Genre: Gospel

There are four gospels in the Christian Scriptures. There were dozens of others circulated for the first couple centuries after Jesus, but only four stood up to the scrutiny of the early believers.

Gospel is not modern biography. While scholars have shown that the gospels all conform to what the ancients would have considered bios or “life”, they are not what we consider biography. A gospel reports the events of a portion of a person’s life, but it does not tend to do so in a scientific, orderly manner.

Gospel is a form of teaching. The ancient church would recite the gospel regularly as part of their worship. Which gospel depended largely on where the congregation was, geographically and culturally. If you think of a gospel as a teaching document, moving the reader from one point to another and ultimately to a concluding, culminating idea, then they make far more sense. The individual writers placed events in different places because (1) most of these things probably occurred more than once in Jesus’ life and (2) the placement fits with the overarching theme of the gospel.

Each gospel has a unique audience. Matthew is written to the Semitic peoples of southwest Asia – Palestine, Syria, etc. Mark is written to the western Roman Empire. Luke writes to the Greek “barbarians” and demonstrates the universal nature of Jesus’ resurrection. John answers specific heresies late in the first century. Each has a focus.

Every gospel builds to the resurrection of Jesus. Anything that happens before that is part of the build up. Other than the resurrection, the details can be flexible. This is something our modern sensibilities struggle with. That doesn’t make them false or “oral tradition.” It makes them true to their time.

How do you read a gospel? Read it as if it is accurate, because it is. Read Jesus’ words as truth, because they are. But always keep the resurrection in focus. It is the key to understanding anything and everything in the gospels. People reading/hearing the gospels would have already heard of the resurrection. They would be consciously reading it that way.

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