Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 29:1 (March 1986) p. 71
1, 2, 3 John. By Stephen S. Smalley. Waco: Word, 1984, xxxiv + 386 pp., $18.95.
It happens at every Olympics: An athlete breaks the existing world record but fails to win because another athlete has broken the old record by a slightly greater margin and thus captured the gold medal. What would otherwise have been celebrated as a record-breaking performance becomes instead another second-place finish, largely overlooked and soon forgotten amidst the attention focused on the victor.
This image came to mind while reviewing the latest addition to the Word Biblical Commentary series. Had this volume by Smalley, a well-known British NT scholar who established his reputation as a specialist in the Johanninc writings with an earlier volume on the fourth gospel (John: Evangelist and Interpreter [Paternoster, 1978]), been published just a few years earlier, one can imagine it being hailed as the substantial commentary on the Johanninc epistles. At 420 pages it is considerably larger than any other English-language work published before 1982. Instead it has come out just after the publication of R. E. Brown’s magisterial and massive volume on the same documents (The Epistles of John [AB 30; Doubleday, 1982]), which at 840 pages overshadows anything else ever written on these epistles in any language. It would be unfortunate, however, if enthusiasm for Brown’s commentary should lead one to neglect Smalley’s work, for it is an important work in its own right, which maintains the very high standards established by the earlier NT volumes in the Word series.
The format follows the now familiar pattern we have come to expect from this series: comprehensive bibliographies, the author’s own translation, textual notes, a section on “Form/Structure/Setting,” detailed verse-by-verse comment, and explanation (actually more a comprehensive summary of the preceding comment). All Greek words and phrases are translated, and the volume succeeds in its goal of making itself useful to a very wide range of readers.
A key issue that any commentator must address is the Sitz im Leben in which the document being examined was composed. This is particularly the case with any document arising out of the Johanninc community, the investigation of which has in recent years become another “storm center” (to borrow W. C. van Unnik’s phrase) in NT scholarship. R. E. Brown has been one of the leaders in the effort to reconstruct the history of the community that formed around the beloved disciple (see, in addition to his commentary on the gospel of John lAB 29, 29A; Doubleday, 1966, 1970], The Community of the Beloved Disciple. The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times [Paulist, 1979]; The Ch...
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