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Logos Live: Craig Keener on Johannine Literature

Johannine literature Logos Live header image featuring pictures of Craig Keener & Tavis Bohlinger

What you’ll see in this Logos Live episode

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger interviews Bible scholar, professor, and award-winning author Dr. Craig Keener about Johannine literature. Hear advice on preaching John, historical context, always starting study with the Bible, and more.

Jump to transcript.

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Books & courses by Craig Keener

John: Volume 2A (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary)

John: Volume 2A (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary)

Regular price: $23.99

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NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes

Regular price: $39.99

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IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

Regular price: $24.99

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IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament and New Testament, 1st edition (2 vols.)

IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament and New Testament, 1st edition (2 vols.)

Regular price: $39.99

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Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, Volume 1 & 2

Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, Volume 1 & 2

Regular price: $74.99

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1 Peter: A Commentary

1 Peter: A Commentary

Regular price: $59.99

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The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

Regular price: $40.99

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The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking

The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking

Regular price: $32.99

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Matthew (The IVP New Testament Commentary | IVPNTC)

Matthew (The IVP New Testament Commentary | IVPNTC)

Regular price: $19.99

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Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 4

Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 4

Regular price: $79.99

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Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost

Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost

Regular price: $33.99

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The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts

The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts

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Revelation (NIV Application Commentary | NIVAC)

Revelation (NIV Application Commentary | NIVAC)

Regular price: $27.99

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The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Regular price: $35.99

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Mobile Ed: NT216 Introductory Issues in Acts (2 hour course)

Mobile Ed: NT216 Introductory Issues in Acts (2 hour course)

Regular price: $69.99

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Craig Keener New Testament Commentaries Collection (8 vols.)

Craig Keener New Testament Commentaries Collection (8 vols.)

Regular price: $433.99

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Books & authors mentioned by Dr. Keener

Revelation (NIV Application Commentary | NIVAC)

Revelation (NIV Application Commentary | NIVAC)

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The Book of Revelation (The New International Greek Testament Commentary | NIGTC)

The Book of Revelation (The New International Greek Testament Commentary | NIGTC)

Regular price: $64.99

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Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

Regular price: $21.99

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The Old Testament in Revelation (2 vols.)

The Old Testament in Revelation (2 vols.)

Regular price: $36.99

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John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation

John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation

Regular price: $31.99

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The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John

The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John

Regular price: $31.99

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Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology

Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology

Regular price: $27.99

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Revelation Verse by Verse (Osborne New Testament Commentaries)

Revelation Verse by Verse (Osborne New Testament Commentaries)

Regular price: $25.99

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Interview with Craig Keener on Johannine literature transcript

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (00:24):
Hello, and welcome to our live listeners. My name is Tavis Bohlinger. I have with me the esteemed Dr. Craig Keener. We are here with a new episode of Logos Live. Thank you so much for joining us. I would really encourage anybody who’s watching to please drop any comments you wish. Tell us about your Logos or Logos experience. If you have questions for Craig or for myself, please drop those in the comments as well. We’d love to hear from you as we’re having this interview. But first of all, I would just like to introduce Craig. Craig, you are the very long-winded-named professor at Asbury Seminary. Can you give us your bio so that those who aren’t familiar with your work could get an idea of who you are?

Dr. Craig Keener (01:16):
Sure. I did my PhD at Duke University in New Testament and Christian origins. Actually, my dissertation was on John, although I haven’t taught John for a couple decades because I’ve had colleagues who were teaching it. But I’ve written commentaries on John, Revelation and Acts and Matthew and Romans and Corinthians and Galatians and 1 Peter and some other stuff, and a number of other books. My wife is Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener. She’s from Congo. So she keeps me on my toes interculturally. And yeah, I teach at Asbury, and I’m just enjoying this phase of life. There have been hardships along the way, but right now it’s pretty fun.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (02:14):
Yeah. Yeah. So two doctors, that’s got to be an interesting dinner conversation. Does your wife read your manuscripts?

Dr. Craig Keener (02:23):
No. Actually she listened to the audio book of my Shorter Miracles book. She really liked it. And she listened to the audio book of my eschatology book with Michael Brown, but normally not. Her discipline is a different area.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (02:46):
What is her discipline, out of curiosity?

Dr. Craig Keener (02:49):
She did her research in specifically African-American women’s history after Reconstruction. So her PhD’s in history, but she teaches French because that’s her native language and she’s fluent in that obviously.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (03:06):
Oh, wow. Fascinating. Well, I would love to talk more about our wives because my wife is also incredible and Brazilian and all that good stuff, but let’s talk about John. So I love knowing that your dissertation was in John, and even though it’s been decades I’m sure that you’ve engaged with the book, well his writings, all five of them, multiple times over the last few decades, but there’s two things I’d love to focus on with you. Number one is—and I think the central point is—getting to the heart of John. So we have his gospel, we have his three epistles, we have Revelation, and these writings combined give us a picture of an individual who walked with Jesus and wrote about it. And so I guess I would just start by asking you if you could put it concisely, what is the heart of John? What is the heart of his writings?

Dr. Craig Keener (04:11):
Obviously Christology, the center of it is who Jesus is, and in terms of what is expected of us. The heart of Johannine ethics is love. And then of course there’s a whole lot of other things we could say. But when I read a book written by somebody I know, I kind of hear it in their voice. When I read a book by Gordon Fee, it may be an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians, but I can hear when his voice is rising and he’s preaching on this note. Or my colleague Ben Witherington or any of my other friends. If it’s somebody I know, I kind of hear it in their voice.

Dr. Craig Keener (04:58):
With John, he’s been gone for a long time, but as we read his work and get familiar with it, we hear his voice there. And as we know God in our relationship with him, and we read the Scriptures, we hear God’s voice there, the ultimate author, and kind of those voices sort of blend in John’s gospel. It talks about the παράκλητος (paráklētos), the advocate, the Spirit who would come and teach us all things, carrying on Jesus’s mission. And the voice of Jesus in John’s gospel and the voice of John, like in 1 John or 2 John, sound very closely related. I think John had just absorbed that. And of course he puts it in his own words, but just the sentiment, the spirit of the message of Jesus pervades his gospel and of course pervades revelation in the Johannine epistles.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (06:05):
So that’s interesting you talk about these voices, not just of individuals that you have known or do know now, but I’m thinking of this relationship between John’s voice—and he heard Jesus speak—but he also, as a new Testament author, as an apostle speaking the voice of God as it were, how does that then correlate to something that we do today? Well, since the early times of the church, which is preaching, where there’s now, in a sense, a third voice added to that equation. So what advice or counsel could you give to those who are thinking of, or currently engaged in, preaching John?

Dr. Craig Keener (07:00):
When John 14 or 16 talks about the coming of the Spirit, Jesus there talks about, “Whatever you ask in my name, I’ll do it. And I’m going to send you an advocate. He’ll be with you forever. He’s with you now, and me, but he’s going to be in you and dwell in you.” And we recognize that’s talking about all of us. And then in 15, “Abide in me and I in you,” and goes on more to talk about, “Well, the world will hate you, but love one another.” 15, 18 through 25. And then in 16, he’s talking more about the Spirit. And sometimes people want to isolate what he goes on to say about he’ll lead you in the way of truth and he’ll take the things of me and show them to you. They want to isolate that and say, “That was just for the apostles.”

Dr. Craig Keener (08:03):
But I mean, the whole context is for all of us. And again, in 1 John chapter two, he also says, “You all have this anointing from the Holy One.” Well, the anointing teaches you all things. So it seems clear that the same Spirit who is in John is in us. I mean, we’re a lot more fallible. I mean, we’re not writing canonical Scripture, but we look to the same Spirit of God. And as we immerse ourselves in Scripture and what God has already spoken as we immerse ourselves, in this case, in John’s writings that come from the Spirit, we can be sensitive to what the Spirit is saying to the church.

Dr. Craig Keener (08:52):
The church is today, like in Revelation, at the end of each of the letters to the seven churches, which were particular for each church, but at the end of each of the letters, he says, “The one who has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the church.” So we can learn from all of them, and they can all learn from one another. We may not be in the same particular historical context as the church in Smyrna or the church in Philadelphia, but we can hear God’s voice in all of those and be led by God how to apply that in our own historical context.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (09:37):
I’m glad you brought up historical context because you’re quite well known for your work on backgrounds, Bible backgrounds, and historical context. And it’s essential information for us to know, to properly interpret Scripture as we know, but in all of your work in looking at backgrounds, in all the detail that you’ve gone into there, when we go into your work reading about these backgrounds, what should we emerge with? Should it be just a greater factual understanding of the time? Or what would you want us to press for?

Dr. Craig Keener (10:16):
There isn’t life in the background itself. I mean, obviously I love studying ancient history and ancient rhetoric and so on. I enjoy it. But the life is in God’s message. And the background then is a resource that equips us to hear the message of the text, fresh. It was given in particular concrete settings, and that means it invites us to apply it in concrete settings today. (So in a sense—and this may be more true in certain genres in the Bible more than in others—so maybe more in 1 Corinthians or something than in a gospel.) But in a sense, we read it like case studies. If God was saying this to them in their situation, what would it say to us in our situation? And the value of background is knowing what their situation was so we can hear concretely what was being said do we know how to recontextualize it for a different context.

Dr. Craig Keener (11:25):
But like in John’s gospel, there are things that we miss if we don’t have the background. Some of it, John just tells you up front, just in case you didn’t know. For example, Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Well, that sheds light on the conversation that follows in John 4. And you gather some other things by inference, like in John 4:27, the disciples were amazed that Jesus was speaking with a woman. Okay, well, it’s a different culture then. But knowing more the details of the background sheds light on the nature of that conversation, including for example, when Jesus tells her she’s been married five times and she’s like, “Oh wow, you’re a prophet.”

Dr. Craig Keener (12:18):
Of course, she’s going to say he is a prophet, but we don’t catch the significance of that if we don’t understand that, at least according to our best reconstruction from the time, Samaritans didn’t believe in prophets. They believe Moses was the last prophet. They rejected the rest of Israel’s prophets. The next prophet was going to be the restorer, the prophet like Moses. So when she says, “Oh, you’re a prophet,” it’s not like she’s changing the subject, evading the point when she says, “Well, you Jews say to worship in Jerusalem. We worshiped,” past tense because you Jews destroyed our temple, “On Mount Gerizim.” She’s not evading the point. She’s like, “Oh if you’re a prophet, then the Jews are right and we Samaritans are wrong. I’m toast.”

Dr. Craig Keener (13:09):
And then Jesus transcends that ethnic division and says, “Ma’am an hour is coming when the true place of worship won’t be in Jerusalem around this mountain, but the true sphere of worship will be in spirit and in truth.” And of course in Revelation, I mean a lot of the symbols make a whole lot better sense in light of, well of course the old Testament, but also certain Greek, and Roman, even events that were going on in recent times, which is not to say it’s applicable only to the first century, but it’s communicated in Greek; its explicit audience is seven churches in Asia minor. And so some of the symbols were communicated in ways that a reader in Greek would understand in a first century context. And so that’s going to help us to really hear the message more clearly.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (14:11):
I love what you just said about the Samaritan woman, because it’s not as though she was saying, “Oh, you’re prescient,” or “You can tell the future.” And would you say that is one reason why the response from her village was so strong? They all came out to meet this man. So it wasn’t just, “Hey, here’s some guy that knows things that are hidden.” There’s a much deeper religious and theological significance to that one word, prophet. Are there other examples in John or in the Johannine letters or Revelation that you can think of that might point out even further the significance of knowing that background in order to get to that Christological, and I would say the love that is at the center of his writings?

Dr. Craig Keener (15:02):
Sure. I mean, where would we start? I’ll take one from Revelation, but keeping in mind that everything in Revelation is controversial so that not everybody will agree with this example, but I think it’s a concrete example though. So I like to give it, and if you don’t agree, then just forgive me and realize that there could be other examples too. But in Revelation, this is actually built into the structure because you have a couple points where it says that the Spirit took me away, one place is to a desert, one place is to a high mountain, and showed me. And in one case it’s Babylon, and the other case it’s New Jerusalem. So chapter 17 and 21. And so you’ve got these two cities. And so far, this is literary rather than background, just the structure of the contrast.

Dr. Craig Keener (16:09):
One is a prostitute. One is the bride. And Babylon is decked out with golden pearls, but the New Jerusalem is built of gold, and its streets are gold, its gates are pearls. And the point seems to be it’s those who aren’t willing to settle for the temporary gratification like a prostitute who will be the beautiful chased bride of Christ. So we don’t live for this world, but for the world to come. But the way the world is embodied concretely for Revelation’s audience, or its first audience in the seven churches of Asia minor. I mean, you look at what Babylon was, the city that rules over the Kings of the Earth. Well, there wasn’t really any city that ruled over all the Kings of the earth back then. Everybody technically knew if you lived in the Roman Empire, the Parthians didn’t live by the Roman empire.

Dr. Craig Keener (17:06):
They knew of China. They knew of India. They knew of Northern barbarians. I mean, Roman Empire had trade ties as far south as Tanzania in east Africa, but if anybody thought of the city that ruled over the kings of the earth, in the Roman Empire, they would think of Rome. The things that are traded in 18:12–13 are actually the things that we know from Pliny’s list, Pliny The Elder in his natural history, were the imports into Rome. And also the city with a king who was and is not and is to come. So it’s not Domitian. Well, I better not even get into this. This is a whole other rabbit trail. But anyway, a lot of it fits Rome. And then the big thing was, well, when Jewish people thought of Babylon of their day, they thought . . .

Dr. Craig Keener (18:22):
So they thought of Rome as kind of a new Babylon. In Daniel 2 and Daniel 4 and Daniel 7, we’ve got these four empires starting with Babylon, and the way the fourth empire was understood in the first century was: This was Rome. Rome was a new Babylon, and you have that in the Sibylline Oracles. You have it elsewhere. And by the time that John is writing, according to the most common understanding of when he is writing, John is writing after the destruction of the temple. And so “Hey, Rome is a new Babylon. They conquered us. They carried us off into captivity. They destroyed our temple and so on.” So Rome was the Babylon of John’s day.

Dr. Craig Keener (19:20):
At first, Peter 5:13 probably speaks of Rome also as Babylon. But lest we think that Rome exhausts the picture of Babylon, in Revelation 13, you’ve got, especially in the first seven verses, it traces through these four beasts of Daniel chapter 7, but instead of four beasts, it’s this one beast from the sea. And this one beast blends together all four beasts. So it’s not just the fourth empire, it’s the spirit of evil empire. So in John’s day, that was Babylon. But you can read the news. The spirit of evil empire has been around for centuries. It’s still around. And the good news in Revelation 18, John hears this funeral dirge, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great,” using the language of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Rome has been fallen now for 15, 1,600 years, depending on when you date the fall. It fell in kind of phases.

Dr. Craig Keener (20:37):
And yet the church of Jesus Christ. I mean, it was like 1/10 of 1% of the Roman Empire, if that much, but the church of Jesus Christ is alive and well. And we’re heading towards it being people from every kindred and language and nation and people. John was a prophet indeed. And if that was true for the first Babylon, if it was true for the Babylon of John’s day, we don’t need to worry about the evil empires of our day. The future doesn’t belong to them. All the empires of history lie in the dust, but the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Messiah.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (21:17):
I love that you’re going in preaching mode, and it’s a beautiful thing to see, especially from a biblical scholar as yourself, and in particular, because eschatology seems to be a very, very hot topic these days. I know that there are phases in which Revelation ascends in importance, then it kind of fades away of it. But given world events and all kinds of things going on, there’s a lot of questions. And so I just think the way you sum that up, we shouldn’t just use Revelation as a manual for the end times, but again, pushing into that question of the heart of John, I just, I love the way you express that. So thank you. But I did want to ask you, because you went into semi preaching mode, a few questions. How often do you get the opportunity to preach, number one? And then a follow on to that is what advice would you give for other young scholars or those wanting to pursue a more academic track, say after seminary? What place is there in the church for them, for the pastor scholar types?

Dr. Craig Keener (22:30):
Yeah, as far as how often I get to preach, because my time is so tied up with the writing projects, I was an associate pastor when I was in Philadelphia, but right now there’s just so much else going on so I asked my pastor not to draw on me for that. But I lead a small group. So we work through the text together, but I end up preaching in my classes. I can’t help it. It’s just part of who I am, but I love the Bible so much. So I like to dig into it deeper and find more and more. But yeah, I end up preaching in my classes, including my doctoral classes. But it’s hard to stop it. But in terms of the need for pastor scholars, there’s always a need for the church as a whole to be called back to Scripture.

Dr. Craig Keener (23:33):
And we need people who know Scripture really well, and they can also mentor others in learning Scripture. So whether it’s an official role in a seminary, I mean, that works great for me, and actually if you have a PhD sometimes people say there’s not enough jobs. Well, it depends on where you go in the world because there’s plenty of places in the world where they need more accredited degrees. So if you’re willing to go anywhere for Jesus. . . I mean, whether it’s a PhD or not, if your gifting is in opening the Scriptures, there’s a real need for that. It’s like in Revelation 3, when he speaks to Sardis. Sardis is where we get the expression of dead church. Although he says that even in Sardis, there’s some who walk with him in robes of white, but he calls them to wake up and return to what they first heard.

Dr. Craig Keener (24:36):
He’s calling them to awaken and return to the message that they heard from the beginning. In our case, that message is available to us in Scripture. And so to call the church back to Scripture— in Josiah’s day, that was the beginning of an awakening when, 2 Kings 22 and 23, they, they found the book in the temple. Josiah had already been working on a moral cleanup, but when he responded in a radical way to the book, tore his Royal robes, sent to the prophet who said, “This is what that means for this generation.” And he just really took it to heart. There are plenty of people who can read the Scripture and say, “Okay, well I think this means this and this means that.” But to really take it to heart, like Revelation 1 says, “Blessed is the one who reads.”

Dr. Craig Keener (25:38):
Because back then they didn’t all have copies and not everybody could read. One person would read the book. “Blessed is the one who reads, and those who hear and take to heart heed the message of this book.” So I mean, there’s a lot of hermeneutics principles, but one of them is a specifically Christian form of reading. A lot of the others are just relevant for any book. The Bible’s a book. So we need those literary principles. But beyond that, there’s a specifically Christian form of reading, which is reading with faith. We embrace the text, we believe it. And therefore we want to live our lives in light of it. So to bring those together, there’s so many people who don’t have the literary resources or the literary understanding of how to read well, but also the kind of resources that Logos provides and others provide.

Dr. Craig Keener (26:37):
So those who do have those resources have so much to offer both their immediate context. And often beyond that context, I mean, you go on the internet, not to knock everything on the internet. I guess that’s where we are right now. But not to knock everything there, but you go there and there’s some people who are really solid, but there’s a lot of stuff there that’s just, like Jeremiah talks about, people preaching from their own imaginations. And I do believe that there’s other gifts besides teaching. I believe the Spirit can lead us in different ways. I’m not denying gifts of exhortation and things like that, but we really need solid biblical teaching. And anybody who can give that, you’re giving a gift to the body of Christ.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (27:37):
Yeah. So thank you for that. So how then does someone who’s spent years and years studying, and is spending most of their time writing and researching, how do they convey to [someone who] hasn’t had those opportunities of studying a sense of discernment with what they’re reading online, pointing them to the right resources, getting them to love the Scriptures, but realize that their understanding can actually be informed through better understanding of the Bible through outside resources, like those that you write and others. How do we cross that chasm as it were?

Dr. Craig Keener (28:30):
Always start with the Bible itself. Study it. And the resources that really help you understand it and give you the most insight—we can learn from other people’s opinions when they’re well informed, but to discern whether they’re well informed, you want to see what they base them on and if they really help you understand the text better. I mean, I remember years ago, so I read the sections of Exodus 25 and following on the tabernacle and I’m like, “Oh, what is this talking about?” And then I hear people trying to explain it, and they are going into the blue represents heaven, the red represents the blood of Jesus, the number of square cubits in the tabernacle represents the number of years until Jesus came. We don’t know what year the tabernacle was built. How can that…

Dr. Craig Keener (29:36):
But anyway, so I’m like, “Ah, that can’t be right.” You trace it back, they may cite somebody who cites somebody else . . . it goes back to somebody’s guess. And I’m like, “Ah, that doesn’t help.” So I was praying about what to do. And I felt like the Lord was saying, “Well this is a temple. Why don’t you go study ancient Near Eastern temples? So I went back and studied Near Eastern temples, and the structure of it fits the structure of certain Egyptian and Canaanite temples. Well, where were the Israelites when they got the instructions for the tabernacle? They just come out of Egypt. Who was used on the building projects? So they would understand this is contextualized for them. This is like a temple. Certain aspects of it, like the colors for example, the most expensive dye and most expensive metals are used nearest the ark, least expensive furthest from the arc.

Dr. Craig Keener (30:35):
What was the point of that? Well, in an ancient Near Eastern context, in North African context, the point of that is a gradation of holiness that the most expensive things were used nearest the ark, because that was a way of showing reverence for the awesomeness of the deity. Now, there’s some things that are very similar to other ancient Near Eastern temples, like something like the ark, often something like the cherubim. And then something very different from other ancient Near Eastern temples. Normally on top of that ark box or whatever in an ancient Near Eastern or North African temple, you’d have the image of the deity.

Dr. Craig Keener (31:19):
Well, obviously not in Yahweh’s temple. And you also would often, in a big temple, you’d have shrines for tutelary deities on either side of the holy of holies. Not in Yahweh’s temple. So you’ve got the theology, the Ten Commandments built into the architecture. No other God’s before me, no graven images. In other temples, you’d have the table, you’d have altar of sacrifice, you’d have an altar of incense to get rid of the stench of burning flesh. You’d have lamp stands because inside the temple it’d be pretty dark otherwise.

Dr. Craig Keener (31:59):
But other temples also had a bed and a trust of drawers so you could put the god to sleep at night and get him up in the morning and give him his morning toilet or her morning toilet, entertain them with answers. But not in Yahweh’s temple. The God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. So when you see the contrast and the context, it really communicates deep theology. So we don’t want something that’s just based on guesses. We want somebody who actually did their homework. And then, not everybody has to go back and study the ancient Near Eastern text, but we want to get the resources from where we can tell they actually did their homework and they’re not just guessing and they actually read widely enough.

Dr. Craig Keener (32:52):
Sometimes in New Testament, you’ve got some people who think everything in the background is Sinaic or everything in the background is Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s probably more often Dead Sea Scrolls than Sinaic, but I mean you have people who have only read one area. And so they read everything in light of that. It’s much more balanced if you have a broader range of background, and then you can see which fits best for which passage and so on.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (33:24):
Well, the type of thing you’re talking about takes a lot of work. So I guess that would lead to my next question. How does one find the time to do such work? I’m asking you specifically now a very practical question. How does someone like yourself who loves the Bible passionately, loves the Lord passionately, and loves his family passionately, how do you find the time to balance family life with scholarship and teaching when you’re so prolific? I don’t know if all those books in the background behind you are your books that you’ve written, your personal library I’m sure, but still you’ve written so much and you continue to write and teach, and have, it seems like, quite a healthy family life. What advice would you have for the busy, well, not just pastor or budding scholar, but also the lay person who works a full-time job, maybe two jobs, and still is desiring to spend more time getting to know the Bible better?

Dr. Craig Keener (34:31):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s going to depend on your particular calling. Not everybody can do it. Yeah. I it’s a real privilege, and I don’t take it for granted. That’s one reason I work really hard at it, because God has given me the opportunity. I mean the day before I was going to call Duke and tell them I couldn’t come and do my PhD because I had only a dollar, the Lord provided for me. So I know from that and other things along the way, it’s just God’s gift. If God hadn’t intervened in ways like that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. So I don’t take that opportunity for granted. So I see it as, I’m a resource to provide for others so they don’t have to spend 20 years studying background. The background commentary is to put things in people’s fingertips. But at the same time, I’m always learning more and needing to revise things.

Dr. Craig Keener (35:29):
Hopefully the more I learn, the more the revisions are just in minor details. But for myself in terms of time, my understanding of what it means that we are saints, saints… Well, newer translations usually don’t put it that way, but the Greek word hagios, holy or set apart, it means to be consecrated. And what’s consecrated for God is not available for profane use or nonholy use. And so that doesn’t mean we’re not in the world. It means we’re not of the world. So I mean, we do our jobs. I remember when I was a younger Christian working maintenance 40 hours a week and trying to read through the New Testament once a week. I was doing it on my lunch break and stuff too. I didn’t keep that up all the time, but just trying to immerse myself in God’s Word.

Dr. Craig Keener (36:43):
And in my own case now, and for decades now, I don’t watch TV. I mean, it’s not legalistic. If I’m with somebody and they’re watching something, I might, unless it’s… I think I’m like so sensitive to it now, if there’s some violence I have to leave the room. I don’t do things I don’t need to do. I try to streamline everything so it’s in line with the priorities of my life because I want everything to count in light of eternity. So as much as possible, I want to be a resource to the body of Christ. I do take a Sabbath though. I mean, there was a time when, even though I was taking a Sabbath, I was trying to get by on three hours of sleep a night, and I did end up in the hospital and realized that is not practical.

Dr. Craig Keener (37:49):
So I’m not advising doing things that are unhealthy. I do try to take care of my health just because you have to. But I don’t do things that aren’t necessary. If you’re a preacher, maybe you need to watch some TV to know what people are watching and be able to relate to them in sermons or something. For me, it would be a distraction for my work and so I don’t do that. But yeah, each one of us has a different calling, but the big thing is devoting yourself to Jesus first and then figuring out [how] everything falls into place in light of that.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (38:39):
That’s a good word on prioritization. Absolutely. Thank you for that. I am curious though—do you have that reading list still? Can you share it with us, the New Testament in a week?

Dr. Craig Keener (38:52):
Oh no. Just start with Matthew and end with Revelation. Usually I did Matthew and Mark on the first day, on Sunday, and then I would do Luke and John on Monday. That was a busy day. And then Acts and Romans on the next day. And then the rest of the week was a breeze because I really front loaded it pretty heavy.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (39:22):
Yeah, that’s impressive. I know I’ve heard John Piper did or used to read the whole Bible every three months or something like that. So it’s a fascinating goal. It’s not for everybody, but we probably need more people that do that. A question related to reading is, are there any resources, even just a handful, that you would point people to? Maybe we could break it up into categories, say entry level and then a bit more advanced. Are there some that come to mind? They don’t have to just be yours.

Dr. Craig Keener (40:10):
On entry level, this is going to be out of date though, because right now I’m working on Mark. And so every time I start in a new book, I get at least a few years behind in everything else—not in the Bible itself, but in the secondary literature. But I remember years ago, a really good entry-level one was by Rodney Whitacre in the IVP New Testament commentary series. At a more advanced level, you’ve got Andreas Köstenberger’s work, my work, and of course D. A. Carson. And there’s so many, and especially I’m leaving out all the newer stuff. This is dangerous for me because I have friends who write on this stuff. And once I mention somebody and don’t mention everybody else, I’m in trouble.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (41:06):
You can just say all your friends.

Dr. Craig Keener (41:08):
Yeah. All my friends.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (41:09):
All your friends.

Dr. Craig Keener (41:12):
All these different scholars who are writing, and you can get different perspectives. Obviously at the advanced level, people normally speak of Raymond Brown’s work as a benchmark. Schnackenberg was really good. Of course, things have moved way beyond since then, but Brown marked a shift towards the Jewish context of John that was very important, but the literary approach, just reading John in context, the themes that run through, the vocabulary that runs through is super important. That’s what you can do on your own. I’m trying to think of the names. Mary Coloe wrote on the temple, and there’s a bunch of them.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (42:13):
Yeah. Thank you for that.

Dr. Craig Keener (42:13):
In Revelation, I did the NIVAC commentary on that one. But advanced ones, you’ve got obviously Greg Beal, David Aune at the advanced level, and Richard Bauckham has done some brilliant stuff, both on John and Revelation. And I’m leaving out some of the newer ones. I remember best the ones that had already been out when I wrote my commentaries, and then there’s others since then I’ve even written endorsements for them. Grant Osborne has a really good commentary on Revelation. There’s just a bunch of . . .

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (42:54):
The list goes on. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good list, and I hope for listeners out there they’ve been taking notes. But you can find more on logos.com, or just send a message to Craig. I wanted to just ask you a final wrapping-up question, and that would be related to just any points you have in terms of application or devotional notes. You did mention Christology and love as the central pillars, as it were, of John’s writings, of Johannine literature. I just wonder perhaps at a very practical level, if those of us who are listening, myself, if we were to go from this conversation tomorrow morning, wake up early and just start reading through Johannine literature, what should be kind of in the forefront of our minds from a devotional aspect? What is going to bring us closer to the heart of Jesus, help us better understand what John’s trying to tell us?

Dr. Craig Keener (44:02):
What can we learn about Jesus? Because what you know about a person helps you get to know the person better. But keep in mind that the Jesus you’re reading about is the same Jesus to whom you pray and in whose name you pray. So that’s what helps keep it devotional. It’s like, “Okay, Lord, I’m getting to know about you. This is you doing this.” And yeah, John’s gospel from start to finish is Christologically central. I mean, that’s what you should expect. Ancient biographies were about persons. And so John’s gospel as a gospel is about a person. But I mean, it’s way about his identity. I mean, Mark is really subtle all the way through, even after Jesus rises from the dead. Mark is just a master of subtlety. That’s what I’m working on now. It’s not just the parables, but the parabolic riddle-shaped nature of Jesus ministry, the paradox, the irony.

Dr. Craig Keener (45:18):
But John’s gospel, there’s some of that there, but it’s much more explicit. It’s more in your face in a sense. And you’ve got translations that try to go closer to word for word. Nothing obviously is exactly that way. And then you’ve got those that are trying to be more dynamic equivalent. John is more trying to be dynamic equivalent. He’s trying to bring out the meaning, and he just unveils Jesus for us. So right from the start, Jesus is the word. And I know all the different proposed backgrounds and stoicism and philo, I think all those, there’s some relevance to them, and then then wisdom, but especially it’s something we could actually see, just knowing the Bible, God’s word in the old Testament is the Torah. It’s the scriptures. God has given us his word. And John one 14 through 18 that climaxes this, talking about the word.

Dr. Craig Keener (46:28):
Okay. “The word became flesh dwell among us. We beheld as glory full of grace and truth.” That echoes what you have when God gave his word, his law, through Moses Exodus 33 and 34. Moses goes up on the mountain is saying, “God, please forgive us for the golden calf, dwell with us.” Moses says, “God, show me your glory.” God says, “Nobody can see all my glory and live, but I’ll show you part of it.” And as the Lord shows Moses his goodness and passes before him, the Lord declares his character, which is abounding in covenant love and covenant faithfulness, full of grace and truth. And so in John, one 14, we see again, the word being given, but this time not on tablets of stone, but a clearer, fuller revelation where the word became flesh and he did dwell among us.

Dr. Craig Keener (47:34):
And John says, “We beheld his glory,” just like Moses did, “Full of grace and truth.” People were expecting a cosmic spectacle of fireworks, but God came in a way that showed us his heart more deeply. And like Moses was told, nobody can see God and live. John one 18, “Nobody has seen God at any time, but the one and only God who is in the bosom of the father has made him known.” And the word there, [inaudible 00:48:12], means to declare the character nature so that Jesus could stand before his disciples and say, “Whoever’s seen me, has seen the father.” So Jesus reveals the father’s heart full of grace and truth. And actually verse 17 says, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” There’s already grace and truth in the law, but now the fullness is revealed in Jesus.

Dr. Craig Keener (48:39):
And you trace the revealing of glory through John’s gospel, it happens like in two 11, where it says that this beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory and his disciples believed in him. So his glory is manifested in all these other ways, but the ultimate expression of his glory in the Gospel of John, chapter 12 tells us that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. Now the time has come for the son and man to be glorified.

Dr. Craig Keener (49:13):
The ultimate expression of God’s glory in the Gospel of John is in the cross, because at the very place where humanity was declaring our hatred of God, as we were pounding the nails in his hands, he was crying out, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” He was showing us the heart of God, his fullness of grace and truth, his fullness of faithful love and faithfulness to us. And that’s where we see God’s heart most clearly, looking at the cross. This is how God loved the world he gave his only son.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (50:03):
Thanks, Craig. I don’t really have any more questions for you after that. So we press into the heart of Jesus expressed most fully on that cross. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (50:24):
I’m so grateful for you giving us this time and showing us your heart to not just about John, but ultimately about Christ, about God and what he did for us. As you expressed it, seen early on in Moses and then grace and truth from the father to us. Wow. I just hope the best for you and your continued ministry as a scholar and as a teacher. I’m jealous of the people that are in your Bible study, but thank you so much for your time. This has been really wonderful. I hope we get to have you back on Logos Live to talk about Mark, of course, but we’ve had a lot of people in the comments wanting to hear you talk about Acts. A lot of people love your Acts commentary, of course, with good reason. We’ll get to it. But for now I just want to express my gratitude personally, and I’m sure I speak for everyone who’s been listening, I’m just very grateful for what you’ve given us about the Johannine literature, about John himself, about Christ and just hearing more of your story. So thanks very much, Craig.

Dr. Craig Keener (51:47):
Yeah, thanks very much Tavis. And you asked the right questions. I mean, when you ask about the heart of John, John really takes us to the heart of God.

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger (51:59):
Yeah. Yeah. All right. God bless you.

Dr. Craig Keener (52:03):
God bless you.

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Written by
Jason Brueckner

Jason Brueckner is the Sr. Community Manager at Faithlife. He has a master’s in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and over a decade of experience with digital marketing, church communications, and ministry.

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Written by Jason Brueckner