When scandals hit the media today they are covered on television, newspapers and social media. These scandals are covered by a twenty-four hour media that loves to feast on every detail of the story until there are no more details to digest from the story. In his book The Jesus Scandals Why He Shocked His Contemporaries (And Still Shocks Today) Dr. David Instone-Brewer argues that not all scandals are bad in fact “scandals are our best guarantee of historical truth in the Gospels” (11).
Jesus was accused of being a bastard, blaspheming, abusing alcohol, partying with prostitutes, and working for Satan—in other words, scandal followed him. And a huge part of his teaching and ministry tackled head-on the scandals that pervaded society and would therefore have been regarded as scandalous by his audience. Scandals are the inconvenient truths which the Gospels could not omit without being dismissed as fiction by their first readers. “If there had been no scandals, the Gospel writers wouldn’t have invented them—why create potential reasons for people to dismiss Jesus? And if there were scandals, the original readers would remember, so the Gospel writers had to mention them and make a reply” (11).
These scandals supply inadvertent confirmation for Christian claims. The fact that Jesus was charged with blasphemy indicates that he did claim divinity. The fact that he was stigmatized as illegitimate gives some credence to the stories of miraculous birth- though skeptics would say it was a reason for invention such stories. The fact that he spent time with prostitutes and gangsters indicated that he really did teach that anyone could have their life transformed. And the fact that he was charged with doing miracles by Satan’s power demonstrates that even his enemies believed his miracles were real.
Some may think that this approach to looking at the Gospels through the lens of “scandal” may mean this author is questioning the Bible rather than seeking to faithfully explain it. The author’s personal “presuppositions are that Jesus is who he claimed to be in the gospels, and that these accounts represent what actually happened. But, of course, many people, including some of my academic colleagues, have different conclusions, so I often I address more skeptical viewpoints” (9).
To understand Jesus we have to know something about the Jews of Jesus time. To better understand the Gospel it helps a great deal if we learn about the mindset a first-century Jew or Gentile—the people for whom they were written. The author contends that when we read the Gospel through the eyes of “someone form these cultures, they appear very different—problems in understand he text are often solved and unexpected details take us unawares” (9).
Part one focuses on the scandals in Jesus’ Life focusing on exposing temple scams, bad table manners, and more. In part two Scandals among Jesus’ Friends, the author looks at Jesus interaction with prostitutes, the unchosen, and more. In the final section of the book the author explores Scandals in Jesus’ teaching by focusing on Jesus’ teaching on divorce, hypocrisy, marital abuse, oaths and curses, bitterness and more.
While not everyone will agree with everything Dr. Instone-Brewer has written in The Jesus Scandals I believe that his proposal for reading the Gospels through the lens of its first century readers is helpful in order to understand what Jesus’ contemporaries really thought about Him and His teaching. Faithful to the biblical text, Jesus Scandals is a carefully researched book that can be read as a whole or as stand-alone chapters. This book can be used by preachers and teachers as they study and preach or teach through the Gospels, or by serious Bible students studying the Gospels. I recommend this book but encourage you to read and study it with an open Bible.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Dave Jenkins is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, and a researcher for Docent Research Group. He enjoys biblical, systematic and historical theology and apologetics. More of his writing can be found at http://servantsofgrace.org.