Jesus the Messiah: An Illustrated Life of Christ
Donald Guthrie. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972. 386 pages.
According to the preface, this volume is a “personal testimony” (witnessed to by the very title), an account of Jesus from the perspective of faith. It is essentially an exposition of passages in the Gospels, proceeds chronologically and is divided into two sections: “Part One: From Bethlehem to Caesarea Philippi” and “Part Two: Toward Jerusalem.” The guiding principle behind this division is insufficiently explained.
The reviewer has ambivalent feelings about this latest work from Guthrie’s pen. His New Testament Introduction ranks high in the order of recent evangelical contributions to that field, but the present volume has some serious deficiencies. His self-announced commitment is commendable, but there are problems when a treatment from a faith perspective does less than justice to the historical perspective. Guthrie’s approach is basically a harmonistic one; this results in an artificial telescoping and fusing of the four Gospels in ways probably never intended by the original writers.
Amazingly, there is absolutely no documentation of secondary sources of any kind, not even a list of sources. One would expect some substantiation for such sweeping statements as the one found on page 8: “Pagan parallels of divine births contain no resemblance to it” (the virgin birth). There is considerable personal conjecture (e.g., as to the disciples’ reluctance to accompany Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, p. 155), where attestation would seem requisite.
The tone is a refreshingly mild one, without the constant attempts caustically to discredit the work of opposing scholars, which mar some conservative (and liberal) treatments; there are examples of unnecessary defensiveness. There are occasional concessions to the results of critical research: (1) Guthrie admits that almah could mean “a young woman” (p. 15); (2) Matthew applies Hosea 11:1 quite differently from Hosea’s original meaning (p. 30); (3) The teaching in the Sermon on the Mount stems from various occasions (pp. 82-83).
The style is lucid and eminently readable; for the most part, the photographs are clear and of excellent quality and fit the accompanying text. One wonders, however, whether the 48 photographs warrant the subtitle “An Illustrated Life of Christ” (italics mine.)