ST. JOHN S GOSPEL : A BIBLE STUDY GUIDE AND COMMENTARY by Stephen K. Ray Ignatius, 2002 461 pages, $17.95 To order: (800) 651-1531 or http://www.ignatius.com

The Apostle John, St. Augustine wrote, “was one of those mountains concerning which it is written: ‘Let the mountains receive peace for thy people, and the hills righteousness.’” That great “mountain” and his writings have been explored and studied for 2,000 years, and they continue to reveal great riches. A recent example is author and apologist Stephen Ray's latest book, a work that mines the “pure and lovely” gold of the fourth Gospel while balancing scholarship, accessibility and spiritual insight.

“The Gospel of John is one of the richest veins,” Ray writes. “Of all literature, in all the world, through all of time, the Gospel of St. John rises to the top. … Meditating on the sacred text of [St. John's] Gospel draws us inexorably into a great cosmic love affair with God himself.” Over flowing with theological and spiritual wealth, St. John's Gospel is a complex work that can frustrate readers not familiar with the Gospel's structure, language and symbolism. Even knowledgeable readers can miss many of the subtleties awaiting those who possess the proper tools.

Ray's commentary is, as it claims, “a helpful tool for every miner's backpack.” Nearly 500 pages in length, it is thorough but never tedious. Filled with cross-references to the Old Testament, the catechism and scholarly works, it keeps the big picture of the great cosmic love affair squarely in sight.

Written with the ordinary, loyal Catholic in mind, it makes no attempt to date the Gospel in the third century or to ponder questionable theories about authorship. The introduction covers basic guidelines for studying Scripture and choosing a good translation; it also provides straightforward information about the authorship, audience and purpose of the Gospel. Ray likens the Gospel to an “exquisite symphony,” with the opening 18 verses being the overture. That opening hymn contains the main themes to be developed by the Apostle, in cluding Jesus as the logos, life and light, and the contrasts made between light and darkness, life and death, the flesh and the supernatural life of God. Rather than each section of commentary being a single, lengthy explanation, each paragraph focuses on a different aspect of the text. These include study questions, Old Testament connections, word studies, theological and doctrinal notes, historical and archeological information, and spiritual applications.

The section on John 1:1-2, for example, discusses the opening verses of Genesis, genealogies, parallelism, the logos, the incorrect translation of the Watch-tower Society, and Arianism. As Ray notes, the commentary draws from Catholic, secular, Jewish and non-Catholic Christian (mostly evangelical Protestant) sources in order “to provide background material, theological insights and historical information.” There are copious references to “the Fathers, Church documents, commentaries, the writings of saints and Doctors of the Church, and modern theologians and Bible scholars.” The catechism also plays a central role in bringing out doctrinal and theological concepts. All of this adds up to a study of the mountain of St. John that is engaging, informative and — most importantly — conducive to a deeper love of God and his Church.

Carl E. Olson, editor of Envoy magazine, writes from Heath, Ohio.

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