The Surprising Genius of Jesus: What the Gospels Reveal about the Greatest Teacher

By Peter J. Williams

... Show All

The Surprising Genius of Jesus: What the Gospels Reveal about the Greatest Teacher

By Peter J. Williams

... Show All

How the Story of the Prodigal Son Illuminates Jesus’s Genius 

When someone thinks of Jesus, “genius” is not likely the first word that comes to mind. But when studied in detail, Jesus’s teachings and interactions with others combined high levels of knowledge and insight, verbal skill, and simplicity—showing his genius. 

In The Surprising Genius of Jesus, Peter J. Williams examines the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 to show the genius, creativity, and wisdom of Jesus’s teachings. He used simple but powerful stories to confront the Pharisees and scribes of the day, drawing on his knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to teach his audience through complex layers and themes. Williams challenges those who question whether Jesus really was the source of the parables recorded in the Gospels, pointing readers to the truth of who Jesus is and why that matters for them today. 

  • Clear and Insightful: Accessible for general readers with in-depth footnotes for those wanting to learn more
  • Biblical: Comprehensive, interscriptural analysis of the story of the prodigal son 
  • Written by Peter J. Williams: Author of Can We Trust the Gospels? and principal of Tyndale House, Cambridge

Read Chapter 1


Peter J. Williams

Peter J. Williams (PhD, University of Cambridge) is the principal of Tyndale House, Cambridge, the chair of the International Greek New Testament Project, and a member of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee. He is the author of Can We Trust the Gospels? and Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels.

Product Details

Title: The Surprising Genius of Jesus
Subtitle: What the Gospels Reveal about the Greatest Teacher
Published: October 10, 2023
ISBN-10: 1-4335-8836-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-8836-5
Category: Biblical Studies
Retail Price: $14.99
Binding: Paperback
Trim: 5.25 in x 8.0 in
Page Count: 144

Table of Contents





Chapter 1: A Brilliant Story

Chapter 2: Connecting with Genesis

Chapter 3: More Stories Inspired by the Old Testament 

Chapter 4: Was Jesus the Genius?

Chapter 5: Much More Than a Storyteller

General Index
Scripture Index
Ancient Sources Index 






“This fascinating study shows how Jesus’s parables, such as that of the prodigal son, are not only powerful stories but also treasure troves of suggestive allusions to the Old Testament. Although short, this book contains a wealth of wisdom to give today’s readers insight into Luke’s parables, thereby helping them understand more of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. A gripping and illuminating read!”
Simon Gathercole, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of Cambridge  

“In this thought-provoking and compelling book, Peter J. Williams digs under the topsoil of the parables attributed to Jesus in the Gospels and helps us see both how expertly these stories integrate Old Testament allusions and how all the evidence points back to Jesus of Nazareth himself as their Creator.”
Rebecca McLaughlin, author, Confronting Jesus: 9 Encounters with the Hero of the Gospels

“Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son is a masterpiece in the history of storytelling. Not only does it make a powerful impact on people of all cultures, it is intricately and poetically composed and rife with allusions to Old Testament narratives, especially about Jacob and Esau. Other parables demonstrate these same characteristics. Whoever composed them deserved to be called a genius, and Jesus (rather than one of his followers) is the best candidate for that individual. The Surprising Genius of Jesus, though a little book, is chock-full of observations about Jesus’s teaching that should make readers admire him even more than they may already do.”
Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Denver Seminary

“A study at once scholarly and gripping of a man who was—whatever else you may believe him to have been—clearly the most brilliant and influential short-story teller of all time.”
Tom Holland, Presenter, Making History; author, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World

“A fascinating, provocative, and important book that presents a compelling and persuasive case.”
Justin Meggitt, Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion and Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

“Whoever came up with the parable of the prodigal son must have had a forensic knowledge and deep understanding of the Old Testament, as well as an unrivaled ability to connect with simple people and confound and outwit the superintelligent. The one who said those words knew what he was doing—his intentions and claims are made very clear to whoever will take them seriously. Peter J. Williams’s excellent and very readable book is unique in considering the shocking wisdom of Jesus’s teaching, and it presents Jesus as accessible to everyone yet wise enough to confound even the intellectuals.”
Tim Farron, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

“A gripping and illuminating read!”

Simon Gathercole

Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of Cambridge