Four Portraits, One Jesus
Strauss Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2020. $59.99. Hardcover. 656 pp. ISBN: 978-0-310-52867-8.
The first edition of this superb textbook appeared in 2007. I have used it in my introductory courses on the Gospels since that time and have never regretted that decision. Students regularly laud it, perhaps more than any other book I’ve required in courses over the years. And now a “new and improved” version has emerged, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic. Its main outline and structure remain the same—no point in fixing something that works well. But the enhancements in this second edition increase its value and attractiveness for students. Several separately available products can augment the textbook: a workbook for students, a package of video lectures, and a laminated sheet of essential facts for the Gospels. The author, Mark L. Strauss (PhD, Aberdeen), University Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, has also authored Gospel commentaries, one on Mark and one on Luke.
The text consists of four parts. Part I is an introduction to the study of the four Gospels: what they are, a history of Gospel research, and the use of literary-critical methods for Gospel study. Part II puts the Gospels in their historical, religious, and social and cultural settings. Part III surveys the four gospels themselves in the order that Strauss believes they appeared: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Part IV is entitled “The Historical Jesus” and includes both the question of the “real Jesus” and the Gospels’ historical reliability, as well as a survey of Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection. Here readers will also find sections on Jesus’ message (kingdom, law, greatest command, grace vs. works, social justice, and parables), the question of miracles, and his messianic words and actions.
In comparing this second version with the first, readers will find expanded and updated bibliographies at the end of each chapter or section, updates to various issues or additions of new material where scholarship has advanced, a new section on geography, and more footnotes pointing readers to primary and seminal works on various issues. What remains the same are the beautiful graphics and photographs–many new ones, clear and useful maps, charts, and clear headings. Visually, the book is very appealing, the fonts are clear and readable, and the pages are beautifully produced. It’s a hefty and impressive volume.
Each chapter begins with an overview that alerts the reader to what to expect, followed by the author’s stated objectives–what students can expect to do after mastering its contents. The chapters on the four Gospels concludes with a summary of their theological themes, the narrative purpose of the Gospel, its historical setting (author, setting, occasion), and that Gospel’s significance for readers today. All chapters conclude with a summary of what each has covered, a list of key terms to know, and discussion questions–and bibliographies often divided into more basic and more advanced sources. The book concludes with an extensive glossary of terms used in New Testament studies, especially the Gospels, and then a general index.
As an introductory textbook to the four Gospels and the life and ministry of Jesus, it would be difficult to improve what Dr. Strauss has accomplished. The book’s audience is clearly evangelical, and the author states his presuppositions and view of Scripture clearly at the outset. His conclusions are predictably conservative, but there’s no special pleading to arrive at them. He does not shy away from thorny problems but seeks to assess the evidence fairly, and from all sides. At controversial points where the evidence is not clear-cut, he admits as much, and leaves the matter indeterminate. The book is ideal for those beginning a serious study of the Gospels, whether they are students in an academic setting or church people on their own or in groups. For the latter category, the workbook and videos will be especially useful.
William W. Klein, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament