It’s helpful, when commencing the study of a New Testament book, to read a summary of the book by an author who has passed that way before you.
This article reviews 9 such ‘New Testament surveys’, highlighting their take on one particular book: the gospel of John.
1. A Guide to the Gospels (by W. Graham Scroggie)
This incredible 654 page volume is unsurpassed in its sheer volume and wealth of material. Graham Scroggie (1877-1958) looks at the gospels synthetically (128 pages), analytically (308 pages) and Christologically (161 pages). Scroggie has left no stone unturned in producing every conceivable list of miracles, parables, persons, places, discourses, titles, quotations, inclusions, and omissions, that you could ever wish to view. He must have spend countless hours researching and collating his material, all before the age of the computer. I suggest no one should study the gospels without taking a look at this volume by Scroggie. As far as the gospel of John is concerned, he gives all the usual material as to John the disciple, his purpose in writing and the style and contents of his gospel. He suggests 8 distinct chronological periods in the gospel and gives a suggested length of months for each one. He gives a geographical plan of where everything happened throughout the whole book (Galilee, Samaria, Judaea and Perea). His lists of “words peculiar to John”, “John’s dominating words” and “John’s notable phrases” (among many other lists) are invaluable. He lists 14 discourses in John; the first 10 given as public instruction to the world, and the last 4 as private instruction to the disciples. Further details are given on John’s imagery, symbolism, style and unity. His division of the gospel of John is unique and furnishes plenty of food for thought. Altogether this volume comes highly recommended. If you would like to read what Scroggie has to say about the other 62 books of the Bible, you will need to obtain a copy of The Unfolding Drama of Redemption (1441 pages!) – another unique and hugely profitable volume.
2. Explore the Book (by J. Sidlow Baxter)
This 1,760 page volume by J. Sidlow Baxter (1903-1999) works its way systematically from Genesis to Revelation outlining, analysing and summarising each of the 66 books of the Bible in an eminently readable and accessible way. Snappy, memorable headings and outlines (often alliterated) grace the book from beginning to end. Books, chapters, and many individual paragraphs are beautifully and simply broken down into bite-sized bits for ease of digestion. Small wonder then that Warren Wiersbe said, “If I had to get rid of every book in my library and keep just one, that one would be Explore the Book.” Sidlow Baxter has three sections on John’s gospel. In the first he deals with its chronology. In the second he outlines the structure of the gospel, expounding on its key verse and theme, listing the 8 signs and the 8 private interviews, before lining up the events of the gospel with the furniture of the tabernacle. In the third section he looks at John’s portrait of Christ as the Word, the Life, the Light, the Son and the Witness. What strikes you about Sidlow Baxter’s book is its deeply spiritual tone and content. This is no technical dry analysis. Every page is pregnant with a thousand thoughts and will repay careful study. A most highly recommended volume. (Be aware that Sidlow Baxter was a post-tribulationist, although this does not affect the vast majority of the content of this powerful book).
3. An Introduction to the New Testament (by D. Edmond Hiebert)
Here are 973 pages of introductions covering all 27 books of the New Testament by author D. Edmund Hiebert (1928-1995). His summaries follow a fairly consistent pattern of detailing the author, date, place, readership, style, characteristics and purpose of each book and are generally very useful and comprehensive. Hiebert has written numerous Bible commentaries and approaches scripture from a solid conservative, evangelical and dispensational perspective. As far as John’s gospel is concerned Hiebert pays considerable attention to the internal and external proof for the Johannine authorship as well as giving a detailed paragraph by paragraph breakdown of the book. At the end of each New Testament book summary he provides a very helpful reference list of other works on that book, with a short summary of the contents.
4. Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament (by Irving L. Jensen)
Irving L. Jensen (1920-1996) authored numerous books, but none better than his introductions to both Old and New Testaments. In Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament each of the NT’s 27 books is analysed and summarised as to its background, style, author, readers, key words, purpose and structure. What sets Jensen’s book apart are the many charts, lists and diagrams that punctuate his the text that give visual clarity and light on the subject. His 23 pages of information on the gospel of John are most useful, and include suggestions as to how to read and study John. He divides John’s gospel up into 5 sections: the Era of Incarnation; the Years of Conflict; the Day of Preparation; the Hour of Sacrifice; and the Dawn of Victory. Jensen is a dispensationalist who believes in a pre-tribulational and pre-millennial view of eschatology.
5. Exploring the Scriptures (by John Phillips)
I hesitate to include this title because it only has 3-4 pages of comment on each Bible book from Genesis to Revelation, but that is part of its appeal to many! John Phillips (1927-2010) authored more than 50 books in his lifetime including a commentary on every book of the New Testament under the “Exploring” motif. In this volume he gives a few paragraphs about each New Testament book, highlighting its purpose and content before giving an alliterated outline. On the gospel of John he writes 4 pages. First some brief notes about John’s purpose, followed by some notes about what John omits (compared to the synoptic gospels) and where John’s gospel chooses to concentrate, plus a note about the complementary character of Luke and John. Phillips’s outline is as follows: 1:1-18 – Prologue; 1:19-12:50 – the Signs of the Son (His deity declared, disputed and disowned); 13:1-17:26 – the Secrets of the Son; 18:1-20:31 – the Sorrows of the Son; 21:1-25 – Epilogue. He closes with a look at John’s Messiah, John’s miracles and how John presents the words, works and sufferings of the Son of God.
6. New Testament Survey (by Merrill C. Tenney)
This 454 page volume by Merrill Tenney (1904-1985) doesn’t actually start summarising the books of the New Testament until page 149, because he takes up the first third of his book with introductory information about the political, social, economic and religious world in which the New Testament was written. The information is great, but it means that, on John’s gospel for example, you only get 11 pages of material. Tenney discusses the gospel’s origin, author, date, place of writing, emphasis, purpose and characteristics, but all in brief. His outline of John’s gospel is simple but memorable: 1:1-18 Prologue; 1:19-4:54 Period of Consideration; 5:1-6:71 Period of Controversy; 7:1-11:53 Period of Conflict; 11:54-12:36a Period of Crisis; 12:36b-17:26 Period of Conference; 18:1-20:31 Period of Consummation; 21:1-25 Epilogue.
7. New Testament Introduction (by Donald Guthrie)
This huge 1,161 page work by Donald Guthrie (1916-1992) is comprehensive and detailed, giving the reader 102 pages on John’s gospel alone (although 30 of these pages are on the subject of John’s authorship!). Guthrie outlines the gospel’s characteristics, background, historicity, purpose, date, relationship to the synoptics, language and style, but be aware, Guthrie has a very different feel to the likes of Scroggie or Sidlow Baxter. This is a more technical volume written by a British Bible College principal who discusses and weighs at length various theories and views on the gospel of John by the likes of C.H. Dodd, R Bultmann, C. K. Barrett, including 4 pages discussing “theories of dislocation”. For the reader who just wants to enjoy the gospel of John and doesn’t have any need or desire to iron out all the challenges that ‘scholarship’ has raised about it, I suggest you probably give this tome a miss. On the apostle John’s last book, Revelation, Guthrie takes a mixture of interpretative views, but is certainly not dispensational – so proceed with care.
8. Introduction to the New Testament (by D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo)
This beautifully produced Zondervan hardback NT Introduction covers all the usual bases as to each book’s author, background, date, purpose and content. Unlike most of the other surveys above, this book gives an account of current studies into each book including recent literary and social-science approaches to interpretation. There are 59 pages about the gospel of John, but 17 of these are simply a discussion about who wrote the gospel! As the authors continue with a discussion about the “Johannine community” and the “geographical and conceptional provenance” of the gospel, the views of other authors, including such unsound men as R. Bultmann and C.H. Dodd, as discussed and weighed. If you are technically minded and like to know what the latest ‘scholarship’ believes, maybe this would suit you, but I found the chapter on John pretty hard going and dry, with very little by way of warm and weighty spiritual content that would do one’s soul good. I must also confess annoyance at Bart D. Ehrman being referenced (Footnote p. 274) with nothing to warn the reader that he is an “ex-born again Christian” who is now an “agnostic atheist”.
9. A Survey of the New Testament (by Robert H. Gundry)
Robert Gundry’s work is presented very differently to the rest of the titles in this review. The book itself is large, and more square than rectangular (19.5cm x 23.5cm x 4cm). It is printed on glossy paper and is packed full of dozens of photographs, maps, charts and illustrations, all in full colour. Gundry gives us 43 pages on John’s gospel (although on other books, like 1 and 2 Thessalonians, there are only 3-4 pages each). He provides the normal survey as regards authorship, style, themes, purpose, and gives a useful outline. He then works his way through the whole gospel, commenting as he goes on the various signs, the “I am’s” and the Lord’s various discourses. He has an unusual view of “My Father’s house” in John 14, proposing that the Father’s house is not heaven, and that the “many dwelling places” are “abodes in the crucified and risen Jesus”. On John 19:30 he says “It is finished” should be probably changed to “They are finished” in reference to Jesus’s signs. The book is handsomely bound and is set out in a way that will appeal to those who like plenty of visual content. I have put this title last because Gundry has seriously erroneous views on the inerrancy of Scripture. Why include him here then? Because in searching for NT surveys and introductions on Amazon and other book sites, this title will come up again and again. With so many other good titles (above) I suggest you give this one a miss. A little leaven…
Review by Michael J. Penfold (firstname.lastname@example.org)