Book Review: Karen Jobes’ “John through OT Eyes.”

It is with thanks to Kregel that I have the chance to offer a review of Karen H. Jobes latest work, John through Old Testament Eyes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2021).

Jobes (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College and Graduate School. She is the author of several books and commentaries including Discovering the Septuagint and the award-winning 1, 2, and 3 John in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series.

This commentary is good!! Some may think it is “meh” but that is because they may be missing the key aspect. It is important to know at the outset that this is not an exegetical commentary that works on the finer points of the biblical text or even exegeting the biblical words (there is some discussion of biblical words and their meaning but with the connection to the OT allusion and not for strict exegetical purposes). This commentary is “focused on reading the New Testament books through Old Testament eyes, and that goal shapes the content of this commentary” (14). Jobes’ comments on the text then, focus not on exegetical matters but on the connections to Old Testament passages that John himself either made direct references to or alluded to in the text of the Gospel. Thus, Jobes “focuses on the fourth Gospel as it relates to the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism and will only briefly (if at all) address issues typically found in exegetical commentaries” (14).

The purpose of this approach is to “reveal the history, rituals, images, metaphors, and symbols from the Old testament that give meaning to the Gospel of John’s teaching about Jesus – his nature and identity, his message and mission – and about those who believe in him” (back cover). John is as much a historical account of Christ’s life, but it is also done with theological interpretation. John recounts a historical event such as “Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross in Jerusalem,” but then provides evidence to interpret the significance of the historical event theologically as in “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross in Jerusalem, for our sins” (23). In this way the commentary seeks to go a little deeper into the text helping the reader understand the theological message of the Fourth Gospel’s account of Christ.

As an example, at the outset of the Gospel, John writes: In the beginning was the word… Jobes notes the direct connection to Genesis 1 and the creation narrative. This connection does several things but above all it ties Jesus to the creation event and demonstrates that Jesus was with God in the beginning because Jesus is God. So, the historical reality of the creation event is interpreted theologically to express that Jesus and God are one and the same and have been from before the beginning of the world.

Another example in John 2 with reference to the stone water jars (2:6). These jars were to be used for Jewish cleansing rituals and they were empty? Why is this? The interpretation of this reveals the emptiness of the rituals and their insufficiency to save or accomplish what the ritual is intended for. But also, Jobes reveals that jars fill of wine parallel that Old Testament truth that the abundance of wine represented God’s blessing and was symbolic of the promise of the messianic age implying shalom and well being for all (59).

Perhaps another example less obvious is in John 10 with reference to Jesus as the Shepherd. Verses 28-29 mention the that no one can be snatched out of Jesus’ hand or the father’s hand. Jobes says this suggests that there is but one divine had that protects. The reference to the sheep listening to his voice echos Psalm 95 and in the LXX where the reader is warned “if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (181). Those who don’t listen are compared to those who tested God in the wilderness in Ps 94 repeating their ancestors’ unbelief.

Some features of the commentary are excursus passages that explain what the structure of the text mean and a “going deeper” excursus. Each of this seeks to explain the theological significance of the text for the message of the fourth gospel and how it ties into the theme of “that you might believe…”

This commentary will be a great supplement to a good exegetical commentary on John and will help the pastor and or Bible teacher get at the historical context of the Fourth Gospel and to interpret the meaning theologically for application today. Jobes is a top notch scholar and her scholarship shines in this commentary.