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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: "Parallel Lives of Jesus" (Edward Adams)

TITLE: Parallel Lives of Jesus
AUTHOR: Edward Adams
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, (209 pages).

This book brings a wealth of scholarship materials on the four gospels to the general reader. The key idea is that we ought to read the four gospels not as separate works, but four 'distinct yet overlapping narrative renditions of a shared story.' This is best done by learning to read the gospels in parallel, hence the title of the book. The structure of the book is divided into three parts. Part One sets the stage by reasoning why the gospels are to be seen as one unit.  Part Two goes into the nitty-gritty of each gospel uniqueness, and how each of them complete the whole gospel story. Part Three demonstrates this by providing six examples of how the gospels can be read.

The author skillfully brings together a lot of credible scholarship material. He talks about the three 'synoptic' gospels as (syn=with; and opsis=view). He uses Kurt Aland's work on the synoptics, the Two-Source hypothesis (comprising the theory of the Markan priority, and Q), the Farrer theory, the Synoptic problem, and many more. He treats readers to a insightful overview of the beginnings of the gospel writing background. He describes the various forms of biblical criticism in a very clear manner: historical criticism, form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, narrative criticism. He also makes a case for the gospel writers as 'anonymous' rather than sticking with the traditional attribution to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Bringing together the sources, the writing, and the composition of the gospels tell us a lot about the contexts of the gospels at the time they were written.

The author vividly paints the perspectives of each gospel. John is the 'simplest and most profound' evangelistic and theological treatise. Luke is the most 'socially oriented.' Mark is 'action packed' and Matthew is the most 'Jewish.' What really makes me glad to read this book is the readability and flow of an otherwise very dry topic of scholarship and biblical interpretation/criticism.  (Note to readers: 'Criticism' is a technical term for scholarship studies, an interpretive way to describe an intentional level of deep study/analysis, and is not used here as a negative way). For example, 'form criticism' essentially refers to a way of trying to understand the gospels according to different forms, like is it a parable? A story? A statement of fact? A conversational rhetoric? etc

The way Adams compares and contrasts each of the gospel pericopes is illuminating. I like the way he uses the very familiar structure Burton Throckmorton's way of comparing them the synoptic gospels, as well as John in table form.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot to gain from reading this book. For seminarians and Bible school students, it is a fresh revision of what they have learnt in New Testament studies. For teachers, it is a convenient guidebook to help laypersons to understand the gospels and to share in a simple way the massive amount of gospel scholarship out there. For the layperson, it enriches the whole gospel reading experience as well as illuminate the passages. Most of all, the book gives all of us a fresh impetus to read the gospel and appreciate the life of Jesus. This is worth the price of the book.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The opinions offered are mine.

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