Parallel Lives of Jesus

Eddie Adams has published an accessible book on the four Gospels in the last year: Parallel Lives of Jesus: A Guide to the Four Gospels (WJK 2011). The book is a nice introduction to the four Gospels. It has similarities to Richard Burridge’s Four Gospels, One Jesus, which is a superb introduction. Adams’ book builds on Burridge’s and has some distinctive features that make it a good resource for a Gospels course. I will be using it this fall in my course on John’s Gospel where I like to begin the semester with a general introduction to the Gospels.

I particularly like Adams’ use of the field of Narratology as a way of appreciating the unity and diversity of the Four-fold Gospel witness and as a method for studying the Gospels both in parts and as a whole.

The book is usefully divided into three parts:

I. Approaching the Gospels (a general introduction)
II. The Individual Gospels and Their Narrative Features (a survey of the four Gospels)
III. Selected Parallel Episodes (a study of a selection of individual pericopae)

Adams’ innovation is to apply the narratological distinctions between story and narrative to the Gospels. In this framework, “story” is what they have in common (the raw material of the elements of the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth). Whereas, “narrative” is what the individual Gospel writers do with the story. By noting this distinction one can affirm both what the Gospel writers have in common as well as appreciate how they use the common story for their unique purposes. Here’s a paragraph from Adam’s conclusion:

The four Gospels deal with a common biographical subject: Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century Galilean Jew, with natural ties. He is the hero (protagonist) of the shared story, a story that follows a unique trajectory (even though it conforms to a common story structure), beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist and the Spirit’s descent on Jesus, and ending with his death and resurrection, with specific incidents in between. Not only do all four Gospels agree on the basic “character” of Jesus and the course of his mission; to a significant extent they also agree in their “characterization” of Jesus, exhibiting a shared understanding of his identity. He is prophet, teacher, and doer of mighty deeds. More significantly, he is the Son of Man, Davidic Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. All four evangelists attribute “divine” qualities to Jesus, all four testify to the uniqueness of his divine sonship (in all four, on at least one occasion, Jesus speaks of himself in exclusive and absolute terms as “the Son”). One can therefore speak of the singular Jesus of the Fourfold Gospel witness.

At the same time, as this book has shown, the four Gospels, or “parallel lives,” display a rich diversity in characterization as they elaborate in different ways on the person and significance of Jesus. The four Gospels thus present us with a singular Jesus multiply rendered. The singularity of Jesus is not compromised by the multiple characterizations but is enhanced by them (188-89).

A student who carefully reads this book will build a foundational understanding of the Gospels which can then serve a more detailed study of any one of them.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • It is a great little book written by a great scholar.

  • Mike Bird

    I just got my copy two weeks ago!