Saturday, January 31, 2015

SEEKING TO KNOW JESUS BETTER, pt. 2: The four Gospel accounts - how they came to be

I've pulled down a book from my shelves, one that I've had for a long time. In fact, it was recommended to me by Jerry Barnes, the pastor who was so influential in my search for truth during my college years. During that time, Jerry recommended a book entitled The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, by James S. Stewart, a Scottish minister. I read it back then, and I remember getting a great deal out of it, but it's been probably 40 years since I last read it.

This week, I've re-read the first chapter, and I think this book is going to be helpful to me as I read the Gospels, because it provides some valuable context for them.

In this chapter, Stewart begins by making some general observations about the Gospel accounts:
  • They are not biographies, but instead are "a set of 'memoirs,' selected historical reminiscences."
  • These "historical reminiscences" were selected with one purpose in mind: "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:31)
  • Each "evangelist" writes from his own perspective, giving us, in essence, "four distinct portraits of Jesus."
  • The earliest of them appeared some 30 to 40 years after the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. Why the delay?
    • The early Church was busy evangelizing the world.
    • Most early Christians were expecting a speedy end of the world as we know it (Jesus himself had said "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled."), so who would be around to read what they had written?
    • Christ's presence was so real to many of his followers that, early on, they may not have felt it necessary to keep going over what he had said and done in his ministry.
  • As the years went by, and many who had known Jesus and were eyewitnesses to his life, death, and resurrection themselves died, "it became obvious that to continue to rely on oral tradition and on fragmentary documents would be extremely precarious." They were concerned about:
    • Providing the story for those yet unborn
    • Educating new Christians who would need to be given historical context for such practices as the Lord's Supper
    • Combating heresy, giving a basis for settling debates within the Church
  • The authors drew upon a variety of sources.
    • In his opening passages, Luke tells us that he had a large quantity of miscellaneous materials from which to choose in constructing his narrative. As Stewart writes, "Here a parable would have been preserved in writing, there the story of a miracle, there a group of sayings, there a body of teaching on some special subject . . ."
    • In 1:1-4, Luke gives us an idea of the extent of the task he undertook. Stewart explains, "the inspired writers were not miraculously freed from the necessity of hard historical research which other writers have to face. Inspiration was not God magically transcending human minds and faculties; it was God expressing his will through the dedication of human minds and faculties. It does not supersede the sacred writer's own personality and make him God's machine; it reinforces his personality and makes him God's living witness."
Stewart then goes on to detail characteristics of each Gospel account and major differences between them. I'll deal with these matters in a later post.

No comments:

Post a Comment