UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Excavating John's Gospel
Excavating John's Gospel Excavating John's Gospel
A Commentary for Today

Cornelis Bennema
ISBN 9788172148638 (8172148631)
ISPCK, 2005

Category: Commentaries

Aimed at beginning students of theology, pastors and lay people with an interest in theology, this commentary sets out from the familiar description of the Fourth Gospel as "a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant swim" (page 1). As the title implies, it presents John as an archaeological dig — entailing mental effort, perspiration and dirty hands. The suggestion is that there is a great deal of surprising material beneath the surface.

What we have here is a reliable reading of John. Well-informed yet written in everyday language, it is scholarly but not technical. It is, like John, simple yet profound. It is well-informed and makes brief allusions to major debates in the Johannine literature. The comments deal in paragraphs rather than verse by verse and this suits the author's desire to highlight and explain the broad themes of John's narrative and theology.

The symbolism of John is explained and clarified very helpfully. The author also offers, however, some stimulating readings of famous passages. Occasionally we have a much larger discussion of an exegetical issue. Hence when Jesus breathes on the disciples to impart the Holy Spirit (John 20:21), Bennema takes four pages to explain that he sees it neither as John's story of Pentecost which, apart from anything else, would not support a strongly historicising interpretation. Nor is it merely symbolical. Instead it is to be understood as Jesus' imparting the Spirit in salvation. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2, according to Bennema, records the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to send the Spirit as Paraclete.

As for chapter 6 and the Bread of Life discourse, no allusion to the Lord's Supper may be detected. It is sufficient to interpret the chapter through the lens of Jewish wisdom speculation.

An interesting and useful brief commentary, then. But I ought to mention what this commentary doesn't do. Although it is published in India, it does not really represent a more specifically "Asian" reading of John. It is written by a European who lives and works in India but who, in this book, follows nevertheless a fairly Eurocentric agenda. This is a pity, since genuinely non-European readings of the Scriptures are needed.

Robert Willoughby, May 2006

Robert Willoughby teaches New Testament and Children's Ministry at London School of Theology. He is the author of The Children's Guide to the Bible, Angels and So, who is God?, all from Scripture Union, and is a regular contributor to Scripture Union's daily Bible reading notes, Encounter with God.


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