Book Review – Witness: a fresh look at the New Testament

Have you ever read a book that was better the second time round? Well, that’ what it felt like reading Witness: a fresh look at the New Testament church (Autumn House ® Publishing). Jack J. Blanco picks up the Biblical narrative just before the ascension of Christ in Acts 1 and follows the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire during the time of the apostles. He retells the events St. Luke recorded in the Book of Acts using simple English and little melodrama. 

Witness: Acts through Revelation

Witness: a fresh look at the New Testament Church

Witness was written to help theology students understand the New Testament by placing the events and the letters in chronological order. To this end, he discarded with chapter and verse numbering; instead he concluded each section with Scripture references. Furthermore, he included major Christian doctrines leaving out those portions of Scripture that impeded the flow of the narrative and tended to confuse readers. I did not notice these gaps nor did they offend me because I knew that the work was intended for one’s reading pleasure and clarification. Sometimes too much information bogs you down.

The author intended the book to be a simplified, flowing version of the Bible narrative which I believe he succeeded in creating. The letters Sts. Paul, Peter, John, James and Jude wrote to their respective audiences were placed in chronological order. Jack Blanco vividly describes the shipwreck Sts. Paul and Luke experienced on the shores of the island of Malta (Acts 25,26). Portions from St. Paul’s letters were used to complete the narrative since the Book of Acts does not contain all the details of St. Paul’s imprisonment.

It was with great eagerness that I turned to the final chapters of Witness to see how Jack Blanco would simply the Book of Revelation. I was impressed with how he maintained the use of simple language. I was, however, disappointed by the portions of Scripture he left out in his paraphrasing of Revelation 1. He handled the description of Revelation chapters 10-14, 19-22 well, I think. I noticed that Witness does not include the time prophecies reminding the reader of its purpose to inform.

Overall, it was a good read. Witness answered some questions I had as it placed events and letters in context. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a plain explanation of the New Testament without the possibility of getting sidetracked by or lost in the complexity.

Below you can compare the rendering of 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 by Witness (WIT), The Message (MSG) and the No Greater Love (NGL). All three books are paraphrases of the Bible.

WIT: You need to think of us as servants who have been entrusted with the secret things of God. What is expected of servants? They must be faithful to their master. It doesn’t matter what you think of me or what a human court decides about me. I don’t even make decisions about myself. I let God do that. Even though I don’t know of anything that I’m doing wrong that doesn’t justify me before God. That’s why I leave everything about myself in the Lord’s hands. He’s the One who reads motives and brings everything to light. In time we will each receive praise from God, not from someone else.
NGL: So Appollos and I should be looked upon as Christ’s servants who distribute God’s blessings by explaining God’s secrets. Now the most important thing about a servant is that he does just what his master tells him to. What about me? Have I been a good servant? Well, I don’t worry over what you think about this, or what anyone else thinks. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but even that isn’t final proof. It is the Lord Himself who must examine me and decide. So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether someone is a good servant or not. When the Lord comes, he will turn on the light so that everyone can see exactly what each one of us is really like, deep down in our hearts. Then everyone will know why we have been doing the Lord’s work. At that time God will give each one whatever praise is coming to him.
MSG: Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we aren’t. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them. The requirements for a good guide are reliability and accurate knowledge. It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. I’m not aware of anything that would disqualify me from being a good guide for you, but that doesn’t mean much. The Master makes that judgment. So don’t go ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dream of—inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will anyone of us get to hear the “Well done!” of God.
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