In this article, I highlight my favorite commentaries on the fourth gospel written by John. This is not a comprehensive critical review of each volume. Rather, it is a brief summary of each volume to help you select your first or next commentary on the gospel of John.
I have designated each commentary under one of three categories.
- Devotional Commentaries: these commentaries are designed to help the average Bible reader understand the meaning of the text. No understanding of Greek is required. All theological terms are clearly defined.
- Mid–level Commentaries: these commentaries will often reference the original Greek. You do not need to know Greek, but the commentator assumes a basic understanding of Greek grammar and theological terms.
- Technical Commentaries: these commentaries contain Greek words and phrases using the Greek alphabet. Without a familiarity with New Testament Greek, popular theological works, and scholarly references, you will find these commentaries more difficult to understand.
1. D.A. Carson (Pillar, 1991) (Mid-Level)
If I could have only one commentary on the gospel of John, it would be the Pillars commentary written by D.A. Carson. The scholarship is excellent, yet it is accessible. Carson gives a thorough discussion on the authorship of the fourth gospel, favoring the traditional view of John, the son of Zebedee.
Carson’s commentary discusses important exegetical problems well. When applicable, he discusses theological implications. All references to original Greek lemmas are transliterated. Even though the commentary was written in 1991, I refer to this commentary first, and I never feel that this commentary is outdated.
2. Leon Morris (NICNT, 1995) (Mid-Level)
Even though Leon Morris’ revised commentary has been replaced by J. Ramsey Michaels for the NICNT series, I prefer Morris’ work. Like Carson’s commentary, all Greek words are transliterated to improve the readability for those who do not know Greek.
Many will only read the body of the commentary text. However, Morris includes extensive footnotes that provide additional detailed analysis. For example, Morris has an 11 page addendum to discuss the significant of the Greek word “Logos” at the end of Part I of his commentary which covered the first 18 verses of chapter 1.
Like Carson, Morris’ views are conservative and evangelical throughout, but he assumes the reader will be interested in the presentation of multiple viewpoints when appropriate. Morris rejects the authenticity of 7:53-8:11, but he gives a brief commentary on the passage at the end of his commentary in an appendix.
3. Andreas Kostenberger (BECNT, 2004) (Technical)
Kostenberger does not devote much space for the book’s introduction. His discussion on authorship is brief, spanning only two pages. The commentary is dedicated to the verse by verse commentary of the original text. Greek words are transliterated.
Kostenberger frequently references other commentators, especially Brown, Bultmann, Carson, and Morris. I see this as a strength. Kostenberger devotes more space discussing the biblical theology of John’s gospel compared to Carson and Morris. Because Kostenberger is a solid evangelical, I find his theological discussions helpful.
4. J. Ramsey Michaels (NICNT, 2010) (Mid-Level)
Many believe J. Ramsey Michaels’ commentary is a worthy replacement of Morris’ work in the NICNT series. It is over 1100 pages. This commentary serves admirably as a terrific complement to Carson and Morris. For its length, like Kostenberger, there is less focus on introductory material and historical background. The focus is on explaining the biblical text, which I believe is a strength to this commentary.
5. Craig S. Keener (2003) (Technical)
I do not own Keener’s two volume commentary published by Hendrickson. Currently, it is not available in electronic form. However, based on Keener’s reputation, I would obtain this commentary set if I intended to start a detailed Greek exegetical study of John’s gospel, especially if it become available in electronic form.
6. Raymond Brown (Anchor Yale) (Technical)
As a Catholic, Raymond Brown uses theological presuppositions are incompatible with evangelical Christians. However, his introductory discussion of John’s gospel is excellent, and his discussion of the original text and grammar is still second to none.
I only own a few commentaries from the Anchor Yale Series, and this commentary is one of them. This volume must be referenced for any scholarly research on John’s gospel, and it’s also helpful for pastors desiring to engage in serious Greek exegesis.
7. C.K. Barrett (1978) (Technical)
This is the second commentary on this list that I currently do not own. I borrowed it from a seminary library years ago, and although extremely technical, this commentary remains an important resource for any serious exegesis on John’s gospel. If this commentary is not available soon in electronic form, I will likely look for a good used copy in hardback to include in my permanent library.
8. George R. Beasley-Murray (WBC) (Technical)
Published as a second edition in 1999, Beasley–Murray’s commentary has not been as helpful to me. I definitely put this commentary below the top tier. I usually review this commentary when I need to do a complete review of the major commentaries. Beasley-Murray also takes a more critical view overall, which often conflicts with my traditional, evangelical perspective.
9. James Montgomery Boice (Devotional)
Boice’s five–volume commentary series is based on his exposition when he preached through John’s gospel in the 1970s. His commentary is my favorite devotional commentary on John’s gospel, surpassing John MacArthur’s two–volume expository commentaries.
Murray J. Harris (EGNT, 2015)
Published by B&H Academic, the Exegetical Guide to the New Testament Series is excellent. Harris wrote the first volume on Colossians. This volume added in 2015 is equally excellent. Unlike most of the other volumes in this series, the original Greek is not discussed at the clause and phrase level. Due to the length of the fourth gospel of John, this guide would require twice as much space if that tactic was implemented.
Still, this guide is updated and immensely useful. With Carson’s commentary and Harris’ exegetical guide, you will be well prepared to begin any new study on John’s gospel.