Jesus and the Gospels

An Introduction

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John T. Carroll
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , October
     2016.
     272 pages.
     $40.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780664239725.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction, written by John T. Carroll, provides an in-depth analytical survey of the gospels in the New Testament. His textbook masterfully explores the socio-political and historical contexts, theology, major themes, and literary patterns in each canonical gospel.

Carroll’s textbook is logically divided into three parts. Part 1 introduces the reader to the historical background of the gospels, the field of New Testament studies, and the various ways scholars assess the historical reliability of elements in the gospels. Next, in part 2 the reader learns about each of the gospels in the order Carroll believes they were probably composed: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Carroll’s survey of each gospel follows a similar pattern: historical questions about authorship, location, and time period are addressed; the literary design and narrative techniques of the gospel authors receives attention; and central motifs and concerns are closely examined. Finally, in part 3 the reader is offered insight into what Carroll thinks the Jesus of the gospels would have people do about various issues in the twenty-first century. In particular, part 3 discusses topics such as judgement, anti-Judaism, gender and sexuality, marriage, imperialism, family relationships, and socio-economic concerns.

Carroll’s textbook is a valuable resource for students for several reasons. First, students are introduced to the complexity of the gospel narratives in language that is easy to understand for the non-expert. Second, students learn about the historical background and central themes of the gospels. Third, Carroll provides students insight into the way the creative structure of each gospel enhances the story of Jesus for a particular audience. Fourth, students will find Carroll’s chapters organized in a logical way that is easy to follow. And fifth, the abundance of footnotes in each chapter provides students additional commentary about discussion points in the text and insight into other avenues for research.

Although some teachers might be hesitant to use Carroll’s textbook because of his concluding section on what the Jesus of the gospels might think about twenty-first century issues, it is important to note that part 3 avoids explicit political or ideological references. In fact, Carroll carefully pays close attention to the historical context of first century Judaism and Greco-Roman culture in part 3 while engaging the issues that were on his mind when he wrote the textbook. In the opinion of this reviewer, Carroll’s survey of various topics in part 3 is thoughtfully written in a way that will appeal to the diverse opinions of students. Indeed, it may stimulate meaningful and thought-provoking conversation in a classroom.

Overall, Carroll has written an informative and interesting textbook. His writing is clear and eloquent, and it especially encourages readers to reflect on the importance of the literary design of the gospels. In contrast to other textbooks about the gospels that focus heavily on historical background and central themes, Carroll provides the reader an analytical survey that exemplifies how modern biblical scholars investigate the gospels.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Shisley is Adjunct Professor of Religion at Cal Lutheran University.

Date of Review: 
January 8, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John T. Carroll is the Harriet Robertson Fitts Memorial Professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He is also the coeditor of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology and the cochair of the Gospel of Luke section for the Society of Biblical Literature. Carroll is the author or editor of numerous works, including Luke: A Commentary in the esteemed New Testament Library series, for which he also serves on the editorial board.

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