Book Review: The Bible Jesus Read

The Bible Jesus Read, by Philip Yancey

This book’s title is a bit of a tease, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Those who are interested in the complex relationship of early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism [1] will know that the Bible Jesus read was the Hebrew Tanakh.  However, this book is far about the author’s thoughts on the Old Testament than about the relationship between the early Church and the Hebrew scriptures.  Fortunately for the reader, the author’s thoughts on the Old Testament are generally very thoughtful and he has a good perspective and he discusses his own personal background to good effect and shows how he overcome initial misunderstanding and prejudice against certain parts of the Hebrew Bible and came to appreciate its worth.  All of this is well and good, but it makes the book feel a bit more like a memoir of a recovering Evangelical than it does a one-volume OT commentary in the vein of R.K. Harrison or Longman or someone else of that kind, which is what many readers would likely expect from the book’s title.  So, readers of this book should be aware from the start that this book is a good book, but probably not the good book that they will expect from its misleading title.

The book is organized straightforwardly with a frame structure that introduces the author’s rather mercenarial reason for having paid attention to the Old Testament in the first place, closes with a thoughtful discussion on his view of the relational focus of the Old Testament and the reasons for the incarnation in the closing, and in between spends around 200 pages discussing four books and one section of scripture through the lenses of his own personal experience and reading:  Job, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the Prophets.  A lot of what he said resonated with me, like his comments on Job’s covenant lawsuit and his stern desire to see God, a desire that was granted, or his comments about the prophetic speculation of many people, something I see and decry myself within my own religious context.  Over and over again, Yancey brings the reader to the point of seeing the Bible for what it is rather than attempting to bring our own ideas of what it should be, and he also shows that God can handle our doubts, can handle our frustrations with the wickedness and injustice of the world, can handle our bitter cries of loneliness and despair in the dark nights of our tormented and troubled souls, our rivers of sorrow of the anguish and suffering of this fallen world.

It is pretty clear what sort of audience is likely to appreciate this book and which sort of audience this book is aimed at given the approach the author has to scripture.  As someone who pays close attention to the laws of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy myself [2], the author’s approach towards granting the validity of the Old Testament to contemporary practice struck me as more than a little timid and partial in nature, but to the book’s intended audience it would be revolutionary and perhaps a bit extreme.  The book is written in such a way as to reframe books that have been as troubling or have been ignored because of the way that they are interpreted as being evidence of God’s loving heart for humanity and his willingness to engage in the most difficult aspects of human existence.  It is a book whose concessions to philosophy and genre criticism will likely offend many who consider themselves theological conservatism but whose maximilist approach seeks to appeal to those who would consider themselves more liberal and likely more intellectual as well.  Since the author is popular and well-regarded, it is likely that the effort is at least partly successful in its aims to make the Bible relevant to those who dismiss without really knowing it but who might be persuaded to read it with generous eyes.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: The Bible Jesus Read

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Understanding Scripture | Edge Induced Cohesion

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