Book Reviews

John 1

1–7

William Weinrich Saint Louis December 31, 2015

The purpose of the Concordia Commentary series is to help those engaged in ministry (pastors, teachers, and missionaries) to teach the Bible in a clear and faithful manner. The series is Lutheran in its perspective. It has a Christological focus and presupposes that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant (x). Also, the Lutheran emphasis is clear; the editors state that “the Law and Gospel are the overarching doctrines of the Bible itself” (x). The commentary also employs fifteen icons to highlight theological themes (e.g., the Trinity, temple, Christology, baptism, justification, sin/law-breaking/death, etc.; see xxvi–xvii).

Weinrich includes an eighty-page introduction that covers traditional introductory matters such as purpose, uniqueness, literary characteristics, vocabulary, authorship, date, and provenance. The author is the apostle John (61). After describing various options and noting the traditional provenance as Ephesus, Weinrich argues that cultural influence, topological knowledge, theological audience, and the centrality of Jerusalem suggest Palestine is the most likely origin for the Gospel (22–26). Weinrich provides a thorough discussion of the date of the Gospel (29–51) and concludes that it was written in the 40s and brought by John to Asia Minor in the early 50s (51). Weinrich’s conclusion on the provenance and date are at odds with most scholars. To his credit, he provides helpful discussions of the various sides of the issues. The presentation is very well organized and easy to follow. Since a date in the 90s (or, for a minority, the late 60s) and an Ephesian origin are so familiar to students of John, Weinrich’s conclusions will provide fresh views and challenge them to revisit and strengthen previously held conclusions, even if one is not persuaded (as I am not).

The introduction also discusses John’s unique style and vocabulary (61–65). Prior to listing the commentaries that were most consulted, Weinrich includes a brief discussion of the role of commentaries in interpretation (66–67). He emphasizes the priority of the text but also acknowledges the role of both ancient and modern interpreters in the task. The introduction concludes with two excursuses. First, Weinrich argues for a strong baptismal presence in John (69–74). After considering a number of passages and dealing with some objections, Weinrich states, “The Gospel of John, therefore, does not merely here and there refer to the Sacrament of Baptism. The Sacrament of Baptism is the presupposition of the Gospel of John. It lies within, under, and around the story of Jesus” (73). There is little doubt about Weinrich’s position on this. However, the lack of explicit emphasis on baptism and the first-century date of the Gospel makes his position quite improbable. Weinrich’s extremely early date of the 40s further weakens his case. There is simply no significant first-century evidence that baptism was as prominent as it was to later writers (this is not to say it was unimportant). Second, Weinrich includes an excursus on alternate suggestions for the author of the Gospel (75–80). This supplements the information already discussed on this subject (51–61). His conclusion remains firm, namely, that the apostle John was the author (80).

The commentary divides John 1:1–7:1 into three main sections: 1:1–18, 1:19–4:54, and 5:1–7:1. Each of these has its own introduction. Except the prologue (1:1–18), each major section is further divided into smaller sections. Each of these begins with a translation followed by textual notes, which are detailed exegetical comments on the Greek text including words, grammar, and textual variants. Here Weinrich discusses John 1:1c (καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος; “and the Word was God”) (93–95). The Greek is considered in detail, and important secondary literature is examined. Weinrich’s discussion of Colwell is helpful (94). However, Colwell dealt only with predicate nominatives that were predetermined to be definite. Weinrich fails to recognize that this decision makes Colwell’s work less relevant for understanding this passage. Nevertheless, in the end Weinrich follows Wallace and understands θεός to be qualitative (95; cf. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zon-dervan, 1996], 269). Weinrich demonstrates that adding an article before θεός would result in God the Father and Jesus the Word being identical. John’s wording in the text (without the article) affirms Jesus’s deity and avoids saying that God the Father and the Word are identical (94–95).

After the translation and textual notes, each passage has a lengthy commentary section. Here Weinrich deals with many issues, including literary and theological themes. Often relationships to other passages in John and elsewhere in the Bible are discussed (e.g., 230, 242–46, 407, 503, 565, 652–53, 733–35). Weinrich demonstrates a strong mastery of the biblical text. The theme of baptism is frequently seen (e.g., 233, 237, 249–53, 465–67). Finally, Weinrich interacts in significant ways with many from church history (e.g., 235, 325, 353, 561–52, 568, 691, 737). These are not just passing comments but often include extensive quotations and interaction.

There are ten excursuses that cover a number of topics in detail. Six of these are in the final section (5:1–7:1). One excursus is devoted to John 3:5 (413–24). Given the emphasis on water baptism in the commentary, it is no surprise that Weinrich concludes that John 3:5 refers to baptism (421–24). Weinrich discusses alternate views and has a well-nuanced defense of his position. Another helpful excursus is called “John 6:44: No One Comes Unless the Father Draws Him” (712–16). Weinrich considers three positions related to the meaning of this verse. First, Augustine, who is battling Pelagian views on sin and grace, emphasizes the role of God’s will to save and the irresistibility of this will (712–13). Second, Chrysostom, who is confronting Manichaean determinism emphasizes the free will of the person; thus Jesus’s words “no one can come” reveal our need for assistance in using our free will (713–14). Weinrich rejects both of these views in favor of the position held by Luther, which includes gentle drawing by God and the reception of Christ by faith (714–16). In the commentary on John 6:37–40,  Weinrich states, “Rather than seeing this passage as teaching that only those who are predestined will believe and be saved, the Lutheran Confessions interpret these verses, and the entire doctrine of election, in relation to the universality of divine grace. Jn 6:40 is referenced, along with Jn 6:51, to argue that the promise of the Gospel is universal, that is, that it pertains to all people, even as does the proclamation of repentance” (691–92). This discussion is concise and helpfully illuminates a difficult statement of Jesus. It also places the discussion in the context of church history. Other excursus topics include: “Background of the Logos in the Prologue” (181–91); “A Trinitarian and Christological Reflection: The Son Does the Father’s Will (John 4:22, 34)” (507–10); “The Multiplication of Loaves as a Eucharistic Symbol” (646–49); “Saint Augustine on John 6:49–51” (717–26); and “Two Statements on Participation in the Eucharist” (754–56). The commentary sections and excursuses are strongly theological.

This is a well-researched commentary that can be used by anyone interested in Scripture. The textual notes provide a detailed discussion of exegetical issues that will be most helpful for those who know Greek. The commentary and excursus sections can help anyone interested in literary and theological issues in John. The commentary is weak on the first-century context of John. For some, there may be too much theological discussion. Others who feel that we lack good commentaries that emphasize theology will be pleased. Also, the emphasis on baptism will not be appreciated by all. Nevertheless, this commentary, which places a high value on Scripture, will provide fresh insights for those who have read mainly in their own confessional area.

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