Commentaries on the Gospel of John

On my way out of the office last night, my arms were half-full and I was running ten minutes late. As I was scrambling about to depart, it occurred to me at the last moment that I should bring home some work to do the next morning before heading in to church. Since I am currently preaching through the Gospel of John, I decided to grab some commentaries to read for Sunday’s sermon. From my shelf of commentaries on John, I quickly and instinctively grabbed the four which initially seemed best to me in the rush of the moment:

  • Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

  • Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

  • Kostenberger, Andreas. J. John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

  • MacArthur, John F., Jr. John 1-11. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 2006.

On the drive home, I took a moment to reflect on whether I had grabbed the “right” commentaries. I have only been preaching John for a couple of months now, so my favorites have not yet emerged in any kind of definitive way. But so far, I decided, my initial instincts served me well. If I were only allowed to use four commentaries as I preached through the remainder of the gospel, these would be my selections. At least for now.

For those of you who have preached through the Gospel of John—or are currently in the process of doing so—which four would you use?

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14 responses to this post.

  1. I’m currently preaching through the Gospel of John on Sunday evenings. I’m in chapter 16. If I had to be limited to just four commentaries these are the four:

    Leon Morris

    D.A. Carson (Carson’s work is a virtual expansion of F.F. Bruce’s work. I’m sure you have by now discovered that Dr. Carson often uses the words and thought patterns of Bruce verbatim)

    J.C. Ryle

    The fourth would be a toss up between Bruce, Ridderbos, Lenski, or Tenney (EBC series), depending on the passage.

    Sometimes in a passage one commentary will be the one the seems to nail it but generally speaking these would be my choices. Of course, never forget Matthew Henry!

    Cliff Allen

  2. The best I have seen is Raymond Brown’s in Anchor Bible. It is pretty dated now but it was so well done I think it still holds its own.

    From there…Carson’s Pillar commentary is really good and does play off Bruce VERY significantly. There is one paragraph that is basically verbatim.

    Word Biblical by Beasley-Murray is good.

    I haven’t look at Leon Morris but what he puts out is usually pretty quality.

  3. Right. Morris’s commentary is the NICNT volume, by the way, not Bruce. I like Barrett, Brown, Carson, Kostenberger, Morris, Ridderbos, and Schnackenberg. I know, that’s more than four. But it would be difficult to preach on John only reading four commentaries, at least in my mind.

  4. Posted by Chris Pixley on August 17, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    It’s been a few years since I’ve preached through the Gospel of John, and I’m away from home right now (so I can’t glance at my bookshelf), but a few volumes do stand out in my mind:

    Leon Morris’ contribution in NICNT is a standard work, although it is becoming a bit dated by now.

    Carson’s work is top-shelf and serves as an excellent supplement to Morris as he interacts with all of the current scholarship.

    Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels are always devotionally-rich.

    Boice’s four-volume work on John was very helpful to me–I think he always does good work on background material and illustrations.

    Unfortunately, J Mac’s volume on John 1-11 was not available at the time of my preaching through John, but I did find his sermon transcripts to be very helpful (he always has the best outlines!)

    Maybe we can get our friend/contributor emeritus, Jerry Wragg, to weigh in on this since he is currently preaching through the Gospel of John from his pulpit at Grace Immanuel Bible Church.

  5. Posted by Scott Christensen on August 17, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    I am in John 5. I use Carson, Morris, Kostenberger, MacArthur, Boice, Ryle and Ridderbos most consitently. Carson and Morris have the most insightful comments on the text in my mind. I usually don’t find anything new in Kostenberger and am somewhat disaapointed in his commentary. I have never purchased Keener’s commentary (more then my budget can justify) but I am curious what others think of him if they have it.

  6. Thanks guys. Your interaction has been helpful. I will be adding to this series on Monday with my top four on Matthew. Maybe all of our contributors could do the same with what they are preaching through. I would love to see an annotated list on the Psalms from Randy.

    PSL

  7. I am not preaching through John but have used Hendrickson’s work on more than one occasion.

    CK

  8. Since my brother thinks Morris’ commentary is “a bit dated,” I know he’ll cringe at one that I love even though it is distinctly “dated”–Godet (1886). For exegesis, Morris, Carson, and Godet are my top three choices. These three along with MacArthur, Tenney, and Bruce round out my weekly reading.

  9. Actually I just remembered that Randy has posted here on Psalm commentaries (see under the tag “Psalms”).

  10. Greenbaggins: Good catch on Leon Morris—I’ve made the change. Somebody asked about Keener’s two-volume set. I like it quite a bit, but as a preacher, oftentimes it is too much to wade through on a weekly basis. I find that I use him almost every week, but only for certain parts of the passage, usually the parts I am finding difficult to interpret. His strength seems to be in the area of historical and cultural background. Very thorough.

  11. P.S. Somebody mentioned C.K. Barrett. I have found his commentary somewhat helpful here and there, but his denial of the historical reliability of the gospel is more than a bit troubling, as is his use of source criticism.

  12. Posted by Jerry Wragg on August 19, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I’m in John 19 at the moment (I began the book 6 years ago). It is the most awesome study for a young and maturing church!

    Commentaries:

    Unfortunately, MacArthur’s work was published too late for me. Now that John 1-11 is out, it’s been good for referring to past themes in John that recur.

    Carson – I found it superb in problem areas where several views need careful consideration. Carson’s exegesis is almost always sound. If he gets locked into an assumption about an author, however, he can sometimes read that framework into all kinds of places without warrant (in my opinion).

    Kostenberger is clear and helpful.

    Ridderbos stays close to the text, but with excellent insights. Watch for some philosophical overkill at times.

    Bruce – Well, it’s classic bruce…short, sweet, and to the point. Obviously good with problem texts.

    Lange’s analytical sections are stellar.

    I find Tenney helpful, but rather short-changed.

    J. Heading (Ritchie series) can be “bread & butter” at times, but then very “left field” at others. Still, it’s a worthy addition to the library.

    Hughes – Some good textual insights, but very helpful pastoral and devotional content

    Other key tools for the Gospels:
    Edersheim – Life & Times…; Sketches of Jewish Social Life
    F.F. Bruce – New Testament History; Jesus: Lord and Savior
    Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony

  13. Posted by Ronnie on August 28, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Calvin’s on John, I think it is very insightful!

  14. I would suggest Morris, Pink, Boice, and Carson.

    I consulted Calvin at times, but used it less than these others.

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