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Hearing the voice of Jesus

28 March 2013

The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the sayings of our Lord
Phyllis Tickle
SPCK £12.99
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MANY Church Times readers will be familiar with red-letter Bibles, where the words spoken by Jesus are printed in red, while the rest of the text is black. Phyllis Tickle has taken this idea further. She has removed everything from the Gospels and the first chapter of Acts except Jesus's spoken words, which she has arranged in five sections: public teaching, private teaching, healing dialogue, intimate conversation, and post-resurrection encounters.

I found that reading the material in this way highlighted things that I miss when I read Jesus's words in the context of the Gospel narratives. Words with which I was less familiar stood out in a new way. Other things struck me, too: for instance, how few words are connected with Jesus's healings, where his actions convey his message in a way that needs no further explanation.

I found Tickle's reflections on her work fascinating and helpful. She explains how her project started and grew, and the effects it has had on her thinking. Interestingly, it all began with a colleague's question, to which she originally answered in the negative. Over coffee, she was asked: "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?" Her first response, as she tells it in the book, was "No, I had never wondered such a thing. It would never have occurred to me that such a thing could even be done."

And yet she took on the challenge. I would like to encourage others to join her in that by reading this book, which the editor of this newspaper chose as his contribution to a round-up in The Times of books that faith leaders, writers, and thinkers had found most spiritually uplifting last year (The Times, 15 December 2012). 

Sarah Hillman
Priest-in-Charge of St Mary the Virgin, Puddletown, Dorchester

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