Reviewing commentaries is a tricky business – particularly for me as a generalist, and an in-publisher editor of commentaries! I tend to offer my review based on the format and content of the volume, and it’s utility or otherwise to preachers and pastors. Occasionally I’ll digress into particularly theological or stylistic quirks. Under the review proper I’ve got some remarks comparing it to other John commentaries – I’ve read a few and own several.
The Gospel of John is probably the Gospel – probably, after Galatians, the New Testament Book – I have spent the most time thinking about. Whether it was half an A-level back in 2008, sitting under a sermon series and in a CU study series in 2009-10, or undergraduate and postgraduate work between then and now, John is the Gospel I’ve spent the most time with. Since 2007/8, I’ve had a copy of Carson’s (PNTC) commentary close at hand whenever I’ve done things with John – and it continues to be a helpful reference. Recently I worked on an NSBT on a theme within John and John’s Letters – and Carson’s PNTC remained useful. So it is with some trepidation that I write, in black and white, that Klink’s ZECNT is possibly now the commentary I’d recommend to most people for most purposes. I’ll spend the rest of this review explaining why.
This review also reflects my own idiosyncrasies and experience – I don’t preach regularly (though when i do, I like to preach expositorily!), and I work in the world of theological publishing, which includes looking after commentary series. So that means I’m an unusual reader – who hopefully can engage with a book on its own terms, rather than as a pure tool. The Zondervan Exegetical Series is one that’s come on to my radar and in my view is a really helpful one for pastors and preachers, and that mythical ‘educated lay’ reader. It’s not trying to be a full scale critical commentary (like an ICC, ECC, NIGTC or Hermeneia, for example), but it also assumes some knowledge of Greek, and theological education. It’s probably about the same level as a Pillar, an older NICNT, or some of the newer longer Tyndale volumes (like Schnabel on Matthew or Perrin on Luke). The key, though, and the thing that animated the eyes of one enthusiast, is the format for the ZECNT which is very nice – large, square hardbacks with clear print and a consistent layout.
But commentaries aren’t just all about the format – and in Klink’s case this is perhaps most especially clear. As he says at the outset, and I agree, “The paradox of scripture is most suitably handled by the confessional approach” (p. 24), and that “For the purpose of a commentary, an exegete is not to speak but to listen so that the only word heard and understood is the Word of God” (p. 33). This is a commentary that begins from a position theologically similar to my own – one of humility regarding the text, or, as Klink puts it, “The most competent reader of Scripture will be the one who stands under (not over) it” p. 41). I’m sure some will disagree, but this stance made reading this commentary a pleasure for me. This theological posture is not divorced from critical awareness or concerns for critical and contextual issues, however. I appreciated his perspective on 7:53-8:11, noted in many modern translations as possibly not original, as ‘a text on probation’ (p. 390). Similarly, commenting on the opening of the Gospel, he writes on 1:1 that “the context in which the Fourth Gospel begins is not Palestinian but primordial”. (p. 87). This is surely true!
Klink’s calm, careful commentary follows the narrative shape of the Gospel in a way that opens it up, even opening it up afresh for those of us who think we know the story. “After the prologue, the Fourth Gospel introduced the arrival of the Word, Jesus Christ, into the historical context of the first century” (p. 137). Klink’s reading of John is not one with historical detachment, but rather the fervour of a true disciple:
- “The first and foundational response of the Christian to the gospel of Jesus Christ is ‘come and see’” (p. 155)
- “The arrival of Jesus transforms the world and all its activities” (p. 158)
- “The signs are the aftershock of ‘God with us’” (p. 169)
- “Jesus Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life, exhorts his disciples to find through faith in his person and work their true rest, their true home, and their true vocation” (p. 611 on 14:1-14)
The clarity with which Klink generally writes (At times I did feel he was overly wordy, but this was not to the extent that I’d change my overall view of the book) means that a number of themes that are interwoven, and arguably interdependent, come out beautifully – occasionally in remarkably pithy aphorisms for distillations of such glorious truth:
- “The cross is central to worship because it fosters ‘true worshippers’” (p. 244)
- “Christian worship is done in no other temple than the temple of the body of Jesus Christ” (p. 254)
- “Jesus makes clear that the intention had always been that God would be the primary agent of belief. It is not only God who propels a person toward Christ (6:44), but also God who provides the primary instruction” (p. 336)
- “Just as God became a man, so the King became the Servant” (p. 577)
- “Christian belief is located not only in the person of the Son but also the message of the Son” (p. 621 on 14:11)
One area that I found particularly resonant was around questions of identity, community, and the activities of Christian discipleship. Thus, with conscious echoing of the Trinity, “The Christian finds no greater kinship than in the family of God” (p. 358 in a good section on 7:1-13), and the indwelling of Christ’s rule and reign: “Christians are exhorted… to claim the life Christ offers over their own standards for life” (p. 518). I think Klink captures beautifully the tension of Christ’s divinity and humanity, the complexities of Christ’s incarnate life, when he writes: “Jesus is worthy enough to be extravagantly anointed as king on a throne but loving enough to be prepared for death on a cross. Christian discipleship involves humble service to the King, valuing all things and activities by their ability to express honour to Christ” (p. 521). This Christian life is also, unlike some more mystical interpretations of John, a clear and exclusive thing based in Christ. With calm awareness of the various texts in the Gospel of John, Klink comments in a section considering ‘The Blessing and Burden of John 14:6′ that “The Gospel of John is inclusive in that it wants everyone to believe (20:31), but it is simultaneously exclusive in that it knows that this belief must be mediated through Christ” (p. 625).
Themes of union, unity and fulfilment also find expression here. This is a Trinitarian thing – “The Christian life is participation in God through Christ and in the Spirit, the Paraclete who guides the believer as the indwelling and eternal presence of God” (p. 628 nb union p. 653), “Seeing God according to the Gospel is seeing the Father through the Son and in the Spirit” (p. 689-90) – that Klink brings out beautifully. The movement of salvation from God to individuals/the church to the world is also carefully captured: “The resurrected Lord has initiated his new-creational reign in the world, beginning with the disciples themselves” (p. 870); “The good news is not only universal but also particular; it is for thomas and therefore also for the individual reader” p. 879). The commentary ends with 14 short-feeling pages of thought on the theology of the Gospel of John. To some extent this felt like strange placement – it would have been good introduction – but at the same time it felt a little like a delicious sweet at the end of a rich meal. Close to Klink’s last words echo his concern for context, and his care for the wider sweep of scripture: “The primary context for understanding the Gospel of John is the canon in which it has been rightly placed and published by the church” (p. 935). The volume closes with a thorough Scripture index – over 50 biblical books, as well as eleven pages on John alone – and indices of ‘Other Ancient Literature’ and ‘Subjects’ and ‘Authors’. The ‘Subjects’ are certainly a useful spread for preachers and pastors, whilst the ‘Authors’ index reveals that whilst Carson is valued, he’s matched or exceeded by thinkers (in terms of references!) like Augustine, C. K. Barrett, Raymond Brown, Rudolf Bultmann, Craig Keener, J. Ramsey Michaels, Leon Morris, Herman Ridderbos, and Rudolf Schnackenburg, to name but a few. This is not an evangelical commentary siloed in an ecclesial or historical vacum – but a careful work of scholarship in service of the church.
Overall, then, this is an immensely useful commentary, in a very usable format, which would make a fine addition to any pastor or preacher’s library. It’s physical weight and heft might make it less attractive to the occasional preacher or bible study leader – but I believe it’s devotional humility, theological acumen, and readable depth mean that it’s a commentary that I would recommend to nearly everyone interested in digging deeper into the Gospel of John.
Some comments in regard to comparison with other commentaries. Klink is significantly longer (970pp in a larger format compared with Carson’s 728) and more recent (2010 vs 1991) than Carson’s Pillar – though as noted above re authors, the overlap is relatively minor and so they compliment each other. I STILL think Carson’s commentary is a model of the genre, and a modern classic. With that in mind, a good third option might be Kruse’s Tyndale, which is shorter and more readable still (496pp). Klink is positively brief compared to Keener’s 1636 pages, though Keener of course will shed more light on ancient sources (though perhaps more than most preachers need!). I think Klink can punch in terms of textual engagement with larger critical commentaries like Brown (Anchor Yale Bible, 1376pp) though I’d be interested to compare with an ICC, ECC, or similar. He’s clearly more up to date than Morris’s now replaced NICNT volume – I’d be interested to read J. Ramsey Michaels’ replacement. I’ve got a (Fairly lukewarm) review in preparation for David Ford’s ‘theological commentary’ – in my personal view Klink is helpfully theological without some of the issues, as well as being more useful to most preachers.