expositors would be served with some suggested resolutions to these apparently divergent approaches. These things are of great interest to academics, but congregations will benefit more from a coherent big picture of what the whole Bible says.

Another aspect of the Johannine epistles that Thatcher stresses is John’s “dualism”. By this he means that John isn’t into shades of grey – you’re either right or wrong, in our out, true or false, Christian or antichrist. He mentions this throughout the commentary, and by the end it really has sunk in. No “generous” orthodoxy for John! Thatcher has a concern to let John speak for himself, rather than rushing in to soften the blow when strong sentiments are expressed.

He shows how in John’s mind, the theological and ethical aspects of the Christian life are inextricably linked. Christological heretics always fail to love, and true believers never do. This commentary is very light on application, and we are often left to ponder the ramifications of these challenging statements without much guidance from the author.

I have heard some people claim that while Paul was into “truth”, John was into “love”, as though John was a really kindly person and Paul was a bit stern. Reading this commentary has perhaps opened my eyes to a somewhat harsher (even ‘intollerant’) John! That we are called to a lifestyle of love as well as to a belief in orthodox doctrine is something we need reminding of, especially in our age where Christians want to emphasise one at the expense of the other. John was equally “full on” in both categories. Thatcher goes as far as to say that “if John’s tests of doctrine and love were rigorously applied, one might have to conclude that most Christians today are antichrists”.

Overall I would say I benefitted in my understanding of these epistles from reading this commentary, although I would still recommend people check out David Jackman’s BST if they want more pastoral application, and reflection on how what John teaches ties in with the rest of the New Testament. I have said that there is not a great deal of “application” here, but he does throw in some interesting insights and reflections as he works through the epistles – I found him particularly helpful on the atonement (1 Jn 2:2), on prayer (1 Jn 3:22), and the “health and wealth” gospel (1 Jn 5:14). I didn’t find his commentary on 2 and 3 John as useful as that on 1 John, although he enumerated the various options for interpretation clearly.

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