My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Review: Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction

Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction by Joshua W. Jipp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In understanding and/or interpreting scripture, it is usually important to know the context in which they are written. Most of the commentaries that I have encountered spend a lot of time on the details, often debating the interpretation of the original language, marching verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book … rarely looking at the work as a whole. Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture fills the gap here well, giving a brief over of how we got the Gospels in Part 1, before providing a general, historical context by which to read the Gospels in Part 2, before diving into each of the four (4) Gospels specifically in Part 3 … and it is this last part that is the best part (and accounts for nearly half of the total book … and is extremely well organized for each Gospel. Each Gospel will have an historical discussion followed by a literary analysis (structure, form, emphasis, et al) and concluding with how this view should impact living the faith of the Gospel. While perhaps not as interesting to those outside of the Christian faith, I found it to be extremely helpful to my personal growth and understanding of my faith.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part 1 - From Jesus of Nazareth to the Fourfold Gospel: History, Literature, Theology
1. What Are the Gospels?
2. Where Did the Gospels Come From?
3. What Are the Relationships between the Four Canonical Gospels?
4. Why Only These Four Gospels?

Part 2 - How Should We Read the Gospels?
5. Reading the Gospels in Their First Century Historical Context
6. Reading the Gospels as Narratives
7. Reading the Gospels for Transformative Discipleship

Part 3 - Reading the Gospels
8. Matthew and History
9. Matthew and Narrative (1)
10. Matthew and Narrative (2)
11. Matthew and Discipleship
12. Mark and History
13. Mark and Narrative (1)
14. Mark and Narrative (2)
15. Mark and Discipleship
16. Luke and History
17. Luke and Narrative (1)
18. Luke and Narrative (2)
19. Luke and Discipleship
20. John and History
21. John and Narrative (1)
22. John and Narrative (2)
23. John and Discipleship

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Second, while one need not suppose that the Gospel traditions were creatively shaped and molded at will by the early church, there’s no reason to deny the strong likelihood that specific memories of Jesus were preserved and remembered precisely because of their relevance and usefulness for the earliest Christians.

As different communities recycled and passed on Jesus’s teachings and with different aims, it should not surprise us to find some level of flexibility and fixity in the transmission. Getting the essential gist of who Jesus was and what he said, rather than his exact wording, precise geographical location, chronology, and so forth, which are just not quite the point.

This explains, in part, why some of Jesus’s sayings—found in Gospel texts, Paul’s Letters, and other early Christian writings—are remarkably similar. This is probably not because these sayings are literarily dependent on the same text but simply because the oral Gospel tradition was fairly stable and, much of it at least, committed to memory.

Whether the primary goal here is evangelism or community edification, John’s purpose statement alerts us to how writing a Gospel served practical goals and purposes for the early Christians. For example, some have very plausibly argued that Matthew’s Gospel was written, at least in part, for catechetical reasons—to draw on Jesus’s teachings in order to teach converts about the meaning of their Christian faith.

The Didache demonstrates obvious awareness of the Gospel of Matthew as it reproduces its version of the Lord’s Prayer (Didache 8:2; cf. Matt. 6:9–13) and sayings found in the Sermon on the Mount (Didache 9:5; cf. Matt. 7:6).

Proper interpretation of the Scriptures requires proper moral formation and the appropriate posture of humility when reading them. Stated simply, the church fathers believed that “lives that mirrored the message were best disposed to see that message.”

Thus, faithful discipleship and learning from Jesus will not be a simple matter of rote repetition; rather, knowing how to follow the Jesus of our Gospels will require communal discernment together as God’s people, a commitment to prayer and expectation of Spirit-illumination, and a constant and close attentiveness to the person of Jesus in the Gospels.

Mercy. Matthew consistently portrays Jesus as one who gives mercy and expects his followers to dispense mercy as well. Since God is kind and loving to both the just and the unjust, Jesus argues that the only right way to understand God’s Torah is from the standpoint of mercy and justice (5:43–48).

And Jesus declares that God’s law itself prioritizes mercy and compassion as the proper means of interpreting the commandments of the Torah. The Torah rightly interpreted is not a burdensome or impossible yoke; neither is it something that is rightly used as a means of exalting oneself above one’s neighbor (23:11–12).

Mark’s frequent usage of “and” (kai) and “immediately” (euthys) strikes many as demonstrating an unsophisticated writing style and less polished narrative. But this view does not sit easily with the recent recognition of Mark’s careful literary artistry, and in fact Mark’s Gospel is a never-ending treasure trove of theological meaning for careful readers.

Here’s the point: Although it is not the normal “season” for fruit on the fig tree, given that the gospel and the kingdom of God are here in the person of the Messiah, Jesus is nevertheless examining the tree and looking for fruitful abundance. Finding no fruit, Jesus curses the fig tree as a sign of God’s impending judgment on the temple and its leadership. The lack of fruit signifies that the temple is not functioning as a place of real prayer and true faith.

Second, Luke expects a high level of knowledge and appreciation for the Jewish people, their history, customs, and Scriptures. We have seen that Luke begins his Gospel with a preface comparable to Hellenistic historiography (1:1–4), but he immediately transitions into a way of telling his story that is remarkably biblical, involving the stories of a barren womb, Jewish priests in the temple, angels, hymns that use scriptural language, a circumcision on the eighth day—all of these draw the reader into the world of Israel’s Scriptures (chaps. 1–2).

The economy of Roman Palestine during the time of Jesus was oriented primarily around subsistence agriculture. Wealth was tied up in the very few landowners. The cities were places of consumption and extraction (rather than production).

Worshipers also engaged in a water ritual during the feast that commemorated God’s provision of water for Israel in the wilderness.2 It is during this Jewish feast that Jesus, in the temple, cries out that he is both the one who provides “streams of living water” (7:37–39) and is the “light of the world” (8:12).

The prologue itself shows this to the reader quite clearly in 1:14–18 by drawing parallels, especially using the language of Exodus 33–34, between God’s two primary forms of revelation: “the law” and “the word.”

John’s Gospel does not reject or criticize Moses and the law. The law is not spoken of in any way as leading to legalism, works righteousness, or a false, external piety. Moses foreshadows and points toward the greater grace and revelation of Jesus.

Jesus states this clearly when, in response to his opponents, he says, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father. Moses is your accuser, upon whom you have set your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. For he wrote about me” (5:45–46).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ReadingTheGospelsAsChristianScripture #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.