Reflections on the John-Commentary Poll

In a recent post, I polled readers regarding the best commentary on John for an evangelical-seminary exegesis course textbook.  Here are some reflections on the responses (see #6 below for my conclusions)

(1) Carson received 27/67 votes – the highest number of votes. His commentary is generally considered to be rich theologically and written in a clear way that exposits the text for pastoral insight.  A few people, though, would criticize Carson’s apologetic approach to John that seeks to defend its historical accuracy and validity. Personally, I think the gains outweigh the drawbacks and Carson does think like a pastor- which is often a rare quality in commentary authors.

(2) Brown received 21/67 votes – the overall impression was that Brown’s work is highly respected and the commentary is a classic. However, the format and details of the commentary make it difficult to digest in one sitting. It thrives as a reference work, not a textbook.

(3) Keener received only 12/67 votes. Much like Brown, commenters respected his exhaustive work, but the two-volume commentary is not meant to be read through in a few months.

(4) About 7/67 people voted for “other” – such others were mentioned in comments.

Barrett – while his work is good, I think I would like to assign something more literary-driven and up-to-date.

Kostenberger – A few people voted for Kostenberger’s BEC. I am personally not impressed with his work, and I do think his work can be over-driven by conservative-apologetics.

Moloney, Ramsey-Michaels, and Beasley-Murray also received mention. None of these particularly appeals to me as a textbook, but they are all fine commentaries for research.

(5) I was impressed that a number of people mentioned Andrew Lincoln’s BNTC volume on John. Several people have used this in classroom settings and found Lincoln’s work current and stimulating.

(6) Conclusion: Given my purposes and audience for the class, and also taking into account the very helpful discussions in the recent post on this subject, I will tentatively do the following. I will give students the option of reading through either Carson or Lincoln. I will give a short description of each commentary to the students and let them decide. I will, of course, offer Keener and Brown as recommended reading for their papers!

Four Views on Thomas: Thomas as Gnostic Text (Part I)

A few weeks back I mentioned that I would be “thinking out loud” in a series of posts on the theological outlook of the Gospel of Thomas. Four theological categories seem to be most prominent among scholars: Gnosticism, Wisdom, Asceticism, and Mysticism. These categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive and I will try to make this clear when discussing them. Today I want to begin by looking at the idea that Thomas is a gnostic text.

Most early scholars working on the Gospel of Thomas assumed it was a gnostic text. Initially, there were at least three reasons for this conclusion:

First, Thomas was found among a group of other supposedly gnostic documents. In truth, this conclusion amounts to “guilt by association,” and offers no real proof for Thomas‘s gnostic outlook.  Not every text found at Nag Hammadi is gnostic, as evidenced by the inclusion of the Sentences of Sextus and Plato’s Republic in the NHL.

Second, there are *some* gnostic ideas in Thomas (or, at the very least, ideas that would have been attractive to gnostics). Again, this constitutes no real proof for Thomas‘s supposed gnosticism. After all, the Fourth Gospel is not a gnostic document though it contains ideas attractive to early gnostics. In fact, the first known commentary on the Gospel of John was written by the second century gnostic, Heracleon (ca 150 – 180 CE).

Third, a certain circularity attended most early discussions of Thomas‘s date/provenance, relation to the canonical gospels, and theological outlook. Thomas was assumed by many to be gnostic, dependent upon the synoptic gospels, and later than the canonical tradition. These three related premises were often discussed in connection with each other without any substantive proof being offered.

In recent scholarship, previous conclusions about Thomas‘s gnostic outlook have been questioned. In the next post I want to look at several recent scholars who identify Thomas as a gnostic text.