1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family [Preaching the Word Series]

Allen, David L. 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2013. 336 pp. $32.99.

1-3john

In 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family, Dr. David L. Allen brings his experience and expertise to the preaching of God’s Word and provides a tremendous resource to the church. Allen serves at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as Dean of the School of Theology, Professor of Preaching, Director of the Center for Expository Preaching, and George W. Truett Chair of Ministry. In this volume of the Preaching the Word series, Allen exemplifies expository preaching that is not merely “idea-driven” (see Robinson’s Biblical Preaching), but is truly “text-driven.” He writes, “since the Bible is not only the Word of God but is also the very words of God (verbal, plenary inspiration), then text-driven preaching becomes all the more vital, even mandated theologically” (13). Allen carves a third homiletical path between expository, big-idea preaching and an expository, running-commentary. This path is not a surprise for those who have read Allen’s previous works, especially Text-Driven Preaching.

Allen’s 1-3 John volume is an intensely-theological and bountifully-footnoted work of a master expositor. This is not a series of technical commentaries, but rather expositions through Scripture. In such series, many readers will find the footnotes (or in this case, endnotes) as helpful (if not moreso) than the sermons themselves. In these endnotes, the author brings the reader from the pew into the pastoral study and reveals his own interactions with the biblical languages, other commentaries, articles, etc. Each volume in such a series will experience a variety in terms of helpfulness based upon the particular author’s willingness to divulge such information. Allen’s volume does not disappoint and surpasses other volumes in the series that I have already reviewed.

Critique

It is this transparency, however, that reveals the minor chinks in Allen’s armor. Allen (rightly) takes his emphases directly from the Greek text, and consistently uncovers beautiful imagery from the very words of Scripture. For instance, he writes of the three Greek words used for love and points out that, “the word that John uses for love throughout his letter is agape, a word that the New Testament writers took from Greek vocabulary and invested with an elevated meaning“ (73-74). However, while this is a popular understanding of the various Greek words for love, it is not necessarily supported by the text. D.A. Carson (writing specifically about the verb agape) states, “there is nothing intrinsic to the verb… to prove its real meaning or hidden meaning refers to some special kind of love.” [1] Carson identifies attempts at drawing out a sharply distinct “love” based upon the Greek word used as “one of the most enduring errors” of expositors. [2]

UPDATE: In an email discussion with Dr. Allen regarding this point, he writes, “I was not speaking lexically, but theologically. I am well aware of the semantic nuances of agape and the old lexical fallacy with respect to it. My point is that the NT authors regularly use this word to speak of God’s love for us. Nevertheless, I should have been clearer in my statement.” END UPDATE

Further, Allen notes in an endnote that the “present imperative with the negative particle me indicates a command to stop an action already in progress” (291). From the Greek, then, he argues that the language supports that “Stop loving the world” is a better translation of “Do not love the world.” According to Allen, “John assumes that to some extent some of his readers were guilty of loving the world system” (97). While this understanding of Greek syntax was commonly held for the last century, virtually all biblical Greek scholarship since 1985 has abandoned this position. Daniel Wallace writes that this traditional understanding of the volitional clause “has been shown to be faulty.” [3]

UPDATE: In the same email discussion with Dr. Allen, he writes, “Wallace, and no Greek grammarian, is saying that there is no case where the negative command in the present tense means to stop an action already in progress. He is saying that it does not always mean that, as was often erroneously held in the past… I should have been clearer in my footnote statement by adding the three words “in this context” so as not to give the impression that all such uses mean this.” END UPDATE

Such miscues, however, are not substantial enough to justify ignoring Allen’s exposition of the text. In fact, were it not for Allen’s commitment to exposition, such critiques would not even be possible. Rather, it reminds the reader all the more of the vast importance of the language and the importance of determining the precise words used to communicate the precious Words.

David Allen’s contribution to the Preaching the Word series is a tremendous resource for believers to read devotionally or to aid pastors in preaching through 1-3 John. His sermons are text-driven, encouraging, and Christ-honoring. Allen’s commentary is a volume that combines a pastoral heart with a dedication to biblical exposition, and will no doubt aid any believer in the study of God’s word.

David L. Allen, 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family


1. Carson, D.A. Exegetical Fallacies. p. 32.
2. Ibid., p. 28.
3. Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. p. 716.


I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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