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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.
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