Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: The Face of Jesus and Other Sermons

Title: The Face of Jesus and Other Sermons

Author: Oliver B. Greene

Date: 1966

Publisher: Gospel Hour

ISBN: none

Length: 147 pages

Quote: “How was Christ different from other men? 1. He was different in His birth...”

This book consists of three sermons preached on the “Gospel Hour” broadcast in the 1960s. All focus on the New Testament record of Jesus as Christ, which was not a family name in his day, but a title meaning “the Anointed.”

If you went to a church-sponsored college where “Fundamentals of the Christian Faith” was a mandatory freshman course, this book will be a review. If you missed that educational opportunity, The Face of Jesus can be regarded as a make-up text. Here is the orthodox Christian understanding of who Jesus was and what it means to call Him Christ. Greene walks readers through the biblical accounts of His birth, life, work, death, and most of all His resurrection.

There might not seem to some readers to be much room for debate about the points Greene makes in this book, although debate has raged at times. He discusses Old Testament prophecies thought to foretell a spiritual Messiah. This is always a controversial field of Bible study. “Messiah,” like “Christ,” means “anointed.” In  biblical days literal “anointing” rituals were performed for many people called to several different positions. All kings, all priests, some prophets, and also brides and bridegrooms and guests of honor at feasts, had had oil rubbed on their heads. There is therefore room for disagreement about which prophecies foretold an ordinary mortal who would do something, and which foretold that “the” Messiah would do it.

But we don’t expect writers or preachers like Greene to get into this kind of argument, and Greene doesn’t. He simply explains the received interpretation of these texts as if there were not and had never been any other.

In Greene’s day all American Christians had grown up reading King James’ Authorized Version of the Bible, and, although this had probably helped to develop an ear for good English prose style, it had also forced them to notice that English word usage has changed a good deal since King James’ day. Some people actually believed that, if some KJV phrasing didn’t make much sense, that was because it was divinely inspired...Greene quotes a phrase that catches the ear nowadays, “a corn of wheat.” To U.S. readers “corn” is one species of grain and “wheat” is a different species, so perhaps “a corn of wheat” had some special mystical meaning? It was of course one of a few simple archaisms found in the KJV. Before English-speaking people became familiar with “Indian Corn” (maize), they were using “corn” as a variant form of “grain.” (Another memorable phrase in the KJV is “the voice of the turtle,” which, since turtles are quiet animals, King James’ contemporaries thought anyone would understand had to refer to the bird usually called “turtledove.”) I used to own what must have been one of the last reprints of a tract that quoted a text where “they ground corn and made bread” to argue that cornbread was a special treat in Ancient Israel...Greene repeats “a corn of wheat” without explanation, because debating what this phrase meant with less educated readers was not his purpose. The biblical “corn of wheat” in John 12:24 was the seed that sprouts and produces many more grains. Jesus foretold that His martyrdom and resurrection would produce resurrected saints.

Christians who object to this treatment of the gospel are few; The Face of Jesus is a nice little book for almost any Christian.

It's not become terribly expensive yet, so the usual price system applies: $5 per copy, $5 per package (at least five more books of this size would fit into one package), plus $1 per online payment, to the appropriate address at the very bottom of the screen.