As the latest entries for the Story of God series, the 1, 2 & John volumes face an ironic problem. Constantine Campbell recognizes that the Johannines “seem more detached from the biblical narrative than most other parts of the New Testament” (p1). There are many odd features about these letters, but trying to read them in light of the grand story is a challenge. Fortunately for the reader, Campbell has to face this challenge head on.
1, 2 & 3 John (Story of God)
This is my first review in The Story of God series. It was released while I was preaching through 1 John, so I jumped at the opportunity. What sets this commentary series apart is the desire to speak the timeless truth of Scripture to our culture. It has a finger on the pulse of our changing culture. To reach this goal, each passage is examined from three angles.
- Listen to the story
- Explain the story
- Live the story
These broadly follow the popular observe, interpret, apply paradigm. The final point examines, “how this text may be lived out today” (xiii). This is different to common meanings of “application,” in that it focuses less on rules to obey, and more on a story in which to live. This reflects a change to accommodate how our culture communicates truth, though the truth remains the same.
Finding the Story
Returning to the opening problem: how do the Johannines contribute to the story that God is telling? It’s a challenge. First, there are no OT quotations. The letters are also short and seemingly untethered from the larger Biblical storyline. However, Campbell argues that the link is found in intertextuality with John’s Gospel, and that the story of God is assumed, not ignored.
In the remainder of the introduction, Campbell covers the typical questions of authorship and date, landing on traditional perspectives. The identity of John’s opponents is considered, with the clearest evidence being that they denied Jesus as the Messiah (1 John 2:22-23). Campbell concludes that the letters’ main themes are truth, love, sin and forgiveness, and fellowship with God.
In the commentary proper, Campbell does not follow a verse by verse approach, but instead discusses matters through the threefold lens that the series provides. He doesn’t shy away from theological interpretation, nor nuances of Greek grammar (Campbell is a renowned Greek scholar). The application sections were also relevant and helpful.
An example of Campbell’s exegesis is the exemplary treatment of 1 Jn 5:6-9. He worked deductively through “three main clues for sorting through the options” (p157), weighing the evidence and how it either worked in favor or against the interpretive options. Given that other commentators appeared to confuse themselves in these sections, Campbell’s was a breath of fresh air. His was a accessible way of navigating through a notoriously difficult section.
Campbell’s 1, 2 & 3 John commentary is highly recommended for both pastors and laymen. It’s concise, built upon solid scholarship, but concerned with bringing the text to life. This is a perfect accessible guide for personal Bible study or small group leaders.
Buy 1, 2 & 3 John
Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy.