BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 52, 2004
Colin Kruse, John. TNTC. (Leicester: IVP, 2003). Pp. 395. £11.99.
The Preface to this book has the following: “the main thrust of these commentaries is not critical. These books are written to help the non-technical reader understand the bible better.” Colin Kruse has certainly achieved this aim in producing a very reader-friendly, yet theologically rich commentary on the Fourth Gospel. He offers a conservative analysis of the text in the evangelical tradition. There are very few footnote references to secondary authors, and all Greek and Hebrew terms are transliterated making this a useful introduction to the Gospel for pastors, teachers and other non-specialists. The first fifty-two pages provide an introduction where Kruse tackles the usual issues such as the time and place of writing, authorship, purpose, recent approaches and some of the major theological themes: the Father, the Son, the Spirit, eschatology, eternal life, witness, faith and signs, love and obedience, the church, sacramentalism and ‘the Jews.’ He presents arguments to support his claim that the Gospel has an evangelical thrust “to bring people to faith in Jesus” (p. 22). On the issue of authorship, he lays out an array of ancient sources (Papias, 2 Clement, Polycrates, Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus, Dionysius of Alexandria) as well as internal evidence, to identify the author as the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. With similar careful weighing of evidence, he states that it is “reasonable” to conclude that the Gospel was written in Ephesus in the late 80s or 90s.
In the commentary itself, he makes use of good scholarship without interrupting the flow of his text with copious references. He acknowledges differences in the interpretation of passages and offers his own with reasons. At times he offers ‘additional notes’ on specific issues that are raised in the text; e.g. monogenês, Son of Man, signs, eternal life, Jews and Samaritan. These notes allow a more detailed discussion of terms without breaking into the flow of the commentary.
The Old Testament background is usually dealt with very well, although Kruse missed the ‘type scene’ of meetings and wells and the allusions to Jacob’s meeting with Rachel as background to John 4. He provides good historical and liturgical background to the various Jewish Festivals and a useful description of viticultural practices as background to John 15. In his treatment of the Farewell Discourse, he does not accept that this material reflects a number of prior sources or writings. This warrants more discussion than was given, even within the aims of this series. Some reference to a possible ‘Testament’ tradition could also have enriched this section.
At times, Kruse steps out of the role of commentator to offer immediate pastoral interpretation such as, in discussing ‘true worshippers’ [John 4:23]: “this is a reminder that worship is not restricted to what we do when we come together in church, but about the way we relate to God through the Spirit and in accordance with the teaching of Jesus, and that touches the whole of life” (p. 135). Or, “In the matter of rendering service to others, as in all matters related to Christian living, it is one thing to know what we should do; it is another thing to do it” (p. 285). I found this ‘homiletic’ touch unnecessary and sometimes simplistic, as if this is the only message of the text.
Overall, pastors, teachers and others wanting a commentary that is easy to read, while offering insight into the background of the text and current interpretative approaches, will find Kruse’s work very satisfactory. A more serious student would need to look elsewhere for a detailed, alternative discussion of the text and references to other scholarship.
Dr Mary Coloe PBVM
Australian Catholic University, Brisbane
St Paul’s Theological College, Brisbane
PO Box 456
Virginia QLD 4014, Australia