Book Reviews

Book Review: A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (Andreas Köstenberger)

This is the first volume in Zondervan’s projected eight-volume Biblical theology of the New Testament series (I’ve reviewed Davids’ Theology of James, Peter, and Jude). Andreas Köstenberger is Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of the Center for Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as being the editor for this series. I reviewed Kostenberger’s (later-pulled-for-unintentional-plagiarism) John commentary in the BECNT series a few years ago. Though it was a fine commentary, I was disappointed in the lack of theological reflection. As it turns out, it was put in here (570 pages of it). Köstenberger refers to this work as the sequel to his earlier commentary. Köstenberger writes on John’s Gospel and his letters. Though written by John, Köstenberger does not work on the book of Revelation. (That will come later.)

Part One—The Historical Framework

Köstenberger begins his book with a look at the historical setting of John’s writings. After a very brief look at the history of scholarship and the plan and structure of the book, Köstenberger surveys different proposals on when John’s Gospel was written (mid-80s to early 90s AD), who wrote it (John the apostle—Köstenberger argues against Bauckham here), provenance (Ephesus), and destination/to whom was it written (all Christians). What was the occasion for the Gospel? To put it succinctly, it was probably brought about because of the temple’s destruction, missions to the Gentiles, and Gnostic (false) teaching. John’s purpose was to “set forth evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that people might believe in him and as a result have life in his name” (85). It is both to build up the community and for evangelism.

When it comes to the Letters, they were also likely authored by John the apostle, written in Ephesus to various groups in a congregation to combat false teachers who had recently left the church. The people were experiencing a certain duress from it.

Part Two—Literary Foundations

Köstenberger looks at the genre of John’s writings, the style of John’s writings and the structure of his writings, and ends with a literary-theological reading his the Gospel and of the letters. The literary-theological is the sort of commentary I enjoy. What is each section saying, and why it stand where it does? Why did John place Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus before his conversation with the woman at the well and not after? Though that specific question isn’t discussed, Köstenberger does compare and contrast Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher who consistently misunderstands Jesus and can’t figure him out, with the woman at the well, a nameless Samaritan woman who dialogues with Jesus, believes him, and tells others about him. This also gives us a look at the church’s future missions to Gentiles. Jesus had already begun that mission with the Samaritans (who were half-Jewish and half-Gentile).

Throughout, Köstenberger looks at the themes of glory, the people’s messianic expectation, their misunderstanding, divine judgment, death, unbelief, Jesus’ signs, and more. Misunderstanding pervades John’s Gospel. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus. A crowd misunderstood Jesus and tried to force him to be their king. Peter’s misunderstands Jesus’ mission cuts a man’s ear off.

Part Three—Major Themes

Köstenberger gives ten chapters on various themes in John. He looks at John’s worldview and his use of Scripture, the Word, the trinity, salvation history, John’s love ethic, theology of the cross, and his trinitarian mission theology (to name a few).

In the chapter on the Word: creation and new creation, Köstenberger looks at all the references to “life” and “light” in John, and then lists his observations on the use of those two terms throughout the Gospel. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all posses life and light. For us to have life is a present reality and a future expectation. We are both saved and we will be saved from sin and death in the future. Köstenberger presents possible instances of the new creation in the Passion narrative:

  • the setting of the Passion Narrative is in a garden (a point not made by the Synoptic Gospels)
  • Mary mistakes Jesus as “the gardener” (a job which Adam held)
  • Jesus’ resurrection is possibly presented as the beginning of a new creation (20:1; cf. 1:3)
  • Jesus breathes on his disciples and gives the gift of the Spirit (20:22), “invoking the creation of Adam in Gen 2:7 (cf. Ezek 37:9)” (352).

Köstenberger’s book is extremely valuable just for these insights. This section covers roughly 250 pages, which will give you rich connections throughout John’s Gospel, whether that be for your own use, family use, or for teaching.

Part Four—Johannine Theology and the Canon of Scripture

In Part Four, Köstenberger compares John with the Synoptic Gospels, as well as (briefly) with Paul’s letters and the Catholic Epistles (except for Revelation, which will be its own volume).

Recommended?

This is a fantastic book, full of theological insights. Köstenberger is evangelical and fully committed to the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. He has spent a long time in John’s Gospel, and he cuts against the grain of scholarship when he believes they don’t uphold John’s message. I have high hopes for this series (see Bock’s volume on Luke/Acts, Garland on Mark, and Moo’s upcoming volume on Paul). This is a book I wish I would have had years ago, but am pleased to have it now. There is a gold mine of information here. If you are a preacher, a teacher, a layperson, or anywhere in between, and you want to know and understand John’s Gospel better, consider picking this one up. It is worth your time.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series
  • Author: Andreas J. Köstenberger
  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan Academic (November 7, 2009)
  • Sample the book here

Buy it from Amazon or Zondervan Academic!

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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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