Book review: Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith

by J. R. Porter


I have no idea how this book slipped through the cracks. I never heard of it until one day it appeared on the discount rack at Borders. With lots of colorful pictures and insightful sidebars, does it not look scholarly enough? Would that explain its obscurity?

This is more than a beautiful book; it’s carefully researched and fun to read. Oh, that’s another sin, isn’t it? Scholarly books are supposed to be boring, reserved for the studious.

Here’s the deal: If you’ve ever wondered about all the hoopla surrounding the Historical Jesus, this is a highly recommended first book, taking you deep into the world of first-century Palestine. It’s respectful but not evangelical; the typical Christian will find it enlightening while the fundamentalist may not. In a simple example, Matthew and Luke provide long genealogies of Christ, that unfortunately contradict one another. Porter points out that such genealogical compilations were common, and were for political or religious reasons, never intended as a straightforward historical record. They are, in the biblical instance, artificial constructions with a theological aim, needing no harmonizing, and the contradiction between the two should not disturb Christians.

Let’s take another example. When Porter discusses the Massacre of the Innocents (King Herod’s slaughter of children when Jesus was born), he discusses how the story in Matthew is woven from various biblical themes, probably influenced by Jewish embellishments of the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. Many scholars hold the view that Matthew has manufactured the entire story. But Porter doesn’t downplay the possibility that such a massacre did occur at the hands of Herod; it may be authentic, its victims simply not numerous enough to draw the attention of contemporary historians. Such brutal acts were not unheard of for the time.

This constant determination to present all sides of a discussion—in particular, his portrayal of both the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith—is not being wishy-washy. It’s merely good scholarship, and it makes you think.

Beautiful, quite readable, highly recommended.



  1. Book review: Christianity, How a Tiny Sect From a Despised Religion Came to Dominate the Roman Empire | The Dubious Disciple - [...] down. I’m reminded of another book I enjoyed: J.R. Porter’s treatment of the historical Jesus, Jesus Christ: The Jesus …

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