Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: The Parallel Lives of Jesus

Parallel Lives of Jesus: A Guide to the Four Gospels. By Edward Adams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. 200 pp. $25.00
««««« (four out of five)
I’ve seen it cited many times that J.I. Packer said we should constantly meditate “on the four gospels, over and above the rest of our Bible reading.” I’ve confessed my own preference for Paul’s letters before, because I find his statements to be easier to understand and accept than those of Jesus. It’s far easier for me to take Paul’s general principles and diffuse them into the air than it is to take Jesus’ “hard” statements and talk my way around them.

The four Gospels aren’t just a bunch of morality stories. They communicate truth essential to the salvation of all people. In Edward Adams’ Parallel Lives of Jesus: A Guide to the Four Gospels, he seeks to help believers see the gospels as a coherent unity. It isn’t that we have four gospels, but rather we have four accounts of the life of Jesus, each with its unique contribution and emphasis. Edwards accomplishes a lot in just under 200 pages, making the book both accessible to most readers and a helpful starting point for a more in-depth study of one or more of the Gospels “according to…”

The book is split in three sections. The first is more of an introduction to viewing the Gospels as parallel accounts of the same story. The stress on the unity and coherence is helpful for those who’ve given themselves more to the differences of the Gospels than to the common story. The next two sections are much more detailed. One deals with the unique characteristics of each Gospel as well as its individual contribution to the overall message of the four. Edwards, like most scholars today, believes Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke used his account in writing their own. He further holds that John was at least aware of the Gospel according to Mark and wrote his account intending to avoid much overlap.

Personally, the last section I found as more of an open door than a walled-in room. It highlights a few important events in the Gospels with multiple attestations. For instance, the account of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee is described in Matthew, Mark, and John. By comparing the various accounts, Edwards presents a fuller picture of the event and helps draw out the individual emphases of each Gospel writer. I’ve been using this practice in our small group study of the Gospel according to Mark and it has helped our people better understand the author’s meaning and more firmly cements the story in their minds. I’m planning on using it more in future studies.

In the end, the book is a useful resource for reading the first four books of the New Testament and developing a more comprehensive understanding of how they fit together and what sets them apart from each other. The final section shows promise as a demonstration of what is possible in both group and individual study. This and a good harmony of the gospels would be more conducive to personal study of the Bible than the more academic (and comprehensive) tomes by Blomberg and Stein, though I find myself frequently turning to those as well.

I received a digital copy of this work from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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