Brant PITRE.  The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ.  New York: Image, 2016.  Pp. xii + 242.  $23.00 hb.  ISBN 978-0770435486.  Reviewed by Thomas HEADLEY, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560.


The Case for Jesus seeks to resolve one overarching question: did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God?  Pope Benedict XVI describes the underlying problem: the “impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus” has “penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people” (Jesus of Nazareth I, xii) and has challenged the authenticity of biblical and historical evidence for Jesus.  The question of source authenticity strongly impacted Brant Pitre’s journey of faith and became the catalyst for this book.

Pitre has a PhD from the University of Notre Dame, specializes in ancient Judaism and early Christianity, and teaches at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.  His argumentation is logical and well-supported by biblical and historical sources that range from the Church Fathers to the present.  He is meticulous in examining the issues, and makes a convincing case that the Gospels are reliable and trustworthy historical sources.
Pitre argues several points:  first, the Gospel narratives developed either from eyewitness accounts from Matthew and John, or from close associates to eyewitnesses, Mark and Luke.  Second, the Gospels were an ancient form of biography, not merely “word-of-mouth” folklore.  Because each Gospel focuses on a single person, is roughly 10 – 20 thousand words in length, frequently begins with a statement of genealogy, and is not necessarily exhaustive in detail, the genre is biography.  Third, the Gospels were written earlier than commonly accepted scholarship suggests.  He examines external evidence dating the synoptic gospels to after AD 70, complications with the synoptic problem, and the ending date for the writing of Acts.  Fourth, the Gospels grew out of a disciplined process that began already during the life of Jesus.

With a strong case to support the reliability and trustworthiness of the sources, the author turns to whether Jesus himself thought he was God.  In twentieth century biblical scholarship, John’s Gospel is thought to directly assert the divinity of Jesus whereas the Synoptic Gospels are thought to be less convincing.  Pitre, however, examines the Synoptic narratives through a Jewish lens and finds evidence that Jesus is presented in them as divine.  He looks, for example, at Jesus’ calming of the storm at sea (Mk 4:35-31), seeing this as proof that Jesus is acting in the person of the Lord, whom the Old Testament describes as the “one who controls the wind and the sea” (Psalm 107: 23-30).  He also cites Mark 6:45-51 where Jesus walks on the water and then calms the disciples’ fears by saying “Take heart, I am; do not be afraid.”  The use of “I am” in the narrative refers to the divine name for God (Exodus 3: 13-15).  Pointing to these and other such passages, Pitre contends that even the Synoptic Gospel writers view Jesus as God.

Pitre’s background as a teacher and scholar are apparent in this conscientious and logically constructed book.  He is well aware that many of his positions challenge mainstream   academic ideas, and he deals with the complexities and contrary arguments in the book, especially in the notes.  At the same time he is skilled in using metaphor, simile, and analogy to describe and explain, using accessible language to bring passion, focus, and clarity to his writing.  Pitre engages faith and reason at a high level while his style remains personable and genuine; transitions are smooth, he regularly sums up his argument, and the endnotes are extensive and helpful.  One minor drawback is the omission of a bibliography and a topical index.  I highly recommend this book.  It will be useful for many readers:  theologians, laity, clergy, scholars, homilists, catechists, and leaders of Bible studies.