1-3 John (Reformed Expository Commentary) by Douglas Sean O’Donnell
Every week we say it in worship after our admission/confession of sin, the single verse from 1 John 1.9 that states, “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness.” This succinct truth delves deep into our hearts for it brings out two simple yet profound concepts; namely our confession and God’s faithfulness to forgive. In this new commentary on 1-3 John by Pastor and scholar Douglas Sean O’Donnell, the author gets into the heart of these three small books near the end of the NT canon with wit, wisdom, and clarity. Douglas states early on his book that John had two purposes in writing his epistles; pastoral in that he wrote to bring assurance of faith to his readers and second, polemical, upholding the truth of the incarnation among those who wanted to deny Christ’s full humanity (xiv).
Commenting on 1 John 2.14 where John signals his audience of young men to be strong, Douglas writes, “The war is real, but the victory is certain. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3.8).” In his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus has taken “the teeth out of the roaring lion” and “the fangs out of the serpent (64).” This reminder that there is a war going on in the present, but that the result is already certain still brings great joy to believers today as it would John’s audience also. John does not give us a grand allusion that all things will be well on this earth but holds out that even in the ongoing battle there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Douglas has a keen sense of getting to the very important matters of the text’s intent and this is no different here.
Douglas sets the stage for us in 2 John by painting a vivid picture of the false teachers. He writes, “These earlier heretics – deceivers or antichrist, as John labels them in verse 7 - were denying the full humanity of Jesus. It is not that they wanted to take Christ out of Christmas, rather; they wanted to take the human body out of the cradle (172-173).” The rest of the epistle presents the remedy to these deceivers belief in a non-incarnate Jesus. The deceivers were seeking to upend the bedrock belief of the Christians that God came in the flesh in the incarnate Jesus, revealing both the depths of God’s mercy and that God wanted the whole body of his faithful, not just their minds.
Pointing out the literary features of the text such as parallelism, using stories and history to illuminate John’s letters, Douglas Sean O’Donnell has written a winsome and most helpful commentary on 1-3 John. You will find a deep vision of God’s holiness in these pages and a desire for his readers to know Christ and to make him known.
Thanks to P&R Publishing for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.