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Letters of John


Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Publishing Network joint release
May 12, 2011
-Ardell Stauffer

WATERLOO, Ont. and SCOTTDALE, Pa.— Tucked at the back of the Bible, just before the book of Revelation, the three letters of John may not get much notice. Author J.E. McDermond thinks they warrant the modern church’s attention.

McDermond is the author of the Believers Church Bible Commentary volume, Epistles of 1, 2, 3 John, released in May by Herald Press. He is professor of Christian ministry and spirituality at Messiah College. An ordained Brethren in Christ minister, he has pastored churches in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Scotland.

Who is Jesus? How do we follow his commandments to love one another? How does the church reach out to those trying to understand Jesus? These are themes that McDermond sees spanning the centuries from John’s Roman world to our own day.

“In 2011 you hear interesting ideas about who Jesus is,” said McDermond. Some are appealing, but they may not be close to traditional Christology—the understanding of who Jesus is. The books of John remind us that we need to be careful how we describe Jesus, according to McDermond. They help us affirm the uniqueness of Jesus—that he was more than a great teacher.

And with John’s strong emphasis on love, the epistles help us take seriously the concept of loving our enemies, as Jesus taught. McDermond believes that Jesus’ teachings about love are tied to the correct understanding of Jesus.

“If you understand Jesus as the focal point of God’s action in human affairs, you will fully understand his commandment to love one another,” said McDermond. The faith community displays love in action by caring for the poor and taking care of each other and attracting others to Jesus by embodying a loving community. “Theology lived in ethics is a powerful, powerful witness,” he said.

Despite the brevity of John’s letters, McDermond thinks a commentary offers the modern Christian helpful tools in understanding them. Sometimes John’s grammar “is a mess,” he says, with confusing syntax and a range of possible meanings. McDermond explores the way the text can be translated.

He places the letters in their historical setting, describing the Roman world of persecution from which John writes. He examines the divisions that shape John’s writing: within Judaism, as Jews who follow Jesus are removed from mainstream Judaism, and within Christianity, as John addresses believers who are dividing over the question of who Jesus is. 

McDermond sees parallels between the pluralism of the Roman Empire and of our own time, so that the letters of John continue to provide practical theology for the modern believer.

Epistles of 1, 2, 3 John is available from Herald Press at or by calling 800-631-6535 (Canada) or 800-245-7894 (U.S.) or. Price: $28.99 CAD/$24.99 USD.

Herald Press is the book imprint of Mennonite Publishing Network, the publishing ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.