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According to the synoptic gospels

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The synoptic gospels are Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

They teach two main paths to salvation:

bullet Salvation by good deeds, and
bullet Salvation by lifestyle changes

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The synoptic gospels: Salvation by doing good deeds:

In the early Church, there were 40 or 50 gospels in circulation which were regarded as accurate portrayals of the life of Jesus. Of the four of these which were accepted into the official canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), most Biblical theologians regard Mark as the oldest. Most theologians agree from an analysis of Matthew and Luke that those two authors copied major portions of Mark into their own gospels. Thus, Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Synoptic Gospels, show a great internal consistency.

Jesus talked extensively about individuals being saved and inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. The main path to salvation that he described is based on good works and attitudes. Salvation is dependent on what people do and how they behave towards others - particularly the poor. Repentance, belief in Jesus or the act of baptism are irrelevant. Actions and attitudes only matter. This path is described very clearly in two passages:

bullet Matthew 25:31-46: This is an important passage, because it describes the exact criteria which Matthew believed will be used at the Final Judgment when Jesus separates all the people of the world into two groups: those who will enter heaven and those who will spend eternity in hell. Addressing those on his right, Jesus says that they will "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." He orders those on his left hand to "depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his [fallen] angels." where they will go away into eternal punishment." The sole criteria for routing individuals to heaven or hell is whether the person gave food, drink or clothing to the destitute, and welcomed strangers and visited the sick or persons in prison. That is, salvation is totally dependent upon one's treatment of one's fellow humans while on earth. The ancient creeds of the Christian church appear to agree with this concept.
bullet Luke 10:25-27: This is another important passage, because it gives Mark's recollection of Jesus' precise response to a lawyer who asked what one must do to inherit eternal life; i.e. to attain salvation and spend eternity in heaven. Jesus had him recite "The Law" from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) which requires a person to:
bullet Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. This is a slight misquotation from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (NKJ)
bullet Love their neighbor as they love themselves. This is derived from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself..." (NKJ)

The lawyer then asked the obvious question: who is my neighbor? The Leviticus passage implied that one's neighbors are restricted to one's own nation or tribe. Jesus disagreed with the passage in Deuteronomy, and responded with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan, which indicates that all humans are one's neighbors.

The parable describes a man who had been attacked by robbers and left half dead. Two Jewish religious leaders come upon the man: a priest and a Levite. The Jewish law forbids holy men from touching a dead person; it would be an act of ritual impurity, a serious defilement. They walk on the other side of the road to avoid any contact with the victim. A Samaritan comes by, bandages the man's wounds and helps him to a place where he can recover. The Jews of the day despised the Samaritans, regarding them as semi-pagan, inferior and persons of little worth. Jesus told the lawyer to be more like the Samaritan than like the Levite and Priest. That is, to make compassion for others the highest priority in life, and to downgrade religious rules and regulations to a lower level of importance.

Jesus makes clear in this passage that one attains eternal life in heaven by loving God and loving all humans, particularly the poor, needy and broken.

bullet Other supporting passages are:
bullet Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." . The Amplified Bible defines "poor in spirit" as being humble and rating themselves as insignificant.
bullet Matthew 5:10: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Amplified Bible defines "righteousness" as being and doing right.
bullet Matthew 5:20: "...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" The Rheims New Testament translates the Greek as "unless your justice abound more...".
bullet Matthew 7:12: " onto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." One might assume that by following this "Golden rule", one meets all of the requirements of the Hebrew scriptures, and thus might be saved.
bullet Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." (NKJ)
bullet Matthew 19:16-17 "Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?'...Jesus replied...If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." Jesus then repeated 5 as being of particular importance (Commandments 5 to 9 inclusive from Exodus 20:12-16) and added a new commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" 4 of the 6 involve actions to avoid; the remaining two list who one is to love. Jesus then goes further and urges the man to sell his possessions, and give the money to the poor, so that he would have "treasure in heaven."
bullet Matthew 24:45-51: In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about an evil overseer who beats his fellow slaves. His master comes back at an unexpected time and "and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth." (ASV) This implies that when Christ returns, individuals who treat others with consideration will be rewarded (presumably with access to the Kingdom of God). An evil person who treats others poorly or is a drunk will be punished (presumably by denying them access).
bullet Mark 9:42-48: Jesus recommends that if one's hand or foot or eye cause them to commit a sinful act, then they should cut off the offending member. Verse 47 says: "...It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell..."
bullet Mark 10:17-25: This is essentially identical to Luke 18, which is described below
bullet Mark 12:32-34: A man said that to love God and one's neighbor is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus replied in Verse 34 "...You are not far from the kingdom of God." This implies that if one loves God and humanity, then they are close to salvation.
bullet Luke 7:44-50: Jesus described to Simon Peter how a woman who had lived a sinful life had treated him with loving care. She washed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair; she continually kissed his feet and she anointed them with oil. Jesus said in verse 47-48: "Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, (the same) loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven." The implication is that because of her kind acts, her sins are forgiven; she will attain the Kingdom of God. But then an obvious addition was made to the story in Luke 7:50: "And he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." This verse appears to be an afterthought, added after the original gospel was written. It contradicts the previous verses that based her treatment on her kind acts, not her faith. Perhaps the intent was to bring the story into line with the developing Christian theology, which had begun to emphasize faith over works.
bullet Luke 13:27 "Away from me, all you evildoers" The Amplified Bible renders this word as wrongdoers. The verse describes how people will be turned away from the Kingdom of God, because of their evil behavior and wrongdoing.
bullet Luke 18:18-22 This is similar to Matthew 19, except that the advice to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor is not an optional add-on but a requirement.
bullet Luke 19:8-9: "And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham." (ASV) Zacchaeus cares about others, giving half of his possession to the poor. And he is honest: if he shortchanges anyone, he returns the shortage four times over. Jesus indicates that because of these two acts of kindness and generosity, he has been saved.

Jesus seems to have recognized that his strict instructions for living a life of justice and caring for others is very difficult for most people; few will attain salvation:

bullet Matthew 7:14 "...small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
bullet Matthew 19:24 " is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God"
bullet Luke 13:23-30 "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?...many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to."

The disciples were distressed at Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:24. They asked who can be saved. He replied that an individual trying on their own to do good and attain salvation will always fail. But with God's help, they will be able to achieve salvation through this route.

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The synoptic gospels: Salvation by changing one's lifestyle:

The second, minor, path to salvation in the synoptic Gospels involves poverty and following Jesus. This requires one to abandon their family, give away their possessions, accept a life of poverty, and follow Jesus. There are major anti-family aspects involved. This path is mentioned in the following passages:

bullet Matthew 19:27-30: Peter had said that he and the rest of the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. He asked what would happen to them. Jesus replied that his followers would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Verse 29 continues: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Some ancient manuscripts of Luke said "everyone who has left...mother or wife")
bullet Mark 10:28-30: This is similar to Matthew 19:27-30
bullet Luke 9:59-62: "Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.' And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (NKJ) Jesus seems to be implying that to attain the kingdom of God, one is expected to drop everything and follow Jesus. This was so important that a person should violate a Jewish laws by not giving priority to burying their father.

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Copyright 1997 to 2002 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2002-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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