The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre is an excellent introductory-intermediate text for budding apologists. It’s primary focus is on whether Jesus claimed to be/is God. 5/5 stars.
The task begins by addressing the nature of the canonical gospels, the primary sources for the life of Jesus. Chapters 2-4 argue that the canonical gospels were not anonymous, as is so often claimed, but were truly written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. No anonymous copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John have ever been found and the manuscripts never disagree over which name goes with which gospel. This contrasts with Hebrews, a truly anonymous book, where we see differences of name in the title of manuscripts and debates over authorship among the church fathers. Christian communities would need titles on the manuscripts to tell different gospels apart and so it is inherently likely that they would contain identifying information. The external evidence, which includes church fathers, heretics, and enemies of the church, is unanimous in accepting the traditional authorship of the gospels. Chapter 5 briefly looks at apocryphal gospels and how the church fathers had no problem condemning them as spurious. If the canonical gospels were suspect we would expect the church fathers to have no problem condemning them as well. These chapters provide a solid, if brief, overview of why mainstream scholarship is too quick to proclaim the gospels to be anonymous.
Chapter 6 quickly covers why most scholars consider the gospels to be ancient biographies. Of particular note is that we should not expect the gospels to be verbatim transcripts.
Chapter 7 examines the dating of the gospels. Even if the gospels were all written after 70 that would still be within living memory of the disciples. We must keep in mind that the disciples would have rehearsed the gospel throughout the intervening years and so would not be retrieving long dormant memories when they wrote the gospels. But Pitre argues that the gospels may have been written decades earlier than is commonly thought. His main arguments are that the gospels do not mention destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 and that Acts ends while Paul is still alive. If Luke used Matthew and Mark as sources then the Synoptic Gospels are likely to date to the 60s or earlier. This chapter touches on two main issues (the destruction of the temple and the ending of Acts) related to dating but may be too short to be convincing to those with informed opposing viewpoints.
Chapter 8 examines the messianic prophecies found in Daniel 2, 7, and 9. These prophecies speak of a kingdom of God, a Son of Man, and provide a time frame when the expected messiah should arrive. Daniel 2 and 7 also depict a heavenly messiah ruling a heavenly kingdom. When Jesus alludes to these prophecies he is indicating he is their fulfillment. This chapter is an excellent example of how knowing the Old Testament background can allow for a fuller understanding the New Testament.
Chapter 9 argues that, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is depicted as divine. He did not walk around saying, “I am God”, however. Pitre shows how Jesus points to his divinity in the stories about the calming of the storm, walking on water, and the transfiguration. Chapter 10 explains that Jesus would intentionally keep his messianic and divine identities relatively secret until the climax of his ministry. The author provides further examples of Jesus pointing to his divine identity in the stories of the the healing of the paralytic, the riddle about David and the Messiah, and the meeting with the rich young man.
Chapter 11 notes that, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was crucified after being charged with blasphemy. This charge is only mysterious to those who fail to properly interpret the stories covered in the previous couple chapters. A credible historical reconstruction of Jesus must explain why the rulers/leaders would want him executed and many reconstructions (e.g., Jesus was just a moral teacher) do not provide such an explanation.
Chapter 12 discusses the resurrection. It starts by explaining that the resurrection body is a transformed body raised to eternal life. Pitre states that the disciples believed the resurrection occurred because of the empty tomb, the appearances of the risen Jesus, and because it was the fulfillment of prophecy (the sign of Jonah). On this third point the author argues that Jonah was actually dead while in the fish/whale (Jonah 2:6) and was resuscitated by God when he was vomited onto the beach. He also notes that the Ninevites (Gentiles) repented at Jonah’s preaching. So the parallels between Jesus and Jonah do not concern just the three days and three nights; it includes death and resuscitation/resurrection as well as the repentance of the Gentiles (for the Gentiles accepted the gospel more readily than the Jews).
Chapter 13 asks the reader to consider for himself who Jesus really is/was.