Book Plunge: Christobiography

What do I think of Craig Keener’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Remember decades ago when there was a much talked about book called “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask?” Now Craig Keener has published Christobiography and it could just as well be, “Everything You Wanted To Know About The Gospels As Greco-Roman Biographies But Couldn’t Even Think To Ask.” It’s hard to imagine a more thorough treatment and yet Keener somehow did it in only 500 or so pages of content. (If you think saying only 500 is something, keep in mind his Acts commentary has four volumes of around 1,000 pages each, his commentary on John is 1,600 pages, and his two-volume Miracles is over 1,100 pages.

So what do we have in this book? We have an expounding on the work of people like Burridge and Licona and Aune and others. It is a look at what is meant by the Gospels being Greco-Roman biographies. Too often, it is thought that if they are biographies, they should read like modern biographies, which just doesn’t work. The past is a funny place after all. They do things differently there.

Reviewing a book like this is so hard because there’s just so much. At the start, Keener looks at what these biographies are and then gives a case as to why the Gospels are these kinds of biographies. He looks at other considerations like novels and other fictional writings to show that the Gospels are quite different from those kinds of works.

After looking at some biographies from the ancient world and what kinds of biographies there were, he looks at what ancient audiences would have expected from a biography. If you turn on the TV to watch a sitcom, you expect an entertaining show but nothing that will be a real drama or that gives a historical account. If the ancients thought the Gospels were Greco-Roman biographies then, what did they expect?

How did biographies approach historical information and what was expected of a history in the ancient world? Keener looks at this. Were they expected to give intricately detailed accounts? How were they to be written? How did one do the research when writing a history? Also, what sources are used? This is relevant since so many people say the Gospels didn’t cite their sources. Keener deals with this kind of objection.

He also looks at what was allowed when writing these kinds of works and how flexible one could be. In one part, he looks at three different lives of Otho to show how there were differences and similarities on key points. Then he looks at what kinds of flexibilities could be allowed in the Gospels.

There are objections that can be had? What about miracles and what about John? Keener has written profusely on both of these so he doesn’t give much here and encourages looking elsewhere, but the information here is still quite good.

Then we get to sections on memory and eyewitness testimony. This is a favorite of many skeptics, but Keener makes a good case for the reliability of eyewitness testimony and why we should trust not just memory but especially community memory. He has much to say about oral tradition as well. These sections I found incredibly helpful.

As you might have guessed, this is just being a brief summary. Why? Because there is so much in this book that anyone who wants to take the Gospels seriously needs to read it for themselves. Nothing I say can do a volume like this justice. Go get it today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters