Dr. Brant Pitre does not hide what his new book “The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ”; Image Books, 2016 is about.
The first line of page one gives us the details, “This book is about one big question: Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God (pg. 1)?” Pitre does a good job following through on this claim, and by the end of the book, a reader should have the evidence to conclude that yes, Jesus did claim to be God and be able to defend this point.
Pitre, who teaches biblical Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, has written several other books recently on similar topics, including “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist” and “Jesus and the Last Supper.” “The Case for Jesus,” however, is a different type of book.
As Bishop Robert Barron says in the afterword, “Any prospective teacher, catechist or evangelist who wants to deepen his or her knowledge of and passion for the Lord Jesus should read this book – and use it (p. 202).”
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His style of writing, not getting bogged down in the scholarly details, allows this to be a book that should be read by all. This does not mean it is not a heavily researched or scholarly work. It is meant as an introductory piece, and Pitre does an excellent job in the end notes to provide a number of scholarly works if readers want to continue on a specific subject or research more in depth.
“The Case for Jesus” came about by a conversation that Pitre had with Bishop Barron years earlier, in which they lamented the fact that nobody had written a book refuting the “Telephone game” explanation of why we cannot trust the Gospels.
This theory, most famously posited by Bart Ehrman, the main scholar Pitre criticizes, especially in the end notes, states we cannot trust the Gospels to tell us about Jesus because, like the telephone game, the Gospels were written down after being passed through multiple sources, and are therefore greatly distorted.
With Pitre’s main question in mind, as well as looking to refute the “telephone game” theory, we come to the basic breakdown of his book. It is split into two roughly equal sections. The first section looks at the Gospels, and breaks down how reliable they may or may not be. This includes answers to questions such as, were the original Gospels anonymous, who wrote the Gospels, when were they originally written, and what literature genre are they?
These questions all have their separate chapters where Pitre looks at the question, looks at what modern skeptical scholars say, and at the evidence itself. He does this in a very straightforward, easy to follow manner that builds on the previous chapter.
He does not bury himself with scholarly minutiae, and makes that point clear in different areas. If you want a simple read, you can ignore the end notes. If you want more information on a topic, he provides it in his almost 40 pages of end notes, along with an array of books for further research.
After showing that the Gospels can be considered reliable sources of information, Pitre proceeds to what I am calling the second part of his book. He looks at the evidence found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to show, rather clearly, that Jesus declared himself to be divine. He looks at the Synoptic Gospels because it is clear Jesus speaks and acts as if he were God in the Gospel of John, but there have been recent arguments made over whether he is depicted as God in the first three.
This evidence includes who the Jewish Messiah was supposed to be, some of the miracles Jesus worked, why Jesus did not straight out walk around saying “I am God” and then finally the evidence with the crucifixion and resurrection.
Pitre does an excellent job of showing that, through the lens of the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament), Jesus portrays himself to be divine in all of the Synoptic Gospels.
This was an excellent book. For me, the information he provides in the end notes and the wealth of other works he recommends were an excellent addition. However I have a small background in theology and scriptural studies. While reading this book, I was struck at how accessible it made the arguments to everybody.
I could see my mother would be able to follow along and be able to easily use the evidence he provides. This is where I think this book is most effective, and I completely agree with Bishop Barron’s assessment of Pitre’s “The Case for Jesus.”
(Schrauth is director of the Salzmann Library at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis.)