AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 63, 2015
BRENDAN BYRNE, SJ, Life Abounding: A Reading of John’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014). Pp. 376. Paperback. US$35.95.
Life Abounding brings to completion a series of commentaries on each of the Gospels written by Brendan Byrne, who is Professor of New Testament within the University of Divinity, Melbourne. Byrne offers a reading that is pastoral in its aim and so, while making use of contemporary scholarship, it is not overly technical. These four commentaries (Luke, 2000; Matthew, 2004; Mark, 2008; John, 2014) provide an excellent introduction to each Gospel for students, pastors, teachers and those interested in reading the Gospels for theological or spiritual enrichment. As in the earlier books, Byrne is able to draw upon and synthesise some of the major commentaries and studies of the past fifty years while adding his own insights drawn from years of teaching, research, and pastoral education. The text of each chapter is explained, and in addition Byrne offers a reflection that brings the Gospel into dialogue with contemporary needs. In this way the book offers more than simply an exegetical analysis, but also a rich theological reflection that will nourish the spirit as well as the intellect. For this reviewer, these personal reflections offered many gems, shedding light on obscure verses, and offering alternative insights into a number of passages.
The introductory chapter offers brief but helpful background on the question of the author and community from which this Gospel emerged. Those wanting greater detail are referred to the list of commentaries and other studies at the end of the book. This introduction is followed by a few pages on the Gospel’s structure and then a chapter entitled, “Read Me First.” In this chapter Byrne draws attention to some of the difficulties of the unique style of this Gospel, and some of the more challenging theological concepts such as eschatology, Christology and predestination, then finishing the chapter with some of its literary features. After these initial pages Byrne then reads the Gospel as a narrative, aware of the indications of likely stages in its writing process, but offering an interpretation of the text as we have it. The reader is guided by Byrne’s initial structuring of some sections and chapters.
As I read this commentary, I was struck by its sense of joy and life. The title indicates that for Byrne at the centre of this Gospel’s theology lies Jesus’ statement of his purpose: “I have come that you may have life in abundance” (John 10:10). As Byrne states: “The ‘abundance’ in view is not merely quantitative. The mission of the Son is to communicate to the world a qualitatively enhanced life: life that, beyond mere mortal existence, is a participation, as ‘children of God,’ in God’s own eternal being” (172). This interpretation gives to the commentary a freshness and delight that is often missing in more traditional styles of commentary. This is what makes Life Abounding so appealing and accessible to a wide readership. I would hope it makes its way into community and parish libraries, in addition to college libraries, for this is a commentary written by an outstanding biblical scholar and theologian wanting to share with a wide audience what Pope Francis called, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Mary L. Coloe
Yarra Theological Union, Box Hill