Instead of counting sheep, my sleeping pill is reading. Regardless of the time, I cannot go to sleep without first reading for a while. And even though I have a good sized personal library, I find that I like to reread books that I have not read for awhile – always harvesting new bits of information and knowledge from each reading. In bed I will read either a historical novel – or one of my Christian study books.
I find that when reading a historical novel, my mind will relax and I find myself falling asleep after a while. However, when I start reading the Bible, a commentary, or other Christian book in bed – instead of relaxing my mind, this stimulates me – causing me to think about how I could use what I am reading in a blog or other witnessing tool. And a stimulated mind is not a sleepy mind. Now you know why I am often still awake at 3, 4, or 5:00 AM, sitting at the computer.
Recently I chose a book that I bought about 1961, one of the books which survived a fire which destroyed our home in 1963. That book is “The Greatest Story Ever Told” by Fulton Oursler.
The book was originally published in 1949 by Doubleday, then a new printing was published in 1961 by Image Books. That is the edition which I have in my library. The book has been made into a radio program – and in 1965 was released as a movie starring Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ.
About the author: Fulton Oursler (1893 – 1952), was raised in a devout Baptist family, but as a teenager declared himself an agnostic. In 1935, Oursler toured the Middle East and spent a week in the Holy Land. On the journey home, Oursler started writing a book titled “A Skeptic in the Holy Land.” He started the book being very skeptical – but by the last chapter he was leaning toward the Christian faith. As he watched the growing threat of Nazism and Communism, he found himself being drawn to Christian ethics.
Astounded at how little people knew about the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this led him to write the story of Jesus and he called it “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” In 1943, Oursler became a Roman Catholic. (Fulton Oursler, Wikipedia)
The best way to introduce you to his wonderful book is to offer excerpts from the Preface of The Greatest Story Ever Told:
This is the story of Jesus. It is a chronology of events from the betrothal of Mary and Joseph to the days after the Resurrection, and the episodes are taken from the four Gospels. What is imaginative in the narrative is largely detail to fill in chinks left open in the Bible accounts; nothing has been included that did not seem a reasonable assumption from the records.
In writing anew the wonderful life of Jesus, the author has had but one thought in mind, and that was to induce readers to go to the Gospels and hear the story at firsthand. It was Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof, of a great Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, who said to me at dinner one evening that the unspoken scandal of our times was the hidden fact that Bible-reading had been largely given up in America.
Later, as I traveled around the country and talked to many different kinds of men and women – fellow passengers in Pullman and day coach, stenographers, lecture committee chairmen – I made casual allusions in conversation to biblical passages. I soon discovered that references which in my boyhood were cliches of front-porch talk had no meaning whatever for these later companions. Even such obvious phrases as “Thirty pieces of silver” or “The talent buried in a napkin” or “The angel that troubled the waters” left many listeners with blank stares. Yet when I explained the meaning, their interest was clear – a sample from the great history invariably roused their appetite for more . . . .
The book is not offered as an explanation or an interpretation. It is rather an attempt to tell, faithfully, just what the four Apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, assert to have happened in those thirty-three years of the life of Jesus. It is, further, an effort to state the believing Christian’s understanding of the meaning of those years. There is no intention here to rationalize or to hunt out a symbolism. While sometimes dramatized, the story is completely faithful to the literal statements of the text.
While I was still at work on the manuscript I found myself on a sponsored radio program negotiated for me by a producing agency of which Mr. Waddill Catchings was chairman. During this association of more than three years I became well acquainted with Mr. Catchings, and in 1943 I suggested to him that the manuscript on which I was working would provide stirring material for a radio presentation of episodes in the life of Our Lord and dramatizations of the Christian teachings.
Where many another radio producer might have been frightened off, Mr. Catchings was attracted at once. Together, in many conversations, we explored the difficulties. Could we please both Catholics and Protestants with such a presentation? Would those of other faiths protest? Could any sponsor be found to take the risks implied in those questions? Would the general public be shocked at the sound of an actor’s voice impersonating the Master? . . . .
With much help and counsel I have told here the great story once more – the story of the greatest event in human history. For once upon a time and long ago it actually happened, according to the faith of true believers, among which the author counts himself.
God, who had fashioned time and space in a clockwork of billions of suns and stars and moons – in the form of His beloved Son became a human being like ourselves. On this microscopic midge of planet He remained for thirty-three years. He became a real man, and the only perfect one. While continuing to be the true God, He was born in a stable and lived as a working man and died on a cross.
He came to show us how to live, not for a few years but eternally. He explained truths that would make our souls joyous and free. This is the story of Jesus – the greatest story ever told.
Bill Gray Note: Visit this web site to download the book in various formats: https://archive.org/stream/greateststoryeve012599mbp#page/n5/mode/2up
From a Protestant worldview, the only thing I found slightly distracting was that the author, being Roman Catholic, made no mention of Jesus having brothers and sisters – while I believe the Bible clearly shows that he did have siblings.
Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in several Bible verses. Matthew 12:46, Luke 8:19, and Mark 3:31 say that Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him. The Bible tells us that Jesus had four brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55). The Bible also tells us that Jesus had sisters, but they are not named or numbered (Matthew 13:56). In John 7:1-10, His brothers go to the festival while Jesus stays behind. In Acts 1:14, His brothers and mother are described as praying with the disciples. Galatians 1:19 mentions that James was Jesus’ brother. The most natural conclusion of these passages is to interpret that Jesus had actual blood half-siblings. (“Did Jesus have brothers and sisters [siblings]?” – GotQuestions web site)
Along with reading His story found in the four Gospels, I believe you will find that reading this book will give you greater insight into many aspects of the life of our Savior Jesus Christ. Yes, as with any historical novel, the writer does speculate regarding events of His life which God, in the Bible, has chosen to leave out. And, I will be the first to say that when teaching Biblical doctrine – where the Bible is silent, we should also be silent.
That is for teaching doctrine and theology. But, to gain a closer feel for the mortal life of our Lord, I believe this book is helpful. For it explores much of His human nature which is hidden in the Bible. Once again – while this may help our understanding of His life, this is speculation, not doctrinal nor specifically Biblical.
Why go into what the Bible excludes? Let me offer an example from my life.
In the mid-1960s, I studied theater and acting for several years. When we read a book, watch a play or a movie – we find that the writer focused on only a relatively small time span in the life of each character. Yet, what makes that character tick, what flavors the characters actions and reactions to events in the story – must be a reflection of that character’s whole life. For an actor to faithfully portray his character’s reaction to an event in the given story – the actor must know what made the character respond in that way. That is what is involved in creating a living character from the words written in the pages of a script; that is what makes the character believable.
There was an exercise from my acting classes which taught me this principal. I would visit an art museum or art gallery and find interesting paintings of individuals. Standing in front of that painting which portrayed only a brief moment in the life of the subject – I would create the life story of that person. Where was he born, what was his family like, did he have siblings, did he get married, have children, etc. In other words I would take that brief instance in this person’s life and flesh it out. Why? Because what happened to him at age ten or twelve – has a definite cause-effect relationship with his actions/reactions to what happens to him today.
At the age of twelve, I had an experience with a “preacher” at a revival meeting. That experience drove me away from the Christian faith until I was fifty years old. And, even today, when I hear the words “preacher” or “preach” – I still cringe. Just a natural reaction to that event which happened when I was twelve. No, it was not molestation. It was a spiritual, emotional game he played which caused me great distress and made me distrust preachers who get emotional and highly animated in sermons and teachings.
If someone were to write a story which told of a current event in my life today and only covered a short period of my life – that “revival preacher” event from sixty-eight years ago would still color my reaction to the current event happening today. That is the Bill Gray who has almost 80 years of history, a history which has become an integral part of who I am today.
This is why I suggest that, while the book is not doctrinal and should not be seen as theology – the author’s story of the life of Jesus Christ can still have great spiritual meaning for us. And that is why I highly recommend this book to all my Friends, believers and non-believers.