Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I’m in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.
My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I have turned to the experts to find what they say about 1, 2 & 3 John.
1, 2, & 3 John
Colin Kruse – The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary). The consensus pick from the experts is Kruse’s contribution to the PNTC. While not a entry-level commentary, neither does it require extensive knowledge of Greek. Keith Mathison says, “The Pillar New Testament Commentaries edited by D.A. Carson are consistently excellent works. Colin Kruse’s commentary is no exception. He has done extensive work in the Johannine literature and written a commentary on the Gospel of John for the Tyndale series. This work on the Epistles of John is thorough and accessible. It should be on the desk of every pastor and teacher.” (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Robert W. Yarbrough – 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Yarbrough’s commentary appears not to be a step down from Kruse’s in quality. It is, however, longer and a little more difficult. D.A. Carson commends it saying, “He writes with color and verve; he is never leaden or boring. More important, he combines good exegesis, theological reflection, interaction not only with the most recent Johannine scholars but with two or three major figures in the past … pastoral insight, and an independent judgment that means his work is always fresh.” It sounds like it would make a great one-two punch when combined with Kruse’s work. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Stephen S. Smalley – 1, 2, 3 John (Word Biblical Commentary). Smalley’s commentary receives accolades from many of the commentators on the commentaries. He is praised for his conservatism and for his ability to understand and explain the positions of other scholars. Jim Rosscup notes, “Smalley is excellent in helping the reader be up on views and arguments from recent years, drawn from massive research. … He is usually quite full in discussing issues so that he offers much help on verses, and does so with clarity, directness, and confidence.” As always, the WBC requires an asterisk because of its annoying format. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Raymond Brown – The Epistles of John (Anchor Bible). This is a massive and dense work that will reward the diligent researcher and nicely complement Brown’s huge two-commentary volume on the gospel of John. Here he provides 840 pages of commentary on about 5 pages of biblical text! While few readers will agree with all of his positions, he certainly has an exhaustive grasp of the Johannine epistles and great respect for the text. (Amazon)
John Stott – The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). John Stott is always an able commentator and his volume in the TNTC is no exception. Carson praises it as “one of the most useful conservative commentaries on these epistles, so far as the preacher is concerned” and says “it is packed with both exegetical comments and thoughtful application.” The TNTC is targeted squarely at a general audience, so both pastors and interesting general readers will find it tremendously beneficial. If you are looking for a commentary to guide you as you read John’s epistles devotionally, this is probably the one you want. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Let me close with a couple of questions: Have you ever preached through any of John’s letters? What are your preferred commentaries? Are there some you’ve found particularly helpful for preaching or devotional purposes?
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