Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bruner's The Gospel of John: Initial Impressions

I have never bemoaned the fact that commentaries are so plentiful, that they have become a mere rehashing of other commentaries and commentators. I find that many commentaries seek to offer, if not something entirely new, at least something from a different angle. This is often due to the differing formats of commentary series based on what sort of audience they want to target (lay, student, scholarly, etc.). So, you will hear no complaints from me regarding the commentary genre on this score. This is not say that all commentaries are created equal; there are obviously some that are considered classics in their field.

Frederick Dale Bruner's The Gospel of John: A Commentary, steps into what is quite possibly, the most commentated biblical book and the one with probably the most classics, John's Gospel (along with Romans). While it is much too early in my reading, and in the reading of others, to speculate on what Bruner's John's legacy will be, I would like to offer a few, brief, observations on my early stages of reading his work (less than twenty pages in...).

First, I will begin with the format. I confess, I do not own Bruner's two-volume Matthew commentary, so I am not aware of how he lays out his approach there, but I find, his approach eminently sensible and helpful. First, Bruner provides his own translation of the Greek text, sometimes adopting a contemporary major English translation such as The Message in John 1.14: "And the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood..." Second, Bruner's introduction to each section invites the reader to hear some of the most provocative and pithy comments made by commentators on that particular section of John throughout history. For instance, in his intro to John 1.1-2, Bruner includes this gem from C.K. Barrett: "The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous" (John, 2d ed., 156, quoted on Bruner, Gospel of John, 10). Third, Bruner provides his own interpretation of the passages under examination. Here, one encounters a gifted writer. I am reminded of the prose of Eugene Peterson while I'm reading Bruner. For me, this is high praise, as I consider Peterson, along with N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight three of my favorite writers. A good example of Bruner's writing ability can be seen in his comments on John 1.3, which read, in part:

"...If we had a microscope powerful enough to see the most minute entities in creation, imagination suggests, we might detect on them something like the imprint--'Made by J.C.' In fact, I  believe our text is trying to tell us that all creation--including what is most internal to us--has the imprint, the shape, the mark of the Son upon it. It is the large claim of the Gopel in its totality that all human 'beings' in particular come from this Person (in creation), are sustained by him (in life), and will come to (in judgment) the Sovereign, Sacrificial, Risen Christ, who is God the Father's Creative Word and Eternal Son" (16; italics original)
Fourth, and very valuable is Bruner's Historical Interpretation section. Here the reader encounters what commentators have said throughout history on John's Gospel. This is done on a section-by-section basis. Bruner is to be commended for choosing his conversation partners wisely. Here, the reader will encounter: St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Bengel, Meyer, Godet, Wescott, Barrett, Brown, Bultmann, Hoskyns, and Schnackenburg.  What I enjoy about these sections is in addition to some quotations from this commentators, Bruner also seeks to summarize their views on these particular sections.

I will be commenting more on this. I may even do a series of posts on Bruner's work, as I am finding it a delight to read thus far.

(P.S. Many thanks to the good folk at Eerdmans for this review copy. To purchase click here)

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