|Pope Benedict XVI examines and expounds on the four gospels in an effort to help people draw closer to Jesus.
|Pope Benedict XVI
|Print: 415 pages; Audiobook: 13h 52m
|May 16, 2008
The late pope Benedict XVI wrote a trilogy of books focused on Jesus. Needless to say, there is far too much one can say to fit into just one volume. The full title of this one is: Jesus of Nazareth – From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Even though it stays within those lanes, there is still plenty to discuss.
For full disclosure before I get into the review, I am not Catholic. I have a Protestant background, but I also don’t consider myself a Protestant anymore. Nor am I Eastern Orthodox. I’m somewhere in the middle between the three major branches, so that is the angle from which I’m looking at this book.
As this book is primarily focused on the Biblical narrative, there are no content concerns other than those already found in the Bible.
The late pope makes it clear that one of his motives for writing the book is to help the reader listen to Jesus so that we can get to know Him better. The author’s passion for the subject and for our Lord is clear throughout the book. His enthusiasm for the topic is contagious, and it makes the text engaging.
That said, the book is dense. While the wording is simple enough for anyone to understand, there is a lot of information overload unless you give it your full attention. Each chapter of the audiobook is over an hour long. The shortest is chapter 10, at 1:08:54. Unfortunately, it’s poorly formatted. The chapters don’t correspond to the actual chapters in the book.
Throughout the first several chapters, he focuses on the first three Gospels. Starting, as the subtitle indicates, with His baptism. After that, he spends a couple chapters discussing the Sermon on the Mount. I have never heard as in-depth a commentary on the Beatitudes as he gives. It’s basically an entire series of mini-sermons on each point that Jesus makes. Most pastors I’ve listened to will skim over most of them and only expound on one or two points. The author doesn’t shy away from spending time on every one, and I admire that.
Starting in chapter eight, the focus shifts to a deep examination on the Gospel of John. To start, he discusses the historicity of the book, as many scholars throughout history have cast doubt on it. At the same time he establishes the trustworthiness of John, he also tackles the errors of Gnosticism and the Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann.
For everything he talks about, he focuses primarily on what the Biblical text says. Through that, he demonstrates a comprehension of the Bible for which everyone ought to strive. Best of all, there are enough citations to make any Protestant happy.
He often takes jabs at the modern world and culture that want to do away with God and have humanity take His place. All too often, even Christians fall into the trap. The author says that individuals and the church need constant purification. That statement has proven to be true and time-tested, as recent years have demonstrated. Most people tend to think of the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, but the Protestant Church is really no better. With scandals coming to light in the Southern Baptist denomination last year, as well as in 2018 and 2019, it’s time again for purification.
When discussing the Our Father prayer, the pope expounds on each line, just as he did with the Beatitudes. Referring to the first line of the prayer, he makes a strong case for Christians to live out the faith. He says, “To name God as ‘Father’ thus becomes a summons to us to live as a child, as a son or daughter.”
There are also comforts in the Our Father that many don’t often think about. When the author discusses the request for God to forgive our sins, he says, “…and how often we ourselves keep falling into guilt, this petition gives us the great consolation that our prayer is held safe within the power of His love, with which, through which, and in which it can still become a power of healing.”
I really loved his exposition of Jesus’ baptism. He points out the significance of baptism from a spiritual warfare angle, by saying, “His baptism is a descent into the house of the evil one; combat with the Strong Man (cross reference Luke 11:22), who holds men captive. And the truth is that we are all very much captive to powers that anonymously manipulate us.” He goes on to say that the Strong Man is “overcome and bound by One yet stronger who, because of His equality with God, can take upon Himself all the sin of the world.”
There are a couple points where I disagreed. For example, I take a different interpretative approach to Deuteronomy 32, and while his argument makes sense, I remain unconvinced. That said, it’s a non-essential topic and doesn’t damage the integrity of the rest of the book.
There are two bigger issues that I do have, though. The first one is a straight inaccurate sentence. When talking about how to understand the term “Son of Man,” he says that the Book of Enoch (considered canonical only by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) is more recent than the New Testament, and therefore can’t be regarded as one of the New Testament’s sources. That’s not true. The Book of Enoch came first. We know that because Jude 14-15 are quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9.
The second major issue I have comes at the beginning. The book starts with a discussion of the motivations and goals for writing the book. The author then goes on to critique some methods of Biblical interpretation, and he focuses primarily on the historical method. He has some valid criticisms, but overall I believe he doesn’t give it enough credit. It’s not overly surprising, though. The historical method isn’t the most popular among most teachers.
There is still so much more that I could say, but I’ll stop this review here. This book is full of nuggets of wisdom, and it made a very positive impact on me. It’s easy to fall into the motions and to focus on all the peripheral things that come with being a Christian. This work brings the central element of Christianity, Christ Himself, back to the forefront. It’s a brilliant book, and anyone who wants to pursue Christ further would do well to read it.
+ Solid theology
+ Brings Jesus to the forefront of the discussion
- Historical inaccuracy
The Bottom Line
This is one of the best books on Jesus, and every Christian would benefit from reading it.