Book Reviews Jesus and the Gospels New Testament

Book Review: John (ZIBBC), Craig Keener

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Craig Keener is a prolific scholar (see my review of his newest Galatians commentary). Everything he writes is quality, nuanced, well-read, and usually massive. Even if you don’t agree with all of his conclusions, he is so well-read that his arguments don’t lack support.

Keener previously wrote a 1,500 page, two-volume John commentary. Keener has read and understands wide swaths of Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, and it shows in his text and his footnotes. This commentary is a condensed version of his which is great because his larger commentary would be overwhelming if you’re not really a commentary person. There are still references here to Jewish and Greco-Roman writings, Roman and Hellenistic culture, but there are no footnotes (instead there are over 1,500 endnotes, but that means they are at the end of the book so they can’t distract you from the main text).

Previously, Andreas Köstenberger had written the John volume, but due to accidental plagiarism (which Exegetical Tools has written about here) in his ZIBBC and BECNT volumes, Köstenberger has been replaced with Keener (at least in the ZIBBC series). 

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary series aims to give Christians “good historical information” about the Bible without giving all of the information that can be given. The series’ aim is to serve the church. There are “hundreds of photos, maps, charts, artwork, timelines, sidebars, and reflections within these pages. 

  • Keener provides a two-page spread on who the Samaritans were (John 4). 
  • Though he (along with most conservative scholars) doesn’t believe this story to be canonical (see my comments below), he explores what Jesus may have written on the ground (John 8:6, 8) in the story of the woman caught in adultery. 
  • He gives five pages to different topics in John 10, “Figurative Use of Shepherds in Antiquity,” “The Sheep Image,” “Thieves and Robbers,” and “Sheep Pens and Gates” (99-103).
  • Two pages are given to “Differences in John’s Passion Narrative” and one page on “Footwashing” (134-136).
  • Other topics covered would be the Jewish understanding of “The Name,” the understanding of the Holy Spirit as “The Advocate,” the meanings of “The Spirit of Truth” and “Indwelling of Deity,” “The Vine,” “Pruning, “Ancient Friendship Ideals,” “Resurrection,” “Parallels to the Resurrection Appearances?,” and many, many more.


Though there is much to say, here are brief comments on a few of Keener’s interpretations.

  • 2:12-25: Keener doesn’t think that there were two temple cleansings. He believes that the elite priests would have been more than ready to do away with Jesus after the first cleansing (John 7:25). Keener adds, “No one expected ancient biographies to follow chronological sequence, however, and writers could rearrange material to present points more clearly” (23). 
  • 4:23-24: Worship that is “in truth” is sincere (Ps 145:18). “In spirit and truth” might mean “in the Spirit of truth” (see John 14:17).
  • 7:53-8:11: The story of the woman caught in adultery “may be a true story,” but “it should not be read as part of the context in John” (78). 
  • 10:34-36: Keener believes that the “divine council” of Psalm 82 are kings of the earth who “considered themselves divine, but they would perish like mortals” (111). Second-century rabbis applied that text to Israel as the recipients of God’s law. Jesus’ response is a common Jewish “how much more” argument: If you think you are this, how much more am I?
  • 14:12: Sometimes Keener provides different perspectives without giving his own opinion. When talking about the “greater works” of Jesus’ disciples, he writes that scholars debate whether these “works” refer to righteous deeds, miraculous works, or both. While Keener doesn’t weigh in here on what he thinks,  he does say that the works are probably quantitatively greater since Jesus has so many disciples (including all of those in church history and today).


Commentaries are, actually, needed. One does not need to buy them all, and we can be thankful that there are scholars who can devote their lives wrestling with the text and distilling it for others. This series gives more information per verse than a study Bible and less than the larger commentaries. It’s great for a layperson wanting to dive deeper into the text without getting in over their heads. A few other commentaries that would be helpful for the layperson would be those by Cook and Osborne (both of which I’ve reviewed). 


  • Series: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary
  • Author: Craig Keener
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan Academic (May 21, 2019)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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