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Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 36, John (revised), (beasley-murray)
Published in Hardcover by Word Publishing (16 November, 1999)
Authors: Ralph P. Martin, George R. Beasley-Murray, and Lynn A. Losie
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Treasures of modern scholarship
In the Preface Beasley-Murray (B-M) asks why yet another commentary on John's Gospel and answers, "It seemed that there was room for an attempt to pass on some of the treasures of modern study of this Gospel and with them to combine one's own findings and convictions." To this end he remains faithful throughout the Introduction and commentary proper. We are treated to some of the best insights into John's Gospel, both B-M's and many an eminent scholar's. His enthusiasm for the project shows up again when in the Introduction he describes some of the commentaries on the Gospel in the past fifty years as "among the greatest expositions of the Word of God that have ever appeared" (liii).

The 61-page Introduction is important. It covers the literary sources, development of the traditions, religious relations, authorship, date and place, selected aspects of theology, purpose, and structure of the Gospel. It is rich in theological ideas. It was "as if scales falling from the eyes" as B-M listened to his mentor, C. H. Dodd, explain the structure of the episodes of the Book of Signs (chapters 2-12), each episode consisting of sign plus discourse, and each encapsulating the whole Gospel. He realized that that was probably due to the Evangelist's preaching, as the Evangelist expounded the significance of the traditions in the light of Christ's death and resurrection. Now a familiar observation in Johannine studies, the concept that much of the Fourth Gospel was the product of preaching must have been a creative thought then. New insights have continued to flow unabated as scholars delved into the depths of this Gospel. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the discussion of the Gospel's dual nature, simultaneously depicting the historical ministry of Jesus and the situation and faith of the Johannine community some 50(?) years later. "The Evangelist sets the historical ministry of Jesus in Palestine in indissoluble relation to the ministry of the risen Lord in the world" (xlvii). If Luke traces the origins of the Church in two volumes, one [his Gospel] of Jesus and the other [Acts] of the risen Christ acting through his disciples, John presents the historical Jesus and Jesus the risen Lord together in one book and a single perspective. B-M masterfully sketches in succession how each of several scholars has treated this theme, in the process displaying a fascinating interplay of ideas.

Several other important themes that recur in the commentary proper make their first appearance in the Introduction. While the Kingdom of God is scarcely mentioned [only in vv. 3:3,5], "every line of the Fourth Gospel is informed by it" (xxxiv). The Paraclete actualizes the words and deeds of Jesus in the life of the Church -- the Fourth Gospel itself "is a supreme example of the truth and application of the Paraclete doctrine which it contains" (liii). The concept of Son of God (closely associated with Son of Man) is the prevailing characteristic of Johannine Christology. The glorification of Jesus coincides with his crucifixion (unlike Isaiah's Servant who is exalted because and after he had suffered). The realized eschatology of John is not to be divested of its future aspect (contrary to Bultmann). All these, and more, are elements that B-M uses in the commentary discussions of John's theology, which turns out to be largely Christology. In the end you have to agree with him, "The theme of the Fourth Gospel is Christ" (lxxxi).

In common with other scholars, B-M accepts a four-part structure of the Gospel: (A) The Prologue; (B) The Public Ministry of Jesus, otherwise referred to as the Book of Signs (Dodd, Brown); (C) The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, also known as as the Book of the Passion (Dodd) or the Book of Glory (Brown); and (D) Epilogue. He expresses a reservation, though, concerning the nomenclatures "Book of Signs" and "Book of Passion/Glory", since he considers that the WHOLE Gospel may be viewed as a book of signs and as a book of the passion and glory of Jesus. As he interacts with the established figures of Johannine scholarship, B-M does not hesitate to disagree as well as to cite approvingly, for he is a Johannine expert in his own right. He argues his case very well indeed, but to get the benefit of it you have to read thoughtfully. B-M is never shallow and merits careful study. Knowledge of some Greek will help, but you can still gain a great deal without. Running to about 600 pages, as compared for example with Brown's two-volume, 1200-page work (Anchor 29, 29A), this commentary is necessarily less detailed. But as a presentation of modern Johannine study coupled with the author's independent understanding, it is certainly a noteworthy effort.

The second edition (1999) is identical with the first (1987), with the addition of supplementary bibliographies and reviews of a number of significant books on John that had appeared since the first edition (for example, John Ashton's important "Understanding the Fourth Gospel"). The commentary follows WBC's usual format. Some find the format "unfriendly", but it is not so. The usual gripe that references are given in line with the text (not in footnotes) hardly deserves notice. If you are ready to go beyond introductory expositions of the Fourth Gospel, give this book serious consideration.

Revised Edition Misleading
I have both the original 1987 edition and the "revised" 1999 edition. To the publishers credit, the 1999 edition does state flat out that the only thing new is 50 pages of updated bibliography and reviews of major book on the Gospel since the original publication. This is all located in one new section in the introductory material. Otherwise, the two editions are identical page for page (even the numbering). If you have the 1987 edition, don't get the 1999 edition unless you need/want an updated bibliography.

a good secondary commentary
If you are looking for a secondary commentary on John's gospel, then Beasley-Murray's is the one for you. Not as detailed as the others like Morris, Schnackenburg and Brown; but detailed enough for Bible study and message preparation. The Do not purchase it as your main commentary for you will soon need to go out and buy one of the others mentioned above. I have not seen the second edition as yet.

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary
Published in Paperback by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (June, 1996)
Authors: Allen C. Myers, John W., Jr Simpson, Philip A. Frank, Timothy P. Jenney, and Ralph W. Vunderink
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Israel in Exile, a Theological Interpretation
Published in Paperback by Fortress Press (December, 1979)
Authors: Ralph W. Klein, John R. Donahue, and Walter Brueggemann
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A Revolution in New Testament Study: John
Published in Hardcover by Sheffield Academic Pr Ltd (November, 1999)
Authors: Ralph D. Winter and Reuben Swanson
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Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 9, Ruth-esther (bush), 528pp
Published in Hardcover by Word Publishing (03 December, 1996)
Authors: Frederic W. Bush, David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, John D. Watts, and Ralph P. Martin
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