"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Preface
I've wanted to write a commentary on John's Gospel for a long time. In the late 1970s, when I was a student at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and the University of Toronto, I worked with the late Walter Principe CSB for both the Institute's licentiate degree and the University's PhD. Walter believed that mediaevalists were in danger of becoming antiquarians and so the study of mediaeval biblical interpretation had to produce not only a better understanding of mediaeval people and their ideas but also insights which could illuminate modern interpretation1 So, since I was planning to write both my theses about mediaeval commentaries on the Gospel of John, he told me to go out and put my research on the right track by learning as much as I could about modern exegesis of the Fourth Gospel. In that way I could locate these commentaries properly within a spectrum of thought and interpretation. The place to start, he said, was with Raymond Brown's recent two-volume commentary.
I was hooked! I had always had a special interest in John's Gospel. But from that point I become fascinated by the way in which it has been studied and presented, both by scholars for scholars, and by scholars for a lay audience. The methodology of mediaeval biblical interpretation also became an interest, so it is natural that that interest would expand to include other periods in interpretation as well. I have been fascinated also to see how scholars such as Margaret Mitchell2 and Mayeski3 have been applying patristic and mediaeval exegesis and theology to modern circumstances.
This interest in method and my experience (now of many years) in leading and facilitating adult Christian learning at my Anglican parish have made me want to try a presentation for a lay audience. So this guide is primarily directed toward non-specialist, lay readers. I want to see whether it is possible to replicate the oral approach I use in teaching my Monday night Bible Study. To that end I have tried to bring together the information and insights from academic commentaries that seemed to me most helpful and present them clearly without the academic shorthand and specialised vocabulary that make academic commentaries and articles unclear or unappealing to the non-specialist and without the 'talking down' which so often plagues a specialist in his or her attempts to go outside the academic bubble.
At the back of my mind as I have tried this synthetic approach has been the model of that great mediaeval synthesis, the Glossa Ordinaria (or Standard Gloss) on a biblical text. In the Glossa, a section of the text (in the Latin Vulgate translation) would appear in the centre of the page, accompanied by short glosses (brief definitions or explanations) between the lines, and surrounded by longer and more complex explanations and interpretations, usually credited to an important and earlier interpreter like Augustine or Bede, or one of the mediaeval masters, that physically surrounds the text in its margins. There might be only a few words of text on a given page, as in this example, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
Digital humanists have long recognised that this manuscript techinque is a kind of mediaeval hypertext, and it has inspired my treatment of the text and comments sections below, in which It will be most apparent in the text and comment sections, where my translation of the gospel is linked both with footnotes (which act similarly to the explanations between the lines, and commentary, which acts similarly to the marginal explanations and interpretations. To access the footnotes, click on the footnote numbers; to access the comments, click on the links within the text. My own Glossa primarily references Raymond Brown's two-volume commentary in the Anchor series. Although now nearly half-a-century old, it is magisterial in every way, raising and discussing questions that still resonate. Among more modern voices on John I have also used in places Carson's commentary in the Pillar series [[and Lincoln's in the Black's New Testament Commentaries series?]]. Also in the mix is Bultmann's The Gospel of John and Dodd's The Fourth Gospel.
I am ever grateful for the examples of my mother and grandmother, each a faithful teacher of the Bible in her own characteristic way over many years. Many thanks to my niece Charlotte for her technical advice and her encouragement to me to web-publish! I also want to thank to the many people over the years, especially those who now have gone on before me, with whom I have studied John, and other books of the Bible, in our Monday night Bible Study: this commentary would never have been written without them.
Return to the Outline.
1See Abigail Ann Young, 'Mission and Message: Two Prophetic Voices in the Twelfth Century' in James Ginther and Carl Still, eds, Essays in Medieval Philosophy and Theology in Memory of Walter H. Principe: Fortresses and Launching Pads, p 27.
2Margaret M. Mitchell, 'Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that 'The Gospels Were Written for all Christians'. New Testament Studies 51 (2005) 36-79.
3M.A. Mayeski, 'Quaestio Disputata: Catholic Theology and the History of Exegesis'. Theological Studies 62.1 (Mar 2001) 140-53.