The Gospel According to St. John
The Catholics Apologetics Study Bible
Translation and Commentary by Robert A. Sungenis
A Review by Art Sippo
Dr. Bob Sungenis continues his ongoing series in The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible with a Volume on St. John’s Gospel. As in the earlier volumes in this series, Bob brings to bear his masterful command of the Biblical Languages (in this case the Koine Greek of the New Testament) to provide us with and in depth grammatical and exegetical analysis of the Biblical text. Bob also is cognizant of the traditional Patristic and Magisterial teachings on the text as well as more modern commentaries both Catholic and non-Catholic. His goal in this series is to provide a commentary which addresses not only the exegesis of the biblical text but also the relevant apologetic topics that arise in defending the Catholic faith against the erroneous views of those who attack the Church and her teachings.
Bob gives us not only and in depth running commentary but includes several Apologetic excurses on relevant topics which themselves are worth the price of the book. Bob’s erudition in the explication of the biblical text is evident from the very beginning. He engages not only in exegesis but also in comparisons between the various textual sources available to us from antiquity. As such, this commentary will appeal to readers on several levels from the scholarly to the Catholic layperson wishing to develop a deeper understanding of the Gospel of St. John. The exegetical notes are well written and comprehensible to the interested reader as well as providing detailed information for the more advanced student.
What is most laudatory about this commentary is that it is written from a thoroughly CATHOLIC viewpoint that is cognizant not only of the Church’s teachings but also of wider biblical scholarship. One need not fear finding heterodox interpretations or modernist advocacy in this text which is not always the case with other commentaries by allegedly “catholic scholars.”
By its nature, this commentary does not chase down all the possible interpretations of each portion of the text. It instead gives the most logical interpretations based on the simple flow of the narrative in harmony with the rest of the New Testament and Catholic teaching. Various scholarly controversies are mentioned when they are relevant to Catholic apologetics or when they are helpful in explicating the text.
St. John’s Gospel is a unique voice in the New Testament. While it is obviously dependent in part on the Synoptic Tradition that underlies the other three Gospels, St. John’s Gospel includes material that is unavailable elsewhere and which was critically important in the development of dogmatic theology especially in regards to Christology, the Trinity, Mariology, the sacraments, and ecclesiology.
There are numerous passages in which Jesus speaks about his relationship to the Father (e. g., John 3:35, 5:17, 6:57, 10:15, 10:30) and to the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13, 20:22,). The locus classicus for the necessity of water Baptism for salvation is in John 3:5ff. Chapter 6 contains the ‘Bread of Life Discourse’ (John 6:48-69) which clearly explicates the Real Presence of Christ – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in the Holy Eucharist. The Blessed Virgin Mary also figures prominently. In this Gospel she encourages Jesus to perform his first public miracle at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11). And she is there at the foot of the Cross where Jesus as he was dying placed her in the care of the Beloved Disciple to be his mother. The story of the Good Shepherd (John 10) juxtaposed with the post resurrection story where Jesus tells St. Peter “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep” (John 21:15-18) is one of the strongest biblical witnesses to the divine origin of a permanent Papal office in the Church. In fact, many new converts to Christianity have found reading St. John’s Gospel to be beneficial in their initial walk with Christ. Properly expounded, St. John’s Gospel is an important witness to the biblical origin of the Catholic Faith.
The narrative of this Gospel is seen from the perspective of an unnamed eyewitness to the events depicted therein who is described as the “Beloved Disciple.” Traditionally this person has been identified with St. John, the son of Zebedee and brother of St. James the Greater. Other scholars have proposed a different identity for the beloved disciple but Dr. Sungenis convincingly defends the traditional identification in his commentary. He also makes it clear that the gospel was written so that we the readers of the Gospel can identify with the Beloved Disciple and put ourselves into his place in the story. Everything Jesus addressed to the Beloved Disciple therefore is to be understood as addressed to the reader. The giving of the Blessed virgin to the Beloved disciple as his mother therefore takes on special relevance for the reader. She is meant to be our mother as well. Thus, this viewpoint makes the narrative more personal and immediately compelling than any other text in the New Testament.
The excurses in this volume –as in all the volumes of The Catholic Apologetics Bible Series – are of excellent value and deserve to be read and studied carefully several times. The is one on the Christological heresies, three on the Eucharist, a very timely one on the Inerrancy of Scripture, and one on the Council of Trent and its teaching on Confession. The three excurses on the Eucharist are particularly noteworthy. Bob interacts with several anti-Catholic controversialists and refutes their objections with his superb knowledge of Greek. Bob also bring to the defense of Catholic teaching certain modern Protestant exegetes (most notably Rudolph Bultmann and C. K. Barrett) who acknowledge that the Bread of life discourse is clearly referring to the Holy Eucharist and that the sacramentality of St. John’s Gospel at this point is very ‘High’ and realistic as opposed to being merely symbolic as some Protestants have tried to claim.
This is an important commentary that I think everyone involved in Catholic apologetics, evangelization, and catechesis should own and study. It is a serious piece of Catholic Scholarship that remains accessible to the people in the pew. It is almost indispensable for anyone leading a Bible Study on St. John’s Gospel in a parish. I hope that this book receives a wide readership because I think it will bear great fruit within the Catholic Church. I look forward to further volumes in this series.