Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspectives

By Andreas J. Kostenberger
Grand Rapids : Baker (1999). 277 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 107-108

Encountering John is part of the college-level Encountering series being published by Baker. It attempts to build on the basic survey text, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey by Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough (see review in TMSJ 10 [1999]:291-93). The author designed this volume on the Gospel of John as a textbook for upper-level college Bible classes (13).

The author, Andreas J. Köstenberger, did his Ph.D. work in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical D ivinity School, with his work in John directed by D. A. Carson, the author of The Gospel According to John (Eerdmans, 1991). Köstenberger describes Carson’s commentary as, “One of the best evangelical commentaries on John now available, especially on d ifficult exegetical issues” (225). However, the present work, though having many echoes of Carson’s commentary, is not simply an abridgment of that volume. Köstenberger seeks to help his readers know John; therefore, his primary focus is on the text of the Gospel of John itself (15). The author is well qualified to write on John since he has written a monograph on John, The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel (Eerdmans, 1998), along with a number of journal articles on the Gospel of John.

As with all the volumes in the Encountering series, this text contains many features helpful in the learning process. Each chapter is introduced with an outline of the material and the objectives. Study questions conclude each chapter. Tables, charts, and maps greatly enhance the book’s value. Sidebars and excurses explore exegetical, theological, and ethical issues emerging from a study of John. The author has provided a helpful glossary of terms used in the text (223-24) and an annotated select bibliography for further reading (225-26). Most important, the writer enriches his book with a list of the proper names, place names, and important theological terms in John’s Gospel (227-45). This mini-concordance, focused exclusively on John, is extremely useful for the study of geographical, biographical, and theological themes in the Gospel.

Köstenberger begins his discussion of John with chapters devoted to the historical, literary, and theological backgrounds of the Gospel. He presents the evidence for Johannine authorship (22-25). Concerning occasion and purpose he states, “We conclude therefore that John’s occasion for writing was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which he considered an opportunity to present Jesus as fulfilling the void left thereby. John’s purpose for writing his gospel was (indirect) Jewish evangelism” (28). He analyzes the literary structure of John as consisting of two main divisions [1:19–12:50 and 13:1–20:31] introduced with a Prologue [1:1- 18] and followed by an Epilogue [21:1-25] (32). Köstenberger does not see 11:1–12:50 as constituting a separate division as Carson does. He takes God, the Christ, salvation, the Spirit, the new covenant community, and last things to be the major theological themes of the Gospel (39-43).

The author devotes the major portion of the book to twelve chapters that exposit the Gospel. One divergence from standard expositions of John is to be noted. Though this text delineates seven signs in John’s Gospel, it identifies the second sign as the temple cleansing [2:13-22] (70). It does not list Jesus’ walking on the water [6:16-21] as a sign as do most commentaries. A final chapter on John in the context of Scripture completes the main body of the book. Particularly significant is the discussion of the similarities between John’s Gospel and the Johannine Epistles and the Book of Revelation (203-5). However, the author, in discussing John and the Synoptic Gospels, assumes Markan priority, although he concludes that John wrote his Gospel without conscious and constant reference to the Synoptics (198-200). The assumption of Markan priority, without further discussion, can easily lead a beginning reader to assume that this is the only viable option when in fact it is not. Two appendixes (209-17) and ten excurses (247-63) conclude the written text.

Encountering John is an excellent guide to the Gospel for the beginning student. It is well designed as a college-level text. It could also serve as a good introductory text for a church Bible-study class on John, although the price might be prohibitive for each student to own a copy. Yet the teacher of the class should make use of this work as a reference in his teaching material. In addition, for the expositor of John, this book lays a good foundation before he works through the more extensive commentaries by Carson and Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [NICNT] [Eerdmans, 1995]).