Review of Van der Watt, “An Introduction to the Johannine Gospel and Letters” -- By: Annang Asumang
Conspectus 6:1 (September 2008) p. 129
Review of Van der Watt, “An Introduction to the Johannine Gospel and Letters”1
Van der Watt J 2007. An Introduction to the Johannine Gospel and Letters. London: T&T Clark, 160 pages.
Prof J G van der Watt of the New Testament Department of the University of Pretoria begins his introduction by describing the Gospel of John as “straightforward to understand only to surprise the reader with its depth and finesse of expression and ideas” (p. 1). The same can also be said of his textbook aimed at professional students of the Bible and yet written with such clarity of language and ideas that it would also be of immense help to the non-professional.
Aware that the present state of Johannine research is like an overworked “Chinese rice field” (p. 146) and that scholarly interpretation of these documents is like a constantly swinging “pendulum” (p. 145), van der Watt begins by patiently engaging the texts themselves before moving on to discuss the various scholarly approaches and perspectives on the introductory matters. This is one of the major strengths of the book.
The first chapter describes the structure and purpose of the gospel of John and its relationship with the Letters. Van der Watt notes that the narrative flow of the gospel is such that the chronological account is not as important as the thematic account—“It is the message and not the events that dominate the narrative” (p. 12). Thus the emphasis in this introductory book is clearly on John’s theology. After a brief examination of the conceptual overlaps between
Conspectus 6:1 (September 2008) p. 130
the Gospel and the Letters of John, van der Watt concludes that the “Letters are examples of how the Gospel was interpreted in latter situations, which makes the Letters, the ‘first commentaries’ on the Gospel” (p. 23).
The second chapter focuses on the theological themes of the Gospel and Letters. Though simply presented, the discussion is wide-ranging, thorough and effective. John’s Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology and Eschatology are carefully examined with deftness and lucidity. In addition, he provides a number of helpful conceptual diagrams to illustrate the theological themes of the gospel. This is very much appreciated by this reviewer.
The rest of the book examines several of the introductory issues related to the interpretation of the Gospel and Letters of John. Here, van der Watt presents a fair account of the different and often conflicting scholarly views on some of these matters....
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