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The Words of Jesus
A Gospel Of The Sayings Of Our Lord
Reflections by Phyllis Tickle
Publisher:SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge)
Published:08 August 2012
In this intriguing book, Phyllis Tickle has extracted The Words of Jesus from the gospels (and first chapter of Acts) and arranged them into five books to create a new Gospel of the Sayings of our Lord. The five books group Jesus’ words into discrete categories: the words of public teaching; private instruction; healing dialogue; intimate conversation and post-resurrection encounters. The purpose of this endeavour, explored in Tickle’s 50 page introduction, was to respond to a colleague’s question: ‘Did you ever wonder what you would really find if you took out the duplications and triplications and connective tissue of the Gospels and stripped it all down again to just His words?’
Tickle’s monumental achievement may have academic merit but I am not convinced it is good theology. Unlike reading the gospels in parallel, Tickle’s approach runs the risk of reductionism as she combines extracts of four gospels into a single narrative. The point here is that by focusing on what we believe are Jesus’ words (and there is much debate of course about which words are ‘His’) we lose the opportunity to be enlightened by the nuances of difference between the gospels. Moreover, by focusing on what Jesus says, we may lose sight of what he isn’t saying.
All theology is contextual and that was true when Jesus spoke, when the gospel writers wrote, the editors edited, and particularly when we hear the gospel read in church and reflect upon it in our hearts. It is because of this truth, that there is great purpose in the canon as we have inherited it; whilst other ‘gospels’ may entertain or intrigue, it is to the Word of God as understood in Holy Scripture and handed down through countless generations that we must return to for prayer, reflection and inspiration.
Reviewer: David Ford (02/10/12)