Westcott, Brooke Foss. The Epistles of St. John, The Greek Text with Notes. 3rd ed. 1892. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950 (reprint).
There have been many great books written on the epistles of the Apostle John, but Westcott’s is a classic.
After reading many of the important facets covered in this book, the crux or the heartbeat of the book is centered on the test of eternal life (1 John), truth, which is the ultimate basis of worship (2 John), and loyalty to the truth (3 John).
What makes the book fascinating is the author’s interaction with the exegetical insights, which results in accurate theology. You cannot have theology first then exegesis second. What I appreciate much about this critical commentary is that from the first pages of Scripture, is Westcott’s elevation of the role of exegesis. It was self-evident that the rest of the pages of this book would focus heavily on the exegesis of the text.
For the purpose of this book analysis, concerted efforts will not be focused on the summary of the content, but will involve brief critical interactions from the book in order to discover the weaknesses and strengths. It is my hope that by doing that, you will be encouraged to dig deeper in the areas you think you are lacking in; and also to encourage you with the wonderful resources documented and written by this fine author. I will not focus so much on the weaknesses because there are very few.
Since I mentioned that I would point out briefly concerning the weaknesses, I will bring out some of it to surface. I think it would be helpful if the author would emphasize more towards the reader of how this phrase, clause, statement, or verse, applies timeless truths. As great as the exegetical materials are, I think a commentary that draws out practical implications for the reader in how to apply the timeless principles would help tremendously. Timeless truths are king and are crucial to the sanctification of the reader. For example, even just posing a question such as, “How do we apply the revelation of God or what the revelation of God’s love do to us? would help.” To not emphasize or point out timeless truths may cause the reader to have a difficult time understanding or in how to apply the exegetical insights of the phrase, clause, statement, or verse to one’s life.
In regards to strengths, I appreciate how the author’s interaction was not limited only to the various use of verb tense in the epistles of John, but also his interaction with the other parts of speech. What I also appreciate is the author’s discussion of the Greek text manuscripts such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandra, Latin Vulgate and other Greek manuscripts. In regards to the different manuscripts, he also discusses the superiority of the ancient text, the titles in the MSS., the forms of the writing, authorship, date, place of writing, the destination the letter was sent to, the character of the letter, the object of the letters/epistles, the style and language of the letter, the relationship of the epistles to the Gospel of John, outline of the epistles, to name but a few. Another strength is the book’s discussion concerning the dangers of higher-criticism when embarking into the world of textual criticism.
When journeying into this book, there was also an appreciation of its appendix. The appendix is so significant that a separate paragraph needs to set aside for it. The appendixes were additional notes given after each chapter. The additional notes would focus on the fatherhood of God, the idea of Christ’s blood in the New Testament, the idea of sin in the epistle, the use of ἱλασμός (propitiation), John’s view of the state of man, the powers of evil, John’s teaching on creation (1 Jn1-5), antichrist, children of God, aspects of the incarnation, the titles of believers, John’s notion of love, the nature of man, the names of the Lord, the revelation of God, the use of the term μονογενής (begotten), the use of θεός and ὁ θεὸς, divine fellowship, the use of the term: “the Christ,” references to the facts of the Gospel, additional readings of 1 John 5:6-8, the concept of “sin unto death,” the concept of life, and the concept of the true God. And in 3 John, there is an additional note on the divine name.
The additional notes section of the book was one of the major components that provided many insightful details concerning critical terms in the epistles because it provided deeper notes that lead to clarity. Clarity is key because it allows one to interpret and explain the terms to others who do not understand them well. If one can understand the concept well, then evangelism and counseling will empowered because God’s Word is exposed correctly, purely, and clearly.
This book maybe a slow read for some because it is not a normal commentary. It is a critical commentary that deals heavily with the Greek text. For those who have not taken Koine Greek, you may have trouble with some of the terms. But overall, Westcott gets the message across. After reading over 200 pages of this book, I think I will go back and read the book again because there is much nuance and exegetical insights from the author.
The epistles of Apostle John is a critical book that all Christians need to read because it deals with the tests of assurance, truth, and the loyalty to truth. Since those three categories are essential, it is imperative that Christians, preachers, missionaries, and pastors have a good grasp on the epistles. Hence, I believe that Brooke Foss Westcott’s book on the Epistles of St. John will be extremely helpful. It is extremely helpful because he deals heavily with the Greek text. Many commentaries fail to deal carefully with the Greek text, but Westcott’s book is a classic. He deals verse by verse of the epistles exegetically and deals with various topics. What is amazing about this book is that Westcott deals with the minutest detail of the order, syntax, lexical meanings, and implications of each verse.
I believe that this is book is a must read for expositors of the Word of God. It will help them and assist them in accurately interpreting the text.
For a free digital copy of this classic and bona fide commentary, please go to this link: The Epistles of St. John.