To introduce my readers to this monumental volume. A series like this has long been a desideratum. My initial impressions: if every volume comes even half-way to the standard now set by Andreas Köstenberger, we will be well-served indeed by a comprehensive New Testament theology.
I would like to point out some of the larger implications of the book before getting to some of the highlights. The largest component of the implications is that this set of volumes is well-positioned to bridge that seemingly unbridgeable gap between exegesis and systematic theology. Köstenberger admirably achieves a bridge between the disciplines, frequently pointing out the implications for ST of a certain literary aspect of John’s Gospel. He does this also in the structure of the book, moving from literary analysis to topical studies based on the literary reading. To my mind, this bridge is the single biggest contribution that Köstenberger has given us in this volume. In doing so, he has put the entire scholarly world permanently in his debt. I can only hope and pray that the remaining volumes will aim at a similar goal.
Secondly, the bibliography is incredible. I could only think of a very few omissions (who can read everything nowadays, even on one book of the Bible?), and I don’t think those omissions affected the outcome much. The bibliography alone is worth the price of admission for anyone working on the Gospel of John.
Thirdly, for anyone preaching on John, it is essential that one have a grasp of the whole picture before diving in to the individual passages. I can think of no better tool for getting at the big picture of John than this volume. Preachers, then, should read this volume now before preaching on John. It will help give preachers a reading strategy in their own acquisition of John’s theology, and it will help preachers follow the flow of John’s thought better, thus enabling them to communicate John better to the congregants.
Now, for some specifics. The book is divided into 16 chapters, which are in turn divided into 4 major parts: historical framework, literary foundations, major themes, and implications for the entire canon of Scripture. Of these 4 sections the middle two constitute the main bulk of the volume. The main substance of the volume consists of a movement from a literary and exegetical reading to a theological reading. However, one should not think that Köstenberger has thereby short-changed introductory matters or canonical significance. Particularly memorable in the introductory section are his defense of the historical reliability of John’s Gospel (he is very good at giving us a history of scholarship that is interesting rather than a simple litany of views). In this regard, he banks heavily on (though is not uncritical of) the work of Bauckham (this volume and this volume pop up a lot, I was glad to see), and Blomberg. Köstenberger makes an intriguing case for John being written after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. His arguments are more than plausible.
The second part of the work includes discussions of the genre of John’s Gospel and Letters, followed by a discussion of linguistic and literary dimensions of the same. He takes it upon himself to debunk the “Johannine community” hypothesis supported most notably by Raymond Brown. Köstenberger then gives us a very helpful literary commentary on the whole of John’s Gospel and Letters. This is a “forest” type of commentary (he’s already given us an outstanding “tree” commentary). Interestingly, this is, in effect, his fourth commentary on John, the other two being his contribution to the NT”s Use of the OT commentary, and also the commentary in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.
The third major part of the book is his treatment of Johannine themes. The themes he treats include John’s worldview, the Messiah and his signs, creation and new creation, the Trinity, Jesus’ fulfillment of festal symbolism, the cosmic trial motif, the intersection of divine sovereignty and human responsibility (this is where his Calvinism shines through most clearly), the love ethic, the theology of the cross, and John’s Trinitarian Mission Theology (which is based on his work in this book, as is the chapter on the Trinity). It would be difficult to think of a major Johannine theme which Köstenberger has left out, or even a minor theme.
The fourth major part examines John’s relationship to the rest of the New Testament. At first, I was disappointed that he hadn’t had a separate section on John’s relationship to the Old Testament. But then I remembered that he hadn’t omitted that treatment: it was embedded in the whole of the volume. He takes a very salvation-historical approach (Westminster grads like me use the term redemptive-historical).
It seems almost churlish of me to note criticisms of an accomplishment so fine as this volume. These criticisms should be considered very minor indeed, and easily fixable for the next edition (I do hope he will keep this volume up-to-date in the coming decades!). As I said, there were very few bibliographic omissions that I could find. Nevertheless, I think he could have taken more account of Judith Lieu’s work. She wrote both a theology of John’s Letters, and a very complete commentary on the second and third letters of John, neither of which receive any attention in the volume. Secondly, while he does treat 1 John fairly well, 2 and 3 John are not given very much attention. Of course, they are very small letters in comparison to the gigantic Gospel and the much larger 1 John. Nevertheless, I would like to have felt that he had spent the right proportion of energy on them, and given them the same painstaking detailed work he had given on the Gospel and 1 John. What he does say on them is excellent. But I wanted a bit more. There were a couple of sections that were not especially clear. One of them was on page 520, and brought into question his view of the scope of the atonement. I didn’t come away with a clear idea of definite, or limited atonement, from the volume. That doesn’t mean that he denies limited atonement, it just wasn’t clear to me what his position is. One other thing I could have wished he would have done is talk a bit more about the phrase “in me” in John 15:2. Of course, the Federal Vision controversy is not a Baptist controversy. Nevertheless, I was hoping that he might say a word or two about it.
These are very minor criticisms, and should in no way detract from this magnificent achievement. I enjoyed reading it from start to finish, and recommend it heartily as easily the best book on Johannine theology that we have. It will be difficult indeed for anyone to supersede it.
I know of only one other complete review on the net right now, that of Selvaggio, who also gives it a good review.