Jesus and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
Overview of Gospel interpretation
Very conservative Christians
Very liberal/progressive Christians
|Basic beliefs: They generally
believe in the inerrancy, infallibility
and inspiration by God of all verses in the Bible, as they were originally
composed. The Bible is unique among books in the world; God
influenced each of its authors so that their writings were totally
free from error. Further, religious conservatives feel that passages
should be literally interpreted, unless there are obvious
indications that a verse should be understood symbolically.
Although the four gospels were written by men with different outlooks and backgrounds, all are consistent with each other and with the truth about Jesus. A passage written by John is as valid as one written by Mark or Paul.
|Basic beliefs: They view
the holy books of Christianity and other religions as having been written by authors who
were promoting their own spiritual and religious thoughts, and those
of their group. Their writing was not directly controlled by God.
The gospels show a clear evolution of theological belief over
time. The earliest sections of the first known gospel, "Q"
appears to have been written circa 50 CE. 2 It
presents Jesus as a very human Jewish teacher, prophet, and native healer. The final canonical
gospel, John, appears to have been written by a group of believers
in the very early 2nd century CE. It portrays Jesus as a god-man,
savior of the world, having existed
since the creation of the universe.
|Duration and locations of Jesus'
ministry: John implies that Jesus' ministry lasted at least
three years. John 2:13, 6:4 and 11:55 mention three Passovers. John
5:1 implies a fourth. John deals mainly with Jesus' ministry in and
around Jerusalem; the other gospels discuss his activities in
||Duration and locations of Jesus' ministry: The gospels disagree about both duration and location of Jesus' ministry. John implies a three year or longer ministry, spent mainly in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Judea. The other gospels imply a one year ministry in the Galilee.|
|The writers: The authors of the four gospels were named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus. Mark may have been the young man who fled the Garden of Gethsemane. Both Mark and Luke were Paul's helpers.||The writers: None of the gospel authors' names
or identities are known. None were eyewitnesses to Jesus'
ministries. They had to rely upon second and third hand stories
Jesus. It is possible that all were children or not yet born at the
time of Jesus' ministry.
|Dates written: Paul Benware
estimates that Matthew was written circa 45-55 CE, only 12 years
after Jesus' execution; Luke in either 58 or 65; Mark circa 66; John circa
85 to 95 CE. 2 Since the Holy Spirit prevented any errors, all of the
gospels are consistent and free of error.
||Dates written: Mark was written circa 70 CE,
some 40 years after Jesus' execution. Matthew was written circa 80;
Luke circa 90 and John circa 100 CE. The four gospels demonstrate
how theological beliefs evolved significantly during the 70 to 80
years from Jesus' death to John. Magical and miraculous events were created by the authors or the authors' sources and added to Jesus' story.
|Synoptic Problem: Many passages in
the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are identical or almost
exact. One reason for this is that all three authors based their
writing on an oral tradition passed down from decade to decade.
Another is that all of the authors were guided by the Holy Spirit in
their writing so that they described events exactly as they
occurred, without error. Finally, Matthew and John were disciples
and thus were eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry. They recorded exactly
what they saw. Mark may also have been a follower of Jesus.
||Synoptic Problem: Many passages in the synoptic
gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are identical or almost exact in the original Greek. Most
scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were, in part, copied from
Mark. Many believe that a prior gospel "Q,"
now lost, was also used by both Matthew and Luke. 3
Analysis of passages
that are similar but not identical is called "redaction
criticism." It can give insight into the order in which
the Gospels were probably written, their date of composition, and
the development of theological beliefs in the early Christian
|Differences in John: John's mission was to write a gospel for the emerging Christian church. The other gospel writers directed their gospels to specific groups: Jews and Gentiles (both Roman and Greek). So it is to be expected that their emphasis would be different. John mainly recorded Jesus' ministry in Judea, near Jerusalem; the other gospel writers discussed his ministry in the Galilee. But all four gospel writers were preserved from error by the Holy Spirit. Their writings are inerrant, and all useful for the understanding of the gospel.||Differences in John: The Gospel of John
differs significantly from the other gospels in theme, content,
time duration, order of events, and style. "Only ca. 8% of
it is parallel to these other gospels, and even then, no such
word-for-word parallelism occurs as we find among the synoptic
gospels." 4 John reflects a
Christian tradition that is quite different from that of the other
gospels. It was rejected as heretical by many individuals and groups
within the early Christian movement. It was almost rejected
when the choice of books for the Bible was settled. Another 40 or so Gospels were rejected even though they were in wide use among the many early Christian movements. The four Gospels that were selected for the official canon were selected because they were reasonably harmonious with the beliefs of the Church at the time, John is of little help in
uncovering the historical Jesus.
|Gospel content: Each of the four
gospels is different. Although each stands on its own merits as an
accurate description of the life of Jesus, Matthew and Luke contain
information about Jesus' birth and childhood not found in the other
gospels. John contains descriptions of Jesus' early ministry. Luke
describes his later Perean ministry. 2
Most of the content of the gospels should be interpreted literally.
There are hundreds of apparent contradictions in the Bible:
|Gospel content: The gospels
contain a mixture of:
|Interpreting the gospels:
Only those who are born again can understand the
Gospels. After a person is saved, the Holy Spirit inhabits
their body, processes their mind, and helps her/him gain
an understanding of the Bible's meaning. The gospels,
and other parts of the Bible, are normally interpreted
literally. Historic beliefs of the Christian religion are accepted
as truth: the atonement, biblical inerrancy,
incarnation, biblical inspiration, justification, regeneration of
the spirit, resurrection, salvation,
the second coming, the Trinity, the virgin
birth, etc. Faced with apparent contradictions, a believer can
take advantage of the harmonizing efforts of past theologians and
guidance of the Holy Spirit.
||Interpreting the gospels: A main activity of liberal theologians over recent generations has been to study the gospels and other early Christian documents intensely, searching for the "historical Jesus" -- the actual statements, acts, beliefs, teachings, etc. of Yeshua of Nazareth. This involves stripping away the magical healing and miracle passages, removing anti-Jewish religious propaganda, deleting text that represents theological beliefs that only developed decades after Jesus' death, detecting distortions in the original oral transmission, removing events in Jesus' life which are copies of those in other god-men's lives. Not much is left. But we can get a glimpse of what the real Jesus was like.|
|Other writings: The extra-canonical gospels and acts -- those writings by early Christians that were not accepted into the Bible -- are of little importance. Most are heretical in nature and can be safely ignored. They were all rejected by the early Christians when the canon was established.||Other writings: About 45 of other gospels, hundreds "acts" and epistles etc. were widely circulated within the early Christian church. Analysis of these writings -- particularly the Gospel of Thomas -- can help us understand the words and actions of Jesus, as perceived by the early Christians.|
Copyright © 2000 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-JUN-22
Latest update: 2012-MAY-11
Author: B.A. Robinson
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