Readers of Living Wittily will know I have a particular interest in and affinity with the Gospel of John. It was the Gospel I worked through in the Greek text in College, guided by R E O White, for whom the Greek New Testament was peerless literature. He was a classic exegete, training us to explore the text by establishing the basis of the text, working through the grammatical and syntactical issues, carefully reconstructing background in cultural, social and historical contexts, and finally writing out the theological and practical implications of the text so explored.
Amongst R E O White's exegetical resources of first rank was C K Barrett, whose commentary on John was the class textbook. I have it in its revised form, and am sorry that when I bought the new edition I gave away my first edition - the one with the terracota coloured dustwrapper, a book whose very appearance conjured up impressions of serious, sober scholarship wrapped in unfussy but serviceable dustrwaps.
Today we heard of the death of C K Barrett at the venerable age of 94. So I took my Barrett on John from the shelves and spent a wee while browsing, remembering and giving thanks for the scholarship and devotion to the text of C K Barrett. Pencil marks in the margin still mark places where I had my eyes opened by Barrett. Just one example -
John14.6 is the famous threefold I am the way the truth and the life. Barrett is quite sure the primary claim is "I am the way by which men and women come to God". And he is certain that Jesus refers to his coming passion - "the way which he himself is about to take is the road which his followers must also tread. He himself goes to the Father by way of crucifixion and resurrection; in future he is the means by which Christians die and rise....Because Jesus is the means of access to God who is the source of all truth and life, he is himself the truth and the life for men and women."
Page 458, The Gospel According to John, (SPCK, 1978 rev.ed.)
Barrett unabashedly acknowledged that even the 1978 revised commentary on John was then old fashioned. So it was, and is. But it is old fashioned in the same sense as any classic - that is, old fashioned does not mean irrelevant, unimportant, dispensable. On the contrary - a classic commentary remains relevant, important and indispensable! I have a shelf of commentaries on John, and some of them I have read through, others have been consulted times without number. It would be untrue to say Barrett is my favourite - I have several favourites for different purposes - and Raymond Brown's two volume commentary is my most used. But Barrett on John was the first Greek Text commentary I worked through with grammar and lexicon, and that habit, instilled by R E O White has never left me as my favourite form of lectio divina. R E O White used to quote Noel Davey, one of Barrett's close friends, who urged students to 'bury your head in a lexicon and you'll raise it in the presence of God".
C K Barrett now knows the full depth of those words, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life..." May he now, with gladness and gratitude, raise his head in the presence of God and know the fullness of truth and life. Thanks be to God.