This post is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.
D.A. Carson's PNTC is easily my favorite commentary on John. I consider Carson to be one of the most balanced theological interpreters of scripture. Those more skeptical might just think that's because I tend to agree with him, but I think it's because we've independently arrived at similar enough views that I happen to think he's just gotten it right much of the time. This is clearly a favorite among most evangelicals. Carson operates at an academically sophisticated enough level that serious research ought to interact with him far more than actually happens. He defends traditional Johannine authorship as the most likely explanation of the data we have without insisting on it as a point of orthodoxy. His theological perspective is mainstream evangelical and broadly Reformed.
Herman Ridderbos' mostly theological commentary (English translation 1997) is very widely appreciated across the theological spectrum despite its distinctively conservative conclusions. It's a little light on what's usually called introductory matters (i.e. date, authorship, and other issues usually covered in the introduction), but that's because its focus is on the theological meaning of the text. At this task, Ridderbos excels. On some issues, Ridderbos' moderately conservative views come through, but it's not usually front and center. The original commentary was published in two volumes, one in the late 80s and the other in the early 90s. Like other commentaries translated into English, the date might fool you into thinking it interacts with scholarship later than what the author actually had access to. His first volume was prior to Carson's, and his second was shortly after Carson's.
Craig Keener's two-volume commentary is probably now the most detailed contemporary work on John. Keener's specialty is providing as much background from the ancient world that he can, and he does that far more here than even in his Matthew commentary, which had this element as something of a strength. My impression after looking through several parts of his commentary is that he includes far too much information, much of it thoroughly irrelevant. He even will say after discussing bits of background information that in the end some of it turns out not to be helpful. Then why include it? So this might not be the best place to turn if you want a commentary you want to read through that just explains the book and what scholarship does have to say about it. If you're really interested in what someone might find relevant that they shouldn't find relevant, this is the commentary for you. There's much more to this commentary than that. It does include most of the standard elements of a good commentary, and its academic value is very high, perhaps higher than almost any other commentary. Its value on ancient sources is greater than anything else out, even if that's to the detriment of its interaction with contemporary sources. It's also not that difficult a read. It's just that I found it unnecessarily overwhelming in detail and difficult to find simple things that most commentaries would take much less effort to find. Keener defends a relatively traditional view on Johannine authorship (and he argues very ably that this gospel is much more like the synoptic gospels than the non-canonical gospels). He argues for general reliability on historical questions. I think his view of scripture is a little to the left of Carson, Morris, Blomberg, and Kostenberger, but he is generally regarded as an evangelical.
Leon Morris' NICNT would probably be my first choice if it weren't for Carson, but Carson duplicates enough of Morris that I turn to Morris only when I want a little more detail or another perspective. Morris does have a little more on most issues, though I do find Carson stronger on theology and slightly preferable in his exegesis. Morris' original commentary was at Carson's side when he wrote his, but Morris had Carson for his revision. The revisions appear mostly in footnotes, though. Morris defends traditional Johannine authorship but takes what seems to me to be a highly implausible move in order to maintain it in arguing that the book was composed before the Jerusalem temple's destruction in 70. Carson describes Morris as limiting his approach to a "strictly earthly-historical view of Jesus' ministry", which I don't consider a compliment from one evangelical about the work of another. This volume will eventually be replaced by a new commentary by J. Ramsay Michaels (see forthcoming commentaries below), so if you intend to buy it I suggest getting it before Eerdmans stops printing it.
Andrew Lincoln's BNTC is one of the most recent commentaries on John. If it weren't for so many good commentaries coming out around the same time, Lincoln's would be on my shelf, and this review would be based on actually reading it rather than just reading several reviews of it. Lincoln avoids spending a lot of time on introductory issues, but he does argue against traditional Johannine authorship. Lincoln is a moderate evangelical and thus doesn't have quite as high a view of scripture as Carson or Morris, but this commentary is much more conservative than many of the commentaries below, especially when it comes to theological positions. It's aimed at a more popular audience than any of the above works, and sometimes Lincoln doesn't specify which scholars he's arguing against. It's not a merely expositional commentary, though. Lincoln spends time on the details of exegesis, just in a way that's more readable to those who don't know much or any Greek.
Francis Moloney's Sacra Pagina is an important scholarly work from a fairly critical Roman Catholic perspective. Moloney's scholarship is widely respected across the theological perspective. In some places he defends fairly conservative positions, but he often stands with the more critical mainstream of biblical scholarship. Carson thinks he ducks tough historical questions. Moloney is strong on theology and literary/rhetorical matters. In certain passages he defends sacramentalist Catholic views that I find thoroughly implausible. This commentary is very detailed and probably will serve students and scholars more than expositors, but it isn't outside the range that a pastor with good training could handle. He does have preaching in mind throughout the commentary.
Andreas Kostenberger's BECNT is in some ways an updated and thinned-out Carson. I had been wondering (given my high expectations for this series based on past volumes) if this commentary might actually supercede both Carson and Morris. It turns out that it doesn't. It's not that there's nothing new in it, but his perspective is so similar to Carson's on the macro-level, and it's not at the level of detail of some other volumes in this series (particularly the two-volume Luke commentary by Darrell Bock). The combination of those two features makes it less likely for me to refer to it given that I already have Carson and Ridderbos. I might check to see if Kostenberger offers a different view or to see if he cites scholarship since their commentaries were published Interacting with other scholars is one of his strengths. It can also serve as a good summary after reading some more detailed commentaries more carefully. Given what else is available, I wouldn't use it as a primary commentary. What's funny is that this series has a format that looks as if it's designed for college-level textbooks, and yet it's a commentary on the Greek text with a Greek font. It makes me wonder what kind of audience they were targeting. Given the vast differential in level of detail from different contributors, I have to think they didn't really have a good idea. I love this series, and I think Kostenberger's work is worth looking at as a supplement to the more detailed commentaries by those with similar positions, but it isn't my first or second choice among conservative, evangelical commentaries. Kostenberger has taken some criticism for not presenting arguments for some of the views that he doesn't eventually adopt, leaving an unbalanced feeling about his interaction with other scholars.
Gerald Borchert's two-volume NAC is very good, and this is another case where it might have been a standard (among evangelicals this time) if it hadn't been for other works. I don't think it outdoes Carson or Morris, though it might, like Kostenberger, provide a good supplement to them. Kostenberger is more recent and does deal directly with the Greek, but Borchert probably has more detail and focuses on verse-by-verse rather than Kostenberger's paragraph-level commenting. Both are aimed at being easy to read, and both spend a lot of time interacting with other scholars, so either could be used as a nice guide to recent work on this gospel. Some reviewers complain that Borchert focuses too much on responding to misunderstandings of the text, with too little time spent explaining positively what it does say. Carson wishes Borchert would defend views more strongly rather than just giving the reasons for different views.
Colin Kruse's TNTC is very brief for a book of this size. I like Kruse a lot, but it's no more than summary at some points. He has good theological sense and gives a great sense of how the narrative flows. On matters of some controversy, he tries to give the various views (and sometimes the main arguments) without getting into the details too much for this briefer series, and he generally avoids identifying particular authors while doing it. This is probably the best of the briefer commentaries on John. It's what I would recommend to a college student leading a Bible study with no training in theology or Greek and no experience reading commentaries.
Gary Burge's NIVAC is typical of the series, very light on exegesis (though I'm not sure if it's weak in the sense of not doing it well) and very strong on isolating principles behind the text and then moving to the contemporary context to apply those. Burge spends a lot of time on very specific issues in contemporary application, including matters of serious controversy, and it's probably very unlikely that anyone would agree with how he does this on every matter, but it's even then a potential guide for how one might do application.
D. Moody Smith, Jr.'s Abingdon New Testament Commentary on John appears non-scholarly without much reference to other works, but Smith is an expert on this gospel. It's not a good reference for scholars and doesn't interact much with other work, but it does contain arguments for his views. C.K. Barrett recommends this exposition. Theology is one strength of this commentary. Smith thinks the book was written by someone named John but not the one the traditional view assigns it to. This series intends to provide expositional commentaries for preachers and teachers in mainline denominations. Despite its moderately critical perspective (e.g. he speculatively posits several layers of redaction criticism, which seems to me to be a waste of valuable space in an expositional commentary), this work recognizes Carson's contribution where many mainstream (i.e. non-evangelical) scholars show only ignorance of his work. Carson himself considers it to be "packed with nuanced judgments". Despite its critical stance on some issues, its intent is to edify.
Rodney Whitacre's IVP New Testament Commentary focuses on explaining the message of the book. As with other volumes in this series, more technical aspects are kept to notes at the bottom of the page. I can't stand the system this series uses, however, because there's no indication at one point in the running commentary the notes' information should be read. Sometimes the notes assume the commentary's discussion, and sometimes the commentary's discussion will be elucidated by the notes. That's nothing particular to this commentary, however. Unlike other brief commentaries, Whitacre does not focus on contemporary application but spends most of its time on social background, Greek exegesis, and theology. (Update Jan 2007: D.A. Carson gives this commentary high marks in the 6th edition of his commentary review, which was not out when I first put this together. He doesn't say anything bad about Kruse, but I get the sense that he has a special liking for Whitacre, which is enough to make me reconsider whether I should have Kruse as my first-choice at the introductory level.)
C.K. Barrett's classic commentary on the Greek text is still the standard in some people's minds, though I think Keener has supplanted it. I prefer Barrett to any other older commentary. He seems much more judicious to my mind and a more careful exegete than some of the other commentaries of its time. I appreciate his general avoidance of the redaction-critical mess that some get into, including the speculative layers some scholars think a Johannine community added on to an original but unevidenced core. He sees the gospel as a theological unity and much of source analysis to be speculative and against (or at least unmotivated by) the evidence. He does think John knew Mark (and probably Luke, but he's less sure of that). I'm not happy about his dismissive attitude toward historicity, however (in Carson's words, he "stands needlessly free from John's historical claims, especially in the passion narrative"). The second edition is the one to get, since he had a chance to interact with Brown and Schnackenburg to some degree in between the two editions. This will be tough-going for those without decent Greek skills.
Rudolf Schnackenburg's massive three-volume commentary is very good on many levels. It's typical of German Roman Catholic scholarship of the second half of the 20th century, perhaps best described as moderately critical (though the later volumes are more critical than the earlier ones as Schnackenburg's moderation diminished across his career). Schnackenburg is theologically stronger than Brown. It comes in three expensive volumes, so it might prove to be way too much information for those who want a simple exegetical commentary to aid in preaching through John. It's not in print anymore in English and hard to find used, so it might be available in libraries only for most people. I have library access to it, but I also happen to have come across it for $2 per volume from people who didn't know what they had, or I wouldn't have it myself.
Raymond Brown's two-volume AB is hailed by many as the best on this book. I do think his exegesis is important, and his highly speculative (and in my view especially unlikely) reconstruction of the book's background has won some support among other scholars. Carson prefers Schnackenburg to Brown on exegetical and especially background matters, but he thinks Barrett is better than either, and I agree. Brown was Roman Catholic, and this commentary defends some mainstream Catholic positions that Protestants have typically found unmotivated by the text itself (e.g. lots of sacramental interpretations). Since this is only two volumes, it's not as expensive as Schnackenburg either. I still wouldn't have bought it myself if I hadn't found it along with Schnackenburg for $2 per volume, since I also have library access to it. As with other volumes in this series, there can be a lot of detail, and perhaps it's too much for some people to find helpful, but it's a lot easier to read for those without as good Greek.
Brown had begun revising this commentary when he died without completing more than the introduction. The Anchor Bible editors decided they did want to use his revised introduction without incorporating it into a second edition of the commentary itself, which led them to release it on its own as An Introduction to the Gospel of John, now a part of the Anchor Bible Reference Library. [I should note also that this is not the Baptist minister named Raymond Brown who has published several volumes in the BST series (Numbers. Deuteronomy, Hebrews).]
Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel is best thought of as a very specialized sort of commentary. It's an extended argument that this gospel is reliable on historical matters, but it does take commentary form, if not exactly verse-by-verse. Blomberg does comment directly on passages, and I do think it barely counts as a commentary. In some cases all he's doing is arguing that what the gospel says is, for all we know, true. He's thus arguing against those who say that we have good reason to distrust the gospel by saying that there's no good argument against its plausibility. In other cases he gives more positive arguments. Those familiar with Blomberg's earlier The Historical Reliability of the Gospels should have some idea of what this book is like, though that book doesn't take a commentary form.
George Beasley-Murray's WBC is getting somewhat dated now and is very thin in parts. His discussion of the especially theologically significant final discourse is extremely light, but in general he does look to theology. His treatment of the passion narrative is much more substantial, and Carson calls that section of the commentary "very rich indeed". Beasley-Murray is a sort of moderate evangelical. His positions are somewhat conservative, especially compared to the major commentaries of his time. He mostly treats the text as a unity in its final form, though he departs from this toward the end of the book. The second edition is hardly worth getting if you have the first. It has an updated bibliography and a very brief essay on John studies since the first edition, which has been appended to the introduction (without, I believe, altering the rest of the introduction except for the bibliographies). The commentary itself is completely untouched. He intended this commentary to be useful for pastors and scholars alike, and it is highly readable yet very well informed. One of his concerns as a former pastor is how John's message applies in our time.
FF. Bruce's commentary on John is less widely hailed than some of his other works. Part of this is probably due to its being far briefer than some of his other commentaries, and some of it may owe to its not being in a series. As with Bruce's other works, he takes a moderately conservative position and excels in linguistic and historical aspects of commenting with some expense to theological depth. This is also available in one volume with his similarly brief commentary on John's epistles. This is about the same length as Kruse but much more dated. In such a short work he doesn't explicitly address some of the more critical questions, though his answers to such questions affect what he says on other things.
Paul Anderson (SH) [acc. to their website; another source had Paul Duke]
Harold Attridge (H)
Richard Bauckham (NIGTC)
Richard Bauckham (THNTC)
Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1-10 (ACCS)
Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 11-21 (ACCS,)
Bruce Marshall (BTCB)
John McHugh (ICC)
J. Ramsay Michaels (NICNT replacement)
Robert Mounce (EBC replacement)
Jerome H. Neyrey (NCBC)
Grant Osborne (CBC)
John Painter (SRC)
Willard Swartley (BCBC)
Marianne Meye Thompson (NTL)
Urban C. von Wahlde (ECC)
Bauckham and Michaels (to replace Morris in NICNT) both have excellent reputations across the theological spectrum and will likely defend somewhat conservative positions in terms of theology while rejecting traditional views on authorship. Michaels did the NIBC on John already, but I haven't included that in this list due to so many more recent short expositions, and people who will want his work might do best to wait for the NICNT. Bauckham has already written much against the speculative and fanciful historical resonstructions of the so-called Johannine community that Raymond Brown, J.L. Martyn, and other recent scholars have gotten so much mileage out of. I haven't seen enough to get excited about the Two Horizons commentaries in general, and what I've seen in reviews of the two out so far have left me even less thrilled (but for completely different reasons with each of the two volumes released so far, so maybe it doesn't reflect on the series at all). Expect Bauckham's Two Horizons volume to be much briefer than his NIGTC, which will probably become one of the top commentaries on this book immediately. Michaels may also be in the same range, but his will likely be a little less detailed given the series. It's hard to think about how to figure out which of so many good commentaries to use once these two are out.
I haven't read a lot by Marianne Meye Thompson, but I imagine her NTL will be similar in perspective to both Bauckham and Michaels, i.e. less conservative than the conservative evangelicals such as Kostenberger, Carson, and Morris but less liberal than works like Brown's or Attridge's.
Attridge's Hebrews commentary has been very well received, but this is a gospel, and he is a member of the Jesus Seminar, so I expect it to be very skeptical about any historical validity to much in this gospel. The series tends to maximize on irrelevant social parallels but usually tends to manage a careful, detailed exegesis nonetheless.
I can't say much about McHugh or von Wahlde. Both will be very detailed. All three of these will be very expensive but will probably become scholarly standards on the Greek text. McHugh is yet another Roman Catholic scholar to be giving an in-depth commentary on this book.
Joel Elowsky's ACCS will be a collection of church fathers' comments on John. The first volume, on chs.1-10, is scheduled for December 2006. The second volume, completing the book, will follow in March 2007.
John Painter is doing John for the Socio-Rhetorical Commentaries series that has so far consisted almost entirely of work by Ben Witherington. I've tended to be a fan of this kind of work on the gospels (but much less so with epistles), so this could be worth having if Painter does a good job. I don't know anything about him, however. Since I already have Keener, who overdoes this already, I probably won't get it myself, but this will be much less expensive than Keener for those who don't already have his two large tomes.
The others in the list will be much briefer. Robert Mounce's new contribution to the revised EBC series will be a brief exposition, packaged together with David Pao's revision of Walter Liefeld's Luke commentary and Richard Longenecker's revision of his excellent Acts commentary from the original EBC. Mounce is a conservative evangelical who has authored commentaries on Matthew, Romans, and Revelation. I don't generally consider his work to be the best on the books he has done, but it is solid. This will be worth looking at if you think the price of the three commentaries together is worth it.
I expect Jerome Neyrey's New Cambridge to be something like a less detailed version of what he did in his II Peter and Jude Anchor Bible volume. Those who think sociological issues are the best way to determine the importance of a biblical text will enjoy it. Those who want a more standard commentary will probably be very disappointed. This volume is due out December 2006.
Paul Anderson's Smyth & Helwys volume will be very brief, extremely expensive, and full of bells and whistles like color graphics. I'm not impressed with this series, not because I've seen it but because I've seen the prices as compared with the page count. I think it's thoroughly immoral and would never recommend any volume in it for purchase, even the ones by excellent scholars. I don't know anything about Anderson, so this is not a slight against him.
Grant Osborne's Cornerstone commentary will very brief notes based on the NLT. In fact, what I've gathered so far about this series is that it's really going to be little more than the notes written for the forthcoming NLT Study Bible. I'd be happy to be corrected on that, but one of the listed contributors told me he had no idea about this series and that all he'd done for the publisher is the notes for that study Bible. So I don't think we should expect much from this series, including this volume, unless that information is erroneous. Osborne is a conservative evangelical whose detailed BECNT on Revelation has been fairly well received, with a less-detailed IVPNTC on Romans that reflects a generally Wesleyan approach well but hasn't been as fully noticed in reviews of Romans commentaries I've read (though perhaps it's because it's fairly recent). Osborne's commentary will be packaged with those on I-III John, but I don't know who is doing those. I had heard that this would be out sometime in 2006, but since I never heard an actual date I'm somewhat skeptical about that.
Bruce Marshall's Brazos Theological Commentary will focus on systematic theology, at least if it keeps to the series' goals. I'm not a big fan of the idea for this series, especially after seeing the first volume that has been released, and I don't know anything about Marshall, so I'm not sure I can say any more. Some people have been very excited about this series, but I'm not one of them.
Willard Swartley's Believers Church Bible Commentary, if typical for the series, will be a brief exposition from a theologically moderate, believing position open to criticism of a sort that conservative evangelicals will tend to resist. I don't know anything about the author, though, and this series can vary somewhat in quality and in perspective.