THREE GOSPELS By Reynolds Price Scribner: 288 pp., $23

In the preface to his splendid and exhilarating new exploration of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, Reynolds Price tells us that the stories--the "central narratives" as he calls them, in the Old Testament and New Testament--"drew early at my mind and have kept their magnetism for me . . . undiminished for nearly six decades." He tells us that as he embarked on a career as a writer of stories, he pursued--and continues to pursue--a magnificent ambition: To write stories that "might somehow share in these old stories will be to change whole lives and alter the sun in its course if need be."

While pursuing this ambition, he has also spent considerable time studying, translating and teaching university courses in the Gospels. "Three Gospels" is just what it says: Three Gospels, along with introductions that give moving insight into the author's purposes and passions.

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