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Book Review Archive

Book Review

Donald Senior: "Jesus: A Gospel Portrait"

(New York: Paulist Press, 1992, paper)


I was attracted to this book because of Donald Senior’s reputation as a biblical scholar. He was president of the Catholic Theological Union, has authored numerous books and was an editor for The Bible Today and the Catholic Study Bible. (Of course, his lectures are available on You Tube.) I knew the book would include the latest material about the gospel narratives. I am a preacher who appreciates a scholar’s ability to teach in a way that helps me preach the Scriptures. This book certainly fulfilled my expectations. As I was reading I also realized that it would not only be a valuable resource for preachers, but for the general reader with little or no biblical education who wants to learn more about the Jesus we worship and strive to imitate. I highly recommend this book for preachers, catechists and the general, non-professional reader.

Senior starts with a study of what a gospel is and how they came to be. They are not, strictly speaking, biographies of Jesus. Rather, they were written in three stages. First, they found their root in the life history of Jesus. After his death the disciples spread the life and message of Jesus through their preaching and good works. Then, drawing from existing material and organizing it for their own churches, each evangelist wrote his gospel – four evangelists, writing at different times, for their different communities. Thus, Senior’s task: to gather from four unique narratives the portrait of Jesus that emerges.

He first examines how each evangelist describes the world Jesus was born and lived in: the land, politics, religious parties and the social and political unrest around Jesus. At the end of each chapter Senior provides questions for reflection, which make the book useful for classes and bible study groups. He presents the long process, beginning with Jesus’ death, that led up to the written gospels. (Mark was the first gospel written around A.D.70.) The subsequent chapters cover Jesus’ choice of disciples, his teachings, healings and the events that led up to his death. The final chapter picks up where "Jesus left off," by considering how the church developed its teachings about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Despite each Gospel’s own "take" on Jesus, Senior sums up their core message: "Not everything he [Jesus] says can be reduced to a simple theme or guiding idea. But Jesus’ insight into the indiscriminate love of God provides the ultimate key to practically every word the Gospels record" (page 88).

Senior first wrote the book in 1975 and revised it in 1992. In his Forward to the revised edition he says writing the book was a labor of love for him, giving him a "chance to put on paper what I had studied and thought about for several years as a graduate student in Scriptures" (page 1). It wasn’t only a labor of love for Senior, but so it will be for anyone who turns to this book to discover, as Senior notes, "Some hint of the compelling beauty and majestic power of the biblical Jesus." That is the overall message the reader will draw from this book: the Gospels truly are what the name signifies "good news." The clear message we get from Senior's "portrait" is that Jesus is good news personified.

Book Review Archive

Just click on a book title below to read the review.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)

• Mark's Passion Narrative •
• Jesus: A Gospel Portrait •
• How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row •
• Christ and the Spirit: Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages •
• The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church •
• A Joint Review •
• St. Dominic: A Story of a Preaching Friar •
• Moses in Pharaoh's House •
• ...and the Mountains Echoed •
• Behind the Beautiful Forevers •
• Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily •
• The Rhythm of Being... •
• Remi De Roo - Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop •
• Redeeming the Past •
• Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings •
• This Is Our Exile •
• Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in and Age of Globalization •
• True and False Reform In the Church •
• Adult Faith •
• The Mystical Way In Everyday Life •
• Racial Justice and the Catholic Church •
• Let the Great World Spin •
• The Priesthood Of the Faithful •
• Living With Wisdom •
• Where the Pure Water Flows •
• Best Advice For Preaching •
• We Speak the Word Of the Lord •
• Great World Religions: Islam •
• Of Books and Preparation •
• After Sunday: A Theology of Work •
• A Captive Voice: The Liberation of Preaching •
• Written Text Becomes Living Word... •
• Voicing the Vision: Imagination & Prophetic Preaching •
• The Death of Innocents •

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