Book Notice: The Gospels as Stories

Jeannine K. Brown. The Gospels as Stories: A Narrative Approach to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. 224 pages. $21.99 (paperback).

In The Gospels as Stories, Jeannine Brown, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN, explains the contours of narrative criticism and how it can be profitably applied to our reading of the Gospels. Brown defines narrative criticism in broad terms with particular attention “to the literary and storied qualities of a biblical narrative” (11). The Gospels, in other words, should be read according to their narrative genre.

The volume begins with an introduction to the history of interpretation and the “narrative turn” towards engaging the Gospels as stories and not simply as historical artifacts. After laying out some of the key elements of narrative criticism (chap. 1), Brown follows with chapters on plotting (chaps 2–3), characterization (chaps. 4–5), intertextuality (chaps. 6–7), and narrative theology (chaps. 8–9). The first chapter in each set gives definitions and examples of the specific topic while the second chapter shows how the concepts can apply to an entire Gospel: plotting in Luke (chap. 3), characterization of the disciples in Matthew (chap. 5), intertextuality in John (chap. 7), and the theology of God in Mark (chap. 9). The volume concludes with an overview of the power of reading the Gospels as stories. Interested readers will also find various helps in the end matter such as additional resources for research, a glossary of narrative critical terms, and indices.

Overall, Brown’s treatment of the issues is easy to read and serves as an excellent introduction to the topic. In fact, the volume functions as both an introduction and an apologetic for the discipline itself. Once the reader begins to engage with the ideas, the narrative reading becomes more apparent by way of introduction. At the same time, Brown’s examples demonstrate the power of reading the Gospels as narratives. From the beginning of the book to the end, Brown uses examples from well-known literature (e.g., The Princess and the Pea, Romeo and Juliet) to give contemporary audiences parallels to her biblical examples. Readers will want to have a notepad nearby to record Brown’s sprinkling in of ideas for further research. These inspiring moments are especially apparent in chapters on the Gospels themselves. Specific examples include her plot and theme analysis of Luke 4:14–9:50 (p. 53) and her analysis of Peter among the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew (p. 89). While not everyone will be convinced of a purely narrative reading, Brown’s version is considerate of other methodologies and seeks to combine the best conclusions from form, source, and redaction criticism. The book will be helpful for those seeking an accessible guide to narrative criticism and theology.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Charles Nathan Ridlehoover, Ph.D., a secondary teacher at North Raleigh Christian Academy, Raleigh, NC, and New Testament instructor at Columbia Biblical Seminary, Columbia, SC.


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