[K:NWTS 21/1 (May 2006) 50-53]

Book Review

Colin G. Kruse, The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004. 395 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8028-2771-3. $16.50.

The Tyndale New Testament Commentary series was originally conceived as a brief, up-to-date, evangelical exposition of each of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. First published from 1956, it is now being completely rewritten so as to maintain the `up-to-date' status. Kruse is Lecturer in New Testament at the Bible College of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia; his volume replaces that of R.V.G. Tasker (1960).

This is a workmanlike effort with conservative endorsement of Johannine authorship, ontic Christology, textual integrity (chapter 21 is not an appendix by a different author), evangelical soteriology and adequate perception of current scholarship. The current hot-button issue in John studies is anti-Semitism; Kruse addresses this issue very well (50). The overview of current trends in fourth gospel research is handled adequately. Yet, the commentary appears to reflect little use of these studies, particularly recent narrative, structural and biblical-theological investigations. Kruse, while aware of deeper insights into the text, retreats to a rather safe, yet un-exciting, standard conservative exegesis. With a few exceptions, we have in this volume a short form of William Hendriksen (NTC) and Leon Morris (NICNT). This is not all bad, but it is not all good either. Charles Talbert, Jeff Staley, Mark Stibbe, George Mlakhuzhyil, even Thomas Brodie, do not appear to have stimulated Kruse to rethink his approach to this remarkable gospel (nor do they appear in his select bibliography, pp. 13-15).

Kruse is to be commended for pointing out the infelicities, misrepresentations and outright additions which the NIV translators make of and to the fourth gospel. This is particularly grievous in a translation which millions of evangelicals take for gospel. In fact, the NIV is a translator's travesty (the NASB is far superior) and Kruse routinely points this out in his remarks.

It is refreshing to learn that our author has not yielded to the pandemic functional Christology of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His exegesis of John 1:1c is Trinitarian; he renders John 1:18 as "God the One and Only" (74); and he does not shy away from Thomas's acknowledgment of the deity of Christ (Jn. 20:28). Still, his note on monogenes ("only begotten") (71) is a capitulation to the contemporary evangelical translation of this term as "unique", "singular", etc. (cf. the NIV on Jn. 1:18 and 3:16). It appears to escape the erstwhile modern evangelical that if God the Father has a Son and that Son is unique and singular, the way in which he (the Son) is related to the Father is by filiation (to use the technical term) or by "eternal generation" ( to use the patristic term). What other term comports with the Son addressing the Father as Father, and the Father addressing the Son as Son? Surely, to take pater and hyios seriously in the inspired Greek text is to understand that this one and only Father generates (eternally) his one and only Son. And precisely that dynamic relationship is communicated by the term monogenes ("only begotten"). The Father is the Eternal Begetter; the Son is the Eternally (albeit Only) Begotten. Simple!

Sampling some of the highlights of Kruse's work. He is very good on the symbolism of the Jewish purification jars at the wedding at Cana (94-95)—but he misses the structural inclusio which delimits the passage. "Born of water and the Spirit" (Jn. 3:5) is a hendiadys, i.e., "a figure of speech using two different words to denote one thing" (regeneration) (107). This is very helpful, though he misses the eschatological significance of "birth from above" (anôthen) in Jn. 3:3. His understanding of the egô eimi ("I am") declarations of Jesus is consistent with the high Christology of the gospel—and Jesus' own self-consciousness. Kruse does not give in to the sacramental interpretation of John 6 and the Bread of Life discourse. In a gospel of profound metaphors, this chapter uses them to express the nourishing character of union with Christ or faith in Christ. Kruse provides adequate background to the water and light ceremonies at the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7-8)—all of which intensifies Christ's stunning declarations on that occasion: "If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink"; "I am the light of the world." This is powerful replacement and displacement language—Jesus is the eschatological fullness of the Feast of Tabernacles. With his declarations, the Feast of Booths passes away.

While very clear on the supernatural character of the miracle-signs in the fourth gospel, Kruse misses the mimetic (i.e., imitative or mirror character) egô eimi in John 9:9 (the man born blind uses the self-revelatory formula of Jesus himself as an imitatio Christi, for he has wonderfully been folded into union with the identity of the supreme I AM who has given him light out of heaven). The same paradigm returns in John 11. Lazarus and Jesus become mimetic mirrors of one another: Jesus drawn to Lazarus's death and resurrection as Lazarus becomes the prototype for Jesus' death and resurrection.

Kruse identifies the eight sequential scenes of Christ's trial before Pilate (Jn. 18:12-19:16), but without acknowledging Raymond Brown as the source of the paradigm (cf. the latter's Anchor Bible commentary, vol. 2:859), nor matching up the parallel sides of the descending and ascending parabola (trough and transition in the scourging of Jesus, 19:1-4). With respect to Pilate's fear of Christ as a threat to his own gubernatorial seat, Kruse invokes the paranoia of Tiberius Caesar, but fails to consider the death of Sejanus as a possible raison d'être. If Tiberius had executed Sejanus for presuming too much, and Sejanus had procured Judea for his friend, Pontius Pilate, and Pilate knows of Tiberius's removal of his praetorian patron, is it not possible that Pilate too looks over his shoulder to the west and is very, very cautious not to arouse suspicion (or attention) about his rôle from Jewish fanatics? Hand washing is preferable to imperial scrutiny!

All in all, a useful piece of work—yet weak where it needs to shine the brightest with regard to this gospel which soars like the eagle. The eschatological drama of the incarnation of God the Son is blunted and subdued. John's gospel is more exciting (and death-life transforming) than this commentary allows.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.