This summer, I am exploring the four gospels in scripture. I plan to share some of my studies here – most likely posting once a week for about eight weeks.
Recently we were conversing with friends about Christianity, Bible study, and learning to love and follow Jesus. Someone had offered to come in to teach a class for the teens in the church, suggesting they wanted to teach one of the books of Paul. He responded negatively to that suggestion because he wanted the teens to learn about Jesus, study the life and work of Jesus through the gospels, and get excited about loving and following Him before studying the Christian life through the Apostle Paul’s work. That stuck with me. We tend to know about Jesus’s birth and death, but in our Biblical literacy, we may have a gap in knowledge about how Jesus lived, what He said, and how He responded to people.
Additionally, our pastor is teaching through Luke. So I want to see how Luke’s gospel relates to the others, and how the different types of literature, narrative, parables, metaphors, dialogue, and prophecy compare. I’m using a guide recently written to assist me in my study by Rebecca McLaughlin, Navigating Gospel Truth: A guide to faithfully reading the accounts of Jesus’s life.
In this post, I want to remind us that the gospels have many eyewitness accounts, making them trustworthy documents about Jesus’s life. The dates they were written are hard to pin down, but the best scholars put the writings before AD 70 because none of them refer to the city and temple having been destroyed, which happened in that year. The gospels were early accounts when eyewitnesses, both those for the truth and against the truth, would have been alive.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples. He was a tax collector and would have been particularly good at keeping records. Since he was called to be a disciple early in Jesus’s ministry, much of his writings could be eyewitness accounts. Matthew quoted or alluded to the Old Testament nearly 100 times, adding validity to his accounting of Jesus’s story.
John, also known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, most likely wrote his book last – some 20 years after the other gospels had been shared. He, too, was a disciple, so much of his writing could be eyewitness accounts. He says in his book:
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.John 21: 24-25 NIV
The gospel writer, Mark, is likely John Mark, introduced in scripture in Acts 12. His mother owned a home in Jerusalem where the early church met together. Some say that Mark kept records for Peter. His gospel does not have many of the sayings of Jesus but instead is action-packed, showing the work of Jesus. Mark’s gospel is more narrative and less discourse. It is interesting to note that Mark does not hide the disciples’ mistakes which is evidence of the veracity of the gospels’ accounting of Jesus’s life. They probably wouldn’t have written about their foibles and failings if the stories were untrue.
I love how Luke starts his gospel. He was a doctor and a scientist, so it is no surprise that he is also an investigator. His report is thorough, the longest of the gospels.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.Luke 1:1-4 NIV
Tips for Reading the Gospels
I appreciate Tim Mackie’s work at The Bible Project. He instructs us in four tips for reading the gospels …
- Observe the beginning and the end of each book. A simple way to grasp the author’s intended message and response is to inspect the beginning and end of each gospel.
- Look for repeated words and themes. The authors have woven their large-scale stories from dozens of smaller stories about Jesus, linked with repeated words to highlight key themes. For this reason, looking for repeated words and ideas throughout each gospel account is helpful.
- See the difference in the details. The gospel authors include many of the same stories but may differ in details. The authors have been selective with their material to communicate a specific message. When we begin to pay attention to the difference in the details, we become more comfortable with them. We gain a clearer picture of the authors’ unique conclusions about Jesus.
- Listen to one teacher at a time. We should allow each text to transport us to one perspective at a time. (This is the most difficult tip for me. I enjoy reading and comparing the perspectives of each author.)
(4 Tips for Reading the Four Gospel Accounts, n.d.)
I hope you’ll join me each week on Wednesdays for the next installment in the study. And I encourage you to read the gospels! As you read consider these questions –
1. What is the gist of the story?
2. To whom is Jesus speaking?
3. What does He say about Himself? about God? about us?
4. What instruction does He give to His audience?
5. What do you notice about Jesus? His emotions, actions, and methods of communicating?
6. How does Jesus react in each setting?
May God bless our reading and study so that we may see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly; who lives and reigns, interceding for us, now and forever.
4 Tips for Reading the Four Gospel Accounts. (n.d.). BibleProject. https://bibleproject.com/articles/tips-reading-gospel/