The first book in my theological library came from my grandmother. It was Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance for the King James version of the Bible. I remember that it was about 3 inches thick and had a light green and white cover.
It was just magic because I could find every occurrence of any word and trace it throughout the Bible. In the years before computers, that one book opened a whole new world of Bible study for me.
Later, I came across Nave’s Topical Bible and the notes for the Thompson Chain Reference Bible. These works organized not only Bible words, but thoughts and large topics like holiness, Son of Man, omnipotence, miracles, etc. It was not systematic theology, but systematic organizing. Again, that was helpful. In recent years, other reference works have emerged in response to the niche marketing and the increasing facility of computer programs to dissect the content of the Bible by all sorts of filters. But all of these have followed basically the same pattern and I haven’t been tempted to add a new one to my library for years…until now.
Steven K. Scott’s new book is The Greatest Words Ever Spoken (Waterbrook, 2008). The subtitle sums up the content: everything Jesus said about you, your life and everything else. In essence, this is a topical concordance that is limited to only the words of Jesus. Scott has worked through the gospels to reveal and categorize every phrase, parable, promise, response and conversation of Jesus.
What motivated him to embrace such a task? “If Jesus is who He claimed to be, then everything he said must be absolutely true….Think of the implications. First, if Jesus’ words are absolute truth, they are the standard by which all other purported truths must be measured. Second, everything Jesus said about you, your life, and your circumstances is true. His words describe your life and reveal your immediate and long-term future….you need to learn everything Jesus said about you.” (p. 2) Ultimately, Scott wants the readers to move from examining the promises and claims of Jesus to knowing Jesus Himself as Savior, Lord and center point of life.
The book is organized around nine large categories: the greatest words ever spoken about Jesus (what Jesus said about himself), about God the Father, about the Holy Spirit, about eternity, to Jesus’ followers, about humanity, about God reaching out to us, about how to know God, and about personal relationships. Each category is subdivided into topical units (200+ in all) that make it very easy to locate Jesus’ words about a particular topic. For instance, under humanity, Scott identifies topics as diverse as accountability before God, a broken heart, spiritual eyesight, flattery, hypocrisy, lust, the poor, taxes and government, and the worth of an individual.
While a task like this can be very subjective, Scott does an admirable job of allowing the texts to define themselves. In other words, it does not appear that he applies a predetermined interpretive filter. The placement in the categories largely honors the context in the larger Scriptural passage from which they are drawn. There is no additional commentary—just the Scripture passages themselves. There may be a few spots to quibble over, but not enough to discount the larger value of the book.
In spite of where I started with this review, it’s important to realize that this is much more a devotional and discipleship resource than a reference tool. And it is an important one. The call of a disciple is to increasingly imitate Jesus in thought, actions, attitude and character. That requires that we fill our minds and hearts with Jesus — his thoughts, teachings, attitudes and more.
Now here’s where Greatest Words is most helpful. The default for me (and I suspect many other Christians) is more often Paul than Jesus. This is not to set up a false dichotomy between the two or to deny the full inspiration of Paul’s writings. It’s just that the logical construction of Paul’s writings seems to capture our minds more readily than the stories, observations, replies and tough sayings of Jesus. That can make us more like Christian Paulinists rather than Pauline Christians.
But we need to know Jesus’ heart in deep and profound ways in order to follow Jesus—and be shaped like Him. This book helps with that essential part of our calling as disciples. Read it straight through. Read it one pressing topic at a time. Memorize a series of verses from the gospel related to a particularly difficult life challenge. Soak your mind and heart in The Greatest Words Ever Spoken – and be changed.
(I was provided a review copy of this book)