I (along with our co-pastor) just finished preaching through the Gospel of John. As I prepared my sermons, there were many helpful commentaries on John that blessed me, many of which I list below. My primary aim is for those preaching through John’s Gospel, but I’ll also mention a few accessible commentaries for laypersons looking for resources that are deeper than a study Bible, but not too technical.
A Breakdown on Various Kinds of Commentaries
But first, here is a quick breakdown of the kinds of commentaries available.
1. Technical/Speciality. Lots of exegesis in the original languages. Designed for those who know some level of Greek or Hebrew. Ideal for pastors/scholars/theologians.
2. Devotional/Pastoral. Some work in the original languages, but not too heavy. Very deep with a focus on the historical and literary context of the passage. Ideal for pastors.
3. Preaching commentaries. Sermons preached by a pastor that has been edified for publication with a little deeper content than a sermon. Ideal for pastors/laypeople.
4. Lay commentaries. Slightly more information than a study Bible. Includes many illustrations and applications. Ideal for laypeople.
That’s something to keep in mind when you purchase a commentary, regardless of which book of the Bible you are looking to study. Commentaries serve varying purposes. Reading the product description about the commentary may help you to better understand which purpose the commentary serves.
Best Commentaries on John
Here are some of the best commentaries on John I used as I preached on the Fourth Gospel. I’ll also provide commentaries on John that I’ve heard good things about, but I did not use.
Best Overall Commentary on John
The Gospel according to John by D.A. Carson
D.A. Carson writes, “Anyone who dares to write yet another commentary on the Gospel of John must give reasons for doing so.” Carson succeeds in his intended aims, which is to show the clear flow of the text, show how the Gospel of John contributes to biblical and systematic theology, and to show how John’s Gospel is an evangelistic Gospel (7-8).
Carson serves the reader well because he doesn’t spend much time on speculative matters, but instead focuses on what’s revealed in the text. He is economical in his writing, always ensuring that his main points are derivative of the text, and not just making a point just because someone from church history held that position. Although I used many commentaries on John as I wrote my sermons, there were some weeks that, either because of energy levels or busyness, I could only consult one commentary, and Carson’s was always my go-to. It’s the best commentary on John that I am aware of and should be the pastor’s first choice.
Scholarly/Technical Commentary on John
The Gospel of John by Craig Keener (two-volumes)
At first, I didn’t enjoy this commentary, but that’s probably more of a reflection on me. But the more I read the commentary, the more I appreciated Keener’s insights. It is a masterpiece with respect to placing John in the historical and first-century contexts. In order to understand a book of the Bible well, one has to understand the context, and Keener does this admirably. This is a solid work for pastors/preachers/theologians.
Preaching/Devotional Commentary on John
John by Richard Phillips (two-volumes)
I very much enjoyed this two-volume commentary, which is part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series. There’s not much Greek here. It’s not scholarly and shouldn’t be the first choice for exegetical matters. But for something deeper than a Bible study, or to see how someone else would preach the text you are about to preach on, this commentary is extremely useful. The material (e.g., hardcover, font, page material, etc.) is excellent.
Recommendation from Carson
In New Testament Commentary Survey, D.A. Carson gives the reader an annotated bibliography on the best commentaries available on each New Testament book. For the Gospel of John, Carson writes that “Pride of place should probably go to the lengthy NIC volume by J. Ramsey Michaels . . .” That’s a strong statement from Carson. I regret not buying the commentary by Michaels, but you can do so here.
You may also consider checking out the commentaries on John by Herman Riderboss, F.F. Bruce, and Leon Morris.
Which Ones Should I Get?
If I was a pastor about to preach through the Gospel of John all over again, my top three choices would be Carson, Michaels, and Keener. The other two or three or more? I’m afraid I can’t say. I’ll have to let you figure that out based on your need, temperament, and ministry context.
If I was a layperson, I’d go with Richard Philipps’ two-volume commentary on John, or you may consider Colin Kruse’s commentary on John (although I have not read this one).
If you want to know how to find the best commentaries, see my post entitled How to Find the Best Commentaries.