One Perfect Life by John MacArthur (Full Book Review)

One Perfect Life

I previously wrote about a book I have been looking forward to receiving. My copy of One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus has now arrived, and it is truly excellent.

John MacArthur has compiled the four Gospel accounts into a single harmonious narrative. While most other Gospel harmonies use parallel columns for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, this one blends them together in one flowing text.

I mentioned earlier that this would probably be similar to Jesus Christ: The Greatest Life, compiled and translated by Johnston M. Cheney and Stanley Ellisen. Indeed, MacArthur’s effort is very much in the same vein, and he even graciously acknowledged Cheney’s work in the introduction. However, I think the differences are enough to merit purchasing both books. Each has something to offer that the other does not.

Cheney’s harmony stuck to the four Gospels, but MacArthur incorporated a number of texts from all throughout the Bible. Part 1 of One Perfect Life, “Anticipating the Lord Jesus Christ,” provides a survey of the Old Testament, using texts from the Old Testament as well as supporting texts from the New Testament. In just a few pages, it brings together the key passages that describe the creation (including Jesus’ work in it), the fall of man, the curse of sin, the need for a savior, and the promise of the coming Messiah. This serves as a wonderful preface to the life of the Christ.

The majority of the book then focuses on Jesus’ life as a man on earth. Even in that section, it brings in supporting texts from Scripture outside of the four Gospels. For example, the part where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper includes text from 1 Corinthians 11:24–25, where Paul recounted a detail not found in the four Gospels. There are also messianic prophecies, such as those found in Isaiah, scattered throughout the book, to show the texts that were fulfilled in Jesus.

After wrapping up Jesus’ life on earth, the book includes a final section of “New Testament Reflections on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Here, MacArthur used texts from other New Testament books to show what Jesus accomplished and how we may have eternal life through him.

One Perfect Life includes many explanatory footnotes, taken from the MacArthur Study Bible. Rather than making a new translation for this project (as Cheney did for his), MacArthur used the New King James Version as the base text for his compilation. The NKJV is not one of my preferred translations, as I do not believe the Textus Receptus (the Greek manuscript on which it was based) to be the most reliable. However, I was happy to see that some of MacArthur’s footnotes corrected certain errors in the NKJV. Perhaps we will see future editions of One Perfect Life that use the ESV or NASB as the base text?

I really have very few complaints about this work overall. Since it is primarily Scripture, there’s not much left up to human bias. That said, a bit of MacArthur’s Calvinistic views do come across in some of his footnotes. However, they are not overbearing, and they do not take away from this work as a whole.

Also, there are a few areas in which I would propose a different chronology than MacArthur (such as Peter’s denials). But these are debatable and relatively minor. I did not find anything seriously problematic. In several areas, MacArthur actually got it right where many other Gospel harmonies have made mistakes. For example, MacArthur correctly separated the two different times that Jesus cleansed the temple.

My only big complaint is the lack of a Scripture index. Without one, there is no easy way to find where a given passage of Scripture is used. Cheney’s book does include such an index, and it is one of the most helpful parts of the whole thing. I very much hope that future editions of One Perfect Life will include one.

All in all, I give my full endorsement to this work. Reading through the life of Jesus like this is tremendously helpful for seeing how all the parts fit together. It also completely debunks any alleged discrepancies between the four accounts, showing that they all complement one another perfectly. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy, both of MacArthur’s One Perfect Life and of Cheney’s The Greatest Life.

Then let me know what you think of them in the comments below. What other Gospel harmonies have you found to be useful?