maandag 11 februari 2013

Review of: John Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), Liturgical Press, 2002; in: Interpretation

John Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), Liturgical Press, 2002.

Review in: Interpretation 2003 57: 310
Review door: Judith Lieu
Gevonden op:

1, 2, and 3 John
By John Painter
Sacra Pagina 18. Liturgical, Collegeville, 2002.
411 pp. $39.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8146-5812-1.

THIS RICH AND DETAILED COMMENTARY represents nearly forty years of engagement by its author with the Johannine literature. Situated between the large-scale commentaries of Raymond Brown or Rudolf Schnackenburg and a number of recent, one-volume commentaries, Painter offers a comprehensive and coherent understanding of these letters, whose argument is often more complex than a first reading of "the Epistle of Love" might suggest. His concern, like that of the series, is to address "the abiding meaning" of these texts once they have been set in their original context. Painter analyzes the inner rhetorical logic of their argument and reconstructs the situation and concerns that have generated it. Painter follows much recent scholarship and builds on his own earlier contributions, arguing that the experience of schism is central to the letters (1 John 2:18-19), hence the need to attempt some understanding of the views held by the implied opposition. The common authorship of the three epistles is also important, 2 John being something of a "covering letter," while 3 John reflects overcautious application of its directives. While a simple linear chronology cannot be established, given the long process that led to the production of the gospel, the epistles mark a further stage than that which shapes the main body of the gospel, which is assigned to a separate author. Within this framework, Painter makes a careful distinction between "the Johannine School," which carries the tradition and is encountered in the implied authors of the texts, and "the Johannine Community," the audience.

This position, essential to the interpretative part of the commentary, is articulated in an initial "historical prolegomenon" that traces the interpretation of the epistles with a particular focus on the period since Schnackenburg's 1953 commentary. It is further developed in a substantial introduction that covers many of the standard topics and firmly places this commentary within the historical-critical tradition. Painter speaks of "a literary reading" but "in its first-century sense" (p. 32). Historical context comes second to understanding the letters' literary and rhetorical strategy—as indeed it must, given that we have no independent access to knowledge of the former. But in practice the two cannot be separated.

In the commentary, the text is divided into "sense units." Each of these is analyzed through detailed verse-by-verse notes that deal mainly with text critical, syntactical, and translation issues. They also indicate Johannine terms or phrases, and in some cases point to appropriate contextual (e.g., scriptural) parallels or sources for the ideas. Following the notes, the section on interpretation then traces and explicates the flow of the argument, although this often involves further discussion of technical questions of grammar and logic. Debate with other scholarly positions is largely confined to the notes and even there does not dominate, as the author has set out his position in the introductory material. This means that readers do not have to wade through conflicting views. Each section is followed by a brief bibliography of predominantly (but not exclusively) English language works, which will enable readers to pursue the issues raised. Many of the ambiguities of the epistles, specifically of 1 John, are lost in English translation where choices have already been made. Painter provides a translation, but much of his argument, particularly in the notes, depends on transliterated Greek and references to verb tenses or other syntactical questions.

The result is a commentary rich with information. It is written in a tight, logical, and academic style with terse sentences that sometimes pack together a sequence of material. As such, this is a commentary for close study, accompanied by a careful reading of the text, rather than for reflection. Among the intended readers of the series, biblical professionals and graduate students may find it more congenial than clergy or religious educators. Some, including theologians, may wonder whether the religious meaning has sometimes been obscured. This is always a problem with the Johannine Epistles, and Painter rightly indicates the dangers in labeling opponents antichrists or in restricting the circle of love and concern to the community. Historical contextualization may explain these dangers but does not always take us beyond them, although Painter does his best to indicate where a more open attitude may be implied. A final excursus reflects on the fact that, in the epistles, darkness and conflict are within the community and not simply outside it, as in the gospel. As dualisms are so easily used and abused in our contemporary world, some theological reflection would have provided a useful and provocative conclusion to a commentary that in many other ways will prove itself a valuable resource.

Judith Lieu

Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie posten