The Hidden Life of Jesus

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Antonio Pinero
Translator(s): 
Thomas W. Hudgins
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Wipf & Stock Publishers
    , November
     2016.
     246 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498238595.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Hidden Life of Jesus’ provocative title and creative cover may be enough to initially entice readers to discover just what Antonio Piñero means by the “hidden life of Jesus.” This book, originally written in Spanish and now translated into English, is divided into two parts, and both parts take this “hidden life” to mean something slightly different.

Part 1 is about Jesus’ life before his public ministry, which the Gospels devote relatively little space to—only four chapters out of a total of eighty-nine. The reader will find a chronological analysis of the material found in Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2. Here the author attempts to piece together the canonical accounts of Matthew and Luke that cover this period while using historical criticism to weed out, or at least identify, what he deems legend, literary invention, or theological history. By “theological history,” Piñero means that Matthew and Luke weren’t so interested in reporting historical events, but only in conveying a religious message (71).bThe author’s approach is to discuss the events, and then raise questions and make assessments on whether the material is historical or simply theological history. The “hidden life” covered in part 2 is much broader, encompassing not just the early years of Jesus’ life, but also his works and secret teachings found in the apocryphal Gospels—and purported to have been performed and taught by Jesus during the time of his public ministry.

So this second “hidden life” is not only the early years of Jesus’ life, upon which the canonical Gospels are relatively silent, but also really any material on Jesus’ life and teaching found outside of the canonical Scripture. Piñero’s overall purpose, then, is to show how the canon portrays not only Jesus, but the key people and events surrounding his early life, and to then show how the apocryphal Gospels portray Jesus during all of his life. It’s somewhat surprising that there are more chapters devoted to the time covering Jesus’ public ministry and following than there are to the so-called “hidden years.”

For someone who holds to the evangelical doctrines of Scripture—for example, inspiration, authority, etc.—part 1 will be of little value, especially when there are so many other worthwhile books written on the life of Christ. A telling statement from this book illustrates Piñero’s perspective particularly well, “[e]ven though the Gospels are presented as historical works, their authors, in good faith, incorporated popular legends in order to serve their own purposes” (62). That’s not to say that everyone cannot benefit from this book. Piñero raises valid questions that Bible readers are still struggling to answer. For instance, why are there differences in the genealogies? Why are Matthew and Luke the only New Testament authors to mention the virgin birth? How do we harmonize Matthew and Luke’s seemingly disparate accounts? These are all valid questions to consider. Readers will also be fascinated to learn how some traditions and doctrines entered Christian teaching, not from the canonical Gospels, but from the apocryphal ones: the Roman Catholic dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity and bodily assumption, for example. Part 2 is not without value either. Piñero packages a wealth of material from the apocryphal Gospels into a digestible presentation so readers unfamiliar with these texts can access them. Perhaps you have heard the story of Jesus making real birds out of mud, but what about stories of Jesus miraculously fixing Joseph’s woodworking mistakes, carrying water in his cloak, and playing with lions? Other stories tell of Jesus bringing a dead fish back to life, miraculously causing temples to collapse, and walking on a beam of light. The texts containing these stories may be non-canonical, but they do shed some light on the trends and theology of the church throughout history. The interested reader wishing to consult the primary sources for themselves will be pleased to find plenty of footnotes. On top of that, there is also a decent little primer on Gnosticism, and a helpful summary of what the apocryphal Gospels actually taught about Jesus and his relationships with women.

As a translation, the book is highly readable. There is one quotation in Spanish with an English translation given in a footnote (86). A few errors creep in towards the end—three in close succession—where a word has been either omitted or inserted (146–47, 179). Piñero also fails to point out the presence of a textual issue when highlighting Luke’s supposed error in using the plural to refer to Mary’s purification in Luke 2:22–24 (48–49). The question, though, becomes is this a translation worth reading? I find it difficult to decide whether or not the author’s goal in part 2 is a worthy task. The apocryphal documents were written by various people, from different communities, who all believed different things. Considering that the work of one was never meant to harmonize with everyone else’s. While it may be interesting to read such an account as a piece of literature, its value is questionable given that its essentially history in a test tube presented in a way in which it never actually occurred. At the same time, I do recognize some merit in what Piñero has done. By stitching this narrative together, it’s possible to identify a common denominator. The Jesus of these accounts is not the Jesus of the Bible. As a boy, he strikes a playmate dead for disrupting his game and later, begrudgingly, restores the boy to life. He strikes another boy dead for colliding with him in the street and then, begrudgingly, brings him back to life as well. Jesus is disrespectful to his teacher and strikes people blind. This Jesus is petulant and vindictive. This is a Jesus no one would want to find, and no one would find in the canonical Gospels. Piñero serves his readers well by showing these to them.

 

 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Brent Niedergall is Associate Pastor at Catawba Springs Christian Church.

Date of Review: 
September 18, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Antonio Pinero is Chair and Professor Emeritus of Greek Philology at the Complutense University of Madrid. He is an internationally-renowned New Testament scholar, specializing in the language and literature of early Christianity. In 2007, Antonio won the I Finis Terrae Award for his book Los cristianos derrotados.

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