Karen Jobes, having written on the General Epistles already, is a fine choice for this commentary on the Johannine Epistles. Two distinctives set her 1, 2, & 3 John commentary apart from others. First, Jobes is unconvinced that 1 John responds to (proto-)Gnosticism. She also considers John’s Gospel as the interpretive framework for the Johannines. These two factors influence her opinions on the text.
As to the relationship of the three letters, Jobes presents a unique and interesting “scenario”: After John’s home church received 1 John, it was sent to other churches with a covering letter (2 John). Diotrephes refused to receive it, and so John sent Demetrius with a letter of introduction (3 John) to enlist help from Gaius.
In the commentary proper, the volume follows the ZECNT distinctives: the literary context is explained, the main idea of the passage summarized, a translation and graphical presentation of the flow, the text’s structure, and then the heart of each section is a verse by verse commentary.
As with the other ZECNT volumes I’ve read, I was disappointed with the graphical layout section. As an avid user of BibleArc, this was an initial draw of the series. However, I’ve often found this section surprisingly unhelpful. More importantly, the potential insights from the layout are usually not discussed in the commentary proper. In other words, the section seems superfluous. It’s a great idea, but poorly executed (in the volumes I’ve read).
I expected, as I preached through 1 John, to find the Theology in Application sections useful. However, as with other ZECNT volumes, I rarely read them. This may say more about my own impatience with reading commentaries for application, rather than the quality of these sections.
Balance in Difficult Texts
Unique views on select passages
1 John 2:2 is not teaching universalism, nor a potential universal atonement, but an atonement that covers all who will believe. Jobes doesn’t engage with the past expiation/propitiation debate of Dodd and Morris that looms over this text, but sidesteps the issue by quoting John 1:36 to argue that John’s emphasis is on “Christ as a replacement for animal sacrifice in the temple” (p79). Thus, Jesus is a better sacrificial lamb; one for the world, not just the Jews.
1 John 2:18-28 shows John’s concern is not with identifying a future opponent, but with those who have left the community to which he is writing. They are the antichrists. Jobes does not dwell on intertextuality between this passage and with Jesus’s and Paul’s teaching elsewhere. Nor does she address whether the idea of an individual antichrist of 1 John 2:18 is affirmed or rejected by John. John’s focus is squarely on those rejecting Jesus as messiah.
The commentary ends with a helpful summary of the theology of John’s letters.
Jobes is consistently level-headed and undistracted by scholarly debates. That’s not to say she has nothing to say on these issues, but that her contributions are fresh. What’s more, Jobes helpfully reads the letters through the lens of John, a fine example of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Since John’s letters are usually more difficult to understand than his Gospel, this is especially helpful.
I admit, I have not read widely on the Johannine epistles, so I cannot speak to how this compares with other commentaries. However, I found it a level-headed and reliable guide. Jobes’ 1, 2, & 3 John would serve well as a go-to commentary for preachers who want more exegetical detail.
Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy.
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