A Review of Andreas J. Kostenberger, The Jesus of the Gospels: An Introduction, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020, hdbk, 462 pages.
This book is designed as a mid-level introduction to Jesus as He is depicted in each of the Four Gospels. The author is a well-respected New Testament scholar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His books cover a range of topics and usually make important contributions.
It is easy to see that Kostenberger knows his subject. Although this book is not intended to chart any new territory, what it succeeds in doing is furnishing the reader with an informative up-to-date companion to evangelical thought on the Gospel portraits of Jesus, replete with the insertion of many facts about the differences in the presentation of material (especially synoptic material) in the Evangelists. Kostenberger writes in what I might call a conversational tone, adding personal reflections and anecdotes here and there to root many of his applications.
Each Gospel is given between approximately 100 to 120 pages, although the Gospel of John, which Kostenberger knows best, has less space allotted to it, no doubt because the author is able to condense his thoughts more readily. There is a really good 13 page beginning chapter (after a brief Introduction) entitled “Situating This Book in the History of Jesus Research,” in which he deftly covers the scholarship on the Gospels from Schweitzer to the present. This kind of material can get a tad boring (let’s face it) and Kostenberger is to be commended for the way he covers the bases with such finesse. In only one place would I demur, and that is where the author claims that the titles of the Gospels were not original, but were rather added very early. Although impossible to prove, to me it is unconceivable that these four books could have started their lives without the identification of the inspired author affixed to them; for among other things, how then can one explain the universal acceptance of their derivation?
I will not expound the way Kostenberger surveys each Gospel. He avoids a dry recitation of the details be his adopted style and his eye for application. While it is true that applications may “age” a book, or imperil the objectivity needed of a textbook, Kostenberger is master of these twin potentialities and skillfully weaves the more personalized sentences into the main arguments. A good example of this is where he notices that after they had rightly cited the appropriate passage to Herod about where Messiah would be born, the chief priests and scribes never actually ventured there themselves!
There were places where I had to disagree with the author. These were mainly in the area of eschatology, where I questioned several times his view of the kingdom and elements associated with it. Kostenberger is too quick to dismiss a this-worldly Israelite kingdom as envisaged in the Old Testament and anticipated by the Jewish people. I did not like his interpretation of Jesus’ transfiguration as incorporating “apocalyptic language” as per the Book of Revelation. The disciples saw what they saw. Additionally, I should have liked more discussion of the Lawsuit motif in John’s Gospel, where John’s skillful narrative presents to his reader an indictment against those who judged Jesus so unlawfully.
The Jesus of the Gospels is a very useful book, and would be eminently suitable for introductory courses on the four portraits of Jesus, although for me it would need to be supplemented by a better treatment of eschatology.
I cannot end this brief review without congratulating Kregel on their inclusion of Scripture, Subject, and Name indexes at the back of the book. Some of my readers may know that I have had a bone to pick with the publisher about this issue in the past.