Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review: Jesus the Messiah

Title: Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ
Author: Robert H. Stein
Hardcover: 290 pages
Publisher: IVP Academic (October 30, 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0830818847
ISBN-13: 978-0830818846

Each of us has our own sets of presupposition. A presupposition is a thing that is tacitly assumed to be true beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or a course of examination. And according to Stein, “..where one starts one’s investigation determines the results one will obtain… [and] before anyone ever investigates the miraculous accounts associated with Jesus’ life, he or she has predetermined certain outcomes.” (Ref: Stein, Robert H. Chapter 1. Jesus the Messiah: a Survey of the Life of Christ. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1996)

Our presupposition influences our worldview, which in turn, influences the outcomes of any of our investigations. For example, David Hume, the English philosopher, used the following syllogism to eliminate the possibility of miracles:

A miracle is a violation of the “laws of nature.”
The “laws of nature” are inviolable.
Therefore, miracles could not be possible.

In the book, Jesus The Messiah, Stein adopted the orientation of looking at the life of Jesus through the lens of a Christian worldview. He assumes the presence of the supernatural and the possibility of the miraculous. It assumes that the Gospel accounts are reliable and are presumably truthful unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be otherwise.

This noetic orientation that the author adopts differs from the historical-critical method of looking at the life of Jesus.

Historical-Critical Method In contrast, the historical-critical method is about reconstructing the historical context of a text and then to determine the author's intended meaning from within those parameters. This method is not only historical but also critical.

The biblical texts are not to be considered as divinely inspired. As a result, according to this method, as with all other texts, the truth claims made by a biblical text are open to refutation. In other words, the biblical texts are to have no a priori standing. Unfortunately, such an approach to studying the life of Jesus is not possible, because the historian will still be influenced by his or her view on the historical possibility of the events surrounding the life of Jesus.

General Organization of the Book This book is divided into two parts. The first part, “Key Issues In Studying the Life of Christ” contains three chapters and it deals with the general approach that the author adopts in writing this book. He exposes the presuppositions that all of us have when we approach this subject of the life of Christ. He touches on the various sources (Christian, non-Christian, Jewish, pagan sources, etc) that are available to us to aid us in this endeavor.

The second part of this book deals with the various aspects of Jesus’ life – almost chronologically: chapter 4 deals with His virginal conception, chapter 5 regarding His boyhood, chapter 6 is about His baptism, chapter 7 on the temptation that He faced, chapter 8 is about the call of His disciples, chapter 9 on His messages, chapter 10 is about the Person of Jesus and His understanding of Himself and His mission, chapter 11 is about the confession of Jesus, chapter 12 is about the transfiguration, chapter 13 the events of Palm Sunday, chapter 14 the cleansing of the temple, chapter 15 is about the Last Supper, chapter 16 is about the events at the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal and arrest, chapter 17 the trial, chapter 18 the crucifixion, chapter 19 is about the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

In summary, although an academic book, I find that this book is written in an easy-to-understand format with much clarity and comprehensive.

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