Anyone who has made a serious effort to teach from the Gospel of John has likely experienced the difficulty of giving people a clear picture of the connections between various parts of the book, not to mention the frequent allusions to passages in the Hebrew scriptures. One can easily run out of fingers to “hold that passage” while one flips to another in order to compare. The difficulty is that one needs to get an overview of the entire book before one can truly comprehend the individual parts, and people rarely study Bible books in that way. Too frequently they jump into a passage on a particular topic from the middle of the book, and the Lectionary encourages this, and never really get a full picture.
So I was delighted to get a manuscript from Herold Weiss, at one time a professor at my alma mater, Andrews University, and later at St Mary’s College, Notre Dame titled Meditations on According to John. Editors generally look with some disfavor on collections of essays, meditations or sermons. I’ve had to reject not a few such collections. They often don’t sell. One of the reasons they don’t is that people rarely read sermons by anyone who is not famous. They tend to prefer books that cover a particular topic in some detail than a collection of different thoughts.
But this book is not that sort of collection. It does not consist of unrelated thoughts that have no particular sequence. Rather, the 24 meditations on this book take particular passages in the gospel of John, According to John as Dr. Weiss likes to call it following the Greek title, and then fits them into the scheme of the entire book. I like to invite people to read a Bible book multiple times in order to get an overview. With this book, you get that sort of an overview multiple times, each with a different theme.
The gospel of John is extremely simple on the one hand, but very challenging on the other. The language is easy to understand at the basic level. But as you meditate further it tends to grow on you and make you think again … and again and again.
I think I have an excellent group of authors represented in the Energion Publications catalog. I have a long list of books I want to write about, but haven’t had time. Sometimes these books challenge me. Sometimes I am simply saying, “Yes, that was a good presentation of the _____ topic, and people should read it.” But some books stand out in that they inspire me to study as I read the manuscripts as an editor. This one had be referencing my Greek New Testament frequently, and eventually had me re-reading the entire gospel in Greek just to follow some of the thoughts presented.
You may agree or disagree with some of the conclusions. For example, Dr. Weiss does not accept this gospel as the source of sacramental theology:
The sacraments were established toward the end of the first century when Christianity was becoming institutionalized and starting to create official channels through which the Holy Spirit could flow under ecclesiastical control. (p. 152)
It is a bit disconcerting, therefore, to find that most commentators consider this gospel as the New Testament document that provides the basic source for sacramental theology. This judgment is based on interpretations which see the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus as supporting the sacrament of baptism, and the discourse following the feeding of the five thousand as supporting the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The texts, however, do not support these interpretations. (p. 152)
Now that will annoy a number of my friends! A bit later Dr. Weiss says:
In According to John Jesus is not baptized, does not celebrate a Lord’s Supper, and does not institute bread and wine as sacraments that need to be administered by authorized clergy. Jesus only institutes the washing of the feet which must be administered by everyone to everyone, in this way democratizing the kingdom of heaven. (pp. 156-157)
That, I think, is worth discussing. Why is it that only authorized clergy can administer sacraments? I know the theology, but is it well rooted?
In any case, both reading this book and reading John after reading this book have been beneficial experiences for me. I strongly commend this one to my friends who are interested in either biblical studies or theology. It’s a great text.