The Johannine Epistles

Written by Kenneth Grayston Reviewed By William G. Morrice

This recent addition to the New Century Bible Commentaries has been written by a scholar who has made up his own mind about various questions raised by the text and who has, in the process, reformulated some agreed views. It is based on the Revised Standard Version and does not take for granted that readers will know Greek, which is always transliterated when quoted. In the introduction, Professor Grayston states as his aim the involvement of the reader in the effort of trying to understand these New Testament writings in their appropriate cultural situation.

Like C. H. Dodd, Grayston denies common authorship of 1 John and the Fourth Gospel. In addition, he does not believe that 1, 2 and 3 John were all written by the same person. In fact, he sees evidence for more than a single author behind 1 John, which he considers to have been composed by a group of people with interpolations by a single writer addressing his readers with pastoral care. In particular, the first four verses are said to read like a piece of committee drafting clumsily done. It has long been recognized that 1 John is not in the form normally adopted for writing letters in the ancient world, though 1 John 5:13 (‘I write this to you who believe …’) seems to suggest that it was indeed a letter. In spite of this verse, Grayston regards 1 John as neither epistle nor treatise but as an enchiridion or instruction booklet for applying the tradition in disturbing circumstances.

Professor Grayston argues against the widely held view that the false teachers attacked in these documents were docetic gnostics tarred with the same brush as Cerinthus. He believes that the dissidents held far different opinions from those of that arch-heretic and that they must be allowed to have their own independent existence. In particular, Diotrephes (3 John 9) cannot be regarded as a prototype monarchical bishop or as the leader of an unsuccessful bishops’ revolt against the central authority of John the Elder. Such a view can be maintained, according to Professor Grayston, only if it can be shown that the Johannine Epistles were written after the Fourth Gospel. Unlike most scholars, he does not believe that this can be done.

The chief value of this present commentary is that it represents a fresh approach to these New Testament writings which forces us to re-examine commonly accepted opinions. The evidence is set out in such a way as to enable the intelligent reader (with or without a knowledge of Greek) to make up his own mind, as the author himself has done, on the many puzzling questions that are raised by the text.

William G. Morrice

St. John’s College, Durham