Take & read: New Testament

Recent books that are shaping discussions in New Testament studies

Quests for the historical Jesus no longer dominate New Testament scholarship the way they once did, but studies continue to explore the relationship between the Gospels and history.

Craig S. Keener sets forth a comprehensive argument for the broad historical reliability of the canonical Gospels in Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Eerdmans). Keener’s primary claim is that we should evaluate the Gospels according to the standards and expectations of their genre, that of ancient biography. While early Roman biographies drew upon a variety of rhetorical and literary techniques to elicit aesthetic enjoyment on the part of the reader, most ancient biographers wrote their works in order to pass on historical information. Given that the Gospels were written within the living memory of Jesus, readers should approach them with the expectation that they intend to preserve Jesus’ teachings and life events.

Keener’s argument may strike some as conservative, but his close analysis of the synoptic Gospels and his detailed attention to the practices of ancient biographers shows that the Gospels demonstrate the same flexibility ancient biographers freely utilized—to expand, abridge, paraphrase, and adorn the story of Jesus with beauty and vividness. Extreme skepticism,  toward the historical value of the Gospels is unwarranted.