Book Review: Commentary On John

Commentary On John, by Origen Adamantius

I was looking forward to reading this book in order to discuss Origen’s thoughts on subordinationism, which I plan on discussing separately, but I must admit being somewhat disappointed that this 200 page commentary on the Gospel of John only covered the first couple of chapters of the Gospel.  Considering that there are 21 chapters in John as a whole, one wonders where the other 2000 pages of this commentary are and if they have been lost to history, as John contains a great deal of discussion about the relationship between the Father and the Son that this book barely scratches the surface about despite its considerable length.  Admittedly, this book is a bit of a disappointment, but it still contains some interesting comments and it is a worthwhile book to look at the thinking processes of an early Hellenistic Christian and see what problems he grappled with in trying to write an authoritative and interminably long commentary on John [1].  So long as readers come to this book not expecting a complete commentary on John and are willing to tolerate its somewhat tedious repetitiousness, there is still a great deal of insight that can be gathered from this book.

This commentary consists of ten books (labeled in Roman numerals from i to x) that cover the beginning of the Gospel of John through the first cleansing of the temple.  The volume contains numerous smaller chapters but unfortunately this book lacks a table of contents to spell out these details for the reader, which would have been helpful.  Strikingly, the author does not spend as much time as one would expect given his reputation dealing with doubtful questions, and most of his statements would be considered as pretty obviously orthodox relating to the various hypostases of the Godhead (at least as Hellenist Christians imagine them to be) as well as the relationship between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist.  The course of the commentary is somewhat rambling and repetitive and the work as a whole could have easily been called Contra Heracleon, given the fact that Origen spends so much time and effort speaking against this largely unknown writer with whom he was apparently in some serious disagreement.  Of interest to contemporary readers is Origen’s dealing with an early form of the mistaken idea of reincarnation in the discussion of John the Baptist having the spirit of Elijah in his message, something which trips up unwary contemporary commentators [2].

What makes this book a bit disappointing, despite the fact that it is obviously of some value?  For one, the author demonstrates himself here as being far too clever for his own good in many passages, utilizing a non-biblical language that demonstrates his intellectual debt to Hellenistic philosophy that has been bequeathed to later generations of biblical commentators.  Likewise, Origen shows here a distinct and marked tendency towards liberal textual criticism that seriously detracts from the enjoyment and edification present in this volume.  Rather than viewing the Gospel of John as providing a great deal of what is not included in the synoptic Gospels and passing over a great deal of what is, which is a much better solution to the synoptic problem than most people adopt, Origen adopts a belief in contradiction on the literal level that can only be resolved by an appeal to an allegorical or spiritual level of interpretation at the cost of rejecting the surface and literal meaning, which is an approach that is ungodly and unwarranted.  Alas, this sort of allegorizing and spiritualizing is part and parcel with the author’s approach to the Bible and it makes his commentaries of decidedly lesser value than they would be if he had remained both intellectual and faithful in his approach to biblical inerrancy.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: Commentary On John

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Bible And The Believer | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Religion In The Ancient Mediterranean World: Part 2 | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Making Sense Of The Bible | Edge Induced Cohesion

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