So it is a funny thing.
I like to find the academic commentaries from the UW library, which slice, dice and analyze the biblical text. I don’t agree with the frequent theorizing about editors, redactors, schools and emendations that they do suggest. Also there is very little of pastoral value – that is, what can help the people keep the word. But for analyzing the text itself, these kinds of books, typified by the Anchor Bible series are very helpful. My motto: take what I can, leave the rest. This is for me the soup stock.
In the case of John’s gospel, the Anchor volumes are very helpful for the ebb and flow of the book. Raymond Brown suggests that the first 12 chapters really have to do with Jesus interactions with the major festivals of the Jewish calendar. I found that the book Reading John, by Charles Talbert does a nice job of literary analysis. Neither of these books are that helpful on connection to life.
I like to peruse the classic evangelical commentaries, but until recently, most of these are weak in the area where the academic texts ares strong For example, Young’s commentary on Isaiah (3 volumes) is a classic, but it is mostly a series of verse by verse comments with lots of word meanings. I much prefer Motyer’s Isaiah commentary, thought shorter, it gives the shape and flow of the book, and there re little sermonic nuggets in the text. In John, Leon Morris’ work is a lot like Young’s in Isaiah – words discussed by verse, but not a lot of literary structure. F. F. Bruce is helpful at a less analytic level. These books are the diced carrots and potatoes.
Sometimes a historic commentary such as Luther’s Works or the like adds a bit of flavor to the sermonic soup. Consider this the herbs and spices for the soup.
I like to read someone who is or was a pastor and who gives the word a work over from a sermonic standpoint. Lot’s of books by John Stott fit in this category, I still think his commentary on I John is the most helpful on that book. I don’t have a good book in this category to name. This is the meat for the soup.
Finally, what is needed is time for the soup to simmer lowly on the back of the stove. Don’t start your reading on Saturday. Start ahead and let it simmer and stew.