My Commentary on John (PDF Download)

As I explained earlier, I am starting to publish some of my verse by verse expositions of various New Testament books here on my blog. In this post I want to introduce my comments on John (download as PDF here), which is the longest book I have tackled so far (although I am currently working through Acts). I began work on John back in 2004, but got stuck in chapter 6 which is very long and very deep. After a year’s break I came back with fresh enthusaism and finished it off.

The two main commentaries I consulted along the way were Don Carson’s outstanding Pillar commentary on John, and Andreas Kostenberger’s Baker Exegetical Commentary. I ended up regretting choosing Kostenberger as my second option as it seemed very rare that his insights were different to Carson’s. Other commentaries I have read on John include Bruce Milne’s Bible Speaks Today, Tom Wright’s John For Everyone, and Merryl Tenney’s John – The Gospel of Belief.

The gospel of John has always been one of my favourites. I find it interesting that John chose to leave out the parables and Sermon on the Mount, in favour of structuring a large part of his gospel around a series of seven “signs” and seven notable “I am” sayings of Jesus, which may even be linked in pairs (e.g. raising of Lazarus goes with “I am the resurrection and the life”). This may well indicate that the author of this gospel is indeed the same John that wrote Revelation, although I am aware some commentators find extra signs and “I am” sayings.

I also like the way that John complements and supplements the Synoptic gospels. It seems to me that in several places he assumes his readers know these other accounts, and this may explain why he feels free to leave many key incidents and teachings out. In their place we get treated to the brilliant and theologically profound introductory section of chapter 1, and the wonderful final teaching session before his crucifixion in chapters 13-16, and many more sections that are unique to John, such as the discussion with Nicodemus in chapter 3.

I must also thank Tom Scrivens (who has recently become the father of twin girls), who kindly proof read this one for me and provided lots of valuable feedback. As with all my “commentaries”, I still view this as a work in progress and hope to return to improve some sections in the future. As always, I welcome any feedback.

Book Review – BEC John (Andreas Köstenberger)

The Series

The Baker Exegetical Commentary series is one of my favourites in terms of layout, with very nice typesetting which sets it apart from series like the Word Biblical Commentary or even the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. It is good to see newer series following suit. The full text of the book is included in blocks at the start of each new section, usually the author’s translation. Comments are on groups of verses, sometimes up to six at a time. The commentary does use Greek characters, usually transliterated and translated (except in the footnotes).


The introduction is surprisingly concise given the size of this commentary, although it touches on the subjects you will expect. He does include a table where he attempts to date all the incidents in the gospel. He breaks the book into two halves, the first as the book of signs, and the second the book of glory. In the first part there are seven “signs”, seven “I AM statements”, and quite possibly seven “witnesses” too.


I read through this commentary in parallel with Don Carson’s commentary on John in the Pillar Commentary Series, and the similarities were striking. Not only are the same conclusions reached, but often the structure of the argument is extremely close. Disagreements between the two are rare, and usually only minor in any case. In many ways, these could be called “synoptic commentaries” – Köstenberger and Carson approach John from very similar points of view, unsurprisingly so, since Köstenberger refers to Carson as his mentor. He also highly rates the commentary of Herman Ridderbos.

Carson interacts with other commentators to disagree with them, whereas Köstenberger prefers to highlight the best of their comments. Carson says almost everything in the main text, while Köstenberger utilises footnotes a lot more. Sometimes well over half the page is taken up with footnotes. However, lists of references to other commentators whose views he is quoting or summarising do not get relegated to footnotes, which means that some sentences can get swamped amidst a mass of attributions. This means that, despite the two books having roughly the same size, reading through Köstenberger will be much quicker. Carson is happy to go off on excursuses teasing out the meaning of difficult phrases, while Köstenberger is much more concise (e.g. Carson spends 5 pages on “water and spirit” in 3:5, Köstenberger a paragraph or so).

In some ways, this functions as a digest of other commentaries on John, as he often selects good quotes from other commentators or summarises their arguments, without the need for him to add additional comments of his own (except in the footnotes).

There are a couple of features that make Köstenberger unique though. He has more interest than Carson in things like geography and historical details (for example, he fills us in on the types of lanterns and torches in 18:3). He is also very interested in placing events in the year they happened (it seems to be a couple of years later than others I have read – he has Jesus starting his ministry aged 33). One surprising feature, perhaps, is his choice not to translate or provide commentary on the story of the woman caught in adultery (though he does include an excursus on it). Clearly, he feels strongly that this should not be considered part of the canon of Scripture.


I guess the trouble with this commentary is that it is difficult to recommend it instead of Carson’s and it is also difficult to recommend it as well as Carson’s due to their close agreement on so many matters. His key advantage is his succinctness in the main text, allowing him to make very direct points that in Carson’s commentary are spread out over several pages of interaction with other views. This does not mean though that Köstenberger’s commentary is shallow. The copious footnotes allow you to choose the points at which you want to go deeper.

Book Review – The Gospel According to John (D A Carson)

The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series

I have already blogged about the Pillar New Testament Commentary series, which is itself edited by Don Carson, so you can read my general thoughts on the layout and goals of this series there.

The Introduction

The introduction is fairly lengthy (80 pages), and dives straight in with a look at the distinctives of the gospel of John as compared to the Synoptics. Carson has of course also authored a commentary on Matthew that paid special attention to the relationship between the Synoptics, so this enables him to complete the picture.

He devotes several pages to the historical interpretation of John’s gospel, before embarking on a lengthy defence of the authenticity of the fourth Gospel. In particular, he addresses Bultmann’s antisupernaturalism and ‘demythologizing’ of the text. He points out that the Dead Sea scrolls find has removed the need to postulate a hellenistic background to the thought of John’s gospel.

Another sizable section is devoted to authorship, in which he casts doubt on the validity of efforts to detect several sources in the text. He concludes that a working assumption of Johannine authorship is the best way to approach the text. He very tentatively dates it at around AD 80.

Carson even includes some advice for those preaching from the book of John. Overall the introduction is a great read, and almost a book in its own right.

The Commentary

The commentary itself is densely packed in with little whitespace, and no inclusion of the biblical text. There are surprisingly few footnotes, since Carson prefers to do most of his interaction with other commentators in the main text. As with his Matthew commentary, he loves to take the time to defend the text against accusations of fabrication, and offers explanations for supposed problems. He is also quite happy to spend several pages digging deeper into a particular theological concern that is raised by the text.

The commentary itself is far too massive for me to attempt to summarise all the useful points. To list all the sections of John in which I found Carson’s comments particularly helpful I would be to list the entire contents.

Carson’s strengths as a biblical commentator are the comprehensive way he tackles the types of concern that an expositor will have. He incisively gets to the bottom of what the sayings mean, some of which are hard to unpack. He has a good eye for Old Testament allusions. He is willing to take on and reject other possible interpretations, both from skeptics and other Christian traditions (such as Roman Catholicism). He is also prepared to reject “sentimental” conclusions popular amongst evangelicals if the exegesis does not bear it out.


I cannot recommend this commentary on John highly enough. It is a magnificent work, and one that would greatly benefit any serious student or teacher of the Bible. Yes, it is quite long, but it is always interesting. It has actually taken me about five years to work my way through it, but I am glad I have done so, and this will almost certainly be one of the first commentaries I consult every time I am doing study on John.

The “Love Languages” of Jesus

I’m sure most of my readers have heard of the “five love languages”. The idea is that different personality types appreciate different ways of love being expressed. These are:

  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

The idea is that if we discover what someone’s “love language” is, we can better communicate our love for them. Now I am sure there is a certain amount of truth in this, but what would you say that Jesus’ “love language” was? In what way does he wish us to express our love for him, and in what way does he show his love for us?

You could probably find occasions in the gospels in which Jesus either ‘spoke’ or was ‘spoken to’ in each of those five languages. But in John 13-17, which I have been working my way through recently, two “love languages” stand out that don’t make it into the list of five.


“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
(John 14:15 ESV)

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.
(John 14:21a ESV)

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word,
(John 14:23a ESV)

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
(John 15:10a ESV)

The main way that Jesus asked his disciples to express their love for him was through obedience. This is not legalism, it is the outworking of love. Jesus has told us plainly that his love language is obedience, and if we love him, we will demonstrate it by keeping his commandments.

Jesus himself demonstrated his own love for the Father in exactly the same way:

… I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. …
(John 14:31 ESV)


Obviously, Jesus did not express his love for his disciples through obedience to them. He certainly gave them quality time, and performed acts of service for them. He promised that he would show his love by “making his home” with his disciples through the indwelling of the Spirit (John 14:23). But the ultimate way that Jesus expresses his love for us is through sacrifice.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
(John 13:1 ESV)

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
(John 15:13 ESV)

Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life demonstrated the extent of his love both for his Father, that he would obey even in this, and for us, that he would willingly die to save us.

Concluding thoughts

I guess I would sum up these verses about love in John with two observations:

  • Claiming to love Jesus is hollow if we are not willing to obey him.
  • We can’t love like Jesus loved, if we are not willing to sacrifice on behalf of others.

Convicted of Righteousness

8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11 ESV)

I have always felt that these verses in John are quite tricky to understand. From reading some commentaries, it appears that the Greek isn’t straightforward either. The concept of the Spirit “convicting” people of sin is not problematic, but what does it mean that he will convict people of “righteousness”?

One solution that I have heard is to take the word ‘convict’ to mean ‘convince’. i.e. The Spirit will convince people that Jesus is the righteous one. Or he will convince them of their need to be righteous. Not only does this require a modification in the meaning of the word convict between verse 9 and 10, but it is in danger of making the Spirit’s work into a merely intellectual persuasion.

Don Carson offers an interesting alternative take on what it means to convict the world concerning righteousness:

John loves to quote or allude to Isaiah, and Isaiah 64:5 establishes that all the dikaiosyne (righteousness) of the people of Isaiah’s day was as a menstruous cloth. Within the Fourth Gospel, this reading of ‘righteousness’ is eminently appropriate. (The Gospel According to John, PNTC, D A Carson, p537)

What does this make of the clarifying phrase: “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer”? Carson explains that the Spirit is simply continuing an important aspect of the ministry of Jesus, confronting and challenging religious hypocrisy:

The reason why the Paraclete convicts the world of its righteousness is because Jesus is going to the Father. … [The] Paraclete … drives home this conviction in the world precisely because Jesus is no longer present to discharge this task.

Not all commentators are convinced by this. Köstenberger considers it plausible, but prefers a legal interpretation:

… the Spirit of truth in his legal function of parakletos is said here to prosecute the world on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus, who is declared just and vindicated in court. (John, BEC, Andreas Köstenberger, p472)

However, if Carson is right, this is a very provocative concept. All Christians know what it feels like to be convicted of sin by the Spirit, but have you ever been convicted of “righteousness”? We know the Spirit’s voice telling us that our bad temper, greed or impure thoughts are sinful and we need to repent, but have we ever considered that some of our religious good deeds could in fact require repentance too?

Repentance for empty legalistic ‘righteousness’ would take on a different form to repentance from sin. Repenting from sin involves stopping the wrong behaviour, but repenting from righteousness requires something even deeper. After all, the Pharisees regularly gave alms to the poor and prayed daily. Jesus was hardly intending for them to stop these activities. Repenting from legalism is therefore a change of heart rather than necessarily outward behavioural change.

Like many Christians at the start of a new year, I try to make resolutions concerning things like Bible reading and prayer, as well as other spiritual goals for the coming year. But we need to beware of turning from grace to legalism and doing the right things with the wrong motivation, or before long, we will find the Spirit convicting us of our shallow religious ‘righteousness’ and calling us back to a relationship with God based on delight and not duty.

Book Review – John For Everyone (Tom Wright)

The gospel of John is covered in two volumes of Tom Wright’s “For Everyone” series. The basically format is that he provides his own translation of the text (say 10-20 verses) followed by a page or two of expositional and devotional thoughts. These usually begin with a brief anecdote or illustration, and go on to expound the meaning of the passage in question. The format lends itself particularly to being used in daily devotions.

Wright is well known in theological circles for his work on both the gospels, and on Paul, bringing his own unique perspective to many passages, while remaining in the evangelical tradition. As I mentioned recently, many in reformed circles are unsure whether to take him as a friend or a foe. However, at the very least his historical expertise is able to shed much light onto many passages, even if not all his theological conclusions are agreed with.

The gospel of John actually provides less opportunity for controversy, as Wright’s preterist approach to many of the parables and eschatological teaching of the Synoptics does not occur, and the “exile” theme is not so prominent. In fact, I was reading this at the same time as reading Don Carson’s commentary on John, and noticed many places where the two are in close agreement with their interpretation and application of key passages.

Wright uses his historical knowledge to bring many passages to life, and he emphasises Jesus as the alternative to the Temple early on. In the first book, he encourages us to see that John is listing seven signs that point to who Jesus is. In some places, he notes where the authenticity of some of Jesus’ sayings have been doubted, but encourages us to believe, giving brief reasons why they should not be doubted on historical terms. He particularly sees echoes of the Old Testament exodus and passover stories in much of John’s material. There was also a very interesting link with the story of David’s three warriors getting water for him in the “drinking blood” part of John 6.

The second volume on John covers chapters 11-21 and does not presuppose that you have read the first volume. In the discussion on the true vine in chapter 15, Wright emphasises Jesus as the true Israel. The chapter also includes criticism of historical wars in the name of Christianity.

As well as the exodus theme, Wright sees links with the Genesis creation story in more than just the prologue, such as seeing Gethsemane the new garden of Eden where the true Adam is sent to his death by the false ones.

In the trial scene, Wright does not attempt to provide a harmonisation of the order of events with the synoptics, but does seek to defend the gospel’s portrayal of Pilate. Pilate’s two motivations of avoiding trouble and snubbing the Jews reveal his actions as historically plausible. Unlike many schemes, Wright sees the cross itself as the seventh sign in John (walking on the water is not counted).

As he deals with Jesus’ death and resurrection Wright’s focus is more devotional. We are encouraged to stand in awe and wonder at the event, and called to appreciate Easter rather than Christmas as the high point of the Christian calendar. He sees chapter 21 as a later addition but still talks as though he accepts Johannine authorship of it.

Despite his interest in historical matters, these certainly do not dominate the discussion, and Wright consistently looks for ways to apply the text. Sometimes this is in the form of a challenging question intended for further reflection, while in other places he spells out some of the practical implications. As with so many others in the “For Everyone” series, I can recommend these two volumes on John as a very helpful study guide. They will broaden your understanding of the theology, historical background, and ongoing challenge of the gospel of John.

The Message of John (Bruce Milne)

In this generously sized volume of the BST series, Bruce Milne guides us through the gospel of John. Regular readers of this series will know that they can expect an evangelical commitment to Scripture, and a focus on expository preaching that brings home the theological and moral implications of the text to contemporary readers.

The introduction cites internal and external evidence for the apostle John as the author, and favours an early date for this gospel which he sees as an evangelistic tract that complements the synoptic gospels.

I thought his coverage of the opening chapters were particularly good, and even inspired some lyrics for a song I was writing. He emphasises the Christological significance of the miracles, particularly how they show Jesus’ own superiority to Judaism. He is not afraid though to see the miracles also as paradigms of how Jesus is able to meet our own needs.

He draws on the insights of a number of commentators where necessary, and prefers to summarise their conclusions where he agrees with them rather than repeat all the steps in the argument. Carson, Newbiggin and Beasley-Murray are amongst the most frequently quoted.

The book is not organized into a normal chapter format, but he breaks the book down into three major sections, to fit his structure of Christ as King. However, the second of these seconds covers the vast bulk of material, and itself is broken up into three parts, with a major section beginning at chapter 12:20 – the “coronation”. I think the book would actually have been a bit easier to read in a conventional chapter arrangement. I had actually tried to read through this volume once before and only got about three quarters of the way through.

He sees Jesus’ discourse with the disciples in the latter half of the book as being broken into two parts. Perhaps surprisingly John 15 (“I am the true Vine”) is seen as being about mission, although he does acknowledge other themes present. Other highlights for me are his treatment of Jesus’ prayer, and his insights into the human sinful nature as he discusses the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

Although it is not as comprehensive as Carson’s excellent commentary on John, I have benefited a lot from reading this book. Those preparing Bible studies on John or simply wanting to go a bit deeper will find it rich in practical application and devotional insight.


Since I am discussion charismatic issues at the moment on my blog, I will give two quotes from the book that caught my attention in relation to the Holy Spirit.

The first is from p287 and describes Milne’s understanding of the symbolism of the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side (after noting that water is symbolic of the Spirit):

“‘The water had to be mingled with Jesus’ blood before the Spirit could give his testimony’. But now this has happened, and so the Spirit can come. Thus to John’s amazement the Spirit is symbolically released from the crucified body of Jesus, indicating that by his death, the kingdom has come which all may enter through faith in him. Thus, even though dead, he imparts the Spirit who is the power of his kingly reign”.

The second is refer’s to Calvin’s comments (although Milne does not agree) on Jesus’ saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” to his disciples in John 20:22.

“… Calvin distinguishes between ‘sprinkling’ with the Spirit (here) and ‘saturation’ with the Spirit at Pentecost.”

Milne prefers to see the comment as “didactic”, with the real coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, but I found it interesting that Calvin of all people should be talking in the kind of terms that those who teach that the baptism in the Spirit is a “second blessing” use.